Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Notes On Surfamily Holiday

There is a special little evil demon lurking in the heart of every surfer. A little misshapen scowling gargoylish thing that hates. It's the secret tension that might just "make" surfing. Like Golem's precious, that little hoarding troll in our heart spews vile spittle at every other surfer in the water, in the magazines, on the video embed and wherever else it finds them. Billabong slyly used it against us. Rip Curl played upon its desires. But in the end, it comes down to a very simple fact: only a surfer knows what it feels like to not surf.

We sit, passively chasing the sun on Hanalei Bay. My younger son shoves his mug into mine and yells "Hi Papa!" He does this multiple times repeatedly at interval throughout the day. I wonder at his budding existentialism, desperately working at interrupting my customary otherness with an affirmation of us-ness. We are here! Right now! He points at the water and says "big water!" He sees helicopters exclaims "helptr!" Then "airplane!" He sees two helicopters and screams excitedly "two helptrs!"

The human intellect is a weighty burden. Its offering a slight two paths to wander, neither particularly gentle. On the one hand, it seems entirely bold to rebel against one's intellect, dismissing all the cognitive dissonance and embrace a binary certainty, an action fathomless to me. The other avenue is the lazy way maybe, the easy way, accepting the frustratingly simple complication of things, wallowing in the double binds and inherent contradictions that pepper our pot.

My older son wants a boogie board and I get him a boogie board. I ask him if he'd get up early with me and go look at the surf. He tells me he might not be into surfing so much. He says this, "Papa, I just don't think I like surfing as much as you do." My younger son screams when I take him to the water's edge. He screams and demands to be picked up and carried into the water and when the waves are too big and they crash into us he screams and wants to go back the ten feet to shore.

What's that line Matt Warshaw quoted the other day? The one about crossing the beach to get to the waves?

It takes me three days to surf after touching down on Kauai. Two of them shuttling the family from one rainy, windswept beach to another with a rented Wavestorm strapped to the roof of our family Jeep. It was my wife's idea, the Jeep. Standing at the rental counter I had been content with a little hatchback economy number, an acquiescence that darkened my wife's brow immediately. She is right of course, the rain of Kauai making each parking lot look like a wackamole game. By the afternoon of the second day I am petulantly pouty and by the third morning I am hurtling through the blackness of pre-dawn Kauai in search of a pulse. This Kauai darkness is a character trait the guidebooks don't forewarn. The absence of street lights, making pre dawn and post sunset Kauai more or less pitch black everywhere but on your lanai.

Pulling out of the sudden dawn onto the Robinson Estate on the west side of the island, Jeremy and I are treated to a beautiful Sayulita-like sternum-high left point. Jeremy is making a long term go of Kauai and I can see why. This begs the question burning on my pursed lips: why are family vacations so awful?

Hanalei reminds me a little of Montauk in the mid 2000's, just before the deluge of hip digital yuppies but some time after the Brooklyn artists and yoga instructors had descended en masse. This similarity driven home by the sight of Donovan Frankenreiter, a fellow I was once mistaken for at summertime Poles, finding myself congratulated for the great set I had apparently played the night before at the Surf Lodge.

Vacations of the beachy sort can be implicitly predicated on an admission that one isn't enjoying the quotidian life one wants to enjoy. That some other sunnier, sandier reality needs to be explored. This, and the fact that most family vacations don't allow enough time to actually vacate anything. By the fifth day, the day before we're set to return to the mainland, I am finally happy. Of course on the fourth day were chased off Anini Beach by a strung out mid-lifer waving a butcher knife.

We visit the exactish spot Wifey's parents parked the bus the day her little brother was born 40ish years ago. Powerhouse Road. We buy bumper stickers and hats at the little grocer where her parents weighed him in the vegetable scale. Wainiha General Store. We eat poke bowls and grill tuna steaks and eat bags of oranges (bags) and drink water and Kauai rum. Child One reads seven novels. Child Two becomes infatuated with the farm cats.

In the end I surf only twice on Kauai. Once on that wonderful little left hander and once in the lovely head high-ish rights of Hanalei Bay. I surf in Cardiff when we stop over in California to visit family and a couple days after we get home I surf perfectly fun New Jersey. My surfing magically mirrors my leg strength. Diminishing. Still, I manage to maneuver and twist and I think I've finally come to grips with a parallel stance I'm happy to embrace. The other day I was watching some Tom Wegener clips and I thought "yep, that's it."

I am now 42 years old and in 42 years I still haven't mastered a proper technique of standing and putting my underpants on without catching my big toe and almost falling over. In Italian one says "dio cane!" a blasphemous curse; a throw away line about God being a dog. I think I understand the impulse.

A colleague died of cancer a few weeks ago. We worked together for a number of months last year. She hated my taste in music and when she figured I was shooting too much footage she would sneak up behind me and hiss loudly, "we've got the pickle!" She was German and tall and difficult but had lived a full life. She had sailed all over the world and even sailed across the Atlantic by accident. I liked her.

Now I'm not some spiritual type. I mean, I've tried most mind opening, soul revealing special substances that are out there. From cheekfuls of dusty iboga in West Africa to mouthfuls of vomitous Peruvian ayahuasca. From LSD that had me swapping bodies with a golden retriever to mushrooms that had me prowling Prospect Park as a grizzled old lion. I've dug beneath the Wailing Wall and taken my shoes of at Al Aqsa. But the fact is the other night I took a kundalini meditation class and afterwards my knees hurt. But listen to this: the next time you're walking down the street and feeling like you hate everyone, or the next time you're in some sort of argument with some know-nothing and you can feel your patience slipping into dangerous territory, try looking between the eyes of that person standing on the other side of the counter, or those jerks walking down the street. Look right where the Hindus say the "third eye" is supposed to be, just a touch north of smack between the eyebrows. I don't know what it is, but whenever I do that simple thing it softens me right up.

I don't think the benchmarks Americans generally set for their intelligence are high enough.

And don't forget to feel your feet.


kk said...

Another brilliant 'This week in not surfing' - love these, such poignant and precise thoughts & insights. Thanks, keep em coming...

EditorialBoard said...

Thank you. I'll try. Oh, I'll try.

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