My wife got gypped. I’m a surfer by practice, not by body.
When we first started going out, she thought surfer = fine body. It’s not bad. A bit flabby and pudgy but still slender in my early forties. But it’s not the firm body of a Southern Californian surfer. In fact, I don’t even look like a surfer, except maybe with my surf T-shirts and excessive use of flip-flops. But that’s pretty global now. I look more like an office boy.
That’s what a bunch of Argentine, Chilean and Peruvian surfers said years ago – I was then in my early thirties – when I arrived in Peru for a month of surfing. They were all surfers and all with firmer pecs and slenderer bodies than mine. They greeted me and we talked shop, about boards and waves and places we’d surfed. But before we hit the waves the first time out together they confided in each other to keep an eye on the office boy in case he got slammed into the rocks or swept too far out or caught by a cleanup set. The swell was 6-8 foot and building with the rising tide pushing more and more water around. Hairy and beautiful surf!
After the session, they laughed and told me about the pact they’d made and said, “Yeah, man. I guess office boy can surf!”
Not much has changed. I can surf all right. I’m no star, far from it. But it’s natural. These are skills developed over years and years of hitting the waves since my first paddle out in Los Angeles. I grew up doing it. I borrowed by brother’s Morey – a soft board, sort of a surfboard-shaped boogie board – to take my first whack at it over Easter. I froze in the cold water but it was enough for me to get hooked. That summer I bought my first surfboard, a 6’9” yellow single fin shaped by Natural Progression, a surf shop at the bottom of Rustic Canyon and yards from what would become our first haunt – Will Rogers State Beach. It was a world that would extend to the Jetty and north to Topanga, Malibu and further to Ventura, Rincon, Jalama, Willow Creek and Steamer Lane. And further and further. To Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, France, Portugal, Ireland, England and even the very north of Scotland. Big waves, little waves and long point breaks and shallow reefs and spots where you couldn’t step on the seabed for fear of poisonous fish, or so we thought. We took boats to islands – or paddled there. All for good waves. And we loved it and lived it.
Yet I still don’t look the part of a surfer. I look like somebody who spends more time reading than working out, which is pretty true. I’m not bothered. It’s fun sometimes to show up and nobody thinking I can cut it and then getting out there and picking off the biggest sets and surfing. And then coming in and playing with my three children in the shore break in my ridiculously oversized anti-sunburn hat and walking off the beach with my board and a big cooler to the sniggers of a crop of teenage surfers. I don’t look cool. But that doesn’t matter because office boy can still surf.