White Whales

78688-156dgBy Roland Nipps

“He tasks me!” Ahab screams at Moby Dick. On a brilliantly sunny summer day at Queen’s, we surfers are all Ahabs seeking our White Whale.

I ran to the beach after coffee and breakfast — the swell was coming from Tahiti! At last, a southern swell. Following a tiresome cold, this news stirred me into a frenzy; I would surf for the first time in a week, and with a swell to boot.

Sure enough, I saw some righteous 2-to 3-footers. I hustled back home. My wife talked on the phone, and I mouthed, “The swell! The swell has arrived!” She ignored me and kept talking. I grabbed my board and hustled off.

I made it through the Waikiki crowds and waxed up the rails. Once afloat, I expected to be pounded by some incoming waves, but I made it out easily. I sat on my board among the other surfers and looked: Where were the waves? I was reminded of Ahab.

We surfers obsessively peered toward the horizon for a bump, some sign that we would get what we wanted.

And what is that? Trying to define the White Whale, like the desire for a wave, is a private affair. Ahab wanted revenge — for what? Losing a leg? Come on, I was not going to read a 500-page book with tiny print to root for a guy who lost his leg and wants payback.

So what else was it about? Ahab wants revenge against — call it what you want — fate, God, the ineffable mystery of yearning. His madness stems from not gaining satisfaction for that primordial itch.

I came to surfing late in life, and being struck by the surfer bug startled me. My learning curve is canyon-esque. I must accept being pummeled by waves. I endure snickers from the well-seasoned surfers.

Learn slowly. Embrace humility.

But Ahab doesn’t accept, nor does he endure or embrace, and certainly he has no intention of learning.

Yet he speaks for us: “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me!” Getting personal with nature doesn’t work, but it often drives a surfer. Miss that wave, I’ll get the next. Throw me down, I’ll be back. I’m cramping and have to stop for the day, but I’ll be out tomorrow.

The waves, like the White Whale, don’t care. But we do.

We looked some more. But we couldn’t will the waves to arrive. Murmurs surfaced: “The swell will come tomorrow.” “Don’t worry.” “Tomorrow will be something.”

We sat some more. A few waves rolled in. Supply and demand was not on our side. We waited some more. We had no choice. We were, after all, being tasked.

Roland Nipps teaches high school English at Mid-Pacific Institute. In his spare time, he writes young-adult fiction and cooks.

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