“Did you see the Nazare footage from yesterday?”
(Editor’s note: Introducing a new genre of surf writing, VAL-lit, where surfers marinated by many seasons describe encounters with vulnerable adult learners and non-surfers.)
I couldn’t get the rope through the leash plug on my new gun.
A hand reached out with a fin key and I pulled the rope through just as we anchored.
I hope that I thanked him. He did smile.
The boat was settling in as I heard a voice behind me, a realtor from South Bay, say “I hope it’s big”.
The Manhattan Beach Century Twenty One Realty office was ready!
Funny, I remember that quote till this day.
Boatman immediately jumped off the bow and I jumped too.
You’ve heard of cardinal sins… here’s a cardinal rule.
If you pull up to surf and the seasoned boatman is frothing, you should be too.
“Is the scaffolding your lineup?”
“It’s a point of reference,” he scowled.
Then he stared at me, asking if I was going on the next wave without speaking a word.
I had no choice.
Three strokes in and I had ridden the length of the reef almost to the boat.
Pretty much point A to B surfing on a 7’2”, but a lot of work connecting dots.
Half the guys in the boat never paddled out. Stage fright. Including Manhattan’s Century Twenty One Realty’s big-wave warrior.
I flew home with big Cloudbreak on my resume and I was internally proud as fuck. Also scored four days of mostly windless Restie’s, well overhead… pure gravy as the meat and potatoes was eaten at Cloudie.
Each of us has our unique ladders in life and I had just climbed mine.
Ventura, November 2020
Minding my own business checking anemic surf, an attractive woman approaches holding her coffee in one hand and her phone in the other… tuned into a Surflie video.
“Hey, have you seen the Nazare footy? Biggest waves ever ridden! What’s the biggest wave that you have ever ridden?”
Suddenly twenty feet sounds like miniature golf.
“Twenty feet? Wow, that girl yesterday surfed an eighty-foot wave!”
“Yeah, but I sat in a position that wasn’t safe and I dodged bombs to paddle into gems and almost drowned a few times… but yeah, it was only twenty foot.”
She looked at me as if some girl in Portugal made my experience obsolete. She tried to hand me her phone to see the video, but I declined.
I think the girl in the video turned out to be Nic von Rupp, but his hair is kind of long and the idiot that I am dealing with is “conservative”… which really means she is incurious and sure of her opinions.
And she won’t wear a mask. Made a point of telling me because that’s why she thought I declined to touch her phone.
Apparently, she drives her thirteen-year-old grandson to surf class three days a week and he gave her his password for premium surflie. Now she’s totally connected.
More than I am.
She sensed a lull in our conversation as I pet her ten pound dog, cute as fuck, but so tiny.
“My forecast reads that it will get big on Thursday, maybe you can catch that eighty-foot wave at the end of the week?”
I did what I do in these situations. I asked a question about her appearance and we stopped talking about surfing.
Well, she talked, but like I said she was very attractive and I liked her dog so I listened to her explain the difference between cashmere and cardigans.
Even enjoyed several touches of the magic fabric…
Hometown, November 2020
My visit to the Organic Farm Cart went similarly later that day.
“Did you see the Nazare footage from yesterday?”
There is no way this woman surfs or she’s been very secretive with me for a decade. Let’s just say she isn’t active or fit.
“It’s kind of a different sport, but I’ll google it later, what are you cooking tonight?” I tried to change the subject.
It’s like the entire world is infatuated with a surfing stunt performed yesterday, and the rest of us have to respond to it.
When you see a jet-ski run along the lip line of a sixty-foot wave, you know there is no lip line. No Darren Handley going over the handle bars. Not enough transition in the wave to turn let alone put a ski off the track.
It’s vanity heroism.
A rider is dumped at the bottom of a standing wall and photographed making a world record before the lip crumbles above. I assume that the crumble is the top of the measurement.
Then it‘s a race to the shoulder that is filled with jet-ski assistance if multiple oxygen suits isn’t enough for the occasional plunk.
I do not disparage tow in surfing at Nazare, it’s like finding an empty amusement park and milking the rides that are incredibly photogenic.
Problem is, in a weird global way, chop-hopping a moving wall of water has come to define our (surfing’s) greatest accomplishments via social media’s adoring embrace.
Has Instagram replaced the Bible for sheep?
Sorry, rhetorical question.
And why… bear with me angry brethren who hate board theory… why would you tow into giant mush with such a little board?
I fucking hate the mid length bullshit, BUT, if you are not going to even attempt turns and there is NO tube, why not plow through all the cheddar with more foam because at best, Nazare is point and go surfing, nothing more…
One big swoop on a eighty-foot wave and you’ll be signed to John John’s contract.
Like Tom Carroll reinvented surfing Pipe with one turn.
You’ll wake up feeling so Laird.
I remember sitting in this boil field. Well inside the position of the swing-wide deep-water sets, and playing games with my mind. Betting on the swell direction that pinwheels the point with a keen eye to a horizon turning black toward the channel.
You win, you lose. The casino is open and it’s only skin in this game. And lungs.
No jet-ski’s in sight. No crowds on the bluff. Just me, my decisions and continuous three-storey houses marching in unison with my fate.
Charmed was the best way to describe my first two hours. DOH+ perfect point break and the swing wide wash-outs occurred coincidentally during my hike back to paddle outs.
So far, I had dodged their bullets.
I giggled at my good fortune as another gem stood up and bent around the first crop of boils. I dug hard, but the wave bent too much and swept under my position.
Took a few seconds to appreciate the light offshore running down the line away from me, probably should not have. The turn back out to sea revealed that the deep-water, swing-wide set was standing up and trapping me in position.
The violence underwater is difficult to explain to someone uninitiated. Surfacing through deep foam, I had reached the channel in between the point and beachbreak which I DID NOT want to explore at this size.
Composing myself and repositioned at the big peak, those damn perfect runners kept luring me back into the field of boils. The deep-water peak was pretty much a takeoff and a few snow boarding turns while the sets that hugged the point could be tagged over and over and over and over.
Like the sirens call, I was seduced back to my blessed boil field.
You know you’re making that mistake, but you have to.
Think I caught two, three waves when destiny intervened conspiring with the dropping tide, another swing-wide set loomed.
Not sure how my leash held, but I got mowed.
Nearly drowned twice in one half-hour, alone at sea and almost poetic if not for my heart beating out of my chest.
It’s about as opposite an experience to Nazare as it gets.
How can I explain that to the hot surlie grandma or the flower groupie at the produce stand?