Mavericks: Surfing and the Economics of Joy

This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on January 14, 2008.

Here’s the extent of my surfing experience: in the center of my coastal hometown there is a monument to a kid who died surfing in the sixties. It’s a small memorial that sits on an island at the confluence of the village’s two main streets. Most people from the town are unaware of its existence, but that little memorial haunted me just enough that I never learned to surf. Also, when we were in the tenth grade, my friend, Saul, went surfing over lunch break and was washed out to sea. A couple hours, later members of the local volunteer fire department picked him up off the rocks at the base of a ninety foot cliff. Saul was fine, but it cemented the idea in my mind that you had to be nuts to surf, at least in the waves off of the Mendocino coast where the water is treacherous, rough, and very cold.

Nor have I looked to the surfing community for wisdom. My friends who surf tell me the experience is profound and often mystical, that it is humbling and transformative to be in the presence of the ocean’s power, but it always has seemed to me that the great spiritual insights of surfing don’t translate to those of us who never have experienced the thrill of riding a wave, whose feet are rooted in the soil, or whose noses are forever poked into the pages of books.

But last Saturday’s surfing contest at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, California has changed my opinion of surfing’s potential to transform the world. Continue reading

Justin’s Bones

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on January 8, 2007

“My God, is there any sin worse than indifference?”–from Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Last month, while hiking in the woods along Big River, near my hometown of Mendocino on California’s North Coast, my ten-year-old nephew Justin found the skeletal remains of a young man who had been missing for twenty seven years. Continue reading

Creativity and a World Without Oil

I was raised behind the Redwood Curtain on California’s Mendocino Coast. It is a beautiful bit of creation, tucked there on the edge of the continent, an extraordinary meeting of land and sea, a place of tall cliffs, rocky beaches, wind, and fog.

It’s a hard place to reach by car, and car is the only way to get there. The nearest freeways are more than an hour inland by curvy, two-lane mountain roads that wend their way through vineyards, orchards, and redwood forest. Growing up I had friends who never left the coast without suffering violent bouts of carsickness.

It is difficult to imagine that a place as remote has my childhood home would have any connection to the recent violence in the Middle East, but the Mendocino Coast is a place where huge oil reserves lie beneath the ocean floor. Oil companies have long coveted the offshore oil reserves, and given the ongoing violence in the Middle East as the United States continues its quest to secure its foreign oil supply, many folks are looking at the oil buried off the Mendocino Coast with renewed interest driven by the hope that Americans might one day have an oil supply that needn’t be defended with violence.

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