Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rained Out on a Beautiful Day

I was awakened in the middle of the night, which was really early morning, by an unrecognizable sound. It was so battering, clattering and loud, I thought someone, or something, was beating rhythmically on tin drums.  And it made me mad.

Because I'm a mother who's a surfer, I've made the promise that I will never knowingly endanger myself to surf. Which means being strict about not surfing after any goddamned rainstorms because of the sickly toxic urban runoff on my local beach.

So I took it personally, okay?

How could it not have rained for so damned long and now that I care, now that I've actually started to dread rain - which I used to love so much - can a rainstorm come - in the middle of the night, between two perfectly sunny days - and rain out my surf plans?

For crying out loud.  Or, as my friend Tom in Chicago used to say, "Krikey!"

What with the husband needing space and lots of time to work things out, the two year old needing to nurse all the freakin' time and sleeping in the holy marital bed, and the older one not wanting to do math and maybe having Celiac disease and itching and sneezing and being sickly with diarrhea almost every single day, surfing is really, really good for my state of mind. When I do it.

In fact, the real wonder is how I went so long not surfing. I must have been crazy.

Heh, heh. Maybe I was.

My husband would not disagree.

Monday, October 25, 2010

She Surfs, She Sits, She Doesn't Go

The buddies and I went out Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m.: all of us, I think, leaving our families blissfully asleep while we went out to catch some Santa Monica waves.

The air was super cold but the water - super warm. That was a very pleasant surprise, especially compared to life at home: which this week had been filled with many unpleasant surprises. Husband was having an existential/marital crisis of unprecedented darkness and I had been spending much of my energy and attention holding things together and not making them worse by having fits or screaming my head off in fear and exasperation.

I was tired and a little disoriented on the way to the beach; there was some very ordinary confusion about parking lots, dollar bills versus quarters and whether I should get my caffeine infusion before or after our session  (I was also on the first day of my period: a detail from which I shielded the guys). But I was nearly ecstatic to walk into the ocean with my board and all that was quickly forgotten.

Kind of. I caught some good waves on my knees, which is how I'm taking them these days. Rather than focusing on the full standing balance, I'm focusing on the novel act of...focusing. Turns out I've spent my life focused on the tip of my nose rather than what's in front of me, and there is an entire chapter of an entire book to be devoted to that metaphor.

Nevertheless, after only about twenty minutes I felt fatigued and not interested in surfing. Instead, I was interested in sitting on my board and looking at the ocean. My identity, the new "surfer mama" identity I've created, was like "NO! You must surf! You must show the buddies that you can do it! You must go!" As they say: "Eddie would go!"

But I didn't go. My identity wanted to show off. But transformation, which is what this is really about, is not about identity. It's about transcending identity to come from something deeper. Call it "capital 'S' Self," call if "soul," call it what you like. But what it said to me on Sunday was this: "You've been working really hard all week to keep it together. You've been doing a lot. Take some time to yourself. Sit a while. Look at the waves. Rest. You are going to need it."

So I did. And it was good.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Caught Inside

Anyone who knows me well may know that, under pressure, I can become extremely high-strung. Historically, my way of dealing with stress has not been to withdraw or take a soothing bath, but to lash out  at those nearest and dearest to me.  It was at a most chronically stressed and destructively high-strung part of my life that someone first suggested to me the wisdom of spending more time at the beach and in the water.

When I began my surfing odyssey roughly five months ago, it never occurred to me that this too could become one of the most stressful periods of my adult life.

The waves of my personal life keep crashing on me. The term “caught inside” refers to those times when a surfer can’t get past the white water to smoother water in order to catch a wave.

Caught inside, you’re unable to ride anything, and most able to get your ass kicked. In the best circumstances, you can get back to shore and wait for a lull before paddling out. But sometimes you’re caught in such a way that you are not only wiped out by one strong wave, but unable to catch your breath before another one rides in and slams you back down. Even if you’re not a surfer, this may have happened to you on a day of particularly strong waves at the beach. Without expecting it, a set rolled in, with too little time between waves for you to escape.

So what do you do? Hold your breath and dive under when you can. Relax. Surrender. Whatever you do – you don’t fight. Fighting only exhausts you, depleting you of the energy necessary to possibly save your own life.

I don’t blame the ocean when she rises up against my expectations and slaps me around a bit. It’s her nature. Right now, on dry land, I’m working on bringing that equanimity to the waves that surround me  – waves of another person’s secret anger, resentment, bitterness and long-held grudges.

I don't want to over-stretch the metaphor. Or over-simplify the complicated.  I'll just say that it's gotten very sharky out here. So please, pray for us.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Surfing is a Lot Like Knitting

I'd been feeling a little blue and discouraged from not having been in the water for almost three weeks. I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever get back in again. My goal in becoming a surfer is to create a habit that I can't break. But this far in, it still takes considerable effort to load up the car early in the morning and head down to the beach by myself. And between last month's heat wave,  rain storms and  sick family, it was a habit easily broken. 

But thanks to the generosity of my good friend A, on Wednesday I ended up taking my second surf lesson in a month.  In fact, knowing that two of my good friends were going to be surfing with me, I was able to arrange childcare wonders that I barely knew were possible.

My instructor was Das Jesson from Islands Surf Camp, a very cool guy - sweet, patient, enthusiastic and with a contagious love for surfing. And Das turned me on to something about surfing that had eluded me until know.

Surfing is a lot like knitting.

When I've taught knitting, one thing I've always told my pupils - echoed eloquently by the great knitting authority Elizabeth Zimmerman - is that there is no right way to knit. Provided you start with needles and yarn and end with...something're knitting. How you get from point A to point B is your own business.

I'd been trying to surf the right way. And failing again and again. In fact, so far, my surf odyssey has been a great education in patience and being bad at something. But Das took a look at what I could do and helped me find my own, distinctly personal, way of getting from point A - lying prone - to point B - standing on my board.

Of course, everything I'd learned so far also came into play: knowing the waves, looking ahead, letting go. I justt took Das to provide the missing ingredient: "Let's face it" he said "you're not getting on the Pro Tour anytime soon. It doesn't matter how you get up there. Just have fun. That's what you're here for."

I'm not gonna be on the Pro Tour! I don't have to do it right! I just have to have fun! I've got needles! I've got yarn! I've got a surf board!

I'm CEO - Bitch!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bootie Call

My most awesome friend, MM, read my post about going into that super cold water earlier in September and immediately offered to buy me  a pair of surf booties as an early birthday present (November 12! Mark your calendars!). So today we met up at the very groovy Rider Shack in Mar Vista to get them. When they were all out of my size (out of all warm booties period) I was ready to go get an espresso at a nearby cafe. But, being an unstoppable woman, MM was not deterred and we headed next to The Sport Chalet in Marina del Rey.

As a budget-conscious, stay-at-home Mom, I don't go out bootie shopping very much - or clothes shopping, or shopping for anything other than groceries, in fact. But I LOVE shopping, and I LOVE clothes. So The Sport Chalet was awesome, if only to see all the prettily colored fleece hoodies and surfer girl gear.  And yet, what did they not have? Booties in my size.

What they did have was a sales-guy named Dylan who was available to answer this pressing question:
"Am I lame for waiting the recommended three days to get back in the ocean after a rainstorm?"
"Three days?" answers Dylan. He won't go in less than seven days after a storm like we had last week.
 Seven days.

And then he tells us  a couple of gruesome anecdotes about impatient Angelenos who did not wait long enough: anecdotes involving things like, oh, typhoid (!) and necrotizing fasciitis. Is there an extreme enough exclamation when faced with something like  necrotizing fasciitis? Ouch? Gross? Disgusting? Oh no? None of these capture the horror and revulsion that flesh-eating bacteria truly inspires.

So I didn't get my booties. But I got some words of wisdom. Was this of the "Surfing sucks, don't try it" school of advice? I don't think so. Because he did tell me that if I HAD to go, I should at least go north to Malibu. That way I would escape the Los Angeles sewer system swill that would eat my flesh, or at least put me at risk of a sinus infection, if I did choose to surf my usual beach tomorrow morning as planned.

But I think I will go swimming. In a pool. Instead.

Friday, October 1, 2010

This Week's Challenge...

...The Common Cold.

I went out last weekend, excited to practice what I'd learned during my lesson. But I had a cold and, by Sunday, could barely bring myself to enter the water. Which I did anyway. Immediately, I got slammed down hard and had to admit that surfing is neither for the faint of heart nor the low of energy.

As much of a physical challenge as it is to be sick, the bigger challenge is always mental. Am I lazy? A quitter? Not committed?  These questions always threaten to add insult to injury. With no coach to tell me if I'm well enough/not well enough, it's entirely up to me to determine how much or how little to exert. And it's a tempting and well-worn habit to question my own judgment.

Today I still have a cold. Instead of pushing/punishing myself further, I went swimming. It's been so hot that I've been swimming all week with the kids,  but today was the first time I went alone. As much as I love water, I've never thought much of swimming. I've found it boring and monotonous, useful but thoroughly unexciting. I like it better now. Especially with my eyes closed. In the early morning. With almost no one around. And gorgeous cotton puffy clouds up above.

Plus I met another surfer in the pool: a Japanese American guy named Nori (like the seaweed). We talked surf spots. Every surfer I meet makes disparaging comments about my usual spot  - the Venice Pier.  It's a "short ride." It "closes down fast." And it's not the easiest spot to learn, because you either catch a wave or you miss it - with not a lot of time in between. Yadda yadda. Over time, I don't doubt, I will be changing regular surf spots. It's only a matter of time.

Nori got out of the pool before I did. My immediate reaction was to use it as proof that I'm tougher than he is. But then it occurred to me that if he'd stayed in longer than I had, I would have put myself down over it. And I would have been the same person, the same swimmer, the same surfer, either way. So I gave it up.  It was nice to swim and it didn't mean a damn thing about me. Tough? Lazy? Quitter? Not committed?

That shit is starting to matter less and less to me. Thank God.

And Thank Gaius Maecenas. He invented the heated pool.