He did it with an aura of innocence, as though nothing about this choice could possibly wrong. He was just surfing, man.
The other day, I went surfing. This should not come as a surprise to any of you at this point.
As usual, I encountered a strange new species of surfer. This also should not come as a surprise to any of you.
But that is getting ahead of the story.
Sloppy windswell topped with devil wind sloshed its way around the lineup. It was the kind of day when you go, try to get a few, then go home. In the normal way of things, you wouldn’t expect to see many other people out there. But that was then.
These days, there’s always a crowd even on the worst days. The new kids don’t seem to know good waves from bad. They check Surfline, see some numbers and colors, and go surf.
It’s a little bumpy out here today, they might say. Or, they might not notice at all.
I don’t mind bad surf, necessarily. It’s an entertaining game to Tetris the sections together and try to make it work. I don’t want to do it every day, but it’s not the worst way to waste an hour or two.
Surf bad waves, eat ice cream: There are worse ways to spend a day.
There I was, getting some waves, making it work, going over the falls, getting smashed by errant sections. You know, surfing.
After a while, a man drifted into my field of vision. He was riding a fun shape, somewhere in the 8-foot range. It was not a proper longboard, necessarily. It looked like a large, mostly shapeless chunk of foam with a thruster setup.
The man looked to be about two years into his surfing journey. He paddled with his Vans booties splayed outward, dangling over the board’s bulbous rails. He had a sidekick riding a Wavestorm. They always have a sidekick riding a Wavestorm.
Eventually, I noticed that he was burning everyone. He did it with an aura of innocence, as though nothing about this choice could possibly wrong. Burning Man would never sin.
He was just surfing, man.
After every wave, he would return to his sidekick and give a full accounting of his ride. The waves were short. His commentary was not. I could never quite hear the details, but it was clear that he was having an awesome day.
I almost didn’t come out here today, he said. So glad I did!
I watched intrigued to see what would happen next. I couldn’t help it. The drama! Would anyone call him off? Would he be allowed to happily burn everyone forever?
No one called him off. Wave after wave, there he went, piloting his ginormous surfboard down the face, arms in the air, somehow defying gravity’s pull. He did not fall! I do not know how he did not fall.
Riding a few waves, I was temporarily separated from the adventures of Burning Man. Presumably, he kept burning. I kept trying to surf. It was the kind of day where I felt like I did more duck-diving than surfing. This is not the ideal kind of day.
Paddling back out, I saw one of the better shortboarders in the lineup get a wave. He was determined. Going fast. Definitely going to make the section. He was definitely spending less time duck-diving than I was.
But there was Burning Man. Would he go?
Sure enough, Burning Man needed to surf more waves. He was having the best time! Arms in the air, he dropped straight in, and pointed his large craft roughly to the right. This felt like a miracle, actually.
Then to his complete surprise, the shortboarder caught him! Burning Man looked so confused, as though this had never happened to him in his whole damn life. Maybe it hadn’t.
With easy skill, the shortboarder turned under Burning Man, and continued on his way. It was all so smooth. No drama, no shouting. Just surfing right on by.
It turned out that Burning Man had a theory about surfing, and maybe more than one. I learned this fact when he returned to the lineup and began to explain the whole thing to his sidekick. It has to do with how long his board is, and how it’s just so fast. He seemed so convinced of the truth of his ideas.
I have a longer board and it goes faster, he said. I can drop in on everyone!
I do not know where these people come from, or how they end up right next to me in the lineup every time.
I promise you, I did not invent this man. He was right there, on a giant board, legs splayed. He was impossible to miss.
And he had so many words. I get paid to make words about surfing, but I’ve got nothing on this guy. Someone should probably hire him.
Still, Burning Man could not figure out how the shortboard had magically caught up to him. I could tell that this new experience troubled him. His theory could not account for it.
His board must be longer! he said. That shortboarder must have a special board.
Burning Man continued to talk at some length. I did not stick around to hear more. The whole thing had begun to melt my brain. Surfing is only as complicated as you make it, and I prefer not to make it too complicated.
Later in the parking lot, I saw Burning Man and his sidekick getting ready to leave. Rinse kits at the ready, they pulled off their suits. Burning Man was still talking. I can’t imagine what else he could possibly have to say. I was not about to linger and find out.
A girl should never get between a man and his theories.