Dreams and Debts
After an epic few weeks of surf exploration, stuck anchors, dumb jokes, and wily sharks, Ryan and Taylor head off on a cargo ship for their next surfing quest. For a sweet, solo week before the film crew arrives, I dissolve happily into the sparse archipelago of palms, coral, lagoon, and sky. Just gazing at this remote ocean wilderness soothes me. I surf a dying swell with local kids on old beat-up boards in the morning. When the tide changes, I drift with the current into the pass, flying over schools of fish and the colorful coral seafloor with my ankle tied to the dinghy’s bowline. The locals here also welcome me wholly, inviting me for meals and even offering me black pearls and handmade crafts. Their richness is not in having, but in giving.
A lovely light breeze blows over the atoll, but Gaspar, who has resurfaced via email, warns me to pay close attention to wind shifts that could expose my anchorage. Aboard Swell, my first attempt at baking bread produces something more anchorlike than edible, but I marvel at how the simple act of kneading the dough is satisfying. I dance to Ryan’s playlist and pluck at the guitar Kemi gave me back in Panama. It feels so good to slow down.
Top 10 surfing destinations in Asia Pacific Photo Gallery
In the afternoons, the long bare strips of coral and white sand call. I wander the fingers of exposed reef to study the crabs, fish, and corals. The sea air is decadently fresh. Eels slither completely out of the water and wiggle over the dry reef to the next coral pool.
Reef sharks swim right into the shallows, their fins cutting silently along the surface. The reef is so alive I can almost feel it breathing. My mind was blown to learn from the locals that an island not that far from here was used to test nuclear weapons by the French until the mid-’90s. How could anyone bomb this?
Surrounded by nature’s magic, I wonder about the ways of the West, and why we live like we do back home. Most of my friends are grinding their lives away behind a desk or register, paying off student loans, rent, or mortgages. Most don’t enjoy what they do, but everyone needs an income and the corporate ladder promises credentials and material security. Still, what is security with no freedom? Money with no time? Work without passion?
Of course, not everyone would want this sailing life, either, but I wish it were easier for people to pursue their own dreams and desires. I write to Barry about it in my next letter: “How can people learn their strengths, and explore their passions and potential?” I type. “My situation is an anomaly, but I recognize what most people back home are facing and it pains me. The current system devalues our dreams, unless they produce financial gains. Most feel obligated to take the road that keeps them sheltered and fed, and then drown the yearning of their souls with alcohol, drugs, and pills. It hurts to think about our true desires when they seem too inaccessible. They become accustomed to a demure work life with no time to really question it until retirement. But by then their bodies are worn out and minds accustomed to certainty and structure. Too many dreams are going hauntingly unfulfilled.”
“You and your generation must shape the world you want to live in,” Barry replies. “It takes courage and creativity to think outside of society’s box, but most of the changes I’ve seen in my eighty-three years have happened because of people who persisted toward a dream or a belief about what is ‘right.’ The Environmental Studies Program is a good example. When the oil platform blew up off the Santa Barbara coast in January of 1969, crude oil spilled into the channel and covered beaches. Students complained that their education was not equipping them for this kind of problem. I met with a group of 21 faculty to discuss the possibility of promoting some form of environmental education at UCSB. By the fall of 1970, the ES program had been started. Our first graduating class had only 12 students, but today there are more than 5,000 alumni. Each graduate becomes an active part of our society’s environmental awakening. Just look at you. Keep going, dear. People will take notice. Maybe a few more dreams will be chased because of you.”
His reply makes me feel a little better; I hadn’t thought about it like this. Still, despite Barry’s encouragement and how backwards the system seems, I have to face the fact that my savings are running low. Plus, if I am to get across the Pacific this season like all the other cruisers, I need to get moving. But the film crew arrives tomorrow, plus my brother is getting married in a few weeks my father has proposed to fly me home from Tahiti on a frequent flyer ticket. Following the filming rendezvous, I must find a safe place to leave Swell.
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