Health

The Important Stuff of Surfing

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It’s easy to malign surfing. A seemingly whimsical endeavor evoking images of far-off sandy beaches, warm sunshine in tropical destinations, seas teeming with leaping dolphins, and an enviable apparent disregard for what’s going on in the “real world.” An irresponsible undertaking. Polar opposite of a structured, land-based existence — the only one that truly matters.  An exercise in frivolity. What’s the point?

I’m glad you asked. 

I consider myself a surfer, though my skills in the water are meager.  I believe the skills part may actually be of secondary importance. And the perceived whimsy has, more or less, nothing to do with it. Rather, I reckon it’s a classroom out there. And I’d like to think that introducing my own sons to surfing has delivered up a host of genuinely important, substantive, life lessons. Vital, timeless stuff to be handed down from one generation to the next.

First, there is the commitment and suffering part.  You must shoulder (or armpit, or head-balance) your own board for the schlep from the car to the beach. Sure, it’s heavy, and your arms ache, and it’s not easy to sprint past the breakwall when a wave at high tide is about to slap you and your board against it.  But that ache with a touch of suffering marks your investment in this. Anything lastingly worthwhile requires some tolerance for suffering. Embrace it.

Second, slow down, breath, and take it all in. No matter where you actually are, this is the place to be.  How lucky are we to be striding out into this water?  Straddling a board in the flat of a channel.  Feeling the sea undulate beneath you.  Smelling the mix of saltwater, seaweed, organic decay from the receding tide, surf wax and neoprene. Absorb what your eyes see — the divebombing pelicans, curious seals, and the landscape sliding by as the tide and current have their way with you. Inhale.  Listen to the waves’ roll and delivery to the land. Hear the seagulls squabbling for the darting sardines. Inhale. Exhale. Slow down. And take it all in. 

Third, face your fears. Feel the tickle of anxiety and nervousness and uncertainty as a wave rolls up behind you, suddenly much more menacing than it appeared from shore.  Know that you are not even close to being in charge out here. Face that fear.  Welcome it, even.  It means that you are alive. Alive in a way where the deluge of Instagram updates, goofy Snapchat lenses, and group text threads fades into the background. Alive in a way where the only moment that matters is this moment. Fear is your friend here. 

Fourth, be humble. Observe the conditions, and the actions of other surfers out there, as you stand on the shore, so as to keep your own role low-profile and studied. Take pleasure in the earlier-arriving surfers’ pleasure. Understand that you are about to slide into territory that doesn’t really belong to you.  Be humble, whether you bob in endless lulls, get spun and pounded under a wave, or manage to stand up and glide for what seems like an eternity. It’s not about you out here, and that is a good thing. 

Fifth, don’t be greedy.  Leave something in the reserve tank to fuel your post-surf obligations.  If you can’t muster the strength to reach up and around your shoulders to unzip your wetsuit back on the beach, well, you probably stayed out too long.  I’ve been there.  Maybe you unwisely ignored the unfavorable current, in the throes of your gluttony for more waves, and spent your reserves fighting back across the channel. Know when it’s time to go.  There will always be more down the road and on the horizon (at least I hope so). And on this note, don’t forget you’ll need to wrap your leash tightly around the fins and cart your own gear back to the car once again. This time with tired shoulders, cramping hands, ear canals stuffed with sand, and saltwater in your belly.  The session’s not done ’til we’re back in the car, locked and loaded.  And remember it’s your job today to hose down the wetsuits at home in the backyard.  So pace yourself out there, and save a little extra for after. 

Finally, experience real fulfillment and gratitude. All of the above ingredients, mixed properly, will produce an overwhelming sense of well-being and satisfaction. A new collection of memories, just forged, swims in the head. A well-earned, deep physical fatigue sets in. The bloodstream seemingly spiked a bit from the saltwater immersion. Give in to the exhaustion.  Go ahead, son, fall asleep suddenly in the backseat. Mid-conversation. The hint of a satisfied smile playing across your face.  I’ll grip the wheel for the winding ride home along the coast, grateful for this singular experience.  Marking the occasion in my mind.  Hoping you’ll pass these same lessons along to your own children. After all, this is important stuff. 

On that note, it’s just about time to strap some boards on the roof rack, fill up some old milk jugs with warm water, and saddle up.  Class is in session. 

Thanks for reading. 

 

The Sky Is Cryin’.

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It’s not exactly “Snowzilla,” “Snowpocalypse,” “Jonas,” or whatever monikered meteorological phenomenon bulldozed our East Coast brethren these past few days.  But El Niño to-date has proven a persistent pain in the ass.  It’s great for the drought, in theory.  Though I’m mindful of Paul Giamatti’s thirsty gulp from the Sideways spit bucket.

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Yeah, it’s a bit like that.  Only instead of a shawl of spitty Cabernet, we end up with puddles in the garage from an unfortunately sloped driveway.  Actually, we don’t.  My wife had the forethought to pick up a half-dozen super attractive sandbags awhile back. These we’ve configured to capture and hold Lake Beadling from the rain runoff, restraining the beast from washing our flat into the Bay.  They are also a fine addition to our homestead, surely sending up the value of our home on Zillow considerably. 

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The sandbags have been in place for so long now, I forget they are there.  So each time I back the Prius out of the driveway,  hyper focused imagining getting t-boned by a speeding SUV, the sandbag speed bump spikes my adrenaline, as I assume for a split-second that I have run over our dog.  I have fallen for this trick at least a dozen times.  Probably will happen again today, too.  

I’m saying I’m weary of the incessant rain.  It keeps me out of the Bay, since swimming amidst the King Tides, storm “runoff,” and random tree-sized pier pilings holds little appeal.  It keeps me off the bike, since one ride across an unexpectedly deep puddle up to one’s ankles is one ride too many. And the dog is unhappy, too.  Her normal weekly walks are cut short. When they do happen, she’s force-marched through pelting rain. The result is that Wailea seeks thrills by eating things in the house that are not meant to be eaten. This results in X-Rays, ultrasounds, and meaty vet bills.  

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Thank you, El Niño.   The kids are fairly stir crazy as well.  All of the screens in our house are hot to the touch, streaming non-stop mind-numbing content into the boys’ (now slowly) developing dorsal anterior cingulate cortices. At least whatever area of the brain is responsible for feelings of guilt and contrition still functions in our 10 year-old —

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We’ll apply this $6.75 towards–you guessed it–our “Rainy Day Fund.”  In other words, we already spent it. Gone.  Depleted.  

Alright, time to run. On a squeaky treadmill. In the garage. Huffing on dangling and exposed puffs of fiberglass insulation.  Waiting for the dog to inadvertently clip my ankles, sending me to the human hospital as payback for the aforementioned unscheduled vet visit and belly shaving. 

No rain, no rainbows?  Thanks for reading.

Back in the Saddle Again.

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One of the best things about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is access to some truly fantastic road cycling. Even better if you can finagle a way to live close enough to the good stuff that you can leave the car and Thule at home. Pop up the garage door and shoot out into the street.

Fortunately, we have figured out how to so finagle. Example: While I haven’t done it in years, the ride to Mount Tam’s East Peak from my front door and back is almost exactly 50 miles. Something interesting about that nice round number. I have some very fond memories of that long ride, a reasonably regular excursion maybe 10 years ago.

I memorized the sketchiest corners that warranted whipping around in a short sprint so as to avoid surprising a following motor vehicle that might otherwise see me too late. In certain spots — sharp and blind corners — a surprised driver might swerve into the opposing lane to avoid a suddenly appearing rider just in front of him. Or the driver could quickly calculate his odds of injury and collision repair expense, then decide instead to bounce the rider off his car’s windshield. As the sign on Camino Alto says, “Lycra Is Not Body Armor.” So if the driver follows this particular branch of the decision tree, that is gonna leave a mark.

I have yet to experience this kind of unpleasant contact. I prefer to ride in the early morning when the roads are generally clear of those kinds of hazards. I’ll gladly trade a pungent dousing from a startled skunk than a run-in with a Land Rover’s bumper. Plus, like I say, I haven’t suffered my way up to Mount Tam in quite some time. So my odds of meeting up with that Land Rover are looking pretty good. “Good” as in, not going to happen.

I love a Tam ride facsimile much closer to my house — the Marin Headlands. A 14-ish mile round trip. Plenty of up for about 15-18 minutes. Ridiculous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, SF Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally an intriguing run-in with a thick layer of fog. Obscuring everything beyond, say, a 20 or 30-foot circumference. Climbing up Conzelman in a blanket of fog turns a familiar route into a guessing game.

Was that tree always there? Is this the halfway point? What’s that noise on the rocky bluff above me?

I love it.

And I’ve missed it.

Until this past week, it had been more than two months since I last rode any kind of meaningful route. And probably a year or more since I last pedaled up into the Headlands’ fog. It’s generally not a good idea to go from zero riding to several Headlands rides in a week. The lower back will remind me of my age, aching for a day or so afterwards, regardless of how many Advils I chew.

But that kind of ache I’ll happily tolerate. I’m back in the saddle again.

Thanks for reading.

I am not an animal.

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I think I know how the “Elephant Man” felt.

The Englishman Joseph Carey Merrick suffered from a rare, never-quite-determined illness or two that caused a number of grotesque deformities, formed the basis of a traveling show featuring Joseph as a human curiosity, and later inspired at least one theatrical plan and feature film.  Joseph was evidently miserable, and evidently also of enormous interest to showmen, doctors, royalty, and ticket-holding penny gaff patrons.

For nearly two weeks, I’ve been staggering through my days trying to remember when, exactly, I was struck by a car while riding my bike.  Or tackled unexpectedly by an overzealous, old friend.  Or inadvertently struck in the side of the head with an aluminum baseball bat.  Or maybe bitten by a blood-thirsty tick carrying one or another malevolent species of bacteria. Those are the only logical explanations I can can conjure up to explain how I’ve been feeling. But as far as I can remember, none of those potential explanations are based in reality.  None of them happened.

I have been knocked sideways by what feels like a dislocated shoulder, a sore sternocleidomastoid neck muscle consistent with the aftermath of swimming the English Channel, and an intermittent throbbing below my ear.  There are far worse health problems than mine, absolutely.  But I am not accustomed to this.

I haven’t taken a stroke in the Bay, a jogging step in my zero drop shoes, or a spin on my bike for nearly two weeks.  I have a race less than two weeks from today.  It’s not that I’m worried about finishing the race, or being adequately trained.  It’s that whatever ails me is preventing me from moving my body the way it has to move for a couple hours to even do the race.  I couldn’t zip up my wetsuit right now if my life depended upon it, for example, let alone go out and crawl around the Bay with 1,000 others.

More importantly, we’re in the heart of Little League playoffs season right now.  Both of my sons’ teams are playing.  They and all of their teammates are all kinds of fired up.  I live for this time of year.  In my current condition, if I foolishly burn through a bucket of ground balls with my fungo, the next morning will give me a hint of what it must feel like to be shot in the shoulder.  So I don’t hit infield.  Normally, my throwing shoulder is bone-weary by now, just from the sheer number of balls thrown during batting practice and father-son games of “catch” over the past few months.  In the past, I’ve complained about that seasonal ache.  I now ache for that trivial, seasonal ache.  At the moment, I am unable to raise my hand above my shoulder without wincing in pain.  So that means no throwing BP, no “coach-pitch” relief during my Little League games when our pitcher has been overly wild on the mound, and no easy game of catch with my boys.  Sure, I can catch just fine.  It’s the throwing part.  I’m reduced to underhand tosses.  And even those don’t feel particularly good.

In short, I’m miserable.

And apparently, like Joe Merrick, quite a curiosity to doctors.

My own doctor has been a champ through this.  Chatting with me after-hours on the phone. Speeding blood work results through the lab’s otherwise arthritic process.  Assuring me that eating ibuprofen like M&Ms is OK for the time being.  And showing genuine empathy for my situation, even though I know she has patients with far more serious maladies.

All of that is true.

But I am now beginning to suspect that I’m not far from the penny gaff myself.   This mysterious, pain-inducing thing knocking around inside of me is a Rubic’s Cube for my doctor.   I just want it to go away.   But my doctor has begun saying things like “infectious disease specialists,” “more blood work,” and “my colleagues.” Saying those words with a barely-detectible hint of excitement in her voice that I would rather not be detecting.

I think she is already working on the creative brief for the P. T. Barnum-style poster announcing my imminent arrival in your town.  I think she has begun drafting the speech for the barker posturing out in front of the tent.

“Step right up, folks.  You won’t want to miss this.  We have the death-defying Human Cannonball.  See him shot right out of a cannon before your very eyes.  We have Fire-Boy. The man who eats and drinks fire same as you and I eat a hearty meal.  We have Billy, the famous two-headed goat. And get this folks, for the first time ever, we bring you our newest, feature attraction:  The Whimpering Little League Coach. Reduced to throwing underhand!  That’s right, you’ll have to see it to believe it!  Has the devil taken hold of him?  Could be, folks, could be. Step right up!”

So like I said.  Miserable.  But evidently, too, of enormous interest.  Step right up.

Thanks for reading.