Stand up paddling in a crowded California line up is a hard sell. This is a fact. Yesterday I paddle surfed at a very crowded local spot in Santa Cruz, CA. Positioning myself just below the main peak, I took off on any waves that would swing wide. I also tried to pick off any leftovers, or waves from the main bowl that nobody else could make.
Yes, stand up paddle surfing in my crowded hometown break is all about making lemonade out of lemons. I’m surfing lesser quality waves than those at the top of the point, but I’m still snagging my fair share of fun little nuggets; all while just minding my own beeswax. As I head into my golden years, this slight imperfection is my new perfection.
Positioned in the bowl, just a short distance away, are the usual suspects. A ragtag group of local water warriors who make up the weekday morning surf pack. One is an older guy whom I recognize. Or at least I think I do. Hard to be sure because of the way the light is bouncing off the waves on this gorgeous, sunny morning. He’s waving in my direction and his body language signals aggression. I drift closer to see what he wants. His jaw is clenched and his chest is puffed up. I can’t really hear what he is yelling as I’m about twenty-five yards away, but I am sure Mister Grumpy's tirade is directed at me. As he yells again, I can make out the words, “Yeah you!” His rant continues and I clearly hear, “Split!” and “Get outta here!”
For reference, I have surfed this particular spot for over half my life. Respectively, I might add. I don’t burn people and try my hardest not to be in anybody’s way. Should I get worked up because some aging, loudmouthed paper tiger wants to make brownie points with the rest of the pack? Sorry, not today. No, nada, nunca. Not going to happen on my shift.
My high school PE teacher hated me, too. It could have been the purple socks I wore. Or the All-American Stars and Stripes tennis shoes that went with the socks. Maybe it was a combination of my footwear, shoulder-length hair and the “Age of Aquarius” 1970’s hippie/surfer attitude that clung to me like sandalwood incense. Flat topped, square jawed, and wound tighter than a clock, our Coach Dolan hailed from the old school … the really mean old school. Think Eisenhower era, Vince Lombardi meets J. Edgar Hoover. Maybe he was pissed that despite my attitude, I was a member of the Junior Varsity diving team and the only one wearing HangTen trunks instead of Speedos. Coach didn’t like hippies or surfers on his turf and he really didn’t like me. He wasn’t going to let some surfer punk with a milk mustache and as much swagger as a 16-year-old can muster challenge his sense of righteousness.
The two daily “markdowns'' I received from Coach Dolan were his small part in stopping the social pandemonium of the '70s. “We Shall Overcome” was the song of our generation, and the rising tide of hippies was threatening to do just that. Six markdowns equaled one entire grade. Every three days, my PE grade would drop a full letter. It didn’t take long for me to go from a passing grade to a big fat “F'' for the semester.
But wait! Coach Dolan had a sadistic plan of redemption up his polo shirt sleeve. Before assigning a final failing grade to my group of deadbeats - the hippies, surfers, losers and smokers, Coach proposed a solution. We could fix the sorry mess we had created for ourselves and at the same time make our country proud! We could “work off” our markdowns by coming in on a Saturday to run laps, do sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and anything else Coach could think up for six sweaty hours. The thought of making long-haired teenage hippies suffer on a Saturday gave Coach Dolan immense pleasure. He was convinced that he’d have all of us rebels drinking from his fountain of flat top, square jaw justice.
I realized that there was a choice to be made before the next Saturday. Do I surf or suffer? “Go ahead, give me an F, I’m going surfing”, I said. And an “F” is what I got. My first ever. I let his hate slide right off me. Stepped right on it with my red, white and blue happy shoes and purple socks.
Today, the hate I’m dealing with is coming from other surfers, Mr.Grumpy in particular. It’s often the least skilled local surfers who cry foul the loudest. We threaten the status quo in the hierarchy of California surfing lineups. Stand up paddle surfers are on the bottom of the totem pole. We’re openly disdained, ranked well below pre-teen boogie boarders and just slightly above the elderly on pool floats. It’s not us that they hate; it’s what we represent. Change. Progress, even. And let’s face it, an enviable wave count.
It’s time for us to stand up for our rights … and lefts! I am not advocating violence. Just an attitude that we belong. Surf what you want, but with respect. After all, it’s not the hat that makes a good cowboy. The next time some steely-eyed hater yells at you for being in the surf on a stand up board, shrug it off. Smile and give him the ”Have a nice day!” treatment. Or look him directly in his eye and say, "Go ahead, give me an F!”