30 July 2007

On Hiatus

I'm still here. I'm simply busy getting my life in order. Many changes are afoot and I'm too tired to blog. I'll be back soon enough.

Dan Neil on Surfing

Surf and Turf
Dan Neil

July 29, 2007

Thirty-two years ago, in the warm green water of North Carolina's Outer Banks, I learned to surf on a 6-foot-8-inch Con Butterfly surfboard. That surfboard, if I owned it today, would be worth the price of a trip to the North Shore. The last time I saw it, it was skittering in pieces down the highway, having been blown off the racks of my friend's van. All we are is just polystyrene in the wind.

Surfing in the 1970s on the East Coast was about as esoteric as surfing ever got. There were more people gunning down waves in Morocco than there were battling the head-high chop off Hatteras. Then and there, you had to really want to surf. And, of course, we did, because surfing was so unbelievably cool and because surfers had the best narcotics.

The last time I was on a surfboard, 15 years ago, I spent a leisurely afternoon nearly drowning in a winter storm surge off Montauk Point, Long Island. That was ill-advised. On that day I learned to respect the ocean the way one respects loaded guns with shaved-down triggers or barking mad dogs. Surfing is not like riding a bike, such that once you learn you can never forget.

In three months of devoted training, just about anyone can be a 15-handicap golfer. By God, I bet with three months' practice I could be a pretty good pole vaulter, if so inexplicably motivated. But surfing? It takes years before anyone appears less than ridiculous. If you don't believe me, seek out the pictures of hyper-jock Matthew McConaughey floundering in the shore break at Malibu.

When I moved to California four years ago I thought about picking up a stick again. After all, this was the land of milelong breaks and glassy head-high rollers, was it not? I drove up Highway 1, stopping to look at various breaks, only to discover that no, it was not. Not only was the California surf wildly overrated, but in my absence from the sport, surfing had gotten a lot older, a lot easier and a lot more crowded—all thanks to the longboard. Everywhere I looked I saw derelict fleets of geezers on 10-foot high-flotation boards. That's not surfing; that's yachting.

I would rather leave my modest surfing achievements on the shelf than traduce them with easier equipment. Surfing is just one more sport imperiled by improvements. Skiing, for instance, used to require some minimum ante of skill, but with the advent of virtually uncrossable parabolic skis, nowhere on the mountain is safe. The explosion of golf's popularity has been predicated on the game getting easier for weekend duffers, who can pound the ball out of sight with their 460cc Callaway drivers.

Of all sports, surfing—with its intimations of spiritual sublimity and watery animism, the stoked Zen of the perfect wave —is the most fragile, the most vulnerable to ruination by mass consumerism. And yet, here we are, with pain remedy commercials featuring graying surfers out for a morning sesh before going into their law office. This sport, which once was thinned out by its very difficulty, has become a colossal tide of human flotsam, an armada of neoprene-skinned Freds.

Surfing's internal frictions—the conflict between the elite wave-gunning athletes and panting dilettantes who get in their way, the gulf between purists and poseurs—have breached into the pop-culture mainstream. HBO's magical realist surf drama "John From Cincinnati," created by auteur David Milch, is a dreamy take on the topic. In "JFC," it seems, the defense of surfing's purity and authenticity, represented by the Mitch Yost character, might bring about some kind of celestial redemption of the Imperial Beach community. Or something.

At the other end of the stylistic universe is Sony Pictures' animated mockumentary "Surf's Up" that follows the hero —a surfing penguin named Cody Maverick—as he competes in his first surfing competition and learns that surfing is not about hype, endorsements or trophies. It's about communing with the wave, about bonding with your fellow, um, penguin.

And maybe it's mere coincidence, but the Silver Surfer character in the new "Fantastic Four" movie goes through a similar rehabilitation. In the beginning of the movie he's in thrall to evil; by the end he's defending the Earth against the planet-consuming Galactus. From Bodhi to bodhisattva.

Meanwhile this summer, McConaughey is tuning up his wave-riding for his turn in next year's film "Surfer Dude," which is, we're told, a "twisting tale of a soul-searching surfer experiencing an existential crisis." Please, not another wave guru. This is precisely the sort of occasion that makes one long for an avenging Poseidon.

And so we have the re-emerging stock character of the soul surfer, the transcendentalist in board shorts, scornful of commercialism and selling out, babbling on about waves and quantum mechanics. The soul surfer is to wave-riding what Peter Fonda's Captain America was to motorcycles, a Templar of the true faith, or a Don Quixote.

All of this is great for surfing's receipts. It's helpful if you can cloak your gigantic commercial enterprise in the raiment of rebellion and individuality.

I don't actually know if the secrets of the universe are hidden inside the emerald barrel of the perfect wave. I suspect that much of the palavering about surfing and spirituality is merely lazy metaphysics. I do know that soul surfers, if they ever did exist, are near extinction, driven there by the very forces that have driven surfing into the arms of the upper classes. It's hard to be a surf monk in a beach shack when your beach shack is worth millions.

From the Los Angeles Times

27 July 2007

Riddle Me This, Surfline

How does a surf height of "2-3 ft.+" equate to "Fair+"? Am I splitting hairs? I think not. I'm sorry, but a two foot wave does not rise to the level of "fair" . . . ever!

24 July 2007

For Your Consideration

(Click on the photo if you want a closer view)

21 July 2007


Photographs courtesy of Soul Brother #1


Photographs courtesy of Soul Brother #1


Photographs courtesy of Soul Brother #1

17 July 2007

Let the Shredding Begin!!

There's not much you can do when it's flat. Paddle, pop-up, split second ride. That's about it. Wanna see more pictures from the epic surf blogger session? Yes, I'm sure you do!SlowPolk and Alan_M crossing those damn rocks, the ones that claimed my Tyler a few years ago.

That's me stepping through the rocks and carrying the board that I dropped on the rocks years ago.

ClayFin shredding!

Alan_M shredding!

SlowPolk shredding!

Me shredding!

Do you think they'll put this spread in Surfer? Look at those waves. Epic!

15 July 2007

Bloggers Unmasked!

Damn the need for anonymity. I'm about to out the four of the five of us who were in the water on Friday. Soul Brother #1 got a good shot of the four of us out on our boards. From left to right: Clayfin, moi, Slowpolk and Alan M.

Do you wanna see the shot?


Say "please"

C'mon, a polite request never hurt anyone.

You sure you want to see it?

Well, here it is!

14 July 2007

Surfers Who Blog

That's what we are. We're people who surf and then write about it. We tell you the good, the bad and the ugly. We tell you about our boards. We tell you about our families. More than anything else, we tell you about our surf sessions.

Yesterday I met up with Alan_M, Clayfin and Slowpolk at what they've acknowledged is a secret spot in the O.C. What they didn't say—and what I will say—is it was one hell of a secret spot to gain access to. By the time you drop the right name, find someone in the know with a key to the gate and finish the 20 minute hike to the break, you're thinking the wave couldn't possibly be worth all of that work. Well, it was. That's why the place is such a secret. It might have been flat everywhere else on Friday. It wasn't flat here. Granted, it wasn't big either. There were still waves to be surfed, waves with shape!!! It seemed that it took all four of us coming together to make this session. Alan and Slowpolk knew which name to drop. I knew someone who knew someone with a key. Clayfin, knowing there wasn't a marked trail to the spot, was able to find out the best way to reach the break once we were behind locked gates. It was work, but it was worth it.

Okay, did you fall for that? If you did, shame on you!!! What's funny is I know there were people chomping at the bit as they read this, wondering how to get the four of us to help them gain access. Good luck with that! As it turns out, the four of us met at a not-so-off-the-beaten-path break which happened not to be overly crowded because there was little to no swell in the water. There! Do you feel better now that you know it was flat for us too?

It's kind of strange to finally meet people you've been internetically—new word that I just made up—connected to for years. In fact, that first face-to-face greeting is somewhat awkward. You're thinking, "I know you. Well, I kind of know you. Hmm, do I know you?" I think it's the fact that there's no immediate recognition of the face. I know everyone else by their writing styles and their self-admitted surfing styles. But it didn't take long for me to calm down and be myself. The first thing I did was follow the lead of Alan and Slow. They were going leashless. It's not my favorite thing to do at a break with rocks, but when in Rome. . . . Clayfin paddled out a little later. He was sans leash as well. It was pretty damn small out there. Frankly, that's perfect. It gave us all a chance to get to know one another. I don't know any surfer who can hold a decent conversation when there are waves to be had. Since there were few waves, we could sit, talk and catch a wave here and there.

These guys are great. Each and every one of them is a good surfer. Even though the waves were small, I enjoyed myself. I was nervous about going leashless, but I only swam twice—once after a failed attempt at walking and once when I was feeling too proud of myself for hanging onto my board, only to have the next wave assault me from behind and tear the board from my hands. Of the four of us, Alan M is probably the most astute when it comes to reading and finding the waves. He's also the one who got ghost as the water got crowded; I thought about joining him but was too lazy to paddle over to his spot. Clayfin snagged the wave of the day, a nice right that went on for yards (and that's saying something given the conditions yesterday). Slow, I hate to say, is a liar. That brotha can surf. Period. Don't believe what he writes in his blog. He is not out in the water floundering. He's out there catching waves and surfing backwards. We were out there for awhile before a guy paddled up to me and greeted me by name. Then he identified himself: Puttzle!. Then there were five surf bloggers in the water. It was good to see him again. But before we could talk story with him, he was gone. He didn't stay out long. Still, I'm glad we got a chance to see him out there.

I'll post some pictures later. Pray for swell!

Kickin' It Old School Style

Yesterday, on the way back from surfing a hardcore secret spot in the OC, Soul Brother #1 and I made two stops. Our first post-surf destination was Rainbow Sandals. Much to my amazement, it was a madhouse in there. People were going through stacks of sandals as if they were looking for a winning lottery ticket or something. Okay, I liked what I saw. Leather and hemp are interesting materials for sandals. But they lack that, oh, je ne c'est quoi. I didn't see what I wanted and was ready to leave empty-handed. Finally, Soul Brother #1 encouraged me to ask someone for help. I did that and . . . look what they found for me:
I've wanted another pair of these for a long time. When I didn't see them, I was heartbroken. But when that kid told me he'd found them in the basement, I wanted to hug him. What's even better is they were cheaper than the leather sandals. I know they won't be as comfortable. I don't care. These take me back, back to "back in the day," back to the years when I read surf magazines, wanting to surf but not ever expecting that to happen in my lifetime. My Rainbow Sandals (much like my Vans) kept me connected to the world I never thought I'd enter. Decades later and finally surfing, I wanted—no, needed—another pair of Rainbow Sandals, a pair just like those I used to wear. So when that kid brought them out, I felt like I had, in fact, found that winning lottery ticket for which everyone else in the store was searching. I suppose the sandals symbolize me coming full circle and reaching a goal.

Our second stop was Icons of Surf surf shop. If you love longboards, you'll love this shop. The place is packed with boards. There were so many boards that I didn't get a good look at all of them. There were so many boards that the people who worked there were bumping into them and knocking them over as they moved boards around. These folks obviously know how to navigate a lot of board in a little bit of space. They showed me one board they dinged with a tape gun while wrapping another board for shipping. They were sending the dinged board back to the manufacturer to be repaired. They they said we could buy it at a discount if we were interested in it. Interested in it? I wanted one of everything I saw!! If I ever decided to buy an off-the-rack Bing, I'm driving out to San Clemente to buy one from them.

10 July 2007

It's Supposed to be Flat

I'm still going to San O this week. I've already scheduled the day off. Why waste it around here? I'd rather drive down south, see the sights, try and get wet, hit up a surf shop (or two) and drive back. I don't care what the surf reports say. Besides, I've got a sneaking suspicion that the surf gods will send little waves that day. Keep your fingers crossed . . . and pray for surf . . . for one and all!

08 July 2007

Physically Undergunned

I was at my physical limit before I even hit the water today. Once again, I was back at the site of my last two sessions, the site of the infamous drift. Remember yesterday I spoke about a new rule? The rule that came into being because of Wednesday's session? The Thou shalt not drift so far down the coast as to necessitate a more than 10 minute walk back to your original entry point rule? That rule was all shot to hell within 30 minutes of paddling out. Once I got a decent left, I was much too tired to try and stay where I was let alone paddle back to where I started. That was the beginning of the end for me. It all went downhill from there. Have you ever found your cell phone with an almost dead battery? And you do a quick charge for the 30 or so minutes you have before spending the rest of the day away from your charger? And you're hoping and praying your phone stays charged for the rest of the day? And then you get (or make) one or two phone calls and before you know it the battery is dead? Well, that's kind of how my session went. I quickly ran out of steam—too tired to paddle for waves, too tired to fight the drift—once I got that left. In fact, I'm not even sure how many waves I got today. All I remember is being spent. However, I was too bull-headed to get my ass out of the water. By the time I arrived home, I was done. There was nothing in the tank. No reserve, no nothing. I can only hope that I will be stronger as a result of pushing my body past my comfort zone.

Coolest thing Gracefullee and I saw today: the dolphin show. The dolphins were everywhere! That in iteself was worth the paddle out.

07 July 2007

New Rule

In my last blog entry, I said, "At some point, I decided not to keep paddling back to where we started. It's taken years for me to finally figure out that doing so in a strong current is a waste of time and energy." Well, there's a new commandment in my surfing life now. It goes as follows: Thou shalt not drift so far down the coast as to necessitate a more than 10 minute walk back to your original entry point. Yeah, paddling back toward where you started does waste energy. However, I'm not doing that Longboard Death March ever again. So when I hit that break today, I would only allow myself to drift two towers away from where I started. Then I'd start paddling south again. I expended more energy than I would have liked doing that. My shoulders were sore from this week's swim and surf sessions. This constant paddling didn't help that. I couldn't take as many waves as I would have liked since I was pretty much spent after trying to paddle back where I started.

Much to my surprise, there was some swell in the water today. This was unanticipated to say the least. How I managed a dry hair paddle out I'll never know. The set waves, in particular, packed a hell of a punch. Once again, my first wave was my best. It was a left that I thought would produce a mushy, laid back ride. I was mistaken in that assumption. I popped up, weighted my front foot and hung on for dear life. I was flying. If it weren't for me not wanting to be too conspicuous in the water (which is just stupid since I'm a black woman with what is now a full head of locks—it's not like I simply blend in with everyone else), I probably would have screamed like a little girly girl. I managed to keep my cool, all the while thinking about how the waves were bigger than I'd anticipated and wondering if I should be at least a little nervous. After awhile, I was more concerned about the drift than the size and power of the waves. In fact, I even tried to make a perfectly decent left into a right. I figured if I couldn't paddle my way back south, I'd ride there. Of course, the one time I want to go right, I was faced with lefts that were much better.

As I type this, I'm still sore. Monday is my rest day. I'm certainly looking forward to that. All I want right now is to surf tomorrow without too much fatigue. C'mon, body, hang tough! One more day and I'll leave you be!

Anybody see The 808 on Fuel TV last night? I didn't even know such a show existed. And Lord knows I love me some Kala Alexander. Unfortunately, the show was kind of boring. Did I miss something?

05 July 2007

Adrift at Sea

I jokingly said to Gracefullee, as we began the trek from Tower 22 back to Tower 17, it would take us half an hour to get back to our cars. The joke was on me: it took 35 minutes . . . and we were carrying longboards!!!! It was nevertheless a good day in the water. I've got no complaints about the session.

We met Pete, my homie from work, at Surf Break X at a time that we thought would keep us out of the crowds. Oh, how wrong we were! The gate opens at 6. I was there at 6:10. I did not expect to see cars lined up down the street, not at that hour. But lined up they (we?) were. I didn't know the 4th of July was a dedicated beach day. I mean, they didn't teach me that in my history classes.

As I alluded to early in the post, the drift was much stronger than I thought. I knew it was bad. At some point, I decided not to keep paddling back to where we started. It's taken years for me to finally figure out that doing so in a strong current is a waste of time and energy. Had I known we'd drifted so far south, I certainly would have gotten out and walked back to Tower 17 when we were at Tower 19. Lesson learned.

I thought there would be a little more swell in the water. What there was served up some nice enough waves though. As I always point out, my memory of my rides is sketchy at best. Instead of remembering the details of particular waves, I remember little things. My wave of the day was my first wave, a long left that begged to be carved. When a wave like that presents itself to me, I don't mess it up. I realize now that one of the reasons why I don't walk the board much is because I don't get waves like this often. So when I do get a wave with a nice shoulder, I ride it for as long as humanly possible. If I were to start walking and fall off, I'd never forgive myself (since a wave like that only comes my way a couple of times a month if I'm lucky). You know, if I were to surf a better quality wave, I probably would be more adept at walking. I'd do it more often because I'd know that a wave just like that one would pop up again during my session. (This is what you find in a place like Malibu.) I wouldn't feel like I'd let a beautiful wave go to waste. However, I don't surf good waves often. As a result, I don't get much of an opportunity to walk the board. My wave of the day was perfect for walking, but I didn't want to spoil it. Instead I carved, long looping lines, up and down before finally kicking out. That wave made my session.

I did have an epiphany of sorts during the session. Unfortunately, I don't know what wave I was riding when I had it. I thought it came on that left I wrote about, but in the back of my mind I remember the lip being to my left (which means the wave was going right). I think it was the first time I was competely conscious of being in the curl. I remember paddling for a wave and hearing the lip right next to me. I was scared to death, thinking I was going to get worked as the lip folded over and drove my head into my board. Much to my surprise, before I knew it, I was up. Everything else is a blur. What I took from that is a new understanding of being in the curl and why it's the optimum spot when you're paddling into a wave. It's not that I can even articulate it. At the moment when the board locked in and I popped up, I could feel that this was a completely different sensation than I'd ever experienced on a surfboard. I knew I'd found what was essentially the wave's sweet spot. (Remember, the home break doesn't deliver waves like that. And when I've been in situations with true A-frames, I was too afraid to take them or, when I did, I was in such shock that I didn't remember anything about the ride.) I think I'm at a place in my surfing where much of my improvement is mental or intellectual. There's very little that holds me back physically when I surf. I don't know that I can get any stronger than I am now. What's changing is the fact that I'm at the point where I don't think when I surf. I listen. On that one wave, my brain said, "Take note of this. Pay attention."

This will go down as my best 4th of July session to date. And yes, Grace's backside kick-out is better than she thinks it is. I can only kick-out frontside. I'm jealous of her skills and am always glad to share a session with her.