What do surfing and gardening have in common?
The common bond is me, one flip-flop, and my friend Amber.
I've enjoyed gardening for about 15 years now. I've enjoyed surfing for about a year and a half, and I’ve been friends with Amber for about nine months. I love to garden, I love to surf, and I love to be with my friend, Amber.
Imagine the joy I felt the today, when I got to do all three.
Let me explain.
After many weeks of begging, planning, no surf, and more begging, the day had finally come when I convinced Amber to go surfing with me.
We both have young boys that need to be chauffeured back and forth to school, back and forth to various camps and sporting events, fed, clothed, and so on.
We both have busy schedules, we both have little time to garden, let alone make the 20-mile windy, dangerous drive to the beach and the surf.
Today the stars aligned—or the tides—or waves—or whatever.
Today the surf happened to be good.
Maybe a little too good.
Amber and I have both had exactly one surf lesson each before today.
We both had lessons at different times in Hawaii: warm water, no wetsuits, beginner waves, Mai Tais.
Today, here we are standing at the end of 41st Ave. in Santa Cruz, peering over the cliff at a nice set coming through a spot called “The Hook.”
“Those are big waves.”
“Yep, those are big.”
“Is this where we’re meeting Richard?”
We had cancelled a surf lesson the previous week because there was no surf.
No such problem today.
Amber and I had left home early, and gone to Gayle’s Bakery to get a little sustenance, to drink coffee and to talk ourselves into a nervous lather.
There we stood, licking our dry lips and swallowing hard as we watched another surfer eat it on a wave below us.
“Maybe he’s not coming?”
“We’re fifteen minutes early.”
“Maybe he forgot.”
“Why would he forget?”
“Maybe he’s busy.”
“I think that’s his van.”
A large white Dodge van drives into the parking lot behind us, slowly circles, and parks.
A medium-built man wearing a cap, swim trunks, and a sweatshirt gets out.
He has that surfer look about him—he’s in shape, sinewy, tan. He’s carrying a clipboard.
“That’s him. He said he’d be carrying a clipboard.”
As we turn to study him more closely, we hear another thundering crash behind us.
“If we left now, he’d never know we were here.”
We both laugh.
We were secretly mulling over our escape in our minds.
Richard walks over to the cliff and gazes down at the surf.
He starts a dialogue with the guy next to him and I lean in trying to hear the conversation.
I hear something about he shouldn’t take beginners here, the waves are too big and that maybe surfing somewhere farther down would be better.
I turn and look at Amber. I tell her what I just heard.
He still doesn’t know who we are, so I know Amber is thinking the exact thing I am. Surf, too big for beginners? We can still make it back to the car and no one would be the wiser.
About this time three more women walk across the street to the cliff and introduce themselves to Richard. He turns and looks at us. My mouth opens and something that sounds like a munchkin saying hi comes out of it.
Richard says, “What?”
I clear my throat, and introduce Amber and myself.
He hands me a clipboard with some forms. Something about the surfing school not being responsible for loss of life of life or limb. That sort of thing.
As I was filling out the forms I was thinking about who would pick up my children at school if I drown. I was also thinking about statistics: What sport is safest? Where does surfing rate, hang gliding, kite surfing, scuba diving, wake boarding, skate boarding, sky diving, snow skiing, waterskiing, cricket?
My mind started to wander back to the hour before. Amber and I were safe and warm eating our breakfast croissants and drinking frothy lattes. After our delightful little meal we wandered out into the parking lot and took pictures of the lovely plantings in front of the restaurant.
Amber wanted to tie this whole experience together with surfing. So she suggested we do a series of still life photos with flip flop.
The flip-flop tying together the surfers foot with the beach bakery flowers. If this makes no sense to you don’t worry, it didn’t make a lot of sense to us either but we did quite enjoy the looks from the other restaurant patrons as Amber lobbed the flip flop into the planters and laughed hysterically as I snapped photos.
Hey, It’s Santa Cruz. At least we weren’t talking to ourselves.
Amber’s laughter melts away into a crashing wave.
The next thing I know, I’m sitting on a surf board in a wetsuit on the beach in front of “The Hook” listening to Richard give safety tips on what to do if we pearl. What is a pearling you ask? A pearl is when you bury the nose of your surfboard and fall head first over it. A nosedive. When this happens, sometimes your surfboard likes to shoot straight up in the air and come down on your head.
Next we practice jumping up on the board. The sad thing is most of us couldn’t even do it on dry land but did this stop us from paddling out and trying it on the water, on the water with the big waves, on the 56-degree water with the big waves and lots of slimy seaweed, on the water in a place just down from “the Hook” called “Sharks Cove?”
We just paddled right out.
Sharks, waves, seaweed, cold water and all.
Richard’s brother David showed up to help us, (David sells Real Estate when he's not surfing), so there was really no excuse not to catch a wave since at any given time there was a great instructor ready to steer you into a wave and literally lift you up on your board. Sometimes they surf next to you and hold you up through the entire ride.
Wow, did I ever feel like a great surfer until of course I tried it on my own. All those instructions went slap out of my head. And there was that whole popping up on the board that I couldn’t even do on dry land. Eventually everybody caught at least one wave on their own.
I did pearl. It was gnarly, Dude.
Dude, I buried the nose and went over the falls and really got worked. (Did you know that there are surf terminology websites?) Here is my favorite definition:
Riding backwards on the surfboard, tail first. Also what you are if you are only reading this page so you can pretend that you are a surfer.
Richard Schmidt told me that I got the “Purple Heart” award that day for my wipe out.
Yay, I won an award.
I also ran over one of the nice women, Cindy, who was in our surf class. Yep, I just mowed her down.
Luckily, she was much more coordinated than I was and she dove under when she saw me descending on top of her, my mouth gaping open and my eyes as big as saucers.
The other two women were a mother and daughter, Kelly and Cassidy. It is always great to see a mom and daughter doing something like surfing together and having a great time.
We stayed in the water for 2 hours. Most of us could barely move our arms by the end of our lesson. I had long since stopped riding waves. I would catch one, stand halfway up, and fall over—too exhausted to have any kind of form or balance.
When I was done, I walked barefoot holding my surfboard on top of my head along the beach over the rocks and up the very steep stairs that lead up across to the parking lot where our cars were waiting for us all the time having a very stimulating conversation with brother Dave about the toilets of Europe.
Oh, and Dave, I have a great website for you to look at, called Gardeners Anonymous.
I wasn’t cold. My feet were a little numb but that made it much easier to walk barefoot. I felt amazingly good except that by the time I put my surfboard down I thought my arms were going to fall to the asphalt like two big salamis.
We took cold showers and returned our wetsuits and boards. We said our good byes and got into the car.
Amber and I agreed that it was one of the most fun and exciting things that we had ever done.
And we've already scheduled another lesson with Richard.