Sunday, June 28, 2009


This morning, wonderful things happened:

I went surfing the first time this year without a wetsuit, woo-hoo!

Perhaps as a result of shedding the suit, I surfed great.

I caught waves perfectly. One was so perfect, and lasted so long, and was so well executed, that one of the locals (a friend, all around good guy, and experienced surfer) hooted for me as I exited the wave. He's seen and heard my struggles to learn for years.

"You're really getting good," he said.

"Nice drops."

Two words I thought I'd never hear applied to me!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Back at home, what a relief. Surfing Is Fun Again.

I had a really good day today (thanks to the good waves). Lots of rides without effort, and that feeling of time standing still.

Monday, June 15, 2009

California coastline

Just looking at the waves at Ocean Beach today made my bones hurt.

They weren't measurably worse than yesterday's, perhaps, but now it was a grey cool day with nobody out and that made them look worse.

Plus I was plain worn out by so much surfing.

So I decided to take a drive down the Coast. I'm glad I did. The scenery was gorgeous. My goal was to find the Rockaway Beach in California, and I sort of did, it's hard to tell---I didn't see the sign. Well, I drove by it anyway. Linda Mar was flat and didn't impress me. There was another break, I think it was called Montero, that looked nice. If I'd had the energy and still had the board I would've gone in.

Mavericks was FLAT. FLAT FLAT FLAT! What's with that? I coulda gone in with a board and then I could truthfully say I surfed Mavericks, ha ha, it was that flat. I thought Mavericks was never flat. I would have enjoyed seeing that famous wave, except there were no waves.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ocean Beach

I had some trepidation about trying to surf Ocean Beach, given what I'd read about it. And last time I was in San Francisco it was a grey, rainy, windy day with blown out slop and no one out on a Sunday afternoon.

But today the stars (sun/wind/tides) all aligned. I got up early, checked the cams, rented a board, and went. The waves were two to three feet, there was no wind, the sun was out and so were the surfers. All I could get was a softtop board a foot shorter than I like, but that would be OK, I thought.

I later found out that that is the only place in the area that rents boards, because, the other shop told me, the surf is usually big and rough and they have had to do too many rescues.

The waves were a lot more powerful and harder to catch than they looked, the board was not familiar, and it took me a lot of tries/wipeouts before I caught any, and a lot more before I got to my feet. But then I did. Then I wiped out again. I was alternating between: I'm just like a beginner, I might as well never have surfed before, I can't get anything---and: Catching a wave, getting up (though not often popping, my arms are so exhausted from the last few days) and actually riding a San Francisco wave. Five times.

Today it was the Aqua Board guy. He was the one catching all the waves and having all the fun. He actually smiled and said to me after one ride, "That was one of the best waves I've ever had." I said I hadn't had any yet, and he said what I had just been thinking: "It's hard to know where to sit today. You are either too far out or too far in." And that simple acknowledgment that it wasn't just me seemed to make all the difference---that and watching him and going where and when he went.

Though the paddle outs were short and easy and I only had to turtle once, there was a lot of strong current. I wiped out pearling quite a few times, other times wiped out right after standing up. It took strength to hang on to the board through all the wipeouts. What I am saying is, though I cannot say quite why, I don't think I have ever, ever been as exhausted after a surf session as I was after two hours at Ocean Beach this morning. I was ready for a nap at two p.m. All I could do was lie in the sun for an hour or so. And I'm not sure I want to wake up and do it all over again tomorrow.

And like yesterday, the surf session was only part of the adventure. The rest of the fun entailed me having been left---dripping wet, without so much as a towel, a bottle of water, sunscreen, even one cent of cash to buy lunch, my phone, my clothes, my shoes, etc.---at the beach in the hot sun by my companion, who evidently didn't see me looking for him and just took off. I might have been sitting in that wetsuit for hours without any way to get off that beach or any idea if he would come back. What a pissy lowdown thing to do to somebody. I'll be generous and say we had a misunderstanding, but even so that doesn't make it OK to dump somebody at a strange beach. Yes, by using my wits I was eventually able to resolve the situation before wetsuit rash, sunstroke or dehydration set in.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Be the guy with the red board

I spent the afternoon at Capitola, missing waves. There wasn't anything challenging about the waves or the break. But I kept paddling and missing, for a couple hours. Eventually I figured out two things: I was too far forward on this board because it was six inches shorter than my usual board. Second, the only guys getting waves were in one particular spot under the curl. As usual I was off to the shoulder so as not to get in their way. Which meant when we all paddled for waves, they got them and I missed.

And I was willing to accept this. What are the deep-seated psychological reasons why I was willing to accept having travelled across the country in search of waves only, once I got there, to forego said waves just because there were other people who wanted them?

Ah, let's count the reasons. I'm a white female ("the whitest person I ever met" according to my old friend W. who is white himself but not as white as me) of a certain generation before MTV, was raised Catholic, grew up in the Midwest, experienced abuse as a child...all of which translates boringly and predictably into: Someone who puts other people's needs before her own.

And then there was the guy with the red board, who was none of the above I am sure, except white. The guy with the red board was always in the right spot. He'd get ride after ride, then paddle right back out to the right spot.

And at this break as the one yesterday, there was really only one narrow zone for getting rides. A few feet away, and you'd get nothing.

Once again I was reminded of the primal rule of surfing, which is the primal rule of life:


What was I doing thousands of miles from home out in the middle of the ocean? Did I come there to sit politely and not interfere with other people's fun?

Hell no!

So I started going right where the red board guy went, and paddling for "his" waves, and not caring whether anyone was taking off right beside me or sitting in front of me.

That was the key, two hours into the session, to finally getting waves: Just take them. Be the guy with the red board.

I did notice a lot of people (like last time in Santa Cruz) taking off next to each other, taking off with people right in front of them not caring if they ran them over, doing all that stuff that would get you yelled at in New York, but here it seems to be expected and no one gets upset.

After I got my few waves I was able to get out of the water with a shred of dignity.

Then I found my rental car had a flat tire, which was a whole nother adventure. If you happen to be on the West coast, do not rent from Fox Rent a Car, folks.

But that led to my getting my board back to the shop three hours late, which got me to the surf shop after dark, to find quite an interesting scene in the parking lot.

There was a half naked surf instructor, around my age and quite good looking (and not all of them are) and five tall blond men, very young and good looking, replaying the waves for each other over and over, smoking and drinking. You may have heard this phrase before, it's almost a cliche, but in this case it was quite literally true: They were dripping with stoke.

Turned out the guys were from Denmark and probably had never surfed before. The surf instructor offered them all a place to stay at his house, any time. We talked a little as I was returning the board and even glassy eyed with pot and stoke he was still smarter and more interesting than most surf instructors I've encountered. I got his number and an invite to stay at his place, too. I was leaving from San Francisco the next day or I might have called him up. Next time.

Wonder what happens when all the students he's given this offer to show up at his door at once?

Oh yeah, and this encounter in the Cowells parking lot was the first time in my life I've ever been addressed as "dude," which makes me smile every time I think of it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Surf trips, real and ideal

The ideal surf trip goes something like this:

Disembark in a sunny location with fabulous waves, ready to go surf even if you've been traveling for ten hours. Go directly to the fabulous break without getting lost or even being unsure of where it is. Find waves so much better than you have at home---not too big and not too small and oh so much better shaped than you've ever experienced, gentle and powerful at the same time. Oh yes, and uncrowded, and you magically know the exact time the tide is most favorable. Surf expertly the first time out, have much more fun than you ever had at home (did I mention you found a surf shop that rents you exactly the perfect board for you?). Meet a whole bunch of local surfers, barbecue on the beach, drink margaritas, fall asleep and get up and do it again every day for a week.


How about: Arrive exhausted after having been up since 5:00 a.m. Rent a board that's the best you can find but not anything like what you would want. Tide's too high but you're going anyway. You're so tired you just want an easy surf, even one nice ride will do, but there are no waves at the beginner beach (Cowells---first time I have ever seen it with no one out at all), so you have to go to the intermediate (Steamer). Paddle out through more kelp than you believed possible. Keep getting fins snagged on kelp, and paddling is not paddling so much as pulling yourself along on kelp ropes. Try to figure out where to sit in lineup, fail miserably. Waves a little bigger than your comfort level. Paddle and fail, paddle and fail, perhaps because the locals are sitting in the narrow area where the wave curls and you are always over to the shoulder, respectful of their right to take every wave away from tourists like you. Finally catch a wave by the ass-backward technique of turtling it too late and getting caught up in it anyway, try to stand up when the wave's almost over, get your contact lens knocked off by the wave.

Slink off in disgrace to the kiddie section inside, wait there forever along with a couple of other cowards until some two footers come along, miss those as well. Or if you get them can't stand up and can't figure out why. Watch the other cowards get rides. Finally give up because you're cold and tired.

Repeat for the next few days.

Actually, there was one surf trip to a new location that wasn't like this, which was Virginia Beach last summer. That was a sunny beautiful day, I timed the tide right, waves were small and I got lots of them without needing hours to figure them out. It wasn't perfect but sufficient fun was had.

There was something good about today's session, though: the music of the seals. There were seals in the water but there was a whole big seal party happening on the rocks, with tons of big fat seals (sea lions?) singing their hearts out.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


Dear fellow surfers,

In just one week I will be in sunny California again. First I will be in Santa Cruz for a couple of days, and then San Francisco.

If any of you on the West Coast would like to get together and show an Easterner the surf ropes, just let me know here.

It would be fun to have somebody to surf with, and none of my friends in California do.