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


My cup is 1/12th full, or 1/12th empty, or…hell, the drink’s frozen anyway


Since we got that crap out of the way, now’s a good time to look back at my first month of surfbriety. As many have commented, not surfing in January in Virginia Beach is simple. For most it’s as easy as a vow of celibacy on a desert island with the cast of Honey Boo Boo. You’d sooner die than give in.

The reason not a lot of people surf here is, it’s freaking cold. This year is no exception, water in the forties and more snow days than we’ve seen in decades.

But we’ve had waves! As the image above shows, even the snow on the beach is barreling. (It was a left but I thought it’d look better as a right so I flipped it around. Okay, I didn’t flip it around. I had my daughter do it. I don’t know how to do that kind of thing.)

The longest I ever go without surfing in the winter is around two weeks, and that’s due to lack of surf rather than lack of desire. At that stage I’ll paddle out in anything. If January was any indication, this thing’s gonna be an ordeal.

Cold and flat. Wouldn’t have imagined paddling out today. Supposed to be waves this weekend. I don’t know whether or not to be excited.

Waves. Head high. Kinda chilly, but I wish I was out there. Would avoiding sight of the ocean make more sense? Sure, but I’m taking this challenge head on. Rode bike along the boardwalk to First Street. Wow, looks good – lined up and not too crowded. Dammit! On the bright side, at least now it should be flat for a while.

Wifey has nothing planned for us, so I’m free to…not surf. Wouldn’t you know it’s 70 degrees and there’s a building south swell. I’ve only told a few people about my new mission. By 10 a.m. I get a text from one friend and a voicemail from another. I respond to each with, “I quit surfing.” They both think I’m kidding.

Waves again, and still warm. WTF? This sort of thing doesn’t happen here. Somebody is messing with me.

The high today is 20, and the wind chill isn’t even in double digits. Snow blankets the beach and everything else, enough to bring the city to a standstill and cancel school.

Cold hasn’t stopped me from surfing since 1982, before I owned a wetsuit. Waves are waves, and for the fourth time this year, I’m staring at them. Only I’m not staring with the usual East Coast sense of urgency. There’s no, “It’s gonna be dark in an hour so I better get on it.” Instead, I have a sense of forced calmness. I know I’m not going out, but I have to remind myself why I’m doing this.

These are the days I lived for, the days everyone else is bundled up indoors with hot cocoa and feet propped on the ottoman and I’m zipping into my wetsuit and sprinting to the ocean, shivering to grab a half-dozen waves and lay into a few turns before the pain in my pinky fingers and toes spreads to my limbs and then to my body, whereby the only thing to do is catch a last wave and waddle on stumps toward a steaming shower.

Looking at my warm, dry feet propped on the ottoman, reality sets in. I miss surfing. It’s gonna be a long year.