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The International Writers Magazine
: Regrets, I've had a few...

The Rhythm of the Waves
Jeffrey Beyl

Late night. After a party at a friend’s house where his band had been jamming. Rock me baby. Swaying bodies. Amps turned up too high for too long. Extended guitar solos. High G, top string, fifteenth fret, bent to piercing effect. Kick drums. Rolling Tom Tom’s. Feedback. Sweat. I had to step outside to let the buzz wear off.

Dazed and confused. This was Malibu, the cliffs of Point Dume. Summer. 1972. Warm, humid, southern California summer nights. Stepping outside from the garage where the band was set up, to the Pacific panorama out front was more like spilling out from a beer mug onto a vast mirror. Reflected starlight. Moonlight sparkle on the ocean. The horizon curving in the darkened distance. A breath of sea air in the vibrating night. Welcome home.

She was the girlfriend of a friend. The Bass player back in the garage. I felt a bit guilty. He was a friend, after all. But, come on, let’s be realistic. Longish dark brown hair. Eyelashes. Jeans. It was too nice a night. Wouldn’t you have invited her for a walk on the beach? Peasant blouse billowing in the sea breeze. She too had spilled outside for a breath of ocean air. She had moved further away from the pulse and undercurrent, outward, across the lawn, into the night. I moved into place beside her.
Let’s go for a walk on the beach.

There was trail leading out toward the cliff. Footworn. Meandering across the field, through yucca and anise, then flowing down over the edge and taking a series of sharp switchbacks, winding sinuously over broken steps of crumbling limestone to the beach below. The beach took an inside radius along the cove from point north to point south. Walking it, if one was to do it fast in one’s mind, was like taking a sharp right turn at the bottom of an eight foot wave.

At low tide, the ocean receded to uncover the reef. Kelp lay like wet hair across mussel studded rocks. Sculpins hid in the tidepools. Abalone. At low tide we surfed Big Dume Point, at the north end of the cove where the trail cascaded out of the cliff. The waves formed quickly on the reef and broke fast and held up, curling off to the right. We would drop in quick, carve up and down the face a few times then kick out. A furious paddle back out to do it again, and again, and again. When the tide came in these waves got mushy so we would hike back along the sand down to Little Dume, just south. Little Dume had several breaks. We would spend our days walking back and forth along that half mile cove, our boards under our arms, a towel draped over our shoulders. A bar of wax, sand embedded. An avocado for lunch. Sunglasses. A Frisbee for the off times when the waves weren’t up. That dull time between high and low tide before we made our way back along the cove.

Next thing I knew we were sitting on that flat rock, she and I. You may know the one I mean, down on Little Dume Beach, where the photographers always set up their camera tripods to shoot the action. We had walked along the white sand, around the inner radius of the cove, and now I lay on my back on the white rock, my eyes closed to the vista of stars above. I lay on the rock with her sitting beside me, long hair, windblown in the night. But off in the distance I could hear the crashing, the roar (it’s always called a roar), of the Outer Reef breaking in the dark.

The breeze off the ocean came in moving oscillations. The waves came in sets of eight. The timing, the cadence of the break. Her hair fell in waves, curling around her shoulders. My friend’s band had been playing a rock and roll beat in waves of 4/4 timing. The ringing in my ears came in waves of high pitched, sustained notes, backed and held up by the thumping of the music. The delicate thrumming of a Monarch butterfly’s wing. The earth, the tide, the sunrise and sunset, the coastal fog in the mornings, the hush at late afternoon, just after the windy, mid-day blow-out. The hush, the quiet. The stillness and shhhhhh of the late afternoon and on into the evening and now into the dark of late night. Quivering, shimmering meter. The sounds of the beach. The sound of the waves.

Close your eyes a moment and listen to a wave in the distance. Hear it? Shhhhh. Listen. Hear it? Yes, yes, there it is. There is a rhythm, a tempo to the ocean. Off to my right the Outer Reef was breaking. As the surge of water came upward over the continental slope, over the reef, swells formed into large waves and broke over the Outer Reef. Only the better of the local surfers took off regularly from these furious peaks. After a moment, these waves receded and then re-formed and re-swelled and began to break again. The sound of these waves was closer, louder, and the waves re-formed, once again, and I could hear the chhh, chhh, chhh, chhh. The spill of white water inside.

Water music. I could hear the waves at the outer reef. I could hear the waves, closer in, breaking over the shallower bottom of the inner reef. I could hear the breeze. I could almost hear the beat of her heart in a syncopated pattern to my own. I concentrated and tried to hear the movement of the water as a blue shark glided smoothly through the kelp. I tried to hear the chuffing of a Grey Whale spouting out beyond the breakers. The silent wing beat of a barn owl taking off from the cliff above. The crash and smash of a cymbal up in my friend’s garage as his band charged through their own version of Stairway To Heaven. This is what it’s all about. There is almost nothing better.

If you’re a surfer then you’ll know what I mean. Late take off, cut back, head dip. Hang ten.
If you’re a surfer, there is almost nothing better than standing on a cliff on a bright summer morning, looking down onto the incoming lines of the ocean rollers, watching as they build, shape, form into crests and break in cylindrical glory. There is almost nothing better than knowing that all you have to do is make your way down the trail, enter the water and paddle out.

If you’re a surfer, there is almost nothing better than sitting on your board, as a set rolls in, a wave passes under you, you feel your board rise with the surge, and the wave passes on and it’s windy, Santa Ana Winds in the fall, and as the wave crests and breaks, the wind blows the white water back and the spray rains down on you. Salt water rain. You close your eyes and bend away from it, your legs and back, your consciousness, alert to the next swell.

We would surf sometimes in a heavy fog. You couldn’t see the wave coming. You had to listen to the ocean. You had to feel through your legs, your ass, through your heart. Paddle into a wave that you can’t see anyway, you might as well close your eyes and feel it. If you’re a surfer you’ll know what I mean.
High tide. Low tide. Point break. Beach break. Storm surf.
There is almost nothing better.
Every time I see a wave, a swell, a crash of white water, a lapping of water against a shore, I picture a surfer taking off. He whips his board around, goes prone, paddles, pushes, and hops to his feet. It’s like music. It’s a physical experience. The measure of the ocean. The swell, the push, the pull of the water, the tug of the moon on the tides. The soft throb of a butterfly’s wings. The break. Curl. Tube. The beat of the music. The rhythm, the pace, the stride. If you’re a surfer you’ll understand.

The next morning the surf was still up. My buddy, the bass player was probably with her. I was anxious to paddle out over the incoming swells, out into the fray, under a breaker, out into the area of sharks and undulating kelp, to whip my board around, lay myself out, paddle, muscle through water, and feel the wave take over. I love that moment, that instant in time. That merging with the ocean. Then the board digs in, fin slicing through moving water. I leap to my feet, let the board glide to the bottom of the wave and crank my right heel into a hard bottom turn. The board plows upward against the wall of moving water and……well, if you’re a surfer. If you are a surfer and not a…..well you’ll know what I mean. That morning, I mentally kicked myself in the butt. Wouldn’t you? I could actually almost hear the beat of her heart. Peasant blouse, loose in the nighttime drafts, under the vaulted sky, and I spent those moments listening to the music of the water. I spent those moments mentally surfing those waves. Well, if you’re a surfer you’ll understand.
The rhythm of the waves. The rhythm of the earth.

© Jeffrey Beyl

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