I grew up along the coast of Southern California – lived here until I was 30 - but I have never ridden a surfboard. It’s not because I never got around to it like people who live in New York and have never been to the Statue of Liberty. I deliberately never surfed on a board. I prefer to body surf like a real man.
I confess that one reason I didn’t board surf was that you have to buy a board and then some accessories like a tether that straps the board to your leg so that your board can drag your lifeless body to shore after a particularly rough wave. You also, for some reason, need a wet suit, I presume that's because it keeps you warm in the cold water of the Pacific. This is your first confirmation that today’s surfers are not real men; body surfers don’t need no stinkin’ wet suits. (Note: to see board surfers who are real men, watch “Endless Summer” and the early parts of “Riding Giants”, featuring surfers from the 50s and 60s.).
The equipment, accessories and apparel make surfing somewhat like golf, which I don’t do either. Furthermore, when you surf on a board, you catch a wave, then fall off and get pummeled by said wave. When you body surf, you are in the wave from the start and get pummeled relentlessly without having to fall off first, which is why body surfing is superior to board surfing in the same way as luge is superior to skiing.
Today my friend Marshall and I were riding the waves in Newport Beach. The waves here were bigger than the waves in Redondo were on Wednesday, which is to say that there were actual waves here: 2 – 4 feet, breaking at 12 second intervals on the SW facing beach with late night and early morning low clouds and fog, burning off by noon. Back in the day, I would have been riding the 4-footers, but I’m a little slower and less agile now, so I stick with the smaller ones.
After the first round of surfing, we got out and started throwing the Frisbee. At this point my legs said, “Wait, what? You’ve been walking around beach cities all week and now you want to run after a flying disk? I’m sorry, no.” So we went back in the water to surf some more and punish the upper parts of our bodies. It was about noon and the tide was going out. As we got further out, we turned to each other and almost simultaneously said, “the undertow is really strong.” Within seconds I was out where I could barely stand up and I hadn’t gone there by choice. I started swimming directly back to the shore, without making much progress. A huge wave broke behind me and I let hit hit me and tumble me mercilessly because it was tumbling me back to safety. When I got ashore, I looked back and saw Marshall still too far out. I knew he knew what to do: just float on his back and paddle to a safer spot; but I was worried. Right then a couple of surfers just happened to be heading out to a spot near Marshall. I saw him swim to one of them and hitch a ride on the board back to shallow water.
We both had recognized the danger of the strong tide and gotten out of it. It scares me to think what can happen to someone who has never been in the ocean and encounters that. I also realized that the board surfers are pretty good guys – real men I might say.
(Yes, yes, I know that they could also be real women.)