I am an unrepentant ocean lover. The smell of the salty air, seaweed, and wildlife bring me to a zesty lather like no other environment on the planet. The energy of the ever-changing, unpredictable, and often dangerous ocean excites me as much as the vast expanse of blue and the unending sounds of surf and sea life soothe me. If I can’t have the ocean, fresh water will do, in a pinch, but the lack of whales and other sea-faring creatures, the calm currents and waves that lap lazily at freshwater shores, and the distinct lack of salt and minerals on my lips, hair, and skin, consistently leave me wanting.
It’s not surprising then, that my happy place is in the ocean, bobbing over or diving under chest-high waves, swimming parallel to a favorite beach, just past the breakers where the dolphins, seals, and otters play, or putting out to deeper waters on a stand-up paddle (SUP) board for a long trek through rolling swells, kelp forests, and shifting currents. Some might classify me as a risk-taker, a wild woman, or just plain crazy—and they’d be at least partially right—because the ocean is a beautiful but unforgiving force of nature; one that can easily lay waste to a tiny human in the flick of a rogue wave, the sting of a manta ray, or the tug of a rip-current. As many people can attest, playing in the ocean requires a certain amount of daring, keen observational skills, physical strength, a strong sense of one’s personal limitations, and a healthy dose of respect for the power and unpredictability of water and wildlife—but that’s what makes it so special!
Now, take a moment to imagine my dismay at being forced out of the water, not just for three months, but for the better part of three years! As a woman who used to go surfing, SUPing, or swimming about three times a week, it was crushing to merely sit on the shore or stroll through the surf watching everyone else get in and play, while I recovered, ever so slowly, from three injuries in a row.
I asked myself countless times if the Universe was trying to tell me something, if I had been spared from something far worse, or if I was paying off some karmic debt. I took consolation in the fact that my injuries hadn’t been worse; I could and would recover fully, if I was patient and careful; and at least each injury had happened while I was doing something I love—surfing, horseback riding, and traveling abroad! I knew two things for sure: that my Angels were working overtime, and that I had to get back in and on the water.
Happily, my daughter, my niece, and some of my closest friends are as patient as the day is long, and are complete mermaids, like me (maybe even more!). I went through “mama rehab” with my daughter, which entailed wading into the shallows, sans wetsuit, to reacclimate to 55-65°F water temperatures, and later was tugged, tamped, and tilted into my wetsuit to go for embarrassingly short, difficult swims. Next, came beach yoga, slack-lining, and some easy rock climbing (that’s my preferred land sport, except in the winter when I can play in that frozen water called snow).
Between injuries, other mermaids lured me back into the water for full-immersion swims, again sans wetsuit, easy 2 to 3-mile SUP paddles, and even some boogie boarding, which though fun and much easier on my injuries, was not nearly as satisfying as paddling my arms to catch a break and popping-up on my long board.
Now that I’ve set the stage with some of my personal backstory, I want to bring you into the present, and the impetus for this long-awaited, introduction to my TEAM Gaea blog post. Thanks to my most recent injury, and months of traveling to inland destinations and less hospitable ocean environs, I’ve been a fish out of water for most of 2017. As frustrating as that has been, this has also proven to be a year of incredible firsts!
Some of my recent ocean adventures have been unusual, timely, and thought-provoking by turns, including: a painfully cold dip in the wild Atlantic waters of the Aran Islands, where I witnessed an unhappy bottlenose dolphin responding to a swimmer that must have gotten too close; a bracing swim along the southern coast of Ireland, where I also got to see hundreds of puffins nesting in the rocks of Skellig Michael and thousands of gannets nesting on the adjacent island that serves as one of the largest gannet colonies in Europe; a brief surf session in the chilling Pacific, along the golden coast of Oregon, where surfers paddle mostly untrafficked waves along pristine, sometimes ghostly beaches, and giant crabs dig their pointed feet into the sandy shallows to anchor themselves while they filter-feed; and just the other day, perhaps the most intriguing, beguiling encounter of 2017, my first ever shark sighting (a shortfin mako), plus two manta rays, while SUPing during a red tide in Capitola, California with my daughter. And having arrived this week in the water-logged state of Florida, I fully expect to have even more adventures in the next couple of months!
Each ocean experience is unique and offers its own glimpse into the unfathomable mystery, magic, and mayhem of the deep. My goal with the TEAM Gaea blog, is to draw you into the big blue with me and enchant you with her secrets, to illustrate the wonder of an environment that covers 80% of Earth’s surface, and provides a home and sustenance to more than one million known species and maybe as many as nine million different species of plants and animals. When I meet one of those species, up close and personal, I will put you front and center into the experience with me, and share all that I learn.
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