Unlike Riding A Bicycle!
by Tim Ryan
You may not care much about what I’m about to share because it’s about being an aging surfer. Well, me and my less old best friend Steve, but I’m ahead of myself.
Senior status and sore limbs are not a popular subject among surfers, especially those of us already there.
Over time, paddle outs take longer, duck diving seems more explosive, and outside sets even in gentle Waikiki feels like Haleiwa on a big west.
Before I indulge self-pity any further, let me state an absolute: Surfing is not like riding a bicycle.
You can go 20 years not riding a bike and still hop on the thing and go. But the surf gods won’t allow that with wave riding. If you stay away like I did for several years even attaching the leash to your ankle is accompanied by a groan.
Absolute #2: There are always dues to pay.
I won’t explain right now why I stopped after having surfed since 1963. When I say surfed I mean constant trips up and down the California coast from San Fran into Baja, sleeping in vans, on the beach, in sea caves at Government Point at the fabled Ranch to hammocks at Salt Pond on Kauai.
My humbling initiation to surfing was May 31, 1963. My first wave was at the sand bottom and usually closed out Bay Street break in Santa Monica. I rode the white water so far in that first day the fin braked in the sand. No wetsuit, no leash, just rock hard paraffin wax. But I was so stoked.
It would take me two more weeks to catch an actual swell. I stood up for a glorious few seconds then promptly pearled up to my throat. The first of many wipeouts that day.
At that moment I knew I would never head a major corporation or become president – of anything. I was a surfer. There wasn’t going to be time for anything else. And like you I bet, I never regretted the decision.
Ok, I’m straying aren’t I? So what, it’s my blog. The point is, well it’s not much of a point, but I’ve started surfing again. Sort of. And it’s a bitch!
I’m deep into my 60s and time is running short, hombre. I’m not really depressed about it…just saying. I’m thinking I should make it to 84, but again I digress.
(Did you know the average life span for an American male is just 77! Of course you didn’t because who wants to freaking read that crap! Morocco has the longest life span in the world, 83. And their women live to 90! Life isn’t fair.)
Ok, I’m straying again and you’re dying to know why I’m writing this, right? O.k. you’re not but someday you’ll understand.
During those seven years of surf abstinence I didn’t lose touch with the subject of surfing. I read the mags, watched films, talked story about waves with other surfers, kept my eyes on new swells. But I didn’t do it. El stupido.
And again I repeat myself: It ain’t like riding a (insert expletive) bike.
Mother Nature doesn’t take kindly to those who have taken time off from riding waves. (I don’t actually believe in Mother Nature.) It means when your not in surfing shape, you will get your okole kicked a lot. In every aspect.
Paddling out, scrambling for a wave, getting caught inside, climbing over reef or rocks, up and down cliffs to get to the beach, wiping out – which I am doing frequently and spectacularly – and stink eye or pity from other surfers who didn’t stop!
I deserve all of it. I was raised Catholic and we believe in just punishment.
Imagine me in the confessional:
ME: “Bless me father for I have sinned. I stopped surfing years ago.”
PRIEST: “You live in Hawaii and you don’t surf? What kind of human being are you! Fly to the Vatican immediately and humble yourself before the pope.”
This next part will keep the narrative going I promise.
In April, Steve, my life-long surfing buddy who at 63 remains an excellent wave rider, and I will spend about three weeks surfing from Ocean Beach in San Francisco to the Tijuana Sloughs in Imperial Beach, aka the Mexican border.
We plan to hit all those spots we surfed hundreds of times before we moved to Hawaii decades ago.
It’s a trip that feels intimidating, but in my head I know what I’m supposed to do in the ocean. The body can be miserably slow to come back around.
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.
And then there’s the cold-water factor at least in Northern Cal where the temperatures stay around the low 50s year round. I get chilly surfing Oahu’s North Shore in winter.
What the hell was I thinking about taking this trip? Oh just warm and fuzzy things: nostalgia, friendship, adventure, red wine.
I got very fortunate when some angels who heard about our journey stepped in to help ease the pain of cold ocean water.
My good friends at Patagonia have outfitted me in state-of-the-art wetsuit gear, including R4 full suit, booties, gloves, and hood, all lined with merino wool.
Two other sponsors also are contributing to our comfort: HeatedWetsuits.com (based in North Carolina but with distributors throughout the United States) and Escape Campervans (with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Brooklyn, NY, and Miami, FL.)
Steve and I will be wearing, as needed, the Thermalution Surf Series heated top with three settings up to 140 degrees. It will be interesting to feel just how warm one gets with the Patagonia merino wool suit and the addition of the Thermalution vest.
I love this Email to me from Matt Patton, president of Heated Wetsuits:
“Tim…Caution!! These things get HOT! If the suit feels like it is getting so hot that it might be burning you….it probably is. Turn it off for a little bit in this case and let yourself cool down.”
Burn Baby Burn! Bring it on Thermalution.
Our southbound schedule is based on surf conditions. We will be living mostly in a tricked out camper van with the occasional cheap hotel room – is Motel 6 listening? – when we need a hot shower.
Steve and I had joked about a detour to Napa Valley since we are a bit too fond of the grape. We dropped that deviation.
Note to Tim: Idiot! Now you’ve told them why you stopped surfing. How did you get that out of me? That was one of the things I was going to discuss LATER! Too many late nights enjoying a Zin or a Cab turned into missing a lot of dawn patrols. Blah, blah, blah.
“Forgive me father for I have sinned.”
It’s not like riding a bicycle!
I got back in the water earlier this year. Paddling out I felt like someone was sitting on my neck. My paddling strokes weren’t going high up enough to slice into the water. They looked like a fat bird flapping its wings trying to lift off.
In the right situation now I could drown. This could be the last you hear from me. Stop smiling.
Continue reading at your own risk.
I’m seeking redemption, obviously. It’s make or break for me. I either am able to surf well again or uh not. When you’re 68 – damn me, another secret exposed – you may understand.
I moved to Hawaii in ’84 from California where I learned on long boards to trim, nose ride, bottom turn at places like Lower Trestles, the Ranch, Rincon, El Cap, C- Street, undiscovered beach breaks like Hollywood By the Sea! California was the dream place to be.
Bob Cooper? Yup, saw him a lot at Rincon; George Greenough, Mike Doyle and Rennie Yator, all at the Ranch; Miki Dora at Malibu, of course; Mike Hynson at South Bird Rock in San Diego. Class acts all.
We slept in our vans in nice neighborhoods with little intrusion from residents or police. We were too tired to create mayhem so they left us alone. (We will be sleeping in neighborhoods again if we can’t find a place to camp. Shhhhh.)
“Officer, I’m old, please don’t arrest me.”
Here’s the bottom, bottom line I promise. I just want to paddle out, catch some waves, stand up, make the drop, ease into a turn, enjoy the movement and the moment, and leave the water in one piece. I just want to be part of the ocean again.
Our sponsors are making it easy for us now the rest is up to us. Mahalo nui loa.
The Reliving Green Glass blog will appear at least every other day accompanied by photos and I’m sure lots lots of mindless banter. We would love to have you join us on this journey down the Golden Coast. It’s gonna be amazing, at least for us.
Steve & Tim
Photos by PF Bentley
Praise and complaints to: firstname.lastname@example.org