Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Surfing as surfing

Today: sun, perfectly blue skies, friendly faces, north wind, good little waves all day.

What I wrote yesterday was bullshit.

Surfing is surfing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Surfing as prayer

Some days important, life-changing events or decisions are looming ahead of you, and all you can do is wait to see how they turn out. You've done all you can to make things come out the way you want, but the truth is that the outcome is not under your control. And if you surf more days than not, you'll be surfing on such a day once in a while.

On these days surfing is like praying. Each paddle, each ride is offered up to whatever god you believe in. You are trying not to think, or to only think only of the matters at hand...

...match the speed of the wave

...didn't get the popup on that one

...took off too late

...is that W.'s girlfriend? looks like her, no, it isn't

...yipes, I'm right over the sticks

...that was a nice drop

...what the hell happened on that wave?

...that guy is really good

...can't wait until the crowds are gone

...there! that was a good ride

but really, there is a huge stone in the pit of your stomach at all times that you can never forget.

You're really praying to god or the universe or whatever you believe in

...please let things work out OK.

Today was like (though not as bad as) the day I went out surfing when my cat was in the hospital dying.

I didn't get the answer I wanted to my prayers that day.

Turns out, I didn't get it today either.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Back at home, on a sunny summer weekend, surfing is like playing bumper cars again. It's hard to readjust. Yesterday when the waves were smaller it wasn't quite suicide going out, and I got some rides, but today, with bigger steeper waves and even more people, it was not fun. Two rides and a lot of pulling back when there was anything halfway decent because someone else was (or three people were) already on them. Anarchy is the only rule.

My original life plan was to eventually move down south, but I've liked it here so much for the past couple of years I've wondered whether I will actually move. I could change my mind. After experiencing both spots at the height of summer this past week, let's compare NSSS (Not So Secret Spot) in NYC with SSS (Secret Southern Spot) in an undisclosed red state.

SSS: Dolphins in the lineup NSSS: Trash in the lineup

SSS: "Are you OK, Ma'am?" NSSS: "If you get in my way again, Ima gonna fuckin' kill you"

SSS: Families on vacation NSSS: Drug dealers selling pot

SSS: 8-10 is a crowd NSSS: 50 surfers ready to kill for the same wave

SSS is a nature preserve, so you see wild animals.
NSSS is a ghetto, so you see wild humans.

Waves are equally crappy in both places, in my experience.

There is one advantage for the North, though:

SSS: You can't even buy a bottle of water on the beach, let alone food.
NSSS: Pizza shop delivers to the beach.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Are you OK, Ma'am?"

And the correct question for today's Jeopardy clue is: What is the correct thing to say when you run over a surfin' granny with your board?

"Are you OK, Ma'am?" is not something I have ever heard before in the water, but I heard it today.

Now you know I am not in New York.

No, that sentence could only be uttered down South, at my favorite SSS (Secret Southern Spot). I'm down here for a week for a much needed vacation.

I was out on a glassy small morning surrounded by teenage boys---this one had braces on his teeth. Our boards collided---his fault---and instead of yelling at me as a typical male New Yorker would, he asked about my welfare like a good Southern boy.

Which, to me, sounded just like "You're too old to surf."

Every woman dreads the M word. You never forget the first time you hear it applied to you. You look around---Who's he calling Ma'am?---then you realize it can only be you and that you've crossed that invisible line into middle age and have nothing to look forward to but decline and death. You hear that word and you realize that your life as you have known it is over.

Bad as the first time hearing it is, there needs to be a whole new level of badness for hearing it while on a surfboard. Any of you women had this experience?

Still, it was a very good day and I'm glad to be out of New York and not facing down the usual supects in the lineup. Even people who live at the beach need to go on vacation to other beaches sometime.

This is the first time I've surfed at SSS when it's been warm enough for people to be standing and playing in the shorebreak in front of the surfers. They seem unaware or unconcerned that a speeding board could hit them in the head at any moment. And when you ruin a good ride because they won't get out of your way, they just stare at you like deer in the headlights. It's enough to make me appreciate our beach's policy of keeping nonsurfers out of the surfing area.

Still, at home I wouldn't have seen dolphins dancing in the surf in a lineup of their own, eliciting oohs and cheers from those beachgoers lucky enough to see them.

When you do get rides here, you can get some that seem to go on forever, not like at home. I didn't get forever rides but I did get several long ones, enough of a taste to get me back in the water for a second afternoon session. I watched several surfers get those long ones, especially one Gramps who I remember from the last time I was here. They all seem to be either teenagers or Grampses, nothing in between, and no women over 19.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Surfing and aggression

Almost exactly one year ago, on August 20, 2007, I wrote about a lesson surfing has taught me: There is no such thing as being too aggressive.

I still believe that, but today I had reason to wonder about the ways in which aggression is worked out through surfing.

I had a lot on my mind today, thinking about a business deal I was working on. I was thinking about how to make it go my way (to win, in other words). The waves were small and easy and I took wave after wave, ride after ride, surfing much more aggressively than I generally do. There were those who pulled back from me. I gained more and more confidence and just kept going. It was very satisfying.

The problem is, later that day I blew the deal I had been working on, unnecessarily---simply by not being aggressive enough.

Is it possible I misplaced my aggression and used it all up where it wasn't needed---rather than the surfing helping me later on to be as aggressive as I needed to be in real life?

That certainly seems to be what happened.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Listless waves, and Barney

Today's session was pretty much the worst in months, but it wasn't me; it really was the waves. There really were none, and even in you managed to catch a ride on a fragment of a six-inch wavelet, it deposited you on the sand in about one second. Not fun, but there were a lot of people, generally clueless, trying and not doing much but bumping into each other, roller derby style.

Barney's back! See last summer's posts. I have actually missed this guy. Barney is an older gray-haired man, even older than me, and a total dork. Think high school English teacher, which is close to what he is, I think, and his real name I've forgotten, but Barney suits him. The thing that I like so much about Barney is that he is so genuinely, charmingly immune to the whole surf-culture, macho, competitive, aggressive thing. He's just out there doing his thing, being Barney, having fun, taking great pleasure in his small improvements, always smiling, always friendly. It's not so much that he doesn't care what anyone else thinks about him as it would never even occur to him to care.

Barney has sensibly limited his surfing this summer to the second, less crowded surfing beach twenty blocks away, which is why I haven't seen him. None of our local crew would even speak to him. But I like him. He's welcome here any time.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Where have I been?

I have had a lousy summer cold for three weeks. After the last post, I attempted to go out again the next day. But the waves were head high and I felt even sicker. I gave myself permission to opt out of the session and be sick.

There've been no waves to speak of, anyway.

Today, with ankle high waves, was my first day back in the water. It was sunny and hot and so there were about twelve desperate people out. Including a friend of mine who appeared to be on crack and so was highly entertaining, spewing bodily fluids everywhere and generally acting like an eight year old retarded child. Yeah you. If you don't like my blog, stop reading it!

I had a great time, catching lots of waves and rides. Of course they only lasted one and a half seconds. It felt so good just to be back in the water.

I proved two things: One, I can still surf. Two (I had on a new suit): any bathing suit top, including one specifically marketed for surfers, can fall down in any conditions, even one foot waves. Why can't someone engineer something better?