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.

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