06 August 2009

Point Break

Listening to: Gregory and the Hawk, "A Wish." I can't get enough of this track. It's just quiet and lovely. You'll see.

A few summers ago, I started surfing. I don't know why I never tried it when I was younger, since we lived so close to the beach, but we just never did. I didn't know anyone who surfed, I didn't have any particular interest in it, and it just never happened. We'd go to the beach all the time but just to frolic and boogie board. When I went off to college, as soon as someone found out I was from San Diego, one of their first questions to me was inevitably, "Do you surf?" Nope, not a bit.

Then, one idyllic summer, everyone I was hanging out with in San Diego suddenly got the surfing bug. We started off with big boards, eight or nine feet long, giant slabs of foam and fiberglass. Half of us even bought boards within that first week. There's all this stuff you have to learn before even getting in the water. How to carry the board so that it was comfortable under the crook of your arm, which leg to put the leash on, how to paddle, and finally how to jump up and balance at the same time. And then when you're actually out there for the first time, you mainly end up just trying to remain upright and not fall off the board. Staying on the board without wobbling and looking like a total loser isn't as easy as it looks.

Once you've got the hang of all that, you still have to figure out when to paddle, what waves are going to be strong enough to catch you and push you along, and how to get up when there's water whooshing underneath. It's not really overly complicated since millions of people do it but each little step forward is a thrilling accomplishment.

From the very beginning, we always surfed at 11th street, which is right in-between Torrey Pines beach and the more popular 15th street in Del Mar. To get to the beach, you have to walk down this narrow, rock strewn, dirt path. The pavement is scorching hot, your feet are all unaccustomed to stepping around on sharp rocks, and I'm a little afraid of heights anyways. Getting down that path was the hardest part of surfing for me. Other surfers would just hop on down the path like billy goats. I'd carefully measure each step and pray that I wouldn't slip and fall. Or bump my board.

Flash forward a few years later. I can walk down the path with decent speed and without fear. I know how to paddle, sit, and when to catch a wave. I still can't stand up very often though. Which is extremely aggravating. Surfing is one of those things where everyone looks super cool and experienced while heading out into the water. Get some trunks on, tuck your surfboard under your arm, and you look like a surfer. But the real surfers look good actually surfing, like on a wave. The poseur surfers like me sit there and look decent, but once the wave comes, it's all downhill. Sometimes I catch a wave just as it's cresting over me and I get pummeled, doing somersaults as the water just pushes you along. You have no idea how powerful even a little wave can be, or how intimidating it can look, until you're facing one.

The beautiful thing about surfing though, despite not being very good at it, is that it doesn't really matter to me if I'm particularly good or not. I mean, I want to be able to get good. Or at least average. I do, and it'll happen I'm sure. But I get just as much joy out of just splashing around and fighting my way trying to surf as I do actually surfing. And when you actually catch a wave and manage to stand up and ride one in. Damn, nothing feels better.

And let me tell you about nasal drip. After my first day or two of surfing, after numerous flops and falls and definitely no standing up, I had a mess of saltwater just come pouring out of my nose like a faucet. "What the heck is this! What is going on?" I asked. Turns out it's perfectly normal to get nasal drip. And unlike having a runny nose when you're sick, there's no stopping the waterworks. Just lean over and get all that ocean water out of your head. And then go back the next day and fill it right back up.