I suffered, for the first time, the other day, bouts of crippling ecological grief. I heard on the radio that Joe Biden came back from Glasgow and signed contracts for big oil and gas to drill on public lands, the same contracts the spineless old man promised to do away with at COP 26.
I cried. I had to pull myself together before teaching class. If you surf, you are a fan of natural systems. You are fascinated by the way earth works. You live in awe of the infinite combinations of bathygraphy, meteorology, astrology, physics and biology. Your most fulfilling moments depend on magic combinations of universal forces, possible only in this working natural system. A system that has been doing its thing for 3 billion years. And we surfers, we want that to keep working.
Ecological grief is the grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change. It is mostly the young that suffer and will suffer. I am not young, and this is a new concept to me and anticipated ecological loss is a phrase that bounces around my head for a couple days. Thank the gods for small things.
Then I had another bout of eco grief after we scored this wave the other day and the thought occurred to me: Maybe our low tide spots will all turn to burgers as the sea level rises. We will be fighting wars over fresh water, trees will be displayed like animals in zoos and all our crisp low tide spots will mush out in lumps of whitewater?
An approachable wave where you can still get clean stand up barrels. The kind of waves we all want really want. Heaven. A wave you can see yourself surfing forever
If scientists who study the Great Barrier Reef suffer deadly bouts of depression after witnessing mass bleaching of corals, if 15-year-old kids in cities who have never been to the wilderness are grieving about a natural world they will not be able to experience, surely, we surfers are doomed to this grief.
You might have one of these low tide waves up your sleeve too. Around here, a lot of our waves depend on a low tide. But even if you don’t, you are now aware it exists. You’ve seen it. And now it is endanger of extinction.
This here wave only breaks on the lowest of low tides. It throws good long barrels, not uncommon for Ireland. But unlike a lot of waves here, is rather easy. A custom job for the amateur surfer who is too old for a death wish. A perfect weekend warrior spot. This place has low consequences. It’ll hold you down a bit, but there are no cliffs, no deadly shallow bits, no truck size lips, angry seals, hungry sharks or even crowds. It’s a retirement package for the ageing surfer. An approachable wave where you can still get clean stand up barrels. The kind of waves we all want really want. Heaven. A wave you can see yourself surfing forever.
But it is rare that the elements come together.
And take an element away, like that super low tide, it goes from rare to extinct and you’ve lost hope. You are grieving too, now that you’ve seen these photos. Just like those city kids in bits over rainforest species that will be extinct before being discovered, just like the scientists depressed after witnessing the death of a coral reef.
Because it’s totally exposed, another element this spot needs is super light wind. Thanks to the vacuum created by the eye of storm Barra, we had that too. And (thanks to the MSW charts) we knew that eye would pass right over us and we would have that window, slack winds all afternoon, right up until dark.
By midnight that night my wife, son and I were huddled in the same bed, wide eyed, feeling the cinderblock house shake with wind and listening to the tiles blow off the roof. The eye of Barra was far to the north of us, and our little house on the coast was hit full force by the strongest winds I’ve witness since waiting out hurricanes in New York growing up. It sounded like a dozen banshees were screaming all around, and our house and moving in odd ways.
Like a nightwalker was trying to take the roof off.
“I’m worried about our balcony door blowing in,” I said.
“That’s nothing to worry about,” my wife says. “There are homeless people out there tonight. I heard on the radio that a lot of the homeless didn’t even know this was coming. They have no shelter at all.”
“We have to stop listening to the radio,” I said.
“No,” she says, “we have to listen to what’s happening and act accordingly, not bury our heads in the sand.”
“You’re right,” I say, “so how are we going to act?”
“… Like we live on a globe and have to share it with everyone.”
“Momma … Dylan,” pipes in my son, who’s four, and calls me by my name. “Don’t we have to share with the globe, the aminals… and the, the trees and Wildebeests and Cheetahs.”
“Yes son, we do.”
“I hope we will all be ok,” he says.