Biting It

If you surf or are a fan of the sport then you’ve undoubtedly seen this:

If you don’t surf then let me explain. That encounter occurred while 3x ASP World Surf League champion Mick Fanning from Australia was waiting for a wave in the final heat of the competition at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. This is the closest a professional surfer has ever come to being eaten by a shark during a WSL event, in front of hundreds of live spectators and thousands watching televised coverage on TV or online. Fortunately for Mick and the sport of surfing, Mr. Shark was distracted from his mission to see what Auzzie surfer tastes like when he got caught in Mick’s leash (“leg rope” to Auzzies and South Africans). The thrashing you see in the video, including a good whack to Mick’s face, was the shark freaking out because it was trying to free itself from the leash. Mick handled the situation incredibly well and dealt the creature several blows on the back with his fist, leading surf legend Derek Hynd to compare him to the Flintstone’s Bamm Bamm.* It seems that the shark was as panicked as Mick and got the hell out of there. If the tangling and thrashing weren’t enough to scare him off, rescue boats quickly responding to the emergency very likely had him questioning who was in greater peril.

In the wake of the “attack,” there was a lot of talk about shark attacks and sharks in general in the media and among surfers. Social media was rife with stories of close calls and scary encounters with sharks. And those of us who spend a lot of time in the water felt compelled to share our own experiences concerning “the man in the grey suit.”

The reality is that if you spend time in the water, the likelihood that you’ll encounter one of these apex predators is considerable. And as a surfer originating in a place few surfers hail from, I’m often asked by family, friends, and acquaintances, “What about sharks?”

My reply, “If it is my destiny to be killed by a shark while doing something I love more than anything, then so be it. I would hope that you will be happy I died doing something I loved,” may come off sounding cavalier, but it’s sincere.

In my thirteen plus years of surfing and kitesurfing regularly, to date I’ve had three close encounters with sharks. I described the second one, which occurred while I was kitesurfing right out in front of my house in an earlier blog post. My first encounter was really just a sighting, but there were only two of us out at Nine Palms that evening and when the shark swam through the face of a wave, my buddy Fernando, son of a local rancher, caught the next wave in, leaving me to consider my fate. I was still a beginner and my lack of skills pressed me to praying to whatever deity might be listening that I would catch and ride the next wave in, rather than flail and fail. Plagued by a mental image of being up to my neck in the dark blue surrounding me, I nevertheless did catch a wave and made it to shore without incident. Neither of us saw the shark again after that initial glimpse of him cutting through the wave face.

My most recent encounter affected me a bit more profoundly than the other two. Like my second encounter, this time I was kiting. I’m at the stage in kite surfing where I’m still learning how to maintain control of my kite while I ride a wave. With the energy of the wave pressing you on, it’s easy to outrun the kite, which makes the lines go slack and the kite to fall out of the sky right into the impact zone of breaking waves. It’s tough, but not impossible, to relaunch a kite once it’s been smacked around by the white water on the inside and that’s exactly what happened on this particular day. My kite was lying in the water, the wind gently pulling it and me towards the beach while low tide exposed the sharp lines of rocks along the way.

I’m pretty stubborn. Often to my own detriment. There comes a time when you gotta say enough is enough and give up, but I usually push myself beyond those rational limits. This day was no different. In exchange for my persistence trying to get the kite relaunched, I got dragged across those rocks on the inside. This is when I lamented my choice of bikini over wetsuit. Had I been wearing my spring suit, my thighs would have been protected from the sharp rocks. Thanks to my vanity (I wanted to work on my tan), I instead got a long gash along my left upper thigh. The scar remains an indelible reminder of my bull-headedness and the following incident it likely precipitated.

I got back to the beach and inspected the wound. It was bleeding, but not heavily and the gash was not as deep as I thought it would be. I decided that if it stopped bleeding, I’d relaunch and try my luck at riding waves again. I’d caught that wave without reminding myself of the intricacies of wave-riding with a kite. All my hard-learned lessons came flooding back to me as I watched the kite fall out of the sky. I knew could do this!

I dragged my kite and board back up the beach to the take off spot, rinsed the blood from my wound and patted it dry. I reran the lines to the kite, making sure everything was in order, and reinspected the cut. The bleeding had stopped and I rationalized it was really just a scratch, nothing to worry about. Certainly nothing that would get the attention of a grey suit.

I had a relatively good session from there on out and managed to catch some waves without dropping the kite. An hour or so into the session, I checked in with my thigh muscles. They were fatigued, indicating t was time to start tacking North to the one sandy spot where I could get to the beach without crawling over rocks. It was just as I began to tack upwind when out of my peripheral vision I saw something grey leap partially out of the water. A small black grebe that seconds earlier paddled along the water’s surface had disappeared.

My heart clenched as adrenaline surged through my body and my head spun.

A walrus. It had to be a walrus, I thought fully entering denial.

And then another voice spoke up, an annoyingly intelligent voice. Walrus don’t eat grebes, Dawn. And there are no walruses here.

My mind buzzed like a pinball machine on full tilt and I drew a blank despite attempts to rationalize what I’d just seen as something else, anything but a shark. It turned next to the cut on my leg. I had to accept that it was possible that the small amount of blood I was likely leaving in the water had brought one in.

Just get in. Just focus on what you’re doing and get in. Don’t fall.

But of course I fell.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck!” I hurled the epithets as I grabbed my board and hurried to get back up and moving after blowing the turn back towards shore.

“Fuck!” I swore again when I got closer to shore and realized that it would take at least three tacks to get up wind enough to where the beach was sandy.

I gritted my teeth and managed to turn and head back out to deeper water without falling. I focused everything on the task at hand, working my way upwind and eventually making it back to shore. I breathed a sigh of relief as I prepared to step off my board onto sand and brought the kite high overhead to the neutral position. That’s when I discovered that the wind had turned offshore near the beach and by bringing the kite overhead it was met with the force of a wind that pushed it back out to sea. It arced and plummeted into the sea behind me where the opposing onshore wind pushed it gently back towards shore. The lines went slack and I was powerless to do anything as it slowly floated into an area full of rocks just South of where I stood. The next thing I heard was a loud “pop!” followed by the hiss of air escaping. The kite had run into the sharp edge of a rock, much like my leg had earlier, which cut through the leading edge, an air-filled tube-like bladder that gives it structure.

Maybe it was the stress of seeing a shark consume a helpless little bird right in front of me, the prospect of similar treatment or maybe it was just frustration with the vagaries of kiting, but I lost it at that point. I totally lost my shit and screamed (to no one in particular as there was no one there to hear me anyway), “I hate this fucking sport! This is the dumbest fucking sport ever!!! I’m over it!!”

And in that moment, I felt alone…terribly fucking alone and I came close to crying. I felt the tears knocking at the door and I very nearly let them come. I came damned close to walking away from that kite bobbing gently among the jagged rocks with it’s fucked up lines and torn leading edge too. Very very nearly.

But I took a deep breath.

Considered the options.

Then put my head down and carefully picked my way over those goddamned motherfucking rocks and pulled my kite off them without doing further damage to me or the kite. The lines were caught in the rocks and it was all I could do to keep from having a total melt down every time I pulled on one of them and realized I had to disconnect it from the kite before I could extricate the mess from the grip of those tenacious rugged rocks.

It was almost dark when I finally had the whole maddening mess packed up and was driving along the beach towards home on my ATV, jaw clenched in anger.

That was six months ago and I haven’t kited since. The kite is still in its bag, torn, sandy, and neglected. And after watching Mick’s experience with the shark, I asked myself whether that was a function of the hassle that is learning to kite surf or if it is more about the shark.

Compared to surfing, kiting is definitely a higher risk activity where sharks are concerned. You go into deeper waters where sharks like to travel and you have the considerable potential of breaking down out there. Even experienced kiters have kitemares and end up losing entire kites or boards out at sea. The boards are too small to paddle back in on and the kites are a serious liability once they are disabled. Once when my kite failed I had to swim a good half mile to get back into shore, dragging the kite as the leading edge took on water. Getting to shore was a Herculean effort accompanied by nerve-wracking thoughts of what could be lurking deep below me.

Despite these experiences my passion for surfing keeps me returning to the water. I wonder though, if I had a serious close encounter with a shark the likes of Mick Fanning’s, how soon would I get back in the water? Would I even be able to?

It’s a crossroads I hope never to confront.

******

*After Fanning’s run in, Hynd was the first person to paddle out to the empty line up to catch a few overhead waves, further proving accurate my assessment that he is the Nutty Professor of Surfing. When I questioned his sanity by internet chat, he suggested, knowing we share a similar level of passion for the pursuit, that I would have done the same. “No one out…swell was building.” ‘Nuf said.

A Matter of Size

ancient Hi surfingNo, that’s not what this blog is about. Get your mind out of the gutter.

I just got back from a surfing/kiting trip that took me North up the Baja peninsula to a special spot that is even more isolated than where I live. Not only is it considerably cooler there than here, it is also arguably one of the best places in the world to surf . But it turns out it is also a great place to kitesurf as favorable winds come up most afternoons. This combination of wind and waves is ideal. The learning curve was steep and a few kites were critically injured along the way, but I finally seem to have figured out how to surf along the face of a wave while connected to a kite without letting it overpower what I want to do on the wave or to fall out of the sky right into the impact zone where the waves get to eat it for lunch. It’s not called the “impact zone” for nothin’.

On this visit to Baja Special Spot #1, the waves were small enough to make most people pack up their gear and head elsewhere. We’re talking ankle slappers here, knee ticklers at best. However, I was fortunate to find myself in the company of master boat builder Dennis Choate. Dennis owns DenCho Marine and tackles difficult and high-tech projects such as the design and construction of large ocean-racing sailboats with gusto. He also loves shaping surfboards – big ones, little ones, single finned, tri-finned and quads. A look around his large three-bay garage and multiple storage rooms revealed that he has a particular penchant for making boards that you might call tankers. His quiver boasts several boards over 10 feet in length. The longest one measures 14 feet and is intended as a tandem board, but on our second day out, Dennis rode it solo all the way to the beach over and over again.

tandem_beach_boys

Tandem Surfing with Waikiki beachboys

After trying the 9’2” I’d ridden on my previous visit and having it stall out soon after I popped up, I realized I wasn’t going to get very far on that particular board in the tiny surf. One of Dennis’ friends was getting out of the water and asked me if I wanted to try the 12-foot board he’d been riding. It was a board that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the big surf at Makaha in the early 60s – gently pointed nose, pin tail, but wider around the middle than a more modern gun and with very subtle nose and tail rocker. To my delight and great pleasure that board glided me along the faces of the little waves where the shorter board had stalled. Gradually I figured out where to stand to get it to turn, how to stall so the faster section of the wave would catch up with me, and I took some walks towards the nose and back again. Standing there erect, feeling the energy of the wave push me and that massive board forward, the wind in my face, I recalled an image I’d seen of Hawaiians at the turn of the 20th century standing tall while riding their large wooden surfboards straight in to the beach at Waikiki. In that moment I imagined I shared the pure joy of gliding along those small waves with those original surfers across the ages.

My last wave that morning was a good one – a little larger than the rest (maybe thigh high) – and it took me all the way into the beach, a ride of some 400 odd meters. Dennis and his buddy commented later that they’d seen my ride from the restaurant on the beach. “Just like Waikiki, but without the crowds” said Dennis, making the stoke rise in me once again at the memory of that pure feeling.

The next day as Dennis and I sat and waited for a set to appear, he on the 14-foot tandem board and I on yet another board he’d shaped – this time a narrower wine red 12-footer with softer rails, and a blunter nose and tail – I remarked at how much fun it was to surf such tiny waves, and how much I appreciated the boards he’d shaped that made those rides possible.

Dennis smiled knowingly and replied, “Probably 90 percent of surfers have never experienced what you are talking about. They are too caught up with riding short boards and bigger waves. They look at surf like this and think it can’t be ridden, but that’s because they don’t have the right equipment.”

A wave that was barely a ripple on the water’s surface, probably under six inches in height, passed under us.

“You see, you could have caught that wave on the board you’re riding.”

I considered what he said and wondered at how many people missed out on the fun I was having. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up surrounded by surf culture and came to the sport so late in life, but I’m surprised that so many people would turn their noses up at small, but still very fun surf. Admittedly, an 12-foot board is not an inexpensive toy, nor an easy one to haul around. I could barely carry the boards I’d ridden, resorting to an awkward bear-hug technique to get the boards to and from the surf. I tried carrying one on my head, but it was so heavy I could feel my neck straining under the load. Then it occurred to me, what I really needed was a Waikiki beachboy. Joyful glide and muscle rippled beachboys! Super tanker surfboards are sounding better all the time!

Rabbit Kekai ca 1945

A ripped Rabbit Kekai, the quintessential Waikiki beachboy, circa 1945

How about you? What’s the longest board and smallest surf you’ve ever ridden?

The Condition My Condition Is In

For whatever reason, I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog. People read it, but they don’t feel the need to express their opinions afterwards. Maybe they’d like to tell me what they really think, but they’re being polite. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments made here and via email in response to my last post, in which I admitted to feeling the negative effects of my isolated lifestyle. Those words of thoughtful advice and encouragement reminded me that loneliness is a common ailment in our increasingly isolated and isolating societies. It became apparent there was a lot of empathy to my plight, a lot of “yeah, I’ve been there.”

The number of comments spoke of how many of us have felt this emotion, but while wandering around Facebook the day after publishing that blog, I stumbled across an article from Slate magazine called Loneliness is Deadly. The Universe tapping me directly on the shoulder? The melodramatic title did its attention-getting job. As I read it, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what the author described as the consequences of loneliness I knew, at least intuitively, to be true. I realized that for months, except for to a couple of close friends, I had avoided communicating how I felt because of the stigma associated with admitting we are lonely. The notion that we are capital “L” Losers if we admit to being lonely is sad, potentially disastrous, and just so much BS. If we avoid talking about it, we’ll never realize that there are a whole bunch of us walking around here not realizing that there are bunch of us out there feeling the same way. Comfort in numbers, my lonely friends!

A few days later I opened my email to be struck by the timeliness of Nathan Bransford’s latest post “Writing and Loneliness.” Then, just to make sure I really got the message, a week later the Daily Good newsletter I receive each day drove home the bottom line, the same message all those comments to my blog were sending: While we may be lonely, “We Have Never Been Alone.” Hannah Brencher distilled my feelings and pointed out an oft forgotten reality:

Loneliness is quite capable of swallowing us whole. And Loneliness will think to do a lot of things, but it will never think to spit us back up until we look around and realize that we have never been Alone.

Alone and Loneliness. They are two different things. One is thick, and the other is a myth. We have never been alone, not a day in our lives. What kind of devil hissed this lie in our ears? Yes, we have felt tender. Yes, we have felt defeated. But no, we have never been alone so much as we have refused to let the others in.

And so I began to examine where I might be keeping people out, whether I was the one who was isolating myself or had circumstances conspired to put me here in Isolationville?

I’d already taken matters into my own hands to actively remedy my situation.

Solution Number One was seeking and applying for jobs that will either give me the financial wherewithal to get out of Dodge more often, or necessitate leaving Dodge altogether.

Solution Number Two was to once again temporarily get out of Dodge. There’s nothing like a two week surf vacation away from your regular surfing life to give you a new lease on life!

The little town where I found myself was itself remote, but it turned out that I was not the only one looking to for a little surf-related R&R. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And that saying about a change being as good as a rest? Well, it’s a cliché for good reason.

A few days into my surf vacation, I realized I’d never actually taken a surf vacation. By that I mean, I’ve never taken a trip for the express purpose of surfing. Yes, I’ve surfed away from home, but rarely, and I’ve always had another reason for taking the trip. Surfing hasn’t been the primary focus. I’ve even flown all the way to Fiji and Hawaii and not so much as paddled.

I spent two weeks at this very special surf spot and, unlike when I am at home, had no trouble at all getting up well before sunrise to hit the water before the crowds. I was the first one out every morning with only one exception (and yes, the size of the surf probably had something to do with the fact that no one was really chomping at the bit to get out there). I was pleasantly surprised on the first morning to see my favorite winter constellations – Orion and Sirius – shining overhead as I loaded the truck with essentials (lots of drinking water and my buddy Friday). The water’s coolness washed away any lingering drowsiness as I dragged my feet through the shallows (to avoid getting stung by stingrays who might be lurking on the sandy bottom). Sirius blinked in the gradually brightening sky as I paddled out into the bay where two to three footers peeled right to left from the rocky point. I placed myself a few feet inside of where I knew the larger waves would break, hoping to be the recipient of one of the set waves that typically appear just before the sun breaks the horizon. It was pure joy catching that first wave each morning before anyone else was out. The sight of me erect and sailing across the face of a wave was usually enough to get the campers moving though and soon I’d be joined by two, then three or four others.

Friday, traveler extraordinaire.

Friday, tucked in next to the 6’8″ Roger Beal, which sadly didn’t get wet this trip.

Near the end of the first week, more campers appeared along the bluff overlooking the break in response to swell reports that promised better waves, waves that had yet to materialize. By the time the sun had risen there’d be six, sometimes eight of us in the water, chasing knee-high waves. The waves’ size made for a mellow crowd. We shared the little peelers and chatted between inconsistent two-wave sets. The vibe was sweet and it felt good to be part of something so positive. Even the boys from Orange County, used to surfing among the aggro crowd at Trestles, encouraged me to drop in on them, yelling, “Party wave!” more than a little often. My faith in So Cal surfers was renewed along with my conviction that being connected to the larger Human Race is our natural state, our salvation.

Beautiful, but about as close to flat as it gets.

*********************

And speaking of small waves, here’s a beautiful piece about riding the small stuff, Small Waves by Thorpe Moeckel.

The Greatest Surfing Story Ever Told: A Movie Review

Deeper Shade_200X295I often feel like I need to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming – my life is that good. And were it not just a metaphor, I’d have pinched myself black and blue last week when I was suddenly hopping a plane to L.A. to attend the premier of Jack McCoy’s 25th movie, A Deeper Shade of Blue, the most comprehensive movie on surf history, culture, and the evolution of surfboard design produced to date. The promotional materials cheekily assert that “this is not a surf movie.” However, it is that and yet so much more. It is an homage to the surfers who changed the way we surf, to the Hawaiian spirit of aloha, and to innovations in surfboard design that support the pursuit’s continued evolution.

hom·age |ˈ(h)ämij|
noun
special honor or respect shown publicly

The point is, however, that you don’t need to be a surfer to enjoy this movie. Watching it is the kind of experience during which you become part of the incredible vistas captured, giving even the most ocean-reticent land lubber a chance to experience what it feels like to be in, on, and under the water. Scenes like the massive waves at Teahupo’o breaking seemingly over the viewer’s head got my heart racing and made my breath catch in my throat. By combining cutting edge filming techniques with the skill of a true waterman, McCoy puts the viewer right there in the heart of the action.

McCoy is at heart an artist and this is his magnum opus. The soundtrack selections for each scene compliment the visuals so well that in several instances the melding of beauty pushed my emotional buttons to the point of eliciting serious eye misting. The underwater footage shot in crystal clear waters depicting surfboards slicing through waves rolling overhead, the reef below, and ocean life dancing in unseen currents was awe-inducing.

It contains little known historical facts, like that of the Hawaiian who dared defy the missionaries’ law forbidding surfing. I’m thinking you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn who induced Hawaiians territory-wide to return en mass to the waves. You’ll see mind-blowing footage of surfers doing what surfers do, but using radically different surfboards that seem the stuff of science fiction. Aussie Derek Hynd free-friction surfing to the sound of The BPA’s He’s Frank (featuring Iggy Pop) is inspiring, breath-catching stuff for sure. Yes, what would have happened in the evolution of surfing if the fin had never been invented? You may remember Derek from my blog post “Crossing Paths: Surf Legend Derek Hynd.”

The visuals, the story, and the way in which the director’s love for the subject matter and the community of surfers with whom he worked to produce this epic movie created an unparalleled surf movie experience for this viewer. It’s showing in theaters all over the U.S. this Thursday, March 28th for one night only. But don’t take my word for it. In one of those serendipitous events, much like those that brought me to the movie premier, Sir Paul McCartney was introduced to Jack’s work by a mutual acquaintance and the two ended up working on a video clip together called Blue Sway that includes additional footage taken for the movie and a previously unreleased song by Sir Paul. McCartney has said of Jack’s work:

I was blown away by the stunning spectacle of Jack’s work. Now that I’ve gotten to know him, I enjoy what he does even more and value greatly his contribution to the world of surfing.

 Watch A Deeper Shade of Blue right this instant by clicking on this link. How cool is that? (And in case you’re wondering, aside from the pleasure of knowing that I’m sharing a great experience with my fellow man, I stand to gain NOTHING from the sale of this movie).

Crossing Paths: Surf Legend Derek Hynd

photo by Dane Peterson

photo by Dane Peterson

Between holiday travel and the cold I inevitably pick up during said travel, I’m way behind on my writing. As promised I’m working on a story about a recent experience I had with peyote and a couple of Huichol Indians, but in the meantime, here’s a quickie about meeting a surf legend on my trip to Central California last November.

I returned to Hollister Ranch this past November with hopes of getting a little surf on this time around. My wonderful hostess Nancie, her brother Dana, and I headed down to a spot called Lefts and Rights to see if the surf was up and were treated to a vision of clean, solid four foot peelers. Considering the exclusive nature of the spot, I was surprised by the size of the crowd. Then I remembered it was a Saturday. Everyone and their dogs were at the beach.

I’d flown a nice quad surfboard to San Francisco from Maui en route to Baja, but decided to leave it in the Bay, wrapped in its protective coating of pipe insulation and cardboard. It had taken two of us enough duct tape to seal the joints in the Space Shuttle to wrap it up, and I’d never get it back together by myself for the trip to Mexico. Instead, from a collection of boards stacked in the shed attached to Nancie’s house, I borrowed an aged and dusty 6’10” egg that reminded me of my favorite Eclipse board waiting for me back in Mexico. Nancie pointed out that the board was shaped by Renny Yater’s son Lauren, another in her long list of surf industry friends.

At the break, I stood and studied the wave for several minutes before squeezing into my 4mm wet suit and heading out. The first thing I noticed was the amount of seaweed I had to cut through to get to the lineup. It tangled around my leash, creating enough drag to make me stop to pull it off in big long clumps. It reminded me of pulling long hair from around the drive shaft of a vacuum cleaner.

In the lineup, I took my time and watched as others caught one wave after another. The crowd was mostly friendly, but I sensed the tingle of territoriality hanging in the air. Wiry teenagers ripped on boards the size of potato chips, balding guys sporting spare tires around the midriff hung out on longboards waiting for their wave, and one woman, about my age, paddled by on a log. Despite the number of people in the water, it was easy to keep track of Dana in his bright blue wet suit, a thick yellow stripe running lengthwise down each side. He had an easy riding style and sat outside picking off the larger set waves on his longboard. I tried to stick fairly close without crowding him like a frightened child holding to her father’s shirt tails, despite feeling that way. Of course I wasn’t going to let anyone actually see that I was nervous. I knew I just needed to catch a few waves to stoke my confidence.

Every wave is different and every break offers the opportunity to learn something new about surfing. These waves break faster than the ones I am used to and I was glad I’d chosen the shorter Yater board over the longboards that were on offer. The wave, like a piece of music, dictates the rhythm of the dance one must employ to surf it. It took me several waves to begin to feel the beat.

Dana hollered, “Watch out!” good-naturedly as he took off on a wave I was paddling for, prompting a couple of chuckles by the men around me and a comment about the death of chivalry. The mood was improving and so were the waves.

Dana paddled back out followed by a curious-looking man with an Australian accent. He was skinny and had an odd look in his eyes. As he paddled past, we exchanged pleasantries and he commented on the conditions and how fortunate we all were. His expression of gratitude surprised me based on the general vibe in the water. I liked him instantly. He took off on one of the next waves and I looked on in amazement at what was the strangest surfing style I’d ever seen. He remained very low with his knees up by his chest, his feet lined up together like he was on a ski jump, not a wave. Nevertheless, he moved gracefully up and down the wave and even pulled a beautiful 360 that caught me completely by surprise.

Later, I watched from the beach briefly and wondered how he pulled off those spins, watched as he slid down the face sideways and did other strange maneuvers I can’t even begin to describe. When he came in, I noticed that the board he’d been riding was unlike anything I’d seen before. A series of channels ran along each side of the underside of the tail section where the fins ought to be. No fins? The tail was asymmetrical and made the board look, to this uninitiated kook, unrideable or at least like something an amateur had shaped. I was starting to think this guy might be the nutty professor of surfing when Dana introduced us.

The nutty surf professor and his ingenious finless board.

The nutty surf professor and his ingenious far field friction-free board.

“This is Derek Hynd,” he said gesturing towards the nutty professor.

Confession time. I’d heard of Derek Hynd, but didn’t know much about him, just that he was a big name in the industry and had surfed in the pro circuit long ago. I struck up a conversation with him and quickly got the sense that, like his board, his thinking was very non-linear. It was at times difficult to follow what he was saying, as it seemed completely out of context. I realized quickly that I was missing significant background information or perhaps even knowledge of the language being spoken. At one point he said something about the womb and feminist theory as it relates to surfing and I felt a sensation like whiplash jerk through my brain. To top it off, every time I tried to ask him anything about himself, he turned it around and asked me more about myself. I liked his vibe though and sensed I was the presence of a fully self-realized human being. I was hoping we’d be able to hang out with him for a while. Maybe try out that crazy surfboard myself (although I admit I probably wouldn’t do it any justice).

While we stood on the beach chatting, the surf built to well over six foot faces and everyone was saying how it would only get better as the day progressed. But Dana and Nancie had things to do and, as per the rules of The Ranch, I couldn’t surf without my host present. I reluctantly bid Derek and his friends adieu with the hope of one day getting to pick his interesting brain.

Back at home, I discovered that while there isn’t a Wikipedia entry for this enigmatic man, there are several articles written by and about him and plenty of video footage that provide a further glimpse into the mind of the legendary friction free surfer Derek Hynd.

Below I’ve shared some of the more interesting tidbits I found along with video footage of Derek on a board very similar to the one he rode that day. The waves we surfed were, shall we say, considerably smaller, but his style and approach to the wave are the same.

This video illustrates why Steve Pezman calls him the “best surfer in the recorded history of wave-riding.”

For more on Derek’s wild Far Field Friction Free ride, check out The Surfer’s Journal POV videos. In Part I he shapes the ride from an existing fish and in Part II he rides that same board.

Crossing Paths: Mickey and Me

A few weeks ago, I heard Mickey Muñoz was going to be at my local surf break for the filming of a documentary about East Coast Surfers. Even though it was the afternoon and I only surf at that time of day if it’s epic, I made a special effort to get my ass down there to talk to him because I hoped he’d agree to let me interview him as part of the project I’m so excited about. [What shall we call the project? Give me suggestions in the comments below will you? “the project I’m so excited about” will undo my already worn out keyboard.]

I was introduced to Mickey a month earlier by Wingnut Weaver, star of The Endless Summer II, and so, as I walked towards where Mickey and a couple of other people stood on the beach checking the surf, I banked on him remembering me. I don’t really think it mattered whether he remembered me or not – the words, “Mickey, we met about a month ago…” were barely out of my mouth and he was giving me a kiss on the cheek and putting his arm around me like we were best friends. Okay, I guess being a sun-kissed blond has its perks. Mickey proceeded to introduce me to the guy standing next to him – none other than Corky Carroll, the man credited with being the first professional surfer.

I listened as Mickey told one of his signature tales to a rapt audience. By the end of what turned out to be quite a yarn about the effect rain has on Baja journeys (turning them from 1 hour to a day or more), I was boiling hot. We were all standing in the hot September sun! I quickly mentioned that I hoped to interview him and then said, “It’s hot! I gotta get wet!” He agreed and said he’d meet me in the water.

Surfing with Mickey Muñoz turned out to be an uncommon pleasure. I was a little freaked out to discover there were a couple of guys with video cameras in the water with us and one on the beach, but Mickey was so relaxed that he quickly put me at ease. We talked and laughed between sets and I did my best to stay out of his way as he wielded his stand-up paddle board like a man half his age (he’s 75 years old!).

Mickey wielding a mean paddle.   Photo by John Charles Jopson

Near the end of our session together, we got onto the topic of localism – people who think they own their home break and who bring a shitty attitude into the water. He was surprised when I told him his is not the only break on the East Cape to suffer from this negative influence. He considered what I said, turned to me and said, smiling, “Those people have forgotten how lucky they are. Look at where we are! We’re in one of the most beautiful places on earth, sharing waves with just the two of us out. How many people can say that?” I will always remember the breadth of his smile as he spoke from the heart. Mickey Muñoz may be the most stoked surfer I’ve ever met. The title of his book No Bad Waves is a perfect reflection of his attitude.

The sun was approaching the horizon and the camera guys had long ago packed up and left, when Mickey turned to me and said, ”Been a pleasure surfing with you,” as he caught the next wave and surfed off. I sat out there and felt the trail of positive ions lingering in the air behind him flood over and into me. I felt blessed.

Several minutes passed and I looked towards the beach where Mickey remained, standing next to his road-weary Isuzu. I figured, like me, he was just soaking in the energy of the fading day, taking in the perfect little waves peeling off the point. As I sat squinting towards him, it occurred to me suddenly that maybe he was taking a leak! Thankfully he was backlit by the setting sun. I caught a few more waves before he left and, perhaps inspired by our talk and his stoke, I danced more than rode my board across their faces. He was gone the next time I looked over as I paddled back out to the take off spot.

The next day I emailed him to establish electronic communications. I expressed what a pleasure it had been to share the waves with him. His reply came quickly and to my delight began thusly, “I enjoyed our surf session also, you’re a good surfer.” Those last four words made me gush to overflowing with pride. I looked around and the only ones there to share the moment with were the dogs. No matter, I pointed at the screen and said, “Do you believe it? Mickey Muñoz, big wave rider and shaper extraordinaire said I’m a good surfer!” They lifted their heads lazily and looked at each other perplexed, as though they were saying “What is she going on about?” But they got into the spirit and thumped their tails against the floor in applause.

Below the text of his email was something even more special and I now knew what he’d been up to while he hung on the beach that evening. He’d been taking photographs of me riding the waves!! Thanks Mickey for making it look so good.

Photo by Mickey Muñoz

Book Review – Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation

By Paul Holmes
Published by Pintail Publishers, 192 pages
Topic Relative Score (Surf History, Surfboard Design): 5 out of 5 stars

When I arrived on the East Cape in 2002, following my dream to learn to surf, I was virtually clueless about surf culture and surfing history. I knew even less about the evolution of surfboard design. Growing up in Ontario, Canada meant that, unlike a California kid, I wasn’t exposed to anything related to surf, unless flip flops count. I knew who Guy Lafleur and Rocket Richard were, not the seminal figures in the history of surfing. 

So when I met my neighbor Bing Copeland, I had no idea that I was meeting such a man, one who exerted a huge influence on surfing and surfboard manufacturing and design. When he generously offered to take me surfing because my surf buddy refused to go out in conditions that were anything short of perfect, I was completely ignorant of the fact that I was making the drive down the coast and sharing the waves with a surfing legend.

Ten years later, I read Holmes’s book in amazement and received the education I so thoroughly lacked. Thanks Bing! 

Bing Copeland mid-1960s Waimea Bay. Photo by John Bass.

The first thing you’ll notice about Paul Holmes’s book “Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation” is the quality of its production. It comes packaged in a groovy reusable cardboard case that will protect it against sun damage and carelessly spilled coffee. Inside you’ll find a beautiful hardcover book in coffee-table format (9.5″ by 12.25″) that contains 192 pages of text and high-quality, historic and contemporary photographs, printed in their original black and white or full color format.

Holmes did a great job of chronicling the various aspects of Bing’s personal life, professional life and his role in the evolution of surfing and surfboard design with a narrative style that is easy to read and flows from one topic to the next and back again. But the book is more than a history lesson, it also contains a treasure trove of archival materials including handwritten pages out of order books and every Bing advertisement ever published, all meticulously preserved by Bing himself. Anecdotes by the guys working on the factory floor sprinkled throughout give the reader an insider’s view of what it might have been like to work for Bing and with the sometimes oddball cast of characters drawn to the surfboard shaping industry.

Bing was an innovative designer of surfboards, but he was also a natural graphic designer and marketer, making the middle third, where ads and archival materials are displayed, perhaps my favorite part of the book. The ads are a reflection of Bing himself, as Holmes puts it “creative, funny, informative and graphically compelling.”

Shapers will undoubtedly be stoked to find a complete review of all Bing Surfboards models and the contributions they made to surfboard design evolution, as well as three pages dedicated specifically to improvements in fin design. Beautiful detailed shots of over 60 classic Bing surfboards are provided along with each board’s serial number, dimensions and significant elements of design and construction.

Whether you’ve ever owned a Bing surfboard or not, if you are a surfer and especially if you are a shaper, you owe it to yourself to add this book to your quiver of surf literature.

Do you own a Bing? If so, tell us about it, or even better post a photo of you riding it here. And what about my Bing board? Well, my financial circumstances since moving to Baja (always broke) mean that I haven’t had the wherewithal to buy a Bing. In 2004, in his classic understated way, Bing handed me a single-fin longboard he was no longer riding and said, “Just make sure it gets ridden.” The fin alone on that board is worth a pretty penny. Up until that time, I’d focused on working towards riding shorter boards, so that board introduced me to the “other” side of surfing, one that is unquestionably more soulful. Riding that longboard on days when the smaller conditions would have normally kept me out of the water induced in me a greater playfulness and definitely improved my surfing. I’ve since begged and borrowed (never stolen) several other longboards, but the dream remains to one day own a performance Bing longboard and at least one of his shorter boards – the retro Karma single-fin or perhaps the fishy Dharma. And to that end, I must get back to work!

Bing in Baja on the board he ultimately gave me. Photo by Gary Swanson

Is the Kid Really Dead?

Icy surfing in IcelandIt’s the day before Summer Solstice and it’s only 79 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I’m considering whether I need to put a sweater on because there’s a brisk breeze blowing in off the sea that is chilling me as it hits my bare shoulders. A week ago, I had to put a lightweight hooded sweater on over my t-shirt in the middle of the day and resorted to donning full length yoga pants because I was so cold. The mercury didn’t get much higher than 77 degrees that day. Normally at this time of year I’d be sweating in shorts and a tank top. Conclusion? This is possibly the coldest June in the history of Baja’s East Cape. However, before you accuse me of being melodramatic, and in the absence of any definitive long term historical proof, let me say instead that it is definitely the coldest June I’ve personally experienced in this region.

Admittedly, this is only my eleventh June in Baja. Eleven is neither a big number, nor is it small in the context of time passage. But it is more than a handful and a decade plus one. Never before in the month of June have I needed to put a sweater on in the middle of the day. Remove my t-shirt? Definitely. Change my sports bra because it’s soaking with sweat? You bet. Take a shower and lie down under a fan on high in the middle of the day because it’s 105 degrees outside? Several times. But put on more clothes at what is the hottest time of day? Never!

Air temperatures have been uncharacteristically low because they reflect sea water temperatures, which have been near frigid. Since the middle of May, they’ve fluctuated wildly between extremes. From 84 degrees Fahrenheit one day to 62 degrees the very next – that’s a whopping 22 degree drop.

The colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit a surfer needs to wear. Wetsuit thicknesses are measured in millimeters (mm) and water temperatures of 62 degrees mean wearing a full-length wetsuit of at least 2mm thickness or going out for super short sessions in which your muscles tend to seize up. I don’t own a 2mm full suit.  My shorty suit wasn’t up to the job and on more than one occasion I got out of the water with blue lips and legs that were numb from the knees down. By the end of several sessions, I had to blow into my cupped hands between sets in an attempt to warm my frigid digit. It took all my willpower to put my hands back in the biting cold water and keep my arms paddling for the next wave. Back on land again it took almost an hour of sitting in the direct sun to warm up again. While I know that there are many a surfer who experiences this regularly and to an even greater extent, bear in mind that we’re talking about surfing in the normally tepid, turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez.

I have furthermore never seen the sea turn green. Two weeks ago, I thought I’d been teleported and was surfing in South Central California when overnight the water changed from its characteristic turquoise and azure blues to a brilliant emerald green.  Apparently the colder water resulted from an upwelling event that brought nutrients from deep down in the sea to the surface causing a serious algal bloom. Then there were the jelly fish, or, as I like to call them, the Helly fish, feeding on all that phytoplankton. At the risk of being repetitive, I’ve never seen so many large gelatinous jelly fish in the water here. The water was amuck with them and more than once I managed to squeeze their fire-wielding tentacles between my leg and my surfboard to produce the kind of stinging you only wish upon your worst enemies. The resulting welts were impressive and the itching lasted for days.

It’s not just June weather that’s been strange. May was uncharacteristically cool and foggy too. From the middle of May onwards we’ve had the equivalent of what Californians call June Gloom in the East Cape – fog, wind, and shockingly cold water.

So what gives?

At first I thought it was because it’s a La Niña year. La Niña is a period during which sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean are lower than normal by 3-5 degrees Celsius (6-9 deg F). In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least five months of these types of conditions. The name La Niña is Spanish for “the girl,” analogous to El Niño meaning “the boy,” the term used for periods when sea surface temperatures are abnormally high. The only trouble is that according to meteorologists the period of La Niña weather conditions that began last year ended in March. In other words, La Niña is dead.

So I’m still scratching my head. If this weather can’t be ascribed to La Niña (abnormally low sea surface temperatures) then what is causing these cool sea breezes the temperature of which seem so abnormally low?

Dry Docked

I haven’t been much of a writer these past three weeks.

I keep thinking, “There will be time for writing when you are older. Seize the opportunity now to surf and kiteboard as much as possible while your body is relatively healthy and strong. One day, perhaps sooner than you want to believe, you won’t have the stamina and strength to surf for several hours in one day. Then you’ll have all the time in the world to write.”

Perhaps this is short-sighted and selfish. Perhaps it’s avoidance behavior or a rationalization. Whatever it is, it’s keeping me surfing. Surfing and enjoying life so much (aka partying with friends) that I found myself several days ago so exhausted that my body felt like a lead weight I was lugging around. It took concentrated effort to keep moving and get the things done I needed to get done around the house before I left the country (re-potting of two large plants, organizing and packing my bags).

But I’ll have plenty of opportunity to rest up now. A few days ago I flew North to eastern Canada, to the place I will always call home no matter how long it’s been since I’ve lived there, Vankleek Hill, Ontario. I slept on the plane despite the good reading material I had along with me (The Sun magazine). I slept hard, so hard that I didn’t even hear the attendant come by with immigration forms and dinner. I might have even drooled a little bit. Then that night I took two melatonin pills before bed in part to counteract the tiny bit of coffee ice cream I ate while I re-watched the movie Apocalypto, in part because I wanted to sleep the sleep of the dead. I had a serious sleep deficit that I needed to reverse.

Ice cream and a movie, Thai food before that – some of the small pleasures I don’t get much of in Baja, the things that make leaving my beautiful paradise just a tiny bit less painful.

While leaving induces the pain of separation, emotional pain, the truly painful thing I’m focused on right now is the physical pain of a volcano-like hole on my knee that refuses to heal. It’s been there since January when I sliced the top off my knee coming in with a kite that was inside out and dragged my knee over the top of a rock. I didn’t even feel it, it was such a clean cut. But after I got out of the water, I looked down to see watery blood dripping down my leg. Ever since then the cut has grown into a hole that keeps getting deeper and deeper every time I surf despite taking several measures to protect it. I covered it with a waterproof Band-Aid and then with a tubular piece of neoprene cut from an old wetsuit. It seemed to be working and six weeks or so ago, it looked like a new layer of skin had finally grown over the wound. Then I decided to fore-go the Band-aid I’d worn every other surf session and instead applied a layer of New Skin® liquid bandage over the new scar tissue. But I forgot to put the tube of neoprene on over it. At one point when I popped up, my left knee caught the waxed surface of the board, I felt a sharp pain as the New Skin was ripped from my knee taking the new layer of skin along with it. I was back to square one.

Day 1: Healing begins

What I needed to do was stay out of the water, but I was unwilling to accept that increasingly obvious fact. As a result, this hole has threatened to get infected several times. It gets hot and extremely sensitive to the touch and then I clean it with hydrogen peroxide, coat it with antibacterial ointment, apply a bandage and pray. I’ve hit it square in the middle on tables and chairs, which nearly brings me to tears. Yoga and other activities that involve applying pressure to the knees are done gingerly, carefully, with most of the weight applied to the right knee.

By the time I return to Mexico I will have been out of the water for three weeks straight. For once this is a good thing. By then I pray there will be a layer of new skin in place that is thick enough and tough enough to resist the wear and tear of being dragged across the rough waxy surface of a surf board after soaking for several hours in the water. Because if it isn’t healed by then, I’ll be hard pressed to stay out of the water as the summer surf season ramps up to full speed ahead.

What about you? What is the longest you’ve had hold off doing something you love due to an injury? What’s the gnarliest injury you’ve ever had?

Sharin’ the Stoke

If you surf you belong to a fellowship that defines part of who you are. In Dana Brown’s documentary Step into Liquid, Kelly Slater, the undisputed King of the sport states,  “Once you’re a surfer you’re done. You’re in. It’s like the mob or something. You’re not getting out.” What he’s saying is that it’s more than a sport, it’s a passion, a way of life that grabs hold of you and won’t let go. My current lifestyle is a testament to how my own surfing baptismal in the waters off Costa Rica 12 years ago was as life changing as marrying into the Corleone family.

The longer I surf, the more it also becomes apparent that the surfing world is tiny. Case in point, how I landed the opportunity to work on the Maui Jim Women’s Adventure Series.

It was late last summer when I pulled up to Mysto Surf Spot #9 on my ATV with Peanut on board.  There was a young blond woman sitting under the shade of a palapa watching the waves and the people riding them. She turned and regarded us with curiosity. The rig in all its surf gear-laden glory and Peanut’s charisma made an impression. We struck up a conversation and quickly discovered that we had some friends in common…one an iconic figure who was featured in the sequel to the surfing world’s most iconic movie, another the daughter of the director of those iconic films (feel free to speculate on who I’m talking about in the comments section below). I was the one doing the name dropping and in what I would learn is her usual humble nature, Mary gave me no indication of her surfing world status. Heck she didn’t even tell me her last name. The words “professional surfer,” “longboard champion,” “Patagonia ambassador,” “Ambassador for the United Nations Environmental Safe Campaign and the 5 Gyres Institute,” “MTV’s reality show Surf Girls,” “Maui Jim team rider” never left her mouth. I figured she was just some average California surfer chick looking for some warm water surf. Ha!

Before I left the beach that day she was inviting me to crash at her place in Ventura, California on a trip I planned to make there. A few Facebook conversations, a massive ah ha moment when I realized who I’d had the pleasure of meeting and a couple of months later, I arrived on the Central Californian Coast. I was shocked and pleased in equal measure when Mary actually responded enthusiastically to my emails asking if we were still on for some Ventura adventures.

Who's warmer? Mary or the boom man?

I met her on the Solymar beach where a crew was filming some of the footage for Maui Jim’s promo of the Women’s Adventure Series that I posted in my previous blog. Watching Mary work provided additional insight into this woman’s patience and professionalism. She remained stoic and uncomplaining as she slowly froze in the fading light of an increasingly chilly November day. I got chilled in long pants and down vest just watching her try to stay warm in her board shorts and tank top. Watch the video again and see if you can tell her teeth were chattering between takes. Like I said, the woman is a professional.

Over the next couple of days she was a great hostess showing me sights like the surf break at C-Street and the Patagonia flagship store –  and making sure I got to sample some of the wonderful organic produce and wine grown in the area. We didn’t manage to surf that trip, but what I came to learn over the course of those few days is that Mary is the definition of the aloha spirit – warm, welcoming, generous – and a very hard-working business woman. So you can imagine how enthusiastic I was when she casually mentioned that perhaps I could join her in teaching on a series of surf and yoga retreats. Yeah, I got pretty excited. 😉

My niece charges into the surf on her inaugural surf adventure. The board is a classic Bing noserider gifted to me by Bing himself.

It’s been a dream of mine ever since learning to surf to share the stoke with which it infuses me with others. In 2006, I took my niece out in the placid waters of Nine Palms and although we had to abort the mission due to an unforeseen bout of motion sickness that ended with her chumming the water, she has since gone on to hone her skills in the waters off Ecuador, Peru and British Columbia. The following summer I  coached her mother, my oldest sister, into her first wave. The excitement on my sister’s face as she paddled back out to me after catching that wave was beyond rewarding. So it is with great excitement and a sense of deep privilege that I thank Mary Osborne for this opportunity to share my love of the sport with other amazing women during the Maui Jim Women’s Adventure Series retreats. So what’s holding you back? Come and share the stoke!

Mary Osborne Surfing El Salvador from Ryan W. Murphy on Vimeo.

Learn to Surf with Mary Osborne (and me too!)

Photo by Ray Butler

Adventure. Surfing. Inspiration. Yoga. Camaraderie. Fun!

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

[Cue drumroll please, followed by a set of five magisterial coronets]

I am totally, unabashedly stoked to report that I will be joining Mary Osborne, champion longboarder, professional surfer and all ’round great gal, to help teach at the Maui Jim’s Women’s Adventure Series. I’ll be at two of the five locations the retreats will be held: La Jolla, a beautiful suburb of San Diego, California in June and then in late September we’ll be on Maui for the final retreat. I’m so excited to work and play with Mary and to meet the participants.

So if you’ve always wanted to learn to surf or want to improve your round house cutback in a supportive and inspiring atmosphere, then come and join Mary and me for a long weekend in one of five beautiful locations.

And if the following video doesn’t get you stoked to come and join us, then you better check to make sure you have a pulse! 😉

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.

A Pound of Flesh

According to the January, 2007 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine a surfer can look forward to about 13 acute injuries for every 1000 hours surfed. I estimate I have surfed over 5000 hours in total since beginning to surf in April, 2002. Based on the Journal of Sports Medicine’s estimate of injury frequency that means I’ve had the potential to incur more than 65 acute injuries while surfing thus far. I’m ecstatic to report that this has not been the case.

Sure, I have had plenty of minor lacerations while surfing, including several that could have used a stitch or two as evidenced by the series of eye-shaped gouges that run down my right shin. There was also the time I needed eight stitches to pull my scalp back together after my board landed tail-first on the top of my head. The worst injury I’ve had to date (knock on wood!) was a herniated disc in sloppy, blown out three-foot mush. That injury took a long time to heal, so maybe I paid a healthy portion of my surfing injury dues that way.

Two days ago, in anticipation of a Northwest swell that I’d been monitoring on Surfline, I drove the three hours to the west coast of the peninsula. It had been well over a month since I’d ridden any really good surf. The season is over here until next April and the winds have been blowing since early November. I’ve been itching for a good swell like the one on the way.

I arrived in time for a short evening session, but the swell had yet to arrive and the wind chop was messing with the little bit of swell that was coming in. So I cracked a cold Pacifico and watched from a friend’s palapa as the sun dropped out of the sky and disappeared into the vast ocean. I prayed for clean conditions and good surf the following morning. I was in bed before 10 that night.

As a rule I’m not an early riser, but, in anticipation of what boded to be some great surf, I was up, powered down a smoothie and was on my way to the beach by 7:30am. The spectacle at the beach was all I’d hoped for – glassy conditions and perfect A-frame waves breaking in series a long way down the beach. It was big, with some of the set waves a good 10 feet on the face. The bigger waves were closing out, so I stood on the beach to assess where I should surf and where to paddle out before going out. As I pulled on my shorty wetsuit, excitement and anticipation of a day of surfing surged through my body. It was all I could do to hold myself back from running to the water and jumping on my board without waiting between sets.

The water felt good and I felt strong. The pain and stiffness in my shoulder was completely gone. Half way out to the take off zone, a set arrived and I began to duck dive the first, smaller waves. When I felt myself going backwards on the first dive, I reminded myself that I was in the Pacific Ocean now, not the gentle Sea of Cortez. I had to dive deeper. After a couple of successful dives, a set wave appeared well outside of where I was. As I prepared to dive, I saw another surfer’s board fly up into the air and braced myself for what was clearly a powerful wave. My timing was off and the white water was on me faster than I’d expected. I dove, but too late, and the force of the whitewater ripped the board from my hands and sent me tumbling underwater. After the wave passed, everything went calm, the water bubbled and foamed around me and I began to float back up to the surface. But the calm was short-lived and WHACK! Something hit me hard on the jaw. I knew immediately it was serious and implored the powers that be, “Please don’t let my jaw be broken, please don’t let my jaw be broken.” I floated to the surface and tentatively touched my jaw where the board hit it. Another wave was breaking outside and I had to dive under it as I tried to assess the damage. My jaw was intact. “Thank God,” I thought. I got back on my board and began paddling to the outside where my friend Alec was sitting. The waves kept coming. The sets must have been eight or nine waves in total. Between waves I touched my jaw and looked down to see blood. As I continued paddling I saw a large drop of blood fall from my face into the water. “Not good,” I thought. Alec confirmed  my thinking. “Yeah, probably needs two or three stitches,” he said, “you better go in.” I figured regardless of how bad it was, he and the other surfers didn’t want me sticking around. The men in the grey suits would be getting a whiff of “injured animal,” aka “dinner” before long.

But there was no way I was going to paddle in – the waves were perfect. I had to catch at least one. With encouragement from the guys sitting near me, I took off on a wave and rode it to the beach.

Cursing my shitty duck diving skills, I got dressed and headed to the local clinic. I was glad that unlike at home it was only a 15 minute drive away.

On the way to the hospital it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have any money. My wallet was locked in the house where I was staying, my friend was in the water surfing and I didn’t have a key. But I thought, “This is Mexico, not the United States,” and figured the doctors would trust me to return with payment after they treated me.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover there were no other patients in the Emergency wing of the small hospital. After being escorted to the exam room, I told the doctor about my financial conundrum. To my dismay his face turned from concern to doubt as he told me he would have to talk to the hospital administrator. The administrator appeared promptly and began telling me they couldn’t treat me when I stopped him mid-sentence and offered him my iPod as collateral against my bill. To my great relief, he agreed without hesitation.

Before long I had six stitches expertly sewn by a baby-faced Dr. Pablo Gonzalez, an x-ray indicating that I had not fractured my jawbone, a prescription for antibiotics and a bill for 2241 pesos ($162 US ). I handed over my iPod and headed back to the beach with a plan to get some crazy glue and get back in the water.

 

Before: It looks pretty minor all cleaned up.
After: Six puntos (Spanish for stitches) and a lot of swelling the following day 
Keala Kennelly after her face got up close and personal with the Teahupoo reef. In comparison, my board gave me a kiss.

At the beach it was apparent word had gotten out that I’d messed myself up. Everyone I asked seemed to think it would be unwise to get back in the water. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off I began to believe they were right. I was spent from the pain and excitement of the morning. Plus the doc had said I had to stay out of the water until the wound closed completely. “Anywhere from seven to ten days,” he said, “otherwise the wound could open up.” I gave it a second thought and pictured my beautiful sutures ripping out of my face to leave behind a ragged bloody mess that would never heal nicely. I looked at the picture perfect peeling waves and then down at the gaping scars on my shin. My attachment to a relatively unscarred face won out. Had the wound been anywhere else on my body I would have paddled back out.

Wetter is Better

Clean Small Surf at Nine Palms

I surfed today for the first time in six days. It’s not like I’ve been sick or uninterested in surfing (ha! yeah, like that’s going to happen says the surf-obsessed pixie). I had considered cutting back a bit because I think I might be getting a bone spur on my rotator cuff and my super-duper life coach (see last post) thinks I need to reevaluate how much time I spend surfing at the expense of writing. But the real reason I didn’t surf all this past week was because there wasn’t any surf. None. It was flat. Barely a ripple on the water’s surface.

Normally when I make a Skype call I have to close the sliding glass doors in the living room so that the sound of the waves breaking on shore doesn’t interfere with the call. It’s loud enough that it transmits across the line and the person on the other end inevitably asks, “What’s that sound? Is that waves?” If it’s the first time they’ve talked to me this way, they are invariably blown away by how loud the surf is. It also blocks their audio from downloading to my computer because the program is busy uploading the sound of the waves. It’s a pain to have to close the doors, especially when it’s 95 degrees out and even a tiny breeze is like a little puff of heavenly breath on my hot, sweaty skin. But it’s been so small or non-existent for the past week that it hasn’t been a big problem

I actually started wishing I had a SUP board this past week. It’s definitely a record for the number of consecutive days not surfing while in Baja, not including times of illness.

Today when I rose, I noticed there were some actual waves coming through every ten minutes or so. That was all I needed to see. I quickly did my morning routine of letting the dogs out of their various enclosures, hanging upside-down to get my back to decompress and a quick meditation. Of course the sound of the waves seemed to get louder as I tried to concentrate, so I cut it short at 15 minutes and started to get ready.

I unloaded the fun and short boards from the rig, replacing them with a longboard, no debate necessary. The waves may have picked up, but it was still small out there.  I wondered if I was being overly optimistic even.

It occurs to me that I’ve never described the surf rig I use to get to the breaks. It’s a big red Honda ATV that has a side rack for the board that Tony skillfully designed and welded using pipes from his hotrod header manufacturing business.  Predictably, we call her “Big Red” (as compared to “Little Blue,” who is used for non-surf related local transportation). Tony also built a rack for the front of the bike to carry extra necessities. These include a small cooler, gallon jug of rinse/dog water, dog bowl, and a small duffel bag containing all the necessary gear a surfer can’t be without (wax, wax comb, rash guards, hats, extra bathing suit and boardshorts, shirt for sun protection, extra sunscreen, Benadryl to stave off a nasty reaction should there be a jellyfish run-in, extra leash in case one breaks, five year old granola bars, mini tide chart, notebook and pen in case the muse hits me, which she has a tendency to do while I’m surfing).

Here’s a picture of the rig.

Big Red at Nine Palms

So after loading some drinking water and the gallon jug of tap water (for post-surf rinse off and Peanut drinking water), changing into swimsuit and board shorts, applying copious amounts of sunscreen (three different kinds; one for my face, one for my chest and another for the rest of me), and warming up the ATV, we were finally on our way. All told about 20 minutes of preparation just to get out the door to surf. As I pulled out the gate to the property, I looked over my shoulder at Peanut standing behind me smiling into the wind. She loves to ride on the back of the ATV.

We traveled South four miles to one of our favorite surfbreaks – Nine Palms, known locally as Rancho Santa Elena. When the waves are small to head high, Nine Palms is a great beginner surf spot.  The waves here break slowly in a rolling fashion that makes it easier for a beginner to get to their feet before the wave breaks on their head. It’s the place I learned to surf. The only challenge with this spot can be the number of large rocks that are present along the path the waves take to the beach. At low tide, it’s a bit of an obstacle course out there and I’ve crashed into the big rocks on the inside of the bay several times. I described the scars my first surfboard sustained at the “hands” of those rocks in this post.

Today there were four people out in the waves when I pulled up. They are part of a group from Oahu who’ve been camped on the beach at Nine Palms for all of September. People come and people go, but there is one guy, Mike, who’s been here the whole time. When I paddled out he told me how stoked they were to see some waves today and how they’d been getting squirrely the last few days in the absence of any surf.

I paddled out not expecting much. When I pulled up it was pretty flat and everyone was just sitting there. As luck would have it, I paddled right into a decent set and caught one to the beach before I even got out to the usual take off spot. Then as I paddled back out, I saw what looked like a set. Sure enough, as I paddled harder I saw a set of waves approaching that looked at least head high. One of the other surfers caught the first wave, but I was in the perfect spot to catch the second, larger wave. It had a good shoulder and I was able to run to the nose and get some time up there before I had to get back to maneuver around the inside rocks. Managed to get all the way to the beach again and turned around just as my friend Tom pulled up on his sandrail.

Two of the other surfers went in and Tom paddled out. The four of us remaining shared the waves, the warm water and the stoke. It was a good session after so many days landlubbing.

Starting a Revolution

There’s a bit of a revolution occurring here in Vinorama. It’s a tiny revolution involving only a couple of people, but it’s mind-blowing and potentially world-changing for at least one of us. 
Itturns out that last week’s post was a metaphor for what is going on in my lifein more ways than I realized. Usingthe “changing currents” metaphor, I alluded to the fact that I’ve made some bigchanges lately. Beyond that I hadn’t given any thought to the rest of the postbeing more than the story of how I could have drowned.
Turnsout that I have been drowning. My head was still above water, but I was floundering and caught in a powerful riptide of repeatingthe same mistakes I’ve made in relationships since time immemorial. And my behavior was wreakinghavoc on my self-esteem and ability to get any work done.
The“riptide” wasn’t any one thing – it was a combination of factors anddistractions that I was allowing to pull me away from giving this chaotic time in my life the attention and love it deserves so that I can keep movingforward in life in the most positive way possible. I was partying too much,surfing too much, flirting too much with unavailable men (yes, time forsome honesty here). I was so distracted by everything out there, that the stuffthat was going on in here, was going unexamined.
Thatis when Andrea Mauer, revolution starter and talented life coach, threw me a life ringto which I am clinging with a white-knuckle grip. Yeah, that’s another metaphor.  What she actually did was respond to anemail I sent her that was clearly a call for help. If you’re new here, I’veposted about her life coaching before. I tried doing my own version of her 90-Day Power Play program before, but I was doing it without her guidance (she was inthe middle of working it with 10 luckier women and couldn’t spread herself any thinner). Furthermore, my level ofmotivation was suspiciously low because I was oblivious to what was coming down the pike in less than six months’ time.
Sometimesyou gotta get hit by the train to hear its whistle.
Thistime my attitude is different because the train wreak has already happened and I’m standing next to the smoking pile of remains wondering how I ended up back here on the wrong side of the relationship tracks, all by myself once again. It’s also different because Andrea’s holding my hand, walking me through each stepand periodically pulling me back on the path that will lead me to where I ammeant to be – to that place where I’m fulfilling my purpose and livingcontentedly, instead of floundering and drowning in the sea of self-sabotageand decisions based on outdated beliefs that no longer serve me.
We’vealready accomplished a lot. She’s helped me change the energy I’ve beencarrying around related to men. She’s convinced me the best thing to do isput all that relationship stuff on the back burner for now. And it’s working. Ifeel more clear headed, grounded and “Look Ma!” I’m actually able toconcentrate enough to write (let’s reserve judgment on the quality for now…baby steps people, baby steps).
We’veestablished that the big challenge I face is changing afundamental belief that I’ve carried around like a two ton elephant on my back since I was achild. The belief that I am not worthy of deep, compassionate, unconditional love has colored my decision-making process concerning how and with whom I am willing to establish relationships. Yes, this is not unique, it’s one insecurity that a large segment of the populationshares. That’s why I’m going out on a limb here and sharing this. This is a belief that results from being raised by parents who didn’t know how to show us we are worthy of unconditional love. They didn’t know because theywere raised by similarly clueless parents who were raised by parents who had to focus onjust trying to stay alive. (Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents, and I am notblaming them for something they had little control over. They just grew up at atime – the Great Depression – when there wasn’t enough of anything, let aloneguidance on enlightened self-esteem-building child-rearing techniques.) Andrea says, “It’s an inside job Dawn. The solution to your relationship woes begins with you.” Ouch…but yeah, she’s right. To that end, I’m back on the meditation cushion, getting back in touch with that part of me that can heal anything and everything.
Andreaand I have also discussed the effect that spending so much time surfing has hadon my life. Lately, I’ve been using any and all available energy to surf. It’sbecome an obsession instead of just a passion that is overwhelming my abilityto get anything else done. If I’m not careful, surfing and men will be thedownfall of my desire to make writing my profession.I need more balance in my life so that I have more time and energy to write.  Andrea also wants me to try to figureout what it is that I get out of surfing that makes me want to spend so much time doing it. Why am I so obsessively passionate aboutit? I’ve tried telling her it’s because it’s outrageously fun, involves theocean and gives me my adrenaline injection for the day, but she thinks there’smore to it than that – something deeper, more darkly psychological about it. I maintain, “I just love it! Isn’t that enough?” But she’s not buying it.
Shemakes the point that by recognizing the source of the passion, I’ll be moresuccessful in tempering it, and can possibly apply the same principal towriting so I fall in love with it to the same degree. Now that would berevolutionary.
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