As my surfing improves, the brothers encourage me to visit the “big boy” locations on the island. I do so begrudgingly because by the time the session is over, I’m usually pretty shaken up. Yesterday was no exception.
Holyoke is the pinnacle of “big boy” surf spots on the Island. It’s a small, crowded location where the waves are big and the male egos often bigger. Pro and semi-pro surfers try to impress one another, like gay sea-bound peacocks (I don’t know if that analogy is going to cut it but oh well.)
The brothers give me the lowdown before I enter the water:
“Grab a wave or two within the first 10 minutes and they’ll give you some respect. If you don’t, they’re going to plow you down.”
“Okay…I guess. But what if…”
“Just do it.”
We paddle out and I’m shaking already. The waves are towering and nobody is friendly. I toss around a few “good mornings” and “hey theres” but hardly anyone responds. I see a wave coming in my direction and set myself up. Paddling for it as hard as I can, I miss it. Everyone sees it. And the brothers are right. This is sensed as weakness. The next wave I attempt to ride, someone “drops in” on me.
A quick side note on surfing: dropping in on a surfer is akin to cutting in front of someone in line. It’s a major sea faux pas and has lead to bloody fistfights in the water. But it will happen if your fellow surfers aren’t taking you seriously.
I see a woman paddling out to our tight-knit little group. This increases my jitters. Is she better than me? Will I look even lamer in comparison? Oh well. I smile and say hi to her. She barely nods in my direction.
Another wave heads in my direction. I start paddling and I see the woman next to me, trying to get the same wave. She technically has the right of way, but she’s so far behind me, I know she won’t get it. I’m set up in a better position, so I continue to paddle.
I miss the wave. And she misses the wave. And she’s pissed. She swings her board around abruptly, the nose of it almost grazing my face. I grab the nose of her board and push it away from me, so I don’t get hit.
The rest of the session was a blur. I was shaken and trying hard to focus. I got several waves to save some face but for the most part, I kinda bombed.
On the drive back home, the brothers begin lecturing me on what I did wrong. I sit in between the two of them, shivering, hungry yet trying to stay open.
“You don’t push away the nose of someone’s board…ever. It’s a sign of aggression.”
“Aggression? EVERYBODY was aggressive out there. I moved her board away so it wouldn’t hit me. Was I supposed to let her hit me as a sign of respect or something? Sorry but that’s an act I reserve only for a very select few.”
“But you dropped in on her. It was her wave.”
“But she wasn’t going to make it! You guys do that same thing to ME all the time. You paddle next to me and if you see I’m not going to get a wave, you take it.”
“But you don’t know these people. It’s different.”
“Well, how did I know? You know, the one time I do something aggressive, it’s a big deal. The rest of the time, I was being friendly and looking forward to meeting new people and no one was nice to me…and I even know some of those people!”
“It’s surfing, Beth. It’s not about being nice.”
“But I don’t really have much of a…community…here and...”
Oh shit, I feel it coming.
“Why are people so goddamn mean?”
And with that, I start sobbing. In the front seat of a car with two young guys on either side of me, painfully unsure of what to do next. The youngest brother starts awkwardly patting my shoulder.
“Beth, fuck them. They’re nobody. You’re just trying to get better. Don’t focus on them. That scrawny-assed blond chick, you’re so much better than her. You’re learning.”
His words feel like a blanket around my shivering body. Again, they remind me of what real brothers would say. Words of comfort, assurance. It takes so few words to make someone feel better. Truth is, she may have been better than me but it was nice to hear anyway. And it was also true, the part about her scrawny ass.
I don’t know if I want to surf competitively. Surfing has always been calming and fun and spiritual to me, like singing. I never cared much about how good I became. I just did it for me, to make me smile. But how do you know when you’re supposed to push yourself and go up against the big boys, just to strengthen your mettle? If you don’t jump into the hot seat sometimes, your little kid fears can trap you indefinitely.
I can’t imagine what Olympic competitors must feel like at the end of the day. Do they cry in cars, wondering why people are so mean? Do they even enjoy their sport anymore? Maybe I don’t feel like winning in general. Maybe the best days are spent drinking pink lemonade, smoking a little weed, going to yard sales, downloading music, making pies, making out and surfing with friends - real simple-like.
The boys drop me off, with a sympathetic yet slightly traumatized look on their faces. As I continue my sobbing in a hot shower, I slowly start to…touch myself. No, I don’t. I actually wash my hair and use this really good deep conditioner afterwards, the kind you leave in your hair for a few minutes. My ego bruised but my hair - silky smooth.
Thoughts of my childhood float through the steam, when you could fearlessly walk up to some kid and say, “Hey, you…you wanna be my friend? You wanna play?” It was that simple. My parents taught me to be kind at all costs, even when people aren’t being kind in return. It was your spiritual duty and I believe in it. I try, I fail, people try, people fail. And it can hurt sometimes, the whole sticky human process.
And that’s when I actually do touch myself. You know, just to forget about the whole damn thing.