The Positive Side of Being Away From the Sea
To take things for granted is an utterly human thing. Growing up with only a 2 minute walk separating you from a wave-filled beach can cause you to overlook the very reasons why the sea is such an astonishing element of nature. But this act often goes unnoticed, and can only be brought to the surface with a bit of a “shake”. In my case this “shake” consisted of 180 days below zero degrees in Russia.
For the first 22 years of my life I hadn’t lived more than a few weeks without seeing a wave (even if ankle-high), or without feeling the fresh sea breeze; a blessing indeed. But circumstances and personal wishes made me choose Saint-Petersburg as home, for the whole of Autumn and Winter of that 22nd year.
Not knowing what to expect, or even thinking about my need for an “ocean fix”, I immersed myself into a world of frozen waters and tea-drinking that would change my perception of life.
Winter in Saint Petersburg, Russia
As time went by, temperatures kept dropping and the signs of sea starvation started to bloom. Despite the fact that St. Petersburg has many canals and its Western borders are set by the Gulf of Finland, finding water in its liquid state was almost impossible, let alone waves. Even the simple act of stepping on sand and hearing that squeaky sound when pressing your foot on the ground had to be substituted for the drier, colder squeak of snow. I soon found myself looking for ways to feel (if not all, then at least some of) the sensations that riding a wave or simply being by the sea can provide. Anyone who surfs and has spent a long, sunless Winter in a city has probably felt (even if only once or twice) the need to refresh both body and mind; a revolution was necessary and almost the only option to keep oneself sane.
A glimpse of water in mid-Winter
The city centre sidewalks were constantly cleared of snow, and by taking the last train into town, when the streets were dozing, I saw the opportunity to catch a long concrete wave on a skateboard. It was uncrowded, went both right and left and required no forecasting. It was definitely not the same thing as surfing as we know it, but every time I got home the feeling of just having my soul cleansed – much like what you feel after a surf session- struck, and joy took over.
Not spending time in the water also caused me to understand both the sea and surfing a little better. With snow falling frantically outside, I’d randomly think of surf and sea related topics, and research them. That led to a better understanding of swell charts, project ideas, a new found passion for surfboard design, as well as a more conscious appreciation of all the positive things you get out of being submerged in a body of water. These “studies” often allowed me to find inspiring stories and personalities, which shone a light on some dark Winter days, and also recoloured many of my own perceptions. Things like falling asleep to a “sounds of the sea” video on YouTube, or almost overdosing on surf films were more indirect and passive ways of dealing with the lack of salt water, but worked wonders. Memories of remarkable sessions found space between my daily thoughts, sending the mind into daydream state as the metro swerved from side to side on its mundane, scheduled, course. But life carried on, and understanding that the grass always seems greener on the other side enabled me to see all of those memories with different eyes, appreciate them, and continue mowing my current (yet seemingly not so green) lawn with an open mind.
Over 180 days later I found myself waxing a surfboard and getting ready for a sunny Spring session in Hossegor, France. But something had changed in me, even if at first I couldn’t tell what. It was only when catching the first wave that the sensation hit and I felt a stronger connection to that miracle of nature, as if I was truly paying attention. After kicking off, the thought of those cold nights skateboarding under the city lights came straight to mind, followed by a thankful smile.
Back to salt in Hossegor, France
Regardless of your “addiction” it’s always good to put yourself in different circumstances (for one reason or another) just so you can take a breath and look at even the fun positive things from a different angle. Staying away from the sea ended up opening my eyes to a lot of different aspects of the “sea culture” that I hadn’t paid much attention to before, thus allowing new things to be learned and shaking the importance of acknowledging and cherishing what surrounds you “up to the surface”.
Many of us find this “shake-up” through different ways, yet with the same result. If the thing that shook you is returning to the ocean, particularly after a Russian winter, then that’s something to be very thankful for.