a freelance journal

Something about the Holidays

At the risk of jinxing a good thing, I submit the following.  I wrote this article for Chris McQuiston at Local Sessions and it ran in their recent session. Four or five good photos ran with it (thank you Chris), but the beauty of having your own blog…you can run all the photos you want without fear of advertising.

There is something about the holidays.  Particularly surf on the holidays.   It seems as if it arrives just in time.  The year’s little troubles and taxes that you pay have been steadily building like the plate of turkey you piled up on Thanksgiving.  Not enough by itself to make you drool on yourself on the couch, but added all together is sure to create one unholy smell if you can sneak into a room free of company (or a chair with a dog nearby).  The holidays, however, are a break from those troubles.  They’re the reason you go back for seconds when the first plate alone was probably enough to slow your heart.  The surf on the holidays are that time when a sick indulgence is necessary and oh so rewarding.

Some spots along the east see families pass on the sled, opting instead for a little more rubber and a little more foam to float it.  The line up seems to clear in direct proportion to the wind-chill and water temp.  The camaraderie in the water is palpable.  It becomes a weird little frozen family.  Grins are returned and, when it gets truly solid, waves are even traded and shared.  Wave selection becomes that much more crucial since a hold down on the inside or a blown drop means you’re that much closer to hypothermic shutdown and the end of your other worldly get-away.  A simple duck dive might be something you think twice about.  Hoots are cheered from land and the whistles reach your ear in the thin cold as you drop along the face of the wave.  The guy on the shoulder might even claim it for you with both arms—there is enough room in there during this season—but they are probably scratching and clawing, heaving in breaths to make it back outside, grinning from one ear to the other.  The wave seems to move with extra push and a little heavier, thicker, more hollow and louder—or maybe it’s simply the echo in your hood.

We have waited all year and now have no work, no heavy responsibility except to make it to the store before it closes for gifts you’ve promised or egg nog.  Without work to bunge things up, the small window of clean swell is open just a little wider and the western hammer of a wind that will blow it flat is only feared for possible night arrival.  There are the promises of warm meals and age appropriate drinks when you’re warm and dry.  Without a hassle for a take off you challenge the best the swell can throw.

It might be only 40 minutes before the wait between sets slows your reaction and your drops become later and your ability returns to the days you started with a few extra pounds of rubber—maybe ham too—you’re toting around.  If it’s small and the wind is calm, you surf like a grom and if you’re a grom, you’re in heaven.  There is no school, no homework and those oldest in the line up that seem to steal the wave you wanted are not to be found.  It truly is a feeling of family and big or small, a surf on the last or first day of the year is not quite like the others.   Days around Christmas that bring waves seem the best gift and the fact that a family is in the water and on shore makes your grin that much bigger, even if you stopped feeling your face long ago.

Deep in January you reach a point where even a little wind cuts through the rubber with a damp cold that freezes the brain and cripples the hands.  Trying to get the key in the lock or ignition is an act of futility and you can’t remember where you hid it in the first place.  It doesn’t really matter since the truck takes so long to heat that you’re home and using every last drop of scalding water from the tank just to keep the shakes down.  Never mind the rapid swelling and cracking of your hands.  Climbing out of your suit becomes an exercise in ridiculousness.  Your body has stopped listening to your brain or has at least grown lazy in response. There are places in the world without winter holiday surf where this is referred to as hypothermia.  Down here we call it stoke.  If there is still swell, you figure out a way to dry your wetsuit as much as possible without adding to the growing stench of digesting dinners and you put your booties someplace that the nose of another fellow human will never run afoul because in the dark blue of morning, you’re going out.  Or, maybe you’ll wait for midday and the promise of a little sun.  After all, there is no rush, it’s a holiday.

Ryan Tolhurst-Headed for the Thanksgiving feast.

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