Monday, August 28, 2006

M y biggest day ever

Today was the biggest day I have ever been out in comfortably, and the biggest day I've ever actually surfed. It was solidly chest high, with some bombs that looked bigger. At no point was I ever scared or hesitant. I just went out, timing it carefully or turtle diving. I'm done with that cowering in the shorebreak.

Since this was the biggest day in months, bigger and better than the "Big Wave Day" I wrote about, the lineup was packed. Three o'clock Monday afternoon, and 25 people out.

The first wave I caught, I took off well, go my feet on the board, but couldn't stand up. On the second wave, I managed to get up and ride it all the way in. Takeoff was good and I had a solid platform, it was just a matter of getting my balance. On another wave, I took off too late and totally went over the falls, eliciting a respectful "Did you get killed? That was a big wave," from the next guy in the lineup.

However, on what proved to be my last wave, I took off at the same time as, and collided with, a shortboarder. Up to this day I have said that in four years I have never yet destroyed a board. As in, "Can I please borrow your board? I've never destroyed one yet." Now I can't quite say that. No, her board was not destroyed, but a fin was gone; and my board has a huge chunk out of the rail where the fin hit it.

No one was hurt, but she was pissed as hell and stormed out of the water. Can you storm out of water? I guess you can.

I honestly don't know whose fault it was, if anyone's. Yes, we took off on the same wave, but that happens on practically every wave at this break; usually only one person makes it, or if they both make it they stay out of each other's way. If they are friends no one ever thinks it's a big deal.

I cannot say that she had priority, because it seemed we had equal priority. This is not a point where waves break in only one spot. Our waves, in fact, usually break in two spots at once and the waves meet in the middle.

What should I do? What is proper surf etiquette? Should I find out who she is and offer to pay for her board (as well as my own, which is going to cost over $75?)

I don't like that we had a collision, but even with that, an exhilarating day. I was sorry to have to get out of the water, but there was no way to ride the board with that gash in it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Surfing is fun

I had a good Sunday, lots of sunshine and good little waves. Now that I am getting rides, surfing is actually fun again. Because I'm getting better, I'm having more fun with less effort, whereas before as longtime readers can attest, it was mostly all effort and no fun. I don't exhaust myself going for every wave in my determination to learn---that sure didn't work!

My first session Sunday lasted less than an hour, yet because I got a couple of good rides I was satisfied, and eager to go back for more after a long walk on the beach. You know, it's not easy trying to surf on a summer weekend when everyone is sitting there with nothing to do to amuse themselves but call every wave like it's a play in the Superbowl..."Oooh, look at Moe, he goes for it, he missed it!" I try to do well when friends and enemies are watching, but I get self conscious. Still, if I cared that much about how I look, I would never have learned.

I feel really great and have tons of energy. I think I've figured out my body's setpoint or whatever so that I can surf without having to sleep twelve hours afterwards like I used to, or else I've pushed my setpoint a bit. Either way I feel more fit than I have, like, ever, and my weight is staying down where it should be.

Three days surfing in a row and I'm ready for a fourth! Unfortunately I've got some appointments tomorrow I really can't cancel.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sea hags

Today the wind was strong and the waves (actually, sections) were absolutely no fun. Choppy windswell crap, and a lineup full of clueless kooks on softboards flailing around. (Am I advanced enough now that I can call other people kooks?) Not even a friendly face to be seen in the water. The locals knew enough not to come out or to leave early and find other amusement on a Saturday afternoon.

I did get to see T. whom I haven't seen for a month, and we greeted each other like long lost friends even though we've only met three times. That's because we're the two oldest women surfers at our beach. We recognize and understand each other. (Well, supposedly there's this other older woman but I've never seen her. I've heard she actually surfs well but all the locals hate her because she's old and unattractive, and they nastily call her the Sea Hag. Wonder what they call me?) I'm a bit older than T., so I guess that makes me oldest next to the Sea Hag.

I read somewhere about how it's hard to learn sports in middle age not only because of the physical decline but because mentally, we have learned the habits of caution. We can't just not think of consequences. There is actually a biological basis for this (which isn't saying much, there's a biological basis for everything) learned hesitation to take risk. We can't just go jumping off cliffs or out of airplanes. T. said she was afraid of getting hurt because she doesn't have any health insurance. An entirely reasonable and understandable concern, but one which wouldn't likely occur to a 28-year-old. So T. is cautious, taking things really slow, at this point riding waves only on her stomach, despite the fact that like me she wants to surf just as much as she wants anything.

Later, on a raucous subway ride home involving the harmonious clash of at least four cultures in one subway car (black, Russian, indigenous Staten Island, and Hispanic)----what, Staten Island isn't a culture?---I met another older woman surfer. Older than me, even, though she's a bodyboarder. She's 52 and from Staten Island (a hell of a long trip to the beach). She told me how she'd wanted to try surfing but had gotten discouraged after a couple of times because it's so hard. I wanted to cheer her on but all I could realistically say was, "It took me three years to stand up." "That's depressing," was her response. Plus she had a bad board. So now she's got a boogie board and is really into it.

What makes a seemingly rather ordinary, single, 52 year old woman suddenly take up the sport of bodyboarding with the dedication necessary to travel three hours to get to the beach---in the face of all our culture's insistence that she shouldn't? I wish I could say I had the answer to that question, but I didn't get it. I suspect her reasons are as complex as mine. Perhaps. All I could do was encourage the hell out of her to keep getting out there and not to mind the nasty locals.

We exchanged phone numbers. We older women surfers have to stick together.

One more thing I have to say. She scared the hell out of me, as has every woman over 50 I've ever encountered. Women: you may look much the same from 20 to 30, and not even notice any difference from 30 to 40 and 40 to 50. But there is something that happens at the 50 mark. It's the difference between being able to pass and being, and looking old. I am terrified of it. I am terrified of being an unmistakeably old woman in a culture that devalues old women. Who wouldn't be? Who would want to be a Sea Hag?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday winning streak

I was confident enough that this string of lucky Fridays would continue that I cancelled my appointments and headed for the beach today even though it was cloudy and the forecast was for poor surf.

And I was right: the sun came out just as I arrived, and the waves were just as nice as last week's and a tad bigger.

I was getting a whole bunch of rides. I still don't make all my takeoffs, and I don't ride all I stand up on, but way more than ever before. And there were familiar faces from other Fridays. One guy said appreciatively, "You're getting a lot of waves!" Another guy I'd seen before actually said to me, "I thought you were a beginner." I said, "I am." He said, "You're getting good." !!!!!! Words I never thought I'd hear!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Big wave day

Today I was scheduled for another surf lesson, hoping to work on my turns. But as of 10 a.m. the waves were chest to head high, bigger than they have been in months, and the surf instructor was having too much fun to come out of the water for a lesson. We cancelled the lesson by mutual consent and she encouraged me to come out anyway even though I was daunted.

I spent about an hour hanging out in the shorebreak like an idiot while all the local good surfers---the ones you'll never see in the two foot glop---materialized as if by magic. The big sets kept coming without much of a lull and I hadn't done turtle diving for so long, I was just about paralyzed thinking I couldn't do it. I kept telling myself to just try it on the small insiders to build confidence, but it was so shallow there I was actually scared of banging my head on the bottom of the ocean, as stupid as that sounds. Is it stupid not to want to go underneath your surfboard and get pounded by a wave in two feet of water? Finally I got cold and came in for a while. I was so demoralized I had a bit of a cry. But I couldn't let myself give up.

I went back to the house to get a wetsuit and some water, came back out and it was a whole new ballgame. The sun had come out and the waves had gone down a notch, or so it seemed. Just like that. I had no trouble getting out now and everything looked different with the sun on it. The waves were now within my comfort level (on the high end.) I caught one, didn't get up, went back out, a little struggle but now I remembered my turtle dives. Turns out these were fake out waves that weren't as big as they looked. By now the cell phone calls from the beach had resulted in 25 people in the lineup. When I got a good wave there were four people in my way, but somehow they got out of the way and I was able to stand up and get a good ride. Four hours after I first hit the beach, my confidence was restored. Of course, by that time I was so exhausted I had to go in.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Difficult conditions

What makes for difficult surfing conditions? Overhead waves? Gusty winds? A blizzard in your face? 36 degree water? Crowds? Sharks?

I'd take any or all of these over a day like this: virtually the only people on the beach are you and your former lover, who gets to the beach two minutes before you and makes a big show of moving 50 yards away from you as soon as you set down your board, then sits there the whole time you're in the water either pointedly ignoring you or staring at you, it's hard to tell from behind the mirrored sunglasses.

Between this asshole and the sloppy sectiony one foot windswell, I didn't do very well. I only persisted because the only other person in the water, obviously an excellent surfer, was getting rides. I got one, just so I could say I did, so I could say C. did not make me give up. But it was not, as you might imagine, fun.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Excellent Friday

I am loving these summer Friday afternoons. The water seems more beautiful, the sky bluer, on Fridays. Mellow, mellow, mellow. Small crowds, small waves.

Today I just kept saying to myself: Relax, take your time. You don't have to try for every wave. Mellow out. And I did. I had a really good time.

When I got up and riding, I noticed that my stance was very wide. I have been concentrating on getting my front foot (in my case, my right) on the board and leaving the back foot where it just happens to be. I don't really move it from where it is when I'm taking off. Bending my knees helps me balance with that wide stance, but doesn't always work, so I started to realize it would be better to try to get my back foot further forward.
Once I'm up, I tend to freeze my feet in position, even if I'm precariously balanced, because I think I can't move my feet when I'm up or I'll fall. Of course, I see people move their feet to balance all the time! So I decided to try it. I moved my back foot forward while riding the wave, and immediately felt more balanced. That way, I could ride the wave all the way in instead of falling off.

Even though I'm angling my board and going the way I think the wave is going, these waves don't usually last very long before they wall up---that is, another section starts to break ahead of you, i.e. the wave closes out. From the beach, I watch how when that happens the person falls. There's really nothing you can do at that point except maybe try to go straight in.

I was riding a wave nicely and then I saw the wave closing out in front of me and the water surging up on my nose which caused me to fall, but in this case the board banged against my chest and arm when I fell. Ouch. Perhaps I am a wimp, but I'd rather not be black and blue tomorrow if I can help it so I got out and got some ice to put on it. It was OK because even though I was only in for an hour I was really satisfied with my performance.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Board swaps

Conditions were not good today, choppy and small, which cut down the lineup a little---to only about fifteen at peak, not much for a sunny 90 degree Sunday in August. T. very graciously offered to let me borrow one of his boards, which I took as a compliment. It's 9 foot 8 and very thick, much more stable than my board which is 8 foot 6. I took it out and tried valiantly. If conditions were better I could have made more of it. As it was, even the good surfers who were out, like S., weren't doing very well. I could not find a balance point on the board, so that when I took off I found my nose going under, and if I managed to take off and stand up my nose also went under. So I didn't really get any rides. I felt bad about that, after borrowing the board, but T. and his wife were really nice about it.

I took a break for a good long time, hanging out on the beach, and then took out I.'s board. That one is 9 foot 4, the same as W.'s. By this time even though the waves were no better the lineup had thickened and included a lot of bodyboarders who somehow do not get out of the way even when you are heading straight for them. Why is that?

Even though there were not really waves, only choppy sections, I was determined to stay out until I got my ride of the day, and I did! I got up and went left, which is the way most people go on these waves although I've never really managed it before, and I rode it all the way in. The bodyboarders were hooting and cheering---for me!
And when I got back on the beach I got compliments from people who'd seen me, even E. who I've never been that friendly with. Yay for me!

After that, I hounded our downstairs neighbor, who'd been keen on trying to surf but had been wavering after a disappointing first couple of tries, into picking up the surfboard he'd ordered. It is a 9 foot 8 Matador. Of course, I can't wait to try it. It didn't get wet today because it was too late by the time he picked it up. But I will be on it soon. I'm thinking, though, that maybe 9 foot 4 rather than 9 foot 8 is optimum for me.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

AM session

Today was a world's record for me: the earliest I ever got up and the earliest I ever got to the beach. I was up at 6:30 and arrived around 8:45. My reward for this effort? No waves---or rather, anklebiters, about like yesterday's. But also: a much smaller lineup than I have seen yet on a sunny summer Saturday. That's probably partly because of the waves but also because an early start on a weekend just isn't compatible with the kind of drinking/smoking/partying that goes on out here.

After I'd been out about an hour I saw W. We chatted a while and then he let me switch boards with him. His is 9 foot 4, three inches thick, shaped for him in California. He was also helping me out with free surf advice. He always says I'm too far forward on my board but whenever I try to place myself further forward my nose goes under. He says there's a way to balance yourself that far forward without pearling, but couldn't explain exactly how. It took a few tries, but I did find the right spot to balance myself on his board. I took off and got a nice ride all the way to the beach---WOW, does it feel different from my board, which he dismissed as a "potato chip". Too bad he took his board back after that. He's right, my board is way too thin.

I stayed out a long time despite the cold water because it was fun actually surfing with somebody rather than just next to them, you know what I mean?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Too hot to surf

We've had a brutal heatwave for the past few days, temperatures near 100 degrees. While that strictly speaking may not be too hot to surf, it is too hot to spend any time at the beach house, which has no air conditioning, so I haven't been surfing until today.

The tradition of crappy Friday afternoon surf and mellow afternoon crowd continues. Waves were barely ankle high. I recognized a couple of faces from prior Fridays and there were a few new ones. Only a few people were out and the wait for "waves" was long. The water was freezing---how can that be? I actually got cold in 88 degree heat.

The two waves I got I stood up and rode---no problem. Though I do turn, I'm not yet controlling which way I go---gotta work on that now. Gotta figure out what to do to actually make the board go left or right. This is not something that has ever been covered in any surf lesson, surf camp, or surf book I've ever encountered. How do people learn it? Tips are welcome.

It actually occurred to me (and I'm not sure I really think this, it just occurred to me) that when the waves are this small and infrequent, surfing without the crew and the crowds, the shenanigans and sexual tension, is, maybe---well---a little bit boring.

But then I noticed how the water was changing color from minute to minute from steel gray to Caribbean turquoise depending on the tricks of the sun and the clouds. I've never seen that before. It was one of the most beautiful days of the summer. Boring? Never.