Pilgrimage by Megan Hodgson

Some people find solace and comfort in each other; others find it upon hallowed ground with priests as worn as the pews that reside under their dissecting eyes, every time they conduct mass.

Others find everything they need and more by immersing themselves among the fruits of the Almighty’s labours; in the brilliance of the mountains, the serenity of the forests or in the magnificence of the seas. Our homilies are said covered in a layer of neoprene with a freshly waxed board cradled against our sides.

How can anyone truly appreciate the world without experiencing it first hand? We are surfers and our praises are said tucking into a barrel, cracking the lip or by hanging ten; harnessing nature’s raw power. We plunge ourselves into the frigid waters, allowing everything else to evaporate… every heartache, every worry, every negative thing is lost in the embrace of the ocean. As if it was our first breath, as soon as our bodies hit the water we grasp our own salvation.

A journey to the origins of British surfing is one that anyone who claims to be a surfer must complete at least once in a lifetime; so I take leave from the bitterness of a mundane week and, strapping my relic to the top of my car, head south west and never look back.

Why go alone? I hear some ask, but in truth when I surf I’m not alone… it’s as if, after so much heartache the wounds are beginning to heal; there will always be scars, but I like scars, they remind me of the battles that I’ve fought to be here and I’m proud of them. This trip is about more than just great surfing, it’s a chance for me to be able to look down at my arms, see the scars and not feel ashamed. To accept that since I found surfing I don’t hate myself anymore. I’m a lifetime away from loving myself but if I don’t hate myself then maybe I can be happy.

Eight hours in a car listening to A Day to Remember could be said to be tedious but I find my anticipation and excitement rising in my stomach; like a good type of vomit, if there is such a thing.

Driving through different villages and towns, even if it is in your native country, can be so enlightening. Taking time out from your own life to look around is what we all need; these days everyone is so determined to make the most of everything, to get ahead in their job or with their studies that when people finally look up they forget what their neighbour looks like or what their friend’s voice sounds like.

If I’m being brutally honest I was one of those people; so wrapped up in my own life, my own problems, that when I looked around my friend had changed so much I didn’t recognise her. So much so that she hated me. In truth I know now that I was Frankenstein and she was my creation; I had never meant for her to become so dependent and lost but it happened and only by letting go did she finally become happy.

But not now…

Now, I know the price of everything, of every friendship, relationship and heartbreak. Most of this I owe to surfing, sitting in the line-up, watching the energy surge towards you in the form of waves I was able to find myself again.

I meditate on these thoughts for the whole journey and only when the roads become no wider than a dirt track do I let out a girlish scream as the Atlantic Ocean transfixes my eyes. I can hardly refrain myself from speeding into the caravan park, dumping my car and sprinting for the water. But, the thirty miles per hour sign doesn’t exactly warrant the pedal to the metal approach.

Although what follows could be seen as frantic to anyone; I collect the key to the caravan from reception before hurriedly unpacking my car and slipping into my wetsuit. The sun is relinquishing its hold of this part of the world and this only heightens my excitement; with just enough time to apply a quick layer of wax before I jog towards the beach.

Polzeath: my true home, the only place that I feel comfortable.

The golden sand is a pleasant temperature, not a skip across the sand heat, but enough so that I shiver at the feeling. The foamy brigade are returning from the water and the more serious surfers are already out in the line-up, perfect for a gentle surf before beans on toast and then heading to the Oyster Catcher for a beer. I halt to attach my leash to my right leg before skipping into the surf; it looks about three foot at eight seconds which is brilliant after the draining journey from the North East coast.

I laugh as the water doesn’t immediately start to stab at my feet from the temperature, as the North Sea does. I lie on my board and begin to pull myself through the water, digging deep so that every stroke brings me closer to reconciliation.

The intoxication of life envelopes me; pushing the nose of the board beneath the wave, I become part of the wave, I am truly free. We emerge unscathed from the depths, the wave having passed over me. After a few minutes I sit up on my board and turn to look at the horizon.

It’s beautiful… analgesic relief floods my body and I grin uncontrollably as I think of the few days I get to spend here.

“It’s an amazing sunset, isn’t it?” Another surfer says to me. I turn to smile at him and reply, “Yeah, it’s just nice not almost being hypothermic after every surf.” At this he laughs. I take in his features: a stereotypical surfer, many would say. Blond hair, bleached from hours in the sun, coming ever closer to becoming a professional surfer. A grin stretched across his face. There’s no need to speak after this, we just drink in the atmosphere, each of us offering thanks to the souls that showed us the sanctuary of surfing.

I see a wave forming on the horizon and swing my board to face the beach. Paddling now, not looking back, as if by paddling this hard I can escape death. I feel the wave embrace me and propel me forwards. Instinctively I place my hands beneath my body and push up, landing gracefully with my left foot forward. I compress my body and drop into the wave, digging my toes into the wave, bringing me to ride along the wall of looming green.

Allowing my right hand to penetrate the barrier, I laugh and dig my toes in even more, rising up on the face of the wave; the lip forms just as I rotate my shoulders and body, my board following so that an epic snap is initiated. I hear cries of encouragement and congratulations as other surfers clap at my manoeuvre.

I begin to lose speed and so, shifting my weight to my back foot, I dig my heels into the wave; my cutback puts me back in the pocket of speed, giving me sufficient momentum to ride the wave out.

Bailing out of the wave, I dive into the water. It’s like a different world, beneath the waves. How can something be so silent but at the same time speak to me so much?
For in those murky depths a chorus sings for eternity, echoing throughout the ages of things that we, as humans, overlook. The way that everything is so complex, but yet so simple. This silence tells of an eternity of existence.

This is my pilgrimage. It has nothing to do with seeking forgiveness or fearing an omnipotent God; it’s about finding myself, becoming who I was always meant to be. Okay, so maybe the church in Polzeath has a half pipe in it, but isn’t that what God wants? To speak to everyone; we are all different, so it’s logical to assume that people find God in their own way. Some find it in a cathedral, others in the mountains.

For me… it’s in the sea.

Out of the water, we surfers are only half of who we are; when we are in the water the question of who we could be begins to be understood.