I wanted to score a free surf trip via a surfing magazine’s writing contest; the following essay is the result. 1500 word limit, this piece clocks in at 1499. Names have been tweaked, nothing else has been exaggerated!
TO BE READ IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH
If I HAD balls, they’d be shriveled up prune pits by now. The only air left in my lungs are bubbles of optimism, thanks to the boomer closeout that detonated 6 feet from my face and swatted me about with the care and wetness of a child hucking a snotty kleenex. While I’m dawdling down below I feel deep embarrassment that I’ll drown just 5.3 minutes away from god knows what local gossip about my demise. My body finally gyroscopes to the correct degree and I pop to the surface. It’s time to make this bullshit fun. Backstroking to shore and ‘bodysurfing’ the whitewater walls seems to do the trick. My expert friend, ‘Bodysurfer’, had fed me tips for riding underwater, but nobody would recognize me as a bodysurfer now. I resemble something else- say, a tumbleweed in a hurricane. The ocean sneezes me onto shore, and I shuffle around until I find my board, spat out 1/4 mile away.
“ I scored!” Bodysurfer shivers, as I stumble onto her in the street.
“ Oh, shupthtpth uhpthtphph!” I blurt, but my vowels are drowning in seawatered sinuses and draining onto the pavement.
It’s another typical day at the Home Break.
The genesis of this abuse dates to the Pliocene age, when I was a kid drawing crayola vistas of water and palm trees. After far too long the dream became realized, but there was an initial shock; a surf industry already existed. I was the Christopher Columbus of surfing, stupidly stumbling upon the new world and being amazed that all these people had been there first. What, I didn’t ‘discover’ this sport?! A moth to a flame, I set my sights on spacious Home Break.
The deranged surf here. This locale is infamous for beatings, incessant paddling, and terribly skunky wave conditions. The impact zone is a crime scene where surfers alternate between victim and witness. Rip currents tear north and south, and on big days a person can swirl around a suck zone as if their surfboard is scrubbing a toilet. What this place doesn’t have, however, are 10,000 boards aimed at my head, neither are there many heads for my board to beat. The nearby beginners’ break is a bloody rollerball arena by comparison. I unearthed numerous horror stories for ‘research’, and instigated the Don’t be Idiotic Rule; never, freaking ever, leave sand unless I knew I could swim in from the sketchiest bar in sight. It’s a right of passage, losing your board far out to sea and pollywogging to shore.
The idea that I’d waltz into rides with my intimidating alpha vibe was beyond ludicrous. Besides, kookily bursting onto an established surf scene is asshole rude. My strategy was to ingratiate pity points, cheerfully eating shit over and over again. I’d become entrenched, like the Harmless Sea Clown, or maybe like the garbage that perpetually washes onto Home Break’s shore. Nobody wants it there, but it keeps showing up.
A great glory of surfing is the opportunity to make a blazing spectacle of oneself, and Home Break offers screwballs the privilege of entertaining a particularly loaded lineup of primo big wave chargers. Surprisingly, I soon became friends with one of them, Bodysurfer.
This woman is something else. Bodysurfer rides Pipeline, takes on triple overhead Break, and snoops around Mavericks. She’s been out for ‘fun’ on a day so radical, the Hawaiian water rescue team dispatched a helicopter and lowered a basket. Gawkers will call the local beach patrol, who ask, “ IS SHE WEARING AN ORANGE CAP?!” The reply is affirmative. “ OKAY NEVER MIND”, as the patrol truck turns 180 and speeds off to a taqueria.
There aren’t too many females surfing here, and I suspect that all male surfers are handed a secret booklet featuring our faces, surf skill evaluation, and ass size. Honest screw-ups feel amplified , and are noted for eternity by a camouflaged sea of dudes with black suits and white boards. A chick here is a rhino in the penguin pen.
Bodysurfer claims she’s the exception, insisting that people are confused about her gender. “They think I’m a crabpot or a buoy, until they see the buoy getting barreled,” she jokes. “ Either that or I’m an ‘IT’.”
“ Don’t be ridiculous,” I scoffed, until a documentary featured Bodysurfer and opened her segment with, ‘ It Lives Under the Bridge.’
“ I think you’re onto something”, I said.
Then I asked her what she experienced, bobbing around waves as large as, well…..looming death. Her dumbfounding reply ; “ Serenity.” Now, I can list a whole medley of feeling words for Home Break, most of them shouted in anger. ‘Serentiy ‘ is sure as hell not one of them.
As for me, staying out of everyone’s way makes me look like a bigger moron than I already am. There’s miles of room to flail by going out at the wrong peak during the wrong time. Wise folks won’t touch the first wave in a set – a real sacrifice when I suck so badly that people take bets if I’ll reach the lineup. The Regulars are awesomely tolerant, and too embarrassed to be seen near me. Snaky badasses only show up when it’s 3-5 feet and glassy, which is particularly impressive because anybody can outpaddle me, even my own dog.
The penguins are truly unrecognizable, with the exception of some big wavers. One day I was floating solo until a lantern-jawed dragon slayer approached from the south. If it wasn’t Grant Washburn, it was certainly his doppelganger. He paddled behind my position to a wave farther outside. Any second he was going to spin and go, but because that spot broke left and right I couldn’t guess his direction. I was going to be the Kook in the Way if I didn’t hustle. Anyone watching from shore was treated to the sight of Home Break’s largest and strongest sharing a peak with the surfer who buys shirts from the junior miss department . With the flick of a wrist he’d effortlessly glide 5 feet, meanwhile I was frantically windmilling my arms with the rpm efficiency of a Soviet era Trabant.. “ Don’t kook in front of Grant Washburn, don’t kook in front of Grant Washburn, Don’t…” A mantra timed with the whirl of my useless limbs.
In addition to snakes and birds, other wildlife presented itself. Once I breathlessly phoned Bodysurfer, shouting about “ The BIGGEST-ASS dolphin on earth! ” Later I plied her with wine and pried out her own shark story – lord knows she’s got a slew of them stashed in her cranium. Swimming out to Mavericks one day – tra la laaa – she saw a 15 foot silhouette inside a swell. Bodysurfer promptly turned around and swam the 45 minutes back to shore, alone.
“ I kept my eyes closed because I didn’t want to see it coming,” she finishes, sipping her pinot.
“ Holy CRAP!” I knock my drink over,” And you never TOLD ME?!”
Anyone eavesdropping would have thought she was detailing a one night stand.
Sometimes I was blessedly anonymous. Hours after one memorable skull drilling, I scoped a surf blog. A commenter remarked, “ I saw some Poor Bastard take a set on the head, decided I didn’t have the sack for that, went north and SCORED!”
Instantly, a sneaking suspicion.
“Was Sackless checking Middle Area at 7:30?” I asked a Friend of the author. Friend replied yes. “ I’m the Poor Bastard!” I crowed.
Despite the tomfoolery, eventually something strange evolved.
“ It’s taken 6 years.” I told Bodysurfer at a café, after one of her fans had approached the table. “ But some local surfers actually ask for my opinion, and BELIEVE it.”
“ Shoot, I’ve been doing that forever, ” she laughed. “ Your drubbings make you more accurate than NOAA. That’s your victory.”
“ Speaking of, look; this surf magazine is having -“
“ Is that the one with all the butts?”
“ Um. They’re having a writing contest. First prize is a trip with surfing professionals, and I have no business whatsoever being around people like that.”
“ It sounds perfect for you”
“ Exactly. Let’s win it and go. Give me a tall tale..”
“ How about your journey from kook to, uh, to…
“ God no! Can’t I write about you? You’re much studlier.”
“ NO. Talk about your progression tooooo…..what’s the word…”
“ Shut up. You’re going in as a character. What should we call it? “
“ How about, ‘ To Be Read In The Event Of My Death?’ ”
“ Nice, because I’m gonna die of horror when I do this your way.”
We walk outside and squint though the darkening fog .
“ P.B., my glasses are steamed. What’s the swell is doing?”
We stand and listen, while Home Break growls.
“ It’s scary for me, but for you I see Serenity.”