The Lonely Desert Dweller Club

lonely desert

(W)e humans need to love and be loved. We need and need to be needed. These are basic. We cannot be fully human unless these needs are met.
John Bradshaw

Some time last year I placed a few index cards strategically around the house on which I’d written “Happiness is a Choice!” I’d read somewhere that sadness and discontent can be nothing more than a habit and that like so many other bad habits, we can turn it around through awareness and practice. So I began to “practice” happiness. When prompted by a card, I reminded myself to be thankful for what I have and to actively smile. Research says that through the simple act of smiling we cause an increase in the release of the neurotransmitters associated with feelings of happiness. Similarly, Brene Brown’s research has revealed that feelings of gratitude are actually a requisite precursor to feeling joy. So I began to practice smiling, being grateful, consciously embracing all that is good in my life. And I think it worked, when I remembered to practice.

Then I got sick.

There’s nothing like not feeling well to mess with our best intentions. Whether it’s a new exercise regimen or mindfulness practice, illness tends to halt our progress and cause us to slide back down the slippery garden path to our previous levels of dissatisfaction, whether it be with our waistline or our emotional state. To add insult to injury, my illness meant I wasn’t getting the usual regular doses of adrenaline and other endorphins from surfing and kiting, nor the vitamin D from being in the sun. What was a mild case of the blues began to spiral downward into the dark abyss of deep sadness (I’m reticent to call it depression, as I have no idea what my brain chemistry is doing, and on the one occasion in my life when I experienced true clinical depression the symptoms were much more pronounced, so for now let’s just call this some serious sadness).

I’ve been reticent to admit this, but the sadness I’m feeling is the kind that comes from loneliness, from not having someone to share the day to day ups and downs, the drudgery and special moments that make up our days, someone to join over dinner to share thoughts, dreams, quiet togetherness. I think you’ll agree that one of the things that gives life meaning is in sharing it with the people we love. Not having that special someone with whom to share all these tiny beautiful moments is what I’m missing. Like the quote above says, we need to love and be loved, to need and be needed. These are essential to our well-being, part of our core make-up as human beings. We are social animals. And forgive me those of you who have chosen otherwise, but I believe there is a certain pathology to not wanting to share your life with someone…not just anyone, but someone with whom you “click,” someone who gets and accepts you, wino-tendencies and all.

When I told a friend how I’d had it up to my eyeballs with being alone, he pointed out that I wasn’t leading a life or living in a location that lends itself to “waltzing into the traditional loving situation.” He continued, “You being in the desert is of course metaphorical. Some days, I’m sure, [must be] almost Bukowskian in bleak commitment.” So there you have it.

Current laments aside, I’m not one to wallow. I believe in taking action when I find myself pushing up against something prickly in my life. So when the spines of loneliness began to sting too deeply I acted.

One night a couple of months ago, after hearing from the umpteenth happy couple about how they’d met online and with my inhibitions erased by several glasses of cheap red wine, I bit the bullet and joined an online dating site. [You have NO idea how hard it is for me to admit that.] My actions that night expressed an attitude I’d begun to wear like a mildewed jacket. “What the hell,” I thought. “I’m never going to meet anyone as long as I’m in this place.”

Next morning when I realized what I’d done I felt a surge of fear, horror, and self-loathing rise bitter and acidic – not unlike the previous night’s wine – in my throat. I was consumed by doubts about the process, about putting myself “out there,” about admitting I was at the point where I no longer trusted that it would happen organically. It felt, dare I say it, cheap. And I judged it an admission of failure. Ha! “Yeah,” I reminded myself, “You’ve ‘failed’ to find true love among the illiterate Mexican ranchers, pothead surfers, and retired beer-bellied Ex-Pats that comprise the miniscule population of this bleak Baja desert.”

To say I was non-committal about the process at first is an understatement. My heart sank when I found out how much the service cost – on top of everything else, I was broke. Until I agreed to pay their extortionist fee, all I could see of potential suitors was their first name, place of residence, and profession below a shadowy outline of an “everyman” head where their profile photo would be if I paid up. I couldn’t even read the contents of their profile. To top it off, I’d completed the questionnaire designed to evaluate my personality and connect me with like-minded gentlemen the same bleary-eyed night I signed up, so a question nagged at the back of my mind, “Just how accurate can this thing be?” I figured it’d be my rightful comeuppance if all I heard from were W.C Fields bulbous-nosed drunks.

I posted a profile that I hoped was an honest reflection of who I am, sober, or at worst only mildly hungover. But by the end of that first day of exploration, I began to realize that the Lonely Desert Dweller Seeks Ripped and Ripping Surfer Project would require a significant investment of those precious commodities, time and money. I asked myself once again, “Is this really the solution to my discontent?”

To be continued…

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).

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?