Friday, September 02, 2005

Feet Don't Fail Me Now

Pretty good week of surf.

On Tuesday the red tide came back with a vengeance in HB. With Zero visibility, it was pure cup-o-tea out there. You couldn't even see your feet. Not that I or anyone else cared. With clean conditions and waist to head high peaks up and down the beach (and not a jellyfish to be found), it was pure fun in the sun. There were even some barrels to be had.

However, by Thursday, the water had gone back to blue/green and the surf was still fun sized. Toss in the warm(er) water and hot sunshine, and HB was somehow resembling paradise.

I surfed not once, not twice, by THREE times yesterday.

(To all my bros in the workplace, all I can say is, "Fuck off, I'm also broke".)

Anyhow, on one of my waves I dropped in with a fucked up stance - feet in the wrong places, pointing the wrong directions, everything just completely mis-aligned. By the time I wiggled my feet into their proper places, the wave had petered out and all I had time to do was snake my way into the inside for a final (and only) turn.

But it got me to thinking about some observations people have made over the years regarding waves and how we ride them.


Once, when I was in high school, my friend Pete and I were surfing a little known beach break somewhere between Big Sur and Pacific Valley. We had spotted a lone guy tackling some rough-looking tubes and we decided to "bomb his zone" (as my old friend Nate used to say).

Not long after we paddled out, both Pete and the other guy paddled in. Not wanting to sit out there by myself with the Big Sur chapter of the Great White Society, I took the first decent looking set wave that came along, hoping to impress my friend and the random stranger sitting on the beach.

I dropped in, feet in the completely wrong spot but firmly glued to the deck of my board, booties and freshly combed wax fused together in a death-embrace worthy of Herbie Fletcher's wet traction dreams.

I had wanted to race ahead of the wave, doing swooping carves and eliciting wild hoots from the boys. Instead I stood hunched over, staring at my feet, trying to will them from their positions as the wave simply ferried me along like pimpled dayglo driftwood.

Bummed and embarrassed I walked up to my friend, smiled and nodded goodbye to the dude on the beach, and we trudged back to our car.

"That guy was impressed," Pete said to me.


"Yeah, he said you surfed close to the pocket."

"Um, really?"

"Yeah, he said most guys don't have the balls to surf like that."

"Cool. I uh, yeah...I, um...yeah, that's just how I surf. In the pocket. Yup."

While I had been completely focused on uprooting my feet, I completely missed the fact that I had been stalling in the pocket of a semi-hollow freight train.

I charged that last wave, in spite of myself.


Maybe a year or two later my Dad came down to the beach to watch me surf.

(BTW, quick digression: I think all of us owe our parents a big thanks for every time they have ever watched, photographed, or videotaped us surfing. Because, while AYSO soccer or pee-wee football might be kind of boring to watch, NOTHING is more boring than watching some 12 year-old paddle out in crowded, waist high slop, and sit through lulls, missed waves, cutoffs, and sneaker sets, only to catch a glimpse of him trimming for 3 seconds, cutting back, and then falling on his ass.)

Anyhow, after my session, the Old Man mentioned that he thought my last wave was great.

"Hey, your last wave was great, you got a really long ride."

I thought my last wave sucked. Weak turns, bad footing - I ended up just making my way to the inside and riding all the way to the shorebreak.

"Did you see the wave before it?"

"Was that the real short ride?"

"Yeah, I did a big turn and then a floater."

"Yeah, it was real short."

"But a great off-the-lip, don't you think?"

"I liked your last wave...real long, nice ride."

My initial thought was, "Old Man doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. This ain't the Endless Summer."

Then again, maybe he did know what the hell he was talking about.


Over time I've thought about that comment a lot. Maybe I'm getting older and a bit slower, maybe spending a bit more time on my log, but I think the Old Man might have been on to something.

I look at the images in the surf mags of the closeups of the guy blasting his fins out the back, or the shot from the Taylor Steele film where all you see is the guy bottom turning and then boosting an air. That's it. Nothing else. Just buh-BAM. Pure money shot.

And when I look at that stuff, it does nothing for me. Nada. I don't feel a thing. No stoke. Not a twinge of excitement. Not even a fleeting desire to paddle out (I mean beyond what desire I might have already felt).

And yet I'll roll down to the beach on my bike and coast down the parking lot driveway at 6th and PCH and get that view of the entire northside of the pier all the way up to The Apartments. And there'll be some random guy on a fat hybrid dropping into a nice left. He'll do a little faded bottom turn, bank off the top, maybe lose his balance a bit and windmill his arms. But he'll recover, trim along the face, do another bottom turn, another top turn, dodge a few kids on the inside, race around a section, and then do an awkward little re-entry onto the sand.

And that, for some reason, THAT gets me stoked. That 40 year-old on the fat board with the long ride will have me thoroughly fired up.

So cheers to the Big Sur solo man who gave me my first lesson in longer, more critical, and less flamboyant waveriding. And cheers to my Old Man, who realized long before I even did, that long rides are one of surfing's sublime pleasures - both for the rider and for the viewer.

And before you accuse me - or them - of romanticizing a more boring style of surfing, a quick quote from bodysurfing legend and Pipe master, Mark Cunningham:

"Waves are a terrible thing to waste. I watch board surfers kick out early with their chest in the air. Waves are a precious resource and that wave will never be then again, so ride it for all it's worth."

In other words, stay in the pocket and ride that wave until there's nothing left.

The Colonel says, "At ease."