We live in a desert, in what many see as a vast wasteland; but geologists tell us that this place was once a part of a great ocean. Our draw to the sea is not beyond understanding. San Diego is like a second home to many of us, and our very bodies, including our blood, are microcosms of the world’s oceans.
“Deep in the Wave: A Surfing Guide to the Soul,” by the two-time tandem surfing world champion, Bear Woznick, isn’t simply to be ignored because we haven’t taken a surfboard to the local wave pool.
Bear himself is a renaissance man: big-wave surfer, tandem surfer (with a dance partner on a moving surfboard), a CPA, a ninja black belt, a skydiver, and a pilot who holds several world records for craziness — biking from San Diego to Jacksonville, Fla., paddling out on Bloody Sunday into 40-foot waves at Teahopu’u in Tahiti, and once paddling his surf board across the open ocean channel between Molaki and Oahu — stuff only done in blockbuster movies; but most importantly, Bear is a man of God. He is an Oblate to the Benedictine Monastery in Oahu, Hawaii.
Bear’s fantastical life is one that he likens to a journey toward God, the journey that begins with our recognition or awareness of Him and ends with our entry into the Eternal Kingdom. We might find the broad-strokes of Bear’s journey difficult to bear as we try to relate them to our own mundane lives with the common things we do like biking, going to the grocery store, or raking the lawn.
When a surfer goes deep into a wave, the experience is literal. We’ve seen surfers riding inside the giant rolling tubes of water called “the pipeline,” “the tube,” or “the green room.” No other sport places a participant into the very heart of that which makes the sport, in this case, the ocean. A surfer riding within the tube will sometimes extend a hand into the back face of the wave so as to slow down and extend the ride. The surfer reaches into the heart of sea.
Going deep into the wave, according to Bear, means to die to self and live for God, a total commitment to know God’s heart and to touch His face; it means to fall deeply into the wave of God’s unfathomable, primordial love. If Bear sounds like Thomas Merton, the 20th-century mystic, it, too, is understandable, for riding a wave is like standing in silence amid the roar of the vastness of the ocean, or, for us, amid the roar of the everyday world.
Bear has us follow him through the valleys and peaks of his life, from deepening awareness, to full-fledged envelopment by God, to the Dark Night of the Soul in which he suffers the pain of injury, the separation from his wife and children, and the incredible longing for the sea.
He teaches us that his massive life moments are really no different from our own simple moments, that we can dive deeply into the wave of God while in the garden, the aisle of the grocery store, or in holding and consoling a little one who has scraped a knee. Each of these things are meant to remind us of the glory of Creation: each inch we ride over asphalt, every stroke of the rake, and every pause in an aisle to select an orange or a jar of pasta sauce can be a ride in the pipeline of God’s love.
The good thing about Bear’s book is that, while it mentions God almost as many times as does the Bible, it doesn’t really inspire us to go out and actually ride the big waves, but only to watch, and not test the Lord with our lives in that way. A 30-foot wave is large; a 50-foot wave is like the finger of God splashing thousands of miles away with the ripples powerful enough to sink anything. It takes a special person to paddle out into such waves, but one just as special to see His glory in the mundane moments of our lives.
Robert Curtis, a life-professed Lay Dominican, is the author of 17 books, holds a master’s degree in creative writing, teaches composition at the University of Phoenix and creative writing at Rio Salado College.