I ran a half marathon last year. More accurately, I should say I finished a half marathon; 21.1 kilometres is a long way to run and there was some walking involved. I joined 12 friends from Whistler and 3,000 strangers as we moved through the northern California sunshine and towards the common goals of not running any longer and drinking crisp Napa Valley wine instead of tepid energy drink. En masse, it was easier to move forward as one. Much easier than my solitary trail-running training routine had been. I finished that tough bastard in angry celebration. Never again.
Recently I escaped the low-tide Pacific Northwest winter to spend two months doing something I enjoy immensely more — surfing. In unceasing Costa Rican sunshine, I shared the surf with a lineup of tourists, turtles, pelicans and locals. It was the latter — the dark-skinned ticos and ticas — whom I learned the most from. As they scanned the undulating horizon for peaks that might turn to barrels, I too would try to predict where the next wave would come from. With varying degrees of success, I jostled for position amongst this party of wave seekers. Together, we paddled towards the larger ones with the same graceful, involuntary solidarity of birds, a flock of humans competing for waves while acknowledging the fluid etiquette that only surfers understand: the closest to the peak of the wave gets it. The rest back off and move towards the next wave. The strongest prevail and the weak benefit from the leftovers. The resourceful use the remains to improve. Collectively, we move forward.
I returned to a welcome-home party full of jealous friends who asked if it was difficult to leave the sunshine and swell. My answer was no. Despite enjoying the sandy beach and low-tempo lifestyle, I had missed my people, and with them is where I belong. Moving and existing within a group of people is something we must learn to do, whether it’s within the cities we live, the wilderness we share or the political parties we vote for. Both my half-marathon and my winter surf-trip experiences showed me a new appreciation for people. Sometimes we need others to help us move forward. Other times, it’s the absence of loved ones that reminds us how much we need them. Regardless, the act of being social is what makes us human. And it’s why I keep coming back to this corner of the world. For the people. Now let’s party. -Mike Berard