"Heads up! Hey, hey … HEY!”. I’m faced with making a split-second decision: take the high road and encounter a possible collision, or bail out into the flats. Never one to bail, I try to squeak up and over a kooky-looking guy wearing a bright red helmet. He’s not even looking as he's dropping in on me.

Racing down the line at full speed, I try to avoid running right over him, but he puts himself dead center in my cross-hairs. I declare Code Red and brace for impact. Somehow, I just miss hitting him … but not his big, heavy, rented longboard. One that T-bones the rail of my board with a loud crack. After the crash, we both come to the surface sputtering. He’s clueless and confused. I’m pissed. My brand-new board is dinged and starts to lap up water faster than a big dog on a hot summer day. Helmet-man is left alone, praising the virtues of head protection, while I make a bee line for dry land with a busted-up stick.

If surfing is the sport of kings, surfing in a crowd is the sport of dings. Board biffs come in all forms; big ones, little ones, dings that aren’t your fault and dings that could have been avoided. Unlike my mishap in the field of battle, most damage happens out of the water. Which ding story sounds better? 

THE TALE: “Dude, I ripped my finbox out on a late drop at Razor Reef!”

THE TRUTH: “I jammed my board into the door of the shed and busted a fin out on the spokes of my wife’s cruiser bike.”

Reality just doesn’t have the same ring to it. It would be like running into Laird Hamilton holding an armful of matching face towels outside of Bed, Bath & Beyond. Same feeling.

Repairing surfboards is my true downfall as an all-around surfer. Yes, I know a true waterman is supposed to do it all: free dive to forty feet to spear a grouper for dinner, paddle from Maui to Molokai for a lunch date and be crafty enough to repair any gear problems. I’ve never mastered the art of ding repair, never been handy with sticky stuff. As a child, I would try to glue my plastic models together with disastrous results.

Every flat surface of my bedroom would be coated with a sticky collage of tiny model parts and old newspapers. Not one of my finished monster models could hold a candle to my older brother Kevin’s perfectly crafted battleships. His PT 109 that JFK was on was a thing of beauty. No glue drips and perfectly placed decals gave his models an air of authenticity. In contrast, to say that I struggled would be an understatement. I fumbled through Rat Fink, The Creature from the Black Lagoon,The Mummy and Frankenstein. I even managed to get part of Rat Fink’s unglued tail hooked under my eyelid. Lucky for me, my dad was above average at handling kid stuff like that. Removing a plastic rat tail from under your son’s eyelid was all in a day's work for him.

In Every Surfer’s Life, Adversity is a Given

But my new board, she broke! The smartest thing to do was cut myself out of the repair picture. Rarely have I ever achieved passing-grade results fixing my own boards. Now, thanks to Helmet-man, my new board needs to go to urgent care and get help from a professional ding doctor. I need a guy who does this stuff on a daily basis. Lucky for me, I live in Surf City, USA (Santa Cruz, the real one) where ding kings are on every street corner like real estate signs.

Moral of my story:

Shiny gloss coats and new board smells don’t last forever. This world is full of newbie surfers, many of whom are just blind enough to drop in on you plus your new board. The sooner we embrace the fact, the better. Pay up, shit happens.

~ s.west