“We’re waxing down our surfboards,
We can’t wait for June.”
SOURCE: The Beach Boys, “Surfin’ USA”
I’ve been getting my gear ready to go surf Frigates Passage in Fiji. Ten years ago I swore to surf Frigates at 70, so now I gotta go do it. Hate it when that happens. Frigates is a natural channel through the western end of the barrier reef around Beqa Island, or “Mbengga Island” as it’s spelled on some charts.
I’m a decent surfer, but not a good surfer. All the guys I surf with are better than I am. But it doesn’t matter. The thrill and the passion are the same. I started out bodysurfing the cold green waves of Northern California a few times a year as a boy. I loved it, but then in my twenties, I moved to Hawaii and learned to board surf in the warm blue waters … and I never looked back.
In Honolulu, when I first learned to surf I was the office manager at a business one street inland from Waikiki beach. We hired out day laborers to other companies. Most mornings we’d have thirty guys or so at the early muster looking for work. I rode my bicycle to work. I’d get up at five and strap my surfboard to my bicycle. I’d ride to the ocean and was out in the waves before dawn. It’s a mystical time of day to be surfing. I called it “surfing by braille” because it’s hard to see the incoming waves in the dim light.
Then slowly the shape of the incoming waves would become clearer with the rising of the sun. After surfing the dawn break, and watching the first surfers come out with the dawn, learning from them, I’d ride a final wave in. After a quick shower at the beach station in front of the hotels, I’d hop back on my bike and ride the few blocks to work. As soon as I unlocked the front door, the office would fill up with men who were half-asleep, hung over, crabby. I’m sure I was unbearably chipper and upbeat. But dear heavens, what a way to start the workday!
Here, I’ve been working on my bodyboard, getting it ready to take to Fiji. Some years ago I gave up surfboards and took up bodyboarding. You use a short wide board that you lay down on. Below is a photo of some moonstruck calf with more albondigas than gray cells bodyboarding at a famously huge California surf break called Mavericks …
What led me to bodyboarding was that one day I realized an undeniable truth—if you never stand up on your surfboard, you’ll never fall off your surfboard. I bought a good bodyboard and fins, and I gave up both standing up on and falling off of surfboards.
My wonderful brother emailed me once to ask me why I liked surfing. I answered him roughly as follows:
On a day of sparkling sunshine, I’m sliding down the face of a wave at an insane rate of speed. I take the drop and I bury the left rail of the board and turn to scream along the face of the wave. If I make it, I pick my time and blow up over the top before it breaks. Then the wave crashes behind me as I paddle back out to sea.
And if I don’t make it over the top, the wave crashes on top of me. I wrap my arms and legs around my bodyboard, and I’m in the washing machine, tumbling over and over a few feet above a razor-sharp coral reef, and once I come up I have to fight my way out through the incoming waves, diving down to the bottom in the crystal clear water, hanging on to the reef and letting the wave pound above me, surrounded by a kaleidoscope of tropical flora, fauna, and fishies …
I mean … sparkling sunshine, adrenaline, razor-sharp coral, underwater gymnastics, what’s not to like?
Curiously, this didn’t seem to convince him … go figure.
However, there was something I didn’t like about my bodyboard. The bottom was white. What you might call “fish-belly white”. And in the tropical waters, I didn’t like that color at all, not one bit, because of the gentleman that surfers sometimes call “the man in the gray suit”. This is an oblique way of referring to members of the noble and ancient tribe of sharks.
Regarding my own relationship with sharks, as they say, it’s complicated. When I was fishing commercially as a young man, we used to eat the thresher sharks that we’d get in the nets from time to time. However, once I started doing a lot of diving in the tropical waters and hanging out with the sharks, I decided to cut a deal wherein I would forswear eating them and mayhap they wouldn’t eat me.
All I can say is, so far, so good. Since then I’ve spent time with lots of sharks underwater. I was as curious about them as they were about me. Neither one bit the other.
Now, I don’t surf where I live here on the northern California coast. Mostly because it is cold and I’m a tropical boy … but also because of the man in the gray suit. Here’s an example. My friend came in from surfing here one day. His eyes were what we used to call “sanpaku”, meaning you could see the whites all the way around the iris. I asked him about it. He said he’d been out surfing at Salmon Creek, the local break, and he’d gotten spy hopped by a great white shark. They are an unusual shark. They will “spy hop”, meaning they hang vertically in the water and stick their heads above the surface to look around for prey. YIKES!
“Man, what was that like?”, I asked.
“It had big black eyes and it looked right at me. It was the second scariest thing I ever saw”, he said.
Second scariest, I thought? Say what? … stunned, I asked, “Dude, what have you been doing, that being spy hopped by a great white shark was the second scariest thing you’ve ever seen? What was the scariest?”
He said, “The scariest thing I ever saw was when that great white’s head disappeared back under the surface …”
Made sense to me.
Anyhow, the man in the gray suit is why I ended up painting the bottom of my bodyboard. A flash of white in the tropical ocean means one thing to a shark—prey. So my solution was three coats of primer, and then three coats of enamel on the bottom of the board. I’m not sure it will stick, it’s plastic, but worth a try.
I’m paranoid on the subject because of a friend of mine. Mike lived on Vanua Levu Island in Fiji, and he worked on Taveuni Island. It’s about a five-mile run across the channel between the islands. Every day he’d run across in a small outboard skiff. He’d run the skiff up on the beach, offload his briefcase and lunch and the like, and then move the boat back out a bit off the beach and drop the anchor in waist-deep water. Then he’d jump in, walk ashore, and start his day.
One day he was doing his usual morning run. He anchored up and went to jump in the water. A tiger shark just happened to be passing under the boat. When Mike dropped in next to the shark, it instinctively turned and bit at the white flash of his legs.
Unfortunately, it hit his femoral artery. He bled out before he could make it to shore. Go figure.
And as a result, call me paranoid, but here’s what the bottom of my bodyboard now looks like …
To get the paint to stick, I first had to remove the surfboard wax from the part of the bottom where I grab onto the rails. Now, even on a good day wax is a relatively boring substance, including surfboard wax. I mean, other than color and melting point temperature, it’s just … well … wax. All pretty much of a sameness. There is little to tell one hunk of wax from another.
So what is a poor surfboard wax manufacturer to do in order to distinguish his indistinguishable wax from his competitors indistinguishable wax? Enter one of the most outrageously successful examples of branding ever, the most popular kind of surfboard wax, Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax.
So, what does Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax have to do with sex?
Absolutely nothing! That’s the beauty part.
It is plain old bog-standard surfboard wax plus pure marketing genius, including “QUICK HUMPS” and “THE BEST FOR YOUR STICK”. Amazing.
Anyhow, I am overjoyed. Soon I’ll be leaving once again for some place where I need “6X: TROPICAL WATER” surfboard wax. Gotta say, 6X, that’s my kind of number.
Rain again here. We usually have thirty or forty inches a year. This year we’re over a hundred inches (2.5 metres). The forest is aboil with flowers, the grass grows thick, the redwood trees drip water. Foxes abound, feeding on plentiful voles. Hummingbirds feed on an abundance of nectar. When the trees and grass are happy, everyone is happy.
I wish that same happiness to all of you, where your every thirst is quenched.