Watching the thoughts is the opposite of surfing. I couldn't ride a wave to save my life, no matter how hard I tried. Which is why I'm good at meditating. Maybe it's all in my own mind. My first exposure to surfing came through watching Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in the 1982 classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Spicoli was a surfer. And funny as f%#ck. Basically because he didn't try.
Several summers later, in 1986, my family and I went on a trip to Hawaii. We took my friend DJ with us. We both packed our boogie boards. Wading side by side between sets at Honolulu's famed Waikiki Beach, DJ would imitate Spicoli, who told an imaginary interviewer that all he needed was "some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine." Spicoli was also a legend in his own mind. Now I know where I get it from.
The most fun I had while boogie boarding was making surfers wipe out. I'd dive into a wave, "snaking" the surfer's ride, and dash the front of my board into the back of his, just as he was about to head into the tube. The hapless wave rider would make a huge splash and I with him, laughing all the time. I'm surprised I didn't get beat up. Boogie boarding is hard, and surfing is harder. Just out of college a gym buddy convinced me into forking over about $500 for a new surf board, wet suit and other essentials, like sex wax, a name that always makes me smile. I spent the night at his house so we could head for the coast at dawn and connect with that perfect tube. After rubbing down our boards with sex wax, we mounted them to the back of his Bronco and with bagels in our back pockets, a la our hero, drove the 15 miles to the beach - in bumper to bumper traffic. Not so Spicoli.
Before reaching the ocean we pulled over at an overlook to get a glimpse of the surf. We could have called the surf report, but this was more organic. As we glanced toward the horizon at the deep Pacific blue, there was not a wave in sight. Smooth and flat as glass. And the day was overcast, so we couldn't even lay out, which would have been a very unSpicoli thing to do anyway. Thus it was back in the car to head home. I remember thinking: For 3 hours and 5 Benjamins that's all I got? I know ocean views are expensive, but this is ridiculous!
Eventually my friends and I did make it into the water, and in the very first set my board got dinged by a friend's errant ride. Call it surfer karma, tubular voodoo. All those locals I had wiped out were seeking their revenge, my deeds coming back to haunt me. I never caught a wave that entire summer. Though I did spend a lot of time watching the surf. The trick with surfing is to find the perfect spot, not too far out so as to miss the set, and not too close to the shore or you wind up hammered, but somewhere in the sweet spot, where as the ocean swells you find yourself at the water's pinnacle and as the wave crests and curls you fly down screaming bloody murder and holding onto the seat of your pants, that is if you are still wearing any and your hands are free, and if you are it means you were able to stand up. And paddle. You must paddle. I did. But I never stood up. I always seemed to be at the wrong place to catch a wave. And when I was in the proper spot, the tube never looked like the right ride. So I'd wait for the next. And the next. And by the day's end my friends had caught like a dozen waves, or befriended the ocean's floor as many times, and I was still straddling my board, shivering, with nobody to sing Spicoli-inspired lullabies. Missing you, Deej.
Surfing is the opposite of sitting in silence. The point of the former is to catch the wave, become one with it, ride it out, possibly into another, until you reach the shore. Whereas with thought watching, you remain poised in eager anticipation for the next thought, though it may never come, and waiting for it somehow makes it less likely to appear. Then when a thought does pop into your head, you actually exert your will not to become your thought, not to give in and be lead from thought to thought like the surfer joining wave to wave. You paddle, but in the opposite direction.
And if you are successful, at the end of the exercise you remain treading water in the deep blue sea, proverbially, like me. Though this wasn't intentional. Maybe meditation is easier when you give up trying too hard. By September of that year I had sold my board to the same friend who suggested I purchase it, for like half the cost because of the gnarly ding on its nose. After all these years he still takes it to Hawaii. Knowing how kooky the locals can be, and considering my personal history, better him than me.