The Top 24 Surf Spots to Learn to Ride Waves

Feels Like Freedom

I sail Swell out of the harbor the next morning with no hurry, no guests on the way, and a variety of nearby destinations to choose from. I wrote the Spaniard right back with my plan to head north for cyclone season, and explained that I didn’t have the money to fly up to meet him and pay the dock fees for Swell. “How about we meet in the middle?” I proposed. He agreed that in five weeks’ time, we’d meet at a small island in between Tahiti and the Marquesas, and then take on the passage to Kiribati with our boats side by side.

I have plenty of time to make my way to where we’ll rendezvous. It feels foreign not to have a course already plotted as I slip out of the pass, but I tell myself that this is exactly the luxury I’ve desired. Instead of letting a schedule or obligation plot my course, I will let the wind, weather, and swell direction choose my next ports of call.

As I move off the island and scrutinize the angle of the wind, a spotted ray leaps repeatedly from the sea off my port bow, precisely in the direction that seems to be the best heading. I take this as an affirmation, and Swell lurches in acceleration as I push out the boom and ease the jib into the plump trim of a broad reach. I set the steering vane, turn up the volume on my new French audio lessons, and lie back like a kid in a lazy river to enjoy where the elements take me.

Over the weeks to come, I find a rhythm with the swells and wind. When I find an anchorage near a wave, the wind happens to drop off. And as the swell dwindles, the wind fills in and carries me onward. Is it just lucky timing, or the result of tuning into the rhythms of nature? In either case, with all the conflicting and uncontrollable factors in sailing to surf, each opportunity to ride waves must be seized!

The Top 24 Surf Spots to Learn to Ride Waves Photo Gallery

When the anchor is down, I keep things simple: I paddle to the breaks instead of launching my dinghy, eat minimally, and spend mornings playing in the waves. I return to Swell for a midday hiatus, sunscreen-caked and red-eyed. Pulling a ripe avocado from the cooler, I slice it in half, drizzle it with hot sauce, then splay across the cabin floor where the breeze from the forward hatch cools my sunburnt body, savoring each spoonful. After napping or writing, I often paddle back out for an evening session, then use candles and headlamps when I return to Swell so I don’t have to run the generator to charge the batteries. I sleep early, and wake up before the sun to see if there’s surf again. Despite my burning shoulders, anything but full attention to the waves feels sacrilegious. Such is life dedicated to a sport as ephemeral as surfing!

When the forecast predicts a drop in the trades, I decide to take advantage of it to move more easily east. At sea again, the wind in my hair feels like freedom. Between sail adjustments, I sing and dance topless in the sunshine. Is it okay to be this happy all by myself?

I hadn’t always been so excited to be alone. In fact, I used to be terrified of it. Before my voyage, I would panic at the thought of spending a Saturday night by myself. I had abundant friends, boyfriends, and overlapping schedules always making more plans than I could keep. I think I was avoiding being alone maybe so I wouldn’t have to face the parts of myself I didn’t like?

Luckily, most things are scarier when you’re thinking about them than when you’re actually doing them, and my fears about being alone proved unfounded. Now that I’ve had some extended stretches of solitude aboard Swell, it’s a relief to know that I actually enjoy my own company.

Since my choices affect only me, I’m learning more about what I like, what I want, and how I thrive. I don’t have to explain myself. The days ebb and flow with the rhythms of my body and the environment around me. I move between tasks and basic human needs in a spontaneous, instinctual manner. The simplicity of it delights me. I can pee right off the leeward side, take a bite out of the block of cheese for dinner, or devise an extravagant new recipe that only I will suffer through if it’s a failure. I can be totally immersed in a project and then drop down suddenly for a ten-minute siesta. In fact, I find myself indulging in intermittent catnaps, as if I’m catching up on years of missed sleep. When the faintest hint of fatigue tugs at me, I curl up and shut my eyes sometimes in the cockpit or on the cabin floor with a damp towel or a week’s-worn T-shirt as a pillow.

Out here, there is no one to compare myself with there’s not even a full-length mirror to critique my appearance. I let my hair go wild. I laugh out loud, and break into dance without a second thought. I can fester in my filth or spend half an hour massaging shampoo into my scalp. I wear any odd ensemble from the clothing bin or nothing at all. Some granny panties that Mom gave me have become my go-to sailing uniform. I can scream, cry, and sing all in one breath with no one to judge me. I want everyone to feel this deep liberation.

Being alone allows me to tune in to signs, nuances, and feelings. I refocus on buena manifestacion, being present, rooting out my negative thoughts, more flowing, and less forcing. I change my mind and my destination as often as I want. If that little voice inside me the one I have always been so good at ignoring says, “Don’t go today,” departure plans are pushed back without another thought. I begin to seek a relationship with that voice, those intuitive moments, and I notice positive outcomes each time I go within, listen, and act from my gut. There must be something to this.

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