The Personality of Waves

words + slideshow by Paul Ross

I’ve seen most of the oceans of the world from boats big and small, craft commercial and military. I’ve been in a submarine, dove the wall of a 2-mile deep sea trench in the mid-Pacific, watched whales in the Arctic and sunsets on islands, atolls and from shores distant and domestic. But not until recently did I stand at the edge of the ocean and notice that waves have personalities. Some are feminine and lap at or teasingly tickle the beach while others impatiently charge the shore in an alpha male display. There are lofty and proud rollers, menacingly dark gatherers who build and build, creating discomforting uncertainty with their indefinable limit and unfathomable purpose. Some are mere sighs of the sea; indifferently swelling and quelling as if to shrug or just take a momentary look around. Sibling rivalry waves, born of the same mother roll, will playfully clash into each other and collapse into sparkling foam. Stolid workman waves dutifully pound away at rocks in destruction zones even more permanent than those of the streets of New York. Still others are real sports: faking one way, breaking another and nimbly dodging surfers as if they were opposing football players. And there are golf waves with their long impressive drives decelerating to a controlled stop. How ‘bout those NBA ones? Taking their time moving down court, coolly surveying and assessing the scene before exploding in a sudden move. 

Health-wise, there are asthmatic waves with long, labored and drawn- out aspirations. Neurotic waves indecisively fall apart in pieces, attempting a regroup even as other sections are curling inward. 

Egocentric waves applaud their own performance. 

Some are shy, don’t want to be noticed, and aren’t. 

Professions are represented too: soldiers march forward in uniform forms; gymnasts spectacularly vault into the air over stones and dancers pirouette in swirling eddies. 

Colors: Blue, Grey, Green, Brown, Homer’s “wine dark seas,” they sometimes match the nature of the enrobed waves and often independent of the underlying water’s traits. At night, electric silver fire moonflash. 

Waves reflect, transmit or, in some cases, generate bioluminescent light. 

But they go beyond. They transmute. With ever widening, concentric nesting circles that make sound visible, waves mirror the music of the spheres, responding to unseen planetary forces in a universe more vast than themselves. 

As for waves interactions with us?--Waves can treat you like relatives: the loving uncle that strongly and gently lifts you up for a ride, or the nasty one that slapped you (hopefully when no one was looking). Mother waves rock and soothe. Grandpa waves repeat themselves almost endlessly and without variation. Family reunions can be boisterous or stormy with all vying to be noticed, overwhelming in the chaos they generate.  In contrast, isolates can be off, alone, far out and lost, tormented and windblown, artistic, artful, unseen, sensitive, Zen Koans. While others, as if conscious of creating Summer memories, play nice.

Picture the perfect wave. Think about it. Observe it closely in your mind. 

Who is it?


Paul Ross is a Santa Fe-based photographer and writer. See more of his work at

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