How to Surf When Your Knees Go Bad

Look at the bright side: At least now you have a legitimate reason for not being out in the water. Before the doctor ordered you to take a few weeks off, what was your excuse? Too much work, too many social commitments? Sure, you do suffer from both of those, but let’s be real: None of your excuses are valid. You have security with regards to food and shelter and therefore there are no valid excuses for not doing what you love.

You could have been surfing almost every day and the days you weren’t surfing, you could have walked on the beach. You live right next to it. But no, you forgot that you need to get up at 5 a.m. and started loitering in bed until 7 – which is a disaster for a person like you. You have a lot to get done. Multiple jobs and many friends. You are lucky for this. But you need to get up early to make it all work. Minutes in the morning are worth hours in the afternoon. You’ve blown it.

It doesn’t help that instead of checking the swell, you’ve more often checked Facebook. Something to do while shoveling oatmeal into your mouth and waiting for the Earl Grey to kick in. Liking stuff on autopilot, then distracted by the funny, the terrible, the tragic. Oh, look at the time, you’d realize. The window has closed, has been closed, and now you’re running late for the rest of life. 

Your surfboards became things you walked past instead of used.

You’re out of wax because you surf so little that you never remember to pick any up. In fact, you can’t remember the last time you went into a surf shop.

Now your knees hurt. Almost all the time. An afternoon of Frisbee turns into a morning of being crippled into tears and immobility. So you go to the doctor. The one you started going to when you landed your former job. You’re relieved she’s taking Covered California patients so you don’t have to wait to get in. She pokes your knees, asks if you feel any pain. “A little,” you say. “Some,” you say. “Ow!” you scream as your body bucks an inch off the table. She explains about cartilage and Baker’s cyst. Gross, you think. Then you get in your poor rusty truck that hasn’t driven on sand in weeks and the NPR folks are interviewing Boston Marathon bombing survivors. You’re a jerk. At least you still have your knees. Maybe you can even fix them.

So you stay out of the water – as if you weren’t doing that anyway – and gobble ibuprofen and rub in arnica and drink too much wine while you wait to see a physical therapist, who may or may not be covered by your new insurance. It’s confusing and you’re too busy to figure it out. But you get in. The PT guy gives you a rundown similar to the doctor’s, has some suggestions for reducing the pain. Stretching. Ibuprofen. Possibly taping your kneecap into a different position. You imagine your body like your poor rusty truck, like an old piece of machinery held together by duct tape. You promise to do the stretches. He tells you to work on your butt muscles. You’re a bit indignant – you work on your butt muscles all the time thankyouverymuch. Now you feel fat. Now you feel guilty about feeling fat. Look at all these poor old people doing tiny exercises around you. He reassures you that you’re fit. 

“What about the stuff I can’t do?” you ask or, some might say, whine. 

“Like what?”

“Surfing and hiking,” you tell him. “The doctor told me not to for at least a couple weeks.”

He shrugs. “You can do whatever you want. You might be in pain for the next 40 years or maybe I can help you. But you can’t give up the shit that brings you peace of mind.”

You love him.

Er, appropriately.

So the next day you fling your wetsuit into your tub, slide your longboard into your truck, drive down the spit like you have 1,000 times before. No one is out. The foghorn blares its beautiful call. The waves look small and a bit bumpy. You shake an earwig off your wetsuit and pull it on. You remember being cold is good sometimes because it makes you appreciate warmth. You panic for five minutes because the stupid zipper isn’t working and you’re about to call disaster when suddenly it catches. 

You paddle past the rocks and feel the same way as when you’re heading north on 101, passing through Piercy, the Humboldt County sign about to welcome you home. On your first wave, you’re too anxious, too far up, end up pearling in a maneuver so kooky you almost give up right then. But you’ve been here before. Calm down. Look at that gray whale coming up for air right off the end of the jetty. Seriously. 

You breathe and start catching waves for real. Your knees don’t hurt at all. A mix of adrenaline and cold water, you suppose, and your dedication to the ibuprofen god. And then some guy paddles out. He strikes up conversation. You agree that it’s fun. You think it’s getting better, you say. He tells you, yes, it’s been much better on this tide than that one and explains that he surfs here all the time. Like you’re some random person who just happens to be out on his wave. And you have no retort, because even though it’s your wave, you haven’t been using it. Goddamn it. So you shut up and catch some more waves until you’re tired, which happens too soon, but you did it. 

And later your knees do hurt like hell, but your mind, your mind feels so good.

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1 Comment

  1. Lew Buckner

     /  May 10, 2014

    Jen,
    I find myself at a loss for words. You nailed it. An excellent piece that reverberates on many levels. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

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