Surfing with Sam (Part Dos)

Continued from

The only sound came from the water lapping gently against my board. I let myself be idle, like a sea lion lazing on a buoy. I hummed a Lady Gaga song that had been stuck in my head all morning, but found I was not annoyed. I wondered what Lady Gaga would do in my current situation, and figured she would feel rather at home in a full-length rubber suit not unlike a catsuit. I could see her now, determined to surf while wearing platform shoes covered in raw meat.

I snapped out of  daydreaming as my board started to rock. There was movement on the horizon and I paddled toward it. Way out there were perfect, mesmerizing little waves forming and folding gently, over and over, as in a wave pool at a water park.

The foggy lassitude that had hitherto dominated my morning was replaced by a determination to paddle with purpose. I focused on a wave, turned around started paddling hard, but it passed by without me. I began to turn around again and was startled to see an anomalous wave headed my way, bigger and faster than the others. Without much time to make a decision I made a quick adjustment on my board and started paddling furiously into it. I felt the wave pick me up, I hopped up to my feet with my signature wobbly grace, and by a stroke of uncharacteristic aptitude I stayed upright.

What took place next can only be described as a fluke. If there hadn’t been any witnesses I wouldn’t believe me either, and even so, I’m not sure my recollections can be trusted. Either way, kindly entertain the possibility that for about five seconds I was surrounded on all sides by a tube of turquoise water, because that, somehow, actually happened.

No one ever told me (nor did I ever inquire) what happens when the barrel closes out because, well, it seemed unnecessary. I just braced myself and sort of fell back and got tossed around for a few seconds, getting thwacked on the side of the head by my board. An undignified end to an otherworldly experience.

Breathless from a combination of shock, euphoria and want of air, I hoisted myself back onto my board and found I was no longer alone. There were several pairs of bewildered eyes watching me.

Surfing with Sam (Part One)


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The fog was thick. The kind of fog that makes amateur photographers squeal with delight as it rolls through the Golden Gate Bridge. The pea soup-like mist that muffled the sound of  Jack the Ripper’s footsteps. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about it, but fog is foe when you want to go surprise-free surfing.

Feet in the sand, I looked out at the gray air and water, one indistinguishable from the other. My wetsuit put up extra resistance as I shoved my arms through the sleeves. The Velcro of my leash’s ankle strap made a prickling noise as a hundreds of tiny hooks snapped free from tiny loops.

There are some people that aren’t bothered by fog. They’ll say, “You can’t see the waves from the shore, so you just have to find out what they’re like when you get out there.” This is one of the ways surfing teaches flexibility and adaptability. You can’t always see what’s ahead. Or what’s about to land on your head. And so on.

There were lots of sets coming through and I couldn’t paddle out to the lineup so I gave up for a while and sat on the sand. Someone else came in, carrying two halves of his unlucky board, white foam protruding from shiny black. He was  smiling in disbelief and muttering about how it could possibly have happened. Then someone chided me for sitting out on the sand so I went back out; also, my hands were starting to turn purple in the air.

I was in the line up almost instantly, inadvertently taking advantage of a rip tide. It gave me the impression that the conditions had mellowed, explaining why it was so easy. I glided up next to Ben, who looked amused to see me. I paddled over a cresting five-foot wave and then another, unsure what to do next. I knew I couldn’t leave the same way I came. Taking one in didn’t seem like a possibility, but pointing myself toward the shore and paddling wasn’t the most appealing option either.

I raced over a wave that felt determined to suck me over the falls. As it passed, the sky started to brighten and the water flattened out. I sat up on my board and scanned the horizon which was now a visible line. There had been several surfers around but now it was as if they’d evaporated with the fog. Looking over my shoulder, the shore was disconcertingly far away.