The Big Picture: Cyclocross and the Zen of Surfing

There are days when the house is empty and the breeze blows through the front window that I just lay on the floor and imagine I’m surfing. Paddling hard into a rising wave, feeling the push and power propelling me to the shore, I pop up and admire my ability to work in tandem with the water, cutting hard back to my left towards the waves crest and then quickly slashing right back into the perfect glassy pocket, water sprays and catches the ever changing oranges and purples as the sun dips into to the sea.

© 2016 Brett Rothmeyer
© 2016 Brett Rothmeyer

I paddle back out and just sit and enjoy enjoy the natural beauty and the overwhelming feeling of isolation floating in the ocean can conjure. I imagine bonfires on the beach, road trips to secret spots with perfect curling waves that roll on for miles and then I remember I can’t really surf.

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© 2015 Brett Rothmeyer

A few years back to satisfy my infatuation with sliding sideways over salty water I rented a board and headed to the local surf spot during one of our family vacations to Hilton Head Island. If you have any local knowledge of good waves on the east coast then you will likely know that Hilton Head isn’t really topping the list for catching bitchin’ tubes. I strapped the 12’ foam top board to the roof of my station wagon and headed out.

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The board was more like a piece of furniture than the sleek slabs of art work that I had been admiring in magazines and videos but it was my only option and damn it I wanted to surf. Paddling out through the chest high choppy waves one thing became quite clear, this was going to be hard. The board cumbersome and heavy was hard to get going as waves approached and my ability to place myself in the right spot for take off was not at all how I daydreamed while dry and sleepy on the living room rug. Wave after wave, miss after miss, sometimes just riding the 12’ monster on my belly like a overgrown boogie board.

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© 2015 Brett Rothmeyer

I was exhausted, the constant fighting and paddling, being catapulted as the nose bit hard into the water causing the tail to stand upright and me to go flailing into the air, maybe surfing isn’t me I thought. I paddled back out, my knee bloodied from the constant rubbing against the foam top I glance to my left and saw one of the guys from the surf shop where I rented the board effortlessly gliding into wave and making little turns to his left on his rasta themed 8 footer. Paddling back out he gave me a nod with a smirk, my struggles were apparent. I sat for a while just floating beyond where they waves were braking.

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I had grown up skateboarding and snowboarding so surfing seemed like a must, a completion to the trifecta of radness. I began to remember my first days of skating and  what a struggle it was, hell it’s still a struggle. I remembered my first days on a snowboard and the never ending ass whooping I took on the mountain learning how to control my edges and now here I was trying to ride the ocean on 40 lbs of fiberglass and foam. I would eventually stand up on a couple waves that day, while it was nothing like the fantasies I created while staring at the ceiling it was gratifying and very real.

© 2015 Brett Rothmeyer
© 2015 Brett Rothmeyer

Lately I’ve been dreaming of surfing again more frequently, I have been reading about it and finding inspiration in surf photography. I have began to look at surfing as a way to look at life, a way to look at photography, at opportunities. If I learned anything from one day of surfing it’s that patience is obligated and that no matter how good a wave is and no matter how much style and skill you put into riding it, every wave closes out eventually. No wave goes on forever, and we all have to get back out to the line up and wait for the next good one to roll in. I thought about this last weekend in Baltimore while walking around course during Charm City Cx, but instead of waves I was chasing photographs.

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© 2016 Brett Rothmeyer

I tired to remember the lessons I learned in the ocean that day and to not just go throwing myself at every wave that came through, hopping to catch something anything. One of the most useful things I learned while studying film photography was to be mindful of what you are shooting, to look before you shoot and slow down the process. Sure there are times while you are trying to decide to start paddling or shooting you miss the wave or the shot, but there will always be others.

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© 2015 Brett Rothmeyer

There is this parallel between activities like riding bikes, surfing, skateboarding and photography, where in you can do whatever you want with it. What photography is to you may be something completely different to someone else, the same can be said about riding your bike or a skateboard, the landscape is open to your interpretation, there are no rules.

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  As the season continues and races like sets of waves keep rolling in you may find me just floating around on course somewhere with only my trusty Pentax k-1000 in hand patiently waiting for my wave to roll in on an off cambered turn littered with dappled evening light and just the right amount of open sky in the back ground, spotting a rider ripping a hard turn as the grass tears under grip of tires.

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© 2015 Brett Rothmeyer
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2 thoughts on “The Big Picture: Cyclocross and the Zen of Surfing

  1. Great Post! I surf and ride bikes too and there are some parallels. when i lived at the coast (san francisco) i frequently did the double up days of surfing and riding and though the fitness is a little different the hunt is the same. Particularly when you look at dirt based cycling (MTB and CX) where you are all talking about the conditions being variable depending on moisture, wind, swell etc. I’ve been on road trips with both surf buddies and riders and the trips are similar…talk has some parallels and in the end the search for the perfect wave, course that fits your strengths or rad MTB trail is the same.
    Shooting cycling vs surfing is quite a bit different. I’ve shot a lot of surfing and biking and find cycling hard to shoot…at least i’ve never gotten too much i’ve been proud of (usually involves sticking a fisheye lense inches away from a guys face during a crit or cx race and freaking them and myself out, but get an okay shot). Nice shots above BTW and admire shooters that can capture biking….its not easy (check out my old photo page http://www.mheye.com )
    Great post and if you ever want to dawn patrol from DC in the early morning let me know…i go out to rahobath super early and can make it back for a half day of work by noon..nows a great time of year and hopefully we get one more good huricane.

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