10/07/05 -NEWPORT BEACH, CA
I have very little interest in surfing myself. I saw "Jaws" when I was fifteen and, though I'm told the odds of shark attack are minimal, I feel reasonably certain that remaining on the beach reduces one's chances to next to none. Also, the Pacific Ocean is freakin' cold. All year round. Wet suit, schmet suit. I am a morning person only to the degree that I can avoid being cold and wet before noon.
I do love to watch surfers surf, though. It comes from having friends, an ex-husband and ex-in-laws who surf(ed). It's a big ocean, and it's interesting to watch how people --especially large male-type people who are all well over 6'3" --try to tame or conquer it. Getting out past the breakpoint, where one is in a position to actually catch the wave seems to be about 70% of the work right there, because you're fighting the incoming waves all the way out. The sooner you can get belly onto board and start paddling out, the easier it is.
But today in Newport, it isn't the men that have caught my eye. For they are nearly all men today. Today, a family of three arrives --a father, his son who is (I'm guessing) around 17, and his daughter, who is 12, at most. At first, I don't even realize that she's a girl. Dressed in a black wetsuit, with boy-short pixie cut sun-bleached blonde hair, too young to exhibit any secondary sex characteristics, she could be a boy from the back. Then she drops her board on the sand so she can secure her ankle strap. The board is the tip-off --bright baby blue, with a cherry-hot pink heart painted in the center. I remember now that my ex-husband had urged my daughter to decorate her board with loud, easily spotted decals, so that if she wiped out and lost her board while they were surfing, he'd know immediately when the board popped to the surface without her.
The father and the son, who are about the same height, head straight out into the water, as all the other surfers have done so far. They barge through the incoming waves until they are waist-deep, then belly onto their boards and paddle out past the break. But our Mizz Thang can't do this. She weighs maybe 65 pounds and she is, at this point, soaking wet. The waves merely pick her up and toss her back to the beach, with little effort or ceremony. How is this tiny thing going to get herself into a position to catch a single wave, I wonder?
She stands knee-deep in the water, as the waves finish breaking and skid to a stop on the beach. She drops her board onto one of the spent waves and hops on it, riding it nearly to the end. Then she cuts back in toward the surf, catches the tail end of another wave, rides it out a bit, cuts back, and so on. She keeps doing this over and over, and I'm fooled at first into thinking this is what she's come here for. Then I realize. The waves come in and go out, and after a couple of minutes, she's managed to use the ocean against itself to get to the point where she can drop down on the board and paddle to the breakpoint, where her father and brother are waiting.
Did someone teach her this? Did someone show her that if she just used the ocean's own power to draw her out to sea, she wouldn't have to charge headlong into oncoming surf? Did someone teach her to compensate for the wicked riptide and undertow that hangs near the shore? Clearly, her father has had her on a board since before she could stand. Maybe he was once a 65-pound weakling, too, and he learned to master the ins and outs of the waves to help him get past the surf. Somehow, I don't think so. I think this very little girl has figured this out for herself. It seems, instead of fighting the ocean, she's found a way to make some peace with it, and to get it to cooperate with her. They both get what they want. The ocean gets to come and go as it pleases, and she gets a ride out past the waves.
A few minutes later, a really good wave begins to curl just in front of the breakpoint. I know it's a good wave, because five of the bobbing heads that have been sitting on their boards, letting the others pass them by, are now in hot pursuit of the wave. One by one, they drop away, acknowledging that this one isn't theirs, until only one remains. A flash of blue and a cherry-hot pink heart peak out of the curl as she rides the wave in --all the way in to the point where the surf stops short.
Then she drops the board on the dying surf, hops on and begins the patient work of letting the ocean pull her back out so she'll be ready when her next wave comes.