Reflection on a wave

AB surf 4.10.16

An offshore wind and the early morning sun working their magic on a small but tidy wave at Apollo Bay.

Even a small ocean wave such as this comes from far away, the creation of forces of global scale.  I am always intrigued by the fact that a wave moves through the water, it doesn’t transport water.  It is wind energy that creates movement in the water which is visible as swell, and it is that pure energy which passes through the water and travels great distances beyond the coordinates and conditions of its point of origin.  The water in a wave goes nowhere but up and down.

It is that pure energy that passes through me as I body surf it, or duck dive under it on my way seaward for a swim.  Such acts are a very direct connection with energy of global scale, but scaled down on a shoreline to sometimes permit mere humans to immerse themselves in its beauty, to savour in perfect portion its force, and to audaciously harness the energy of its dying moments as it nears and reaches the shore.  I never fail to marvel that a wave, created, propelled and steered by the sun, the moon and weather systems of global scale, can allow me to imagine for a moment in conditions such as shown in the above image that I am an aquatic creature as I forsake solid ground beneath my feet and yield happily and healingly to its gentle and predictable forces and forms.

Deep in the Southern Ocean vast pressure systems in the atmosphere, moving unhindered by terrain and unobserved save by satellites and the occasional mariner, cause immeasurable volumes of air to move over the surface of the sea in the form of strong winds, gales and storms, with friction imparting energy from one to the other.

And so the calm of the sea is disturbed and swell is born, to march unstoppably in lines of military precision to its distant destinations.

The impending arrival of swell on a shoreline is first hinted at by much subtler signs than those attending its creation.  The barely perceptible rise and fall of the surface in slow rhythm is the first sign. It reminds me of breathing.  Then an identifiable low line of energy moving silently and without spectacle to the shore.  Finally the marked lines of waves visible to the horizon looming green and large as the break on the shore, or on the outer bar, or further out to sea depending on their size.

The wave will arrive on time regardless of the conditions at its destination, but it will be modified by those conditions in ways very significant to those who would engage with this energy.

If there is no wind, the water and the swell will be glassy and perfectly formed.  If there is a following wind of any strength, the surface will be choppy and and the swell less perfectly formed.  But if there is an offshore wind, close to shore the waves will stand up defying gravity just a little longer with the assistance of the wind before they topple and break on the shore.  Such a wind will also sculpt the wave into perfection with its face perfectly groomed, and the spray as it breaks  blowing back behind the wave like a white mane, as recorded in the photo.

If the sun is low and directly behind the wave as it rises and stands just before breaking, there can be a moment of emerald translucence in the eye of the wave.  But regardless of where the sun is, a wave reaching its destination shore is something I can never witness without awe.


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