Danger in the Shallows

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When I first began surfing, I was more comfortable near a sandbar, just in case I needed to feel something that wasn’t moving as much as I did on top of my board.  Deep water seemed scary.  Even now, it’s fun to launch my board from a standing position when my paddling arms give out.  Reasonably flat sandy beaches make that easy.

But you need to know there’s a downside to getting too comfortable in the shallows.  A big one.

I’m typing this today from my sofa with my left foot propped up on an ice pack.

This morning our local break was nearly nonexistent.  One-to-two foot waves breaking nearly onshore at high tide, and just enough activity on the outside to make us hopeful for some peelers when the tide headed out.  But, as usual, we had no time to wait.  This was the second time this weekend we had made it out. Yesterday’s trip up the coast had taken a good part of the day, leaving little time left before weekend chores came calling.  We were at the beach, therefore we would surf whatever we found.  We’re tough that way.  Big or small, we’ll surf it all–or at least try.

There weren’t a lot of waves to choose from, so we did our best to choose those that weren’t overhead shore pound and hoped for the best.  We each found a few, but there was really no choice but to ride them to shore…into the very shallow water.  We’re experienced at this, but as each of us caught a wave, the others kept an eye open to make sure the landings went well.  For the most part they did, but we each took a tumble or two.  We left after an hour or so, confident we had conquered all the waves there were to be had and happy to enjoy water warm enough to wear wetsuits sans booties.

On the way home, I noticed a twinge in my ankle. I vaguely remembered a particularly awkward jump off my board which didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.  A couple of hours later, here I sit, ankle on ice.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a surf related injury. Most of time they were accidents.  This was too, but totally preventable.

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Wave cams lie, but we don’t care.

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The Wave Less Traveled

My surf buds and I sit on our boards between waves, and often the subject finding a fun new spot to surf.  We compare notes, talk about making plans, only to see each other next weekend at our usual break.  Thankfully, I have a great surf bud who is more action than talk.  When this weekend approached, she suggested driving a few miles up the coast.  We arranged to meet early the next morning and head out.

Now early is relative, but considering I attended my son’s surprise engagement dinner the night before, I think I did pretty well.

We decided to take the back roads, and stay of the oft-crowded beach highway until we got close to our destination.

We’re very fortunate to live on the east coast of Florida.

No matter where you go, there are pockets of beautiful scenery, and places where development hasn’t reached.

It took a little longer, but the scenery was worth it.

We were relieved when we reached the beach and found out that we hadn’t missed anything.

But it didn’t seem to matter which way we turned; there were no waves.

But the day was young, and we paddled around enjoying the nuances of our newfound spot.  The tide started going out, and our wave selection grew from flat to 1-2′ and glassy. Some were maybe even a little bigger. Maybe.  Ironically, just as the tide turned, we discovered another friend in the lineup. She had also wanted to try somewhere different, and ended up at the exact same spot.  Small waves, small world.

We spent two more hours in the water before giving up.  A quick browse through the local surf shop and a stop for a Slurpee for the ride home made the day complete.  But not before we made a pact to do this again, and soon.

We all get into ruts.  I drive the same way to work every day, watch the same TV shows, and wear the same comfy jeans.  Think of how many things you do exactly like you did the day before.  I know, I know, sometimes routine is a good thing.  You don’t want to get off course and forget something major, like picking up the kids, or letting the dog out.

My point is: change can be can be good.  So shake it up a little.  Try a new board, or wipe the dust off an old one.  Find a new spot.  Take all rights, or all lefts.  Surf with a new friend, or an old one you haven’t seen in a while.  Go off in another direction.  You never know what, or who, you may find.

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When this girl can’t surf, she surfs…

…the web looking for some good surfing websites.  First, there’s my favorite surf forecast: swellinfo.com.  It’s great for predicting the waves around here, and I love the little graph that tells you exactly when the waves should be best.  Pretty accurate from what I’ve seen.

I’m also a fan of the webcams at the Sunglow Pier.  They’re perched on both the north and south sides of the pier so I can get a pretty good idea of the current conditions fairly close to home.  Of course, if I check it at work and the waves look good (not that I’d do that…), it can make for a long day of wavedreaming when I’m supposed to be working.

I haven’t spent nearly enough time on the surf gear sites.  I found Essential Surf early on, and have made a few purchases over the years.  Of course, there’s Craigslist with their lists of used boards to consider, and YouTube with all the great surf videos.

What are some of your favorites?

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Preparing for warmer days…

It’s January in Florida, and it’s been a mild one at that.  The water temp has fluctuated, but is hovering in the high 60’s.  If I had my way, that’s as cold as it would get, but I’m probably not that lucky.

Last season some of my friends acquired spring suits to deal with the days when the water is still cool, but the air is warm.  I held back, and wore my wetsuit all the way through the early spring. The last few wearings had me dumping water down the front on sunny days to keep from roasting.  I gradually moved to a board shorts and a thick rash guard, but there were a few breezy days when that wasn’t quite enough.

I looked at spring suits, but couldn’t justify the price for something I would only wear a few times a year.  But there’s a benefit to telling friends you surf.  I got a call last weekend from one who told me about a “wetsuit” he thought would fit me for $10 at a thrift store.  He’d actually gone to the trouble of moving it to the back of the rack to give me a chance to get there before someone else bought it.  I was skeptical, but headed out to see what he had found.  Wouldn’t you know, it was a spring suit in almost new condition. I was going to buy it regardless of fit, as surely someone I knew could use it.  But I decided to try it on anyway, and quickly found there’s no easy way to wiggle into one in a tiny dressing room.  I’m sure the other women waiting in line were wondering what I was doing as I bumped into the wall a couple of times getting it on and off. (My middle name is definitely not “Grace”.) Lucky for me, it was a perfect fit, and is now safe and sound in my closet waiting for those in-between days ahead.

Now if only this “winter” they speak of would hurry up…

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Gotta love the booties

My love of the outdoors, my continuing fight against aging, and my stubborn, competitive streak led me to take up surfing in my forties. Lucky for me, Florida is a fabulous place to learn, beaches are sandy with no rocks and the water is warm most of the year.

I say most, as the winter these past two years has been especially unfriendly to us kooks out there.  But if you would have told me two years ago I would willingly get up early on a weekend,  put on a thick form-fitting rubber suit and get into chilly water, I would have asked what you were smoking.

Early hours, cold, damp Florida weather and chilly water were not completely foreign to me.  My husband and I are avid fisherpeople, and he swears that the fish don’t bite, and the boat doesn’t run, unless you’re on the water before the sun comes up.  However, there’s a huge difference between flying along on top of cold water and actually immersing yourself into it.

I also learned quickly that surfing is a highly addictive sport.  One taste of standing atop a board riding a wave and I was hooked.  Two boards purchases later, I began to feel guilty about missing a third of the year in the water while my hardier friends were out chasing waves.

So this fall I made my most important surfing acquisition, a wetsuit.  Not just any wetsuit, a 4/3.  Thicker–and warmer.  With the addition of booties, I could brave the 50 to 60 degree water in comfort, if not necessarily in style.  The booties are probably the most expensive footwear I’ve ever purchased, and also the most ugly.  There’s nothing flattering about black rubber split-toe booties, but I wouldn’t trade them for ten pairs of summer sandals (and I do love my sandals).

Soon I will be able to shed the wetsuit, and those lovely booties, and enjoy warm sub-tropical water temps.  I won’t miss falling off my board and the slap of cold water to the face.  But I wouldn’t trade a thing.

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It’s more than just the wave


Looking back, I can appreciate what it took to take those first few waves.  I learned a lot more than just how to stand up on a moving surfboard and take a ride.  I found out my competitive spirit was alive and I still had a little balance left in this 40+ year old body. I also learned that the years had finally taught me patience (which probably surprised my mother even more than me).  

Unless something drastic happens, like me winning the lottery and paying Kelly Slater or Laird Hamilton to be my personal surf trainer 24/7, I will never be a big wave surfer.  The small 2′-3’s, with occasional 4’s sets are fine by me.  But that’s okay. It took time, but I accomplished what I set out to do.  I learned to ride waves and enjoy the ocean again.  The friends I made were a great bonus. 

Next time you’re out and you see someone paddling furiously only to miss the wave, pearling their board, or executing a popup that looks like they are crawling across the living room floor, think back. You were there too once upon a time.  (If you’re like me, some days you still are.)  Don’t judge them on their ability, or lack of.  Look at the determination in their eyes and the smile on their face.

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Aquatherapy—it’s good for the soul.

Sometimes the schedule and the waves don’t see eye-to-eye. Last weekend, after a challenging work week, a session or two of surf would have been a welcome relief. But it was not to be, as the weekend brought washing machine conditions one day, and family obligations the next.

Tuesday, my BFF and I schemed in the early morning to make an appointment for an aquatherapy session immediately after work.

Finally, the magic hour arrived. I amazed myself on how quickly I changed from work gear and was on my way to the waves. The water was warm and the waves seemed to know just what I needed to melt the stress away. We left the beach tired, but happy, just as the sun started to drop.

Today I’m back at work, refreshed and busy as ever. You’ll note that look of concentration you see on my face when I’m in a meeting, or at my desk.

Of course, it might just be me reliving yesterday’s waves, and what I’ll do better next time.  I’ll never tell.

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