Matt McClain, a veteran surfer and environmentalist, looks back at his first love.I was initially
drawn to the ocean by the lure of waves. My youth was spent waiting for those moments when storms would send thick gray slabs marching down the coast, stacked upon one another like corduroy, all the way to the horizon. When the waves came, my desire to ride them eclipsed everything else in my life. School, work, family, and relationships all took a backseat. And though I'm sure those closest to me were not always happy about it, they all appeared to understand my obsession well enough to live with it.The feeling of catching and riding a wave is something I lack the profundity to articulate to anyone who hasn't done it. Emotionally, it spans the gamut from pure joy to absolute horror. Then there is the physical challenge-every break, every swell, every wave is different. Add to that the ephemeral nature of tides and weather and the variables become too great to calculate. In the most simplistic terms, the act of surfing can be defined as going from a static state to trying to catch and literally ride a pulse of energy.
Perhaps it is for this reason that despite our petty squabbles over equipment and territory, we surfers consider ourselves a tribe apart from the planet's inhabitants who do not surf. There is something at the core; a shared experience among surfers, no matter where they are or what their level or ability.Eventually, I began to see beyond the waves. I became aware of how much of a role the ocean played not just in my own existence, but in the lives and work of nearly every person I looked up to. Celebrated in story and song, the sea was at once a muse for musicians and a magnet for adventurers. It was a source of inspiration for both poets and painters, all drawn by its beauty and by its secrets.However, the more I studied the ocean, the more attuned I became to the peril in which we have placed it. I now work full time to protect our seas, waves, and beaches. I do it to honor my father, a native Hawaiian who introduced me to the sea when I was very young, and to honor all the others who have come before me. I do it for the benefit of those who will come after. But most of all, I do it to in some small way repay all the gifts that Mother Ocean has given, and continues to give.Matt McClain is the director of marketing and communication for the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization that fights to protect the world's waves and beaches. Matt's writing has appeared in Thrasher, Transworld Surf, Surfing, Happy, and Powder. Become a member of the Surfrider Foundation at surfrider.org. Photo by Abigail Sample