Friday, August 31, 2007

Surprise session

Never listen to Surfline.

They said flat, and I planned a flat day, cleaning my apartment. Then I saw people heading to the beach, and people in the water. Since I live down the street from the surf shop, everyone who rents a board or stores one there passes by me on their way to the beach.

I looked and saw waves. About four o'clock, I said The apartment's clean enough.

I caught and rode my first wave. And it was mad fun. And I didn't get every wave I went for, but I rode every wave I got. I think I popped up, because my ankle is telling me I didn't scrape it, but I can't be sure.

And people saw me get rides, and I was, quite simply, a surfer. Not somebody who just sits there, or somebody who just wipes out, but somebody who surfs. I got complimented on my rides, and I complimented others. Turns out the old guy I've seen out the last three sessions can actually surf.

And that was just how it was. And it was all fun until I got cold and had to go in.

Monday, August 27, 2007


I will not tell you the name of the gospel song which was playing in my head today. Beautiful as it is, no one's ever heard of it; it would mean nothing to you. But it meant everything to me today. It made surfing one foot waves into an art form; into dancing.

At least that's how I felt, what I was trying for. And it made today, a day when my body ached from pretty much a week of nonstop surfing and asked politely to be excused, a full out blast.

Maybe I did some real popups; maybe I didn't. I got lots of waves and lots of rides. And, on some, I felt, I think, I hope I danced.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

No popup

The good (three foot) waves continue. I got some rides today and thought I was doing well. I mean, I'm on a board I don't like and haven't been using, and for the first time in my life I'm getting up and riding on waves over two feet.

My surf coach said no. He says I'm still getting up like an old fart, using my knee(s) and sticking my butt out. And then I don't go anywhere, I'm not really riding the wave but just going straight.

I thought my performance was good and I was satisfied with it today. But I guess I'm still not getting it.

That's discouraging. But I had fun and didn't get killed on a very crowded, crazy weekend. There was a surf contest for the young kids, a paddleout for someone I didn't know, and speakers playing good music all day long. What a difference that makes! I actually did two sessions on Sunday, one in the morning (cold and cloudy) and one in the afternoon (hot and sunny). I almost didn't go out in the afternoon, but I'm glad I did; lots of familiar faces, as much socializing as surfing. And I was not the worst surfer in the water, by far.

After that, I threw some burgers and dogs on my new grill, ate dinner on my terrace, and was ready for bed by nine o'clock. What a weekend. What a summer.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Back to the Blue

I'm so glad now that I didn't sell my old board, my 8-6 Blue. Any money I would have made is irrelevant compared to the option of having a backup board. I didn't really think I would need it but now I do.

So I went out on my old board, which had grown cobwebs. And I still don't like that board. Waves were manageable today, only about three feet with a negligible paddle out. I didn't have any problem with my takeoffs (which I used to have all the time with that board) and after three or four tries I could get my feet in the right spots to ride. But I didn't do any popups today. I guess I just wasn't feeling confident enough, or something. I did get rides, which are a lot harder to get on this than on my new board.

I can deal with this board, I guess, for the two weeks or so it will take to get my new one fixed, if it even can be fixed, which can't be determined until it's seen by a surfboard doctor. That involves a drive to a place I've never been which will take place next week.

Really, the taking off and balancing are easy comparing to the popping. I did, actually, thinking back, get one popup today---but then I landed in completely the wrong spot and fell off immediately.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


No, not me, thank god. I didn't get a scratch on me. It's my board. My nearly brand new Robert August hideously expensive board.

It was a day a lot like yesterday, hard to get out, and with a lot of current. I was warned about the current but even so it was faster than I was prepared for. I didn't even get one wave, was still trying to make it out when it happened. One second: Oh, I'm getting close to the death spikes (the remains of a wooden pier, now simply wood stumps which can't be seen at high tide). Two seconds later, I'm on the death spikes.

I was calm. My board was on top of the spikes and my leash was wrapped around one, and I simply got the leash off. The board was the shield between me and the spikes and took the impact. Better it than me, but still. I got out of the water unscathed and saw a gash all the way across the width of my board. It had also gone about halfway through the width. In other words, my board was halfway broken in half.

My baby, still almost brand new--injured perhaps beyond repair!

Of course since the waves were big the entire peanut gallery on the boardwalk saw this, but screw them. It could and has happened to anyone.

There was nothing I could do but get off the beach and start dialing every number that might lead to someone who could do the repair.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rain session

Today was the first time I've ever (intentionally) gone surfing in the rain. I was up early hoping for good waves, which there really were not; too much wind was on it. And the waves were a bit big. I sat there in my suit deciding whether to go or not, and my thoughts went like this: Someday I will be an old woman in a wheelchair in a nursing home, and I will think back to this day and (if I don't go) say to myself: What the hell was I thinking when I had use of all my limbs and energy and I let a little rain stop me from surfing?

Actually the rain didn't bother me. Unless it's driving or pelting, which it wasn't, so what? You're already wet. But the paddle out was a bitch. The challenge today, the way in which you had to be aggressive, was not in the riding but the getting out.

These were the biggest waves we've seen in months. There really weren't any lulls to paddle out in. Nevertheless they weren't as powerful as they looked. I was able to get through many of them just by doing pushups, and the bigger ones by putting my head down and holding onto the board. I turtled as well. Those last two moves didn't really work on the bigger waves because I still got spun around and pushed back. I think I'm missing something my surf instructor told me to do, like push down on the board as well. A few times I almost made it and got pushed back.

A couple more turtles and I would have made it out. I know I could have done it. I wasn't even scared. It was more like: What am I getting out there for? Once I get out there, can I get a ride back in? And once in, how many times am I going to want to do this paddle again?

A little more aggression was what I needed, I knew that but it wasn't really the issue.

There were two guys on shortboards (well, everyone was on shortboards today) who were having trouble as well. One didn't seem to do the duckdive very well and the other was just clueless. I watched them try again and again. Funny how we're influenced by each other. When it looked like the fat clueless guy was going to make it, I pushed myself: C'mon, even he can do it! (But he didn't.) I think if he had made it, I would have made myself make it too. The two of them banded together, were talking, even though I don't think they came together. Eventually the other guy seemed to give up and was just trying to take off on insiders or whitewater.

Maybe he's not such a good surfer after all. It was a guy I'd seen yesterday, and I don't remember seeing him do well then either. I always think that other people are better than me, but maybe that's not so.

When I saw him catching the insiders I tried that too, and at least got one ride that way. It was my only ride of the day.

The rain started pelting, and the wind started stirring up a dust storm, and at that moment, I thought: enough. But I was also watching that shortboarder who wasn't so clueless, who was also on the beach at that moment, waiting to see if he was going in or out. I didn't want to get out if he wasn't getting out, for then I would be a wimp compared to him. Right? Why did I care?

As it turned out, the pelting rain would very soon change to soft mist, and the wind would die down. But I didn't know that yet. The conditions, if not the other surfer, gave me the permission to leave the beach and the session honorably.

And you know what? He went back in, but only for a couple of minutes. Before I had left the beach, I saw him coming out and reaching for his board bag. Perhaps it was me who gave him the permission he needed to get out of a frustrating session. We waved at each other in silent acknowledgment as I left.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Did you ever have a session so good the feeling from it lasted all day? Well, yeah, you probably have cause if you're reading this, you probably surf better than me. But at my level, such sessions are rare.

It's always a good session when you catch and ride your very first wave. And it's always a surprise. It wasn't the conditions that were so good. The wind was east and so the waves were sideshore and choppy. They were also a tad bigger than they've been. That first wave was fun, but I wasn't sure I could do it again. But I had to: because I knew I had started that one on my knees instead of doing the popup---it worked because the ride was so long today, I had plenty of time to get to my feet. But I needed to try to do the real popup again.

So I waited. There were about eight guys out, a couple of whose faces I recognized, and no women. It was a friendly enough group. One of them even called a wave for me, which I made---almost. Others sympathized when I again almost, cause they were missing them too. You had to choose your spot carefully.

I was feeling very good, very confident. I noticed a guy who had what looked like earphones on (waterproof Ipod?) and I have to say: Why does anyone need that? I mean, do you really need earphones to hear music in your head? What a pity. Today my head was playing Bruce Springsteen Live in Dublin alternating with a wonderful, professional quality performance of the World Music Ensemble of Marlboro College from 2005, in which my son was singing. The music was good enough almost to bring the sun out.

I avoided the curse of the one-good-ride session by getting more rides. I got about five. I know I didn't popup on those either, but at least I didn't do the two-knees-on-the-board thing, and I was getting waves when a lot of people weren't.

Low initial expectations + better than usual performance = stoke. But more than that, it was the way I just felt so confident. I've learned a lot about surfing by having a car and driving in Manhattan. Last week I spent hours driving around looking for parking spots, and the lesson I learned was this: There is no such thing as being too aggressive. (I also learned never to look for parking at the time of the morning when street regulations change.) I had to react immediately if I saw a spot; I could not say to myself, I'll just drive around the block and come back, because everytime I did that, by the time I'd driven around the block someone else had taken the spot. I missed three possible spots and wasted so much time doing that before I finally wised up. Screw the guy behind you who's blasting his horn because you stopped traffic when you saw a spot. Screw driving around the block just to get him off your back. Let them wait, let them drive around you. Get the spot when you can, any way you can.

Like I said, just like surfing. No such thing as being too aggressive. You've got to commit. Yeah, you might miss the wave, your car might not fit in the spot, but you've got to go for it with no hesitation.

There is one sentence I never expected to hear directed at me, not in this lifetime. "You took off on that head high wave and you were charging it!"

And yet today it was so (well, that I heard it, anyway). I think the speaker exaggerated a bit, dear reader; rest assured that I have never yet charged a head high wave. She's a boogieboarder so perhaps everything looks bigger to her. ;) But honestly, there was nothing above waist high today, in my estimation, though it is true that I was charging. That is what some confidence and a good soundtrack can do.

As I write the clouds are layered in long blue gray streaks over the ocean, the sun is thinking about going down, and a big ocean liner on the horizon has switched on its lights. Right now in front of my house the last surfers of the day are taking off and riding. There are still waves, almost waist high, big enough to send them flying.

Monday, August 13, 2007

And now, the popup

I surfed today, yesterday, the day before, and I'm going to composite them because they were all similar...all great. I caught plenty of waves, whether by skill or chance, and on quite a few of them I did the popup. I mean the real thing. It feels so different, there's little chance of confusing it with the other way. Like everyone has been telling me...get both your feet on the board at the same time. And when I do that, I know it. I'd have to have a videotape to tell if I've done the jump everyone says to do, but somehow I pop up, and at the right time, and once I'm up I usually don't fall---or haven't these three days. I'm not turning, because when I look at where I've gone it's not far to the left or right, so that I have yet to figure out. But I'm getting the power of the wave behind me somehow.

I don't do it everytime. When I don't do it I know right away, because I've got a scrape on my knee (not surf related) and a scrape on my ankle (from dragging it on the board) and I feel it if they contact the sandy, waxy board. Ouch. Also I suspect that you're not supposed to get wax on your toenails if you do it right, correct? Sadly my red polish was full of dirty surf wax at the end of each session.

I don't by any means think that I've "got it" or that I won't have those days when I go back a couple of years. But three good days in a row, woo-hoo!

What a fun weekend, in and out of the water. Very little to put into the burgeoning annals of "Is anyone normal at this beach?" (Oh, wait, that's another blog.) C.'s still crazed. He was surfing so close to me our boards nearly touched and was so abusive and out of control other people asked me behind his back: What is wrong with that guy? Not cool. Someone needs to get laid and for once it's not me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Trial and error...the error

Today was a crap session. I had a hard time catching waves and when I did, couldn't get up. Only once did I get up and then didn't have much of a ride.

Two hours of this. Then I got a talking to from my "surf coach" (unofficial) and made myself go back in to see if that had helped. I didn't do any better.

I can only believe that (at least in my case) it is a grave error to talk about "learning" to surf. That is not happening. If it were possible, it would have happened about two years ago. What is happening is trial and error, over which I have no control. When I get things right, it's a happy accident; when I don't, it is also just an accident. It's nothing I did or can do, or not do.

Statistics can tell you that a certain part of the time, things happen simply by chance. By themselves. Like winning the lottery. I don't know how you'd figure out the statistical probability of riding a wave in a certain number of attempts. I've got about a one in ten success rate. Can anyone calculate this? It seems like riding a wave would happen by chance alone that proportion of the time. That, I think, is what's going on. I'm just out there waiting for a happy chance.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Turnaround session

I slept in today---heard it was good in the morning, but missed that and ran right into high tide by the time I was up. So I decided to wait for the low tide, but by that time the waves had really gone down. Still, there was a little something---very little.

It took me a while to get committed to the session. It started with C., as best as I can tell, threatening to throw sand in my face for just saying hello to him on the beach. OK, typical C. bullshit, not important. The man seriously needs mood stabilizers. But there were so many people in the water (those who had heard it was good in the a.m.) and the waves were so small, it didn't look promising. Plus the day had turned cloudy, cool and depressingly gray by six p.m. It was the kind of session where you spend time at first thinking, Hmmm, I could be home washing my windows. Also: if I'm going to try to surf crap small waves, I want to do it when it's hot and sunny, not cool and gray.

But instead of getting out, I stayed in. And I got some waves, and I got some rides that were really good. They were the ones where I get up on the wave far earlier the way my surf instructor told me to, where everything feels different. Where I'm actually on top of the wave. That's still a new thing for me. And I didn't get very far, I did fall off when the wave dropped down or when the wave closed out, but before that happened I was able to balance myself by using my arms. And I was doing better than most people who were out tonight. In fact, one of the young boys congratulated me on my rides! A couple of times! I just smiled and nodded, but it felt great. Wonderful, in fact. It turned into a way fun session.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ah, August

90 degrees and sunny! I hoped for a repeat of yesterday, and I was not disappointed.

I did a couple hours of editing while the tide dropped. It was hard because I saw people out catching rides on little waves. Everyone was coming out with a smile on their faces.

One of the biggest smiles was on a woman I had never seen before. She caught my attention immediately because she came to the beach alone, and because she looked about my age. There aren't many women surfers my age---I'd have to think hard to name more than one (the Sea Hag). She had on a bathing suit like mine, the older woman suit, not the bikini the youngsters all wear. She made the obligatory old woman joke, of how she'd hardly be able to walk later after surfing--why do we always think we have to do that? Offense, I guess, do it before someone else does it or even realizes they're thinking it. I wanted to go talk to her but made myself do my work, counting on catching her later.

She was quite friendly all around, talking to a very young and cute boy surfer who was also by himself, and the next thing I knew he came over and did a sand-sit next to her. Sand-sit, that's my word for when you're talking to somebody and it's too long a conversation to have without sitting down next to them but you don't want to go as far as dragging your beach towel over to them, so you just plop down in the sand. Sand-sits have the disadvantage of getting your ass and legs all sandy if you're wet. So if you can, you avoid them. But he plopped down and I'm thinking, what's going on? Is that her son? Because they both had the same color hair, and he was young enough. Was he hitting on her? Was she hitting on him? Impossible,right? They seemed to be having a very animated conversation. I could hear that it was about surfing. I would have joined in if I hadn't had work to do, but I couldn't help listening.

Gradually I figured it out. I had thought that she was asking him for advice on surf technique. But no---it was the other way around. He was asking her, and she was helping him! Finally he said, Thanks, that was very helpful, and went back to his towel. I'm just so used to the other way around, young guys knowing everything, looking down on older women if they notice us at all, not asking our advice. And I can't remember ever hearing a man of any age ask a woman of any age for surf tips.

Unfortunately I never got to talk to this woman or get to know her because she was gone by the time I came out of the water. I hope to see her again. Old women surfers have to stick together!

I did surf for two hours and did as well or better than yesterday. I asked a friendly face, one of the locals but not such a Surf Mafioso, for advice on turning, because it seems like I'm able to start working on that now. I've heard the same advice before, now it's time for it to start "clicking".

After this triumphant session, I hung out for a while and watched , in horrified fascination, the spectacle of C. putting the moves on what he can only think of as fresh meat. To be honest, it was a little hard to watch because he was the one who looked good enough to eat. I felt sorry for the woman, who seems way out of his league, and wanted to give her some warning---but the moment passed and I didn't do it. I guess she'll have to learn for herself, but she seems too nice to suffer that fate.