Ability is relative, but sometimes not.
I like to believe that 90% of BeachGrit readers can complete a roundhouse cutback, have been tubed, are not virgins of (attempted) flight. How could one be enthralled by our blend of sado-masochism without having put in the necessary hours?
My logic? The stages of surfing!
Stage 1: It begins with the pre-engaged sentiment of: Surfing is a pointless endeavor, championed by hippies, derelicts!
Stage 2: These are the rose-tinted years of progression, wherein the prevailing majority screams: Surfing is the best! So beautiful, enlightening, sexy! Fuck me Laird!
Stage 3: Once plateauing/having kids/brain bleeding most of us arrive at the realization that surfing is, in fact, quite pointless. Fun, but pointless. Also we are often derelicts.
Occam’s razor cuts deep.
So, assuming BeachGrit has stage three locked down, and knowing that Surfline and the Inertia have an ongoing custody war for stage two, what do stage one-ers like to read? Maybe the New York Times!
I was recently sent a piece (thanks, Mom) in the Times about our derelict sport. The story is called (It’s Great to) Suck at Something and in it the author, Karen Rinaldi, revels in her kookdom! She writes:
Over the past 15 years, surfing has become a kind of obsession for me. I surf eight months a year. I travel to surf destinations for family vacations and seek (forgiving) waves in the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. I have spent thousands of dollars on boards of all sizes and shapes.
And yet — I suck at it. In the sport of (Hawaiian) kings, I’m a jester. In surfing parlance, a “kook.” I fall and flail. I get hit on the head by my own board. I run out of breath when held down by a four-foot wave. I wimp out when the waves get overhead and I paddle back to shore. When I do catch a wave, I’m rarely graceful. On those rare occasions when I manage a decent drop, turn and trim, I usually blow it by celebrating with a fist pump or a hoot.
Once, I actually cried tears of joy over what any observer would have thought a so-so performance on a so-so wave. Yes, I was moved to tears by mediocrity.
So why continue? Why pursue something I’ll never be good at?
Because it’s great to suck at something.
I was surprised to find Rinaldi’s writing incredibly stage-twoish in nature. How on earth could she, an adult woman, suffer such indignity with a smile on her face? She goes on to explain:
When I do catch a wave and feel the glide, I’ll hold onto that feeling for hours, days or even weeks. I’m hooked on the pursuit of those moments, however elusive they may be. But it’s not the momentary high that has sustained me. In the process of trying to attain a few moments of bliss, I experience something else: patience and humility, definitely, but also freedom. Freedom to pursue the futile. And the freedom to suck without caring is revelatory.
Think about how focused you become when you’re presented with something totally new to accomplish. Now, what happens when that task is no longer new but still taps into intense focus because we haven’t yet mastered it? You’re a novice, an amateur, a kook. You suck at it. Some might think your persistence moronic. I like to think of it as meditative and full of promise. In the words of the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” When I surf, I live in the possibility.
Oh how I love Mitsubishi’s quote. It is so very true for multiple facets of life. Just this weekend I went to a dressage competition and after watching for ten minutes thought to myself, They could be doing such cooler maneuvers on these horses. Chop hops, fin blows etc.
Yet when I brought this up with my dressage-savvy compadres, they scoffed at the concept. “Horses can’t do that. Horses don’t even have fins,” they snootily informed.
But the joke is on them! These folks have been around dressage for so long, have had certain practices ingrained in their minds for enough years that they’ve become incapable of peering outside the blinders. The world is not black and white but a million shades of gray! And horses do have fins, if you just believe.
But then I would never try my hand at dressage, because sucking at something sucks. You might think you’re having fun, but the world, it laughs!
I’m not sure about barn culture, but in my neck of the sea, rookies are treated with more disrespect than Kmart coupon-books. They are considered for one, maybe two seconds before being hurled in the metaphorical bin. Their offense? Paddling for waves. Getting in the way. Smiling.
Rinaldi’s failure to state this fact is grossly negligent and, in my opinion, deserving of one-hundred drop-ins, stink-eyes and paddle-arounds. Though that was probably coming regardless.