Queen’s Letter: Surf’s Up Somewhere in the World

I know it wasn’t you, but someone’s been going to yard parties and spitting on the other partiers! I know they thought people they knew would not be carriers of Chingona, because why would they? I know they thought their guests would be safe in their yard because they said they didn’t feel sick. I know they all thought the yard party would be just fine. But no one knew where every guest had been. And that became the problem.


Now, Chingona cases are more than ten times what they were just the last time I wrote you. Ten times worse in this county, too. Yeah, me and Fauci : alarmists.


We’re not done yet. Keep doing the other stuff you’ve been doing: wash your hands often, stay the ‘eff away from most people because you don’t know where they’ve been (and they are lying because they don’t want you to know they have not behaved), and wear a mask. And remember the paper masks are worn Blue Side out (the static electricity of the double layers is designed for that) and covers your Nose as well as your face. I have to tell at least 3 people this every day at the courthouse. This is a Breathing Disease so you and everyone else breathing on each other is the problem. Cover up.


And the other thing you might continue to do is read about something other than Chingona news every once in a while.


I just finished Colin Jost’s little autobiography, A Very Punchable Face. Yeah, he’s that head writer on Saturday Night Live and does Weekend Update, too. He’s a real writer and details his career (so far) in this little gem. He’s been on that show for 13 years! It’s a very funny read and is also a great illustration of how a memoir is written: highlights and past funny stuff as well as a couple dramatic episodes from his family life.


His book also reveals something he and I have in common: surfing. Yes, he is a surfer and so am I. Growing up very near Malibu, my mom and brothers and sisters went to Malibu many days a week every summer, cold in the morning, hot in the afternoon. In those days Malibu was a swamp. You parked on Pacific Coast Highway, a narrow two-lane scream of a busy road between mountains and ocean. We took lunch and towels and the baby and his playpen through the reeds and the mud to the dry sand and the wet shore. We made a fort for the baby by turning the playpen upside down so he had a roof and a towel on the sand floor. We could stay for a long time this way because the baby was happy.


The ocean was perfect with low-slow rollers that broke to the left, perfectly surfable waves in sets that were far apart but worth the wait. But we didn’t surf then. Not just because we were little, but because we were girls. The boys out on the breaks wouldn’t let you. We swam on the other side from the surfers, away from them on the section far away from the rocks. And the shore was full of rocks. Lots of smooth turtle-sized rocks like a large, wide field in front of the breakers. That’s why the surfers loved this place: not a place you have to chase away swimmers from where you are trying to carve a wave.


The view of the surfers was also a draw for us. We watched them, voted on them, learned from a distance.  We also read the surfing magazines and learned the names of the champions and their techniques. And filed that knowledge away.


Years later when I graduated law school, my best friend took us to Hawaii to celebrate. We’d never been there but we were beach girls and this sounded like a great adventure. We signed up for guided hikes and snorkeling/fly/drives to two different islands, big and little luaus, and met guys. I married one of those guys who was an Air Force loadmaster in disguise working there.


Five years and a divorce later, my sister decided she and I should go back to Hawaii, as a Memory Cleanser, and finally learn to surf. Understand, she is not a strong swimmer. She didn’t love wave jumping really far out there like I did.  But she wanted to do this when we were 40, and she knew I’d never let her drown. She signed us up for a kick-your-ass school owned by a world champion surfer, based at Diamond Head (the siticking-out-part) on O’ahu.  We had a quick lesson on the sand about which foot to put where (we knew from reading, and home-practicing on an ironing board with its legs folded under) and then we paddled for 30 minutes to get to the five-foot good waves.  So, if you are playing at home with a yardstick, we paddled as far out as the Diamond Head sticks out, that much further! We thought our arms were going to break off and we wouldn’t be able to stand up on our boards and surf. But we each had a cute teacher all to ourselves, so we weren’t going to wimp out in front of them.


And the first time, the first one that came up behind me, I tri-podded, pivoted, stood up, and with a push on my board from my teacher, caught my first wave!  I rode it far, near Diamond Head, and then carved/turned back and paddled to our spot to catch more all morning long. My teacher didn’t believe this was my first time. I told him I’d been training for this my whole life. My sister took longer to get up (it’s harder than you think and takes a foolhardiness that comes easy for me) and we stayed with our teachers 2 hours longer than the lesson we paid for that day. The waves were in sets of three and close together so we could really practice and get good. Surfing feels like flying with no hands and the sea moves you like an smooth outboard motor with the trade winds lifting your hair off your face like the lover you always wanted. My teacher was dark as a kukui nut and worked in construction, and my sister’s was blond and worked at Home Depot. Everyone on the island had two jobs to live in Paradise.


We traded phone numbers with our teachers and then went on to our guided jungle and mountain hikes and city trolly tour of art galleries and trading stalls. But every morning for a week, we went to the Waikiki Beach Boys Surf School on the South Shore and took boards out to catch waves before shopping and hikes, and horseback riding on the North Shore. We also scoured the want ads to see if we could live there, even with two jobs. She would have to take another set of social worker license classes, and I would have to take another bar exam, but we seriously considered it. We always consider it.


We went back to O’ahu every summer for 9 summers, taking surf lessons from that kick-your-ass school the first morning and hiking and eating and café-ing in the afternoon. Waikiki Beach Boys classes every morning thereafter before anything else. We bought language tapes and learned Hawaiian, more every year. We bought local music tapes at the Aloha Bowl swap meet and at café concerts, and made friends with Kameina guys and girls. My teacher called me every day with a surf report for 9 years. Just 5 minutes, just the wave conditions.


It’s only been about 6 years since I was last surfing there but I dream about it all the time. In my novel series set in a desert, I’ve created a bar that the criminal defense attorneys go to in the town that is a surf bar with old surfing contest videos playing above the bar rail and specialty drinks served by a handsome ex-surfer guy who also hosts the trivia nights on Wednesdays. Hey, it’s my world, l’ll make what I want! I state the notion that the desert is just like the ocean with the life sucked out of it.


My surfing teacher used to counsel everyone, me, who was trying to do anything hard, “Oh, this is easy, just like surfing!”  And I try and remember that nowadays, when we are all trying to do something hard just to stay alive.  And when I need to keep hope in my heart, I remember when my sister and I were young and dreaming, we used to console each other by saying, “Surf’s up somewhere in the world!”

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