Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Ledge

OK. Here goes. I need some help from you surfers. I have tried to ask this question to a few locals, but didn't get through.

What is this thing I call the ledge and how can I avoid it?

Here's what I mean, and it happens a lot: I'm going for a wave, and my timing is not perfect, but I am definitely on the wave, if a little late (or early: it's so hard to use these words in a way we can agree on), I'm going, I haven't missed it; but as I take off I can see that there is going to be a drop. The board is going to drop down and it's not "making the drop", in which the board slides down at a nice angle; no, my nose is pointing straight, not down, and there is a vertical drop coming up akin to, not angling down a wave, but dropping down an elevator shaft. On the size waves I attempt it's not a huge drop, maybe a foot, two at the most; but it's a steep one. When I see that I am on the ledge and there is going to be a drop, I don't even attempt to stand up, because I think that there isn't any point in standing up when you are going to drop down the elevator shaft and lose your balance. But even lying down, once you fall off the ledge you are likely to be separated from your board.

However, on the occasions when I have been able to stand up instantly on the ledge and prepare myself physically and mentally for the elevator drop, I have been able to stay up, provided the drop isn't more than a foot.

So what the hell is this and why does it happen?

I don't see it happening to anyone else, when I am watching from the shore. Either they make the drop or they hang up on top. No one just sort of halfway gets the wave.

To the extent that anyone ever answered this question, it was that the wave was closing out. But I get closed out plenty without getting ledged.

The ledge is one big reason why I hesitate on the bigger and even smaller waves, preferring to hang up over the top than to go over the ledge.

Oh, maybe I should explain better for my nonsurfing friends who read this blog (such as Susan and Kitty D., whose last name I cannot print here because she is too famous). A closeout is a wave that breaks fast and all at once, which is not good for surfing because you can't really ride it (not that I can ride a wave anyway since I don't yet know how to turn). What you want is a wave that just slowly spills over, unfolding in such a way that you can stay ahead of the breaking wave and be propelled by it. If you guys ever get to the seashore, you will see what I am talking about.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One perfect ride

Sometimes I can just will myself to do it right.

Today, in waves that were a good size for me, I wasn't getting anywhere but annoyed by myself. I couldn't/can't understand why I wasn't able to stay up when I was up. Turning? Not even a possibility.

And then, after about an hour and a half of this, I got up perfectly and got a perfect ride.

One perfect ride. Popup and eveything.

Why? Why not before, why not after?

I can't explain it. If I can do it once, why can't I do it thirty times?

Here's the state of my "surfing" now: I can catch waves. I can pop up. I can balance. I can even turn.

But only very rarely can I ever do all these things on the same wave.

Monday, January 28, 2008


My prediction came true.

I am on a surf roll again. Today I actually woke up excited because there were going to be waves. They were too big in the morning, so I decided to wait until the afternoon. By that time they weren't so big. Not too big for me.


It wasn't fun. It wasn't not fun. I wasn't scared. I wasn't cold. I was just....

...yes, halfway though I realized it...


I don't think I have ever been so bored by a surf session before.

I just wasn't engaging.

The waves were just a bit too difficult for me, I soon realized. By that I mean that they were larger than I've mastered and they were closing out quickly. There was virtually no margin for error on timing. Too soon, and you'd hang up on top. Too late, and you'd go over the falls. I realized early on that I had little to no chance of a ride. And I didn't get one. Today, it was all about trying to get the timing right.

And I tried, gamely, without success, and without much interest.

Well, I did get the timing right quite a few times, the takeoffs were OK; but then I either couldn't get up or fell immediately.

For a reality check, I consulted V., an expert surfer who is also one of the nicest guys around here. He said the same thing: The waves were challenging because they were closing out so quickly. They were difficult to catch. And once you caught one, you had to stand up immediately (not my strong point) or you had no chance. V. went over the falls a few times himself, I saw it, as well as getting rides. I had quite a few wipeouts myself.

And of course many of the better surfers had the time of their lives, or at least the best time in a few months.

I stayed out for two hours, until my last wipeout knocked my contacts out of my eyes. I tried my best, but once I realized conditions wouldn't even allow me to learn anything today, I was just plain...


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chill(y) Sunday

And it happened as I decreed; there were good little waves late today.

And even though the forecast said Flat, Lordy did the news travel fast. I don't know how. It is true that I called one person, but he already knew about it and was coming out anyway.

I went out at three p.m., and was the only person out...for about twenty minutes. Then four more. That was enough for me to move down the beach to try to get myself some room. I spent about an hour there, and conditions were OK. I was doing OK---getting rides but mostly not able to stay up long enough to try to put all my turning advice to use.

Then I went looking for my friend back at the other jetty, and it had become a zoo. My friend and his friend, Kingpin and his girlfriend, L., guy on a blue board I was surfing with yesterday, B. (a friendly female surfer about my level), R., T., and more I knew or didn't know...about 12 people.

I was ready to go back to the other jetty after seeing the madhouse, but it turned out all right. Under these conditions, you're socializing as much as surfing. Kingpin kept his mouth shut, everyone else was chill, and I was actually glad to see some of them for the first time in a while. Usually I surf worse with so many people, but today somewhat of an opposite effect happened. Those surfers who don't hate me were helpful and actually rooting for me, which made me surf better. I was as surprised as they were when I got good rides, and very pleased. Yeah, I did the turn thing at least once. Sometimes all it takes is one person to point out the obvious to you, "You're taking off too late," "You need to paddle harder."

Why so many people? I might have thought it was due to an article on surfcams that appeared in the New York Times (worst newspaper ever, I don't buy it, don't read it, and don't even steal it now that I no longer have a dog who is papertrained, but it was on the net). However, pretty much everybody out today was a regular, so that's not it.

OK. I have the ability to predict the future. Tomorrow there will be bigger waves, and it will be even more of a zoo.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Out of nowhere

Just before dark, it got really perfect. This was totally unexpected. Little waves came out of nowhere around two p.m. I went to the beach to check them, and the sun came out.

It was the exact time of day that my dog died, one year ago.

By the time I got back home to put on my suit, I noted with relief it had passed 2:40 p.m. R. I. P. little Callie.

At first, there was one other person in the water, who'd appeared in between my checking the waves and my going out. He was catching waves, small and a long time inbetween. I caught some too and was able to get up. Whew. I haven't completely regressed.

But water flushed into my suit, and I was getting cold after about an hour. He went in, probably tired of the cold, the wait, the tiny waves.

And then it got fun. Being alone, the light on the water, the sunset, and the waves rolling in, getting better and more consistent. I forgot about being cold. I caught waves. I tried to put together everything I've heard and been told about turning. I was able to give it a number of good tries and at least once, I swear, I don't know how, I got it! At least I think I did. I ended up far enough in the right direction from where I started out somehow.

I didn't even want to get out when it got dark.

And nothing was in the forecast today. Nothing's forecast for tomorrow. But if tonight means anything, who knows, there may be a little something.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ass Kicked by One Foot Waves; Humiliated by Tabloid Photographer

I thought I was through having days like today.

All I can say is: Goddammit! goddammit. When if ever am I going to be through?

It was a beautiful day, I felt fine and psyched, the waves were clean and the perfect size for me. I went out feeling absolutely confident. I thought it was going to be such a fun day. I aimed to work on turning.

There was absolutely no excuse, wave-wise, wind-wise, temperature-wise or crowd/vibe wise, for sucking. For most of the session I was the only one out.

And I still sucked, and I just feel so discouraged, and helpless, and hopeless. Because I don't know why I sucked, not even after all these years. And trying with all my might I couldn't figure it out or fix it. Because of this, I may have to consider upgrading surfing to The Hardest Thing in the World. So far, it's only the Second Hardest Thing in the World, after raising a child (which, technically speaking, shouldn't even be on the list of hardest things in the world, since it's not hard, it's impossible). Should I be forced to conclude that surfing is impossible, it will be upgraded. Of course, these are only the Hardest Things in the World for me, not necessarily anyone else; but that is all that matters.

Instead of working on turning, I could barely even catch a wave. When I tried, I either nosedived (which I had thought was now a thing of the past) or was pushed sideways off my board by the wave. On the few takeoffs in two and a half hours which I didn't blow, some I didn't manage to get up at all and if I did I fell almost immediately.

I tried everything: moving back on the board, taking off earlier, both together, nothing worked.

To make things even worse, I saw a woman taking photographs of me. I couldn't imagine why, unless she was working for Worst Surfers in the World magazine. Turns out she's from the local tabloid paper (which has a circulation, I am sure, of at least a million or two). She called me out of the water, told me what she was doing, and asked for my permission to run a photo of me! I said, didn't you see how bad I was doing? She said, I can't tell the difference. She said please a couple of times. No way Jose. Finally I said, let me see the photos. She showed me one of me going straight in with my knees on the board and my ass in the air. I practically started jumping up and down at the thought that she might publish this, yelling No! Forbidden! Verboten! or something like that. Or maybe I just emphatically stated that I denied my permission. She did get the message.

If she ever ran the photo the title of the article would have to be: Old Lady's Ass Kicked by One Foot Waves and then in small type: "Surfer" Further Humiliated by Tabloid Photographer.

Then she said could she print a photo of me just sitting on my board, which I wouldn't have objected to, but she needed me to give her my name and this, alas, I cannot do. Ever since Google ruined my life, I don't use my full real name with anybody if I can help it. I've learned this the extremely hard way. Eventually, I'll have to have my name legally changed. All because of Google, which if I could I'd sue for millions in damages.

Oh well, she can run the photo with "unidentified surfer" anyway.

I was so determined to do well today, so sure I could even as the afternoon wore on without any hint of success, and so disgusted at my failure that I stayed out longer than I usually do and was practically blue by the time I quit.

There was only one good thing about today. The last hour, one other surfer was out to witness my humiliation. At one point, I caught a wave where I couldn't stand up, so had to ride it in on my belly. I found that I was able to turn the board by using my body so that the board was actually at a 90-degree angle, going left (the only way to go at this beach). In that manner I was actually able to ride a wave in a way I have never done standing. I know because it was a completely novel sensation. The other surfer said: "You got barrelled!" I looked at him in total incomprehension: Whattaya mean, I couldn't even get up! He said the wave was breaking just over me as I was riding it. I guess it was, it felt like it was, but I didn't know you could get barrelled without surfing.

What was different was that I was able to point my board across the wave. No matter how much I try to do this while standing, by using my arms and shoulders, looking in the direction I want to go, etc. etc. it hasn't worked, and now I think it can't work unless I get the board turned around. Head and shoulders can't do that, only feet can, right? But how? How to turn the board using your feet? Someone suggested watching surfing videos. Hell, why not. It can't hurt. I have some basic learn-to DVDs but none of them cover as advanced a topic as turning. I'll see if I can find some good pro surfer DVDs.

Meanwhile, I gotta remember what this guy said, about pushing down on the board as you're getting the wave. No one else has ever said this. Is it something I'm supposed to know? I would've tried today but at that point I was too cold to try anymore. Next time.

POSTSCRIPT, March 18: I finally got to see a copy of the photo as it appeared in the newspaper about a month ago. There is a photo of me and the other two surfers out that day lined up like seals in the water. It's very nice. Me and the other woman are lying on our boards while the guy catches a wave. I have to say that I like the photo, and that even if I hadn't known it was me I would have known it was me because of that GREAT ASS. That is to say, the ass may get itself regularly kicked by one-foot waves, but it is still the best ass in the water, especially in a wetsuit. I don't see it very often but every time I do my reaction is the same: @WOW@!

Monday, January 14, 2008


Now that I'm mostly getting up, there is a whole new challenge: what to do when I'm up.

Today I had a couple of perfect rides, where I stayed on the wave the whole time. And a lot that weren't so perfect.

I've been asking questions about turning, trying to figure out how to do it. Some advice: look where you want to go. Turn your shoulders in that direction. And I've been told what to do with my feet ("use them as rudders") though I have yet to be able to do it on a board. I am using the advice as to what to do with the upper body, but it's not enough.

When I get it perfect, I'm not really sure what I do. When I don't, I'm not sure either. And it's so hard to even find words to describe what happens in a split second.

I have tried bending down lower when I sense that the wave is about to close on me, but that doesn't seem to work---or maybe it would if I bent from the knees rather than the butt, but the knees don't work. Hell, even to bend that way off a surfboard is a struggle.

Let me try to describe what happened today:

I was up, in perfect equilibrium it seemed, and then the board got away from me. It started moving faster than my body. I fell (backwards, I think, though who knows).

Yes, it's the feeling that my body and board are moving in different directions. Or is it we're moving in different directions from the wave?

When the board gets going too fast, what should I do? It's a feeling like being thrown back. And it can happen so fast, right after I felt like I was in perfect balance. My intuition is to lean forward, but not necessarily bend down. If that is correct, how would it affect what I should do with my feet?

Could using my arms to balance help?

When I didn't fall, it seemed like it was because I was putting more weight on my feet. That sounds stupid, of course you always have weight on your feet. But the truth is, I am not thinking about my feet at all when surfing, except sometimes to move to what seems a better position as I'm riding, but not at all about where my weight is.

If I had to think about what I do with my feet, I'd say I put more weight on the front foot as the wave is slowing down or closing (if I make it that far).

Someone yelled at me the other day: "Go with the wave!" Hey, I take whatever advice I can get very seriously. She meant that I wasn't turning, that I was going straight when the wave was going left. I got that. But what I don't know is what to do about it.

I think that is why, after a certain point, I see the wave closing out on me to the left of my nose (on a left) and I fall. If I could turn, as I see other people do, I could ride the wave all the way. At that point, I think there is no alternative besides turning or falling.

Surfing is like sex in that it's one of the hardest things to describe in a way other people can understand.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gloves off

Imagine this surfing scenario. You are riding an heavy old longboard without a leash at a crowded break. You lose control of your board and it gets away from you. It rushes toward another surfer, who doesn't see it coming, and hits her in the head.

Would you:

A) apologize

B) start using a leash from then on

C) yell at the other surfer that it's her own fault and hell no, you won't use a leash


I bet all of you picked A.

But now imagine that you are the Kingpin of the local surf mafia. And the person you hit has long been targeted by the mafia for the sport of ostracism, ridicule, and abuse. Or, in language more suited to the maturity level of the surf mafia, she has cooties.

Then what would you do?

By now you realize that this really happened, and that Kingpin picked A. (He's the short, stocky Kingpin, for those who would contend for the title; arguably the best surfer at our little beach, though no great shakes by the standards of the ESA).

I need to mention one other thing: before this incident, Kingpin dropped in on me and then blamed me for blowing his wave. I was the person nearest the jetty--there was, indeed, no one between me and the jetty. Kingpin was on the other side of me. Nearest the jetty, nearest the breaking wave--that was my wave and my wave only, and I was in perfect position for it, as evidenced by my perfect takeoff. Kingpin took off on the same wave. Not only that, but instead of going in the same direction I was going, he went the opposite way--towards me and a sure collision. That's how sure he was that A) I wouldn't make it and B) Fuck me if I did. But in neither case did that make it OK for him to take the wave. Or to then yell at me and say I did something wrong!

I guess by the rules of surfing, if you surf well you are exempted from the rules of decent human behavior. Whether or not that's a universal part of surf culture (and I suspect it is, and is even part of why so many men are attracted to it), it's true of the Mafia at this beach.

I wasn't hurt too much (though I now know that if I had been, they would have all laughed as they watched me bleed to death). Writing this a day later, I still have a headache and a sore jaw where the board smacked into me. But I could have been.

Not only did the Kingpin not apologize, but when I told him that he needed to start using a leash before he really hurt somebody, he puffed himself up (as best he could at about five foot three), hesitated a beat in his shock that such a lowly form of life would dare address him in such a manner, and yelled:


And headed back out.

That was just too much for me. Unlike the other day with the female mafiosa, I couldn't stay silent anymore.

Once I assessed that I wasn't bleeding and didn't feel dizzy (not that anyone else gave a shit) I paddled back out and gave him a piece of my mind.

Then not only did he not apologize or show any concern or remorse, he started yelling at me that it was my fault for not getting out of the way of his surfboard! What the hell was I doing at his break! I should get out of the water! I had no right at this beach, I couldn't surf! Everything was my fault, nothing was his, I had caused his board to hit me and I should just get out of everyone's way.

And the rest of them, who were all huddled together the way they do, took it up, especially C., who could probably have been heard in California. Kingpin was especially theatrical, mocking my words and gestures.

There are those who would say he gets carte blanche to say and do anything to anybody because he knows how to surf.

But that's bullshit (among other colorful words I used out there) and I am not taking that shit from anybody.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Good Saturday

Today was a bigger, better day than we've seen in some time, and it was sunny and warm and Saturday, and of course that means a lot of people were out. I waited as long as I thought I could for the tide to drop, but as it turned out wind was favorable all day. Waves were about waist high.

I got, and got up on and rode, my first wave of the day, which makes any session a good session. I had a few of those. But the waves would close out too quickly, and when they did I didn't know how to keep my balance, and fell. I saw some people who were getting longer rides---the key seemed to be turning hard and fast once on the wave. But I haven't learned how to do that and these weren't waves that gave me time to figure it out.

The thing that is still surprising me is that I am making all of my takeoffs now! In the second half of the session, I was so surprised to have made some of them that I didn't stand up right away, thinking I hadn't made it, and then when I realized I had, it was really to late to get up. And some of them I made so early, which I think is a good thing, that I didn't stand up right away because I thought the wave was going to drop down on me---which it did, but I can handle that now, if I'm prepared for it. (Do you even know what I mean by drop down? I find it frustratingly hard to express in words a lot of what happens out there.) The feeling of taking off early is so different from most of what I've been doing. (Do you know what I mean by early? Up high on the wave?)

All in all I was doing very well and feeling very confident. I think it's true what people have been telling me: it really is easier to stand up on a bigger wave.

Then C. came out and started getting in my way. No use surfing anywhere near C., because no matter who's in rightful position for a wave, he'll take it. He's not so much Surf Mafia as Surf Mafia of One.

Yeah, I dropped in on him. I did it on purpose. I thought we could work it out. He and the Mafia are always dropping in on each other, plus he drops in on everybody all the time. On purpose.

It didn't really work, but we didn't collide; we just both blew the wave.

That was twelve hours ago, and I am sure he hasn't stopped talking about it since, blowing it up into mythology as everybody does every little thing here. C. has the mentality of a 12-year-old, which means he doesn't get tired of saying the same thing over and over. By this time it's become the Legend of How I Dropped In on Him, and he's going to run me off the beach, hire a posse to keep me out of the water, etc. etc.

I'm glad to be the source of entertainment for him, but dropping in on C. is hardly a crime. I've just gotta get to the point where I can do it with more skills.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Run in with the mob

Wow, the waves were bigger today---up to two feet! I got my ass up early, only to confront a sight I don't see very often: high tide. The surfer's dilemma: do you wait until the tide will be more favorable taking a chance that the wind won't come up and turn in the wrong direction which it usually does---or do you take the higher tide with the favorable wind? I chose B.

That meant that even though I got out early the first 45 minutes or so were not so good until the tide filled in a bit. I tried, but the waves were just breaking too close to shore. Plus I really wasn't in the best spot. It wasn't until a couple other people came out and started catching waves that I realized that. So I spot-hopped, which I usually try not to do, and it worked.

Had a reasonably congenial vibe going with the others in the water, though all nonverbal: not a word was said. Thick wetsuits with hoods are a deterrent to conversation under the best circumstances, and I didn't even know these guys.

I got some rides right by the jetty, which usually is the best spot, but today it was really farther over, where there was a shoulder. It took me a while to figure this out. I kept getting knocked off my board by waves I thought I was going to get.

I was feeling pretty good, a couple more people came out, one of them noticeably female. Ugh. A high ranking member of the Surf Mafia. She won't usually acknowledge my existence, but if she does she's fake-nice. I'd prefer the claws out.

Today she did the thing the Surf Mafioso usually do: Act all weird, like oh oh, cooties in the water, whenever they see me. Calling my name, and speaking as if to an exceptionally retarded child, she started giving me a fake-nice lecture on how I had just gotten in her way and forced her to back off on a wave. Of course, I had done no such thing. Matter of fact, I'd been careful not to get in her way. Then she blew the wave. (Mafiosa doesn't surf as well as she thinks she does.)

There was a time when I would have given a shit about getting along with the Mafia, or at least maintaining a superficial veneer of fake friendliness, and would have nodded and said, Oh, forgive me, I'm sorry, I won't do it again. I would have resolved any doubt in favor of her. I would have done this hoping for----what? That one day the Surf Mafia would acknowledge my right to exist? That they'd let me get waves?

I can't do that any more. I can't play dat.

I just looked at her. I couldn't even speak. I knew that if I opened my mouth, I wouldn't stop. Four years of not saying anything to her about what an incredible dickwad she's been would have ended right there. That might have been a good thing, actually, but I was there to surf, not to deal with her bullshit. I didn't even care about her enough to bother.

"OhI'mJustTryingToHelpYouOutIt'sJustaMatterofCourtesy" she said in her fake-nice, talking to a retarded child way, surprised that I wasn't going along with her; but I continued to simply stare in incredulity and she withered away.

Christ, I've been surfing this break longer than she has. She doesn't own the ocean.

It really is a Mafia, a small group that think all the waves belong to them and they make up all the rules including who can be where when doing what in the water. And the funniest (not funny hah hah, funny disgusting) thing that everybody knows is, their rules are for other people; among themselves they break all the universal rules of surfing etiquette, because they feel entitled to do so. Their only real rule is: We're the cool people and we get to do whatever we want.

It is worth saying that some Mafia members were once, or may even still be when encountered in isolation, decent or even nice people who are fully capable of not acting like dickwads. This woman, for instance, was once, a long time ago, a friend of mine. That ended the day she met the Mafia for the first time. Maybe I should call it a cult instead of a mob, because she changed, just like that, when she became one of them. Belonging to them became her life, and she took on their values, learned their rituals and history and language...yeah, like a cult. There is definitely some strange group dynamic that happens, whatever you call it...clique, cult, mob. I've seen it over and over, as others I once knew as friends (such as K. and I.) joined the cult and turned into different people, unable to think for themselves. It's creepy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Years Resolution

How do I know I'm surfing better? There are impressions on the wax of my board of the pattern on the bottoms of my boots---my feet are on the board mostly, YAY! This is the first boot season where I've noticed that. And today I was working on getting up lower by keeping my knees bent (have to, when the waves are this small) and find I can do it, OK, not like a sixteen year old boy, but a lot better than I thought I could. Once I even got up with my knees already bent rather than getting up straight and then getting down. It felt wonderful, YAY for me!

Great first surf of 2008!

And since it's a new year, time for a resolution. I vow to try to make this blog less damn boring. I realize it's gotten into a rut. It's either whining about how I can't surf or more rarely, cheering because I can. Either way the pendulum swings I don't seem to be making progress very fast, to say the least. It's gotta be boring to read. Hell, it's boring even for me. Some possible solutions: 1) really learn to surf, and to talk about surfing at a higher level that other people can relate to; 2) go somewhere exotic with waves higher than one foot and write about it; 3) write about other things besides surfing in a way that relates them to surfing and is interesting to other people. The surfing as metaphor for life approach. Relate interesting anecdotes that get to the core experience of what surfing is and who surfers are.

Oh yeah, and try to do all the above without pissing anybody off.


Well, I don't know about the not pissing people off part.

After catching a bunch of rides on eight-inch waves today for about an hour, I had a very strange experience. I ran into C. on the beach. He seemed like a whole different person. At least he spoke to me for the first time since having a hissy fit a few months ago, something about me getting in the way of his putting the moves on a woman. (See blog of August 1st.) The conversation was off the wall and involved statements like "I love a good b-----j---." Also involved me happening to mention something about a stash of weed. (No, it's not mine, long story short, it belongs to a friend. Really.) The upshot was that C. offered to sell his body for about $30 worth of pot.

Was he serious? Who knows. Was I tempted? Would have been a while ago. Would this happen on any other beach? Doubt it.