surf session #11

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yellow sand verbena, a nice break from the trash

Hard to tell which I’m doing less of – writing or surfing. Definitely not doing much writing about surfing. Here I am, trying to remember a week later when it was that I surfed. Before the horrible north wind came up. (Yes, yes, I know, the wind does some good things and is not wholly horrible outside of making what would be a lovely sunny day miserable and junking up the waves.)

So, yes – I surfed for the 11th time this year. Eleven out of 122. But eventually summer will kick in for real, the wind will die down and elation will be an emotion I familiarize myself with once again. I’m committed.

The water temp had dropped to 49, too much cold for my weathered wetsuit to keep out. I paddled around constantly to keep my legs and arms from stiffening up. What was warm was the vibe – older and newer friends floated in the lineup, catching up and grinning at the day. A few sets excited us, made us think the place was going to turn on as the tide dropped, but the waves ended up mushing out more often than not. I caught a few, had a nice time, finally gave in to the cold and returned to shore.

The shaper story revolves around a day I didn’t go surfing, couldn’t go, because I had beach cleanup duties for Surfrider and the NEC. I trekked along Old Navy Base Road, around the Samoa boat ramp, picking up plastic bits and cigarette butts while truck after truck zipped by, loaded with boards and a sense of anticipation. Bitterness swept through me – “Goddamn it,” I thought. “How many times have I been unable to go surfing because I’m doing something for Surfrider? Way too many. No one even cares. Why am I doing this? I’m resigning the second I get home. Next time someone calls about access issues or trash or organizing a benefit or whatever, I’ll tell them, ‘Not my problem.’I t’s going to feel so good.”

But the time I returned home, the burnout had faded and I’d pep-talked myself back into sticking with Surfrider until October, a perfect time for elections as it would mark the seventh anniversary of the chapter’s reconstitution. Apathy had led to the chapter fading before and I can’t let that happen again. I think about Glenn, his passion for surfing and rightness, how he influenced me to be better, smarter, have more fun, both in the water and out. We brought the chapter back largely in honor of him and as a way to funnel some of the sadness over losing him into a positive force for good. Like he was.

So on we go.

surf session #8

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This is the difference between a surfer and me: A surfer would have brought her board and wetsuit to Point Arena, no second thought about it. The board and tub would have been the first things to the car. In contrast, I worried about how much more complicated hauling stuff down would make an already logistically challenging trip. My car isn’t set up for loading a board and we didn’t have enough room for a surf tub. Given that Bobby was dropping me off in San Francisco, then driving to Santa Barbara before heading back to Humboldt, how would it work to drag a board along? Oh, forget it. The waves will probably be too heavy anyway.

They were not too heavy. What it was, was overhead rights with an easy takeoff – my idea of perfect fun. I watched from the end of the pier, my disappointment in myself magnifying with each enviable ride. Later, other entertainment would distract me – the usual food and wine and whiskey mixed in with shooting pool (badly) and sliding dollars into the jukebox (expertly).

We left for Bolinas in the morning and it was in that odd mix of a town that I was offered a bit of redemption in the form of a borrowed longboard and a rented wetsuit.

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Bolinas reminded me of North County San Diego – cute and beachy and everyone surfs – if you took some rural Oregon town full of grizzled, cranky oldtimers – and smushed the two places together. Half the people look ready for a bar fight and the other half probably had probiotic yogurt for breakfast. (Note: I love the yogurt. Also, bars.) My friend Leila took me to 2 Mile Surf Shop, where the owner said, No more rentals today, trying to get out of here.

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What? No! You have to rent me a suit, I said. What if I bring it back in the morning?

Sure, he said. Booties, too?

Yes, please.

IMG_8455Twenty-five dollars and twenty minutes later, we were paddling out. From the surf shop, the road slopes down to the sand, Stinson Beach to the south, crumbling sea walls and bluffs to the north. Graffiti adorns nearly all the concrete surfaces – most of it is charming, celebratory of Bolinas’ uniqueness, with an overall theme of, Be Cool. A twist of the neck revealed San Francisco’s Twin Peaks tower standing tall in the distance.

About a million surfers dotted the water and yet, somehow, enough room existed for everyone. The waves were waist-to-chest high and mushy, at least user-friendly if not thrilling, and being in the water felt, as it does, like coming home.

Leila said, Maybe a couple more waves, then she’d probably go in.

I nodded, Sure. We’d been out for over an hour and I am supposed to be babying my shoulder – not that these easy waves and near-effortless paddle-out were straining it much. A set came, one of the nicest of the day, and I happened to be positioned just right. The wave took me to the beach, a few-hundred yards of gleeful maneuvering down the face, sunshine in my hair, in my heart.

surf sessions #6, #7

#6: Wow, it’s crowded.

#7: At least it’s not crowded.

surf sessions #3, #4 and #5 aka the return of bliss brain

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#3: Eight weeks. That’s how long since I’d surfed. The most time I’d spent out of the water since I started surfing in 2000. Longer than when I’d fractured my ankle. Dumb shoulder. But the combination of turmeric, acupuncture, massage, salve and trying to be smart about how I was using my arm had reduced the pain from excruciating back to a tolerable soreness, which made me think that a little session would be an okay thing. I had to go to Crescent City for work anyway… and needed to take the truck because I had to deliver signage that wouldn’t fit in my car… so, why not toss in my surfboard and wettie, just in case something fun was happening at South Beach?

It was. Waist-to-chest high sets, lovely little lefts and the occasional right, groomed by the offshore breeze. The sun shone overhead. About a dozen surfers were out. I tugged my wetsuit on, worried that the effort of getting all the neoprene onto all the right parts might strain my shoulder before I even made it to the water (a good argument for moving somewhere tropical!). I survived the pulling, yanking and stretching, however, and lugged my longboard down to the beach. The infusion of cold water into my booties and through my seams reminded me how much I need new versions of each, but the happiness of being in the ocean overwhelmed the discomfort. I remembered this.

I only caught five, six waves. Small, easy, some shoulders, a couple closeouts. My pop-up lacked grace, my turns were not smooth. Whatever. I slid along the sun-sparkled waves and smiled.

#4: I had to go out again, just to go, to keep momentum. Nevermind that the swell had dropped and the waves, if you could call them that, had shrunk to barely more than ankle-biters. I paddled around until something energetic enough came along, caught it, stood up, rode to the sand, called it a morning.

#5: This, this is what I needed. South Beach had been a gentle reintroduction and this, at my favorite spot, was just enough more to be perfect. Sunshine – the new normal – and just the lightest southeast wind. Steady sets, shoulder-high, peeling right and left, wave after wave. For some folks, these conditions would not induce the necessary adrenaline rush, but for me, the conditions were like a red carpet being rolled out. And the crowd! My friends! My people. The first wave I paddled for, I completely kooked out – naturally – and pearled, but all the others – like seeing old friends and the way recognition floods your heart. Once, I would have surfed till my arms were noodles, made myself late for the day’s work. But I’m trying to not hurt myself, so I let a long left take me to shore and clambered out, awash in joy.

The thrill lingered all day. I was so blissed out I could scarcely think – I felt like the silliest surfer cliché. Everything was all good.

So good.

Need want more.

surf session #2

Well, that was a bummer. The swell rolled in nicely, head-high or so, lots of closeouts, but a shoulder here and there. Only a few people were out, friends and groms. The sky was doing its Michelangelo thing. It should’ve been a magical evening – but apparently the magic that was keeping my knee wonkiness at bay in the water has evaporated. Every time I went to pop up, something went wrong. Wrong as in I fell over. Now, I’m a competent catcher of waves at best, but I’m normally at least competent. This was one of those sessions that I ended embarrassed and frustrated. I’m telling myself that the combination of not going to the gym, two days of running and diving on the sand, and all the accompanying stiffness is responsible – and that with a week or two of getting back into my regimen, thing will get better. It’s a drag when your body lets you down.

But hey, it was still a lovely evening.

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surf session #1 (hello, 2015!)

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I decided last month to start chronicling my surf sessions again in hopes of a.) better remembering them and b.) being nudged to surf more. Which is crazy, right? That I would have to encourage myself to do more of this thing I love? We are strange people, those of us who repeatedly let the mundane preempt joy despite knowing better. Sure, life demands we fulfill certain obligations, but what strange part of our brain compels us to spend time that could be spent immersed in the wonder of the world in front of a computer or cleaning out a closet instead? I wonder these things.

Maybe 2015 will be the year I solve this riddle. In any case, I hope it is a year of many waves caught. Unfortunately, my motivation to paddle out yesterday – New Year’s surf is mandatory! – was not accompanied by any actual skill or wave savvy. Quite humbling, this stupid sport is. In my defense, I arrived exhausted from an hour prior of intense Frisbee-flinging with the accompanying running, leaping and diving across the sand. And I hadn’t slept much from our New Year’s Eve crawl. Also, a shorter board with a little rocker would’ve helped with the late drops. I’d expected smaller waves and only brought my longboard. Still. Excuses! None justify my clumsiness. I look forward to redemption in a future session.

On the upside: the sky glowed all the colors necessary for a spectacular sunset; several friendly faces greeted me in the line-up; to be in the ocean was as life-affirming (if ego-crushing) as usual. Also, I still revel in the good fortune of owning a 4WD truck that allows me to cruise right out to the beach and stay till dark chasing crumbs of swell until I am forced to admit that pretty as the moon’s glitter is, I can no longer see. I drive home in my wetsuit because the few miles to my house are faster than tugging it off and why strip down on the beach when I can do in a hot shower so nearby? It is a dream at times, this life. I marvel it is real.

things that scare me

Things that scare me:

1. Being unable to protect my children from bad people, risky behavior, terrible decisions and freak accidents.

When you bring a baby into the world, that mama bear love overwhelms you. You hug the tiny person close and swear you’ll never let anything hurt the unbearably precious creature. And you mean it, but it’s an unkeepable promise because – unless you live in a remote, armed, stocked fortress, which I totally support – eventually bullies will push your kid around on the playground and men will grope your daughters and bad drivers will crash into them and politicians will make shitty policies and if those are the worst things that happen, you are still lucky.

The news is filled daily with stories you can’t even think about, the kind that involve children going missing, being gunned down – and these events are rare enough, you try to find some comfort or maybe stop reading the news, but then the children themselves toddle into the street, into parties, into cars, into dysfunctional relationships and you realize it might be easier to protect them from the world than from themselves. You’d hoped they would learn from your own experiences – someone should, right? – but no. They will go down the wrong path, sometimes willfully, sometimes innocently, and all you can do is pray to the God you don’t believe in that they come back intact.

2. Drowning.

3. Living too long. It sounds exhausting.

4. That when I hurriedly tug on my surf bootie I’ll immediately feel bugs writhing all over against my feet and it will take at least a minute to get it off because you have to tug hard and then a hundred sow bugs will tumble out because I guess leaving my booties on the deck for a week wasn’t a good idea and I’ll never be able to put them on again without thinking wiggling bugs trapped against my foot flesh.

5. That sexual harassment, assault, rape will never stop because not enough men care enough to stop it.

6. Related: That stupidity will emerge victorious. (See Idiocracy, anonymous commenting, no one giving a fuck.)

7. Heights.

8. People jumping out at me from behind doors. Or shower curtains.

9. That I won’t realize my own foolishness in time.

10. Drivers who don’t bother moving over or slowing down when passing me riding my bike on the highway or over the bridges. I envision myself tumbling broken into bramble or over the concrete barrier into the bay. This is not how I want to go out.

 

Things that don’t scare me:

1. Spiders.

2. Taking a stand.

3. People acting like jerks because they don’t like your opinion or because they devalue your experiences. Take your friendship and go, jerk.

4. Diplomacy and compromise. Which is different than kowtowing and caving. We’ve all got to get along in this world, more or less, and although letting one’s defenses down enough to find that common ground can be frightening – Oh my god, I’ve got things in common with that person?! – it’s less scary than living an us vs. them life.

5. Public speaking. (Usually.)

6. Tsunamis.

7. Traveling alone.

8. The threat of eternal damnation.

9. Gay marriage.

10. Committing to the drop. Wait! I am often scared when paddling into a wave outside my comfort zone, big and steep and fast and gut clenches up and I have to yell at myself in my head to paddle, goddamn it, and go! But I’m trying.

in which I offer up an excruciatingly emotional post of questionably redeeming value!

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The problem with keeping a journal, a friend and I were discussing, is we tend to write when we need to decompress, to vent, to sort through unhappiness via the therapy of words. “People,” I’d said, “would have thought I was the most depressed, angry person in the world” if I’d hung on to those sad collections of my darkest adolescent thoughts.

Social media has changed that – in private, we may still pour out grief, bemoan our lives, but online we want to be liked, are literally rewarded by how many likes we garner, and so our posts lean toward love, vacation, sunsets, gratitude.

And that’s okay. Celebrating the good, acknowledging what gives us joy reinforces our awareness of how much joy permeates our lives. (Sure, sometimes certain friends come off as bragging or in denial. We’ll give them a pass for now.)

Sometimes I look back at this blog, which has variously served as a place to record playlists from my radio days, chronicle my parenting experiences, attempt meaningful observations on social issues, note what books I’ve read, track my surf sessions and insomnia, and occasionally to serve as a place where I work through hurt – sometimes a combination of the above.

All this is just preface. Or, in unkinder terms, bullshit.

I’m reminded of my creative writing classes, how I would turn something in, some exercise, and and my teacher would cross out the first few lines, paragraphs, pages, then write a note with an arrow pointing out, “This is where the story actually starts.” So much of writing is a feeling out of direction, is timid in the face of the audience. Sometimes I can dive in. Sometimes, like right now, I grovel, disclaim, excuse, explain. I need you to like me first. Because if I started with, “I hated everything tonight,” would you still come along?

Because I hated everything tonight.

All day, disparate obligations pulled me in different directions. It was the mental equivalent of being stuck in traffic, hand on the stick, foot on the clutch, shifting up, shifting down, unable to ever get past second gear. After work I finally followed the path that usually proves cathartic: I tossed my board, wetsuit and wax into my truck and aimed for the beach.

But it didn’t help. Instead, everything bubbled up. “You’re in the ocean,” I told myself. “Be here. Stop thinking. You have such a good life. Look at you.” But my brain wouldn’t quit. I hated my knees because they hurt and are making me look like a beginner all over again when I stand up. I hated my wetsuit because the holes in it are going to prove problematic once this summery weather turns. I hated myself for not getting enough education to have a better paying job, for not saving enough money when I did. I hated how lonely I feel sometimes. I hated that no one will just magically make my life easy. I hated that life has peaked and it’s just going to be struggle and scramble forever. I hated all the stupid racist, misogynist people. I hated wars. I hated all the various men who have put their hands on me against my will. I hated that I never reported any of them to the authorities because it means the offenses aren’t official and therefore are only my opinion. I hated all my so-called friends who are unbothered by the assaults on my person. I hate this delayed-but-profound anxiety I feel over it all. I hated being abandoned, in various ways, by various people once important to me. I hated that I could not protect my children from the world’s callousness. I hated that I always have to plan everything, care for everyone, even as I knew “always” was an exaggeration. I hated being unsure of my place in life. I hated being 44 and not having life better figured out. I hated how embarrassingly self-indulgent I was in hating. I hated being out in the ocean, which I love, full of all this hate.

Eventually the darkness encroached enough that I had to make the last wave I caught my last wave. I wanted a better one, to tap into that energy that makes everything else recede, that one magic ride that lifts me out of the mortal world and gives me a taste of the sublime. Instead I found myself dropping off a fading right and paddling against the current, the shore questionably distant. What if I just gave up, I thought for a moment, let the sea pull me out? I could just rest my head on my board, my cheek against the wax, inhaling that sweet crayon scent. Except I couldn’t. I’m not a quitter, not really, tempting as it sounds sometimes. So I kept paddling. Reached shore. Trudged to my truck, aware, despite my mood, of the pink glow dimming along the horizon. Very pretty. I flung my board into the back, started to tug off my wetsuit, except the zipper caught at the end, trapping me in neoprene. That’s when I burst into tears.

See how pathetic I sound? Good grief, my life is just fine – I cringe to recall how two hours ago I was sobbing, tears falling on the sand as I twisted the hubcab locks free.

I arrived home, all deep breaths and shuddering sighs, hid in the hot water of the shower until the crying stopped. Toweled off. Comfy pajamas. Oh, how I love pajamas. And then I had sharp cheddar cheese and decent bourbon and buttery tortillas with hot sauce as an excuse for dinner, and Slice of Humboldt apple cider pie for dessert. And took photos of the cat for my middle daughter because she likes her daily Skimble picture. And wrote a venting email to my dear girlfriends who would understand the emotional throes I’m thrashing about in. And answered an email from another friend who has utterly had my back in an aforementioned situation, reminding me that I’m not crazy, that some people do think I have value and, hell, a lot of people do, and I am lucky in that, even if a few have removed themselves from my life over the years. So, as happens, the hate ebbed, the gratitude flowed in.

Sharing this seems almost ridiculous – perhaps it would better serve, greatly reshaped, as fodder for some other type of writing not so blatantly confessional? But I know people and I know people hurt from time to time and sometimes misery is eradicated by company, so please, if you are in the thick of despondency, hold on. Breathe. Cry. Eat some cheese. Or pie. Write. Reach out. Find your own reasons to be grateful and wrap them around yourself until your heart is warm again.

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The door must have opened first, but it was the closing that woke me, followed by the motion lights coming on. I stumbled out of bed to check the driveway. No one. The side gate squeaked open, shut. A car’s headlights shone through the hedge. My son and his friends had decided to get a middle-of-the-night snack, apparently. I returned to bed, listening for them to return. To fill the time, I started worrying. About teenage drivers. About the potential for drunk or texting drivers. About the kids in general. About the event I have tonight. About recent rough patches in a couple friendships. About making it through a long day of work, a busy night and leaving the next morning on so little sleep.

I should’ve gone downstairs and found my headphones, plugged in and listened to one of my relaxation apps. But I didn’t want to get up. Finally I got up and decided to write.

Sometimes I miss writing about surfing, repetitive as it was. Last time I went out was Sunday. The sky hovered mostly gray, sunshine promised, but not yet forthcoming. Waves broke on my face in the channel. My bootie has a hole and my wetsuit’s leaking, but the water temp’s been steady mid-50s, not too bad. My knees ache every day lately, but I caught a couple waves and did all right. Nick caught some and, as always, watching him fly along from the back triggered happiness. Most everyone in the water was a friend. The waves were head-high, slightly over, and mushy. I had to wait until they were almost breaking to get into them – good practice, mentally, taking off later than I’m typically comfortable.

A set came, larger than the others, maybe a foot overhead, maybe more. Usually I either get caught inside or somehow miss the set waves, instead observing everyone else tear them up while I linger pathetically alone on the outside. This time, I caught one. Dropped down the face, bottom-turned, back up to the lip, slid down – just an average ride on an average wave that filled me with exceptional happiness because that is what surfing does.

Rode to the beach, where Nick was waiting. We had places to be, so I ended on that successful note and off we went as the sun finally emerged and the day turned brilliant.

I wish those moments came to me in the midst of tossing, turning, adjusting pillows, sheets. Instead, the anxieties I keep at bay during the sunlit hours assault me. I remember when I would get up and check Nick’s blood sugar in the dark. For years, I’d set the alarm, sneak into his room, poke his finger, watch the drop of blood spread into the strip. Wait for the number. Either I’d be able to go back to sleep, satisfied that he was, for the moment, okay – or start the correction process, which might take hours. He’s been handling that himself, at his insistence, for a couple years. I don’t miss the interrupted sleep, but I do miss being fully informed, having oversight. I wish we discussed his diabetes beyond him reassuring me that he’s fine. I believe he’s paying attention. I know he’s not paying attention the way I want him to.

But since when do the kids do what I want them to? They’ve been teenagers, near-adults, adults for a while. So much letting go. It’s freeing in many ways, this relinquishment of control. What doesn’t go away is the worry. I remain shackled to that.

So here I am, coming up on 7:30 a.m., wondering if I attempt more sleep or caffeinate my way through the day.

I have a big deal Ocean Night tonight (see Lost Coast Outpost at some point today for a comprehensive post), then off to Outside Lands tomorrow. Life is sweet, yes? Even without the sleep.

 

 

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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