The Surfer Who Mistook a Bucket for a Hat

Six days in a row. I’m stoked to report that I surfed the last six days in a row! Sometimes twice in one day. Woooo Hoo! To top off the stoke from all this surfing, a friend who is camped at one of the local surf breaks, Ray Butler, took some of the best photos ever of me surfing over the last couple of days. Thank you Ray! I hope you enjoy them.

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Aside from some great keepsake photos, all that surfing also left me with a neck, shoulders and muscles under my shoulder blades that are screaming at me and my face and hands are burnt a nice crispy shade of reddish brown.

And here’s the thing, despite wearing good quality sunscreen, my face ends up burnt from hours in the sun (and it’s not even summer yet). Surfing this many days in a row means that at this point my face is starting to look a little like it could be used to make a decent pair of gloves. And my lips? My lower lip is so burnt and swollen it feels like someone punched it.

People often ask me why I don’t wear a hat to avoid getting sun burnt. Over the years I’ve tried several versions of the surf hat including duck billed ones, pith helmet looking ones, baseball hats attached to my rash guard with a string and safety pin and lots of visors. I don’t like wearing any of them, but the visors are the best of a bad bunch because you can pull them down around your neck when a wave comes and at that point it almost feels like you’re not wearing a hat.

The downside of visors that I’ve discovered over the years are twofold. 1) They seem to come off easily and get lost in the whitewater because they don’t float particularly well. I’ve lost countless visors in big* and not-so-big surf and wonder where it is that they’ve ended up. I hope they found a new home somewhere out there in the beachosphere. 2) Visors can deal a serious blow to the nose when you are tumbled underwater after an epic wipe out or if you get caught inside on a day with epic surf. Last summer when I lost my lightweight Asics running visor to the waves, I resorted to wearing a particularly big, hard-brimmed visor in large waves at one of the more powerful waves in the area. That turned out to be a mistake. I wiped out, was tumbling around under water, when the churning water grabbed the big brim of the visor and whipped it up into my nose with force enough to make me see stars. It was like a Bruce Lee move – heel of hand to nose in an upward jab. Ouch! I was fairly certain it had bloodied if not broken my nose. The next day I had telltale bruises under each eye, but, as luck would have it, had managed to keep my nose in one piece. Nevertheless, there are still two little hard bumps on the bridge of my nose where the visor made impact.

Smiley Zee and her FCS Bucket Hat

Zee models the FCS wet bucket.

Yesterday, day five of the surfathon, I decided I had to give hats another try or risk permanent sun damage to my face. I’ve already got one annoying little sun spot sitting on atop my cheekbone under my left eye, I don’t care to sponsor the formation of any others. So I grabbed an FCS “wet bucket” hat that has been lying around in the garage ever since I found it washed up on the beach a couple years ago. It was comfortable enough while I was sitting on my board, but when I had my neck arched to paddle the hat was pushed forward and down my forehead because the stiff brim extends 360 degrees around the hat. That in turn made it hard to see if there was a set coming when I paddled back out to the take off spot. The most significant downside to this hat though, is the same reason I dislike wearing any hat in the surf – they reduce my peripheral vision enough that I feel blinded every time I take off on a wave. It’s like having tunnel vision. That’s unnerving. Being unnerved generally makes me blow my take offs. And I don’t like to blow my take offs. By the end of the session, each time I paddled for a wave I would first pull the hat off the back of my head, losing precious mental preparation time, and let it dangle off the back of my neck from the chin straps like it was a bonnet. That’s when I had a flashback of how I used to fantasize about being Laura Ingalls. (I chuckled when I realized how far my fantasies had come – surfing a point break in Baja being a far cry from Little House on the Prairie.) When I wiped out with the hat worn bonnet-style, it pulled on my neck as it filled with water like one of those parachutes that race car drivers employ to help them stop (note to FCS: need better water drainage in your hats!). It felt for all intents and purposes like I had an octopus wrapped around my neck. It’s tough enough to stay calm when I’m getting dragged around underwater by my board, I don’t need to be the wishbone between my leash and my hat.

So bottom line – I wore a hat and it messed up my surfing and at the end of the day I still had a sunburn! When you live below the Tropic of Cancer, the reflection of the sun off the water’s surface is strong enough to give you a burn, even if you’re wearing a hat and 30 SPF sunscreen.

So that’s why I surf without a hat.

My goal now is to find a sunscreen that can outdo the tropical sun and that doesn’t burn if it gets in my eyes. Anyone know of a brand that fits the bill? And what about hat recommendations? Perhaps there’s one out there that I’ll be able to tolerate. I’d love to hear your suggestions.

* Big as it is used here, is relative term. As far as I am concerned, it means waves with faces over eight feet high.

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Lost Connections

ImageA disturbing thing has happened. My internet connection isn’t working. As the only “phone” I have is Skype and there’s no cell signal in Vinorama, it’s not like I can just pick up the phone to call the local repair person. Not to mention I am that person.

Living down here has turned me into a “Jill of All Trades.” I manage properties, construction projects and vacation rentals, provide translation services and install and repair satellite internet systems. Oh and I’ve recently (blush) taken to working in real estate (more on that in some future post). I took a course on how to install internet systems, but learning to fix them when they go down has been more trial by fire. There’s a troubleshooting manual, but I’ve never seen the modem do what it’s doing and it’s the one thing not described in the manual.

As I watch the lights on the modem come on, one at a time, I feel the choking sensation of panic rise in my chest. As all four light there is a flash and they all disappear. All of them but the power light. Then the process begins again – two lights, pause, three lights, long pause…

It’s in moments like these that I become aware of how addicted I am to my connection with the outside world. The thought of not being able to check my email, pick up the Skype phone and call someone, or see what’s happening on Facebook or Twitter gets me surprisingly uptight. Okay, maybe I’m not that surprised. I know I have an addiction to being connected, but is that so unusual considering how physically isolated I am?

When the system threatens to fail like this I start thinking about all the work I could get done if I wasn’t reading and writing emails, checking on my homies on Facebook or sending typo-tweets to Alec Baldwin so he can belittle me to his hundreds of thousands of followers (true story). I’m writing right now aren’t I? If the internet was up I’d be on Skype. Instead I’ve edited one piece I wrote last week and written 335 words of this blog post. Make that 343…oh I can see this could become much like a dog chasing it’s tail (357 and counting).

I know I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to ask the question, “Is the internet a boon or a bust to the quality of our lives?”  I know in no uncertain terms that it makes my life in the Middle of Nowhere manageable by keeping me connected to the rest of the world. I want to believe that people having cell phones has saved more lives than it’s ended (please let that be true or we are in trouble). But it’s also taking an inordinate amount of time away from things that are arguably more important. Our creativity can be sparked by the internet, but then the time it takes to follow through on the creation is often sucked up by social media.

There are only two lights lit on the modem now and it’s been over an hour since the problem began. What happened between 9:45am, when the system was working fine and 10:00am to make it go squirrelly?

Perhaps a pelican flew over the dish and deposited a poop so big it’s messing with the signal. That would be in line with how the rest my morning has gone. It’s literally been full of poop. And pee. I came downstairs to two large piles of the stuff in the guest bedroom and a throw rug soaked in pee. Then when I went into the garage to get the necessary cleaning tools, I found a dog bed soaked in so much pee I wonder if it’s salvageable and a pool of urine by the door. Then I found two more puddles of pee in the house. Living with five senior dogs means I’m going through white vinegar by the gallon. So the possibility of excrement being involved in my internet woes seems distinctly possible. Except that my training tells me that if all four lights manage to come on, even if they don’t stay on, the problem lies somewhere other than the dish.

If all else fails, I’ll have to drive down the road to the Crossroads Country Club, the local wi-fi enabled restaurant that is about as far from being a country club as could be, to send an email to someone at the internet company who might be able to help. And so I can post this long overdue blog post.

P.S. After writing this instead of going to the Crossroads and posting it, I read my current read “The Help” for a while and then remembering that someone once said, “No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap,” I proceeded to nap for the next three hours. I don’t normally take naps because waking up is one of my least favorite things to do, but I’ve been missing out on a lot of sleep lately. Seems it was the right thing to do because when I woke up I was back on line. Phew! Crisis averted. For now.

Latest on the East Cape Blog

Showing the kids in Cabo Pulmo a sea cucumber.

Ten years ago tomorrow, I arrived in a tiny village on the Sea of Cortez with dreams of learning to surf and working to protect the most important hard coral reef in the Northeastern Pacific. I’d never have guessed where that move would take me. In my latest post on the Baja.com website I provide some background and information about Cabo Pulmo: The Jewel of Mexico. Click on over and check it out!

Kitemare Induction

Before the fall.

Along with ample inspiration I returned to Baja from the San Francisco Writers Conference with a horrific, body-wracking cold that made it impossible to get my daily fix of liquid caresses. Nineteen days out of the water.  That’s how long I‘d been out of the water as of last Saturday. I hadn’t surfed or kiteboarded or even dipped a toe in the ocean since the 12th of February. It’s a miracle I didn’t dry up and blow away.

Funny thing though, I didn’t miss it while I was eyeballs deep in the conference, nor when I was bedridden and unable to remember what day it was, but once I started feeling better, I became aware of a mounting physical tension. It was more than just tension, it was a longing, akin to that sexual yearning that sits somewhere between the pit of the stomach and the genitals. It had that same deep down, heaviness about it, that I imagine is the physical equivalent of the sound of a long, slow stroke of a low C note on the cello.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon when the wind was blowing 25 knots out of the North it was more than I could bear. I still wasn’t feeling a 100%, but reasoned that the inevitable salt water nasal lavage would do my sinuses good. A rationalization perhaps.

My parents happen to be visiting from Canada and my father agreed to take some video of me kiting so I could evaluate and improve my technique.

I launched just North of the house. When the sea enveloped my feet, I shivered in response. It was as though I was returning to a safe haven, my home.

I took off flying across the sea, giddy with exhilaration and gradually made my way South towards the house so that my dad could get some good footage. I laughed out loud as I made a couple of jumps, then laughed harder when I got the desired nasal cleanse from a particularly dramatic wipe-out.

And then my kite fell out of the sky.

I looked around me in amazement, wondering what had happened to the wind. Just like that, it had died. And I was a good mile out at sea while my parents stood on the patio and watched, not knowing what was happening or whether I knew how to get back to the beach.

That’s when it occurred to me that I should have let them know that this kind of things happens once in a while and that I have thus far been capable of getting myself back to shore even if the kite isn’t flyable. What’s that they say about hind sight?

I imagined them watching me through the binoculars and went to work trying to relaunch the kite. But it wouldn’t launch. It was being buffeted by what I now realized was a South breeze that was competing with the Northerly. The kite shifted back and forth and then, as the South breeze won out over the North, the kite swung around to the North. Just as I started to relaunch using the slight South wind, the North wind regained ground and pushed the kite towards me. The lines went limp and as I tried to retreat from the kite, the lines crossed and tangled and the kite flipped over. The chance of relaunching it had, like the North wind before it, died.

As time ticked on, a different kind of tension rose in my body as I imagined panic rising in my parents and the conversation they were likely having.  My Mom would be first to give their feeling voice, “What’s taking so long? Why isn’t the kite back up and flying yet? She’s so far out.” And my father, trying to remain calm in the face of my mother’s vociferousness, would tersely instruct her to be patient.  When she said what they both were thinking, “What if she can’t get back? She’s out there all by herself and there’s no one with a boat to go get her!”  He likely felt the panic rise in his chest in the way that only a parent knows. The last straw came when the kite flipped and flopped around as I tried to get it positioned to drag me in to shore, concealing me wholly and at times beneath it. That’s probably when he marched over to my neighbor’s house, whom he knew kites, to ask him for help.

But Walker wasn’t home. What my father didn’t know was that Walker was already paddling out on a longboard to see if I needed help getting back in.

I normally would have insisted on getting back in on my own, but knowing that my parents were up on that hillside patio freaking out, I decided this was no time to assert my pride and independence.

They were on the beach when I finally got back in, the waterlogged kite taking a beating in the shorebreak as I unsuccessfully tried to haul it out gracefully. It was easy to read the degree of relief on their faces as they greeted me. I apologized and told them how terrible I felt for putting them through such anguish.

My mother only recently stopped having a recurring nightmare ten years after I drove her and my father along the windy, narrow section of Mex Highway 1 that traverses the mountain range between Cabo Pulmo and La Paz. I’d made the mistake of driving it like the adrenaline junky that I am, quickly, with her and my dad squeezed onto the narrow bench seat, our elbows knocking and the stick hitting her leg every time I shifted into fourth gear. The nightmares always ended with me driving my truck off one of the many cliffs hugging the edge of the road and plummeting to my death.

I wonder how long the nightmares will last this time?