Monday, December 31, 2007

Surf marathon

Today was my sixth day of surfing in a row! For a year that was notably lacking in waves, that is a record. And I am doing so much better now. In fact, yesterday's morning session with small, clean waves was one of the best of the year. Looking back, though, I see there are actually a lot of candidates for the best surf day of 2007 award.

Yesterday was beautiful, I enjoyed seeing some of the people in the water, and even better, got some long rides right in front of them. I even got cheered by a woman I've seen a few times but don't know.

I am also virtually certain I made history by being the first person to surf and attend a performance of The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet on the same day. That's the wonder of living at a surf break in an urban area. Anyone else who's surfed and seen that classic Christmas ballet on the same day, please send me a message.

Today the wind was totally in the wrong direction, and yet I didn't want to end my marathon, so went out anyway. I was able to get up and riding even in the sideshore crap. And I struck up a conversation with another woman from yesterday. I saw L. in the water, who I haven't seen since the end of summer. I said hi to him, but he was acting like a jerk. I almost told him that I had just been thinking about him, which was true--but only because I had just made up my traditional year-end list of the Top Ten Assholes of 2007 and he made the list at about number seven. (I make lots of year-end lists: books, movies, music, etc.)

If I had to rank surf days of 2007 yesterday would be near the top. I didn't count, but I probably got the most rides. I'm telling you, people, since I figured out the paddling thing it's a whole new game.

And the award for the best surf advice of the year goes to: Surfsister, who told me she suspected paddling error months ago. Thanks, sis! I had two planned trips to California that got cancelled this year. Maybe in 2o08 I will get there again.

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Real redemption

Against all odds, it happened today. I was able to get some rides and actually have fun. I made most of the waves I went for (though getting up is still a struggle). And despite being as crowded as summer---well, it was fifty degrees out---it was a mellow, friendly session. The sun even peeked out.

Yesterday I had an epiphany that made all the difference. This is going to sound stupid to you, because you all know it. In fact, people have been telling it to me for years, so in a sense I knew it too, but there is knowing and then there is knowing. It was simply this: as long as I get some paddling speed and momentum up before catching the wave (hopefully creating the feeling of being one with the board) I am going to catch it. I am going to know I am going to catch it, and in that way have an extra split second to prepare for getting up, increasing my chances of standing.

I also realized that when I get up on one knee I have to keep my hands on the rails the whole time; there is no other way to do it. And releasing my hands is the key to getting up quickly and balancing. Conversely, there is no way to do a popup with hands on the rails. They have to release.

Today I did about half and half, half hands on, half off. That is something to work on.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Good waves are bad news

By all accounts, today was as good as it gets at our break. How discouraging for me, to have good waves! The better the waves, the worse I do. And the more I have to listen to other people talk about how great their rides were, when I didn't get any, the more depressed I get.

It was really, really crowded today when I checked it, so I decided to go a couple of jetties down to be by myself, but not completely---I never like to be out totally alone, especially when it's big, because I like to think that if something happens I need at least one other person out who will come to my aid (a theory that's never had to be tested---in reality they might be too busy surfing to notice). But at that break I was having a hard time getting out. And after my first two attempts the other person left, so I moved back down to the crowded beach.

The waves were about chest high with some bigger ones, and I wasn't getting out. I tried, once again, doing exactly what my surf instructor taught me, but each time I just got pushed back. After a while of this I ended up way down the beach and who was there but one of the guys who had tried and failed, along with me, to get out on the 23rd. Here he was trying again---and failing just as miserably.

That was just too depressing even for me. I pretty much gave up, resolving not to waste my time trying to surf anymore until I can get another surf lesson. From time to time I get to this point, and usually a lesson or two is enough to get me motivated again. I don't know if it's the advice I get, or just the effect of having someone out with me who is rooting for me, or both. But this is about the fifth time I have reached the point of feeling that further trying to learn to surf by myself without a clue as to what to do is pointless.

So, feeling hopeless, I got out of the water...and saw D. I told him I couldn't get out and didn't want to try anymore because I didn't know how to do it. He told me to go to the spot that he always uses because it's easier to get out there, to time the lulls, and then paddle like hell.

When I got to the spot there were five other people who had the exact same thing in mind. It was kind of funny. We didn't speak to each other or even much look at each other, but we formed a kind of orderly procession and followed each other out like ducklings. When there was a lull, we all started paddling and we all got out easily.

Once out, I think there was a different kind of vibe in the water than yesterday, when everyone was taking off all at once on the smaller waves. I don't think I imagined it, because D. felt it it too: people being respectful, not hassling each other, looking out for each other. D. said it was because everyone who was out today was a good surfer. Well, I surely messed up that vibe!

Maybe it was just out of respect for the waves, which so rarely get this good.

I was the only woman out. I didn't recognize anyone in the water except for one guy I've seen before but haven't talked to.

It seemed like a lot of waves were passing by without being tried for, waves that I would have expected people to paddle for and which they could have made. I wasn't quite sure why that was. I just observed for a while what people were doing or not doing. It wasn't like on small wave days when five guys try for anything remotely rideable. Maybe they were waiting for the bigger sets, but every wave today was bigger than 80% of the waves at our break.

Finally I paddled for a wave, but missed it. I saw the guy I recognized looking at me disapprovingly. Later he said, "If you took two strokes more you would have gotten it--what happened, did you lose your nerve?" I said, "I guess so." He said, "Well, that was a big one." What happened was at the last minute I got the feeling that my nose was going to go straight down, as it so often does, and if that happened on waves as big as these I would have been separated from the board, somersaulted, and ended up who knows how, maybe with my fin sticking out of my head. Was I wrong, then, that in thinking that going for that wave would have been a disaster? Was he right and I actually would have made it and not somersaulted?

I do think I know the feeling that the board is going nose down, and every time I have it I instinctively back off, but what if I'm just sabotaging myself by doing that? But doesn't a surfer know when she's going to pearl and when she's not?

I think so, I think that it's a whole different feeling when you're not going to pearl. But I don't know.

I thought, though, right before I didn't paddle those two more strokes, that I got the feeling that the waves although big were gentle in the sense of being easy to catch and maybe, just maybe, fun to ride. I never got to find that out though. A big set came through and I found myself in the position of having one about to break on my head. I should have turtled. I didn't. Instead I turned around and sat back on the board, getting the nose up in the air, which usually works on smaller waves, and might have worked on this one but my timing was wrong. I ended up being swept by that wave all the way back to shore. Had I turtled, perhaps, just perhaps, I wouldn't have gotten pushed back (though I doubt it) and I could have tried for another wave.

But I had been out for two and a half hours, and I decided to call just getting out today (and not giving up on it) a victory.

Of course to hear anyone else talk today was fun, they're stoked out of their gourd, had the best rides of their lives, etc. etc. etc.

These good wave days are tough going. I really am proud of how I did, but God knows fun was no part of it. Maybe tomorrow it'll be back to crap waves and I'll have a chance of having fun. Seems the last time that happened in the water was two long months ago.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Redemption session (sort of)

I had to have some redemption today, since it's been over a month since I did anything resembling surfing. And I did get some.

The waves were little and easy to catch. I had even lost my confidence in my ability to catch waves after so many crap sessions. Today, for the most part, I got that confidence back.

And I did get to my feet three or four times, but no further than that.

That's the discouraging thing about surfing (number eleven on my list of things I hate about it), that even a short stretch of being out of the water or doing badly can set you back years.

This summer, I was ready to work on turning. Now, all I can do is try to get up (any way I can, not popups) and not fall off. I have to try to work my way back to being able to learn to turn.

D. was in the water and very helpful, saying "Let's see some turns," but I just couldn't do it. He even tried to explain how to do it but I just didn't have enough experience to relate to what he was saying. It was Greek to me. I think it will take months to get back to where I was. I hope it's not years.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Looked out the window. Saw waves. No brainwork was necessary: go surfing.

There should have been brainwork.

The guy I saw out the window was getting rides. I saw him coming out when I was going in and he warned me that the paddleout was a bitch. "A lot of people are having trouble getting out."

And then I and four guys struggled for an hour to get out, and only one of us did.

The thing is, the waves weren't that big, and I think with a little more determination I could have made it. But it would have exhausted me and for what? One ride, if I was lucky?

It would have involved ducking my head under the cold water eight or ten times, because there were no lulls.

I could have done it, probably; except that I'm still missing one critical point of technique; that is how,when going under the wave by lying on the board as my surf instructor taught me, not only to not get pushed back but to gain some distance. This, I don't remember how to do.

All I was doing today was staying in the same place and taking wave after wave on the head. It wasn't scary, and it wasn't difficult, but it sure wasn't fun and it sure wasn't surfing.

I have asked for a refresher surf lesson on getting out, but the guy said he won't be able to do it for months.

After an hour of this I thought, "I could be inside baking Christmas cookies." So I got out, and met the same guy who was getting all the rides before. I asked him to explain to me how he got out. He did, but not in a way that I could easily understand or translate to myself. Then he offered to help me time the paddle out. We started out together, and I saw him get creamed several times, but he kept going and eventually got out ahead of me while I was still struggling to stay in place.

I don't know how he did it, so I can't say I really learned anything from him, but I tried.

Then I went in and baked cookies. The other three guys were heading out again. Why they thought it would work this time when it hadn't worked for the last hour, I had no idea.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Waves, but no surfing

Today was my first time in the water since Thanksgiving. I think it's the longest I've been out since I started surfing year-round. I'd really started to forget what waves are; there just haven't been any.

I got two waves in two hours, and I didn't stand up. Those three weeks have set me back two years or more. Or maybe I've just forgotten about the natural "progression" of surfing, how it's always like this, always two steps forward, two years back.

I really don't know why I couldn't surf today. I can't tell what I was doing wrong, and that's the worst part. Whether it's surfing or any other human endeavor, there's nothing more depressing than making the same mistakes over and over and over, knowing that, but not being able to figure out what it is that you're doing wrong. The few surf lessons (at outrageous prices) I had this summer helped, but I really need some kind of consistent coaching. The only way I can know what I'm doing is for someone to tell me.

Plus, I'm having some kind of anniversary reaction to the death of my cat. I had this song in my head the whole time, and couldn't really think what it was. Then I remembered. It was this silly song I made up with her name in it, that I used to sing to her.

Now I'm wiped out physically and mentally, exhausted beyond exhaustion. I didn't use my legs and barely used my arms. Nothing I did could be construed as exercise, nor did I even wipe out. I guess it's just spending two hours in freezing cold water with less than adequate gear that makes you so tired.