Surfing, and why it is “gnarly bro!”

I recently had the great privilege of getting an awesome roommate by the name of Ben. He is an all around awesome guy, and he is a surfer. Although he never says “gnarly bro!” unless he is making a joke, he does get very excited about surfing, using words that I can never comprehend. When observing the waves while walking at the beach, he often will exclaim, “Whoa! That was a nice right-hook-tube-tail-bowl-etc…” (I get lost in the jargon) and if it was a really good wave, all I hear is laughter. I think it was his enthusiasm for the sport that convinced me to give it a shot.

At first I wanted to go against the grain and be a rebel by NOT surfing, and I must explain. Everyone at some point in their life says, “I want to learn to surf.” Some people get that chance, some people don’t, but any way I was hearing everyone at school say how badly they wanted to learn, etc, and I knew boards were expensive, so I was like no… I think it would be cool, and I have body boarded some before, so I think I’m good. I won’t buy into the whole beach bum/surfer image just yet, I’m already too much of a beach bum. I still tried surfing a few times, I had a chance to take a free lesson and then went with Ben a couple times, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I preferred to just swim and catch some waves with my body. Which is also fun by the way, body surfing is cool too.

I finally realized that deep down, I knew that there was a lot of power behind this sport, that it was an ancient and skilled art, and the real reason I chose to avoid it was because I was afraid to fail. There is no bunny slope for surfing, you have to just go out and throw yourself into the act. So one day, I said to myself that I was not a quitter and I was not going to let this beat me.

Heh, heh, heh…The ocean had other ideas.

I went with Ben to the ocean for a surf session, borrowing his old short board. Which also added to the challenge, this was a pro board for someone that knew what they were doing, and I sir, had no clue what I was doing. The conditions were great, and I was determined to try my best. Essentially I ended up wrestling with the board trying to learn how to swim with it, while giving my nipples a nasty rash that later made them bleed, meanwhile getting pounded by waves whenever I got caught in the “impact zone” the area where all the waves break.  The only way out is to swim with your board, and duck dive underneath waves, which consists of pushing the board down with your weight and going under the wave with it. I never could get down quite far enough, so really all I was doing was letting the waves take my head off and then the board would get caught and suck me back further to shore.

So yeah, I spent some time spitting and cussing at the ocean, until finally I would reach the place where I could wait for a wave to ride. This is the fun part. The water is deep and relaxing, and if a big wave comes, its no trouble to get out of the way. I enjoy just sitting out there more than actually surfing.

Yet alas! There will come that swell that you know will be just right, so you turn around and begin to swim in front of it so that when it breaks, you can ride it in magnificent glory, a Greek beach god flying through the mystical spray of the ocean, gliding to a smooth halt before your worshipers.

Okay, not quite like that. I usually was on my board wrong, and the wave simply scooped up the back end and set it on my head. I was more of a screaming piece of drift wood than a Greek sea god. The waves that I did catch, I would go so fast that it would scare the shit out of me and I could only think about holding onto the board and not dying. Seriously, you have no idea how fast those boards go until you ride one. Then I would be stuck back in the impact zone, and have to start my long struggle back to the safety.

It was a long day. To make things more interesting, Ben was having a blast. He was grinning and yelling encouragement, just beaming and overflowing with joy. I signed that I was still alive and doing okay by flipping him the bird, much to his amusement.

Then it happened. I was ready to quit, I was sore, tired, bleeding from the nipples and covered in wax from fighting the board. I caught a great wave, I was going fast but I ignored it, and forced myself to stand.

I stood on top of the board and on top of the wave instead of under it, coasting a whole six feet before I fell back into the ocean. I came up grinning like the Cheshire cat. It was a brief moment of glory, but it was enough to make all the hours of struggle worth everything. It was like being a kid again.

So yeah, I’m still slowly getting better at surfing, but there is no way that I will quit now. I’m hooked.

Thanks Ben, I’m not sure you quite understand just what you did for me.


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