I am sick. Friday fever given way to Sunday cold. Just when I thought I’d emerged from the dark days of December into January’s promise, I find myself plucking tissue after tissue out of the box, nose running, eyes watering. Making an emergency stop at CVS for cold medicine, something to force the appearance of normal and keep me from coughing and sneezing on all the people I’m due to interact with tomorrow. The inconvenience reminds me how fortunate I usually am; I can’t remember the last time this hit me.
About those December days: I do not mean to bash the month wholly. Many mornings began with sunrises so stunning I was compelled to stop my car, swing out into the frosty air, snap photos from the side of the road. Parties with friends, dinners with friends, drinks with friends, cozy evenings with the family snuggled up next to the wood stove, the only drama unfolding on the screen — all pleasant ways to pass the time. But the pressure to do All That Needs To Be Done intensified as rapidly as the daylight diminished. And, as always, the combination of greater obligation and fewer hours resulted in surfing falling by the wayside.
But I did get one last session in before the turn of the year. The day sprawled clear and commitment-free. The sunshine didn’t bring warmth, quite the opposite — I raced over the bridges for new gloves and booties, certain I’d be too cold to do without.
My friend CS and I drove out together, paddled out together, into classic conditions at my favorite spot — and only head-high. Amazing to have warm feet! Not-numb hands! My new board gets into the waves like it was shaped for just that purpose (it was); my skills are slightly less impressive. But I caught some waves, stood up a few times, started to feel the beginnings of control. We don’t know each other that well yet, my birthday board and I, but I know we’re destined for a great relationship — it was love at first sight, after all. I want this.
And so that was that for 2012: 55 surf sessions. Not impressive. If’ I’m going to learn to ride a shorter board, if I’m going to progress at all, hell, if I’m going to maintain what minimal competence I have, I must surf more often.
I was reminded of this with 2013’s first outing. Carpooled out with some dear friends, one of whom has been surfing Humboldt for decades, looks stylish on every wave, catches anything he paddles for and makes it all look easy as walking down the street. With us, his daughter, who’s learned most of her dad’s moves and added her own casual elegance — I’ve watched her grow up in the waves.
The swell had dropped to an easy shoulder-high. We paddled out under clouds gathered snug against each other, a fluffy ceiling laced with darkness. No lack of waves, but they broke into sections. I’d taken my longboard out, paddled into everything easily only to be knocked down by the whitewater time and time again. Sometimes, when I think how long I’ve been surfing, how many times I’ve paddled out, how many waves I’ve caught, the fact that I still have days that feel like I’m back at square one is almost enough to make me chuck the whole ridiculous business.
And then I remember all the good waves. And I look up at the sky, preening with beauty. And I see the diving pelicans, the cormorants floating over swells, nonplussed. And I relish being in the ocean and remind myself I’ve been through this before — probably last December — and I think about one of my favorite overhead rights, the one where the wave curled over my head, landed on my shoulder, not enough to knock me down, just enough to make me understand that I’d almost placed myself in the tube — my dream world and the real world nearly merging, cold and salty and right there. I think about the first big left I caught, how I was yelled into it and made it despite near-certainty I wouldn’t, the grin on my face so big I felt the imprint all week. I remember easy days in Crescent City where the repetition created a groove and in that groove I found confidence and joy. The pleasure of paddling out and feeling both part of something and so much myself fills me.
I stopped thinking about how much I suck and started focusing on what I was doing wrong — and stopping it. Hung on, shifted my center of gravity, recalibrated my positioning. It worked. I may have been the only one noting the difference, but that’s okay — I’m the only one who needs to.
We paddled up the beach to the bigger, better peak, wanting to make our last wave a juicier one. We’d moved into the direct path of the swell and it showed as the sets rolled in, a few feet overhead and far less playful, especially with the south wind bumping them up. But I caught one before too long, a decent right that peeled and then faded. Called it a day, a fine day.