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


Threat level red, danger is imminent

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.
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

You can’t play a sad song on a banjo

The coveted Phyzeke trophy, crafted by www.igorscustom.com.

The coveted Phyzeke trophy, crafted by http://www.igorscustom.com.

I’ve been thinking. Looking back over my posts, I sound like a negative guy, like this whole “not surfing” experiment has made me bitter. Strangely enough, I don’t think it has. I remain a happy person, happier than most at least. It sucks to see other people surfing while I cannot, but I am more aware than ever of the many things I have to be thankful for. School is out, I have a wonderful family that is healthy, and I recently watched as a melting pot of vigilantes rose up to defeat the evil Miami Heat empire and reclaim the NBA crown. Life is good.

Somehow, when I sit down and start pecking away on the Notes app on my phone, words appear that are inexplicably laced with negativity, cynicism, and doom. When I noticed this trend, I thought to myself, I need to write something positive, something uplifting. Then, I came to my senses.

I’m not documenting this warped pursuit in order to inspire, although it would be great if I inspired all other surfers to take a year off beginning next January. That would mean lots of waves for me. But no, I’m documenting my year for posterity and to entertain, not just you but myself as well. Writing these posts has in some strange way provided me with a purpose, an endeavor to try to fill the void left by not surfing.
As far as uplifting blogs go, I can’t stand them. If I have a few minutes to read someone’s thoughts, I want entertainment, hopefully some humor, and the odd bit of insight. In fact, I think I’d enjoy reading my own blog if I didn’t already know what it was gonna say. From what people tell me as I go about this difficult, landlubbing year, others like it too. No one yet has told me, “Dude your blog sucks! It’s unreadable drivel and you should quit writing.” (I’m sure some people are thinking it, and I’d love to hear from them.)

As I approach the halfway point in this journey, I repeatedly ask myself if there’s any reason to continue. With summer’s arrival I find myself surrounded by water and have to be careful not to cheat. This weekend, I attended a surf contest that I started in memory of Zeke Sanders, a good friend who battled with bipolar disorder and eventually took his own life. It’s a free event for local groms, but we also hold a special heat for Zeke’s friends, called the Phyzeke.

I paddled out for the heat in my nephew’s inflatable pool raft so as not to be tempted to ride a wave. For half an hour, I did my best to get in everybody’s way. A few times a wave caught my lil’ ship, so I immediately dove out, each time aiming to remove another surfer from his board. Some onlookers accused me of breaking my vow and riding a wave.

I can say with absolute certainty that those accusations are false. Yes, if you snapped a photo at the right second, it would look like I was surfing. I know I didn’t, and the reason I know is that afterwards, walking back to my car, I had an empty feeling. Sure, I miss my friend, but he’s been gone for almost a decade. It was something else, something much closer.

This is the closest I've come to surfing in 2014.

This is the closest I’ve come to surfing in 2014.