Sunday, June 29, 2008

An Adventure Long-Awaited


Yesterday, I put my 9'6" Hobie surfboard (made in 1964, and ridden a few times by the guy I bought it from in a garage sale) into my new Toureg SUV (it fit inside), and drove out to North Salmon Creek Beach on the Sonoma Coast. My mission was to: 1) scout out the surfers to see what wetsuits they were wearing, so I could go to the local surf shop and buy one; and 2) don the wetsuit, wax up the board, and begin again to enjoy the surfing life I spent most of my childhood loving.

Watching from the beach as surfers entered and exited the waves, I noticed they all had full wetsuits with hoods and booties. Wetsuits were never worn where I grew up (La Jolla), and looking like a scuba diver is a new experience. I spoke to one guy my age, and asked him about his. Wearing a familiar brand, he advocated the complete kit, including the 8mm thickness of the material. "I can paddle out and surf for an hour before I really get any water in it", he said. He clued me into the local surf shop scenes, advocating for one of the two locals. "It's the distributor of this brand, and they give great service."

Arriving at the shop, I looked around for a few minutes before approaching the kid behind the counter. On the walls were memorabilia of an era of surfing I knew well. Classic surf photos seemed familiar, and there was a surfboard high up near the ceiling which was younger than the one I had in the car outside. It, too, was a Hobie, but it had a decal made long after I had stopped surfing. "How old is that?", I asked. The kid climbed up on a ladder, and told me he thought it was the 1970's. I was out of college by then, and lived in Northern California.

Retrieving two wetsuits from the upper level rack, he described the differences. The one with thicker material was less flexible. The thin one was a bit harder to put on, due to its design. After 30 minutes in the dressing room, which included putting one of them on backwards, I chose the one with thicker material. The water out there was cold, and I would sacrifice flexibility. For a while, I expected to be fighting off the thirty pounds of fat I've accumulated. Wrestling against the wetsuit itself, I thought I'd rather be a little warmer and stiffer than colder and more flexible.

I drove back to the beach, found a parking place near the stairs, and began a ritual I knew would become second nature. I was glad the SUV trunk opens to a broad, flat bumper to sit on while putting the suit on. I was also glad to see a guy my age coming back to his car with his board about the time I needed help with the last zipper and velcro on the back of my neck.

Soon, there was nothing but stairs and sand between me and my dream. Waxing the board at the water's edge, I asked a couple near the tide line to watch over the extra wax. Next time bring less wax. This new stuff adhers well to the board.

I have a hard time calling what I did next surfing. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun. And it will lead to plenty of surfing for the rest of my life. For a while, I'm going to be spending lots of time in what we used to call the soup (whitewater after the wave breaks) getting this 60-year-old body to be strong enough to paddle well, lift itself from prone to knees, and knees to feet. It's a good thing I've matured into a confident adult. That 16-year-old who used to tear up the waves all over Southern California would never be seen with they kook he has become. Patience, and a pure and deep love of the waves, will bring me back to the adventure. I'm really glad that it's begun.

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