There were some people who I couldn’t wait to tell about quitting surfing. I knew they’d see the warped logic in it, and I was right. There was one friend who I dreaded telling, because he’d think I’d lost it. Again, I was right.
Ken and I have been tight since the ’80s, a decade that I like to say he still lives in. He rides the same standard thrusters in all surf, quotes the same raunchy comedies, and cracks the same jokes he did when Reagan was in office. Not only that, he surfs almost as often and just as well as he did back then as a charter member of the Hotline “Soul” Team, ‘Brotherhood of Slashers, Thrillseekers, and Dogz.’
The first thing Ken texted me when he heard was, “Do I need to do an intervention?” He followed with, “Might not want to let it go on too long, could hurt your surf camp business.” He never stops thinking about business.
A couple weeks later he came with heavy artillery, hurling cliches such as “Live for today,” “You have a gift,” and , “Inspire the youth.” Then, the big one, invoking the spirit of my best friend Jeff Hunter who passed away suddenly at age 24. “If Jeff could speak with you today, he would tell you to stop being so silly and catch a wave for him!”
I believe Jeff would have loved the idea of a year off, maybe even done it himself, but I decided to let Ken think he had me. “Let me know when you’re surfing,” I texted a couple days ago. “I’m in.”
He called back a few hours later and said, “The good news is there’s nobody out. The bad news is that’s because there was nothing to entice them.” Then, thinking he might lose me, he added, “Actually there’s a little wave, and the tide’s coming in. It’s time, let’s rock and roll.”
Ken’s specialty is talking friends into joining his daily half-hour sesh. We call it getting “Kenned” when he convinces us to paddle out in absolute crap. You might think the reason is misery loves company, but Ken is never miserable when he’s surfing. As long as he can climb to his feet and go, he’s stoked.
I pulled up to The Jetty and saw he’d Kenned one other sucker. He is, after all, a salesman, one of the best surf reps in the biz. While they struggled to make headway along the knee-high dribblers, I sqeezed into my hooded 5 mil, boots, and gloves, giggling the entire time.
Ken didn’t see me until I was waist deep. A wave of stoke, easily the wave of the day, washed over him when he saw that he’d Kenned me. The feeling vanished just as fast when he saw that I had no surfboard. I was walking into the 38-degree surf carrying nothing but the smile on my face.
He tried giving me his board, but I’ve built an immunity to his sales tactics. “Come on, dude,” he insisted. “It’s good for the soul.”
I hung out for a few minutes, even gave Ken a push into a wave. It was the fastest his board had moved all session. I love Ken like a brother and respect his dedication to surfing, but I couldn’t fathom how fighting to churn out some forward momentum and eking out a closeout reo a few times each day could benefit anybody’s soul.
Watching him rhythmically pump down the line as if chugging up a hill on a hand car, I flashed on the notion that surfing had him in some kind of mindless, meditative trance. I saw him as The Little Engine That Could, chanting the mantra, “I think I Ken, I think I Ken.”
Could that be part of surfing’s grip, the repeated spurts of turning off the mental static, a form of athletic meditation? For guys like Ken, whose minds are always working, those precious seconds are the only reprieve in the course of a day. In that regard, it’s at least good for the body and for the mind.
Getting Kenned, and stepping out to spend a half-hour goofing around with your friends like were you a teenager, maybe that’s good for the soul.