Slowing Down: Matt Smith’s Memories Of Wooden Boards And Boats

25 . 10 . 18

I’ve spent a fair chunk of my adult life now at sea on wooden vessels – be they surfboards or sail boats.

Holding the line of a 5’5, 8kg Seader in fast, beautifully round, waves in the Maldives for the first time required a shift in my approach. I had to slow down, to feel more, and become more sensitive. It didn’t happen on my first attempt, or even my second, but with some patience and practice I realised that James’ board demanded my presence and that is what it taught me. Several years later I see that it has helped me to align to how I surf all boards, whatever they are made of, because when I slowed down I became more sensitive. Osho says “Ask for less sensations and grow in sensitivity. When you touch, become the touch. When you see, become the eyes. When you hear, your whole consciousness must come to the ears. Listening to a song, or listening to the birds, become the ears. Forget everything else so it is as if you are only the ears. Come to the ears with your total being”, Osho’s words helped me to understand that my role in those moments is to be the consciousness that helms the ship; what art will my essence draw on the wave using the Seader?

Also, a question arose in me: How much could surfing support me to be in the present moment? I sit and feel my hands as I write, I feel the breath in my lungs, and I reflect on moments riding wooden surfboards and sailing wooden ships. Reflection opens my heart and I feel love. I feel welcome and appreciation. Being pulled through the ocean or a lake on a wooden boat, big or small, holding on to the rail, feeling the dried salt on the varnished teak or the dried deck beneath my feet; remembering a time in the Caribbean sailing upwind for 14 days, bashing against trade winds in a rush to deliver a boat; those moments when fully alive and alert with big breaths and warm sea water spraying in my face, being a little scared, tired, and content. Another time came to mind, during a flat spell In Ireland sailing under the cliffs of Moher with friends, laughing and playing like children in a huge swimming pool. I slow down and sink into that memory and take in those moments. Even now, years later, is there something that I missed but can recall? Yes – I remember my heart beating with excitement and nervousness, as ten friends trust me to sail them below the magical cliffs on a wooden ship.

Mystique – Indian Ocean

There is so much water in the bilges that if I hadn’t lived aboard for 5 months I would have been frightened to spend the afternoon aboard. But I trusted her and the good men that helmed her. I wonder if there is a saying about it being better to be at sea with good men and a bad boat? That’s what I’d choose anyway. Before being refitted into a surf adventure vessel she was a ferry and a dive boat, and her last days were shipping travelling surfers to remote regions of reef sticking out from islands in the Maldives.

The Seadar (5’6″ x 22″ x 2 5/8″) – The Maldives

My heart beats fast when I remember this session and I blink and its gone. It was one of the best surfing days of my life; quick hollow empty tubes. It was the first time that I fell in love with this seadar. It hadn’t been my plan to surf this board on this day, but when choosing my craft she was the one that shone the brightest.

I remember holding the full round rails, stroking the nose rail, and paddling slowly back to the line up. I was praised by the men I surfed with, and they like me were surprised to see the wooden craft so alive. She was truly in her element. I learnt that day that weight is so important in scooping in early. I am not the fastest surfer, so it is to my advantage to ride a heavier board in conditions like these.

Mirror Dinghy – Lackamore, Ireland

Perhaps a frail attempt to stay connected to the wind by a seafaring man promised to the land. Below our farm we have a lake – she is 6ft deep and barely wide enough to get two tacks in, but that summer just knowing that we could if we needed be alone with the wind for a while seemed enough to settle the nerves. Now as I reflect I wonder how conscious I was when I bought this little mirror. Only a few sails on the lake and now she’s rotting behind the shed, her rigging taking up room in the rafters and a reminder to me that all that has gone before me is like a dream.

Anok – Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

I was getting used to slow heavy wooden boats, accepting all the beauty that they are. The glimmer of the sun on the sea. 4 knots slowly moving along. I was in service to those who were aboard, and the slowness of the ship helped steady both the course and my nerves. Once the land is far enough away you cannot hear the voice of a man or child and a weightless feeling comes over one. We slow down and drift, and relax and just be under the cliffs. Some swim – most of the passengers are Europeans and they bought a siesta vibe to that time in the wooden ship.

The Coaster (7’2” x 21½” x 2¾”) – Cornwall, UK

I felt like a teenage boy in the shore break, carefree. The sand blasting my face and in my ears, and the cool feeling of water on my face. It was a meeting of the shaper and the surfer; James brought the board to the beach for me to ride. It was the first time I had held this board and I was feeling giddy again, childlike. I wanted to impress James with my finesse in the sea, to honour his craft and I wanted to be admired. I felt the energy in my chest. Walking down to the ocean and seeing a little corner rip bowl with a close out breaking into it, I forgot the longing to be liked and was back again to teenage vibes. A single hour and 20 waves, all very similar – scoop in slow and steady and ride the closing wave as far as I could, hoping – but not attached – to making a tube.

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