American Catholic Blog – http://blog.americancatholic.org/ – Deep Adventure: A Wave of Virtue
The twenty-plus-foot waves of Waimea Bay were monstrous enough to pound fear into the rhythm of any heart. I stood on the shoreline in a surreal state of mind, detached from reality. The giant waves dwarfed the size of the bay. The summer sounds of children frolicking in the bay’s deep, calm waters were replaced by the warnings of lifeguards, called out on their bullhorns. Monolithic sets built up on the horizon. Before long, most beach-goers had abandoned the water, leaving only the most determined and daring to brave the heavy waters.
From time to time, a rescue helicopter would circle over the surfers in the lineup or zip by on its way to pull someone out of the water at another beach. I have seen these waves break bodies and take lives. Once after a horrific wipe out, my friend Scotty Perez was pulled out of the bay by a rescue copter. His arm, broken at the bicep, was held together by just a few tendons.
I stood high on the steep shoreline, feeling the surge of water rushing past my legs and ripping back to sea, trying to suck me out with it. With each wave, my feet sank a little deeper in the sand and resolve settled a little deeper in my soul.
Waimea only breaks when the surf is huge. When all the other surf spots along the North Shore’s Miracle Mile are closed out by massive, unrideable walls of water, the deeper reef of Waimea just begins to break, each wave as tantalizingly beautiful as it is deadly. Surfers will stand on the water’s edge for a half hour or more in order to scope things out, our eyes locked on the ocean, our bodies, carved by hours in the ocean, coiled with energy. These moments may look meditative, but don’t be deceived. We are actively engaged with what we see. Soldiers preparing for battle. Athletes focused on our strategy. As we watch the waves, we are doing recon: gauging how big the biggest wave is, timing the wave intervals, counting how many waves in a set. We are looking for the direction the swell is coming from, seeing if there is more than one swell, watching how it is breaking and on what area of the reef it is hitting. For years, we’ve prepared our bodies for this moment. Now, we’re preparing our minds, fortifying our instincts with invaluable information.
But we can only watch for so long before mental preparation morphs into something much more sinister: fearful avoidance. The longer I stood there stewing in the juices of my own adrenaline, the shakier my body became. The shakier my body, the shakier my courage. A primal fear—a natural but deeply cautious sense of self-preservation—can sneak in. If I give it space in my head or heart, it becomes debilitating.
Taking the Leap
A lot of surfers stand on the beach like this, surfboard in hand, and never paddle out. For some reason, I always do. I held my eleven-foot-six-inch Becker big wave elephant gun surfboard under my arm and gathered up my courage along with my leg leash. At the very moment fear threatened to overwhelm me, I sprinted toward the water and leapt as high as I could to get over the shore break, landing on my surfboard and paddling with all my might.
I was met by steamroller surges of water that tried to push me back toward shore, but after a minute or so, I powered through those first few hundred yards and into the relentless force of a riptide that sent me surging out to sea. The riptide can be a big wave rider’s best friend. It is like a ski lift in Aspen, propelling the rider almost effortlessly toward the top of the slope. It helped me easily paddle the rest of the way in the deep water of the channel next to hehe nalu, the mountaintop waves.
Instead of paddling right into the lineup, I sat in the deeper channel next to the pit where the waves were breaking. I watched one more set cycle through. There is one particular boil mark that is caused by the wave breaking over an area of the reef that is shallower then the rest. I always navigate by that boil mark. I watched the swell and saw how it was breaking on that spot to determine where I wanted my takeoff to be. I paddled into the lineup and looked out to sea, searching for the death-bomb waves. My hope was that I’d be able to successfully ride those waves, but if not, I prayed I would at least survive them. Finally, a wave approached, and I turned to paddle for it.
You cannot catch a big wave unless you paddle into it with all of your heart, strength, and mind. You have to really want to ride that wave, you have to go for it with everything you’ve got, and you have to have your wits about you. You need to reason through your decision of where to paddle from and when to go and when not to. You must be willing to give it everything you’ve got, and you have to want it.
A Virtuous Life
Living a virtuous and spiritually rich life is like riding a big wave. You cannot move in the fullness of the virtues unless you reach out for God’s power. You have to dedicate your heart, strength, and mind to the task at hand. The ocean is a dangerous place for those who don’t respect its power or acknowledge its might. The same is true with God—his love is wild and untamable, and he isn’t interested in the lukewarm who paddle out halfheartedly, distracted by the pleasures of the shore behind them. In fact, the Bible tells us that the Lord will spit out the lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). But when you fully commit, he will propel you into experiences you never dreamed of.
Do not linger on the shore. God’s adventure is waiting for you! Paddle out. Start your day in prayer and resolve. Position yourself in the lineup and seek the best place to catch the wave. Continue through your day in prayerful awareness of God’s presence and leading. Be aware of the danger of a shark in the water. If he approaches you, punch him in the nose. That is, resist the devil when he comes with temptation and he will flee (see James 4:7).
Be aware of other surfers in the water. Inexperienced or reckless surfers can be your greatest danger. Choose wisely with whom you spend your time during the day. Just like surfers review their camera footage to see how they can improve, examine your thoughts, words, and deeds to determine how you can do better. Where you failed, seek reconciliation with God and others.
My “car guy” friend, Dennis Reilly, has made more than seven hundred carrier landings, a lot of them at night. He understands the difference between the small, single-propeller plane that I fly and the powerful jets he flies. He once told me that what makes a jet engine so powerful is that it recycles and speeds up the air within it. Each time it cycles, it produces more power and speed. Power builds upon power.
This is how virtue grows, too. Each virtuous thought and action builds upon others so that the virtue within us grows more and more powerful. To the Greek philosophers, the word “good” implies that something fulfills its intended purpose. A lime tree, for example, is good if it grows perfect limes for a gin and tonic or for key lime pie. A good Harley is one that powers us along beautiful, winding mountain roads. If something is living up to its potential and purpose, it is good.
When God created light, he said it was good because the sun and stars filled the universe with light, as they were intended to do. When God created Adam and Eve, he said it was very good, and they tended the garden and walked in humble relationship with God, fulfilling their purpose. The virtues, then, are good when we live in them and allow their work to be seen in us.