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Last of the summer surfers

“Maybe if you keep your hands straight ahead and your head down, you won’t look like a sheep giving birth.”

And…action!
And…action!

You really notice the season’s changes at the beach. For starters, where are the umbrellas? Where are the people, lying around like seals on towels? More important, where is the family of young great whites which has been dutifully patrolling the beaches all summer, looking for stingrays as snacks? I mean, we need them, right? Enemy’s enemy and all that?

Sean Carey, Lifeguard Captain: good advice.

This morning, my buddy Kevin and I head down to the lifeguard tower. Check the flags. Yellow caution’s up, and so’s the purple one fluttering below that. Usually means one thing: stingrays. I have trodden on the little devils twice, and you think the pain will never go away. So I always do two things: check for lifeguards pouring hot water into plastic bowls for unlucky swimmers to dunk their feet into, to draw the venom out; and actually go find a lifeguard in his beach quarters. This I do mainly out of superstition. “Seen any stingrays today?” I always ask. “Not so far today,” says the ever-patient guy. “But they’re always around. Shuffle your feet, and thump your heels every now and then, to frighten them off.”

Yeah yeah yeah. I know the advice, and it’s good. Only thing is, when you’re the self-appointed World Champion Body Surfer, you’ve sometimes got to run towards the wave to catch it at its perfect breaking point. Or when you’re trying to get on your feet with the breaker still pounding you, you don’t have time to shuffle, look, and choose where you plant your feet. So at that point, you just leave it to the Fates. Meanwhile, Kevin’s flopping round trying to corral a wave. Finally, he catches one. He barrels in like a log from a distant storm, pitched forward with only his hands sticking out. “Kevin, buddy,” I shout. “Maybe if you keep your hands straight ahead and your head down, you won’t look like a sheep giving birth. No offense. Just keep watching how a World Champ does it.” 

Only problem: the next wave we catch is a real dumper. And you do have to be really careful. People have broken their necks in those. I guess we’re lucky. We both get away with just scraping our chests across the shallows as the current swirls us around. 

“Beat you by 20 yards!” shouts Kevin when he comes up. “It’s in the timing, buddy! Maybe you should wait for the smaller ones. Less dumpy. And they have incredible pulling power.” I will never admit it, but he’s right. The smaller waves fighting their way over the back of the receding bigger waves do seem to carry you further in.

“Beginner’s luck!” I tell him. Still, it’s a dent in my ego. While I’m waiting for revenge, I just kinda float around a bit, and realize there is absolutely nothing to stop me swimming to Japan, 6000 miles out thataway. Just water, water, water. Hmm. At 2 mph, our average swimming speed, I could do it in 3000 hours, say, 125 days, say, something over four months. That’s if I never took a break, and there were no currents, or storms, or supertankers, or giant plastic patches. I decide to roll over and face San Diego, 20 feet away. Ah. Here comes a long, strong one straight from Japan. “Stand by, dude, if you’re man enough!”

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And…action!
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You really notice the season’s changes at the beach. For starters, where are the umbrellas? Where are the people, lying around like seals on towels? More important, where is the family of young great whites which has been dutifully patrolling the beaches all summer, looking for stingrays as snacks? I mean, we need them, right? Enemy’s enemy and all that?

Sean Carey, Lifeguard Captain: good advice.

This morning, my buddy Kevin and I head down to the lifeguard tower. Check the flags. Yellow caution’s up, and so’s the purple one fluttering below that. Usually means one thing: stingrays. I have trodden on the little devils twice, and you think the pain will never go away. So I always do two things: check for lifeguards pouring hot water into plastic bowls for unlucky swimmers to dunk their feet into, to draw the venom out; and actually go find a lifeguard in his beach quarters. This I do mainly out of superstition. “Seen any stingrays today?” I always ask. “Not so far today,” says the ever-patient guy. “But they’re always around. Shuffle your feet, and thump your heels every now and then, to frighten them off.”

Yeah yeah yeah. I know the advice, and it’s good. Only thing is, when you’re the self-appointed World Champion Body Surfer, you’ve sometimes got to run towards the wave to catch it at its perfect breaking point. Or when you’re trying to get on your feet with the breaker still pounding you, you don’t have time to shuffle, look, and choose where you plant your feet. So at that point, you just leave it to the Fates. Meanwhile, Kevin’s flopping round trying to corral a wave. Finally, he catches one. He barrels in like a log from a distant storm, pitched forward with only his hands sticking out. “Kevin, buddy,” I shout. “Maybe if you keep your hands straight ahead and your head down, you won’t look like a sheep giving birth. No offense. Just keep watching how a World Champ does it.” 

Only problem: the next wave we catch is a real dumper. And you do have to be really careful. People have broken their necks in those. I guess we’re lucky. We both get away with just scraping our chests across the shallows as the current swirls us around. 

“Beat you by 20 yards!” shouts Kevin when he comes up. “It’s in the timing, buddy! Maybe you should wait for the smaller ones. Less dumpy. And they have incredible pulling power.” I will never admit it, but he’s right. The smaller waves fighting their way over the back of the receding bigger waves do seem to carry you further in.

“Beginner’s luck!” I tell him. Still, it’s a dent in my ego. While I’m waiting for revenge, I just kinda float around a bit, and realize there is absolutely nothing to stop me swimming to Japan, 6000 miles out thataway. Just water, water, water. Hmm. At 2 mph, our average swimming speed, I could do it in 3000 hours, say, 125 days, say, something over four months. That’s if I never took a break, and there were no currents, or storms, or supertankers, or giant plastic patches. I decide to roll over and face San Diego, 20 feet away. Ah. Here comes a long, strong one straight from Japan. “Stand by, dude, if you’re man enough!”

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