My Surfing Journey, Part 2: Topsail Meltdown

Continued from My Surfing Journey, Part 1: Jamaican Hook.

Excited to experience this thrill again, and having zero knowledge of where to begin, I went right back to Myrtle Beach and bought a secondhand surf board. Unfortunately, having not a clue that there are hundreds of surf board designs for hundreds of settings, I made a very common beginner error: choosing the wrong surfboard, the very first mistake in my surfing journey. There would be many more.

NOT a beginner surfboard.

I started watching YouTube videos and reading surf articles religiously. I soon realized the fallacy of my board choice, and I traded it for a bigger, longer board. After adding another even longer board to my quiver, MK and I began a long series of trips to the beach in our surfing quest. During our frequent trips to the beach, it became apparent that MK was delighted just to paddle around and try to catch one or two waves. She would hang with me for an hour or less, and then return happily to chill on the sunny shore. The experience was equally as spiritual for me, but I, on the other hand, would stay out there for hours, taking beating after beating, wipeout after wipeout, obsessed with getting to my feet, only returning when my body was completely smoked. I made it a personal goal to catch at least a single wave by year’s end.

Summer turned to fall, and fall to winter. Half a dozen people volunteered to meet me for surfing that year, but seldom showed up. But MK was always my faithful surf companion, willing to accompany me to any beach, any time, even in the frigid cold waters of December. We purchased wetsuits, head gear, boots and gloves, and continued on our mission to catch waves. Year’s end approached, and frustrated that I had yet to catch a wave, we embarked on a trip to Topsail Island to take one last shot. The waves that day were averaging five feet or so, and the water was a bit rough, not to mention ice cold. Today would a pivotal day in my surfing quest.

We donned our wetsuits and made our way to the water. We were shivering from the cold before we even set foot on the beach. MK made it maybe twenty minutes before gleefully returning to shore to look for shark’s teeth. I pressed on with my wipeouts as usual for a few more hours, stubbornly determined to surf, the energy slowly seeping from my body, wave after merciless wave. A larger than usual wave approached, maybe a six footer.

Now look, I know to the experienced surfer, a six footer might as well be a Disney World cotton candy kiddie ride. But to a beginner (and a clueless one with a mediocre board at that), a six foot closeout wave on a shore break might as well be Mother Ocean brandishing a glowing cow prod and aiming for anal penetration. I positioned myself to catch the wave, felt the ever familiar sensation of my board going under, and prepared my body for the thousandth crash that was about to follow. This particular wipeout was one of those slow motion scenes with opera music accompaniment that I can recall in great detail.

I heard the ever familiar slow crack of the wave beginning to break. The board went down, nose first, and I went with it, head right into the crotch of the wave, feet in the crest, a perfect scorpion. My heels whispered to my ears “we’re fucked,” right before entering the washing machine. I then heard the instant muffled sound of water filling my ears as the wave swallowed and rolled me, over and over and over, the frigid icy deluge smashing against my face, expelling the breath from my body, my surfboard donkey punching me across the back of the head, rolling. . .rolling. . .rolling. When I could hold my breath no longer, my body took a reflexive inhale, filling my lungs with that frigid December saltwater.

Mother Ocean, in her mercy, finally spit me out after what seemed like a submerged eternity. I don’t care how in shape you think you are, or how tough you think your mentality is, Mother Ocean will make a light snack out of your petty confidence. All my life I have loved Mother Ocean, but I have learned many new things about her in my surfing journey, and I have grown to both admire and deeply respect her moods. And if there’s one reminder that repeatedly shows up in my life, it’s this: Expectations will suck the joy out of life. You’re better off enjoying every moment for all that it is, and letting be what will be.

Topsail Island in Winter.

Looking back, I can clearly see the flaw in my mentality. I lost sight of the joy of the learning process. Increasingly obsessed with catching a wave, and attached to the expectation of making it happen by year’s end, in my impatience, I stopped noticing the things that initially drew me to Mother Ocean, and to surfing: the smell of saltwater air, or of surf wax; running my hands over the contours of my surfboard; the meditative stroll to the beach; the sand caressing the bottoms of my feet; the beautiful sea coming into view through the beachgrass trail, always like the first time, every time; the tranquil view of that endless horizon as I sit atop my board and greet each wave as it passes; the pure saltwater baptism. These are the things which connect me to beautiful Mother Ocean.

But alas, in December of 2019, my obsession to catch a wave destroyed my joy of the learning process. And with that failed expectation being delivered by the icy cold arm of Mother Ocean, I subsequently lost my shit. In my previous life, before a life changing awakening several years ago, I was quite a different person; angry, bitter. I lost my temper pretty regularly. These days it almost never happens. But when it does, it is a damn righteous sight to behold. I stomped my frozen balls out of the water like some toddler, shivering, holy pissed off, and hacking up spit and snot and saltwater from my red nose and blue lips. I threw down my surfboard, ripped off my hood, and marched past MK to the truck.

“I’m done,” I reported sullenly. “Let’s go.”

“What?” she replied, a bit surprised. “Do you want to take a break and go back out?”

“No,” I said with a clenched jaw. “Fuck surfing. Fuck the ocean. And fuck this board. I’m done with this shit.”

“No you’re not,” she said with a half chuckle. I mean honestly, how could she take seriously my pale, cold, shivering, snotty words, delivered from lips so numb, I may have articulated them better after a fucking root canal. Son of a bitch, it was cold.

“I am ,” I said sternly. “Fuck it. I’m done.”

If anyone knows me, it’s MK. She knew there was no reasoning with me and let me have my little temper tantrum. “Because I know that’s not you. That’s Tripp’s hurt ego,” she would later explain; typical MK, copping an occasional grin, despite my sour attitude. I tell you this: If a Pisces decides she’s happy, nothing in this whole world can fuck with her joy, not even a Taurus temper. And MK is always happy at the beach. So am I, except when Mother Ocean bitch slaps me and my expectations.

I continued to obsess over surf videos and articles, and gained a substantial knowledge base. I could tell you what  a proper pop up looks like, how to paddle, how to read wave patterns and breaks, how to duck dive or turtle roll, and how to position yourself properly on a wave. But over the course of the next frustrated year, I stayed occupied with travel nursing and moving. It was my way of avoidance. Additionally, most beaches were banned for a good portion of 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. As far as surfing was concerned, I only took the board out maybe five times in my defeated mentality (and I still didn’t pop up once).

My Surfing Journey Part 3 (Final): Costa Rican Revival

2 thoughts on “My Surfing Journey, Part 2: Topsail Meltdown

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s