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3. Learning to Surf in LA: Year Two

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

Venice Breakwater, November 2017

In April 2017 I rented myself a small studio apartment in the heart of Venice, across the street from the classic VENICE sign, and more importantly across the street from a great little surf spot.

This year was an experiment in independence. At thirty-two years old, I had never lived alone before. I was petrified; I was excited; I was ready to re-define myself, looking to find the woman that I had become, or perhaps to create the woman that I wanted to be.

Most everyone in my complex at Windward Village Apartments on Pacific Ave. seemed to be young, single, and exploring. Also, a whole lot of them were surfers. It was just shy of one year since Phil and I had taken to the water and it was natural, and I think beneficial, that I began to define myself during this pivotal year (if a tad preemptively) as a surfer.

Living across the street from a surf spot was a blast! I could grab my board off the surf rack hung on the wall above my couch, put on my wetsuit, and walk across the street to surf. Friends from my apartment would stop by and see if I wanted to come out for a surf on cool mornings and warm evenings. There was a pool and hot tub where the surfers congregated after a session and talked about the waves they got and didn’t get, how the conditions sucked but it was fun anyway.

The Break was Venice Breakwater, where a rock jetty creates a point break. This means there are some directional waves, usually rights, but sometimes a little left forms up at the take off spot as well. Turning my board and riding to the side, even for a second or two, was thrilling!

The waves at Breakwater aren’t too intimidating. It’s easy to paddle out, especially by the jetty where the waves aren’t breaking. During the off-season, I could spread out in this spot away from the take off point, and find my own space to surf. In the summer, with all the beachgoers crowding the water, the lifeguards mark off the surf spot and it gets pretty small, but as long as I got in the water early, before 7AM, I could beat the tourists.

At Breakwater everyone seems pretty happy to be out surfing, to be living in LA and enjoying the chill beach life. Think classic surfer-dude vibes: totally stoked! yeah, man! People from my complex would paddle up and say hi before going for a little ride, and I felt right at home at Breakwater.

Even though Phil and I were amidst a brief and terribly unsuccessful relationship pause, we NEVER went more than three days without meeting up at Breakwater for a surf. We were always happy to see each other at the edge of the water as the sun came up, wetsuits on and boards in hand. We never let anything get in the way of us surfing together.

Walking to Breakwater, November 2017

My New Board was a Firewire Addvance, 6 foot 6 with 50 liters of volume. Phil decided that we needed to upgrade from our beginner boards to something shorter, more able to turn and move on a wave, but still with enough volume and size to accommodate our Kook status.

Phil did hours of research (a things he’s apt to do with any hobbies/passions/sports he picks up) and decided that we would both get Firewire surfboards: expensive, finely shaped and well made boards. He got the Submoon in 7 foot. We ordered both boards in Timbertek, a sustainably made construction with a light, lovely grained wood deck, and a nice light foam core. My Firewire board was beautiful. I loved looking at it, carrying it, paddling out on it, but when it came to riding the waves there was definitely a transition period.

I felt so much less stable on my Addvance than I had on my log, and everything that I thought I’d gotten better at (catching the wave, popping up, stability) went right down the tube. I would balk on waves I used to go for. I would pop up too quickly and fall right over. I would be afraid to pop up at all and hold on the rails for dear life as I dropped down the “scary” 3 foot waves. For two months I hardly surfed a wave at all on my Addvance and it was incredibly frustrating. When Phil’s skills on his new board started improving and my yet hadn’t, I seethed with jealousy. Once, after not catching any waves in a four-hour session, I cried.

I believe that I should have stayed on a much longer board, much longer. There was no reason for me to switch to this shorter board that I struggled with when I could have been working on improving my skills on something longer and more stable with a more fun board shape. But I was prideful, refused to “move backwards” and I thought that smaller boards meant I was a better surfer.

Despite my naivety, arrogance, and lack of skill, one day, something clicked and I could finally rides waves again. For a long long time after, I really loved surfing on my Addvance. I couldn’t go fast on it as it was over-volumed for my size, usually couldn’t make it to the second section of a wave when there happened to be one, but then, I really still had tons of work to do on catching the wave, popping up, standing up, and turning.

I Learned how to turn my board. After and during the drop, I could jump it to the side and position myself on the smooth face of the wave to ride around on it for a second before we crashed.

I Learned how to pump my Addvance to get ahead of the wave and keep riding as long as I could. Having not come from a snowboarding or skateboarding background (both serious advantages) it took me longer to adjust to being able to move a board around.

I Learned that like love and life and all good things, surfing would only get harder as I continued on with it. I was at the beginning of a long journey.

Surfing at Venice Breakwater, it seemed to me that no one was pretentious, but rather the opposite. Everyone was encouraging each other to be who they wanted to be. When I walked in from the pool after a surf session, stacked my board back on the rack in my small studio apartment, I felt like a strong single woman who could paddle out and catch some waves whenever the conditions were right, and that was just who I wanted to be!

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