A surf utopia difficult to stomach.
Today was the swell of the summer on Lake Michigan. Conditions were being called epic, a rare day where the surf wouldn’t be decimated by onshore winds.
I park behind a red, 1980’s Ford Fiesta. Its license plate reads “SURF UP.” There’s a longboard strapped to its roof. I look around. Longboards are strapped to the tops of several small cars.
It strikes me as odd. Boards were rarely left out in California.
There are ten guys in the water riding a variety of mid-lengths and logs. An eleventh sits on the inside, taking photos. The surf is clean, waist-high rights running down the beach.
I’m instantly greeted by the lineup, even though I’m sitting twenty yards south.
I drift north.
The lineup is mellow, jovial. There are only a few days of summer with clean surf and it seems like most of the lineup knows one another.
A guy on a foamboard with a camo, short sleeved Hurley wetsuit paddles out and sits on top of me. I’m instantly annoyed.
I glance over. He’s smiling.
“Crazy waves today, eh?”
I nod back, nervous of his proximity.
A green wetsuited man flies down the line on a beautiful, turquoise longboard.
There is a mix of colored wetsuits. Black and logo-less is the exception.
A bearded man sits in two feet of water on the inside with a water housing, hooting at his buddies as they come down the line.
I rarely see a set ridden by less than two people.
There is small-talk instead of stoicism.
I’m the only one who duckdives. Everyone else holds their leash at the base.
A man in a long john wetsuit slides out on his bottom turn.
As he pops up, he’s greeted by hoots.
“That head dip was sick!”
The lineup is devoid of any of the cynicism, judgement, or animosity that permeates all other ocean lineups. There is a collective exuberance. Even though this swell will likely last only a few hours, and waves of this size are hard to come by, the lineup lacks any of the usual anger or suspicion.
It’s as if I’ve found myself in a surf utopia.
Untouched by vile, hateful surf culture, something wonderfully beautiful has blossomed in middle America.
I hate it.
I should love it, especially being the only outsider in the lineup, but I hate it.
There is no adherence to the (arbitrary) wardrobe rules we have created.
Every time a set rolls through, I’m back paddled or dropped in on. The worst part is I can’t even be mad. While back-paddling me, they hoot me into waves. After dropping in on me, the interloper comes up smiling, flashing a quick shaka.
It’s like a puppy tracking mud into the house.
My glaring looks are met with exclamations about how epic it is.
I leave the water confused.
Walking up the beach, I hear a whistle. One of the better surfers is smiling up at me, throwing a shaka.
It is the most gracious, good-willed lineup I’ve ever been a part of.
I miss the cynicism and judgement and loathing. I love that when I paddle out in the ocean I’m immediately sized up.
I love how when a good longboarder cross steps gracefully, his ankle attached to the tail of his board, he is still discounted.
I love how when a college fraternity member paddles out in a brand new neon Hurley wetsuit, the nose of board sticking out of the water like a flag, he is collectively loathed.
Or that weird nonverbal agreement to collectively snake a serial back-paddler.
I love the stoic stares out to sea that are only broken by sideways looks to see who’s paddling for the peak.
It’s why we hate the Disney-ification of the WSL. It’s not that Elo is kooky or that we don’t want more surfers in the water (rising housing prices are plenty sufficient on that end).
We hate collective joy.
For a fairly spiritual bunch, we really enjoy self-flagellation.
I wish I had been vibed out today. It would have made the drive home far less introspective.
I wonder if that guy got any shots of me today.