Saturday, March 17, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

The day before the day before I surf the nice waves I wished I'd surfed better, I bump into the young, talented surfer on a Brooklyn street corner. We stop to talk because I like talking and he likes talking. We talk because we both want to feel comfortable. There is a whole population of people who feel more comfortable when no one is talking. The larger geographical clusterings of this demographic aren't found in New York. In New York people build safe space through talking, grumbling, quipping. Little conversational bridges to brand new communities built in elevators and at grocery stands, but not in lines. Lines are spaces of competition. Even within the unbending hierarchy of the line, there is suspicion. That person in front of you is winning, the person behind, losing. Everyone your nemesis. But in an elevator, or at the grocery stand at the Farmer's Market, we are together.

Or on a street corner. I bump into the young surfer outside the surfshop where he works and I'm surprised he hasn't called in sick as the waves are good, and isn't that what young surfers do when the waves are good? Call in to work sick? And the owner of the surfshop, older, wiser, shakes his head and remembers when he used to call in sick and doesn't hold it against his younger surfing employee. At least this is the little movie-flip book portrayal projected in my brain as I vocalize the far simpler query as to why he's not out there this moment. And it prompts a long winded, community bridge building monologue that culminates with its own subtle accusation. Because in the set of New York Conversational Bridge Builders we are chatting within the smaller bubble of New York Surfer Conversational Bridge Builders, and in this niche subset there are always accusations. His, the equally coded, "but you didn't grow up surfing did you?"

And he's right. It was around 1986 when the twinkle of surfing showed up as a distant constellation. It was that year that I swapped skis for a snowboard for the first time and a little later that I started sneaking peeks at surf magazines. And while it would have been even earlier that I tried skurfing, being pulled on a surfboard behind a motorboat, it wasn't until 1993 that my career in failing at actual surfing would start in earnest.

In this way I think I've been surreptitiously building a bridge myself over a number of years. A bridge to a community of non-surfers, would-be surfers, wanna-be surfers, and the most interesting of all, apostate surfers. Basically, a bridge that would allow me to shirk my duties. A sacrilege.

It is while waiting for an order of Welsh rarebit and bone marrow salad and nursing a small glass of red wine that I remember that almost quaint exclamation of disgust and anger, "who do you think you are?" bellowed in the old movies and paired with "say, what's the big idea" or sometimes bookended by "hey, waitaminute" and "anyway," and followed by a tacit exclamation point-question mark combo. This is an hour before I order my third glass of wine to pair with a brandy and honey parfait which comes as an unexpected white brick. Up to that moment I'd wondered how they'd layer honey and brandy in a fountain soda glass, having apparently spent too much time at Dairy Queen.

It is here that I witness an iteration of one of life's wonderful scenes: someone navigating away from a bar in a crowded room carrying far more drinks than advisable to friends in a distant corner. In this case the man, smaller than average and with smaller hands to match, just, I mean just, having a handle on four very full pint glasses. He jostles beautifully and I finish my night with a Punt e Mes, craving a cigarette.

And it is here that I type the phrase, "I'll bet you a million dollars" into my phone and Google Translate, translating it into sixteen different languages: Te apuesto un millón de dólares. Ես ձեզ գրկում մի միլիոն դոլար. Fogadok egy millió dollárt. ฉันจะเดิมพันคุณล้านเหรียญ. Geallfaidh mé milliún milliún dol duit. Je te parie un million de dollars. Ставлю вам миллион долларов. Bibigyan kita ng isang milyong dolyar. 我会赌你一百万美元. Ndiza kukubethelela iidola ezigidi. Ich wette, du bist eine Million Dollar. אני מוכן להתערב איתך על מיליון דולר Waxaan kuu sheegi doonaa hal milyan oo doolar.  سأراهنك بمليون دولار Ka tuku ahau ki a koe i te miriona tara. நான் உங்களுக்கு ஒரு மில்லியன் டாலர்களைப் பெறுவேன் and Mi vetos al vi milionon da dolaroj. This does not take into account currency exchange rates.

Later, when I get back to my apartment, I look up the Italian "scommetto un milione di lire," substituting lira for dollar, assuming the currency no longer exists and feeling the thrill of defiance. However, upon further research I find that lire, while officially no longer in circulation, may still be redeemable to euros as the ultimate date of exchange is considered unlawful by Italian Constitutional Court, the deadline, having been shifted from February 29th of 2012 (an extraordinary date as it was a leap year) to December 6th in 2011, somehow untoward.

When building a bridge to any community, there are tolls.

The toll of getting older is often the need for reading glasses and the universal desire to hear the words, "wow, you make those $10 drug store reading glasses look sexier than any $10 pair of drug store reading glasses I've ever seen!"

Today's Thought

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Friday, March 9, 2018


"Super stoked to invite y'all to join us at Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Williamsburg on Thursday March 29th to celebrate the launch of Ice Cream Headaches. The event will be heaps of fun, supported by The Brooklyn Brewery and ZIOBAFFA wines!"

Monday, March 5, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

My wrist hurts.

It was the kind of day that does riding a softtop no favors. This has not been my experience, in general. There are few days like that in my world. Even the bigger hurricane swells are often from angles that fill in the break with raking energy rather than surgically placing walled up lines. But this swell, the product of a Nor'easter, put waves right where it wanted them. This I found out too late.

I accidentally paddled right into the first one I saw, finding myself in the customary spot straight off the jetty where one tends to paddle a little too far outside to sort bearings and let everyone know one's initially compliant intentions, letting a set roll under, giving due respect to the ones who've been in the water a while. But a set showed up slightly outside almost instantly and already being out there, I paddled.

The accompanying stiff North wind treated most boards like sails, their only salvation a delicate dance between a surfer's weight distribution and the purchase of the board's rail. A nine foot, mush-sided sofftop doesn't have that extra bit of functionality, and on a day when the waves suddenly lurch into perfect place one's intuitive focus on corporal distribution leans naturally to the task of building enough cannonballish speed to accommodate the sudden line change after the drop. This leaves one exposed, to say the least, thinking about the wrong thing. I fell as soon as the forceful gust guided me unknowingly up the face.

I wasn't paying attention.

I waited around a set or two, watching other surfers on more appropriate boards drop appropriately late, rubbing my chin. Timing my meander out past the lineup at the right moment, sliding in early on a bomb, standing sooner than preferable, hunkering down on just the right side of the huffing thrusters and single fins, jackknifing my left arm into the face to yank myself back on course and leaving my hand there to slow it all down.

It must have looked good. It got a few hoots. When the wall sped up for the very best and last bit before closing out, the viscous plastic bottom of the softtop, unhindered by any delineating boarder, spun out, spinning me up and over and providing my audience, I suspect, with what must have looked like something less than dignified.

Lesson two learned, I thought. This Nor'easter isn't the normal rabble. The next golden opportunity, and my confidence, bid goodbye not too long after.

Surfing isn't really like anything else. And I don't mean the hippy dippy, energy-riding, pure cool-factorness of it all. People love golfing together; if you show up on a Sunday to play soccer at the park, there is a general gratitude for the extra body; tennis requires another player; a game of pickup basketball is more fun with more teams waiting, ratcheting up the pressure to stay on the court. Skiing and snowboarding need be nothing other than a blissfully solo experience among crowds. But unless you're at a desert point with a small group of friends, no one ever really wants you in the water with them. In the urban confines of the pastime, it is simply a competitive game of respect; one's wave riding bona fides being the only ticket to fun.

This is an hourly, daily, monthly neurosis; a lifetime of struggle.

And I was there, at the perfect place at the perfect moment. I didn't realize it as I scratched over the first cleanup. I sensed it briefly, calamitously, as the second feathered in front of me, and past me, right at the moment I didn't swing my board around. I spun my head dramatically, hoping to make it look like I assumed someone was in a better position inside me. There was not.

And I had blown it.

For the remaining hour or so I'd paddle half-heartedly around, trawling for a phantom peak, catching a couple of walls. A so-so left, a speedy right, another left cut short by someone paddling out. I let the rip push me past the next jetty and nodded to a couple familiar faces.

An unfamiliar one asked me why I was riding a sofftop and I mumbled something about the excitement of a toboggan ride. He laughed, inadvertently gifting me a fairy-like ephemeral shimmering of the self-respect I'd lost.

And I caught one in, a bit too far inside to really be a countable wave.