Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Not goofy???

Surfline called it flat today, hahaha! Fools. There were rideable little ankle waves. I know they were rideable, even enjoyable, because I saw K. get 12 or 14 long rides on them.

However, I didn't get any. I watched her back as she sailed down the line, while I regressed to the point of not being able to stand up. Did I mention that I hate her? She did help by pointing out that the way I was getting up, my foot was pointing in the exact opposite direction it was supposed to go, and that it is impossible to balance that way. Well, I knew that, but I suppose it helped to have expert verification.

Her idea was "Maybe you're not really a goofy foot, maybe you're a regular," went against all my instincts and experience. She told me to try getting up regular. I tried. I don't think that's the solution. If only it were so easy.

She's good at popups in the living room (excellent, wonderful), but I've noticed she doesn't get up as easily on the board. In fact, she does it very differently. I really don't see how being skilled in the living room translates into being able to do the same thing on a speeding board. Though everyone keeps telling me to practice on land, I can't really get into it.

The best part of today was practicing my turtle dive and getting it down again, at least in the six-inch waves. 43-degree water flushed into my suit from everywhere it could possibly flush. Oh yeah, that's why I don't do turtle dives in winter.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

One hour, one wave

I did something today I've never done before: bailed on a session. Like I said, I always make myself stay out for two hours, no matter what.

Today had looked good earlier but by the time I got to the beach the sea was like a washing machine. Wind had been on it for hours. Nevertheless I sortied out. It was a lot harder getting out than it looked. Somehow, I caught a wave and rode it in. It was a real ride with a real wave with some power to it. I had no idea how that happened, but I was thrilled, especially because it was my first wave of the day and the first time in months I'd been on that board.

I thought of ending the session right there (you know my theory that after you get your wave of the day you won't get another). But I didn't, partly because some other idiot had just followed me into the water and if he was out, conditions couldn't be so bad. But even though he made it past the breakers, he wasn't getting rides; he was mostly sitting there looking over his shoulder for a rideable piece of a wave fragment.

I spend the rest of the session just trying to get out, and not making it. Lulls were nonexistent. It's been so long since I had to turtle dive my longboard that I had practically forgotten how to do it, and I didn't want to chance it. But this was a turtle dive day; every time I'd almost make it I'd be forced back. Gradually my will to make it out sapped since the conditions were so bad. Make it out for what?

Well, I'd gotten a good ride on a wave over one foot; most sessions I don't achieve that, even in two hours. I decided to call it a success, even after only one wave and only one hour.

I quit early.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"...for your age..."?

It's 75 degrees! I'd hoped to make it up before high tide but I haven't. C. calls and says that, nevertheless, there are small rideable waves. He says to come to the beach right away. I do.

I ask him to show me the popup and even though I get to ask a lot of the questions I have wanted to ask, I'm still confused. He tells me to focus on one thing: keeping my head up. Not looking down at my board, or my feet. I seem to be able to do this, at least on land.

Then I'm out in the water and he's watching and yelling at me---sheesh, making me nervous. But I'm able to get up. I don't stay up, and in any case the waves are breaking so close to shore that a ride would be about 1 ½ seconds.

C. has to leave shortly so then I'm out in the water with 2 guys who are only slightly better than me. They're mellow and friendly, giving tips to each other and me.

The keeping your head up thing works for getting up more easily, but time after time I find that without looking down I can't place my feet anywhere near where they might balance in the center of the board. From what I can tell without looking, but just from the way I'm falling, they're either off to the side (I fall off the side) or too far back (I fall off the back). In the split second before I fall I look down at my feet and that seems to confirm those conclusions.

Once or twice I get a little bit of a ride. One or two seconds. The other guy who's out does much better; he can turn and gets a six or seven second ride out of the little waves.

C. says I should try bigger waves.

Later I tell him of my frustrations. He says it will work out. We blab a bit. He says something else that, ladies and gentlemen, I would like your opinions on. "You are in good shape for your age." Is that a compliment or an insult? If you were saying this to someone, what would it mean? If someone said it to you, what would you think?

I guess he probably meant well. It's hard not to focus on the age thing. I am, after all, somewhat of a freak of nature, by far the oldest woman trying to surf at our beach.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Right for me

11:30 am. Wake up.

I see no way of ever making it up for dawn patrol, or even before noon. That's because on a day I've been out trying to surf, I get so tired I need 12 hours of sleep. I can't understand why this is so, when I haven't really surfed and so haven't used my arms and legs (and especially on a day like yesterday when there was absolutely no paddling). To make it up for DP, I'd have to be in bed by six p.m. I did this when I was at surf camp. But it's hard to do in real life.

1:30 pm. I call C., even though I said I'd call him in the morning and it's now afternoon. I can't get through.

2:00 pm. I check out the waves---as small as yesterday. I sit on the beach awhile awaiting low tide (5 pm). Though it's the middle of the day in the middle of the week in the middle of April, whole families are out: young girls in bikinis, dogs running, kids playing. (Shouldn't they be in school?) I don't have a bikini on but it's warm enough for one. Where's my umbrella drink? I'm still going to wear the 6/4, though. The only concession I've been able to make to the arrival of spring is to switch my lobster gloves for the five-fingers.

5:00. I shoulda known. I have never had two consecutive good surf days ever. There is this law (a corollary perhaps of the famous Murphy's law or the law that the more important the engagement you cancel to go surfing the crappier the waves will be) that every good day is followed by a sucky one. I can't blame the waves, they are only slightly less well-formed than yesterday's, probably from the wind being on it all day. I can't get any rides and I can't get up. Once again my right (front) knee is coming up behind my extended right elbow (got that?) pointing in the wrong direction and making it impossible to get up. I'm not trying or not trying to do that, it's just happening.

I think the waves are (as the pharmaceutical ads like to say) right for me. I decide that ankle-high is enough to try to handle and I should never go out in anything bigger. This, after three years, is where I am. Well, the bright side is that I won't have to worry about crowds or people dropping in on me---I'll practically have the "waves" to myself.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Surfing's better with no waves

Little kid on the beach: "You know that pointy black part on the surfboard? Is that supposed to go up or down?"
Me: "Down."
Kid to other kid: "See! I told you!"
Other kid: "There's no waves today."
Me: "See, kid, that's when you want to surf. It's better when there's no waves."

After those miserable last days/posts, I had about decided to quit. I would write about how I was not so much giving up as permanently stuck, unable to find the answers to surfing's eternal questions (though bless those of you who've tried to help). I was simply unable to go on. Signing off.

I may still write that post, but not today. With all those thoughts in my head, I somehow found myself on the train heading to the beach. The impetus for this was Surfline's afternoon forecast: Flat. No waves. That, I thought, I might be able to handle.

I get there and it's warm as summer, sunny, gorgeous. The tiniest little lines, beautifully formed, are coming through. Wavelets! The water's actually blue, a rare occurrence here. I suit up in my 6/4 in 70 degrees. Tide's dead low. Believe it or not, there is one other guy out. He's getting rides on the ankle slappers. Lots of them.

As I'm getting into my suit I see someone waving to me from the boardwalk. It's C.! I'm mortified. I can't surf with him watching me! But I'll try.

Paddle out? Nonexistent. You can just stand in waist high water waiting for the tiny wavelets and they are coming reliably. Hard to catch? No, hard to miss.

I don't know what it is. Maybe it's my complete lack of fear in the tiny waves. Maybe it's the utter lack of power of these waves. Maybe it's just that I have competely and uncharacteristically shut down the thinking part of my brain. It hurts from all the thinking about what to do with my knees, my hands, my feet, my back, so I have shut it down and am just doing without thinking. I don't know if what I'm trying is right or wrong. I don't want to know. The first few waves, I screw up. But then I start getting up somehow, and I am riding. I do this again and again. I stall out before reaching the beach, but I am up for five or six seconds. C. is cheering me on from the boardwalk. And for the first time in ages, I'm actually having fun.

After a while he comes down to the water and I get out (very casually) to talk to him. He tells me how great I'm doing. (Although his sober assessment of the waves is "less than knee high.")We have the longest talk we've ever had. Now that the hoods and jackets are off I can see that he no longer has his _________, alas, but he's still ________. He says, "You can't learn this all by yourself." That is a thought I've had about 3000 times but hearing someone else say it makes it true. (The topic of the execrable quality of "surf instruction", what little of it there purports to be---and there isn't any in this town---shall be the topic of a subsequent post one day.) I say I haven't had anyone to help me. He says he'll help me. I hope so!

Apparently his knees are just as bad as mine. He can't bend down more than halfway, not into a crouch like the surfer we're watching is doing. I've noticed when I watched C. surf that he gets up more slowly than most people. Yet he can still surf well, and is respected by the surf mafia out here.

Bad knees was going to be Reason #2 when I wrote my final post on why I have to give up trying to surf.

Since we've got that in common, seems like he'd be the perfect instructor. So then he offers again, and I say "I don't have your number," and he gives it to me right there and tells me to call him.

Then I go back into the water and catch more wavelets. I don't get up on all of them, and I don't ride all the ones I get up on, but I ride many.

I'm exhilarated. I think I have found the solution to my surfing problems: Only go out when there are no waves and success is guaranteed.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Explain this to me please

I love low tide. It's the perfect time for me to try to surf around here, but I rarely manage dead low when the waves roll in for such a long time that I have time to think of what to do.

Beautiful, warm, sunny day, no one out. Going into the water I thought I could actually enjoy myself today. But it was not to be.

It was a completely unproductive day, a waste of time, and totally unfun.

I thought the waves were smaller today, but as my two hours wore on they either got or seemed to get back up to waist high. I couldn't tell because there was no one else out to measure them against.

I did manage one perfect takeoff. I'm always surprised (or at least lately) when I don't get separated from my board at takeoff. I don't pearl much anymore, but the water often pushes me off the board before I can attempt to stand---not much of an improvement.

I didn't get up even with the perfect takeoff. I think I spent too much time being surprised that it was perfect.

After that things didn't go well. In frustration I got out and tried to go over the popup, slow-mo, on the beach. What I discovered is that sliding my foot up the board when it's turned sideways results in my foot being sideways when it reaches mid-board: however, it's just about impossible to put weight on it at that angle, especially enough weight to be able to use that foot to push myself up. I can only put weight on it when it's facing forward so I can bend my ankle back somewhat.

Try it yourself: can you do it? With your foot turned on its side you're really only able to use your arms to push up, and it's incredibly difficult.

My whole big problem is that I can't see a way to let go with your arms until your feet are on the board---yet while my arms are fully extended and holding on there is just not enough room to get my legs under me! Is this not a problem for anyone else? I mean, I have long legs, but not abnormally so!

If I can't figure this out, I am just wasting all my time and might as well quit.

If someone is going to tell me that in fact you have to let go with your arms before your feet touch the board, that means in essence that there is a period of time if only a split second when neither arms nor legs are in contact with the board as it speeds down the line (you know, kinda like a horse when it's running----no one thought the horse had all its feet off the ground at once until the invention of high speed photography). If that is the case, then I unequivocally, universally, thoroughgoingly give up attempting to surf. I am not an acrobat. Not on land, and not on sea.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hard work and kind words

The waves were still waist high (but not bigger) but the wind had come up and it was choppy. Going into the session, I was already not looking forward to it. I was looking forward to being done with it---like work.

And that's exactly what it was: hard work and about as much fun as doing your taxes. Early on I caught a whitewater wave that was about my speed. I decided to just stick with whitewater with the aim of practicing my (practically nonexistent) popup. There wasn't anything to lose by just doing whitewater because no way was I going to be able to stand up on, let alone ride, waist high waves anyway. The best I've ever done on them is to just hang onto my board as I ride in on my belly.

I haven't limited a session to whitewater since---oh, never. It made me look and feel like a retard but let's face it, if I can't pop up after three years, then that's what I am.

I tried to focus on what I could do and give myself credit for it---like, I could judge which waves were going to have enough force to them to be rideable as whitewater, and which ones weren't. I could put myself in position to catch them just after they broke. And in the two hours that I made myself stay out, I had lots of opportunities to try to stand up.

Early on, I did get up and stay up for five or six seconds---long enough for me to actually take notice that my hands were not clutching the rails but were up at waist level. Long enough to have the thought: What am I supposed to be doing with my hands? That was my ride of the day---you know, the one that after you get it you don't expect to surpass.

The rest of the session was a struggle to: 1) get a wave and 2) get up without pulling my right knee up straight into my face (I'm goofy foot). If my knee comes up straight it's over; my foot is going to be pointing straight. I don't know how other people do that twist that gets your leg/foot turned around. I do know that without it you're doomed. It may be that I can never master the conventional popup, and I will have to come up with some version of it that's unique and idiosyncratic to me, but which I can actually do. Maybe I will have to settle for the retard version of using my knees to push me up (but that gets my leg and foot pointing forward as well so isn't much of a solution).

Right now my unique version (the one I'm attempting, with about a one in twelve success rate, to execute) involves taking off with both sets of toes on the board pointing downwards, heels up; turning my right foot on its side, sliding my turned up foot to mid-board (feeling the contact between the ankle bone or whatever you call that bony thing on the side of the foot, and the board) then pushing up with my back foot and then, only then (because how could it be otherwise?) letting go of the board with my hands and standing up.

I was trying this over and over and it was hard, it was tedious. When I got out of the water for a drink, I looked at my watch and only a little over an hour had passed. It seemed like it was much longer. I was determined to put in two hours, but how I longed for that time to be up! This was work, as hard as anything I've ever done in front of a computer or anywhere else. I longed for that proverbial quittin-time whistle as much as any steelworker ever did. But I would not quit early.

Along comes this guy, and I expect to be ignored because everyone always ignores me, but he's heading straight for me on an empty beach. Then he's talking to me. Turns out he's a guy I've seen here almost as long as I've been coming to this beach (three years, remember?) I know his name but almost nothing about him, and I didn't recognize him all bundled up from the cold. It's C., one of the few attractive guys around here. (I like ________ guys with _________. Fill in the blanks with your imagination. And that's like as in like to look at. At my age that's all I can do, I'm well aware.)

My first reaction was to be embarrassed because he's been watching one of my worst surfing days ever. But he's not laughing, he's trying to be helpful. "Let me give you some advice," he says, and he does. "I remember when I was just a beginner." Then I really am embarrassed because I've been a beginner for three years. But he seems so nice and genuine, and I can count on my fingers the number of regulars on this beach who've even spoken to me, let alone tried to be helpful. I know very well that to most of them I'm just an object of derision----a kook---because I can't surf and can't learn. Of course, if I were young and cute, it wouldn't matter that I can't surf. But I am neither. So no one can understand why this old woman keeps coming here when she looks like a fool and nobody accepts her.

There are exactly two others of this crew who have ever had a kind word to say to me. You know who you are, and I appreciate you very much. There's another one who, while he will never initiate contact, is at least cordial when I speak to him. The rest of them just look at me, if they do, like I have three feet (which, if you've ever seen my tripod "surfing" stance with feet and hands on the board and ass in the air, is not so inappropriate).

Unexpected kind words can make all the difference when you're on the verge of giving up. When you feel like that, it only takes a small thing to push you over the edge---or back.

If not for C.'s talking to me today, for instance, I almost certainly would have lost it when I was struggling out of my wetsuit not paying much attention to what I was doing, then realized that I'd forgotten to free one hand before the other, so that both arms were now trapped in their rubber sleeves, making it impossible to use one to free the other. I imagined being trapped like that in wet rubber for four hours until my downstairs neighbor came home and I presented myself to him half naked and begged him to free me. Had that happened, I really truly would have given up surfing forever. But instead I found the inner resources---along with the outer ones of my teeth and a coat hanger---to ingeniously work myself out of my neoprene prison.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A beginner for four years

I've got a three day window to just surf. But today, the waves were much bigger than forecasted. They were waist to chest high, and all the good surfers were out. All I could do was watch them having fun. I kept remembering words of wisdom (but where did I get them): If you think it's too big, it is. Err on the side of caution.

The other phrase that kept going through my head was: a beginner for four years. I am very aware that in July, I will begin my fourth year of trying to learn to surf. And I still can't handle waves over two feet, and can barely/rarely stand up on those!

You know that book by John Irving, A Widow for Four Years? (Well, even if you don't, that's a novel by John Irving). It doesn't make any sense, of course, because by the definition of the word widow, you can't be a widow for just one year. Well, it's just like saying you're a beginner for four years. By definition it's impossible: if you've been doing something for four years you're not a beginner. But yet I am. It makes no sense and it is incredibly depressing and embarrassing. How much longer? When is it time to give up?