Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My blogosphere

Today I got some more evidence that people around here are reading, or at least aware of, this blog. I don't think they're really reading it, just talking about it (the way the people who talk about me the most don't even bother to get to know me or, sometimes, even meet me). I can only imagine what kinds of myths are spread around by people who only "heard" about it. As always I'm the last one to know.

Well, I guess I have to be extra careful about what I write here lest it be blown out of all proportion. I'll have to leave out certain details. Well, here's the latest poop:

I sure like *** who are ***, especially ***. They are so much better than *** who are ***.
Yesterday *** came over. He went surfing and then we ***. Now I *** his ***.
They smell like ***. I can't wait until we *** again.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving swell

Thanksgiving and the day before brought bigger waves than we've seen in a long long time. Both days some, not all, waves were head high. But I was OK, at least in the sense of being able to get out and not being scared. Although both days I got worked quite a bit. I had to turtle and because I hate doing it and try to avoid it, doing it successfully under a five foot wave did wonders for my confidence. I even got compliments on the way I charged out.

But, as always, when the waves are over two feet, my confidence and competence ends. The first day the waves had better shape to them and I finally managed to catch some. I even think I got up on one or two but not for long. Doing popups is out of the question on bigger waves. It's all I can do to get up on one knee and then stand. I guess that's for a number of reasons: the waves are so much faster and more powerful, I'm more afraid of pearling and more likely to do so, and there is less leeway for any mistakes in timing or weighting. The only ride I got was on a whitewater wave. And that gave me an idea of just how fast and powerful the waves were and how completely unused to that I am. Another time I caught a wave perfectly, but then saw someone else on the same wave and as always when that happens, didn't even attempt to stand up because I didn't think I could maintain enough control to avoid hitting or getting hit if I stood up. (I can do that on smaller waves.) Still it wasn't a bad session, if only because I was proud that I could handle the bigger waves and get out smiling.

Thanksgiving Day I got out too late and the wind was on it. The waves were steep and doubling up. By the time I got out it was pretty much a washing machine.

I can't blame the waves, though, dammit.

A while ago I said I couldn't think of another thing I hate about surfing. Well, I have. Here it is: Having a crap session and then watching somebody else out at the same time and in the same conditions as you getting great rides and hearing them later bragging about how great a session it was. Is there anything more depressing than that? Granted, the guy who did it on Thanksgiving is one of the better surfers here. There's no way I ought to be comparing myself to him. But if he (or anybody else) had a great time on the same waves I was on, that proves that once again it wasn't the waves, it was me. I even let myself get out early on Thanksgiving because I wasn't having fun, just getting beat up, and I really thought it was the waves. I gave myself a get out of surfing early card, which I never do.

However I will say in my defense that another good surfer, who got in at the same time as me, got out even earlier. Apparently he made a judgment call that it wasn't worth it.

I got no rides that day and just caught a couple waves. On the bigger ones, I didn't try to take off at all because I wasn't sure I could make them. Later, I thought maybe I could have. But they were so steep. In those cases I always err on the side of caution. I wish I knew how to modify my technique for steeper, faster waves. I'm sure a few pointers would really help, but there's no one to give them. Always, the people who look down on you for not being able to surf are the least likely to offer you any help.

I also always think that on bigger steeper waves being too early is better than being too late. So a couple of times that I tried for waves, I was too early. I got up only to stall because the wave passed under me.

Another time that I caught the wave right, I didn't get up right away. That's because I need to be sure on those more critical waves that my nose isn't going to go under! It often does because, I think, there's not enough weight on the back of the board. But when I got the weighting right, I hesitated too long to be sure I had got it. It was like: Paddle, take off, look at the nose, it's not going under, Oh! Now I can try to stand up, be so surprised that my nose didn't go under that I could barely think how to stand up, put my knee on the board and wait another good long time (maybe a half a second) before trying to stand. At which point the wave is so spent I don't even have time to try to balance.

If there are more five foot waves on the horizon, the challenge is to get my weight on the back of the board on takeoff so I don't immediately pearl, and then stand up immediately. At least, that's what I think. But I don't know if I'm right or not. How can I, with no one who knows to tell me?

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Here's what I did today: Look out the window, see surfers. Look at the leaves on my tree and see the wind is light offshore. Walk to the beach, see them surfing on one foot waves. Breakfast, heart-to-heart talk with a colleague about issues with my editor.

Work for about an hour, waiting for the tide to pass high. Suit up and get out in the water. Inexplicably, seven more people come out in short order. All of them avoid me like cooties. At last a couple, I suspect, are high ranking members of the local surf mafia. I can tell by their boards and how they paddle. I don't care. As in really don't care, not pretend I don't care. I get rides. I try to work on turning. It isn't working yet, because I still find myself going straight. But I'm thinking about what I need to do and I will get it. In between waves, I'm working in my head on my book.

Two hours of this grey sunless day nearly pass before I'm cold and have to get out. It doesn't seem that long.

Too cold to surf any more, I get out, head home and 60 seconds later I'm warming up with a scotch and a hot shower.

I have some homemade eggplant parmagiana, watch The Sopranos, and get a few more hours work done.

There are waves forecast for tomorrow. Perhaps I will get up and do it all over again.

I feel blessed. Life at the beach is sweet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Please, may I have a pass?

On the list of things I love about surfing, close to #1: it's an honorable way for adults to give themselves a pass.

A pass is a way of getting out of something you don't want to do, or don't want to do right now. Like in grade school, you could get excused from gym class: "Please, Sister Mary Joseph, I can't play volleyball today because I feel like I'm gonna barf." OK, usually that required a note from a parent or a doctor, but with that, you got a pass to get out of gym class.

Favorable waves and wind are now my pass to drop everything and go surf. I realize I'm very lucky to be in this position, i.e. am not chained to a desk and a day job, and not everyone can just grant themselves passes. But most of the time, I can and as much as possible, I do.

A pass used to require giving up an entire day, back when it took me four hours to get back and forth from the beach. Such passes were never lightly given from me to myself. But now that I'm so much closer, they're much easier to get.

Today I got a pass from taking my car to the mechanic's, which is what I intended to do (last night the engine or something in it started burning and sent white smoke billowing from underneath the hood). Wasn't even going to do a wave check, but did. I saw a guy much kookier than me, given his outfit (a yellow drysuit and a helmet in one-foot waves)---but he could surf, and did. The waves would have looked unrideable if I hadn't seen that. It was a day that felt like spring rather than autumn, the sun was out, and...well, the car could wait.

Also, I'd had a chat with D. on the beach. As I've said, he's one of the best (and also the nicest, most genuine) surfers here. I told him about the difficulty I'm still having with the popup, and how I'm trying to work on not using my knee to get up. He's seen me ride waves and even turn and didn't pay any attention to how I got up, just whether I did. He told me not to "work on" popups, that it doesn't matter; what matters is riding the wave, turning, cutbacks. (He said he saw me do a cutback---I don't even know what that is, and didn't do it intentionally!) That, he said, is surfing, not how you get up. He said, Go ahead and use your knee. In other words, he gave me a pass for that.

Given how good he is, how senior and how much everyone respects him, it felt like getting special dispensation from the Pope of surfing. You Grandma are officially excused from popping up.

After that, I went out alone on the one-foot (more like six-inch) waves and had a very good time. I got up on the waves early and had the feeling of really riding them (being on top of them is the way I describe it) and was able to adjust my position according to what the wave was doing behind me, in order to stay up as long as possible. And you know what? I think I was doing a popup most times! Towards sunset, F., another longtime local and friendly face, showed up and said, "You're not having any problem getting up," and I wasn't. Then he offered some advice on turning.

By the way, I got the car in to the mechanic's after the session, but there's a whole bunch of stuff I don't want to do tomorrow. Hopefully I'll get another pass.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

No longer a Jersey virgin

This weekend, I lost my New Jersey virginity.

I've been to my neighboring state before. Well, through the state. Well, to the airport. To drop my kid off at camp. To go to Ikea. Stuff like that. But never with surfing in mind.

I drove three hours this weekend to get to the Jersey shore. Ocean City. It's a nice town, much like other beach towns. The beach is much like other beaches. I dunno. I walked past what's billed in one book as the best wave in all of Jersey and it didn't look all that impressive. I didn't see that the waves were so much better than in New York, leastways not on those days (Sunday and Monday).

But then, what the hell do I know. I drove three hours only to suck as badly as I can by walking for three minutes (or less).

I wish I could say I have surfed Jersey, but that's not the case. Not yet. The first day, I was out for an hour and a half, and was just starting to get the hang of the wave (as well as getting worked pretty well) when it got dark and I had to come in. I didn't get any rides, but I caught some waves. The following day, I didn't realize that the wind would come up in the afternoon the way it does at home. I was waiting for the tide to fill in, but by the time that happened the wind killed it. I had one of the most miserable, coldest (you're always colder when you're miserable, right, or is it the other way around) sessions in memory. It wasn't just that the conditions turned sucky. Even or especially under the best of conditions, it was clear the local boys were not going to let me have a wave. Not one. No way. No stinkeye, nothing like that; just, no waves for you.

While sitting out there in that crowd freezing my ass off and not doing much else I had plenty of time to compose my List of the Top Ten Things I Hate Most About Trying to Surf:

1) The sheer built in Catch 22 impossibility of it: You can't get a wave unless you're good, and you can't get good unless you get waves.

2) Getting hurt.

3) Getting cold.

4) The type of surfer (not uncommon) who thinks surfing makes him/her part of some master race and who looks down on, harrasses, or worse, people who can't surf. Anyone who uses "kook" as an epithet.

5) The flip side of aloha ("We love you unconditionally and forever because you're like us"):
"We hate you unconditionally and forever because you're not like us." Can you have one without the other?

6) Not wiping out, but the exhaustion that comes from being wiped out, the headachey tiredness that pervades your every muscle and cell. It's different from the fatigue of using your muscles long and hard (which I never get because I never use them.)

7) Putting on a wet wetsuit on a freezing cold morning.

8) That I don't know enough to ever know for sure whether it's the waves or it's me.

9) That I didn't start trying 30 years ago.

(OK, that's only nine. Can anyone think of one more?)

And yeah, I can think of as many things I love. Just not in the mood for it right now.