The Fleeting Moment: Frozen Solitude

by Christian Stutzman

Freezing, I thought to myself. I’ve been sitting out here for almost a solid hour and I haven’t even seen a wave break. I can’t do the paddle of shame, but I swear if I stay our here any longer I’m going to get hypothermic. In my optimism I had seen a wave feather on the second reef of my local break and I had decided to go through the long wait to try and get an outsider for a wave in before sunset. Needless to say, it had not been going well.

The sun had already set, and I had begun to shiver uncontrollably. Why did I choose to wear a spring suit? Just as I had begun to give up hope of catching a wave in, I saw it: it was the biggest wave that I had seen all day, and it was coming straight for me. This is my chance! I turned around and started to paddle frantically, I knew this would be my only chance for a redeeming wave in. I was just barely able to scrape into the thing.

The wave was maybe eight feet, not gigantic by any stretch of the imagination, but it was definitely big enough to break on the second reef. I started to roll down the face. Make sure to fade deep enough, the last thing you want to do is blow this wave, I told myself. I cut hard left, and just as the wave hit the first reef, I made my bottom turn and set up for the barrel. There was a water photographer on the shoulder of the wave, camera perfectly poised to capture me. Don’t blow it.

I had faded exactly as deep as I needed to be, so I just stood there, one hand out dragging on the wall of the tube and my back fully extended into a small soul-arch. The wave spat me out and I had just enough time to straighten out before the next section took me out. It was at that point the best barrel I felt I had ever gotten. I kicked my board out and tried to make my way under the wave as it closed out behind me. No success. The wave pinned me down into a hole in the reef and cut my elbow pretty bad, it was a lousy kick out to say the least. I didn’t care, I was stoked.

I never did see the photo that water photographer took, I guess in all my excitement I forgot to ask him to send it to me, and I never did see him out again since that day. But in a way, I’m almost glad I never saw it. That fleeting moment, that memory has been engrained into my mind, it’s a wave I don’t think I will ever forget. That moment is now my own; it was meant for me and not anyone else. I think there is also something to be said of how seeing that photo could have made me realize that my wave wasn’t nearly as cool as I thought it was. Maybe I looked stupid, maybe the wave was a lot smaller than I thought, maybe I didn’t fade enough and I wasn’t actually even in the barrel. All I have now is that memory, and that is all I will ever need. That’s what makes surfing so great to me, the ability to have moments that aren’t meant for anyone else. It almost makes me feel spiritually connected to the ocean, to be able to have an experience all to myself that doesn’t always need to be shared or documented.

I couldn’t go in. Not after that wave. What if I went in and missed another wave like that? I couldn’t take that chance. I needed another one. I put my head down and paddled back to the outside reef and waited. Freezing.

Christian Stutzman