Friday, July 28, 2006

Well and truly surfing

Drum roll please...

To continue the movie theme, the other best film ever made (forgive me, I took cinema studies in college) is called Distant Voices, Still Lives and is even more obscure than Barry Lyndon. If I have encouraged any of you to see either of these films, this blog will have served a useful purpose. Today a line from Distant Voices came to me as I was in the water. Long story short, it's the tale of a working class British family, and in a scene set at the end of the oldest daughter's wedding, she turns to her new husband and says in awe, "We're well and truly married now."

And the big news is...


I am well and truly surfing now! Today was my best day EVER. I got waves, got several rides and I mean really got riding with some speed. After my first wave in which I got up but didn't really go anywhere, I started getting up with my feet more towards the front of the board, which really seemed to help. Once I was up I tried to keep going by visualizing what I have seen other surfers do and imitating their stance. I just, well, tried to look like them. It worked! I kept going and didn't fall. I rode the waves all the way and had enough time to try to turn. And I actually did turn. That is, I think I was actually riding down the face of the wave for the second and third and fourth and fifth time.

I can't wait to try it again tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Just chillin'

I spent the afternoon today on the beach just ragging on C. with one of his frenemies. I have not laughed so much in a very long time.

It was way more fun than any surfing I could have done. I did go in for an hour, but the waves were useless windswell crap.

I promise a return to the general topic of surfing next time.

Monday, July 24, 2006


What is the best movie ever made? I know that is a subjective call, but unless you said Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon", you are wrong.

It is my summertime ritual to bring my TV set outside and watch this 1970s three-hour masterpiece on my terrace. It's set in the 1700s, when being a "gentleman" was taken very seriously. When one gentleman was wronged by another, or "dissed" as we would say now, he had the right, nay the obligation, to demand "satisfaction" in the form of a pistol duel in which one party would end up dead or mortally wounded.

Such was the importance of protecting one's honor.

While duels are no longer allowed, human beings continue to need and demand satisfaction when wronged or dissed. I mention this only because the need for satisfaction (or what today's shrinks might call "closure") has been behind my recent pissed off posts. Last night I finally had the opportunity to wrest some extent of "satisfaction" from C. And while I stopped short of shooting him or slapping his face (as numerous people have suggested I do) I got what I needed.

Why did I not give C. a satisfying slap, why do I not tell certain others to go to hell? In short, the answer is: community. I've always laughed when I heard that word used to refer to any group of people in New York City, where you don't know your next door neighbor's name. For instance, a "community board" here is a group of people who come together only to fight and yell at each other.

But the people who surf regularly at this beach are a true community. We are going to see each other day in and day out, even year after year. We are going to see each other in the water and on the beach and at the grocery store and in each other's backyards. We can't avoid each other, and open unresolved conflict would only create bad karma and awkwardness. For better or worse, I think we have to try to work things out. (Of course, this may only reflect the fact that I think like a woman; it's a stereotype but true that women in general strive to preserve connection at all costs.)

Oh yeah...the surfing today? The waves were small, and I felt confident, so I decided to take out an unfamiliar board. It is a little longer and has less rocker than mine. It was way easier to paddle, but I couldn't figure out where to place myself on it. I did finally manage to take off successfully but couldn't get up. I also had some not very good wipeouts. I could maybe learn that board, but it would take a few more attempts. I think I'll just stick with mine because I know it and have been doing well on it lately. Still, I'm glad I had the confidence to take out a different board, and would like to do it again.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I'll take the props

I watched the waves from the beach for a while before going in today, and judging by those who took off on them they were waist to chest. I had my doubts about whether I could handle them, and contemplated not going in. Of course, the unresolved conflict and drama from the last two posts was still with me, and in fact is still thickening, and I had to make a valiant effort not to mix it up with and let it color my judgment about the actual surfing.

I had to talk to myself and tell myself the waves are often not as big and bad as they look; and in fact that was the case today. It wasn't difficult to get out. Once out, the waves would loom ominously and then poop out as they got nearer, faking out even the good surfers. I began by going out too far, as I always do when I think the waves are a little beyond my comfort level, and so I kept missing them. I had to keep telling myself to move in.

I was surfing near M., a woman near my age who is pretty good, and watching her to see where I should be.

I got four waves. On the first I took off I little bit early and I knew there was going to be a drop once I was on the wave, so I didn't even try to stand up until that happened. Do you know what I mean? I keep trying to explain it to people and missing. I don't mean the initial drop when you catch the wave. Or at least I think I don't. I catch the wave and am riding it but I can feel that I am not all the way down, that soon the board is going to drop down the equivalent of one rung on a flight of stairs. I know that if I try to stand up before that happens I will fall when the board drops.

On this wave I think I somehow got my feet on before the board dropped down, then when it did I pretty much wrestled myself into standing position. Of course by then the wave was almost over. But I did stand.

On the second wave I got up after I'd paddled some extra strokes to make sure I'd gotten it, so I had a little longer ride once I got up; but the only thing was, another guy had taken off on the same wave (whose wave was it? I don't think we saw each other, or maybe he saw me and made the calculation that I wouldn't make the wave) and our boards were riding parallel. So we both had to kind of fall off our boards to avoid injury.
No harm was done.

The third and fourth waves I got moving so fast I just could not get up. The last one was especially fast. M. saw this one and I was kind of embarrassed, but she was waiting for me as I got out and smiling. "You got that big wave! I didn't think you'd make it! You're doing so much better!" Actually I didn't think it was that big of a wave, but if it looked that big I was proud to take credit for it. And if she thought I stood up on it, well, maybe I did. When things happen so fast, it's difficult to know what happened when it's over unless someone else tells you. I was only too happy to take the props, as the kids would say.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Fill in the blank: Surfers are...

I've been holding back on a post on the topic of surfers in general. Let us say I am more than disillusioned with more than a few people at this moment. I don't want to stereotype, but they are all surfers. The majority are men, so I was going to make it about men surfers. You know: Something like: "Guys who surf are so goddamn immature." But then a couple of women really pissed me off. So, surfers in general. Like, "Surfers are so dumb they misspell three-letter words."

OK, I don't want to go further right now, but I could really let rip. I don't want to be unfair. But the more I get to know people in this community more than superficially, the more I have these unbidden thoughts like: "Who are these people?" and "What the hell am I doing here?"

Is there anything you have been holding back, readers, anything you've been choking on saying? Are people who surf really more likely to have certain good or bad characteristics? Are the stereotypes generally true? What unbidden thoughts have you had? Come on, you can be totally anonymous. And nasty. Or funny. Fill in the blank: Surfers are...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Drama kings and queens

It doesn't get any more hot, crowded, or crazy than it did this Sunday at our beach.

Actually, the surfing part was OK. After nearly two hours of trying, I got one good long ride. It was the second time I have ever gone across the wave and once again, I went right without trying or knowing why. After spending some time having a discussion with one of the good surfers, it seems to me it may somehow be because, being goofy foot, that's the only way I can go and still face the beach. If I went left, I would be facing the ocean. Psychologically that's a challenge. Even when I swim, I always want to be looking towards the shore. And that's true even though I am a superb swimmer who could swim home from the middle of the ocean if I had to. It's a security thing, an orientation thing. I just want to see land. It will take quite a bit of effort to learn to look out to sea.

He spent some more time explaining what you must do with your heels and toes in order to turn intentionally, but that part was way beyond me.

I also enjoyed hanging out with T., who is, next to me, the oldest female surfer at our beach. We have a lot in common and could probably help each other out. It was fun being out in the water with her and I was stoked that she saw my ride and cheered me on!


Out of the water things really got out of hand by the end of the weekend. I won't go into all the details but there was high drama, blood, and betrayal. I ended up taking an expensive taxi ride home from the beach in just a bathing suit, shorts and flip flops, leaving glasses, clothes, and other essentials of life behind, to be picked up later along with the ongoing soap opera of Rockaway.

Was that one ride, however desired and exhilirating, worth all the drama? Absolutely not.

It's the height of summer and I cannot wait for February when things cool down.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Crappy waves, crappy surfers

Summer Fridays seem to be shaping up like this: bad waves, bad surfers. Today was virtually a rerun of last Friday. I saw the same people out: the guy who looks like Jesus Christ, the young shaggy haired guy, the two Asian shortboarders (is there such a thing as an Asian longboarder? Is that a racist comment?), the Asian girl on the Blue board. I said hi to a couple of them; maybe I'll get to know them better and we'll be the Friday afternoon crew.

The other people out were children or bodyboarders. (No offense to bodyboarders.) None of the good surfers, none of those I've dignified here with initials, surf the crap waves. Why should they? When the waves are bad, the bad surfers come out. But I kinda like being out on days like this: once again I get the chance to be the best surfer in the water. I actually had a good time on crappy sectiony waves, which probably means I'm getting more relaxed and learning to have fun again. And I got my wave of the day, on which I was able to stand and ride for about four seconds---long enough to think, Hmmm, once I'm up what do I have to do to stay up? I got the feeling I could've prolonged the ride if I'd known what to do with my weight, where to shift it, or if I'd bent my knees more. I also got a second, shorter ride. Not bad for me!

In a way the injury I had to my left knee at the end of May was a good thing. It's not fully healed, it still is swollen and painful despite physical therapy, so it really lets me know when I'm using my left knee to get up! It's impossible to remain unaware, as I did before, of what I'm doing. The good part is, if the knee doesn't hurt, it means I must not have used it to get up.

Monday, July 10, 2006

More than riding the waves

A while back I was about ready to quit, but now that I'm into my fourth year, I think I'm going to stick around a while. Yeah, I still can only barely and occasionally ride a wave. Yeah, I still feel like a fake. Yeah, "surfing" without riding waves is a lot like having sex without orgasms: extremely frustrating and depressing. But looked at more holistically, surfing really is a whole culture, and it's that culture I have come to love, even though I often feel confused and out of place. It's time to admit that this is what I would miss if I quit, more than my "surfing".

Some of what I identify as the culture may be unique to our particular community. I don't know because I haven't ever been part of any other surf community. I love ours because it really is like a small town in the middle of NYC. I love our crowded grungy beach and boardwalk and it's both exhilirating and exhausting the way it often feels like a big stage where endless soap operas play out. I love the people, even the ones I don't like. I love the aloha spirit in which near total strangers offer you a greeting or a burger in their backyard (a spirit marred only by a few bitches and jerks). I love hanging out with the same general group of people, wet and dry, morning noon and middle of the night.

If I quit, most of all, I would miss the people. And it's not just because I would have few friends left. It's because (and here I go wearing my participant observer sociologist hat, er, hood) surf culture is one of the few bastions of real time face to face personal interaction in an increasingly fragmented and disconnected world.

OK, I am sure a bona fide sociologist would have a better way of saying this. What I mean is, most people (at least in NYC) are so busy and stressed that we rarely have time to do anything that doesn't involve making money or other necessities of survival. Before I started trying to surf, I could go months and even years without ever seeing the people I considered my best friends. All our contact took place over the phone or the internet. There were (and still are) people I consider good friends, whom I've "known" for years, who I've never even met. It seems like I've met them because we've talked and corresponded and shared so much, but I don't even know what they look like! It doesn't even seem to matter that we've never met, but it does, you know?

My best friends in the world, indeed virtually all of my friends,live in other states, and though we talk and email we see each other once a year or less. But even with those who live in the same city, it's just too difficult trying to coordinate our schedules so that we can sit down in the same room.

Human beings were meant to look each other in the eye, even occasionally to touch each other. But purposeful face to face contact is increasingly rare and perhaps becoming extinct. It's becoming limited to those people you have no choice but to look at (such as co workers) and those you have to live with (your family).

Surfing (or even "surfing") by definition puts you in face to face, live action, real time contact with other human beings---whether it's forging friendships or dropping in and cursing them out. And even when we don't know each other's names, that feels more real than the disembodied contacts we have in the rest of our lives.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sunday, sunny, summer

Sunday, sunny, summer= bumper to bumper (or rather nose to tail) traffic in the water. There were probably 50 people out along our small stretch of surf beach. A year ago, that would have totally intimidated me, especially with waves over a foot high. But now I can go out and stay safe (though of course there is some dumb luck involved in that)and actually get my share of waves without it fazing me at all. Of course, now I know a lot of the people in the water, know who the good surfers are, and know which ones are going to hog all the waves and who will run over me as soon as look at me. As for the others, I watch and see who's just clogging up the lineup and who's actually getting waves and which way they go.

Today was a nice day with fairly decent waves in the AM. I was out for a long time and was having chats and getting surf tips. A couple of times W., who gets every wave he wants and he wants them all, actually gave me waves. I think C. might have spoken to him and asked him to help me. But even C., who was out today, offered up a couple words of advice.

Mostly, today I concentrated on doing what I've been told to do by my most recent instructor: angle the board as I'm taking off, and wait to stand up until I'm sure I'm well into the wave. I tried hard to do both, but neither one helped. In over two hours, I managed only once to get to my feet and stay up more than a split second.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Waist high

Waves were bigger today than they have been most of the summer, waist to occasional chest (though as usual Surfline had its head up its butt undercalling it). I remembered M.'s advice to me that "you gotta go out in bigger waves". So I did, even though there were tons of people out, and it wasn't a problem at all. I don't blow my takeoffs so much anymore which is, of course, the main cause of wipeouts. I didn't do as well as I did yesterday in the small waves, though. I took off OK but had a hard time trying to stand up, as usual, and only got one ride. That's actually pretty good for me, but after yesterday, I thought I was about to do better. I am reminded once again that progress, if that's what it is, is nonlinear.

Later I hung out on the beach all day, at the central hangout spot, and it was fun. People were friendly and I felt really comfortable. Though the waves got better during the day and everyone was having fun, I didn't push myself to go back in. Glad I saved some energy cause it turned out there was another rockin' party to go to later! Like I said, every weekend's the Fourth of July around here.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The best surfer in the water

I usually don't go to the beach without any idea of what the waves are doing; it's way too far to go to waste a trip. The local surfcam was down, as was the phone-a-friend network. But today was a hot and beautiful day and I just wanted to be on the beach.

I'm glad I went. The waves were small and not too well formed, but there were lots of them. There weren't many people out; other than me, just young kids and boogie boarders. I was able to get lots of waves and ride, or nearly ride, a couple of them. In fact, I noticed I was the only one getting up. I had the unique and very enjoyable experience of being---today between 1:30 and 2:30 PM---the best surfer in the water.

I was able to ride across a wave for the first time instead of going straight! Of course, I somehow went right. All our waves here are lefts. I have no idea why I went right, as it was nothing I did consciously.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth!

Today was the first day of my fourth year trying to learn to surf.

I started it out with a lesson from M., the new surf instructor. Actually that was pretty much a waste of time, but at least she is nice and didn't charge me a lot. She didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. In a nutshell it was this:

1) She watched the video and said it makes no difference how you get up. You can use your knees, butt, hands, toes, anything you want.

2) I should angle my board in the direction the wave is breaking and that way I don't have to worry about "learning to turn", I can do it before I learn to stand up. (This is actually helpful, but it's the same thing K. already told me.)

3) The reason I fall is "you can't ride whitewater" and "you can't ride straight". This last makes no sense to me, as I see people doing both of these things every day, and all the surf instructors and surf books say you have to learn to stand and ride whitewater straight to the beach before trying to ride waves.

4) "Stop being so negative, you can surf."

5) "If someone's in front of you and you want to take off, just do it; they'll get out of the way."

Well, at least the lesson got me out in the water fairly early on a Fourth of July morning. And M., who works in the surf shop, has quickly become a popular person, so it was easy being with her to get into the holiday mood. I think it was one of the most,if not the most, fun times surfing I've ever had, and the reason was not only the surfing, but the whole vibe. Everybody and their mother was out and even though it was crowded all the faces were friendly and most were familiar. It was like a big party in the water. I was getting surf tips and trading barbs with a few guys, some I've known for years, others I've just really gotten to know since the beginning of this summer, some I just met today. (I was the only woman out pretty much the whole morning.) Waves were tricky to catch today and when they came along at least three people were on each one, but no one minded; they were all party waves. I don't know how long I stayed out and didn't care; I guess it was much longer than usual, but I didn't care how tired I'd be later, I was having so much fun.

M. kept saying "I just want to see you on a wave" (famous last words of all my surf instructors). But finally I did get one, and I did get up, and I did get a ride; and she cheered for me, and later on the beach B. congratulated me: "I saw you get up!" That was really great. I was surprised but glad that he was so nice. He's one of the surfers with the most seniority and he and his family are always at the center of the beach hangout action. (K. says it's possible to actually have an intelligent conversation with him. Gotta try that sometime.)

I got another ride, too, later.

Frankly if C. had been there the whole day would have been spoiled, but he wasn't. His best friends were all so sweet to me and I'd been worried they might not be, anymore. That's a great relief. They seem genuinely nice (of course, so did he at first). You always worry that guys will talk shit about you to their friends, don't you, girls? C. didn't show up until late afternoon, and the thunder and lightning showed up with him and cleared the beach.

I just barely stayed up long enough to see some of the fireworks.