Saltwater in My Veins
Story by Hannah Arledge
Photography by Adam Reynolds
It was the kind of consuming joy that fills your head and heart and makes you want to laugh and cry and scream with excitement all at the same time. I watched the ocean as I yanked on my booties, not caring enough to shake out the sand, and ran over to where my mom was slathering sunscreen on my less than enthusiastic brothers.
The same warm breeze that teased the palm tree branches behind us wafted the comforting, familiar, sweet smell of their piña colada suntan lotion to where I was standing. Beside them, a blue longboard lay on the sand where my dad had demonstrated the logistics of positioning and getting up on the waves. Using all my highly developed ten-year-old muscles, I dragged the enormous board through the hot sand to the lapping tide and let the cool water seep between my toes.
I heard a deep voice from behind me that sounded almost as excited as I felt and snapped me out of the dreamlike state of mind I had been basking in. “You ready to go?” My dad was standing next to me holding his funboard under his arm, like the champ he is, and grinning so wide that it made the giddy confused feeling of laughter and crying wash over me once again.
His words were enough confirmation for me to go tearing off as fast as I could manage into the water while still pulling along that monster of a board behind me. I fumbled with the leash trying to secure it around my ankle and then allowed myself to let go of the board for a moment so I could plunge the remainder of dryness on my body into the water.
Underwater is a different world. There are no distractions that force you to feel anything but the pattern of the tide and the taste of salt tingling on your lips. There is only the plugged up noise of swirling waves above your head that crowds your ears but reminds you that here, under the surface, the water is calm and safe. The ocean is the perfect balance of beauty and mystery that compliment each other so well that capturing its essence in words hardly does it any justice. It’s simply something that to understand, you have to experience.
But today was the day I was going to be able to be connected with the ocean in a way I had never been able to do before. I was going to hear and read and interact with all of it and I lay down on the board to begin paddling out to where a few lone surfers sat on their boards facing the horizon. No matter the amount of unforgiving wipeouts, I was not coming back to shore unless my parents threatened to give me up for adoption or a shark had bitten off my arm.
My dad appeared beside me with a devilish look in his eye and our competitive genes kicked in simultaneously as we furiously raced each other in paddling out to the surf. Wiping the saltwater out of my eyes, I tried to catch my breath- something made especially difficult when one is laughing so hard. I scanned the water as we rocked on the waves waiting for the next set: the locals, my dad, and I. Part of me was worried about making a fool of myself in front of these big Hawaiian guys that already probably felt we were intruding on their beach, but embarrassed or not, my dad suddenly pointed to a wave that was gaining height as it came towards us.
I eagerly spun myself around and impatiently waited to begin paddling. The wave lifted the tail of my board and I summoned all my strength to glide away and gain momentum to catch the wave. When I felt the push of the wave as the main source of movement, I took a deep breath, brought my hands up to the deck, and hoisted myself to a standing position.
And there I was.
Flying along the surface of the Pacific Ocean on what was probably no more than a three-foot wave. But it didn’t matter because the salty spray was damp on my skin, the Maui sun was beating on my back, and below me, my ocean and I were one.
Just me and the ocean. The ocean and I.
I could hear nothing but the adrenaline pulsing in my ears. I rode that first wave all the way to shore. It broke my internal pact to not return to the sand, but I didn’t care anymore. My mom and brothers came running at me cheering and I put my arms in the air laughing because in my mind, I might as well have just won the Olympics. From his spot by the surfers, my dad was pumping his fist and whooping with a smile on his face that matched the rest of ours. I turned to my board and that piece of polyurethane foam and I paddled out even faster this time, desperately wanting to experience the rush again.
When I sat up on my deck by the surfers where my dad had been a few seconds ago before he took a wave, one of them turned to me. He was a big guy with a thick ponytail of dreadlocks and tribal tattoos decorating his dark skin. With just a hint of a native accent in his gentle voice he said, “Keeping your head directly over your body will help with balance.” Those were the first words of introduction for another four hours of offering advice, laughing, and watching for swells.
By the time my dad had retired his board to the shore, chafing on the roughness of the deck had given me rashes up and down my legs. My arms were sore from paddling, my cheeks felt hot with sunburn, I had swallowed enough seawater from my wipeouts to fill a swimming pool, and I could not be any more content. As I caught my last wave of the day, I looked ahead of me at my clapping family, above me at the sky beginning to turn pink, and below me at the ocean.
The ocean and I.
Hannah Arledge is a California student enrolled in high school. Adam Reynolds is a California photographer who runs BHB Surf, a photographic collective.