We met author Tom Vanderbilt exactly one week ago, or close to it anyhow, when I stumbled across his new book titled, “Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning.” A VAL manifesto if there ever was one. Vanderbilt purposed to pursue a year of learning purely for the sake of learning, “tackling five main skills (and picks up a few more along the way), choosing them for their difficulty to master and their distinct lack of career marketability–chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling.”
I couldn’t find much about the surfing but became very frustrated that he considered it to have “a distinct lack of career marketability.”
So frustrated that I felt it served him right if he had been stung by a scorpion on his Costa Rican surf holiday.
Now I feel bad.
An excerpt from the surfing chapter of Vanderbilt’s book appeared in Outside magazine, yesterday, and let’s read together.
I don’t think I saw a surfer in person until I was in my late twenties, on a magazine assignment in Orange County, California, to interview the noted surfer and shaper Donald Takayama—a task that was definitely over my head. After spending the morning with him in his shaping bay, I watched a crowd of kids on shortboards buzzing like agitated water striders around the encrusted pilings of the pier at Huntington Beach.
Over the next few decades, I maintained a kind of low-grade secret crush on surfing, the sort I once had on an older woman who worked at a hip coffee shop in my college town. Like her, surfing seemed wrapped in mystique, perhaps slightly dangerous, and ultimately unattainable.
The pursuit doesn’t exactly hang out a big “Beginners Welcome” sign. At insider websites like Beach Grit, vulnerable adult learners, particularly those mythopoetically rhapsodizing about the life-changing joy of waves they first rode the week before, are mercilessly mocked. Surfers, the Australian pro Barton Lynch once observed, are “more cocky and judgmental than any group of people in the world.” Even if you barely paid attention to surfing, you’d no doubt heard about angry locals, always men, threatening kooks at coveted breaks. The bar to entry, on various levels, seemed high.
Insider websites like li’l old us mercilessly mocking those mythopoetically rhapsodizing about the life-changing joys of waves they rode the week before?
He gets us. He really gets us.
Swing into the comments, Tom, and have some fun!