Another excerpt from the novel I’m working on writing. Comments welcome!
It couldn’t start without coffee. Soothing dark brown richness. This and every morning’s first thought. Coffee coffee coffee! The silent symphonic thought mantra that leads me out of this warm familiar bed. Lately I’ve been rejoicing in simple pleasures. This bed that even after more than ten years still cradles me comfortably, even after numerous long months spent apart, often in longing. Strong coffee, readied in the machine the night before, begins brewing at the touch of a button. The bed has its way of rolling me to center and the coffee machine slowly leaks its daily pool of water onto the counter, but I know that about them and accept them for it. The flag out the window speaks to me in a coded language only I can decipher and the treetops echo a second opinion. The Internet is fast and always on, allowing the Santa Monica Bay buoy to offer its statements matter-of-factly. With each glorious sip of coffee the distinct elements of data are interwoven, wind speed and direction, swell height and period, producing an invaluable cheat sheet with which to approach the test of morning. Choose the correct board, get to the right spot, be in the water at sunrise for a rare opportunity to savor this world alone, if only for a few moments.
This morning the flag is screaming, the trees dancing their agreement, the buoy always sober, stately, even with good news, and while those things on another day might make for tongue burning coffee gulps, I’m slowly sipping, concurrently energized and relaxed by the loud rhythms of rain on a thin roof that tells me this morning there’s time.
Even so, excitement gets the best of me and just as it is light enough to see raindrops filling puddles through the window, I pull a thick but stretchy wetsuit from a hanger in the shower. It’s mostly dry from yesterday afternoon’s session. Warming it in front of the wall heater for a few moments, I slip in, one limb at a time, naked underneath. Then toes wriggle into booties that always remind me of Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle feet.
I feel like a ninja in my stretchy rubber suit, padded and protected from the reef, my board, the cold, even the sun. Some people hate wearing wetsuits but I don’t really mind. It eliminates the warm water hassles of head to toe sunscreen application and between duckdive bikini adjustments, and there have been plenty of times a wetsuit-padded sudden sharp impact with surfboard fins left only a colorful bruise instead of the need for stitches.
Stepping outside, surfboard under arm, leash coiled cleanly in hand, I skip down the wooden stairs taking two at a time, squeeze through the small space in the bamboo fence, and saunter down the alley stomping joyfully through ankle submerging puddles. Turning the corner onto the avenue I break into an even jog to more quickly cover the two blocks to the beach. The streets are empty. The café on the corner, quiet. The rain has slowed but the offshore wind is howling, trying to pry my board from me with insistent gusts. The first sight of the surf causes me to grip tighter and run faster. I let out a giddy laugh because there’s no one around to hear and the strong wind is making my usually dismal home beach look like somewhere worth traveling to. I hop a thigh-high wooden fence, slide with control about fifteen feet down a sandy slope then duck down to sneak through a hole that’s been cut in the chain-link fence before charging over the bike path to be finally slowed slightly by the soft sand. The rain is falling strongly again and it’s so delicious and energizing that I can slow down for a moment, take a look around to appreciate this place, this empty beach, the multitude of waves beckoning.
As soon as I hit the water the excitement dulls momentarily and I let out a yelp through clenched teeth. “Geez, it’s cold!” The hands complaining first, then the face and forehead as I duck under an approaching cascade of whitewater. The blood vessels in my head lock up and their excruciating whines stall me for a moment, but I push through the pain and the oncoming waves, helped by that offshore wind and this friendly riptide.
Finally outside, I’m still in awe of the shape of the waves. This beach is definitely not known for shape. It’s where I struggled to learn to surf on short powerful closeouts not well suited for learning. It’s where I spent so many hours dreaming of being somewhere else, somewhere imagined perfect and warm. Then, having traveled to nearly every surfing paradise on earth, spent more hours dreaming of the easy familiarity and appreciated imperfections of home. This morning, however, is one of those rare days where the imperfections are a little more subdued. The short period wind swell brought on by the closely passing storm, breaking up the normal long walls that fall all at once preventing any length of ride, into tapering peaks held up by the strength of the wind long enough to make space to ride inside them, sometimes even allowing a free exit from the tube.
I paddle for a few waves but am blinded by powerfully blown salt spray, preventing a clear look down the line and an accurate judgment of the probability of success. I finally commit blindly to a right with one extra paddle, pushing a little harder to get over the ledge, left hand on left rail, right leg in front bent at hip and knee, left foot placed perpendicular and firmly on the tail, right arm out, hand reading the face of the wave, crouched down low as the lip throws out overhead, enveloping me. I relax and enjoy the view, accustomed and loosely braced for the inevitable thump that comes when the wave runs its course and collapses onto the sandbar with me inside.
The body heat generated while paddling back out slowly warms the sand and cold water that has just been flushed inside my suit during the spin cycle. There’s hardly time to sit up and appreciate the previous ride before an approaching line of sky-reflecting cloudy dark water sends me paddling to the North. With no other surfers to contest me, I push up to my feet, this time facing the wall, left hand reaching, standing tall to enjoy the view of the sandy brown water rushing up and over again. The hole gets smaller and my body reacts in imitation, crouching lower, fingertips in the wave, but that wind is working it’s magic and the hole widens just enough to let me out before the walls come tumbling down.
“Woo-hoo! Did anyone see that?” A look up to the street reveals a lone white van, headlights on. Could be a friend, or just someone needing their own daily look at the ocean, the rain keeping them inside. Out in the water, only a seal for company. Swimming past probably on his way from King Harbor to the rocks of Palos Verdes, popping his head up to stare at me inquisitively. I, taking the time to return the look, to send him my good energy, give him a friendly hello and wish him well, nearly missing another good right coming my way. I take off deep and air-drop to the bottom, but set my rail just in time and it lets me inside again. The open hole with a view of the house-lined hill quickly fades to sand churned foam and I bounce, back first, onto the shallow sandbar.
No harm done besides a little runoff in the sinuses, more sand packed into the ears, and I paddle out thankful for all the mothers warning their kids not to surf after a heavy rain, the lazy community college kids still snoring in bed, and the cold liquid euphoria swirling beneath me and falling from above.
Suddenly, the horizon is looking less oily. There’s a wind line trying to creep around the peninsula and I know my time is limited. The cold is starting to win its hard fought battle with my wetsuit anyways, and I straighten out on a drop into a more expected closeout, and let the shorebreak chase me onto the sand. Walking home slowly, the streets are less empty now and I notice the eyes of drivers stopped at the crosswalk. Everyone reacting a little differently. There’s impatience, but I think I also see admiration. Incredulity and possibly even envy, as I strut through their morning commute smiling, soaking wet from rain and ocean, at eight am on a blustery Tuesday morning in January.