February passed, and there was much rejoicing

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February is like Connecticut, or Georgia, or middle school. They’re not destinations, more like bridges on the road to something better. As the worst month on the calendar finally disappears in the rearview mirror, I’m left pondering what 59 days of surfbriety have taught me.

Surfing is as stressful as it is relaxing. As with any addiction that makes you feel good, the more you do it the more you need it. When I see the waves now, I’m not stressed. I used to see waves and freak out. “Oh shit, wind is switching offshore. I gotta go drop the kids off with someone, grab my stuff, put my suit on, and get out there. And it’s getting dark. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!”

It’s all surfing. When you don’t ride a wave for a while, you begin to realize that riding a wave is riding a wave. Man + board + wave = surfing. Crap wave, good wave, doesn’t matter. For every wave there is a board that will ride it. Sometimes, just a weird board makes it fun. I’ve kinda always known this, but now I know it know it.

Virginia has (s)no(w) waves that are world class. Blizzards only hit here once a decade, but I’ll be on it the next time it happens. Okay, maybe I just wanted an excuse to post more snow wave pics.
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Experimentation is cool. Try something new. Find a new way to look at something old. Get out of your comfort zone. Create something.

Blogging is a full-time job. This is especially true when you’re typing everything in the Notes app on an iPhone. My computer died, and I can’t afford a new one. Every once in a while, I get ahold of K’s laptop. Notice the recent blogscaping, including a fancy new header courtesy of my son and some neat widgets along the right side.

Dr. Pepper is older than Coke. I almost never consume soft drinks, and this is random, but I was surprised to hear it. Not only has The Doc been around longer (1885 compared to Coke’s 1886) but it tastes way better. Coke’s dominance goes to show the importance of marketing. Probably didn’t help Dr. Pepper that it was originally named after the Texas town in which it created, Waco. “Gimme a Waco” doesn’t have the ring of “Gimme a Coke.”

Most weaves are not made of real hair. Again, this is neither hair nor there, but lots of the girls in my civics class have weaves. Many opt for Kanekalon braids, a synthetic fiber similar to doll hair. On the way down the hall for lunch, I like to pick their braids brains about fake hair. They point out the various types of weaves as well as the female teachers wearing wigs. Fascinating stuff.

Writing is fun. I am enjoying this. If anything has started to replace surfing in my life, it’s writing. Ever since procrastinating and whipping out last-second papers in high school, I’ve been best when staring down a deadline. Now there’s the pressure of people who tell me they’re looking forward to the next installment.

Roger Daltry’s question of “Who are you?” has no easy answer. Other than an Intro to Psych class I took in community college (and got an A in on the basis of a behavior modification project that I fabricated an hour before it was due), I know nothing about Psychology. I started poking around inside my brain and on the Internet to ask the question, “Who am I?” Pretty soon I realized I’m putting too much thought into it. The answer, if there is one, will spill onto this web page in the coming months. Sorry Rog.

I can live without riding waves. I haven’t had the shakes. I haven’t been grouchy. I haven’t cussed out my boss. I haven’t killed anybody, at least not that I know of. I can absolutely survive without riding waves. Another thing I’ve learned, I don’t want to.

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Curiosity cleared of killing cat, turns out it was complacency

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Humans have done some f’ed up things in the name of research. Dian Fossey took up residence with gorillas in the Congo for over a decade, Henry Thoreau camped alone on a pond in the Massachusetts wilderness for two years, and Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s for a month. No one said to them, “Hey, great idea, I’ll join you!” People thought they were idiots.

Welcome to my world.

What’s funny is that nobody would have noticed I wasn’t surfing without this blog, which I hadn’t planned on writing. I was set to document the journey, but my mission was to be a solitary one until two people whose opinions I value convinced me to take it public.

The reactions I’ve received since I started blogging have run the gamut. A few people get it, some try to talk me out of it, and others get pissed off at me.

World tour surfer Yadin Nicol suggested that I must me starving for attention. An interesting prospect, but never have I been one of those “Hey, look at me” folks. Quite the opposite. My mom loves to bring up my favorite saying as a toddler, which was, “Don’t yook at me!”

Don’t take this personally – I don’t like people. Even as a pro surfer, I avoided crowds and photographers at all costs. I’m a raging introvert. I’ll choose a book over a party any day. And if I’m at a party and see an intriguing book, I’ll sit down and start reading.

Another complaint was this: “You are a surfer. Denying that is not only futile but counterproductive.”

Well, I never really considered myself a surfer. I’m just a guy who happens to like surfing. Surfers were guys who didn’t go to college, didn’t read anything but surf mags, and tended to get stoned and put together sentences such as, “Dude, like, fuck, dude.” I felt like a loser just typing that.

Others I know have asked how my decision to not surf will affect the surf school I’ve operated since 1997. It won’t. If I surf at surf camp, I’m not teaching. I hold camps to instruct others how to surf, not so I can go surfing. Not to mention, I have a team of over a dozen wonderful people whom I’ve taught to handle the surfing instruction. I stand around and watch, so like Big Wednesday’s Bear, “I’m just a garbage man.”

Which brings us to my question. Since the beginning of time humans have asked, “What would happen if…” (On second thought, they couldn’t speak early on, so they didn’t say it as much as grunt it.) I’ve posed the query, “What would happen if an avid, able, addicted, lifelong surfer suddenly quit for a year?” As far as I know we still don’t know the answer.

In addition to calling me a fame seeker, Nicol wrote that my quest was “one of the dumbest things I’ve heard of.” On that count, he might be right. These types of experiments don’t always work out. The greatest basketball player in history got a hankering for baseball and traded NBA championships for AAA whiffs. Closer to home, Occy bailed on the world tour in ’88 to bang nails back in Australia before waking up two weeks later with a blistered hammer hand and realizing that pro surfing was a slightly better career path.

The road I’m on is more than likely a descent into madness, but there’s a possibility that it’s a journey out of it. Either way, I’m interested in finding out.

10 Ways to Say, “Welcome To Our Beach, Now Go Home”

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Tourists, by definition, travel for the purpose of pleasure. The definition fails to specify whether that pleasure belongs to the traveler or to someone else. Tourists visiting Virginia Beach, at least when I was a kid, probably thought they were feeling pleasure when purchasing stupid neon tee shirts, eating crappy seafood, and sitting in Atlantic Avenue traffic. What the local surfers experienced at the tourists’ expense, now THAT was pleasure.

Being a surfer on the East Coast ain’t easy. In summer, when the days are endless and the waves gutless, boredom is the enemy. Surfers look around for something to do, and they see…tourists, trolley loads of ’em.

The ways in which surfers “express their appreciation” for tourists are many. I cannot possibly list them all here. After much consideration, I’ve whittled it down to ten. Hopefully it pleasures you.

10. Skid Mark – There’s nothing more relaxing than a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk, inhaling the salt air and feeling the layers of stress peel away. Suddenly, the dream is shattered by the nearby screech of tires, and every muscle tenses in advance of the coming impact. “Get off the bike path, you dumbass!” You’re still alive, and the punk kid on the beach cruiser pedals away cackling. Little did you know, this way a planned attck. Better check your drawers.

9. One Way Jay – One of my old haunts, Sea Level Surf Shop, sat on a one-way street. Tourists regularly drove the wrong way. My buddy Jay and I took it upon ourselves to uphold the law. Whilst hanging on the front deck at Sea Level, we watched for offenders like we were Starsky and Hutch. We’d run screaming into the street and make the drivers turn around, even though they were mere inches from the end of the block. If they resisted, we threatened a citizen’s arrest. Invariably, they flipped a U-turn and drove off thinking, “That little prick just made me his bitch.”

8. Speed Bump – After a hard day of one-way traffic enforcement, Jay and I liked to unwind with a surf session at 15th Street pier. The clock struck five, ending the blackball, and we were straight into a crowd of targets…er, swimmers. Points were awarded for scares, hits, and the ultimate, drawing blood. We never intentionally hit anyone, but with the lineup jammed with human bobbers, contact was inevitable.

7. Sand Smackdown – No one could piss people off like my friend Woody. He was a master. One crowded beach day at the Jetty, he had the idea of getting into a fake fight and causing as much mayhem as possible. We started with a shouting match followed by two blocks of cussin’ and wrasslin’. We made sure to trample as many towels as possible, kicking sand and knocking over coolers along the way.

6. How Much for Your Daughter? – This ultimate act of fair trade dates back over a century to the original tourist wranglers, the Waikiki beachboys. The thinking goes like this: You visit our beach, sit on our sand, and swim in our waves. No problem, we take your daughter. Or at least borrow her for a few hours. My friend Jeff was an intrepid hunter of tourist chicks, providing these young maidens with loads of memories to get them through another dreary winter in Ohio.

5. Robbin’ the Hood – Again, the Hawaiians were trailblazers in the field of tourist comeuppance. Legendary surfer Larry Bertlemann once described to me how he and his band of bruddahs scoured the parking lots around Ala Moana in the early seventies, relieving vehicles of their stray cash and car stereos. Somebody had to teach those visitors not to leave valuables laying around.

4. Porta Prison – Suffering from claustrophobia ever since my brother Derrick locked me inside a porta potty way back when, this is one I could never bring myself to take part in. Still, it happened. A lot. No self-respecting surfer could watch an unknowing tourist step inside a large plastic box with a lock on the outside without thinking, “This is too easy!” So why stop there? Typically, the incarceration included a thorough shaking for good measure. Occasionally, the prank reached its zenith with the perpetrator tipping the porta potty on its side. I should be thankful that Derrick spared me such a gruesome fate as I’d still be scrubbing to remove the stench.

3. Which Way to the Beach? – When I’m lost, I never look to a wiseass kid for salvation. Talk about asking for trouble. It’s like saying, “Excuse me young man, do you mind sending me on a dot-to-dot through the city?” I directed plenty a station wagon pilot driving into the ghetto instead of the waterpark. In my mind, some of these wayward tourists are still driving around in circles.

2. Stinkin’ Lincoln – While not as cost effective as the reusable “Dollar-on-a-string,” this gag offers a huge bang for your buck. I didn’t see this in action until I was an adult, and I was too cheap to do it anyway. Rather than hoarding their bills for Happy Meals, the next generation of groms slathered the underside of a dollar with doggy doo and dropped it on the boardwalk. Any unsuspecting passerby snatched up the money and shoved it straight in his pocket. Realization, and hilarity, quickly ensued.

1. Shoobie Shower – They’ve since “fixed” the drainage along Atlantic Avenue, but in our day huge puddles formed on the side of the road after a rain. When driving along, sometimes you couldn’t help but throw up a wall of water. There was nothing better than seeing a tourist family singing, “I can see clearly now that the rain is gone,” unknowingly walking past a puddle. Derrick once pulled off the coup de gras, an unprecedented Double Shoobie Shower. We doused a guy, then circled the block and did it again. He chased after us for a block or so, but his waterlogged clothes eventually got the better of him.

The Jetty

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If I could revisit any time in my life, I wouldn’t have to think about it for a second. Roaming the hood on bikes with my afro-ed brethren was my first taste of adventure. Traveling the East Coast, then far beyond, to surf and compete and write, played like a dream. Those experiences, while mind-opening and full of wonder, cannot match what came in between, the years of becoming so enmeshed with one spot that it will always be my adopted home, the place that shaped my own Wonder Years. First Street Jetty.

Forty-five minutes of early morning, back road pedaling and this wide-eyed, wide-stanced freckleface with pale skin and a faux punk sneer was in a new realm. My BMX bike-turned-surf-mobile, with the jerry-rigged rack that would come loose and smash the tail of my board on the street, lifted me from suburban blandness toward teenage nirvana.

The First Street Jetty was built in 1968 alongside what was already the best surf spot in Virginia Beach, the old Steel Pier. By the time I arrived, the pier had been torn down, and nothing but a few stray shards of pilings remained, marked by four buoys in the middle of the lineup.

My boys and I would get there early and take any wave we wanted. At least for a little while, until the real crew arrived. Then it was nothing but scraps for us as we settled in at the bottom of the pecking order (Yes, there was such a thing; longboarding was still in remission from the late ’60s transition to shorter boards). Grommet abuse was dished out as needed – dunkings, boards paddled out to sea, kids stuck in trashcans or taped to poles. We silently grumbled through sunburnt lips and lapped up the leftovers.

The last thing we wanted to do was make a mistake in front of the crowd. Blow a wave, and the entire peanut gallery let you know about it. Heckling at the jetty was an art form. You’d be so embarrassed afterwards that you wouldn’t want another wave if someone gave it to you.

Since the VCR had recently revolutionized surf movies by allowing us to watch at home, we all mimicked our favorite pros in the lineup. For me, the image of Tom Curren’s seamless arcs at Rincon was blazed into my soul at age 14. I’d found my god.

At the jetty, there was no shortage of talented locals to pave our path. Those who had the biggest influence on me were Quest, Pills, Joe Don, Twig, Big Island, Kochey, and the most talented surfer of my generation, the great Pete Smith, Jr.

Occasionally, even the established guys had to give way. The dark blue Ford Bronco would pull up to the concrete slab alongside 2nd Street, and fresh off the plane from some faraway venue, out stepped a nine-foot tall, John Wayne deliberate, real live surf star. OMG it’s Wes Laine.

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Wes was in his world tour prime while I was learning the basics. Any time he showed up at the jetty, the session became an event. Months before I could read about his latest competitive adventure in the mags, I eavesdropped in the lineup to hear who won and how Wes finished. More importantly, I got to see what was possible in crappy VB waves.

This was the scene that sucked me in. I spent every moment of my teenage summers and most evenings after school camped at First Street. While the waves attracted me, what happened on land made it memorable. The camaraderie, the creativity to endure endless flat spells, the pranks. But that’s another story.

And the gold for chlorinated curl dancing goes to…

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As I watched the snowboarding elite struggle to show their stuff on a jimmy-janked halfpipe in Sochi, I scratched my head trying to find a reason to want surfing to become part of the Olympic circus, aside from the obvious humor in seeing which team rocks the dorkiest sweatsuits.

Then, I got it. The soonest that Olympic surfing could happen is well into the next decade, so there you have Kelly Slater’s motivation to stay on top into his fifties. Wouldn’t it be great to see a geriatric Slater claim one for the U.S. while sporting a pair of trunks from Depends? Grab the gold and drop the brown simultaneously.

Aside from that intriguing spectacle, I’m stumped. I don’t see what surfing could gain alongside the likes of badminton, trampolining, and synchronized swimming. Turn on the TV, an you’re bound to catch a commercial that uses surfing to sell products. Last I checked, there was no such thing as a badminton lifestyle that people wanted a part of. And let’s be honest, who among us wouldn’t totally upchuck when we hear Bob Costas say, “Cowabunga dude, next up, we hang ten with the surfing event?”

Advocates for surfing in the Olympics point to the 1920 plea from the “moke” who put surfing on the map, gold medal swimmer Duke Kahanamoku. I applaud Duke’s achievements as loudly as anybody, but no one ever accused this human fish of being a rocket scientist. After all, his post-swimming career peaked as Hawaii’s official greeter. He had a heckuva handshake, but he may not have known what was best for the sport.

For surfing to be a part of the games, an artificial wave is a must. Then, what we’re left with isn’t really surfing. Maybe Pool Boarding? Faux Wave Skating? Or my fave, Chlorinated Curl Dancing.

So much for the spontaneity bred from dealing with the whims of nature. Runs will be predetermined and robotic, and therefore dominated by a crew of pint-sized punters.

The Olympic games would undoubtedly put surfing on a larger stage. Shoot, I’m watching the games right now, probably because there’s nothing else on and I’m still going through football withdrawals. A lot of other people are watching, too. Eyeballs, ultimately, equate to money.

And there you have the reason some are fighting to see surfing join the party. The surf industry’s velcro pockets would fill, but is that helping surfing?

46 days of surfbriety and I’ve begun to hallucinate

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I wanted to challenge myself, but this is ridiculous. Another day of epic (for Va Beach) waves, a fortune cookie prophesizing, “You will be spending some fun time on the water soon,” and worst of all, every time I get in the car and turn on the radio, Beyonce beckons me with a sultry plea of, “Surf, Borte. Surf, Borte.”

Uh, excuse me, my daughter is saying something.

I’m back, and umm…I feel stupid. I’ve been informed that Beyonce is saying, “Surfboard,” not, “Surf, Borte.” Still, why would the queen of R&B put out a song about surfboards other than to lure me back to the sea?

Seriously, staying out of the water is already making me a lil nuts, and it’s only been 46 days. But who’s counting?

Who let the dogs out (and stumbled onto a frozen jackpot?)

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Since the post in which I ran a photo I took of a snow wave on the beach near my house, my life has taken a crazy turn. How crazy? We’re talking Dane Reynolds man-hack crazy (for non-surfing readers, let’s say a mayor smoking crack and being allowed to stay in office crazy). I know, cray cray, huh?

It all started because my dogs had been cooped up inside for two days due to the snow. I walked them to the beach to poop and…bam, there they were – perfect little snow barrels all over the sand. While the dogs stood shivering and fought off frostbite on their paws, I whipped out my phone and got the shot.

People loved that photo so much that I went back out the next day and took a bunch more snow wave images. I started a website to sell prints online, and business went gangbusters almost overnight.
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Since then, I’ve had orders from all over the world. Kim Jong Un, or whatever his name is, ordered a huge print for his firing squad waiting room. Justin Bieber wrote in an email, “That shat is dope!!! I want one fo my crib. Got some stuff to take care of down in Miami but I be gettin back witchoo soon.”

It doesn’t end there. The New York Times ran a profile on my burgeoning new career, which I’ve exerpted here:

There are giants in their respective fields, mavericks who stand head and shoulders above the rest, but Jason Borte, a former author who wrote the Kelly Slater bio Pipe Dreams as well as an instructional manual, The Kook’s Guide to Surfing, is more than that. He IS the field. Without him there is no such thing as snow wave photography.

“I wonder what someone would say if they saw me at work,” said Borte from his studio in the poshest section of Virginia Beach. “I’m wandering around a snowy beach like some lost puppy. If I saw me I’d say, ‘Look at that dumbass, he probably lost his keys in the snow.'”

What people don’t understand, and cannot possibly appreciate, is what goes in to getting the shot. After years of searching for the perfect wave to ride, he still spends his days looking for the perfect wave. Only now it’s on the beach, and it’s made of snow, and he can’t ride it.

“It hasn’t snowed this much in decades,” Jason said of Winter Storm Leon, the system that delievered nearly a foot of the white stuff across the Mid-Atlantic. “Then when it does snow like this, the winds have to be just right. And it’s not just point and shoot like that stupid Ashton Kutcher commercial. I’m squatting down, and this is snow so it’s cold. And it isn’t like these waves are big. I can’t just wade into the shorepound like Clark Little and swim inside these things, or hang out underwater like Brian Bielmann. These waves are six inches tall. I’ve got to reach down with my iphone and stick it in the tube. Those other guys can’t pull this off. I mean, they live in Hawaii. There’s no snow.”

Borte continues to direct his efforts into pioneering the field of snow wave photography. All he has to do is wait for the next snow day, a day that may not come for another year, or longer. “This isn’t easy. There’s no manual for photographing snow waves. The way my business has taken off, I don’t have the time or I’d write one. Maybe I should hire a ghost writer. I wonder if Kelly Slater is busy.”

Like I said, cray cray.
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