Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Danny's Song

I think I had a run-in with Danny Nichols today.

Dan-O, in case you don't know, is the current Overall Men's Champion of the PSTA (or is it PTSA? ...PTA? ...fucking PETA?), which is similar to what used to be called the PSAA...AKA the "Bud Pro Tour" as it became known in the late 80's. Bottom line is that it's the current American pro tour. It's kind of a joke, but it's all we've got.

Anyhow, I'm not positive it was the young Nichols lad, although judging from his attitude, his stocky build, short jerry curl locks, and the fact that he's FROM Huntington, well, I'm pretty sure it was him.

It started like this:

Small, high tide, ankle to chest high, inconsistent day at the pier. Lot of people. Not a lot of waves. Lot of longboarders picking off the sets. Lot of shortboarders sitting inside riding the...well, the insiders.

I pick off a kind of middle wave (I've been marketing high-tech for too long...the term "middleware" just popped into my head), and I'm up and going before it even starts to break. Good day for a, uh, I'm on a longboard.

Our chap the champ is inside and starts a lot of the little rippers at the pier tend to do. They paddle for EVERYTHING, can seem to catch just about ANYTHING, and will pretty much cut you off unless you scream at them or run them over before they can stand up.

Well, Danny should know better and really doesn't need to be yelled at, so I just kept going, drew a high line...he kept paddling, couldn't really get into it, and I just plowed through him. The tip of his board actually hit me in the shin as I rolled on by.

Kind of hurt.

Whatever. It's HB. It happens every day. Granted, it's usually the beginners who just blindly keep paddling and force you to either put your hand on their shoulder and give them a gentle shove as you cruise by, or take evasive action and either run them over or cut back to avoid the full-on collision.

In this case, I'm guessing that ol' Danny doesn't like giving up waves to longboarders (especially longboarders he doesn't know...although if he was ever in town, he probably would know me).

So I paddle back out, bugged, but am used to this happening enough that I'm pretty much already over it. I paddle right past him, and within a couple of minutes pick off the next one that rolls through.

Up, and there's Daniel-san, on the shoulder again...although this time he's decided he actively doesn't like me and starts doing that sarcastic hooting thing, like, "YEAH!!! YOU RIP...GO, RIPPER, GO!!!" Although he doesn't actually use words, he just hoots as I try to walk the nose and fall.

Now I'm pissed. This is why surfing drives me nuts sometimes. How is it that this guy (who should know better) hits some guy while trying to cut him off, and then becomes so pissed, that he wants to heckle the guy he hit?

I mean, look...I understand fights and yelling sometimes. I really do. Last week during that amazing swell, I saw two guys about to take a set wave on the head as they were paddling out. The guy further out front ditches his board and it almost hits the guy behind him. They get all tangled up, start screaming at each other, it almost goes to blows (funny how it always "almost goes to blows"), and well, you can imagine the rest.

Point is, I get that. Random visitor ditches his board in front of local regular, and the screaming starts. Hey, I'd be pissed too. Granted, I usually take a more condescending "Hey man, you really need to hang on to your board" approach, but whatever.

So here I am, on the most ubiquitous fucking Wednesday morning, surfing tiny, weak waves, just to get wet in between conference calls and meetings, and I'm getting hit...then the PSTA champ.

Welcome to HB, how the fuck do you do?

And before I can say anything, or "almost go to blows", he's gone. Just disappears.

So, I tried to not let it faze me. I just kept on surfing, enjoying the sunshine, enjoying the crystal clear water, enjoying the occasional waist high peak. But you know how it is...that shit sticks with you. It can ruin an entire session...sometimes your entire day.

Every few minutes I'd even look around...stare at the beach, looking for signs of him walking back up to his car, looking for him southside of the pier, looking north towards the apartments. And it was less that I wanted to get into it with him (although I kind of did, even though we're both about the same size...which is fairly big, and we'd probably do some nice mutual damage), as much as I wanted to figure out what kind of Pro Tour Champ would act like that.

Ten years ago I saw Mike Lambresi out at the Oside jetty. He was the 80's equivalent of Danny-boy. 2 time PSAA Champ...a really good surfer, and a good competitor, but with no real future on the ASP. It was cool though...he was still the Bud Pro Tour Champ and everyone out in the water knew it. It was kind of like having a celebrity out in the water. And he "behaved" like you'd expect the Bud Pro Tour Champ to behave. He smiled, said "what up" to everyone, talked to the few guys he knew, picked off a few set waves, and surfed like a champ.

In short, he was the complete opposite of the little Nichols boy today - grumpy, sour faced, snaking, heckling asshole.

Then again, "Slambresi" was a big time born again Christian. Evangelism is just part of the deal, so they tend to be more talkative than the average guy and are, in general, just pretty damn friendly. And at the same time, the PSAA was a much bigger deal than the PSTA. It was a legit American pro tour and was a real launching pad for the ASP. Shane Beschen, Chris Brown, Chris Frohoff and a whole slew of other pro surfers...who all did reasonably well on the ASP...all got their pro start on the PSAA. So being "the Champ" was a pretty big deal.

And with celebrity...and a certain amount of money...usually comes a slightly different attitude towards other surfers. Rob Machado is NOT going to snake you. And if he does, he'll smile on his way back out and probably let you have the next one.

So, Danny-boy, I'm going to forgive you. I'm going to blame society instead. You compete on a shitty pro tour and no one knows who the hell you are. You're a mediocre pro surfer, with no real future other than as a possible accessory or sunglass rep, and as the 2003 PSTA champ, you probably pulled down about as much as a first year "Manger-in-training" at Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

I'm sorry. Really. It's not your fault. Danny...listen to me. IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT.

It's not your fault.

Now let's hug and see if we can't get you into a few classes at Orange Coast Community College. Who knows, with a few years of hard work, some contest winnings from Bolsa Chica, we might be able to put this PSTA thing behind you and secure you a future you can be proud of.

Who knows, maybe, just maybe, we can get you an interview at Enterprise.

The Colonel says, "Free mid-size upgrade?"

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Rubber in the Hood


That's what dorky white guys from California used to say back in the 80's when they wanted to sound cool and Hawaiian. More recently they've said things like, "Shoots" and "Stoked" (but in that sort of Canadian goes Pidgin it's more like StOOOOOked). Whatever, it all sounds retarded.

Anyhow, BRAH...

Work has been completely insane and the waves have been really good - consistently good now for, jeeze, close to a month - so updating this thing has been tough. However, with any luck, I'll be laid off soon, cash out some stock options, dump some severance in the bank, and spend the next 6 months surfing every day, hanging out with my son, writing, and doing the odd freelance gig.

In the meantime though, a few random recollections, observations, frustrations, and random ramblings...

After a couple of weeks of insanely warm water - it actually got up to 73 degrees in HB early last week - it's starting to cool down. That means it's getting close to wetsuit time, which as it tends to do, got me thinking about the second most important tool in our collection of surf gear - the wetty (hey, look, now I'm Australian).

First off, does everyone check out the "wetsuit guide" in Surfer Magazine every year? Yeah, me too. Anyhow, on the off chance you don't know this, it's not actually a "guide". It's what's called in the publishing world an "Advertorial", which is essentially an advertisement disguised as editorial content.

Now, while most magazines display just enough honesty to label such crap with a tiny 8 point header and footer on each page that says, "Paid Advertisement", Surfer has never found itself beset by such notions of integrity.

Nope, this is just their yearly "Guide" to the latest models of stitched, glued, and molded rubber. And the only thing they write is the intro...and that's usually just a half-assed, half-page history of the wetsuit with a few rambling quotes by the ever crazier and more senile Jack O'neill. The rest is all supplied by the manufacturers. It's literally just 6 brochures, laid out as 12 pages of "content", pretty much identical to their "Design Forum", which is the same fucking thing only it's in every damn issue and features surfboards instead of wetsuits.

Just a head's up in case you wondered why every year after reading the "Wetsuit Guide" you had no more insight as to which suit to buy than you did beforehand.

Now, if Surfer or Surfing or any of the other magazines had any balls...or any journalistic integrity for that matter...they could actually put together a legitimate guide, which might actually be useful.

Imagine something like this for just a minute...

"The 2004 Rip Curl Ultimate Elasto was by far the stretchiest, softest, and most flexible suit we tried. It didn't seal out water nearly as well as the O'neill Psycho II, but it was more comfortable because the rubber tape they use is a bit more flexible, especially around the shoulders. The one clear drawback of the Elasto is its durability. Over the course of our 3 month test run, it began to crack, tear, and decompose much faster than the other 12 suits..."

See what I'm talking about? I mean, that would be a great fucking article. I hate trying on suits and, since I know what size I wear, I pretty much just buy the same damn thing every year, except when, every 5 years or so, some friend grabs me and screams about how he bought some new generation suit and how fucking warm and fucking soft and fucking stretchy it is, and then I go buy THAT suit every year for the next five years.

Not that my tried and true system doesn't work, but I for one think an unbiased, Consumer Reports style review of wetsuits each year would be very fucking cool...and very useful. And if Hurley doesn't like the fact that Ben Marcus called their suits "awkward fitting" and "strangely uncomfortable in the nutsack area thanks to overly thick stitching", well, tough shit. They can either suck it up and continue to shell out advertising dollars, or they can go buy ad space in Guns & Ammo.

Next order of business: wetsuit trends.

Out - longsleeve springsuits.
In - comps.
Also in - wearing fullsuits in the middle of summer.

So, the first two I get. Trends come, trends go, even with something as utilitarian and functional as a wetsuit, but whatever. The longsleeve spring - a throwback to the beavertail days - was the big trendy retro event of the mid-90's, along with the fish. Obviously that's lame-o now, and it's back to mid-80's shortsleeve fulls (also known as "comps", thanks to some clever marketing by the wetsuit makers about 20 years's a "competition" wetsuit which keeps you warm like a fullsuit, but has short arms so you can paddle for that priority buoy, bro, and that, like, got all the rippers buying them, bro, and that, like, in turn, got all the wannabes buying them because they too wanted to be seen as a COMPetitive level surfer, y'know).

But what the fuck is up with all the guys wearing fullsuits when the water is 69 degrees? There's a whole crew of guys who surf the pier every day, and every day, rain or shine, 59 degrees or 73 degrees, they're wearing fullsuits. Some of them are wearing comps, but they're all fullsuits.

Is this a "I'm hardcore and surf all day long and even if it's warm you'll eventually get cold so I wear full rubber so I can put in 7 hours of water time?"

Or is it a, "I'm hardcore and need to show off the all-black and show how unfazed I am by BAKING myself in black rubber at noon in the middle of summer, just like those homeboys in Oakland who used to walk around in July wearing giant Raiders parkas with the fur-lined hoods pulled up?"

When the water's warm the only reason I even wear my wetsuit top is for the afternoon wind chill, or because my wife isn't around to put sunblock on my back. Otherwise, I mean, c'mon...isn't skinning it in your trunks half the fun of summer in Socal? It's what makes us NOT NORCAL. It's getting back to your house with salt crusting all over your skin, with nothing to rinse off but your trunks. It's paddling twice as fast and lasting twice as long. It's later drops, crazier turns, easier duck's SURFING IN YOUR TRUNKS FOR FUCK'S SAKE.

I honestly don't get it, so somebody please help me out on this one. What am I missing?

Oh, and one more question - why are springsuits so uncool? Pretty much the exclusive domain of the longboarding weekend warrior since the early 90's, traditional springsuits - short arms, short legs - have been a total fashion faux pas in the water for about 10 years now.

I guess they just don't look that cool, but I think they're underrated and due for a comeback.

Now that we're on the subject, let's rattle of a few unwritten surf faux pas just for the hell of it...

- Wrapping one's leash around one's fins is NOT cool. Tossing it flippantly over the top rail and then grasping it in the same hand that's holding the bottom rail, well, THAT'S cool. As is untethering it altogether and carrying it separate from your board. I think this originated from really good surfers that had big quivers and might transfer a leash from board to board over the course of a day or several sessions.

- Surf racks on your car, unless you're in another country, are NOT cool. This is an old one, but has somehow managed to stick around for years. Doesn't matter if you drive a fucking Geo Metro...stick your stick in the car. It's what the cool guys who surf real good do. And if you have to put it on the roof, God forbid, don't strap it down nose forward. Even though some guy proved years ago that boards on the roof, deck down and nose forward, are the most aerodynamic and provide the best gas mileage...nope, stick 'em tail first and be cool.

- Paddling with chest puffed out and your back arched like a trained seal is cool. How the fuck this became cool is beyond me. Maybe because it's the exact opposite of beginners who paddle flopped on their boards like rag dolls, all four limbs dangling off the sides. "Hi, I'm little ripper man, and I shall paddle with my chest puffed out, craning my neck like a prairie dog, and looking nothing like the kook floating in the impact zone, facing sideways and looking tired and confused." Forget that its been proven that this back-arched, water polo style of paddling is only half as efficient as paddling while completely prone with your head down (imagine a swimmer, okay?), but it's also terrible for your spine.

Alrighty, that's enough for now. There's plenty more where those came from.

BTW, to end on a positive note, let me just quickly gush about the waves last week. Monday afternoon was hideous -big, overhead, blownout, sideways-breaking, heavy current, mixed up, junky, closed-out, ass-kicking crap. Then, Tuesday morning rolls around and it's head high, offshore, lined up, incredible shape without being too peaky, and warm. It was INCREDIBLE - some of the best conditions I've ever seen in HB, and I personally had one of the best sessions I've ever had. Tube after tube, turn after turn, wave after wave...just unreal. And, while it was only amazing that one day, it was still great the rest of the week.

It's why we surf. It was freedom, it was fun, it was exciting, it was challenging, it was "fuck the rest of the world, I'm in the ocean", it was amazing to look at it, amazing to be a part of, amazing to just be a surfer last week.

Even if your board was on the roof, your leash was wrapped around the fins, and you were in a springsuit.

The Colonel says, "At ease."

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

School is IN

Today is a great day.

I used to dread the day after Labor Day...the end of Summer. I hated that pointless "3 day weekend", which means nothing to a kid on summer vacation. 3 days, 4 days, who give a shit? I'm on SUMMER VACATION. All Labor Day meant was that school started the next day.

If you even said the words, "Labor Day" to me in mid-January, I'd still get an instant knot in my stomach. It had that much baggage. The end of summer...the single worst day of the entire year, eclipsing even dentist appointments, shots, church, and visits to the old-folks home.

School. Ugh. It meant so many things...

Shorter days (sickening act of nature, with the end of Daylight Savings time a man-made extra kick in the balls).

Colder weather (OP cords disappearing like leaves on the trees).

Class pictures (the schoolyard covered in black plastic combs afterwards).

Homework (always started out easy, then WHAM!, bibliography time).

Soccer practice (twice a week).

Brand new corduroy pants (stiff as a board).

No more movies on weeknights. No more sleepovers. No more camping. No more day games at the 'Stick. No more beach. No more family vacations and $2 souvenirs. No more running loose, all day, every day, for 3 months.

Which is exactly why I love it now.

One day I'm sharing waist-high, blownout slop with every 6-18 year-old shredder and kook in Southern California, and the next, I've got a shoulder-high peak to myself, it's 85 degrees and glassy, and my bike is the only one in the rack.

And see, that's the cruelest part of the whole deal for kids. Because, see, it's STILL SUMMER. The weather is still hot, the days are still long, and yet kids are locked away from 8-3, five days a week.



(I've been through it...13 years of forced education...5 years of I get to laugh now, see, I've EARNED that right.)

However, it's not all empty lineups and Santa Ana winds. With the power of Fall comes certain pitfalls. And I've got enough adult years under my belt to have learned a few things about surfing in the Fall, especially in a youth-dominated town like HB.

Allow me to share some of the basics...

1. Avoid the dawn patrol like the lineup was populated with fire-breathing sharks. Seriously. Every grom in HB seems to have their Krusty the Klown alarm clock set to "Sesh Before School" (and now that the let-it-be 70's look has completely infiltrated American youth fashion, they don't even need that extra 30 minutes to smear goop in their hair or peg their pants). Combine 300 groms with the pre-work crowd and you have HELL ON least near the pier, until 9 AM.

2. Remember in Better Off Dead when Lane Meyer is being chased by the paperboy, and is suddenly surrounded by like a hundred paperboys, all demanding their two dollars? That's what happens in HB at 3 PM. Get out of the water. Run. Run for your fucking life or find yourself surrounded by a hundred John-John Florences. Like Chief Brody said, "GET OUT OF THE WATER".

3. Learn the school schedule. Granted, there are like a million schools in the area, but get a basic feel for MINIMUM DAYS (you'll know it's one of them when, at 1 PM, you suddenly find yourself the only person in the water over 150 pounds), STAFF DEVELOPMENT DAYS (you'll know those by the two groms who cut you off and crash into each other at 11 AM), and FUCKING RIDICULOUS HOLIDAYS you haven't celebrated since you were in school and have since forgotten since no non-governmental employer has EVER given anyone the day off since their inception. These include COLUMBUS DAY, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY, ARBOR DAY, BANK HOLIDAYS, NATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY, and God knows what else.

So, tomorrow is Wednesday. No minimum day. No staff development (they've been "developing" for the last 3 months). No holiday...except for maybe National Admin & Excel Spreadsheet Day (which, I don't think even the staff at the Long Beach VA gets off). Just hot weather, warm water, glassy conditions, and a little leftover swell from the weekend. Perfect for trunks, a longboard, no leash...and a flexible work schedule.

Do it.

You sat at a desk all summer. You dug ditches. You went on sales calls at 1 PM in Riverside to see some asshole who just wanted another quote so he could tell his boss he shopped around, and then hook his cousin up. You spent what used to be the best part of your life WORKING. No summer vacation. WORK.

Do it.

Take a long lunch. Call in sick. Make an "appointment" with some client. Go in early, leave even earlier. Put "On a conference call" on your Instant Messenger status (don't forget to turn off the idle mode).

Do it.

School is in. Time to go surf.

The Colonel says, "Here's to year-round schooling."