Quitter

The kid and I a few years ago at Lowers, when I was still bigger than him.

The kid and I a few years ago at Lowers, when I was still bigger than him.


As a youngen, my son asked brilliant questions about the world and about life, things I couldn’t begin to answer before Google came along. He’s now 17, so we seldom converse aside from me saying “Get out of bed” or “Get your ass home” and him saying “I need some money” or “I’m going surfing.” So when he sat beside me the other night and asked, “Are you any wiser because of not surfing all year?” I was baffled but delighted. My high school senior was a little kid again.

Am I wiser? Have I gained knowledge as a result of abstaining from my passion? What the hell does that even mean, and have I gained anything? Should I scrap the entire project and just go surfing?

Thankfully there are some far wiser cats than I, men who, if there was a Mount Rushmore of wisdom, would be cheek-to-granite-cheek. And they’ve left an endless supply of wisdom-y nuggets to guide this blind man to the light.

When I implored King Solomon, the supposed wisest man to ever live, he spoketh, “All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full,” which I deciphered as, “Go surfing, you kook.”

When I went to Confucious, the fortune cookie maven, he hit me with, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” which I took to mean, “Go surfing, you kook.”

Leo Da Vinci took a break from coding and insisted, “Water is the driving force of all nature,” which said to me, “Go surfing, you kook.”

And when I asked the rap god Eminem, he spat, “Hip-hop saved my life, man. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been even decent at. I don’t know how to do anything else.” I said, “But Marshall, what does hip-hop have to do with…” Then I got it.

I'm not philosophizing on this weird tree in Moorea, but it sure looks like I am. Photo: Bielmann

The only philosophizing I’m doing on this weird tree in Moorea is wondering how big a splash I’m about to make when I fall. Photo: Bielmann


They were all telling me the same thing, but since I didn’t actually speak with those guys and just pulled random quotes off the Internet, I wasn’t convinced. So, I turned to the one true oracle in 2014, The Google.

Wisdom, sayeth the omniscient Googs, is knowledge of what is true or right, gained from having many experiences in life; insight, sagacity. By distancing myself from surfing, I’ve been provided with truths I never could have discovered about myself and surfing. I’ve gained invaluable insight. And sagacity? I don’t know what it is, but if it has any correlation to gray hair I’ve gained some.

Here’s what I know. Surfing hasn’t ruined my life. Surfing is my life. 2014, looking back on it, will be devoid of memories other than being the year I didn’t surf, the year I didn’t go to Hatteras with my friends, the year I didn’t feel the fair but stinging tradeoff of a solid sunburn on my face, the year I didn’t catch the daggers of a northerly wind cutting through my wetsuit while I wait for one last wave, the year I didn’t experience the butterflies of applying a coat of wax to the deck of a fresh new board, the year I didn’t get to crack a celebratory beer after a glorious day of barrel riding, the year I found no joy in exercising because all I did was pedal and paddle and run, the year I didn’t follow the river to the sea, fall and rise again, feel the driving force of nature, do the only thing I’m decent at. 2014 will go down as the year I didn’t live.

Three weeks from accomplishing my mission, I’ve learned I can survive without surfing. The biggest challenge I’ve ever undertaken is 93.424658% achieved. And here’s another pearl of wisdom I’ve attained: A year ago I was foolish enough to walk away from it. Today, a rainy December Saturday with nobody around and sloppy waist-high waves trudging across 52-degree brown water, I’m wise enough to make a different decision. Like Dickens’ Scrooge, I’m awaking with time to make things right.

I’m returning to my happy place, beyond the shore where none of the bad stuff can find me. Thinking about it has me so giddy I’m literally shaking. I’m going surfing. Now. Today. Nowhere special, or tropical, or groomed by offshore winds. Just out back, with my son. Hope to see you out there.

Let's go! Photo: Moose

Let’s go! Photo: Moose

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Take me to the river, no wait, drop me off right here

Boys in the wood

Boys in the wood


Saturday was the day. Third straight weekend with waves, and Hurricane Gonzalo made certain this was the best of the lot – south swell, wind straight offshore, gaping overhead barrels. Hatteras, to quote a few of my friends, was epic. Disregarding my promise of abstinence, I found myself in the water, laying on a board, stroking like a madman to get into a wave, and standing up.

Let’s back up. All those things happened, but I wasn’t in Hatteras. Our annual mamping (man camping) trip to the mountains was scheduled back when Gonzalo was just a butterfly flapping through West Africa, and I wasn’t going to let my son down. Even in a year without ridiculous sabatticals, I wouldn’t have blown off mamping.

So I was 250 miles from, and 2000 feet above, the ocean, on a red inflatable paddleboard in the New River near Blacksburg, and I was trying with every fiber of my being to break my vow of surf celibacy. The object of my desire could hardly be considered a wave, more like a stationary tricycle minus the pedals. This wasn’t the Snake River in Wyoming or Germany’s Eisbach, and it definitely wasn’t Hatteras. It was, at best, a shin-high, gurgling burp of river water. And I was as determined to ride it as I’ve ever been with an actual wave.

This is river surfing at its best.

This is river surfing at its best.


I’ll be honest; when I heard we would get an opportunity to surf a river wave, I was jacked. Standing along the riverbank a few minutes paddling out, our guide pointed the wave out to me. It was maybe thirty yards from where we stood, but I still couldn’t see it. “Right there, right past that rock,” he promised. I squinted, lowered my expectations, and saw it.

I wished I hadn’t. Talk about a letdown. The air left my balloon, and my dreams landed with a thud on the rocky bank. Ah, well, at least I’d be surfing.

Paddling into position for this natural, miniature Flow Rider was easy. There was very little current running alongside it, so I was able to sneak up on it from an angle without any struggle. If you can imagine paddling across your front yard and dropping off the curb into the street, you have a good idea of what I was looking at, that is if your yard is flat and your curb stands no more than eight inches in height.

This is river surfing East Coast style.

This is river surfing East Coast style.


Each time I stroked to the spot and leapt to my feet, the swirling current twisted me sideways. The ‘wave’ wasn’t steep enough or tall enough to keep the inflatable pointed upriver, so every attempt resulted in an awkward twist and fail.

After a dozen or so tries, I heard a distant cry that sounded like a call for help. Using my spidey senses, I ascertained that it was a beer calling from the cooler at our camp. No one else seemed to hear it, and I couldn’t in good conscience let the suffering continue. My dream of river surfing shattered, I headed downriver to rescue the poor bottle from captivity.

Thankfully, there was no phone service in the boondocks. I was spared the claims and photos of Hatteras until returning to civilization on Sunday. Better still, the tropics appear to have shot their seasonal load, and the forecast calls for pancakes this weekend. As sad as it sounds, these days a flat weekend is a good weekend.

Hell yes, bring it on!!!

Hell yes, bring it on!!!

Urge overkill

What, me worry? (This was part of a Halloween costume from ten years ago.)

What, me worry? (This was part of a Halloween costume from ten years ago.)


I used to get the urge to take a slab of foam and ride it down a wave, so I’d do it. I still get that urge. A lot. I’m forced to deal with the urge like never before, so I’m getting chummy with it. It isn’t the urge to follow your big brother, nor the urge to go with the crowd in hopes of being cool, nor the urge to become really good at something, nor the urge to outperform an opponent, nor the urge to fulfill a contractual obligation, nor the urge to make your homeboys proud, nor any other stupid reason I’ve ever stood atop a slab of foam and slid down a wave.

Whatever it isn’t, the urge is on. By 10am on Saturday, I’ve been to the beach four times, and not because I like the beach. Who does? The beach is nothing without the sea. The only thing the beach has going for it is the view. You never see a golfer hit into a bunker and pause to dig his toes into the sand. But plop any yokel on a beach towel and they’re stoked for eternity. Sand is a nuisance, but the sea makes it appear a worthwhile destination.

Anyway, for the second straight weekend, I’m faced with good, clean, warm waves just steps from my front door.

What a beach!

What a beach!


Finally, I swim out. I watch a couple goobers do everything in their power to blow perfect setups, but the waves are too faultless. I bob in the impact zone, ducking my head under lips for a peep. Is this satisfying the urge or making it worse, I can’t tell?

I’ve tried to replicate the feeling during the recent wave-spell known as autumn. Sticking my arm out the window on the interstate isn’t the same. Swerving my bike to ride beneath an overhanging tree branch is useless. Laying into a carve on a skateboard in the road feels too manufactured.

Thanks goodness for work. For eight glorious hours (aside from the times I’m checking my Surfline app or peeking at a heat from Trestles or Hossegor) I’m afforded a hiding place. My mind is occupied with learning plans, and IEPs, and SOLs, and PLCs, and PLPs, and ESLs, and SISs, and IPTs, and…WTF?!

If you're not following @thetweetofgod, you're going to hell.

If you’re not following @thetweetofgod, you’re going to hell.


Now I remember one of the reasons that satisfying the urge was my priority. It’s my way of saying FU to the BS. We all need that sort of outlet – an activity, pleasure or pasttime that enables us to disengage from the futility of trying to win the game of life, navigating the endless onslaught of shit, being “successful.” We have to be able to say, Hey life, FU!

Everybody has a FU. For some it’s drugs or alcohol or just going crazy, anything to tune out the BS. Surfing is my FU, and this year I’ve FU’ed my FU.

As of a month ago, I was winning. The surf had been below average for the year, and I had this challenge firmly by the balls. I was cruising into the final turn and looking towards the home stretch. But as the best waves of the year have since rolled off without me, I’ve begun to resent this entire project. Missing a day of surf is no biggy, but missing a year feels like my world has been pulled from beneath me.

Reality bites.

Reality bites.


Just as I realize that I need a shot of reality, reality obliges. On a Sunday morning bike ride with my son, reality pulls a Ray Rice and coldcocks me square in the jaw. We pedal smack into the JT Walk, a fundraiser for ALS named for my friend Josh Thompson who contracted the disease eight years ago. ALS has rendered Josh a prisoner within his own body, and his friends and family organized the walk to raise money and awareness. It raises my awareness that to whine about not surfing, with so much to be thankful for, is beyond lame. You won’t hear me do it again.

How to escape prison and do great stuff

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“These are the times that try men’s souls.” When activist Thomas Paine saw the hungry, tattered, and all-around pitiful state of the continental army in 1776, he penned these famous words to rally the disheartened troops, dudes who were merely committing treason and sacrificing life and limb in an unwinnable war against the most powerful empire on earth. Imagine what T Paine would’ve said about a challenge as monumental as intentionally not surfing during hurricane season.

My personal struggle is entering its ninth month, and my soul is in for some serious trials. The tropics are on fire. Cristobal just lit up the coast, and more waves are coming. If we could string together a year full of Septembers and Octobers, Va Beach might deserve consideration as a halfway decent surf spot. Like the continental army, I’m in for the fight of my life.

My little odyssey is nothing compared to what ‘muricans undertook in 1776. I’m hardly deserving of recognition from anyone, other than maybe my family and the guys at First Street who each caught a few extra waves in my absence. Still, it’s tough. People tell me all the time, “I can’t believe you’re not surfing, that’s crazy!” I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the toughest challenge I’ve ever faced.

Two hours away but it may as well be a gazillion miles. Photo: Surfline.

Two hours away but it may as well be a gazillion miles. Photo: Surfline.


That realization popped up and bitch-slapped me like it was an unpaid pimp. The toughest task I’ve ever undertaken is trying to avoid riding a wave for a year. My hardest part is still ahead, and there’s a solid chance I won’t make it. How sad is that? When I think of all the tough shit that people do, I feel like a total douche.

Assuming I was the wimpiest sumbitch I know, I asked around. No one I spoke to has done much to challenge themselves either. Some have struggled through school or with a workout regimen, but that’s about it. As it turns out, the comfort zone sucks all of us in, and it doesn’t let us out.

Surfing was my comfort zone, and once I learned how to stand up, nothing I did in the water seemed like a challenge. Paine went on the add, “Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right ‘to bind us in all cases whatsoever,’ and if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth.” Now go back and replace “Britain” with “the ocean” and tell me it doesn’t ring true.

Why are we so attached, as a species, to what comes easily? You’d think, given our ability to outthink other animals, we’d recognize the importance of stepping outside our little boxes.

Naw.

We love our instant gratification, which is a nice way of saying we’re a bunch of lazy fucks. We sleepwalk through the day, plop down after work and don’t budge until the next morning, when we do it all over again. We’re slaves to comfort, and our servitude keeps us from doing anything great.
zone
I cannot say that I’d ever really stepped out of my comfort zone prior to this year. As frightening as it was to become a landlubber, I believe the results have been worthwhile. The only habit I’ve picked up is writing, something I’d given up on. By documenting real life for the first time, I’m hooked. Staying dry has led me to dredge up my past and to admit things to myself and whoever stumbles on my blog that I never would have said otherwise. And by doing so, think how much money I’ve saved by not paying a therapist.

While I’m still in control of surfing rather than the other way around, I want to urge YOU to step out of your comfort zone. Embrace uncomfortableness and see what happens. Don’t quit surfing; that’s just stupid. But step out. Do SOMETHING.

Don’t take it from me. Another famous American, Teddy Roosevelt, said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.” Teddy was a sickly kid whose courage led him to greatness. He was a badass with a big stick, so listen to him.

I’m a realist. I know that the number of people who’ve been inspired to action by a blog post is precisely zero. You’ll get to this point, flush the toilet, and wash your hands of the whole idea. And you’ll live, at least a while. And dying in your bed, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back and tell our enemies that they can take our lives but they can never take our freedom!

You quoted my film without written consent?!

You quoted my film without written consent?!

Biggish wednesday, thanks a lot Bertha!

This view is currently for sale by owner, I'm guessing for around $2 mil, if you're interested.

This view is currently for sale by owner, I’m guessing for around $2 mil, if you’re interested.

I’m not freaking out. I don’t have a blood pressure gauge, but my breathing appears mostly normal. Every five minutes or so, my chest tightens ever during inhalation. I have to consciously help the air in, then out. I believe it is my body sensing another overhead set pouring across the nearby cobblestone points.

I’m back in Rhode Island. It’s the middle of the day and I’m sitting on the deck of a rented cottage overlooking a score of tiny sailboats moored in Quonochontaug Pond. A more peaceful setting I cannot fathom. Beyond this visage of harmony lies the Atlantic, where thankfully obscured from my view, the fruits of Hurricane Bertha beckon. All things considered, it’s the biggest test of my year thus far.

Thank you, Drew Todd, for texting me 37 images (no exaggeration) of perfect waves this week.

Thank you, Drew Todd, for texting me 37 images (no exaggeration) of perfect waves this week.

This morning at camp I told myself, Maybe this torture has gone on long enough. Maybe it’s time to put an end to my experiment. I’ve made it seven months; what can I gain from holding out?

I stuck to my guns, not because I thought of some grand reason to abstain but because there wasn’t a big set breaking at the moment camp ended. I turned around and didn’t look back. It’s okay, I tell myself now. It isn’t about me. If not, then who? The kids, think about the kids. This day will stick with them. A milestone.

Do I look stressed out?

Do I look stressed out?

There are the twins, Harry and George. Their sibling rivalry is 10 years old and just getting started. Harry paddles directly outside. The swell is peaking. He sits for 45 minutes and gets a bomb, well over his four-foot head. He rides straight in, but on the drop alone it’s the wave of his life by a mile. George sees it and must compete. He charges out and gets cleaned up by a monster set and washed to the shore. He’s rattled and stewing while Harry beams.

Emily, who two days ago could not stand up on her board, stricken with a teenage growth spurt that has left her as gangly as a newborn fawn, is now outdoing her sister Zoe. She eventually tires of endless whitewater straights and asks to go “kinda outside” to get an unbroken wave. I pull Emily through a procession of waves, spin her around and shove her into a stomach high reform. A nosedive looks imminent, but she finds her feet and ekes out of certain annhilation. Wave of her life. She wants more.

Jackson, every wave he paddles for, his mouth is wide open. When I say wide open, I mean he could fit his fist in it, no problem. Shit, maybe both fists. Let’s just say he makes the dude in Munch’s scream painting look more tight-lipped than a guard at Buckingham Palace.

I yell, “Close your mouth,” as Jackson whizzes by, but his friend assures me, “He does that in every sport.” Maybe so, but in tennis or golf he’s only gonna get a mouthful of air or the odd mosquito, not a gallon of seawater.

Last twenty minutes of camp, after whitewaters all morning, Jackson says, “I wanna go out there.” I love to see this progression, and I point to an instructor to escort him through the shorebreak. Moments later, mouth agape, he’s flying down the face of a head-high plunger. Wave of his life.

Then there’s Xander. Eleven, been coming to camp for three years. Goofyfoot, only goes left. He’s been falling off a lot this week on knee-high closeouts. Not enough time for him to set his stance or set an edge before the wave flop onto the sandbar. First thing this morning, he’s out the back with the thirty other surfers who have descended on Fenway for this “wave event.” An instructor is with him, just to provide a small push and make sure he stays out of everyone’s way. I look up from nearshore whitewater duty, and Xander is tearing down the line on an overhead peeler, going left towards the jetty of course, looking solid and unfazed like a miniature Occy. A dozen more times he’ll repeat this scene. It’s just four-foot Rhode Island, but it may as well be Pipeline.

To the other campers, the other surfers, the instructors, and the parents on the beach, Xander is a legend. He could never surf another day in his life, but the accomplishment of being eleven years old and taming moving mountains will serve him well. Fifty years down the road, his grandkids playing in the shorebreak, he’ll remember this day.

Xander rolls into a beauty and heads for the time of his life.

Xander rolls into a beauty and heads for the time of his life.

As for me, Bertha won’t be the end of my struggle. The tropics are heating up, and others temptresses will come in her wake. Camp is winding down for the year, but this thing is far from over. Doubts are multiplying, and vicarious enjoyment through my students will not be an option. What then?

 
*I’ve changed these kids’ names and thought I should let you know

The not so endless bummer

Take notes Clark Little. Photo: Jason

Take notes Clark Little. Photo: Jason

I had no idea that summer was a verb until I started summering in Rhode Island. Now, each July, I roll up to the Ocean State to hold a camp at the same small private beach. I meet the nicest people, teach them how to ride waves, shoot a round at the pitch-n-putt, play tennis on fake grass, ride go karts, sip mixed drinks, read by the pool, eat fresh-caught seafood and fresh-dipped ice cream, and since there always seems to be swell, I surf. You see how that last part could cause a problem.

For the first time, I was looking forward to summering as much as I look forward to getting in the car and hearing that “Hey brother” song on the radio. Which is to say that the thought of summering without surfing made me want to veer off the Delaware Memorial Bridge and plunge to my death.

This year, the waves once again turned on for us. (Noooooo! Whyyyyyyyy?!) It was pushing head high, and one of the neighboring beachbreaks was thumping. I hadn’t seen a legitimate wave in months, so the sight of wedging peaks sent me into a wicked pisser. After almost 200 days of surflessness, I still experience those moments of, “Yes, I’m out there!” The flashes of stoke last less than a full second and are invariably followed by a more sobering thought, usually something like, “Aww, shit!”

Aaron Chang I own you. Photo: Jason

Aaron Chang I own you. Photo: Jason

Regardless, looking at the most inviting waves I’d seen all year, I felt a gravitational pull that was irresistable. I had to get in the water. It was suggested, possibly by my conscience, that I commandeer a board from the family quiver at the house I was staying in, or even a camp softie, and paddle out. That’s what any rational person would do. My rationality, as you know, is on sabbatical for 2014.

Then, another thought. At 400 miles from First Street, I could do it and no one would care. I could cheat and get away with it. I could come back home, pick up the whole non-surfing thing if I felt like it, and no one would know any different. Unfortunately, I suffer from Lincoln’s Syndrome, a rare condition akin to being bound by Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.

If only I had a GoPro, I lamented aloud to the groms and Surf Mom. “We have one,” she squealed. After a brief tutorial from Jack, the youngest of the bunch, I was waddling into the shorepound with swimfins and a pole cam, intent on making heroes of the lot of them.

This is how we do it, Art Brewer. Photo: Jason

This is how we do it, Art Brewer. Photo: Jason

If I said I had no desire to yank one of the kids off his board and indulge, I’d be lying. I wanted to catch a wave, but only to show the boys what they were missing by not taking off at the peak. Instead, I filmed them and swam under a couple hours worth of the sort of peaks that make me love to summer in this part of the world.

Somehow, without being propelled shoreward a single time, I left the water satiated. Treading water and dunking beneath waves isn’t surfing, but it’s way more satisfying than pedaling a bike around town with a seat halfway up my ass or sweating balls all over an elliptical machine. I’m heading back to Rhode Island in a couple weeks for another camp. There will be waves. I won’t surf. Summering, it turns out, is okay without it.

Suck it, Bielmann. Photo: Jason

Suck it, Bielmann. Photo: Jason

Threat level red, danger is imminent

photo-13
The first step to healing is admitting you have a problem. I did that. Six months ago. I still have a problem. I figured it’s time to get help.

With hurricane season heating up, my problem is coming to a head. Last week, a storm named Arthur came calling. Luckily (for me), Arthur’s track was not conducive to making good surf around here. Still, I needed to be out there in a hurricane swell, so I borrowed some swimfins and jumped in. My feet were killing me, and I realized I was wearing the fins upside down. Once that issue was remedied, I bobbed around for an hour watching my son and a bunch of other guys all wish that Arthur wasn’t such a letdown. I had more fun than any of them.

Unfortunately, Arthur was just the beginning. (His name starts with “A”. Duh!) He’ll have brothers and sisters. They’ll come through town looking for a good time, and when my phone lights up the temptation might be too strong to resist.

With this in mind, I went where everyone turns for help today, I asked the Google. “Crisis hotline” yielded forty-seven bazillion options, so I picked one that looked like it could offer support.

Hi, I'm Bob. Photo: Lila Goodman

Hi, I’m Bob. Photo: Lila Goodman


I got an answering machine.

The next, “Crisis Relief Central,” was out of service. It’s a good thing there wasn’t a real swell bearing down on us, or I would’ve been in trouble.

On the third try, I reached an actual human. “I don’t know what we’re gonna be able to do to help you,” a girl named Kelly told me. “We provide acute detox off opiates and barbituates.” She at least gave me another number to try, one for Emergency Community Services.

I got through and explained to a woman from the answering service that I had an addiction. “Let me get your name,” she replied.

I didn’t want to tell her, so I said, “I don’t want to tell you.”

Her response of, “Well I need to tell someone who to call,” made sense to me. So I said, “John.” She probably gets a ton of Johns.
arthur
Half an hour later, I got a call from Willard. I explained to him that I have an addiction that is ruining my life, and it is surfing.

“Smoking?” he asked.

“No, surfing.”

Then Willard grew a touch condescending and asked, “How is that impairing your life?”

“It’s all I think about, and it impairs my relationship with my family and my job. And, it’s hurricane season, so I need some support. Now.”

Like everyone else I’d spoken to, Willard immediately went about pawning me off to somebody else. “Have you talked to a therapist?” He asked.

I wasn’t letting him off the hook so easy. “But isn’t it just like trying to quit a substance?”

“Your problem sounds more like an obsession than an addiction,” he said, and then tried to distract me by throwing in some big words. “Those other things have a physiological component.”

“But what about endorphins and all that?”

“Yeah, I think you might want to try a therapist.”

The only thing I’d learned from the entire experience is that Willard clearly doesn’t surf.

This Arthur was a lot like the original movie by the same name. You bought a ticket expecting something great and then realized you had to sit and look at Liza Minnelli for two hours. Photo: Lila Goodman

This Arthur was a lot like the original movie by the same name. You bought a ticket expecting something great and then realized you had to sit and look at Liza Minnelli for two hours. Photo: Lila Goodman