Monday, March 24, 2008
Becoming a surfer
before i was old enough for high school, i was very into body boarding out in long beach long island, where my grandmother on my father's side has a house a few blocks from the beach. i loved the idea of playing with nature that way, that i could take a floaty board and turn these brutish waves into forces that i used to my enjoyment and almost mock their quick rise and fall, or brief mortality, by being there for that brief moment where they peak and then recede. but unfortunately for me, i developed an inability to adjust to pressure which forced my doctor to make holes in my eardrums and put tubes in these holes. this made it impossible for me to go into rough seas because you can't go deep with earplugs and i couldn't get water in these holes because i would get infected and the tubes would get pushed out. which happened anyway about every year or so.
then recently in my life, i guess because of the amount of holes i have had put into my eardrums over the last 15 years, and also the fact that my youthful ability to rejuvenate and heal these holes is declining, i am left in the awesome situation of having holes that won't heal. so my tubes fell out, and it just doesn't matter. i can deal with pressure because i have holes, while i can go in the water because even if water gets behind my eardrums, the infection won't hurt because the holes will drain any fluid painlessly. it's like my eardrums finally came into their own. so i can surf now. and boy, do i.
it took some pretty bad experiences up around San Francisco to get me started. I lived there for about 5 years while working on animated films for a large animation studio. the water up there is horribly cold, forcing me to gear up and actually get used to the idea of wearing a tight body wet suit. it also took a few experiences getting caught up in huge clumps of pacific kelp while getting hammered by a wall of freezing, dark water to drum up my confidence to be one of those crazy fuckers who paddles out into water that would scare any normal person off. because surfing is really a lot about conquering fear. fear that i learned early just from my ears, and then that developed when i had my first wipe outs, and my first attempts at paddling out in large waves. its fucking scary. one second you are psyched to hit the water and are looking forward to your first ride, the next second you are dying for air, upside down, not knowing which way is actually up to the surface, getting violently twisted up with your cord and banging your head on your board in the pitch blackness, plus you have a huge ice cream headache from the cold water. if you manage to not panic, if you manage to not turn back for shore, your first ride will thrill you even more, for the sheer conquest of fear.
the moment that i believe i went from the beginner jerk from nyc who gets in the real surfers path, to yet another surfer dude, riding a huge wave, was in mexico. i was down there with my good friends, Bask and Left. Bask had been surfing for a year or so and was already pretty much capable. I was still a bit on the tender side, but had been war hardened by the harsh conditions of Pacifica, and Half Moon Bay (of Maverick's fame). We had been told about a special spot that we needed a local to boat us out to it. what was crazy is that we willingly, the three of us city kids from nyc, jumped out of a speed boat in the middle of a rocky coastline. one that was basically off limits. it was all jagged rock, so the idea was to ride the waves in from the point and then paddle back out without ever touching land. we were to do this for 3 hours until the boat, hopefully, came back to pick us up. loco en la cabeza, i know.
what we found out there was damn near perfect. huge, huge swells, rolling in at an even pace. breaking neatly to the right, not with a deep barrel, which makes getting away from the big fucker really hard. these waves crumbled nicely and not aggressively so the fear that i should have had for their immense size was less then usual. they didn't force us to shoot out ahead with all the speed possible, like running out in front of an avalanche. instead we could really ride them sideways and just turn up and down the wall as it broke in succession. these swells that we paddled out into were definitely higher then a ceiling, i'd guess about 8-12 feet. when you were paddling just passed the break it was like going up a wall of moving force. you would fly up the side about 10 feet and your breathe would catch in anticipation of not making it and getting sucked into the huge vortex. it was absolutely thrilling and breathtaking. to add to its magic, there were schools of shiny tropical schools of fish, streaking through the waves and below them in the crystal clear jade water.
the first time i paddled in and jumped to my feet as the board picked up speed was something i can't really put into words. there i was, the wind picking up, the board below me stabilizing itself as it sped up, making little skippy splutter noises as it whipped across the wind churned rippled surface of the wave. there were large jungle mountains off in the distance to remind me how far i had traveled to find these waves. when i realized that i was able to actually surf this monster, to turn as it started breaking and to get out to the right of the break only to turn back into the angling break i started making hooty-hoot noises like a stupid cowboy in a rodeo. there i was doing something that i had only dreamed of for so many years. and since i have years of skate boarding and snowboarding under my belt i was quickly in control of the board's turns. i remember looking down into the water below and in front of me and seeing how fast the coral whipped by a few feet down in the water under me. my presence was also detected by all the fish below, as they scattered out in front of my board like a fan of pretty streaks. it was "epic". that word has been well selected by surf culture. moments like this are best described as "epic". it must be close to the feeling that a king would have as he rides down a battlefield on his huge armored charger, with the thunderous ground shaking force of his full army behind him. minus the whole blood and gore part as he crashes into the other army. just take that part out and go with the riding part and that's what that wave felt like to me. needless to say. surfing is now an addiction. i have dreams about it all the time.