(before)

BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPfumbleBEEPfumblefumbleBEEPsmackSILENCE

I continue to clutch my phone after quieting it, sliding a little deeper under my warm blankets to prolong the stillness for another moment. Then I force my eyes open—halfway, at least—and activate my phone screen, holding it an inch away from my face because I haven’t bothered to put on my glasses. I squint and tap the first bookmarked page on my Internet browser, wblivesurf.com, and open the surf camera. The image is dark—the sun hasn’t risen yet—but I can make out some whitewater rolling in. That’s good enough for me.

I stumble towards the kitchen in the early morning light, flipping on my coffee maker and scooping oatmeal in a container for later. I grab my bathing suit off my bathroom doorknob. It’s still damp from yesterday’s session, but I pull it on anyway. My car seat can handle a little saltwater.

I buckle on my wristwatch—a plastic, Pepto-Bismol-colored contraption I found on the discount rack at Walmart that has helped me avoid the dreaded Wrightsville Beach parking tickets for nearly 2 years. I haul all my things for the day—bookbag, towel, breakfast, lunch, work clothes, gym clothes—out to my car, throwing them into the passenger’s seat on top of my yoga mat. I unlock the little shed outside my apartment and lift out my 9-foot longboard, balancing it on my head as I carry it to the roof of my car. I strap it on and double-check that it won’t fly off the moment I exceed 30 mph—a lesson I learned the hard way.

I roll down the windows and let the humid air blast me during my 10-minute drive to the beach. I don’t bother checking the surf once I get there. I’m on a schedule—and anyway, I can tell from the pink sky and warm breeze that it’s going to be one of those beautiful summer surfs when good waves are just a bonus.

An hour later, I reluctantly climb out of the water and rinse off in the shower next to the pier. I walk into a nearby changing room as a soggy-haired surf bum and emerge three minutes later as a (still soggy-haired) news journalist. I hang my head out the window on the 2-minute drive to my office, letting the wind blow-dry my hair into a salty, crunchy tangle that I can hopefully mold into something professional-looking by the time my boss gets in.

 

(flash forward to now)

For three years—minus a few of February’s more frigid days—that was my morning routine. Or, let’s just skip the euphemism and call it what it is: an addiction. And I saw enough familiar faces in the water every day to know I’m not the only one afflicted. So what happens when circumstances—whatever they may be—take that daily routine away?

I’m lucky. I deliberately—but hopefully, temporarily—traded in my surfing to pursue other passions: learning and creating on another continent. A lot of surfers have their surfing taken from them. And even those who have their health and their beachfront home can suffer from the fickleness of the ocean (it goes flat for your summer holiday and then pumps the day you go back to work/school).

But for real surfers, it’s not something you do, but something you are. You can’t just forget that part of yourself when you’re not able to surf, and I don’t think you should. So what do you feed your surfer soul when you can’t give it waves?

I’m still figuring out the answer to that, to be honest. There are only a few things in life that can truly replace a perfect—or imperfect—surf session. And I think it depends what draws you to surfing in the first place. But here are a few aspects of surfing I plan to find outside the water, to fill the surfing void:

The peacefulness of surfing:

  • Do little outdoor yoga flow, especially if you’re lucky enough to have sunshine. Or if yoga’s not your thing, go hiking, walking, biking, anything outside!
  • Plant a garden (even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow things in pots and create, as my mom calls it, a pot garden)
  • Go find yourself a pool, a lake, a pond…(there’s something about just being in, on or near water that solves a lot of my problems)
  • Meditate (haven’t quite gotten the hang of this myself, I can get my body quiet but my mind is “homework cheeseburger weird noises chocolate plans-for-later cookie”

The athleticism/thrill/competitiveness of surfing:

  • Join a sports team
  • Sign up for a half-marathon, triathlon, 5K, beer pong tournament…
  • Set a goal of learning a new skill—skateboarding, pottery, sushi-making—and work towards mastering it

The camaraderie of surfing:

  • Figure out what else you’re interested in, and join a club (there’s a group for just about anything on Meetup.com)
  • Spend time with and truly appreciate your friends and family