surf sessions #17, #18, #19, #20, #21

Five times in seven days and I remember this was the life I wanted.

***

Thoughts prompted:

Oh, this is fun.

I should probably sell my car. Do you know how many boards and board bags and trips I could take if I didn’t have car payments?

Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes.

Seriously, I need to reconfigure my life.

It’s so beautiful.

It’s so beautiful.

It’s so beautiful.

***

The ocean glassed out for a solid week. The waves were small, mostly only about shoulder-high on the sets, tiny on the final session of this bliss streak. The ocean floor glittered, bait fish leapt, pelicans dove, seals popped their heads out like ocean labradors waiting for an ear to be scritched. (Don’t actually pet the seals.)

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Of those five days, the highlights:

A morning surfing my favorite break with just a few friends while it worked like the magic carousel it occasionally can be.

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Walking out from my house with my 2013 birthday board tucked under my arm and catching waves in front of my house.

The photo Bobby took from that session of me wiping out; I’d pearled badly and he caught me upside out, legs sticking up out of the top of the breaking wave like a sad cartoon.

Reliving a magical July from eight years ago, when the ocean stayed small and glassy for an even longer chunk of time and we took the Nick and Kaylee out almost daily. They were little then, eight and 10, just learning to surf, and giddy with the delight of it. I would have surfed elsewhere this day, but a friend called, saying his own 8-year-old wanted to go surfing and where should they go? I thought about it, what the swell had been doing, how the bar was working, and said, You know, I think this spot could work. No promises. It could be flat. And it’ll almost definitely be too small for adults.

I did them right. When I showed up, they were already suited – her in Kaylee’s hand-me-down wetsuit – and in the water, knee-high waves peeling left and right through the ocean smooth as a lake. I grabbed my camera and skipped out to water’s edge just as my friend pushed his daughter into one of those bitty swells. She clambered to her feet, thrust her arms out and rode down the line, grinned etched on her face, as my friend whooped and I shot photos (“Ah! I’m capturing this for them, yes!) and a surfer parked on the beach honked in enthusiasm. Everything was as it should be in the world for a few fine moments.

Stoke, exemplified.

Stoke, exemplified.

And then it stayed fine. I joined my friends in the water (at an all-time high of 61 degrees) and the waves were almost definitely too small, but had just enough to them for us adult types to goof around. I noticed two boys playing up the beach slightly while their folks sat on the beach next to a parked quad and a BBQ. I told them about the couple extra boards in the back of my truck. “You can grab them if you want.” They wanted. The younger caught whitewater on his belly, the older tried to stand up, they held on to those boards for at least an hour, their fun made exponential. When I emerged from the ocean and returned to my truck, they ran over to thank me. They were from Redding, they said, where there’s no ocean.

My heart brimmed with joy from this day. I swear, I didn’t even need the 4WD as I drove away – my lightness of spirit lifted my truck right off the sand as we made our way off the beach.

And I remember this is the life I have.

 

surf sessions #15, #16

wetsuit in the tree = good

wetsuit in the tree = good

#15: Oh, man, the waves were terrible. Seriously. If not the worst I’ve paddled out into, at least close. But I hadn’t surfed in weeks and the air was 68 degrees and the sun was baking the peninsula and I said I’m going. I’m going no matter what. So I did. And it was wonderful. I mean, it was terrible, the waves part, but being in the ocean, paddling, getting smacked around by overhead closeouts – I was reminded of how stupid fun being in the ocean can be. Even when the waves are terrible. The post-session bliss lingered for hours.

#16: I took out a friend who wants to learn to surf, got my truck stuck for a minute while trying to show him around – embarrassing – decided that was probably as valid a reason to choose the spot we were at as any. Waist-high peaks looked inviting. Unfortunately they lacked enough energy at first to make catching them easy. As the tide filled in, however, a nice little (and I do mean little) right started to corner up. I hopped on the carousel and smiled in the sunshine. My friend paddled around, caught some whitewater, practiced standing, practiced reading the ocean – the latter, I explained to him afterwards, is key. Seeing the currents, the peaks, gaining an understanding of how it all works, knowing conditions can change on a dime so that everything you think you know is accurate one second and wrong the next – that’s the head part of surfing. Once you begin to grasp that, you find yourself better able to feed your soul.

surf session #14; intent does not mitigate impact

impact > intent

impact > intent (file photo)

It was exactly the way I like it: a user-friendly, uncrowded wave machine. I caught many, I fell off none. I want a hundred more days like that, please. Wait – I did wipe out once. Oh, yeah. Late takeoff, thought I’d made it, pressing my weight into the tail to keep from pearling – well, that was my intent. But my timing was off and the nose caught and wham! I tumbled off the board into the impact zone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between what we mean to have happen and what actually happens.

When the action at hand is physical, the gulf between intent and impact is obvious, and it’s the latter we judge success or failure by.

But when it comes to words, people often emphasize intention as a way to minimize or excuse effect: “I didn’t mean – .”

This comes up in online conversations about sexism and racism, but I hadn’t thought about how intent/impact work in interpersonal relationships until the subject came up in a communication workshop a couple months ago and smacked me in that hard way sometimes obvious truths do.

Because I’ve definitely been guilty of saying something that turns out to be hurtful to someone else and, instead of apologizing, pulled out the “That’s not at all what I intended” defense. Lots of people do this. I’ve also been on the other side, trying to explain how what someone did caused me grief, only to be told, “Only a jerk would intend to hurt you. I’m not a jerk. So if you’re hurt, that’s not my fault.”

Of course this is how we react – we’re all, as my friend would say, the protagonists in our own stories. I definitely prefer the narrative in which I am a kind person who would never thoughtlessly wound another person. So if someone offers evidence to the contrary, what am I supposed to do? Accept that I might have actually been selfish, uncaring, malicious, etc.? I think not!

The problem with this self-defensive approach is: 1.) it keeps the conversation all about me instead of the person who is hurting; 2.) it ignores the actual effect.

Uncomfortable admission: I was recently called out on this.  A while back, several of us were standing around chatting in the bar and a friend of mine mentioned a friend of hers that I’d recently had a bad professional experience with. “Oh, that guy,” I steamrolled in, “I’m not happy with him, no, not happy at all.” I complained for another minute – or two or five – wrapping up with a shake of my head and a sigh. From my point of view, just some reactive and reasonable venting. From hers, I’d embarrassed her by directing my animosity in her direction in front of everyone else.

I truly did not mean to upset her. But she truly was upset, as she let me know a few weeks later when we happened to see each other passing on the street. I felt terrible. I should have immediately said, “Wow, I am so sorry that I behaved in a way that caused you to feel bad.” I should have acknowledged that my ranting was inappropriate. Eventually I apologized properly, but my first reaction was the “Sorry, but I didn’t mean – ” approach.

And I have been on the other side, wanting an apology, wanting things to be made right, and the conversation ricochets around to how can I take things so opposite of how they’re intended? It’s tough to defend yourself against accusations of being too sensitive – how does one respond to, “You’re so easily offended?” without either negating one’s own feelings or validating the accuser? I don’t know. I’m good at self-reflection and lousy at fighting, so I always lose the argument.

But I think about it like this: If we were to barrel around a corner and crash into another person, knocking them to the ground, for most of us, the instinctive response would be, “Oh! Sorry! Are you okay?” Is it really such a stretch to do the same when we inadvertently hurt someone with our words or notice our actions have consequences we didn’t expect?

It shouldn’t be. And maybe the next time, we’ll be better about watching where we’re going.

surf sessions #12, #13: Shelter Cove, Bandon

(If you haven’t read Ryan Burns’ story on Shelter Cove, please do that now. It’s well worth the scrolling.)

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#12: I found myself paddling out at Deadman’s for the third, maybe fourth time. I haven’t spent much time at the Cove, just a taste here and there. It’s the kind of place that even if one isn’t catching waves, to be in the water, with that view, is enough to make you believe in a benevolent universe. And then a set comes, that south swell rolling in all burly and spitting, and you think you’re going to get epic and instead you catch a rail and get smashed into the bottom and your husband’s going to be annoyed that, once again, you’ve dinged up his board, but jesus, what a view.

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#13: I’d never surfed in Oregon before, so what fine luck to be invited to a house on the beach with a surf break right in front. Rights, even. We marched over the morass of velellas, plunged into the 49 degree water, angled into what looked like a channel along the rocks, paddled through the oncoming sets and eventually reached the outside.

I love California, am loyal to the Golden State, but the way Oregon’s coastline sweeps around, jagged seastacks and rugged cliffs, never fails to impress. A fine place to wait for a wave. After a few false starts, I dialed in the takeoff spot and caught a fine right that held up long enough for me to think, “This is great!”

It was great, great enough that despite the remainder of my attempts resulting in failure – the waves started pitching and I’d paddled out on my longboard and couldn’t make the drops adequately, wiped out repeatedly, found myself freezing and over it a mere 45 minutes into the session – that the experience felt like a success. 

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 sharper 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.

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