“It is not uncommon for some of the more
introspective surfers to become mystics later in life.”
When I arrived for my stopover at LAX, Joey joined me for dinner and drinks at a restaurant in the airport, and I told him all about my adventures aboard Kalea. He listened patiently and politely with mild interest to all the human drama stuff but noticeably perked up when I got to the topic of surfing.
“Hey Joey, did you know that surfing was the ‘in thing’ in ancient Polynesian culture. They say it may have first been noticed in Tahiti in the mid-1700s by the crew members of the Dolphin, who were the first Europeans to visit the island. When Mark Twain visited Hawaii in the 1800s, he wrote of, ‘seeing naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing.’ ”
The idea of naked people surf bathing seemed to really resonate with Joey. But I sensed that there was something deeper in his connection with surfing than just the thrill of the ride or the occasional Baywatch babe sighting.
Some surfers feel that since the ocean was the place where life began on this planet, the act of riding on a wave momentarily connects a surfer with this vast living memory. Perhaps surfing provides some form of subconscious access to the Jungian collective unconscious of the planet. Famed psychologist and psychedelics researcher Timothy Leary once called surfing our ‘highest evolutionary activity,’ as both surfing and evolution deal with waves — the fundamental structure of nature.
Surfing enables an individual to playfully interact with the immense power of the ocean; and for many surfers, the act is an authentic spiritual experience where Nature = God, though they may not articulate it quite that way. It is not uncommon for some of the more introspective surfers to become mystics later in life. Perhaps this mysterious connection between the recreational riding of ocean waves and our deeper longings will be the thing that brings my friend Joey around to questioning our mainland culture’s careless disregard for the health of the oceans.
If life in the sea suffers, so will life on land — no blue, no green. Surfing may be the connection to Nature that opens his heart to the environmental challenges we face and the collective activism we need. Joey replied, enthusiastically,
“That’s cool, man. I’ll have to get out to those islands sometime and ride the waves to honor those early surfer dudes of the South Pacific who were hanging ten way back then. Maybe being among those islander spirits for a time will improve my technique.”
After some more light conversation, we said our goodbyes, and I boarded the red-eye flight back to South Florida. The next morning, after only a few hours of deep, dreamless sleep aboard the airplane, I got home, dropped off my duffle bag and guitar in my small studio apartment and headed over to GoodVibes Music School — the local music school and shop in Delray Beach where I teach guitar part-time.
I suddenly had a burning desire to check out their extensive selection of ukuleles. Being somewhat of a guitar snob, I had never paid much attention to their impressive collection of 4-string ukes when I would drop in to teach music a few days each week. But this was before fate and a phone call from ‘Unknown’ had placed me on a Polynesian cruising catamaran in the South Pacific for a week with a very musical, funny, life-loving, world-wise, ukulele-playing chef from the Cook Islands.
I had developed a secret love and respect for this dopey diminutive four-stringed instrument during those days at sea listening to Lua sing and play. I was seduced by the simplicity, portability, and warm islandy sound of this humble little unassuming thumb-strummable shrunken guitar. Perhaps I had fatefully stumbled upon a second-chance romance of my own on this bizarre island-hopping reality-show odyssey!
I tried out a beautiful baritone ukulele. It was crafted with a Hawaiian Koa top, back and sides; Rosewood fingerboard and bridge; and ultra-smooth glossy finish. I was able to awkwardly thumb-strum a few tunes after reprogramming my fingers by fooling them into thinking they were just playing my regular six-string guitar with the lowest two strings AWOL. She sounded great! I named her ‘Laughing Lua,’ in honor of my merry musical crewmate from the Cook Islands, picked out a strong, durable case for her, and brought her home.
When I got back to my apartment, I spent some time getting used to the new chord fingerings while my guitar ‘gently wept’ in the corner. Then I strapped my marvelously portable mini guitar on my back, throwing my backpack with notebook computer tucked securely inside into a saddlebag hanging off of my rear bike rack, and rode over to WorldBeat Café — the artsy, local coffee shop where I regularly read the news and write stories.
There would be much to tell about this extraordinary South Pacific adventure, and I wanted to get down to some serious writing before the details faded from memory. WorldBeat Café is also a favorite spot to jam with other local musicians who would stop by at odd hours of the day from time to time. Many consider this sort of leisure activity just a way to ‘kill time’ between the more important work of the day. But they, sadly, do not 'get' the magic, mystery, and power of music — and how it connects.