Imagine being the only surfer. Even when I’ve surfed all alone, being the only one out, there is still the sense of community that you’re not really alone. But for now, imagine surfing alone and then one other surfer appears on the beach and paddles out in close proximity. There are probably a number of thoughts that come to mind as you sit outside, maybe glaring and watching this new intruder paddle out towards you. First, I can’t deny that I might initially be irritated, mostly because I’m a typical surfer with a one track mind. But then comes the exchange of nodding heads, showing some approval and then the ‘how’s it going brah.’ Soon enough, the rewards of community take over and then the sharing of the surfing experience with a fellow surfer. Small talk, surf talk, life talk and its not so bad after all.
Now imagine being the only female surfer, perhaps in a male-dominated culture. What would that be like? I’m not sure I can fully relate, but I can get inspired thinking about this story of KK, the only female surfer from Sierra Leone. If you need a little new year inspiration, here it is (video clip below)…
The Inertia: From 2014 to 2016, Ebola ravaged Western Africa. The outbreak initially began in Guinea, spreading to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. While handfuls of cases cropped up in other African nations, as well as a few in the US, UK, Italy, and Spain, those three countries bore the brunt of what the Center for Disease Control has since labeled the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Among them, Sierra Leone was hit the hardest, with over 14-thousand cases, and nearly 4-thousand fatalities.
Kadiatu Kamara, KK, calls herself the only female surfer in Sierra Leone. Her father died two years ago, she says. Then Ebola struck her homeland hard. It was these stresses that pushed her to the sea, to be herself, to find sanctuary.
“When I have that stress,” says KK, “I have to surf. Then all the stress goes away.”
Not only is KK’s story an inspiring one, upon greater introspection it belittles many of the problems with which I approach the ocean for cleansing.
Like KK, and as I’m sure many other surfers, I view the ocean and surfing as an escape. From a privileged coastal existence in Southern California, though, “escape” typically means a brief respite from the relatively innocuous inconveniences of traffic, slow internet speeds, and maybe a deadline or two. Anything that I might deem stressful pales in comparison to a major epidemic decimating someone’s local population.
And yet the fact that KK finds hope and inner peace from surfing is inspiring beyond words. “I think everything is going to be okay now,” she says.
Her narration in the film below also offers an additional existential morsel from which the film’s name derives. “I’ve missed plenty of waves. A million waves.” A beautiful sentiment that captures the impermanence of life and the seemingly endless natural cycles of the ocean. For any surfer, the amount of waves you don’t catch will always be exponentially more than the ones you do. Because waves, just as life, go on with or without a surfer to tame them. They have for millions of years.
But KK’s parting message is simple: “As for me, I have to surf.”