You are five years old, trussed up tight in a huge yellow lifejacket that
pretty much dwarfs your bony little bod. You are clinging to the nose of
your father's surfboard as he paddles through the cool sparkling saltwater to
the lineup at Cardiff Reef. When Dad is satisfied that he's in the right spot, he sits on the tail of his
long shiny board and swings it around to face the shore. In the distance,
you can see your mother sitting on the beach. She
You can hear the wave coming because it kind of crackles, and the brown
pelican floating nearby starts his preemptive take off, flapping and
flailing. Around you the other surfers shift nervously, but by common
consensus, they've decided to let your Dad have any wave he wants when he's got
you on board. In between waves they make funny faces at you like a bunch
of rowdy uncles. You're the local gremmie.
Your Dad begins to paddle slowly, looking over his shoulder to gauge the
rapidly steepening wave as it approaches. When the wave begins to lift
the tail of the surfboard, he digs deep powerful strokes to match the wave's
speed and start you sliding down the face. Your face tingles from the
speed and spray and your fingers hold the rails of the board so tightly.
You are smiling and your young eyes are bright with pleasure. The board
levels out as Dad stands up, and then you feel the torque and acceleration as
he turns at the bottom of the wave and lines up with its face. You can see
the wall of water lined up in front of you, and hear it crashing madly just
behind. Dad is playing with the wave now, teasing it and almost letting it
catch you, then smacking off the lip and slipping away. It's unbelievably
It's almost over when Dad reaches down and lifts you up by the arms to stand
in front of him. Your perspective changes instantly, you're above the
surface of the water, your feet are helping to guide the board, you're not a
passenger, you're a surfer.
You are Joel Tudor1, and you win your
first professional surf contest at 15 and the Longboard World Championship in the
Canary Islands in 1998. You're a hard core badboy surfing rock star,
traveling the world, garnering international fame and hauling in some serious
ducats. Mom and Dad are proud.
At ten years old you are still a scrawny little kid and you're struggling
with the back end of your brother's loggy DK popout as the two
of you make your way to the water next to the pier at Ocean Beach. You are both wearing your surf uniforms: red Birdwell
Beach Britches that are so oversized they barely hang on your hips, white Tee
shirts (yours has a Gordon & Smith logo on
the back, your brother's has Hobie on it), white noses
smeared with zinc oxide, and hair that has been bleached blond by a
combination of sun, salt water and an ill-advised experiment with Chlorox.
On your brother's signal, you dump the surfboard unceremoniously in the
sand and scan the lineup for friends and wave conditions. It's small again
today, maybe four feet, and pretty blown out in the afternoon onshore
breeze. Not that it matters, it took your brother all day to wheedle a
ride with Gramps, and you're goin surfing. Two kids, one board. It's
your brother's board and he's going first, no argument. Used to be you'd
go out together, one of you treading water while the other one rode a wave, but
you're older now and sharing a board is dorky. As your brother paddles
out through the small choppy waves, you settle on the beach, oblivious to the
giggling gaggle of girls on the next blanket over. You're a surfer and
girls are for kooks, or at least for later.
Through the glare of white slatting sun on the water, you can see your
brother stroking on a set wave. There are two other guys paddling for it,
but they aren't on the peak and he is. He takes off very late on the
vertical wall and you think he's gonna wipeout, but he manages to get to his
feet and make the long steep drop. You jump to your feet about the same
time he does, surprising the girls. You're stoked with excitement and
can almost feel your brother's knees flex as he struggles to carve a bottom
turn on the heavy board. Your arms are in the air, just like his, when he
sets his rail and trims the board for a run down the line. He walks the
nose and lays out some funky soul arch, just like Phil Edwards in the
last issue of Surfer Magazine. And you find yourself hooting and dancing
in the sand. That was just so bitchin!
You are Jeffery2, who goes on to be an
under-appreciated but widely known airbrush artist who has painted
thousands of surfboard blanks and raised two beautiful surfergirl
daughters. You surf almost every day.
You're the only teenage girl who's allowed to hang with the surf rats down at
the Shores or Windansea. But you aren't Gidget,
and there's no Moondoggie to protect you from anything. Surfing is one
of the sternest meritocracies anywhere on earth. There's no
coasting and no slack. You've got to be on, every time you are in the water, to
earn any respect with this crew. Otherwise you're just another kook.
It hasn't been easy, but you've earned your spot. You've earned it by getting
up before school and surfing for a few hours no matter how lousy it was.
Earned it by spending endless hours in the water on a board that's too big for
you. You earned it by talking your parents into driving you to endless funky
little surf contests all over southern California. You earned
your place by winning the Western Surfing Association amateur women's title
four years after you started surfing.
You are fifteen years old in 1968 and you're standing on the trophy platform
in Rincón, Puerto Rico accepting the first place trophy at the World Surfing
Championships where you have just captured the title from Joyce
Hoffman. You are the best woman surfer in the world, and you've got a
vision that's much bigger than this title. You want women's competitive
surfing to be given the same respect as the men's contests.
You are Margo Godfrey-Oberg3 and you are
the first woman big wave surfer. You dominate the women's
competitive surfing scene for many years, before retiring to explore the
Bible and your Christian faith. You lay the groundwork for the
future development of professional women's surfing and serve as a role
model for thousands of young women surfers. You end up happily
married, living and surfing in Kauai, Hawaii.
You're an old guy but you still surf. You quit surfing for a bunch of
years without ever intending to, it just slipped away when you weren't
looking. Then a good friend caught the stoke and hauled you along for the
dawn patrol. When you dropped into a glassy pocket at an longboarder
spot in North County, you caught the fever again
You're on fire with stoke4 and aghast that you managed to let the pure cosmic
juice of surfing ever get away. Surfing is a touchstone for you, a
reality check and a gentle balm for your sometimes confused soul.
It's a gift that you are still surfing, a second chance, a sacred thing. So
now you've got three bitchin sticks and you're scheming up a down payment on
a beach lot in paradise for your retirement playground.
You have begun the process of teaching your two kids to surf and that makes you
You are me5 who still wears Birdwell
Beach Britches and writes for E2.
1 Joel Tudor, biographical sketch: http://www.surfhistory.com/html/profiles/tudor.html
2 JeffBro's Galleria Jefe:
3 Margo Godfrey-Oberg biographical sketch:
4 Oddly enough if you want to understand Surf Stoke, you
need to watch a skateboarding movie: Dogtown and Z-Boys
5 Gomish Surf Lore: Time stands still
when you're in the tube, Rincón, Puerto Rico, Duke Kahanamoku
Consider this a nodeshell rescue reflecting my shock and
dismay at finding that heinous punkass kook pommie bastard chump of a Webster 1913 definition node for Surfer. "Surf Duck," sheesh.