I recently finished watching both seasons of the HBO documentary called 100 Foot Wave, a series that covers the massive swells (and the surfers brave enough to navigate them) that converge onto an area of the Portuguese coast known as Nazaré. For as far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the ocean and the idea of huge waves in particular, an interest that I know many people all over the world share. Whenever the weather off the mid-Atlantic coast brought big swells to New Jersey, I would always try to find my way to the beach just to watch. The waves in Nazaré are in their own category, having been confirmed to be the largest in the world due to an 16,000 foot underwater canyon just off the coast that pulls the energy of the ocean down before exploding it back up to the surface. Prior to 2011, there was not much known about this small seaside town, until Garrrett MacNamara caught a 78 foot wave there that changed everything. Waves have always made me feel the same way I would at the top of a rollercoaster, and the cinematography of the series captures this anticipation perfectly. Simply put, there is something about the way a big wave builds with such crazy force and giant size that gives it the ability to simultaneously terrify and amaze us. Anything with that kind of physical and emotional force seems to also have the potential to spiritually change us, which explains why big wave surfers are such a mystical bunch, believing that the ocean holds all the secrets of the universe.
My family would be quick to tell you that it is not all that uncommon for me to call or text them at crazy hours to say, “Hurry up… go out and look at the moon!” Sometimes they will listen to me, and other times they will not, claiming extreme fatigue, too much grading to do, a child that needs to be bathed, or some other trivial matter that demands their attention. I secretly keep a little journal of who runs outside and reports back appropriately awestruck, as well as who doesn’t, although I’m not sure what prize the winner will eventually get. I’ve always had a belief, its origin uncertain, that if we have knowledge that some kind of natural phenomenon is happening, and we don’t go outside to bear witness to its spectacle, we are in for big trouble. From a very young age, I decided that it was my job to announce things like beautiful sunsets, or amazing rainbows, or massive storms coming in, or the world’s biggest spider web out by the light on the porch, all with the admonition for everyone I could tell, “No, no, you HAVE to go see it!” Even as a full grown adult at Recklesstown Distillery, which is situated in a spot where you can see the horizon from one end to the other, I was always sending the staff outside to see the moonrise, or the sunset, or some crazy frog, no matter how busy we were. It only ever took a second, but it was one that I thought it was necessary to give. If I sit down and truly consider why I feel this way, I honestly believe that it’s because instances like the ones I’ve described have that peculiar juxtaposition of fragility and power that always offers us a momentary glimpse into some important truth, much like the understanding that hovers around the edges of what we’re reading or dreaming.