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

Why there is only one surf movie (aside from that animated penguin flick)

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A friend I hadn’t seen since George Michael was urging everyone to have ‘fay-fa-fay-fa-faith’ came into town recently. Damian Bibic is an Aussie who lived here during my wonder years and showed me what good surfing looked like. He wasn’t aware of my sabbatical, and the first thing he said the other night was, “I went down to First Street to look for you. I wanted to paddle up and go, ‘Good swell, how big are the sets?'”

In you’re unfamiliar with the only Hollywood film about surfing that’s worth watching, Damian’s line is from Big Wednesday. Straight-laced Jack Barlow returns from three years in Vietnam and says those words to his frequently drunk buddy Matt Johnson as if nary a day has passed. Damian’s return after a quarter century set off a wave of nostalgia. I remembered being at a party and painting him with barbecue sauce so he could dive into a preheated oven (“We’re gonna roast the Masochist. How you like your haole?”). It was time for a screening.

Roasting the Masochist. Perhaps this was the root of Busey's later problems.

Roasting the Masochist. Perhaps this was the root of Busey’s later problems.


We had no smart phones in the ’80s, so our eyes had lots of free time. Mine fixated on a vhs cassette of Big Wednesday. I’m baffled the magnetic tape didn’t disintegrate after the thousandth viewing. I cannot recall a single postulate from geometry, but by the time I graduated I could recite every line in the film.

Several years later I got the movie on dvd. I never watched it, and after moving twice I considered it lost. I tried to find a pirated YouTube version but Warner Brothers demanded my credit card information. Oh well, I have a smart phone, so my attention fluttered back to Words with Friends.

Enter fate.

The next evening, I was sitting on my bum in the living room when in walks my son. His hair was wet from surfing, and he was carrying my dvd copy of Big Wednesday. I envisioned that somewhere Gary Busey cracked a(nother) beer, the clouds parted, and Ray Charles was accompanied by a flock of angels for an impromptu rendition of “What’d I say?”

Best seat in the house. I can finally throw quotes at my son.

Best seat in the house. I can finally throw quotes at my son.


An hour later, I was sprawled on my son’s bedroom floor for closer viewing as the narrator began, “I remember the three friends best – Matt, Jack, Leroy,” and the trio made their way down the concrete stairs toward The Point. I’ll spare you the whole story, but I was struck like an Enforcer uppercut by all the memorable lines. Big Wednesday says so much about friendship, growing up, and life in general that I can overlook the hackneyed ride-of-his-life-near-death-experience-saved-by-his-friends ending. Here’s a my list of my favorites quotes (in the order they appear in the film).

1. “You’re always alone out there anyway. You shouldn’t have to depend on anybody but yourself.” -Bear
One of the best things about surfing is that it isn’t a team sport, or possibly isn’t a sport at all, but a mental, physical, and spiritual sanctuary with real consequences. There are no tracks, coaches, fees, or support staff.

2. “At home being young is just something you do until you grow up. Here, here it’s everything.” –Sally
After growing up in Chicago, Jack’s girlfriend realizes the Great Lakes mightn’t be so great after all. That’s why there’re so many grownups there. The beach is more like Neverland, and everybody wants to be Peter Pan.

3. “They’ve condemned the pier, Jack. I’m gonna have to go and start livin’ like an inlander.” –Bear
We all reach a crossroads where that thug called “life” threatens to rob us of our passion. Some of us realize the moment isn’t a crossroads at all, but a speed bump. We get knocked around, spill our $5 coffee, curse the creator for playing such a cruel trick, and keep right on driving.

4. “I just surf ’cause it’s good to go out and ride with your friends.” –Matt
Competition, adulation, and free stuff get in the way of surfing. They aren’t reasons to do it. Going out and riding with ones friends, that’s the ticket – riding waves, riding flat spells, riding to Hatteras and stinking the car up with jokes and Hardee’s biscuit farts.

5. “Jack, your friends are the most important thing you’ve got. Have a drink…to your friends, come hell or high water.” –Bear One day your friends will lure you into a shady business deal, steal your gal, and have your kids calling them, “Daddy,” but until then, they’re the best thing you’ve got. Quit blowing them off. Blow everything else off and meet them for a drink.

6. “The change wasn’t in the beach or the rocks or the waves. It was in the people. Some got married. Some moved inland. Some died.” –Narrator
No matter where you live, people bitch about how the place has changed for the worse. Unless you live somewhere they’ve built a harbor over your break, shut up. All that’s changed is people have moved on. Adapt or die, the choice is yours.

7. “I’m not your brother, and turn down that crappy music!” –Matt I haven’t had a reason to attend Surf Expo or any other gathering of bro’s for several years, and I do not miss it. Unless you’re my brother, or we’ve been to war together, or at least on a surf trip, don’t call me, “brother.” And hippy music is indeed crap.

8. “Nah, only when it’s necessary.” Matt, in response to Jack asking if he’s been doing much surfing
I don’t like the idea of surfing as a routine, like going to a gym and hopping on a treadmill. Riding waves is an adventure, and if it isn’t you’re doing it wrong and may as well be on a tennis court or a golf course. Go out on a choppy day or ride a different type of board.

9. “I never thought old Waxer’d end up in the boneyard.” -Leroy
We all die, some earlier than others. You never expect to hear that one of your buddies has expired. I’ve been through it a couple times and you always wish you’d been a better friend. Refer to #5.

10. “No, I’m just a garbage man.” -Bear, in response to a guy asking if he surfs
If you don’t surf now, you never did. That sounds funny considering my present situation, but I believe it. Since many think of me as a surfer, they are impelled to tell me about their days in the water and how they long to return. I wish they’d accept reality; they’re garbagemen.

On a final note, I’d like to think that when I die, I will relive Matt’s experience as he walks to the beach on the big day. He reaches the sand, and Jack and Leroy are waiting for him. I’ll walk up to the boardwalk at First Street, and I’ll find Jeff Hunter and Zeke Sanders standing with their boards. Nothing will be said. We’ll paddle out.

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!!!

The short happy life of the septuagenarian grom

There's nothing in the quiver that is big enough for Gary Slaughter.

There’s nothing in the quiver that is big enough for Gary Slaughter.


I’ve taught thousands of people to surf over the last twenty-something years, but this guy in 2007 was the most memorable.

I avoided his calls for most of September. Four months of shoving an old man into nosedives was more than enough, even if he WAS paying me 60 bucks an hour. I’d never encountered a student I couldn’t teach, but his failure was my failure. His phone number was a buzzing reminder. He may as well have hired a plane to write it across the sky.

The little I learned about Gary between pushes was that he grew up in New York but was a Red Sox fan, and his only other physical activity was cruising on his Harley. His reddish-brown crew cut was obviously dyed, and by the look of his slow, stiff-legged gait I guessed he was in his sixties. Neither of us was big on small talk, and he was usually too winded to speak anyway. Before our first lesson, on a muggy day back in June, he’d nearly keeled over from wedging himself into a fullsuit, all before we’d paddled out. I made sure he signed a waiver.

Gary’s education hadn’t been a total loss. He got most of the way to his feet, occasionally rising to a hunched, four-point stance. Then he’d let go of the rails, and all hell inevitably broke loose. In bathtub-sized waves, his wipeouts were fantastic, as if blasted by an exploding underwater mine. His body contorted in a frenetic game of Twister, and he’d struggle in waist-deep water to extricate himself from the leash while gasping to the surface. He couldn’t paddle by himself, but with his own personal pusher, he didn’t need to.

I half-hoped he’d move on and forget about surfing, but perhaps inspired by his Sox’ charge towards the World Series he kept calling. Gary wouldn’t tell me how old he was but promised to come clean when (or rather if) he learned to surf. On the other hand, the days were getting shorter, and he was scheduled for knee surgery in November. It was now or never, or at least till next summer.

Finally, I caved and returned his call. I dragged The Blue Whale, a 12’ foam beast, down the sand to meet him. If you can’t stand up on this floating sidewalk, give it up. You’ll never surf.

I wish I had a photo of Gary, but this guy does a fairly good impersonation.

I wish I had a photo of Gary, but this guy does a fairly good impersonation.


For the first half-hour, it was business as usual – wait for Gary to lead the Whale to the lineup and regain his breath, hold her steady while he’d climb aboard, turn the two of them around, wait for a wave, give a heave, and watch in horror as he’d…crawl…up…almost…come on…you got it…yes…nooo! Damn mines.

I clicked away the minutes until my, I mean Gary’s torture would cease. He was so exhausted that the muscles in his face lacked the energy to make any expression at all. Buoyed by some unknown call of duty, he trudged ahead. Meanwhile, I nearly threw out my shoulder hauling him into yet another gentle wavelet.

This time I couldn’t bear to watch. I scanned the boardwalk and spotted a friend on a mid-work surf check. I wondered if my buddy was gonna paddle out. Maybe I’d stay out with the Whale and catch a few. Only ten more minutes of agony.

Oh yeah, my student. When I turned back to view the carnage, there was none. No Blue Whale popping out the back of the wave. No epic struggle between the old man and the leash. Nothing. But fifty feet further in, a most glorious sight. Gary had stood, let go of the rails, and managed not to detonate any mines. He was angling slightly down the line at the Whale’s behest. Holy shit! His failure was my failure. His success was my success. He’s surfing.

An unstoppable scream shot from my lungs. I splashed hysterically. Someone might’ve thought a Great White had chomped onto my legs. If one had tried, it would’ve choked on the goose bumps. Never had I been as stoked watching a surfer ride a wave. I’d never been that stoked while I was riding a wave.

After our lesson, this was Gary (on the inside at least).

After our lesson, this was Gary (on the inside at least).


Afraid to twitch for fear of the moment disappearing in a puff of smoke, Gary hung on with everything he had. His pose made the Duke statue at Waikiki look like a spaz. The Whale delivered him safely to the sand, where he remained frozen a few more seconds before clumsily dismounting. I was pretty far away, but I thought I could make out the slightest crack of a grin. We called it a day.

In my excitement, I forgot to ask Gary his age. We agreed to meet again the next week, but winter came all at once. His knee surgery was approaching, and he never called. Swept up with life, I didn’t think of him. A few months later, I got the message from one of his friends. “Yeah, uh, I believe you are the surfing instructor for Gary Slaughter. I don’t know if anyone has let you know, but Gary passed away. He said you had this little game going about how old he was. Well, he was 72.” Gary was diagnosed with prostate cancer soon after his knee surgery and was gone a month after that. If he had any family, they were estranged. He prepaid to be cremated and wanted no funeral, not even an obituary. “I just wanted to let you know,” the friend added at the end of the message, “that he really enjoyed it.”

Write good, you be trippin’

One cannot write about an event at Jeffreys Bay without spending lots of time getting to know Jeffreys Bay.

One cannot write about an event at Jeffreys Bay without spending lots of time getting to know Jeffreys Bay.


As easy as it is to be a professional surfer (enter a pro contest, wait for chicks to flock), becoming a surf journalist is easier. Trust me.

When I was a grom in Virginia Beach, getting my hands on a new magazine was as exciting as getting a new board. I remember several instances where a group of us frothed over a fresh issue, one kid doing the flipping and the rest of us elbowing each other for viewing position. We intravenously slurped up the stoke that oozed off each page. My buddies were happy gawking at the pictures, but I pored over every word of every issue. Repeatedly. That’s what you do with your bible.

I hated reading, but I loved reading surf mags. Matt Warshaw was the professional, Derek Hynd the instigator, and Dave Parmenter the god. Anything by these wordsmiths got reread so many times that their phrases were seered into my eyeballs.

As a fledgling pro in 1993, after scoring epic Hatteras barrels courtesy of Hurricane Emily, I was told that a shot of me was under consideration for the cover of Surfer. I happened to be in California, so I dropped by the hallowed Surfer offices to sneak a peek. “You’re who? From where?” I never made it past the lobby and sulked back to my rental car. And I didn’t get the cover.

A few years later, after hacking up a rundown of a local surf contest using my parents’ word processor, Surfer invited me inside the fortress as the new East Coast Editor. Under the bony yet nurturing wing of Tony’s big brother Steve Hawk, I became part of the family. I found myself sitting in editorial meetings with Warshaw and Hynd, hobnobbing at the Surfer Poll Awards, and like The Talking Heads I had to ask, Well, how did I get here?

"Daddy's in Africa working right now. He'll be home next week."

“Daddy’s in Africa working right now. He’ll be home next week.”


When Dot Com boomed at the turn of the millennium, Hawk assembled a dream team at Swell.com and asked me to join them. I had just started teaching, but when he said he could top my teacher salary by 50%, I could work from home constructing an online encyclopedia (surf a-z), and travel to the best surf spots on earth to cover world tour events, I flew out my classroom door faster than a kid on the last day of school. Um, like, where did Mr. Borte go?

My typical day: Wake up. Surf. Enter my dungeon. Scan list I’d compiled of a few hundred people, places, and events that, together, comprised the history of surfing. Pick a couple to write that day and email Warshaw with a request. He had every surf mag ever printed, and he’d fax me everything on those topics. Peruse the info, make some phone calls from a rolodex of surfing’s royalty, and cobble together the entries. “Gotta put you on hold, Laird. Curren’s buzzing in. Oh, forget it. That’s Lopez on the land line. No, not Shea, you knucklehead. Gerry! I’ll call you back.” And Parmenter was regularly sending me pieces about surfboards, for me to edit and post. Another miserable day at the office.

Over the next few years, my passport gathered more stamps than my kindergartner’s school folder. Cuba for exploration with legendary lensman Art Brewer, Tahiti for death-defying barrels, France and Portugal for beachbreaks and old world culture, Fiji for Cloudbreak perfection, Hawaii for world title showdowns in the mecca of the sport, and South Africa for the regularfooter’s dream come true at Jeffreys Bay – and I don’t have to pay for anything? Wait, you’re gonna pay me? Are you out of your freaking mind? I mean, yeah, sure, I’m okay with that.


Anything that sounds too good to be true usually is. The writing had been on the wall for a while as Swell had blown through megamillions without turning a profit. The editorial staff had been steadily shrinking. As I was about to put my son to bed one evening, I got the call from the boss, Sean Collins. He’d become one of the most powerful people in surfing thanks to his revolutionary surf forecasting and web cams. It was the only time he ever called me, so I knew that after two-and-a-half years my time had come.

Sean seemed genuinely bummed about letting me go, so much so I almost felt bad for him. When he mentioned a severence package, I did feel bad for him. He’d been paying me to do what I loved, and now he was going to pay me while I did absolutely nothing, at least for a few months.

I thanked Sean and went to read some Dr. Seuss to my son. “Right this minute our future looks muddy, but we’re gonna get to play together a lot more, buddy.” I needed a job. Little did I know that Harper Collins was in negotiations for a book on the world’s best surfer. All they needed was a writer.

The Airpump Rumpus

Behold the greatest thing to happen to air since Michael Jordan.

Behold the greatest thing to happen to air since Michael Jordan.

I can’t remember the last time somebody wanted to fight me. Must’ve been the Hawaiian dude I asked to be quiet while we were watching a movie, somewhere around ’92. He promptly stuck his fist through the living room wall of our North Shore rental, turned to me, and deadpanned, “Mo betta if it’s ya face next time, yeah?” All had been peaceful in my world since then, the only person wanting to ring my neck being my wife. That is, until I made the mistake of stopping at a gas station to get some air in my tire.

The only place I know of that doesn’t charge for air is Wawa, so being the tightwad that I am, Wawa is where I go for air, even when it’s out of my way. They got these bitchin new airpumps where you punch in the appropriate tire pressure and it beeps when it’s finished. And did I mention their air is free? I should know by now that everything in this world comes with a price. If you think otherwise you probably believe the Kardashian’s are real people.

Someone was parked at the spot designated for the airpump, so my wife pulled the car into a spot three spaces away. I asked her to park closer, but she ran inside for a coffee and left me to fill the tire. When the customer finished and pulled away, I tried to stretch the hose three spaces rather than repark the car. It didn’t work.

I found a video of this Wawa scrum on the Interweb. Not sure if it started over the air hose or if one of them grabbed the last apple fritter.

I found a video of this Wawa scrum on the Interweb. Not sure if it started over the air hose or if one of them grabbed the last apple fritter.

I pulled out of my space to park closer, and in the meantime another car swooped into the airpump spot. I parked next to them and walked over to grab the hose. That’s when things got interesting.

The driver of the other car, a redneck sporting Fakely’s and a Nascar cap, hopped out from behind the wheel and barked, “Wought the fuck you think yer doin?”

“I’m just getting some air in my tire.”

“You think you can just cut in front of me?!”

“Oh, no. I was already here, but the hose wouldn’t reach.”

“Look at the fuckin sign.” He graciously pointed out that he’d parked his crappy old American sedan in front of the ‘Airpump parking only’ sign, proving he was capable of reading compound words.

“Yeah, that’s what I told my wife when she parked the car over there.”

My adversary preps for battle.

My adversary preps for battle.

Nascar was apparently getting confused from so much thinkin, and he had heard enough. He yanked off his Fakely’s and cap and took a step in my direction. “You wanna jump?”

Now I was the one confused. “What?”

“You wanna jump at me?” He was by this point, in the parlance of our time, all up in my grill. I had a decision to make. I could hand him the hose, happy to have avoided a senseless conflict, and allow Karma to have her way with him. Or, I could say, “Fuck you, dipshit,” and resume filling my tire with free air like I’d come to do.

This undoubtedly would have sent Nascar into a tizzy, and I would have soon found myself on the losing end of an MMA battle. In the Wawa parking lot. Over an airhose. With my kids watching from inside the car. The headline would’ve read, “Local Teacher Arrested in Airhose Melee,” but history would remember the skirmish as “The Airpump Rumpus.”

I coulda been a contender.

I coulda been a contender.

Unfortunately, the result was preordained. I’ve never been a proponent of violence, which is a nice way of saying I’m a huge pussy when it comes to physical confrontation. A favorite quote of mine, from John Gregory Dunne, states, “Violence is the way stupid people try to level the playing field.” I handed over the hose, or as my daughter saw it, he snatched it out of my hand. I need to get her eyes checked.

Considering the miserable existence  Nascar probably leads, I’m happy to have provided him the opportunity to feel good about himself (although that was anything but my intention). He left the scene feeling like he was nine-feet-tall and could take on Chuck Norris. I, on the other hand, felt like a complete wuss. Lucky for me, I have this seldom-read forum to poke fun at his sorry ass and exact a modicum of revenge. The pen, or in this case the blog, is indeed mightier than the dipshit.

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