46,000 fans are registered for my live mind-cast tomorrow. Not big, but not too bad considering that the edited ‘casts after the fact are always more popular. And there’s a lot going on tomorrow—a wingsuit flying slalom race and another stratosphere jump by Dominique Wongpataporn. Logins to the live feeds of her mind-casts are always sky-high.
So it’s okay, I tell myself, my low numbers don’t mean anything. More will login at the last minute, and it’s the still later numbers that will really matter, the downloads of the edited ‘cast, the polished show, the after-buzz. Tomorrow the wave will break big; I can feel it.
I can almost literally see it, too. For the past week I’ve been tracking this storm, a swirling monster in the Bering Sea. In the bottom right corner of my visual field, color-coded maps show wind speed and wave height throughout the north Pacific. A perfect swell is aimed right at the central Oregon coast, due to reach these shores tomorrow morning. If the forecast is right, the biggest waves we’ve seen here in a decade will hit.
And at an obscure outer reef two miles offshore, the wave of my dreams will break.
Alex enters the room. He looks rumpled with sleep, his brown hair tousled and flattened on one side. But somehow I know that he’s been lying awake all this time. He looks at me, and then his eyes flick to the screen mounted on the kitchen counter, which shows the same swell readings as those pulsing now across my eye-display.
“Looks big for tomorrow,” he says. His voice is deceptively light.
Our eyes meet. His are large and dark, and right now they’re showing the worry that he’s been suppressing for days, the fears for me that he’s been trying to hide. This is the first night we've spent together before a wave this big. And for a moment I think longingly of the rental house near the cove where I might have stayed, where the rest of the team is gathered.
Shannon.” Alex closes the distance between us, puts his arms around me.
I lean against him, and we stay like that for a moment or two, in silence.
“How are you feeling?” he says finally.
“Good.” I rest my head on his shoulder. “I just always have trouble sleeping before a swell this size.”
His body is lean and warm. I kiss the spot behind his ear, and then let my lips brush down his neck.
“Maybe there’s something you could do to help me fall asleep,” I tease. And I shut down the flow of data to my eye-display, the weather updates and news and social feeds. Maybe spending the night here with him, moving in together, was the right call after all.
His arms tighten around me, and the rest of his answer is not in words.
It’s never been easy to make a living as a professional surfer. But in the past there were many more people who surfed, who actually got wet in the waves. A pro could use her image to help sell boards, wet suits, swim wear, athletic wear. She could sell an image of athleticism, a dream of sun and sand and freedom. Sports drinks. Sandals. Anything that could use a bit of surf glamor in its marketing.
And sex appeal, of course. If you’re a woman and good-looking, there’s always been that, too.
You can always sell something. But fewer people surf now; fewer people leave their homes at all. They’re all watching their screens, working and playing online. And they’re plugged into mind-casts, jumping off cliffs with BASE jumpers, turning flips with an aerial skier, even sharing in the mountain-top meditations of a monk who calls himself the Bodhisattva (2000 international credits gets you 15 minutes of Enlightenment as you tap into his live mind-feed).
So I sell what so many are selling now: the experience.
And I’m good at it. My hits and followers are rising steadily. My ‘casts have been featured by some of the top adrenaline channels. I’m not a regular in the top lists, no; I don’t have the investors that would let me take off anywhere at the first hint of a good swell, the ability to chase big waves around the globe year-round. But I’m getting there.
I don’t have the technical skill of some, the flawless lines or showy moves. I haven’t ridden the biggest, heaviest waves. But it’s not so much now about how you look when you’re surfing. It’s not all about the wave that you ride.
It’s about how you feel that wave.
Fog on the cold sea. I left Alex warm in our bed this morning and took the rented car to the cove, the radar-guided auto system navigating easily through the thick soup-mists. Now I’m standing on the shore with the rest of the crew, trying to peer through the fog with unaided eyes. The big wave is unseen, miles offshore, but even here the crash of the surf is stunning. Through the mist I glimpse heaving walls of gray water and explosions of spray. Boiling whitewater surges up the beach. It's a mess, the cove completely closed out, waves breaking every which way.
My partner, Brett, shakes his head. I catch his eye, and we trade bleak smiles.
All our tech and the best weather apps, and no one knows precisely when this fog will lift, when the sea will calm enough to give us a chance to get past the shore break to the deep water reef beyond. Nervous swearing and chatter from the group. I run my visual-casting feed, posting images from the beach to my fans. Everyone else is doing the same, of course. If we ever do get a polished group-cast out of this, this scene will make for great drama.
Mandy Kalama trains her eye-cam on me and asks me how I'm feeling. She's not surfing, but she'll come out with us as backup videographer from the water and jet-ski safety patrol. We're damn lucky to have her. I watch her interview Jake Perez and Ken Lee for the group-cast next. They've flown in from Oahu, Hawaii just for this swell. They're hard-charging stars with rocketing numbers. Jake in particular has a massive following and growing ad links, with his sculpted cheekbones and sea-green eyes, and his insane exploits in free-diving, hydro-flying, and surfing. Ken's no slouch himself, one of the best pure surfers I know, calm in the worst situations but able to radiate a joy in the waves that's made him a favorite of mind-cast followers. Brett paces by, and Mandy grabs him for his turn. He looks intently into her recording eyes and speaks of the weather and danger with just the right amount of tension. Beneath my own tension, my heart warms. He's come a long way since the days that he was nervous and tongue-tied in interviews. We've known each other since we were kids, surfing this coast together.
The ocean roars. In the damp air, my ungloved hands tingle with cold.
"Morning, kids." Taj Atkins' voice speaks in my head, crisp and bright. He's the drone-cam operator we've hired to film additional visuals for our show. He's online. Finally. Now we can get a glimpse of the open sea beyond the shore break. The drone-feed opens in a square of my vision, and I see light above the mist, blue skies. Then the drone descends; the world turns white, but something flashing below is whiter still: the foam of breaking waves. And now there are patches where the fog has cleared, and the dark sea seethes and glitters. "Here we go," Taj says, and we're flying onward, and I see a long swell below, rushing forward and then lifting, lifting, white at the top and curving and curling. It breaks, peeling gorgeously from left to right, and the detonation of foam fills the view-screen. Taj pulls back slightly, and I see another wave on the way, part of a set, and I know now that we're at the outer reef, we must be, because I'm seeing the waves of my dreams.
“Holy shit," Mandy breathes, watching on her own eye-display. "That's beautiful."
And now everyone is talking, shouting excitedly to Taj, who guides the drone according to our commands. For a while we just watch, getting the overview of the reef, trying to learn the behavior of the wave that breaks there. The fog drifts and parts and closes in again. Before us, in real-vision, the water at the cove still surges wildly without control.
“We're going out there," says Jake.
“Of course," someone says. "But right now?"
“Maybe we should wait another hour, see if the fog lifts by then."
“Surf's still building."
“It might be peaking."
“We're going out now," I say. Everyone looks at me.
“Right." Brett grins as he meets my gaze. "Let's do this now."
They listen, because Brett and I were the ones who discovered the big wave out there, years ago. For nearly a decade, we've been watching for it.
It only breaks when the sea is big enough, when the swells reach 25 feet or more. Under those conditions, the waves at the cove start to close out; they begin collapsing all at once, unsurfable. But out there, at that unnamed reef, the wave of the gods rises up.
"Ghost Wave," Brett and I have called it, because it's so elusive. I've only seen it a handful of times. It's only now that I feel ready to tackle it.
As we wrangle our jet-skis into the water I think, for a moment, about Alex. He must be awake by now. He'll have poured his coffee, stirred in too much sugar. He might be reading research papers for work. But he'll be ready for the alert that signals the start of my personal mind-cast. He'll be ready to put down his coffee and join in.
I settle into the driver's seat, Brett behind me. Ken and Jake share another jet-ski, and Mandy as water-safety patrol has her own.
THIS IS IT, I post to my followers. IT'S FOR REAL, WE'RE FINALLY DOING IT! YEARS OF TRAINING AND PREPARATION FOR THIS MOMENT—I CAN HARDLY BELIEVE IT'S HERE. LOGIN AND HANG ON TIGHT!!!
I start the jet-ski's engine and turn on my live mind-feed.
There are all kinds of customization features available on our live mind-casts. A person can login and see, hear, smell, feel what I or my team-mates are experiencing. An accelerating heart rate; a quickened breath; salt-spray on the face; the feel of carving a perfect turn at the base of a wave and outracing the falling lip of thousands of gallons of water.
The audience receives the transmitted electrical patterns of our neural activity directly into their brains, but they can choose to have the neural data altered; they can tune and dampen down certain sensations, or filter them out completely. The coldness of that spray on the face; the aching numbness that comes after hours in the sea, no matter how good the wet suit worn. Fatigue. Pain. Fear.
There are default safeguards in place. It wouldn't do to have the receivers, the "mind-riders," traumatized. Reception is supposed to shut down when certain thresholds of pain or distress are exceeded.
Most people prefer the edited 'casts. No risk of the unexpected there. Our editor will delete all the boring parts, the lulls spent just hanging out in the water, waiting for a rideable wave. With a group-cast like this, the editor will select the best rides, the best moments from all of us, and will splice our mind-feeds together along with Mandy and Taj's visual recordings for one thrilling, wondrous, pumping ride.
Still, the individual live mind-feeds have their fans. Some want to be right there with us, in real-time. There are even reports of people hacking the safe-guards. People who want to feel it all, even if it's the worst wipeout ever—snapped bones, cracked ribs, a wicked hold-down under waves so beastly that you think this is it, you can't breathe, you're really done for this time.
There are some people who want to risk feeling everything.
The ride out past the shore break is a bitch. The mist makes it hard to see what's coming, and the waves here are the size of houses. I'm racing the jet-ski left and right, back and forth, dodging the breaking waves, looking for a way through. We top a wave just before it breaks, falling with a bone-rattling jolt down the other side, and Brett curses my driving. I'm laughing, and then he starts laughing, too.
We make it out. It takes 40 minutes to go two miles, but we make it.
The water calms. The fog has begun to clear by now, and through the dissipating haze the sun lights the scene. Rolling toward me is the wave, my wave, a dazzling mountain of water, glassy and green. It's bigger and moving faster than I've ever seen it—the face at least 80 feet high.
Why surfing? I was asked in an online Q and A. Why such a niche sport in this day and age, especially with the approach that you take? Have you considered surfing with more modern gear and apps?
There were several things I could have said.
I could have said: This is the way I distinguish myself in a crowded field of mind-casters.
I could have said: I'm spearheading a return to a more authentic expression of human achievement. Body augmentations and mods have their place, and the new reflex-enhancing apps have enabled incredible feats. But I want a purer form of sport; I want to remind people of what the raw human body and mind can do.
Or I might have told the truth, and said: When I was starting out, I didn't have money for the best neuromod apps and augments. And then my friends and I started getting attention, and we realized that this was the way to play it.
I might have said: It's because I learned to surf as a little girl growing up in southern California, back when people still lived there, back before the currents and storm patterns changed and the swells moved north and the fires burned everything down. Back when regular people still took to the waves, and Trestles was crowded on every good day. I learned to surf the real way, with an unaugmented body and non-motorized board. And then I came north to Oregon with my family and all the other drought refugees, and the world was wet and green and strange. The kids at the new school teased me; the sea felt like ice. But I pulled on a wetsuit and took out my board, and I was home. Surfing was home. It always will be.
"It’s the biggest rush there is," I told the interviewer aloud. "It's not just speed—you can get that other ways—but it's skill and mastery and riding the energy of the sea. You can't feel the wave the same way with the new tech-boards and apps. It's hard to explain."
I looked at the camera. "Download one of my mind-casts," I told the audience. "Any of them at all. You'll feel it for yourselves."
Brett is the first one to take on the Ghost Wave. These waves are too large to catch paddling in with unaugmented arms, so we use our jet-skis to tow each other in—a deliberate recreation of the classic technique of an earlier generation of big-wave surfers.
I slingshot Brett into a clean 70-footer. He slices across a face that's the height of an office building seven stories high. He carves a long, swooping arc, down and then up to the wave's crest and down again, staying seconds ahead of the falling lip, and as he pulls safely out of the collapsing wave he's screaming in joy.
Then the other tow-team has a turn—Jake whipped into a wave by Ken driving jet-ski. Jake angles down a face at least as tall as Brett's monster; then, insanely, he cuts back up under the pitching lip and into one of the biggest tubes I've ever seen. We all hold our breaths as he disappears behind the pouring, thundering curtain. Seconds later, the barrel spits out a plume of spray. And he's there, on his feet, riding out on the last surge of that barrel's breath.
Even Taj, watching and recording remotely from miles away, is yelling and hooting with us. Ken swoops in on jet-ski to pick his partner up, and it's off for the next wave.
They keep rolling in, these beautiful, flowing, roaring sculptures of water and light. Brett and Jake carve smoothly down faces like green glass. And then it's time to switch drivers and surfers. It's my turn.
Brett's eyes are still shining as I position my feet in the straps on my board. I take hold of the tow-rope behind the ski. And we're skimming forward to meet the swells. The first one coming at us is large, but there's one behind that, and another after that, too—a set, and each bigger than the last. "This one! This one!" I scream at the third, and Brett opens the throttle and we're on it, the beast rising under us. I drop the tow-rope and he drives away to the safety of the shoulder. The wave keeps rising beneath me, steepening; it's drawing up the entire sea as it stands. It's a vertical wall, and now there's no time to do anything but point my board straight and beeline it right down the face.
This is the thing about riding big waves: I'm not thinking about anything else when I'm on one.
I'm not thinking of the people logged into my mind-feed, slumped blank-eyed and slack-jawed on ratty couches or sleek form-adjusting chairs; scattered in rural land-locked towns and cities in Iowa, Minnesota, the Great Plains; tapping in from Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary; insomniac teens in Beijing or a middle-aged manager in Sydney who once surfed in his youth. I’m not thinking of my counts and hits and investor demands and whether or not this group-cast will do well. I'm not thinking about the shitty terms in that new mind-cast distribution deal, or the new equipment I'd like, or how if I were smarter and richer I'd have insisted on more back-up water safety, maybe even a support boat or helicopter on-call. I'm not thinking of the cost of medical insurance. I'm not thinking of my mother, who keep asking if I'll ever go back to college and get a real job. I'm not thinking about Alex, who's likely riding in my mind right now, the only time I've ever let him or any lover into my mind: when I know I won't be thinking of them, or of us, at all.
I'm not even thinking about the next wave.
I'm only thinking about this one, at this time. Just this moment, the ocean roaring and moving under and all around me. The lip of the wave gathering behind me. The feel of the water under my feet, and the split-second adjustments I must make to stay alive.
The lip crashes down behind me, nearly at my heels; the spray from the explosion catches me and nearly knocks me off my feet. I stay on the board, barely. The world is white mist. Brett's there suddenly, zooming in on jet-ski to pick me up. I swing up onto the sled behind the ski.
My heart's beating hard enough to trigger an arrhythmia in a vulnerable mind-rider. I was running for my life the whole way.
"That was insane--the biggest one yet!" Brett tells me as we race out from the whitewater. I hear my friends whooping for me over the audio connection. "You could have driven semi-trucks through the barrel that was behind you!" Jake yells, and Ken says, "Two semis at once!" and Mandy just keeps repeating, "Holy fuck." "The biggest one yet," Taj says solemnly. He has the software for measuring wave height from trough to crest, so I believe him. I don't ask for the number of feet or meters. I don't check my own sensor feeds for the stats. Another swell is looming on the horizon. "Let's go," I tell Brett, and we're off for the next.
We fall and wipe-out. All of us. It's almost inevitable, in waves like these.
Jake falls in his next barrel; Brett hits chop on the face and goes spinning. Ken, after three flawless rides, suffers a nightmare: he falls while still near the top and is sucked up the moving face and then caught and pitched down within the massive, plunging lip. We all freeze at the sight; we all assume that he's pulverized, dead. But he pops up, alive, his safety vest inflating and doing its job. It's Mandy who makes the rescue, racing on jet-ski into the seething cauldron of whitewater to fetch him. They escape the impact zone before the next wave hits, and he's shaken and beaten but miraculously unhurt.
I fall as well.
These are the moments edited out of a polished mind-cast. These moments when you're driven down, down, and the water is black, and you curl yourself into a ball because the whirling force of the wave is trying to tear off your limbs. You're caught in the spin-cycle of the world's largest washing machine, and you're pummeled as you tumble helplessly, blind. The air in your lungs is slowly burning away. It takes everything you have to force away the panic. You're reminded that you're not in control. You never were.
I'm flushed to the surface; I'm sucking air through thick foam. Brett's there to pluck me from the water, just as partners are supposed to do. I realize that I've been shot half a football field's length from where I fell. I'm gasping on the ski's rescue sled. "Are you okay?" Brett asks. I am. I'm thrilled with just being alive.
We're at it for hours. An offshore wind picks up, blowing straight into the wave faces, grooming them and making them stand taller. Accidents happen when you're tired, everyone knows that, but no one's tired; we're mainlining top-grade adrenaline. Who knows when this wave will break again? Who knows the next time that distant storms and winds align just right, focusing the sea's energy just so at this spot? It might never be this good again.
Brett's ripping a monstrous wave as though it's half the size, carving sharp turns, snapping off the top; he's surfing as though it were a mild day at our home break. He'll never reach the performance levels of a star running top-shelf neuromod apps—the neural programs that enhance reflexes and reaction times, that suppress fear while still maintaining fear's focus. But I think, with his natural gifts, that he comes close.
He's not a Luddite or fool; none of us are. We do what we can to stay safe and surf well. We have the best classic boards you can buy, made with the best modern materials. We wear health monitoring apps like everyone else; we have wet suits with GPS trackers and all the safety features we can afford. We use technology selectively, as Alex would say.
But we want to feel it when we surf. Not use neural programs to turn ourselves into perfect, contest-winning and record-breaking machines. I've experienced the mind-feeds of those neural app users; I know the difference.
The ocean's still throwing out bombs, these incredible waves. Brett's making a turn when something happens: I see his body twist and pitch forward. He bounces off the water's surface. And then the white fury of the peeling lip catches up and buries him.
I'm on it; I can see the tracking signal from his suit shining on my visual display, overlaid on the real-world visuals. I shoot forward into the whitewater. It's chaos, but his tracking signal is a bright red light through the spray. I see him with my real vision, a dark figure bobbing in the water. I go in to grab him, but when I pull alongside his hands slip off the rescue sled. I come back around. I can see that something's wrong; his face has gone nearly as white as the foam. Taj, watching from above, shouts a warning about the incoming wave. I can sense it bearing down on us. I grab Brett's arms and use the acceleration of the ski to provide the momentum to flip him onto the sled.
I gun us out of there.
But not fast enough. I know that the next wave will hit the moment before it does.
There's the sharp thunder-crack as the lip hits, almost right on us. And in that same instant I see nothing but white, as the blast of the wave's collapse catches us and hurls us into the air.
Why do you do it? strangers comment on my social feeds.
Why do you keep doing it? my mother has asked. She's sat through some of my mind-casts; she should understand.
But I know what she's asking. She's waving one hand about helplessly as she talks, as she mentions those barrels I caught in Chile two years ago, and how happy I was then and how those waves didn't seem so big, so scary. She'll mention other sessions in smaller waves, exploring Vancouver Island's hidden breaks, paddling into double-overheads with Brett at our regular spot, catching long tubes that seemed to go on forever off the coast of Namibia. They were all good rides. She's right; I was perfectly happy then.
But I can't stand still; I can't keep at the same level. I have to keep pushing it, changing it up, exploring new breaks and techniques and approaches. I have to keep surfing bigger waves.
My most dedicated followers understand. They've been there from the beginning, and they login to every ride. They understand how challenge and fear feed the thrill. They feel it when I get too comfortable, when I'm too far back from the edge. The edge is where they—and I-- want to be.
I'm flying through the air; I see the distant shore—green pines, cliffs—hanging inverted before me. And then I'm plunging down into darkness.
My safety vest inflates and I surface. Brett is floating about 20 yards away. A wall of churning whitewater is behind him, blotting out the world. It's coming so fast. I don't have time to deflate my vest and dive to duck its power. I barely have time to draw a breath before it's upon us.
There are moments that you don't want your loved ones to share. Times that you hope they're not logged in, feeling what you feel.
The force is like a wall of concrete slamming into me and I'm driven down again, down, and everything is ringing. I'm spinning spinning spinning and the beating seems to go on forever.
I come to the surface again. There's another wave upon me. Again.
It knocks out what little air I had left in my lungs.
When the body is denied oxygen and carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, the body begins to spasm. Fingers and toes begin to tingle. The urge to draw in a breath—even when you know it's a suffocating breath of salt-water—becomes overwhelming.
I force myself to relax. My mind to empty. The urge to breathe passes.
I hear Mandy on the audio connection, her voice steady and calm. "Hang on. We'll be right there to get you, we can see where you are. Just hang on."
So I do.
Even with my vest fully inflated, it seems to take a long time to break the surface. But I do, and I'm gulping air hungrily, desperately.
There's another wave left in the set.
There are multiple waves left in the set.
Taj, from somewhere above, can see them all and is counting them off—Just three more left, hang on, he says —and I can hear the others talking to me, talking to both Brett and me, calming, reassuring, staying with us. The poundings blur together; it's a nightmare, but it's a nightmare I've known. I've been held under before, caught in multiple-wave poundings before, although this is the worst I've ever had.
And then I hear the jet-ski and Mandy's there and she grabs me, and she gets us both out of there before the last wave of the set hits.
I'm gasping on the rescue sled and the world is still spinning. Tiny black dots swarm across my vision. My body feels pounded to tissue paper, and I've never been so grateful to Mandy in all my life.
"Brett?" I say when I can finally talk.
Ken's voice on the audio, tense: "Got him. I've called the medics, and they're on their way."
“Brett?" I say again. Brett doesn’t answer.
We all go together to take Brett back to shore. By now he's recovered a little from the initial shock, but the pain from his injuries has come flooding in, and the choppy ride back doesn’t help. He lies face down on Ken's rescue sled and bites a strap to keep from screaming. I'm on Ken's ski, too, trying to keep Brett still. He sprained a knee on his fall on the wave's face, and then the falling lip shattered the femur of his other leg. This is what the emergency room doctor surmises, remotely reviewing the data from Brett's health app sensors. It's a miracle that Ken got him out before much more damage could occur. Matter-of-factly the doctor tells us to keep the leg as still as we can, to keep the broken bone bits from sliding around. It's lucky, she adds, that a bone hasn't punctured Brett's femoral artery. He'd bleed out to death within minutes.
It's not exactly a comforting thought as we drive back through the rough shorebreak.
But we make it to shore and he's still alive, and the medics and ambulance vehicle are there. One of the medics jacks into Brett's health apps to start a localized pain-block, and Brett's face immediately eases. By the time they bundle him away, he's joking about his fall. He's safe, and his husband has been called and will be meeting him at the hospital.
The rest of us are left standing on the beach, looking at one another.
There's still a mind-cast to be recorded. There are still waves to be ridden, before a predicted storm tomorrow comes and blows it all to worthless chop.
"Are you going back out?" Jake asks me carefully. His green eyes hold no judgement. I already know what he and Ken will do. Jake was the one who tracked down my jet-ski and board, and drove my ski in while I rode with Brett and Ken.
I look at Mandy. She'll be the one to tow me into the waves, if I go back out.
“I can handle it," she says evenly. "Your call."
I feel weak and shaky, but I think—as I've thought before, as I thought after my first really bad wipe-out and after countless spills and wipeouts since—that if I don’t get back out there now, I might not have the nerve to get back in again. Brett's safe. And besides, I still haven't made it out of a barrel this session.
"Yeah," I say. "I want just one more wave."
I get it. Mandy tows me into a beautiful one-- not as big as the other monsters we've been surfing, but it's perfectly formed. I'm in the right position. I pull into the barrel, into the heart of the wave. The green lip arcs and throws over my left. The roar of the wave quiets. The barrel's translucent green light surrounds me. The translucent light fills me.
I see the barrel's opening ahead, a portal back into the world. I keep my eyes fixed on that opening, adjusting my speed. The water flashes and sparkles all about me. I think that I might make it out this time.
I keep to my feet as the barrel spits me out in its cold spray, and Mandy's waiting there to pick me up. My friends are all cheering. I feel weightless with the relief and joy. It was over too soon, as it always is, but it's enough. "That's it," I tell Mandy. "I don't need any more for today."
Alex is waiting for me on the beach when I get back. I don't question why he's there. I just walk up to him and press myself against him, like a tired child looking to crawl into a hidden place for rest.
This is the dirty secret of a mind-cast: you're not really experiencing what the mind-caster felt.
Even if it's a raw mind-feed with no filters or safeguards at all—it's not the same. It's not real.
Because some small part of you knows that you're not really there; you know that you're actually in your bedroom or lying back on your living room couch, the mind-receiver set shading your eyes. Even as your heart rockets in rhythm with the 'caster and your breath draws quick, some small part of you retains control, able to stop reception of the mind-cast whenever you please.
If it was exactly the same—if the experience of a mind-cast was inseparable from the real thing—I wouldn't need to keep chasing big waves at all. I would just download and stream the experiences of others.
If it was exactly the same, I would relive through mind-casts my own best waves, over and over. That perfect ride at P'eahi; the secret wave in Western Australia; the long barrels that went on forever in Skeleton Bay, Namibia. And the best days right here on this coast, in the hard cold waters of the Pacific Northwest with my friends.
And if I could, I would go back even further in time. To a time before there were mind-casts at all. If I could, I would go back to experience the first time I stood and turned on a wave. The first time I caught a barrel. Those days in SoCal, when I was just a girl and the world was so bright. If those days had been mind-recorded, I'd go back and re-experience those first thrills, over and over.
It's late at night, and I'm lying in bed in my favorite warm PJs, waiting for Alex to join me. Brett came through his surgery just fine: I've been checking and re-checking his social feeds. There's a photo of him giving a thumbs-up on a gurney just before they wheeled him into the operating room. His husband has been posting to Brett's public page, and Brett apparently came out of the OR three hours ago with titanium rods stuck through his splintered bones and injections of growth factors and matrix proteins to speed healing. Maybe a month to recover, and then he can be back in the waves. He's sleeping now, so I'll see him tomorrow. I've already left him several direct messages, but I add my public well wishes to the hundreds now scrolling across his public page. The drone visuals from his fall and rescue are already going viral. The finished group-cast should do great.
Alex enters the room; he has a glass of water for me. I catch his hand as he sets it on the nightstand, and our hands squeeze.
"I've got a little work I need to catch up on," Alex says, his eyes gentle. "I'll be up soon, okay?"
It's my doing that he's behind on his work, after all; he was tapped into my mind-feed, riding with me instead of working. And after he felt me take six waves on the head—after he felt me get ragdolled by the sea, and then my fear when I thought Brett might be gone, my fear on those long, terrible two miles back to shore, my partner biting back his screams in front of me—then Alex had torn off his mind-receiver set and gone out to meet me. He didn't want to be in my head any longer; he wanted to be physically with me, to be there on the beach when I came in from the sea.
I think: I have so much to be grateful for.
I close my eyes, leaning back into the pillows. That deep, good post-wave exhaustion is claiming me. Mandy and Ken and Jake are alive and whole; they were just here for dinner, and now they're on the way back to their own families. I hear Alex downstairs, tidying up, running the kitchen sink. And then he'll be lost in his own work for an hour or more. He uses computer models to try to understand the ongoing changes to the ocean currents. I try to follow his work, but I don't have the physics and math background to follow completely. I've been worried about things between us, that we moved in together too soon, that it's too much too fast, that in the end he can't handle my surfing. That outside the mind-casts, he'll never really understand. But as he frowns downstairs over his esoteric equations and I drift off toward sleep, I think that I don't understand everything about him or his passions, either.
This story originally appeared in The Future Fire.