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footprints / An ode to a surfer’s soul arch

The soul arch is seen by some as a functional element of style, and is dismissed by others as a flamboyant indulgence. I see the soul arch as a functional expression of a surfer’s joy.

I believe it helps the surfer connect with the soul of the wave as well as sections of a ridden wave itself. Dawn patrol. Hump backed pulses of energy are moving toward you from the horizon. All is calm. Sound is muted. You push through the faces of one, two – three waves and they spill and track behind you. The trail of the low sun finds form in the water, colouring it golden to purple.

The curvature of the swell reveals itself as you spear through three more unbroken faces into the wilderness beyond.

You’re alone now at the point where the clear water meets the foam on the surface of the water, directly above where a rock nestles unseen in the nub of a gently sloping bank of sand. You sit and breathe and stretch.

Questions cloud your perception of the morning. Does the soul exist as an observable phenomenon? Is it a phantom – a cipher for the essential element of everything?

Does the fact that it is possible to conflate the words ‘soul’ and ‘surfer’ mean that what you are doing is something truly special?

What is a soul arch? Does it connect the body with the wave via the soul? The horizon darkens again. The questions fall away and you make some instinctive calculations. You dig in hard with your right hand; sit upright for a moment, swinging the nose ninety degrees toward shore.

Paddling quickly now toward the beach you are falling and the board is lifting beneath your feet and spray is distorting everything but the speed of the wave. Weighting your inside rail you thrust your hips forward and arch your back. The bowl-like area of water around you steepens and morphs to a liquid wall the colour of honey.

You stand tall like this for a fraction of a moment – before you race down the line tucked into trim. That moment, the first ridden instance of the morning, is burned into your cortex like a bull’s brand. An answer to those questions settles into your being as you paddle out again. Even if the soul does not exist, the soul arch exists in itself.

Words: Michael Fordham

Illustration: Nick Radford

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