Standing up on a wave is a prideful action. Hundreds of years ago, when explorers from the West first encountered the Polynesian people riding waves, most of them were lying prone or on their knees. Some were standing, mostly the chiefs, as a way to prove both their manhood and their right to rule.
Today, everyone wants to stand. Professional surfers literally attack the waves as if they are wild animals, waiting to be slain. As far as this surfing newbie can figure out, most professional surfing is all about the tricks. In this regard, it most closely resembles skateboarding, snowboarding, and all of the X Games.
Even the phrase “professional surfing” doesn’t sound quite right. A water-based oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or army intelligence. And wasn’t Zonker Harris a professional suntanner in the Doonesbury comics? See what I mean?
Still, I can’t begrudge folks their chosen way of earning a living. If Kelly Slater can make millions surfing, who am I to kill his buzz? Wouldn’t I want to do the same, given the chance and a few more Y chromosomes? Besides, some of my most recent Internet crushes are surfers. I’ll give you fifty bucks and a cake of homemade surf wax if you can name the surfer behind this set of pearly whites:
(BTW…You actually can make your own homemade organic surf wax. And you can make homemade sunblock. You can even make homemade surf craft. If you’re really crafty, that is. You can even learn how to surf. The Internets are awesome. And, yes. That IS my gratuitous Steph Gilmore shot of the day. One limit per customer, please. )
I took a risk a few months ago when, as a promise to myself on my forty-sixth birthday, I took a surfing lesson. I had played it safe my entire life, afraid to leave my comfort zone. I could have worn a sign around my neck that read, “I Never Finish Anythi ”
So, back in August, in my fusty rented wetsuit and waterlogged soft-top, I spent one-and-a-half glorious embarrassing hours on the water at Kennebunk Beach in Maine, my wife and children giving me thumbs-ups from shore every time I stood, even if it was only for a few moments. And I did stand, and it felt good. It feels good even now, writing this. Most surfing, I think, is done in the mind. When you’re doing it, every nerve ending in your body has to be focused. Your senses are on full alert. You don’t have time to think. It’s only after, upon reflection, that you really feel the stoke.
Now, I slowly assemble my quiver. Can a guy use Kickstarter to fund a surfboard? I don’t know and I’m too proud to try. But I have been doing a ton of research online, I’ve contacted some local shops (because I’d rather buy my board from a live human being than from a website), and I’ve started nicking around the edges to get what I need for when the big gun arrives. Remember: buying a surfboard is like buying a penis: you want length, width, and thickness, but you also have to consider volume and glide ratio.
As of today, I have some Sticky Bumps cold water wax, a Dakine Kainui leash, and a 3/2 O’Neill Epic II wetsuit. Now all I need is a bag and a board. I can fold down the seats of my Santa Fe, so I don’t even need a roof rack.
This might seem like a long list, but to me, one of the best things about surfing is the actual lack of gear. As Larry David answered in Curb Your Enthusiasm, when asked why he doesn’t ski, “Because I don’t like all the schlepping.” Agreed, Larry. The less schlepping the better. In fact, surfing need not be done with any gear at all, or at least less than traditional waveriding. There’s bodyboarding, mat surfing, and the most Minimalist of all, good old bodysurfing.
My plan is to try and surf a few more times this fall, probably with borrowed gear, when the hurricane-season storm swells make their way Down East and the Maine waves are at their tastiest. I’m taking the money I used to buy booze with and putting it in a dented bean can. Soon, it will all add up, and I’ll own the board of my dreams. All in good time, and all the sweeter when my 9-foot baby finally arrives.
Surfing, like life, is 99% paddling for a few seconds of joy. A professional baseball player is considered successful if he fails seven out of ten times at the plate. You might have to shoot an entire roll (or flash card) of pictures to get one cover-worthy shot. Likewise, you might paddle all day, scratching for the horizon, and never see a good wave. Unless I’m dreaming, I know I’ll never do any 360 aerials. Hell, I’d be happy to stay up for three or four seconds on a dinged-up longboard. Most of us just want to ride the waves, be out on the water, and be close to nature.
But even the paddling can be joyous, when done with the right spirit and a full heart.
So here I am, on yet another journey. Last summer it was cricket dreams. This summer, it’s surf dreams. I’m learning. I’m growing. I still get confused between onshore and offshore breeze. Not really even sure what a swell is, although I like to say the word. I have no idea what this is:
And I may need this, at least for the time being:
But at least I’m on this wonderful, watery path. And I leave you with Stephanie Gilmore, following the path: