Well, I woke up at 5, realized that A: the sun was not yet up, and B: it was freakin' 5AM! Tried to go back to sleep.
The cat became aware of my futile efforts to go back to sleep (thank you, melatonin!) and decided it was a perfect opportunity to hector me. She did, and finally I gave in to the inevitable. I may be fuzzy-headed and stupid in the morning, but one thing I am not is hesitant - once I've made the decision to be up and about, I hit the floor with both feet (this is infinitely preferable than missing with one or both, by the way) and don't stop moving. I shimmied into my wetsuit, unracked my new longboard (name still pending) and headed down to the beach. My neighbor brings a bag with him whenever he goes surfing with some essentials; fresh water, wax, wax-comb, towel, keys. Me, I prefer not to leave anything on shore so I go empty-handed except for the board.
The walk across the beach is particularly broad on my street - a solid hundred meters of soft sand before you get to the tideline. In the morning, before the sand-combing vehicles drag the beach, you can see the ripples in the sand that the night winds leave - like a teeny little Sahara. It was nearly low tide, so the water had receded far past the tideline, leaving a broad shoulder of scattered mussels and broken shells, the odd strand of seaweed still wet and glistening. A few people were out running with their dogs. Watching dogs on any occasion is inherently humorous, but seeing them jump, play, and flirt with the waves is nigh-unto hilarious. Every dog thinks the Pacific is a big blue playmate.
I turned South and walked down to the pointbreak past the jetty. There were a handful of surfers out there already. The waves were crumbly but high. I introduced the board to the water and got in. My new wetsuit worked like a charm at first, I could barely feel the cold of the water. Then I got a blast of cold water down my neck and realized the hitch. There's a sort of bishop's collar that folds into a bib that's tucked inside the chest, I think next time I'll have to use it. As it was, I got a water down at my extremities, but the seals there were so tight it couldn't escape, so there it remained. I felt Popeye-like even though there was no external evidence of the ballast.
I had a hell of a time working out past the waves. I watched the other surfers do it, but they were all riding shortboards, so just duck-dived under the waves. This isn't possible with a longboard. At any rate, they made it seem so effortless to just take a few strokes, and ...zooop, ready to go. By the time I got out there my breath was labored and my arms were tired. They also make sitting up on the board and scanning the horizon seem easy. Which it would be, were I sitting on the beach. But, as the surface of the ocean is as inconstant and subject to small changes that are never-the-less treacherous as any woman's moods; it takes a little more skill than just sitting there.
I didn't have a lot of luck catching anything. Of the half dozen other guys out there, I only saw one or two actually get up on anything, and even that for short little bursts. I tried to watch what they were doing, to see how they turned around, how they moved legs, hips, shoulders to go from lying to standing. When I paid attention to the other surfers, I got a facefull of seawater. (and in one instance, while standing chest-deep, I got smacked in the nuts by a particularly fast-crashing wave that let me know that the Pacific is most definitely in "The Game". Granted the opportunity to give it a sack-slap back, I'm now free to do so.) When paying close attention to the water, I had no idea what the other surfers were doing.
Once, twice - a third time I actually managed to catch enough of something to start to move, but it didn't carry me long enough to stand up. I noticed some of the other guys would catch what they could, hop up - and when their momentum started to slack off, they'd just turned the board out to sea, let it carry them as far as it could, and just drop right back down to paddling so as to waste as little time as possible getting back to the lineup. After an hour or so I decided I had enough and packed it in. I was so tired I could barely get the leash off my ankle. The whole experience was uncomfortable, chaotic, and humbling. Trudging back I decided I hadn't really enjoyed it very much and that getting up so early to go out by myself seemed not worth it. But by the time I'd struggled out of my skinsuit (and trust me, it was a mighty struggle!) and into a hot shower... the contrast with cold seawater, the way everything's scent is just a little bit fresher and stronger just out of the water, the pleasant muscle-weariness...
Even now I'm burnishing up that memory. At the time, I was too busy for much conscious thought, which is probably the most valuable thing about the experience. Anything that gets you out of the confines of your own skull for a little well does a remarkable job of focusing attention - each wave in my face carried a load of cobwebs away in its cold, briny grasp. I might have thought I wasn't enjoying it, but after sitting down to a cup of coffee, it seemed like bliss.
Tomorrow morning? Maybe...