Something about the holidays…
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 that bother and the taxes that you pay have been steadily building on your mind like the plate of turkey you piled up on Thanksgiving. Each little piece not enough itself to make you drool on yourself on the couch, but added all together is sure to create one unholy smell when you sneak into a room free of company (or a chair with a dog nearby). The holidays 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 is that time when a sick indulgence is necessary and oh so rewarding.
Out here on the coast families pass on the sled, opting instead for the board of their choice, a little more rubber and a little more foam to float it all. 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 openly. Call it the spirit of the season or maybe it’s because 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 makes you think twice. Hoots are come 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. Still others are scratching and clawing for the outside, their breaths coming in heaving gasps, grinning from one ear to the other. The waves seem 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 feared only for the 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. Add in a few extra pounds of rubber—maybe ham too—and you struggle in way you have not known in a long time. 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 old guys 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 just a little different from all 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. We call it stoke. If there is still swell when the session is over, you figure out a way to dry your wetsuit as much as possible without adding to the growing stench of digesting dinners. 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.