Someone Else's Passion
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Each summer, like many in this town, it troubles me that I don't know how to surf. I mean, I'm a dedicated Angeleno with decent health and decent balance, and hey, everyone looks good in a wetsuit.
The trouble with surfing is that it's hard to do. You make a fool of yourself during your first attempts. Worse, you have that sense of trespassing in the passionate kingdom of others.
It doesn't help that my friend Steve has been surfing since the Z-boys days of Venice Beach and jokes about people who take to the waves in mid-life: Folks who show up with brand-new wetsuits and undented boards. Who don't know the etiquette or the lingo or the inner life of a swell. Who spend most of their time on the beach waxing their fiberglass or staring thoughtfully at the horizon while sipping coffee from silvery travel mugs.
When they do get in the water, notes Steve, newbies tend to get in the way of well…the surfers.
Still, I figure it's the right of every Angeleno to taste each pleasure he can afford, and of course, plenty he can't: not just good food and big art, but every sport for which he has room in his garage to stuff the equipment.
Last summer, I got so far as to take Steve and his buddy Joe to lunch—where we could, you know, talk about surfing.
Joe looked me hard in the eye: "The ocean is the wilderness that touches the city," he said. "Go knee deep and all the rules of life change. People used to talk about ‘be here now,' about the merging of mind, body and soul. When I'm on a wave," said Joe, "out in front of the whitewater, the only sound I hear is the sizzle off the end of my board. When I get that sound, if it's a big enough wave to get that speed, it's like the smell of a beautiful woman's perfume who you had an affair with when you were young. You can be anywhere, you can be in the mall: if you smell that perfume you're right back there. I have a physical addiction," he finished. "I'm addicted to the endorphins released by the sights and sounds and smells of surfing."
Even after this intimidating conversation, I had the courage to ask Steve for a lesson. I wanted it to occur out by the pier on a lonely morning as the fog burned away. He agreed, but on the appointed day, lo, the ocean was cluttered with a whole class of newbies on identical blue boards, elbow to elbow, falling clumsily in the spray. It wasn't just my worst nightmare, but Steve's. Before long he got that solitary surfer look in his eye and I didn't blame him when he abandoned me to paddle out past the impact zone.
Me, I was stuck in the wash, thrashing like a beached endorphin with my rented board. And yes, I felt like an unwanted guest, an uninvited visitor in my own iconic L.A. ocean. Me, The Urban Man.
"That's it," I said, and gave up the quest for another 12 months….
Well, until last Wednesday night, when I got a mail from a serious surfer friend who's moving to Manhattan. He had to give up his boards, and wondered if I was interested. Sure enough, the old desire returned full force, and I thought, "What could be more L.A. than purchasing someone else's passion with a check?" I drove right over, and you can imagine this friend's sorrow and my joy as I carried his equipment away.
Since then, I admit I haven't spent much time in the actual water: but any day this week you may find the Urban Man standing on the morning beach with a silvery travel mug, carefully waxing his fiberglass, searching out the horizon, and sniffing for the half-remembered scent of perfume on the breeze.
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada
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