The Monterey County Herald

Sunday October 12, 1997

Surf, Taoism become moving metaphors for brother's death

by Bob Walch

Michael Allen made two promises to his dying brother. First, he said he would scatter his brother's ashes in the ocean that both young men had loved to surf together. Secondly, Michael vowed he would dedicate a book to Richard's memory. With the publication of "Tao of Surfing," Allen, a Santa Cruz resident, has finally made good on both promises. Not only has Allen, who holds a master's degree in philosophy, masterfully joined his passion for surfing with Taoism, but he has also penned a moving tribute to his brother. Since its appearance, "Tao of Surfing" has garnered a lot of attention, including a nomination for the coveted Pulitzer Prize. The fear of death Allen encounters at times as a youth when he surfed on the shores of Monterey Bay was rekindled by his brother's death. Since he had immersed himself in Chinese philosophy and had lectured on Taoism, Allen wondered why this fear had again taken hold of him. As he pointed out early in the book, "Taoism teaches that death is as natural as the four seasons. Life and death are one, and their succession, like day and night, follows the natural course of things."

For Allen, reflection began with the passing of his brother, a fellow wave rider. The sea and surfing became the metaphors Michael would use to describe the Tao of life's cycle and the way he would blend the trauma of dealing with the loss of Richard. "Taoism embraces the flow," writes Allen. "Strength lies in working with nature rather than attempting to overcome it." For the author, riding a wave exemplifies this flow, it follows the natural course of things. This involvement and familiarity with nature's constant movement creates a reflective state which takes one to a deeper understanding of life's forces. The feel of the water, the smell of the ocean breeze, and the taste of the salt that settles on one's skin all lead to a fuller awareness of the environment. The power of the ocean is always in flux as different swells accompany changing weather patterns as the seasons come and go. Adjusting to these changes is all part of surfing on the Central Coast of California. "We simply ride along," explains Allen, "following the continuous change in weather throughout the year." Tapping into the rhythm of the ocean rovides a greater understanding of the self and, for the author, "the flowing movement felt when riding waves is simply a metaphor for flowing through life."

As Allen becomes reconciled to his brother's death, he realizes that "even within darkness there is light." He senses Richard's presence each time he rides and each time he passes through another wave. The interaction with the wave brings forth his brother's essential being. Therein also lies the link Allen makes with Taoism."Tao is pure interaction," he explains, "not harmony of opposing forces but rather interactive qualities that support each other and nurture each other in a symbiotic sense." "Tao of Surfing" is an inspired book and a unique reflection that will have a lasting effect on anyone who reads it.