My cup is 1/12th full, or 1/12th empty, or…hell, the drink’s frozen anyway

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Since we got that crap out of the way, now’s a good time to look back at my first month of surfbriety. As many have commented, not surfing in January in Virginia Beach is simple. For most it’s as easy as a vow of celibacy on a desert island with the cast of Honey Boo Boo. You’d sooner die than give in.

The reason not a lot of people surf here is, it’s freaking cold. This year is no exception, water in the forties and more snow days than we’ve seen in decades.

But we’ve had waves! As the image above shows, even the snow on the beach is barreling. (It was a left but I thought it’d look better as a right so I flipped it around. Okay, I didn’t flip it around. I had my daughter do it. I don’t know how to do that kind of thing.)

The longest I ever go without surfing in the winter is around two weeks, and that’s due to lack of surf rather than lack of desire. At that stage I’ll paddle out in anything. If January was any indication, this thing’s gonna be an ordeal.

1/1
Cold and flat. Wouldn’t have imagined paddling out today. Supposed to be waves this weekend. I don’t know whether or not to be excited.

1/4
Waves. Head high. Kinda chilly, but I wish I was out there. Would avoiding sight of the ocean make more sense? Sure, but I’m taking this challenge head on. Rode bike along the boardwalk to First Street. Wow, looks good – lined up and not too crowded. Dammit! On the bright side, at least now it should be flat for a while.

1/11
Wifey has nothing planned for us, so I’m free to…not surf. Wouldn’t you know it’s 70 degrees and there’s a building south swell. I’ve only told a few people about my new mission. By 10 a.m. I get a text from one friend and a voicemail from another. I respond to each with, “I quit surfing.” They both think I’m kidding.

1/12
Waves again, and still warm. WTF? This sort of thing doesn’t happen here. Somebody is messing with me.

1/22
The high today is 20, and the wind chill isn’t even in double digits. Snow blankets the beach and everything else, enough to bring the city to a standstill and cancel school.

Cold hasn’t stopped me from surfing since 1982, before I owned a wetsuit. Waves are waves, and for the fourth time this year, I’m staring at them. Only I’m not staring with the usual East Coast sense of urgency. There’s no, “It’s gonna be dark in an hour so I better get on it.” Instead, I have a sense of forced calmness. I know I’m not going out, but I have to remind myself why I’m doing this.

These are the days I lived for, the days everyone else is bundled up indoors with hot cocoa and feet propped on the ottoman and I’m zipping into my wetsuit and sprinting to the ocean, shivering to grab a half-dozen waves and lay into a few turns before the pain in my pinky fingers and toes spreads to my limbs and then to my body, whereby the only thing to do is catch a last wave and waddle on stumps toward a steaming shower.

Looking at my warm, dry feet propped on the ottoman, reality sets in. I miss surfing. It’s gonna be a long year.

Fecal Matters

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I never left a lit bag of shit on somebody’s porch (yet another example of my brother outdoing me), until this week that is. Man, was I missing out! Watching panicky people stomping in crap is exhilarating. Okay, I didn’t literally pull off this stunt, but it feels like it. All I actually did was start a blog.

Apparently some people “can’t believe that someone like Jason Borte who is a surfer I have always admired would say that surfing ruined his life.” People are genuinely angry that I’ve decided to stay out of the water for awhile. They’ve rushed to the defense of surfing, or the defense of how good my life is, or how bad their life is, or, to be honest, I don’t know what their defending and don’t think they do either.

Thankfully, these guys took the time to express their dissatisfaction on that pillar of intelligent discourse, Facebook. In comment after well-thought-out comment, they bitch about not wanting to “hear someone bitch.”

The most vocal of the bunch is a guy whose surfing I grew up admiring, one of the best to ever come out of Virginia Beach. Unfortunately, he’s had a much harder go at it than I, compounding the tragedy that he was absent the day his English teacher introduced irony. Probably surfing.

He points out how I should write about surfers who have truly suffered. My efforts in the field of helping those less fortunate are confined to my full-time job as a public school teacher and my volunteer efforts with wounded soldiers, foster children, and various groups that assist people with disabilities. Writing is something I do in my spare time, for fun.

And the “million bucks” I’ve made off surfing is impressive until you realize it didn’t come from one book or one job or even one decade. Divide that cool mil over the 25 years I’ve been in this business and it comes out to less than my meager teaching salary. Add the fact that I’m the sole provider for a family of five, and you’ll realize that, like these guys, I’m flat broke.

“Bet he’s never had to empty his change jar to eat,” wagers my attacker. Well, you better go back to that jar again, because you lose that bet.

Yes, I own a nice house, but I had to move out and squeeze the whole gang into a tissue box of an apartment while a family that can afford the mortgage kicks back in my crib. Scraping change jars is nothing new to us. It happens every year; we call it “winter.”

Am I complaining? You’re damn right I am, just as loudly as my “friends” on Facebook. I’m just attempting to do it in a thoughtful way instead of blatantly calling people out.

You see, we’re all on the same board, or in the same boat, or whatever. My intentions are merely to let my mind escape a crappy situation while creating something that people might get a chuckle out of.

So to those on Facebook calling for my head, thanks for sending more people to my blog. And whether you’re of the opinion that this is a worthwhile pursuit or a “flaming bag of shit,” thanks for reading it anyway.

Game Change, Part Two

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To be honest, I don’t recall consciously trying to become a better surfer than my brother Derrick. I don’t recall the first time I stood up on my board. Nor do I recall much of anything from my first summer in the water. It was over 30 years ago.

What I do remember is the instant that redirected the course of my life.

I was bobbing around at First Street, the primary spot in town thanks to its proximity to a rock jetty that juts a couple hundred feet into the sea. The name is a misnomer; there’s no such thing as First Street. The “first street” as you head northward from Rudee Inlet is 2nd Street. I don’t know if the city planners screwed the pooch on this one or what. Regardless, sand builds up alongside the jetty, and as a result the waves there typically break better than anywhere else in the state.

Many people avoid First Street at all costs, citing an overzealous crowd packed into a small lineup. The guys who stayed away liked to call themselves “soul surfers” as if to say their reasons for riding waves were purer than ours. Apparently, they’d managed to find God not only in the anemic Virginia Beach surf. To me the shapelier waves at First Street were worth the fight, and the proximity to skilled surfers gave me plenty to strive for.

The crowd on this day was different. Rather than being aligned in an elbow-to-elbow, Rockettes-style chorus line extending the length of the surfing area, everyone was spread out. Small waves popped up throughout the lineup. They’d peak and crumble way out near the tip of the jetty, then fizzle and form again halfway to shore. This reform was about to deliver my sunburnt little body to a place of ecstasy.

In my month or so of surfing I’d stood up on dozens of waves, if you could call them that. Everything to that point consisted of wading into waist-deep water, eyeing an approaching line of whitewater, laying atop The Yellow Sub and throwing a few furious strokes before impact, then gripping the rails to keep from getting bucked off, followed by a tenuous leap to my feet and a few yards of squatting through some minor turbulence before either running aground or tipping over. My surfing was hardly the “Winged Mercury” stuff of Jack London’s 1907 depiction from Waikiki. I looked more like an epileptic monkey.

The Wave That Changed Everything likely raised not a single eyebrow other than my own. What occurred was nothing discernibly noteworthy. Paddling as fast as my spindly arms could move, I benefitted from a dying surge of whitewater from the outer bar and managed to roll into an actual unbroken wave. The thing was no higher than a cat sitting on its haunches, but my first real wave nonetheless. The final remnants of whitewater dissipated as I jumped to my feet, leaving me gliding, make that flying, across a smooth, greenish-brown mound of liquid energy.

If that last bit of wordiness disgusted you, you’re not alone. I threw up a little bit as I wrote it. I wish there was a better way to describe “the feeling” without sounding like a fruitcake, but I’m afraid there’s not. Writers far better than I have tried, and failed. I was never one for heavy drugs, but perhaps the sensation of shooting up is comparable to what I was feeling. I don’t know. Either way, I promise not to get so sappy again.

The next few seconds were unlike any I’d experienced, and the hook was set. Nothing else mattered except replicating that experience. Then again, I’m probably remembering it all wrong. More than likely, the sentiment was actually, “Take that, Derrick!”

Game Change, Part One

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I’d like to think the chance to be better than my brother at something wasn’t the reason I turned my 12-year-old life over to riding waves, but let’s be serious. Could you blame me? In everything else that mattered under the sun – football, baseball, basketball, karate, skateboarding, bmx, kicking ass – Derrick, well, he kicked my ass. It didn’t matter that his extra two-and-a-half years of size and strength all but guaranteed I couldn’t contend with him in any of these pursuits.

Take football for instance. My 95-pound team had a scrimmage game against my brother’s 110-pound team. On one particular play I was lined up on defense and found myself trying to cover Derrick. There was no way I could stay with him, and he knew it.

He called over to his quarterback before the snap and pointed to me to indicate, “Mismatch.” Derrick set his sights way downfield and I rocked back on my heels to get a jump on him and hopefully keep pace. I was ready.

The ball was snapped, and I immediately backpedaled. Derrick took one step and froze.

I was hoodwinked!

The quarterback zipped a screen pass to him. I halted my backward momentum and zeroed in on his guts. I would not be fooled again. He was in my sights, so I lowered my head to deliver the blow that would make me the envy of Green Run Elementary. Girls would swoon, and the Pittsburgh Steelers would soon call on me to replace Mean Joe Green.

Derrick angled ever so slightly to the right, and I took the bait. He cut back left, and I corralled an armful of air on my way to the ground. I peeled my face out of the dirt and looked up in time to see Derrick high-stepping into the end zone while his teammates alternated between hooting for him and laughing at me. My cleats, which I’d just been juked out of, were soon hung up for good.

I wasn’t bad at any of those sports; I’d say I was above average. I once whiffed eight batters in three innings as a pitcher, and I stockpiled various trophies in a time before they were given out for mere participation. Still, I compared myself to my big brother. And in that rivalry, I was sick of sucking.

In 1982, I had never seen a human being stand atop a board and ride a wave. Surfing wasn’t used to sell erectile dysfunction drugs like it is today, and there was no such thing as youtube. I could count the number of times my toes had burrowed into the sand – aside from in a sandbox – on one foot. Still, as soon as I saw Derrick take off with his friends in a car filled with surfboards, I realized that surfing was in my future.

All I knew about the sport was that people stood up on a wave and aimed for the beach. For some reason, I was under the impression that a board was to be ridden with the fin pointing skyward like the dorsal fin of a shark. Luckily, Derrick brought home some surf magazines before I ever paddled out. So in addition to popping the first of many bikini-boobs-induced boners, I saw that the fin goes in the water.

Surf schools didn’t exist, and Derrick wasn’t about to sacrifice the jumpstart he had on me by divulging any trade secrets, so I was on my own to figure things out. I borrowed an all-yellow, 5’9″ Hansen twin fin from my new Uncle Billy, a long-haired, long-time surfer who’d recently married my aunt. I wasn’t thrilled that he’d robbed us of my favorite babysitter, but I was too old for that anyway. Besides, as much as I loved my aunt, the board seemed like a fair tradeoff.

vintage-hansen-surfboard

A couple of my friends – Chris Decker and Brad Harrell – already surfed, and Chris’ dad dropped us off at the beach on a dreary weekend afternoon in May. The ordeal of squeezing into a borrowed wetsuit for the first time was no easy feat. Only after I struggled into the stinky thing did they inform me that I’d put it on backwards. The boys grabbed their boards and took off into the water, leaving me to struggle with my wardrobe malfunction. My surfing career was off to an inauspicious start.

I had just turned twelve and was weeks away from graduating from middle school. Armed with The Yellow Submarine, I walked off the edge of the earth into the unknown.

To be continued…

I quit

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I teach middle schoolers, so I know what passes for love these days. They swap boyfriends and girlfriends as regularly as they shower, which, if the stench in my classroom is any indication, is maybe once a week. As soon as they enter into a new “relationship,” they’re professing their undying love for one another by way of text message. I know that this is not love.

My gal and me, now that’s love. It wasn’t what you’d call love at first sight; we spent a few months getting to know each other. It seemed like a summer fling at first, but I couldn’t get her out of my mind all that winter. By the following spring, we were reunited, and head-over-heels would be an understatement.

I built my life and my living around her, and we inhaled the sweet smell of success. All told, we racked up over a million bucks. The money is irrelevant, of course, a fringe benefit that I refused to let affect our bond. For 30 years we’ve ridden a wave of love, and our commitment has never wavered. I won’t speak for her, but I’m still smitten.

We don’t, you know, get it on as much as we used to, but that’s to be expected at this stage of our relationship. We used to go at it a few times a day. Now, it’s more like a few times a week on average. When we do, it’s as good as it ever was. And when we’re not together, I’m thinking about her. No matter what I’m doing, she never escapes my mind.

Which brings me to my present predicament. I’m finally ready to acknowledge the extent to which she has ruled my life. Every decision I’ve ever made was so I could be close to her, and the rest of my life has suffered. This relationship has defined me, causing me to miss out on countless opportunities. You might say she’s a bit of a control freak.

I’ve been wondering what might have been had we never met, and this introspection has brought me to a crossroads. I need to find out who I am. If I don’t get out now, I fear it’ll never happen. We’ll just wither away together and die.

So I’m ending it.

Not forever, I’m not ready to go that far. Call it a trial separation. For one year, all of 2014, I am turning my back on the sea. I will not get on a surfboard, I will not paddle out, nor will I ride a single wave. Surfing will have to exist without me.

After that, we’ll see what happens. I might come back, or I might not. Either way, I’ll take things one day at a time, and I’ll be the one calling the shots. Like Eminem said, “Imma take control of this relationship, command it, and imma be the boss of you now goddamnit.”

NOTE: Throughout 2014 this blog will chronicle my year without surfing. In addition, I will look back at events from my surfing life as well as provide more explanation about why I’m doing it. It’s been barely a few weeks so far, and I’m already cringing. Thanks for joining me in what promises to be an interesting ride.