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.

8 thoughts on “The Surfer Who Mistook a Bucket for a Hat

  1. nice one dawn, enjoyed the piece. yes, hats perhaps a little impractical/undignified…island tribe is a south african factor 40 cream – think vaseline with uv protection – worked well for my sensitive skin on countless days in the harsh sa sun…dave

  2. Dawn – ur not too shabby surfer girl! Good size waves, too. Zee is so cute. It looks like
    such a peaceful, beautiful life. It’s one thing to have passion but you’ve taken it to the
    max, living a truly passionate life! xo

  3. Thank you for the compliment Mary! Yes, some would say I’ve taken it to extremes, but it is my passion and look at where it’s brought me! Thanks also for reading and commenting.

  4. Ha ha. Love the Laura Ingalls comment. Awesome Dawn. I dislike hats too but really don’t have an excuse why not to wear them.

  5. Between the books and the TV show that Little House is forever part of my 70s little girl psyche – definitely left an indelible prejudice against all ringlet-touting blonds named Nelly! 😉

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