Published by Noserider in the blog Neoprene 'Zine. Views: 363

I stood on the beach, grinding my toes into the cool sand as I studied that morning's wave activity: Waves breaking on the point, coming into the beach at diagonal angle. Perfect for long rides and longboards. Most of the swells seemed to be about five or six feet, though a few sets culminated in some ten foot waves. Perfect for short boarding.

As I stood there in my rashie and bikini, my 9-0 single fin longboard tucked under my arm, a group of young men,early to mid-twenties, I guessed,hustled past me with their short boards and wetsuits. They snickered and giggled as they glanced my way. One of them called me a kook as they trotted to the water's edge, hooting and hollering.

I smiled to myself as the last guy in the procession, a lanky kid with a swimmer's build and a mop of blonde hair, stopped and looked me up and down.

He looked at my board and his face registered concern. "Ah, you might want to head to Bay Street," he said, jerking his thumb to the south. "This isn't a beginner's beach."

"I know," I said. "That's why I'm here."

Something in my response perturbed him. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but didn't. Instead, he backed up a few steps, turned and prepared to jog off and join his friends, who were now beginning to paddle out. But he stopped, looked at me once again, and said, "If you drop in on any of these guys"¦" He let the rest go unsaid.

I just nodded and assured him that I knew what I was doing.

He finally trotted off and left me alone standing on the beach, the "June Gloom" sky overhead like a piece of gray fabric being stretched in all four directions to infinity. I contemplated what I must look like to him and laughed.

I was at least 10 years older than anyone else on the beach. These guys had never seen me before. This was the first beach I'd found since I'd moved to Southern California that wasn't populated by people with whom I'd be associated: older, professional types who treated surfing as a hobby as opposed to a passion,people with careers instead of jobs, with families instead of roommates, with homes instead of places to live. Plus, I had a longboard (my 6-8 quad fin was lashed to the rack on the roof of my Kia, but no one saw that), the board of their parents and grandparents"¦and of beginners. Yup, I looked like a yuppie kook to them, a veritable pussy cat waking into the lion's den.

I couldn't blame them. I'd laugh at me too.

I walked down to the water's edge, checked and re-checked my leash and let the day's first wave reach my ankles. It was impossible not to smile. Yup. Another kook behavior. Okay, Ms. Kook. You're either going to join the lineup and prove them wrong, or stay here and prove them right.

I ran forward, flung myself over the first waist-high wave that spilled into me, and paddled out to meet the boys"¦

I followed a channel where the waves weren't breaking, gave the lineup a wide berth, and came in at the far right: essentially, last in line. I pushed wet hair out of my eyes, rivulets of water cascading down my wrists and forearms. I nodded politely in the direction of the six young fellows who were eyeing me with a mix of contempt and curiosity. I sat up on my board and introduced myself.

"What's up? I'm Katie." I gestured at my chest.

A few of the boys nodded. I think I even heard a murmur or two. But the greeting was anything but warm. I didn't know this area well,just what I'd read on a few websites,and thought maybe a friendly question or two might help break the ice.

"Anything gnarly out here I should worry about?" I asked. "Rocks? Dirty syringes floating in the water? Kook-hating locals?" That's it, Katie. Kill them with humor.

I think maybe I got a sigh in response that time.

The thing no one tells you about a surfing when you're a beginner,the thing you will never see in movies like Point Break or North Shore,is that most of your time is spent bobbing on your board, sitting in the lineup, waiting for your turn and for the right wave. Ninety percent of surfing is waiting. So, now the tension in the air was thick enough that I could cut it with a knife and spread it on a cracker, and I wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

So, I gave up trying to be friendly and just watched the horizon for swells, for fins, for mermaids,whatever.

Shortboards are ideal for big waves. But they move slower and a surfer must paddle much harder to catch one. Simply put, shorties are great,for a small minority of waves. After a few waves that would have been ideal for my longboard were wasted, I was about to ask if anyone minded if I take the next one. But then, a few big waves started rolling in and the guys on the far left started catching them, and the lineup was suddenly moving. Now all I had to do was keep these kids from snaking into the lineup or dropping in on me,both of which were virtually guaranteed to happen if for no other reason than some testosterone-fueled hazing. I had to be on the lookout because if I let one of these guys get away with harassing or humiliating me, it would be open season on me, and I'd be a fool to return.

I had to be perfect.

Sure enough, as guys started paddling back out, they thought they were going to wedge their way between me and the break.

"You know, I've got the right of way. I'm taking the next wave no matter what you do. I know my board will survive the collision"¦"

The skinny kid who spoke to me on the beach conceded for his friends. "Come on, guys. It's her wave."

I charged out, eager to both get away from them and to earn their respect by showing them I belonged. The wave came off the point and broke to the right, spitting foam and showering the backs of my legs. I gripped the rails of my board and, as the swell lifted me, I pushed the nose down. In an instant, I was up,left foot back at a slight angle pointing to the tail and acting as my rudder, right foot forward and pointing to the nose, knees bent, arms low.

I was right in front of the break, the wave big enough that if I crouched low, I could sit in the curl. The wave was as close to perfect as you can get as I zoomed down the face just in front of the break, half my board in the curl. I walked down the board, moved back up, used my feet to dance with the wave instead of attacking it and carving it like the others had done. My upper body held while my lower body moved independent, rocking, swaying, shifting. From the beach, I must look like fingers tearing a long strip of paper.

A near-perfect ride on a near-perfect wave. That'll show them. These guys are going to love me!

After what seemed like a minute but, in actuality, was probably closer to 30 seconds, the wave petered out near the beach so I kicked out and sank into the water in triumph. I must have looked like a movie star pretending to be humble in front of her adoring public. I waited for the inevitable cries of Akaw! Akaw! that never came.

They must be in awe, I thought.

I spun around and looked out to sea, expecting to see them sitting out there,eyes wide and blinking, mouths open in mute amazement. But they were gone. Just"¦gone. I squinted my eyes and craned my neck. I saw them. In their black springsuits, they might have a been a group of seals heading out to sea. They were paddling out? Farther out? Why? Were the waves breaking father out now? What did I miss?

That's when I realized what they missed: my ride. The whole point was to impress these guys so that they'd actually let me surf with them. I said I had to be perfect, and I was. Only, no one had seen it.
I tossed my head back and laughed.

Oh well.

I grabbed my board and walked up to the beach. I didn't know what time it was, but it felt late enough that I should probably get moving. One wave before breakfast isn't ideal, but it's nothing to be down about either.

That's how my summer began at Topanga Beach. And by the time it ended, I would be part of that clique. I'd follow them into their world and welcome them into mine. Everything that happened in between that perfect wave and yesterday? Well, that's my story.

This is just the beginning.
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