Matador Of The Ocean

The girl surfed the ultramarine curls, translucent and crashing, on her home coastline. A local surfer praised for her form and courage by retired longboarders watching the tides at the pier. The solitary girl rode the same giant waves that were lauded for sport by competitors arriving each December by plane, boat and helicopter from mainland corners afar. She sat in the reeds atop a dune and watched the professional surfers pose for magazine photographers with surfboards stuck upright in the sand . Then they rode their waxed boards—the best of their sponsor’s lot—and surfed a half dozen waves each, a ride never more than a handful of seconds, always ending with a plunge into the ocean and then rescue by jet skis. The beach, as familiar to the girl as the nicks on the underside of her surfboard, commandeered by the world every winter for the international tourney.

She arrived alone at dawn the next day, while the satellite trucks and cameras were idle, to the soft sand and the coral reef on her familiar windward shore. She paddled out and carved the towering waves. She imagined herself a bullfighter. The ocean was an arena in Madrid, the waves a series of charging bulls moving toward her red cape. Under a Spanish sun, the girl had spinner dolphins as her banderilleros, the gulls her picadors.  She paddled out and stood on her board.

In the sea mist of this biting morning, a rogue wave broke prematurely over the barrier reef. The girl fell, thrust headlong into the brine and struck her scalp on jagged underwater coral. Pain piercing. Lungs shallow of breath, barely enough to breach the surface, she then bobbed in the chop before swimming to her board in the wave’s foamy tail. She paddled on her belly to a thin sandy spit. The girl pulled herself off the surfboard onto the wet sand and laid on her back in the seaweed wrack. She squinted up into plum-red morning clouds through eyes like hazy tunnels, her head cut and weeping blood.

The surf competition finished a few days later and the television trucks and cameramen left little more than overflowing trash bins along the access roads. The girl returned to the beach, her head cleanly stitched and her mind liquid cross-currents, as if an estuary spilling freshwater into salt. She paddled out beyond the surf break and spotted a wave: a fluid siren that robbed both speed and size from the thousand-mile fetch since its genesis in the Aleutians. The girl turned her back against the water wall and stood on her longboard. Like the paunch of a pregnant earth, the wave swelled and lifted her surfboard to the apex of the curl as if it were light flotsam balsa. Her legs trembled from the natural force and yet she managed to carve directly into the wave. A penetrating wound under her fiberglass scalpel. The ocean crested and, to remain upright, the girl forced an obtuse angle from her board and drove the nose directly toward the sea bed. Her board chattered as it sliced down the water’s moving face. And with that, like a sneeze from the sea, she shot out of the tube’s rip. The curl folded, a defeated bull collapsing onto itself. The girl mimed the flamenco twist of a bullfighter’s red cape as she rode to the shoreline, still standing.

A matador of the ocean, the surfboard her sabre, a conquistador of watery bulls on a future day.

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