june 2012

stay young
‘After all, what's more childlike than playing in the waves? He didn't have a care in the world, and I wanted so much to feel like that again.’

Stay Young

How a child surfer--a 'grommet'--taught a veteran a most valuable lesson


Originally published July ’07 at The Surfing Handbook

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up with perfection and expectations that we lose perspective. Things take on a twisted significance, and what was once fun becomes stressful and nearly unenjoyable.

Surfing can become something other than a carefree way to pass long, hot, summer afternoons. For myself, I began to get jaded. It's only been a few years since I started surfing and already I'm passing on days where the waves are just so-so, insisting on perfect conditions like the scant few days that stand out in my mind when I think of the perfect session.

I noticed this when I headed down to my local break-the place I learned to surf years ago-just to lie in the sun and enjoy the warm, clear blue water. The waves were nearly non-existent, perfect lake Atlantic conditions. Occasionally a 1.5 foot wave would break maybe 10 feet from the sand--just enough to maybe get something resembling a ride before you had to jump off or break your fins in the sand. I took my six-foot shortboard from the car and put it next to my towel. I took out my sandwich and my mp3 player and relaxed, waiting for the tide to drop just a little bit.

stay young

Finally, when I only had maybe 45 minutes to surf before work, I saw a little boy paddling out with his board. He was the only other surfer attempting to ride the tiny shorebreak, and already I was getting antsy, preparing to have to fight with him for the measly waves, muttering to myself about stupid kids and crowds and all that. My mood was deteriorating rapidly. I decided that if I was going to paddle out it would have to be now or never, or I'd be late for work. So I slowly took out my board, attached the leash, and paddled out.

The water was so warm, thanks to the stagnant weather pattern and the long, sunny, waveless days with no wind. It's rare that I get to comfortably surf around here with no wetsuit, but on this day that is what I was able to do. It was a unique and free feeling that I don't get to experience very often. It felt pure and unrestrained, not to mention a little slippery thanks to the bit of sunblock I was wearing.

I was looking out to the horizon when the kid paddled behind me. I looked over and he grinned. "Sorry if I got in your way before," he said. That was odd. He hadn't been in my way at all. "Oh, don't worry about it," I replied with a wave of my hand, "You weren't in my way. I'm just messing around out here anyway."

I went on to exchange a bit of conversation with him. Normally this is not something I'd do...kids are punks. They're annoying. They get in the way. Unfortunately, I guess I'd just been exposed to all the wrong kids. This 12-year-old grom was all smiles and stoke. He or I would paddle for a tiny ripple and miss it, and he'd wrinkle up his face with a grin and hold out his forefinger and thumb. "This close!"

stay  youngHe went on to try to give me some advice after I told him that I was used to riding a much bigger board. He told me about paddling so that your hands come under the board, just like when you swim laps in a pool. He mentioned that my weight might be too much on my back foot, and then when I mentioned that I thought my problem was that I stop paddling too soon he was impressed. "Most people don't notice that themselves."

For a kid, he was pretty darn intelligent, and his excitement was infectious. He caught a tiny little wave, and as he was paddling back out he shouted over "Barrrreled!" Now, I don't think he got barreled, but it was enough for him to get excited. During a lull I did a little popup on my board and managed to stand on it for a few seconds before it squirted out from under my feet. "Whoa, were you standing on it?" he called over. "Yeah, I was up for a second!" It's excitement over the little things that make life fun.

After loosening up and chatting with him, I began to relax. My mood began to lift. I decided that I wanted to see the world more like he did--the way I saw the world before I began to get so jaded about everything. After all, what's more childlike than playing in the waves? He didn't have a care in the world, and I wanted so much to feel like that again. I'm determined now to go back to the beginning...when surfing was new and exciting, and merely catching the tiniest wave was monumentally fun. I haven't even been at the sport very long, and yet my perfectionism and drive for success has tainted the experience. I think sometimes we get so serious about surfing and being a "real surfer," and "hard core," or other such nonsense that we lose sight of the entire point of surfing: being outside, enjoying the ocean and waves.

I want to enjoy even the smallest conditions...to enjoy the fact that I am so blessed to be able to even surf at all. To paddle out even if it's flat, and just have fun messing around on my surfboard--duckdiving in flat water and trying to stand on the board with no wave.

After he left I managed to catch a tiny little right, sending the nearby swimmers scattering for their life. That little wave left me stoked for the rest of the night, getting me through my long work shift. Just that little wave, but that was all I needed at that point. I have a lot of thanks for the grom who helped me enjoy it.

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