Surfers have this whole discrimination thing going against beginners. We invent derogatory names reserved solely for those that suck at surfing. Kooks. It is not cool to be a kook. It is not cool to be nice to kooks. It is not cool to create more kooks by teaching people how to surf. I guess I understand where the attitude comes from. Surfers are all competing for a limited resource: waves. Kooks, because they suck, waste waves with their ugly hunched-over, ass in the air, rides. The unspoken rules are: do not associate with kooks, do not be nice to kooks, and at every available opportunity, give kooks the stink eye. Lately I have been breaking the rules – I am teaching someone how to surf.
What led to this point you ask? I blame a calculus requirement. I suck at math. If my math skills were transferred to my surfing ability, I would be a farm boy from Iowa who has never seen the ocean. I do however have a friend who is a math ripper. If this kid’s math ability were to become surfing skill, he would be Laird Hamilton. So the trade is I teach him to surf, he teaches me calculus. I think I am getting a bum deal though; calculus is a lot easier to teach than surfing.
Our first lesson started on Deveroux Mesa, looking at waves and explaining right of way. If I was going to create a kook, I was at least going to create a courteous kook, so the first lesson involved the dropping in rule. “The surfer closest to the break,” I explained, “has priority on the wave, in other words you can’t paddle for it.” My student replied with “What’s a break?” I calmly reminded myself how hard I find math and continued, “A break is the part of the wave with white water.” However, the definitions did not end here; surfing terms may as well be a foreign language to the uninitiated kook. Words like “swell,” “face,” “set” and “outside” all went right over the head of the confused kook. When I asked him if he was regular or goofy, he thought it was some sort of insult.
For the second lesson, the kook arrived at my house already wearing his wetsuit. He confided in me he felt like he was in Star Trek. I told him that in the future, he should wait until we get to the parking lot to put his wetsuit on, and that no, he could not come in the store with me while I stopped to buy wax.
The kook in the water is an awkward sight. A good surfer possesses agility and grace; his movements are a smooth dance with nature and a pleasure to behold. The kook has none of these attributes. He is rather like a drowning, spastic, epileptic in midst of seizure. His arms slapped awkwardly at the water in a vain attempt to paddle. Once in the water his face morphs into an ugly looking contortion of determination, fear and constipation. Three times, I had to remind him that the arm movements are best done, not with both arms at the same time, as he so enjoyed, but rather like swimming, left arm then right arm. But slowly he improved. He caught a few waves and stood up once that first day, and now he is hooked. I have created a kook.
Nexus surf columnist Mathis Riley sprung from the womb knowing how to surf, and therefore was able to avoid the kook stage most surfers had to suffer through.