How to surf – NOT!

Following my sometimes painful introduction to life back in the States, things settled down to a daily drudge.  I was out across an arterial highway (US101) so I had to ride the school bus to school.  There was many reasons why this was considered to be the ultimate in agony for a high school junior.  The primary question always being ‘why don’t you have a car’?  My standard answer, which was considered akin to “the check’s in the mail” was ‘my car is still on it’s way from Germany’.  Hoots of derision usually followed this pronouncement.

November morphed into December, dragged onward into January, February, and March and finally, after several centuries, crawled into April.  April in California signals a real change from dirty brown grass, thunderstorms that don’t pass out much rain and winds whipping the fog up from the bay.  Rain falls, but at a softer, more soaking, rate.  Flowers, grass, and leaves begin to absorb it and turn green.

Girls start planning their spring wardrobes, with bright colors, lighter materials, and other eye-catching items.  Guys begin dividing into three groups:  1) The car guys; 2) the health nuts; and, 3) the surfers.  There is a fourth group consisting of both girls and guys that simply continue onwards with their lives.

I couldn’t join the first group – no car.  The second group was appealing to me, but they spent a lot of time working up to grueling marathons by running down to San Francisco and back in a morning wearing nothing but a really thin pair of running shorts, a running jumper with the number of calories per second they were burning pinned to the back, and running shoes that cost more than my car.  That only left the third group.  They seemed an interesting bunch to me, if one discounted the fact that they had their own language.  I’d give them a try.

Last year, in the Bavarian Alps, I’d tried skiing.  I was passably good at it.  I had two boards strapped to my feet, a long downhill grade, and nothing to cushion me except some pretty unforgiving snow over a very terra firma.  So, I figured, how hard can it be to stand on a one huge board, being pushed by a wave, with nice soft water as a cushion in case of the unlikely event I would fall.

I had a couple of the surfer crowd that lived nearby so I initiated contact with one of them.  His name appeared to be ‘Fuzzy’.  That was what everyone called him.  I think his actual name was Phil, but Fuzzy is what they knew him by.  Like me, he was a junior, had his own car, and had a really large surfboard done up in lime green with yellow lightning bolts down the length.

We were chatting out in front of his house one afternoon when he mentioned that his friend, Tomcat, was coming by.  He added that Tomcat had a woodie.  Now, I’m not prudish by any means, but something like that just seemed to be an overload of information.  Before I inserted my foot and chewed it off at the dotted line, Tomcat drove by in his Ford station wagon with actual wooden panels down the side and a surfboard rack on top.  Fuzzy asked me if that wasn’t the greatest woody I’d ever seen.  Um, yup; the greatest.  Actually, it was the first one I’d seen.

They were going out so Point Reyes to see how the surf looked.  Having to head back home soon, I had to decline, but asked to go another time.  They assured me I could go next time and zoomed out of sight.  Judging by the amount of blue smoke, Tomcat’s woody actually burned wood also.

Part two of my quest to be a surfer consisted of nudging a request for either a surfboard, or money to buy one towards my dad.  This was going to be very difficult as my dad was hard to get any money out of.  I was totally surprised when he mulled it over and said he’d see what he could do.  Not wanting to push my luck, I let the matter simmer right there.

He gave me the bad news the next day.  He was under the impression that a surfboard was something you slid on across incoming surf.  That actually being a ‘boogie board’, and was not very expensive.  When he pronounced an actual surfboard as being completely out of the realm of possibility I was crestfallen.  He went on to say that if I agreed to mow our lawn, trim shrubbery, wash the car, and balance the national budget, for the rest of my life he’d buy me a surfboard.  Sign right here son, in blood please.

Well, it was a thought.  Now I’d have to figure out a way to get one myself.  Back over to Fuzzy’s house I went and explained my predicament.  He had me follow him to his garage and stand under the trap door while he rummaged in the attic.  Eventually, amid grunts, groans, and an enormous bang, the nose of a surfboard emerged from the hole in the ceiling.  Fuzzy told me to catch the board and let it go.

Fortunately his brother’s plastic pool toy was where the tip of the board hit.  It bounced once and clattered to the floor.  Fuzzy admonished me to be more careful so I wouldn’t get it dingy.  It looked pretty dusty to me already so when I asked what he meant he just repeated what he’d said before, but emphasized the last part:  ‘get A dingy’.  Ah, now I understood, not “din-gey” but “ding-ie”.  I had a lot to learn.

Covered in cobwebs, Fuzzy dropped from the ceiling and explained that this was his old board and I was welcome to use it but I had to refinish it.  Currently, the finish was a cross between apple red and moldy cheese.  Large areas of the board were devoid of any finish at all, mainly the underside.  On one edge there appeared to be a small shark bite.  When asked, Fuzzy explained that he’d hit a rock.  What a relief as I figured his toes would have been very close to that particular spot.

I spent the next month working very hard at making the surfboard presentable.  This particular model was made of balsa wood.  It was very light and had a nice shape to it.  The tail fin had the tip broken off so I made a new fin in wood shop.  I had to do that surreptitiously because any project had to be approved by the shop Gestapo and mine wasn’t.  For ease of handling, I left the fin off until last.

My knuckles were wrapped with bandages, my fingers abounded with blisters, and my dad’s garage was completely taken over by my refinishing efforts.  Two sawhorses held the board while I sanded.  I was told by both Fuzzy and Tomcat that to use an electric sander was not a good idea because it took too much of a bite; hand sanding only.

Finally, I pronounced the board ready and began the task of spreading hot, melted, epoxy resin all over it uniformly.  It was very difficult, and on two occasions, I had to wait until it was dry and re-sand it off because it was too thick.  I slaved though the rest of May before it was done.  I had a small party consisting of Fuzzy, Tomcat, and I when I attached the fin.  The surfboard was done.

The three of us were pretty fast friend now and had taken a few trips out to see how the surf was.  On every occasion, it didn’t seem very good conditions.  Waves were listless, somewhat flat, and crossed each other regularly – a sure sign of a rip tide.  Not a good thing for surfing, or a surfer.  I watched from the shore as they tried their boards.  I saw how well they managed their boards and thought I could do at least as well.  Fuzzy promised that June was always a good month.

In the process of entering the world of surfing and surfers I acquired a huge amount of new, and incomprehensible, vocabulary.  Suffice it to say that I now got the same puzzled looks I once gave when I spoke Surfer.  I also was introduced to girl surfers.  Who knew!  I kind of hung out with one in particular who went by the name of Stringbean.  Her real name was Susan.  She was spare and tall enough to look me in the eye barefooted.

The movie “Gidget” had just come out this April and all sorts of things like beach parties, nighttime fires on the beach, and necking were foremost in my mind as the real surfing season approached.  The official start of the season was to be the first weekend after school let out.  Even non-surfers were going to be at the huge beach party planned.  I invited Susan.  Oh, by the way, my new name was simply “Newguy”.

In the meantime, while I was slaving away on my surfboard, my car arrived from Germany down at the Oakland Army dock.  Tomcat drove me down to pick it up.  Aside from a dead battery, it looked just fine to me.  I checked the level of gas in the tank because I had been told they sometimes drain the gas out.  I had barely enough to get to the gas station we’d seen outside the gate.  I fired it up with the assistance of jumper cables and back north we went.

I didn’t need a rack for the surfboard because I had a convertible.  One just stuck it in back, hooked under the front seat, and drove away.  Since it would hold two boards, Susan usually had me drive her anywhere.

The afternoon of the big party arrived and we wound our way through the hills to the shore.  One whole area had been taken up with racks big enough for ten boards each.  Two ‘weenie huts’ had been set up to dispense hot dogs and hamburgers with all the fixings.  A solemn line of porta-potties were set up for our use as the actual park rest rooms were almost a half-mile down the beach.  Jessie Owens couldn’t have made it in time.

There were several dudes out sitting on their boards waiting to see how the surf ran.  Fuzzy was one of them, but his cohort Tomcat was sitting down eating a hot dog.  Susan and I joined him.  We talked and pointed out at the ocean taking note of where the kelp beds were.  Nobody wanted to be surfing along and run afoul of a kelp bed.  Your fin would hit the stringy mass and the board would stop dead – you wouldn’t – and before you could shout ‘Cowabunga!’ you were not only walking the nose, but about two feet past it.

Despite my snazzy dress (rubber sandals, long legged swim suit (called ‘jammers’), tank top, and shades, I had never actually been in the water aboard a surfboard.  I could talk the talk, but I hadn’t as yet walked the walk (or swum the swim??).  That was going to change today for sure.

Around noon, the wave action began to pick up and more surfers joined the early crowd.  I casually walked over to the rack and hefted my board, only to drop it very close to the feet of an enormous senior who had muscles on top of all his other muscles.  “Hot dog?” no thanks, I’ve already eaten.

I eased the board out in front of me and paddled out to the group.  Nervously, I awaited my first wave.  Chatter began to wane as I felt the rise and fall of a couple of decent swells.  First one, and then many more, began paddling like crazy for the beach, preparing to stand up.  I followed slowly, but with increasing speed as I began to go downhill.  I was back to skiing!  Oh no!

I was saved this time by my board.  It overbalanced when I leaned forward, and dug the nose into the water.  I was unceremoniously dumped to the side and into the water.  I captured my board as it went past.  I had missed the wave.  I swam back to the starting point and waited some more.

My next attempt was a little better.  I managed to kneel on the board as it picked up speed.  By leaning back a little I found that I could slow it down, leaning forward made it speed up.  That was fine but now there was someone directly ahead of me.  I sure wish I knew how to turn.  I faked a good one though by grabbing the rail and lifting myself completely over on one side.  This, of course, put the board riding me which is not exactly proper.  Back to the starting point.

A large wave began forming behind me and I joined the already furiously paddling throng.  Before I really knew what had happened, I was actually standing on the board.  With arms flailing the air, and knees bent, I rushed directly at the beach which seemed very close but wasn’t.  Concentrating on my major feat of not falling down, I kept my delicate balance until the wave broke over me.  This, in my case, was called a wipeout and would probably rate a minus three from any judges there may have been.  Unfortunately, the only person who saw me was Susan.  She was rolling all over the blanket, pounding her fists into the sand and laughing loudly – even after I pulled my head out of my ass.

Where is the snow when you need it?

T.O.M.

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