A Wannabe Surfer Dude

I was born and raised in Massachusetts and was fortunate to spend a good deal of my life along the eastern seaboard.  I could be found on the beach at some point during most summer days and often found walking the beach in the cold of winter.  There is a peace I find along the ocean’s edge.

New England is not known as one of the surf capitals of the world.  The Beach Boys music of the 1970’s drifted out from California and brought with it a vision of the California lifestyle of beaches, surfing and groovy living.  It is a vision that drew me to the west coast many years ago to become a New England transplant on the sandy shores of Southern California.  Warm, comfortable and trying to be hip.  Diggin’ it.

Shortly after my arrival I became determined to learn the art of surfing, to become one with the locals.   A young “surf cat” working in the office I was with at the time heard of
my intent.  As the summer was ending and he was heading back to college he offered to sell me one of his extra surfboards that would be “perfect for learning, really dude.”  I  checked out the board and it looked good…white and yellow with three fins, covered with surfers wax, about 5’-9” in length.  A little short for me I asked?  “No, perfect” he kept saying as I paid him cash for my first board.

Of course I knew nothing of what to look for and buy in a surfboard, leaving my fate in the hands and goodness of humankind…and this young surf cat now on his way back to college with my cash in his pocket.  Oh, and by the way, I am 6’-1” and 200lbs.

On my first venture into surfing a friend of mine joined me, a transplant from Illinois by way of Hawaii and another non-surfer.  He sat on the beach giving me advice from his
observations on the islands while I practiced standing up on my board from the prone position, not a difficult task at all….while on the sandy beach.  We were at Doheny Beach in Dana Point, a beach with a long small wave break perfect for beginners.  I stood on my board in the sand, struck a surfer’s pose and knew I was destined for great things.  My friend merely looked at me and smiled, clearly with less confidence then I was feeling.  And then I headed for the water…where destiny failed me, completely.

My 6’-1” frame had no idea how to handle my “perfect” 5’-9” surfboard as it bobbed and twisted like a cork in the light surf a short (very short) distance from shore.  Spread-eagle
in the prone position I hung on desperately as the front of the board dipped underwater and I slid forward and off, only to climb back on the board to slide off the other side.  A very kind and understanding surfer, an experienced fellow looking to be about 9 years old, paddled past me on his knees heading out to the great surf break and told me that it was clear this was my first day surfing but that I was doing OK.  At least that’s what I think he said, as I once again slid back off the board before he finished what he was saying and paddled onward.

With little luck in the prone position I decided to risk sitting up on the board, the resulting affect being comparable to riding a bucking bronco.  The board popped out from me forward as I slid of the back, then popped out the back as I fell forwards.  My hands furiously swept “8’s” in the water in a vain hope of balancing.  Needless to say I did not surf back to the beach in the proud pose I had anticipated.  If I had a tail it would have been between my legs.

While having failed miserably in my initial attempt to become one with the local surf culture I was none-the-less undeterred and the following week I ventured forth again.
Early on a weekday morning, as the sun was just rising over Laguna Beach and with coffee in hand, I grabbed my perfect surfboard and headed down the street to the beach.  I sat on the sand for a bit, watching the “break” as I had seen many a surfer do.  However my mind was racing with the thought of how I was going to accomplish any semblance of surfing after my first outing?  The waves here were bigger; they looked stronger and rougher, rolling to shore in tumbling masses of saltwater spray and foam.  Yo, dude, gnarly scene.  I had seen many other surfers pass through this onslaught of raging water by gracefully arching up and pushing the front of their surfboard below the oncoming turbulence, following the board by smoothly ducking themselves with the board and emerging on the other side to paddle onward.  Simple and graceful, should be no problem.  With a final sip of the now cold coffee, I shed my shirt, wrap my board leash around my ankle and once again headed to the water with confidence…the ego a bit nicked and bruised but confident none-the-less.

As do the seasoned veteran surfers, I took a running start and threw my board and self into the churning water determined to succeed.  I immediately started paddling, arms flailing away assuming it would be better to paddle furious in an effort to stay on the
board than not.  As I looked up an oncoming wave was quickly approaching…very quickly.  With what little grace I could conjure up and in an attempt to mimic those surfers I had been watching, I rose up a bit (while trying not to flip the board) and dipped the tip of the board under the water.  Simultaneously, as the tumbling white water came upon me I ducked my head forward, intent on gracefully following the board under the wave.   BAM!…..ooooouch.

There is clearly more to “the duck and dive” then I assumed.  As I lowered my head to follow the board under the wave, the wave decided to push the board back up, the result being the sudden and unexpected collision of forehead to fiberglass.  And the stars were out, twinkling bright.  How I held on to the board is beyond me but I sense desperation set in and I paddled feverishly to get past the whitewater and out beyond the break.  Once “safe” upon the rolling swells I was damned if I was going to try to sit up on this damn ##$@^&% perfect surfboard.  As I carefully reached my hand up to my head, being certain not to rock the board and slide off, my hand cupped the quickly rising “egg” that was protruding dramatically from my forehead.  Suddenly I realized…this surfing stuff sucks.  I looked up as a group of pelicans floated by on the breeze, slightly above the rolling swells of the ocean, peaceful and tranquil in their abilities to “go with the flow.”  With their beady little eyes they looked down on me as they passed by, certain to be saying, “Dude, you look ridicules.”

Now stuck out beyond the breaking surf on my bouncing cork of a surfboard the dilemma was how to get back to dry land…sweet, wonderful dry land….without getting annihilated in the rolling and tumbling surf.  I didn’t need scrapes and bruises to complement my throbbing pounding headache.  At that moment in time I felt like I was at Waimea Bay with killer waves taller than most buildings crashing between me and the sandy beach.  The reality was it was probably just a typical day with gently breaking waves, but at the
time…not a cool scene.  With a quick prayer to a God who had not heard from me in some time, I turned the board towards shore, paddled in hopes of catching a wave, and held on for dear life as I rode the wave towards shore laid out flat on my perfect board.  Land never felt so good.  If the surf gods had any inkling of kindness towards me it was that no one else was along this stretch of beach to see this spectacle.   I gathered my belongings, hefted my #@#%^%# board and dragged my sorry ass home.

Needless to say my colleagues at the office that morning got quite a kick out of my condition, questioning how I could have gotten a golf ball imbedded in my forehead at the beach.   Really funny people, really funny.  I went and got voodoo dolls in each of their names.  The “perfect surfboard” resided on my back patio for some time as the interest in surfing rapidly diminished and work began to consume my time.  The surfwax melted with the warm sun to collect in a mass at the base of the board, a testament to the fact that I was not in tune with this sport.  Eventually I sold the board to a neighbor, who when told the story of how I came to have such a short board, explained to me the benefits of learning on a long big stable board first…in other words, dude, you got taken.  No sh…t.

Now I enjoy watching the surfers from shore, respecting their abilities to ride all sorts of waves, do all kinds of wild moves.  But what really pisses me off is when one of them brings their pet dog to the beach…man’s best friend…and man’s best friend gets on a board and rides the waves in, no problemo.  Give me a friggin break.

Recently my wife and I have gotten involved in standup paddle boards (SUP’s), very large, thick surf-like boards you stand on and paddle along the water.  We stacked them on top of the car and I feel cool, sort of nibbling around the edge of the surf culture again.  It took me a few outings to get use to the balance, dunking myself several times.  My wife was like the Rock of Gibraltar, right from the start.  It’s a great way to be on the water together, away from it all for a while.  We paddle in the local harbors for now as we become more familiar and capable with our boards, the goal being to eventually head out to the open ocean.  My board is 11 feet long, nice a big.  In time I hope to have something good to write about regarding our new sport.  We’ll see.

And I don’t care what you’ve heard in the past….size really does matter.

G’day friends, see you next Friday morning.

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