The Friction of Evolution
Catching Up with Author/Surfer/Boat Builder Christian Beamish
Christian Beamish is an excitable sort of guy. He is tall with long, strong, oar-like arms that tend to get moving about as he works himself into eloquent fits over what he calls “our contemporary situation” of technology and rat races and the drag-and-click and “like me” and “follow me” mindsets that make up so much of our current cultural landscape.
He loves words and reads poetry and sometimes recites it out loud into the open air around him. He thinks about “our purpose” and wonders about the past and likes to work with his hands and experience the world with his flesh forward. He surfs waves, big waves, ones large enough to wash away the building I am sitting in right now while writing this. And a few years ago, finding himself a bit battered by the tides of these times, he decided to build a very small wooden boat in his garage and sail it alone from the safe harbors of Southern California down the raw and often unforgiving coastline of Baja, Mexico. As you might expect, a truly timeless and solitude-celebrating adventure ensued.
It is that very journey on the high seas that provides the bulk of Beamish’s first book, the recently released The Voyage of the Cormorant. A relatively new Santa Barbara resident, Beamish, who made the move to these parts with his wife and their young daughter earlier this year, accomplishes much with this maiden offering, delivering something that simultaneously sings out about the wonderfully deep nature of our own minds and the world around us. It is honest (at times, brutally so), entertaining (I mean, the guy — with little to no sailing experience — decided to build his own boat, stuff it with supplies and a surfboard or two, and take off into an oceanic no-man’s-land of sorts all by his lonesome), and is as rich with ego-less introspection as it is with sensually arresting descriptions of Mother Nature and her many moods. In short, The Voyage of the Cormorant is a colorful and humanistic case study of the daily struggle between reconciling ideals and the hard truths of reality.
Talking shop over coffee earlier this fall, Beamish, who once made a living as an editor at the planet’s premier surf publication The Surfer’s Journal, waxed philosophic about the journey at the center of his book and what drives him to do things like pedal a bike cruiser from Santa Cruz to Newport Beach with only an old Mexican blanket for shelter.
Invoking images of “night crickets and starlight and the cosmos,” things that stir in him a deep and centuries-old notion of nostalgia for what life must have been like for his ancestors, he described a complex and longstanding personal desire to “work through why we are here.” He explained, “Like religion, you can’t actually prove it. You can only go in the direction you feel. You have to have faith and take that first step. And when you put your foot out there, it’s amazing: The ground is actually there.”
His hands are moving with an obvious energy as he tells me this, acting not so much like exclamations of importance but more like frenetic flesh-and-bone asterisks telling the listener that there is so much more to what he is trying to say but that he hasn’t found the right words yet. It is in this moment that I realize that The Voyage of the Cormorant, both figuratively and literally, was merely Beamish’s most recent attempt to explain and give voice to those deeper and more abstract truths that his hands so often hint at. I am not surprised when, only minutes later, he tells me with a spark in his eyes that a second book and another adventure or two are already in the works.
The Voyage of the Cormorant is available at The Book Den, Chaucer’s, and Patagonia in Ventura.