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On Becoming a Surfer (and a Writer)

It’s 31 degrees, there is snow on the ground, and I sit in my house in my hooded sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers, listening to my old dog snoring, reading my first published piece on the front page of The Inertia.

A few weeks ago, after submitting a sample, I got a notice that I was accepted as a contributor to this great website. By pure fate of all of our names starting with “K”, I happen to be on the same page and RIGHT ABOVE Keala Kennelly and Kelly Slater, among many other incredibly talented contributors. That’s right. While I will never surf monster Teahupoo like Keala or win 11 World Titles like Kelly, I like to think we are all amigos, if only in cyberspace.

By consequence of being so excited, I can barely write, so it’s best to check out it out by following the link:

http://www.theinertia.com/surf/on-becoming-a-surfer/

Or read below:

One of my very dear friends told me that for much of her life, the image that would come up when she thought of her future was eight neatly stacked, square, white, modern dinner plates. These plates somehow represented her success in life after completing college, sucking it up as an intern, then working her butt off in corporate America. They were the pinnacles of achievement, those plates, but she couldn’t care less about those plates now.

My snapshot of the future, for as long as I can remember, is an outdoor shower, and I have no idea where this came from. I grew up in a pretty average family in inland Southern California. I was an only child, with two professional working parents, good grades, off to college at age 17. My outdoor shower is a pretty functional looking shower, in a tropical setting, with a tile floor, and a bamboo screen surrounded by thick foliage. If I look closely, I see a surfboard leaning up against the wall. It turns out the shower is a side note; my dream was to be a surfer.

So, five years ago at age 34, I embarked on what I now know is the hardest learning curve in the world – surfing. I’m athletic and stubborn, two good things to have in the water, but while I was full of gumption and spunk, I thought I failed a lot. I didn’t catch enough waves, I couldn’t get my feet in the right place, I went over the falls (still do), and mostly, I deferred. I thought that because many times I was “the worst surfer in the water”, that I didn’t deserve waves, so I pulled back. I let others take waves because I thought they were better than me. Until one day, an acquaintance of mine paddled up to me, got in my face and yelled at me for being stupid, saying “You deserve waves as much as anyone else out here!”

I cried that day.

So, what did I do? After much saving and planning that involved quitting our comfortably secure jobs, I went, with my very supportive surfing husband, on a year-long world surf adventure that included Mexico, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This here is what I learned.

I stopped trying so hard. One of the most interesting compliments someone gave me was that I am so passionate in everything I do. And more often than not, I am called the “100 Pounds of Fury” among other interesting (and perhaps not so nice) descriptive phrases. Surfing has taught me that maybe, instead of jumping into things head first with no helmet on and my hair on fire, I should take a more peaceful, flowing path. Take waves, and other things in life, as they come, but stop trying so hard, stop swimming upstream.

I also now know that I can do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it. Being a female surfer at breaks that were dominated by dudes from all over the world was, so far, the hardest thing that I’ve done in my life. There were days where I felt like a small, defeated “chick” in the water. But I still paddled out and caught waves. I tried my best to hold my head high and be a surfer.

And most importantly, I can call myself a surfer.

Because, when are you really, truly allowed to call yourself a “surfer”? I’ve asked myself this question a few times. Is it when you stand up on your very first whitewater wave? Or when you can pull off floaters and aerials? Is it when you surf a certain number of days per week/month/year? It was a cold Christmas morning in Baja when I was almost surprised to discover that I had become surfer, when I paddled out into overhead waves, full of gratitude and grace in that cold morning. The path to becoming a surfer resides in your heart, it is endless, and filled with potential.

I may not have an outdoor shower, but I will always be a surfer. And you should be too.

 

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Fluffy and Fury’s Final Days in Me-hee-co

I’ll admit it; we are slackers in the world of blogging. We’ve reached the final week of our six months in Mexico, and there’s not much to report, other than more sun, more surf, more cold beers, and many more friends. We’ve posted up at one of our favorite spots and the surf has been good and the Internet connection has been bad. This is a good thing, a very good thing.

Our first night in Mexico, we met a guy named Bobby who surfs regularly with our friend Joey in Huntington Beach. That night under the stars, we sat by the campfire listened to a CD of Ray Barbee and Tommy Guererro (If you are not familiar, I suggest checking it out. They are both incredible skaters and musicians.). When we returned from our surf the next day, Bobby was gone, but the CD sat on our bumper. It was our first experience (on this trip at least) of the human generosity that we have come upon in our travels. In our last few days on the Mexican playa, we have spent time surfing, talking and drinking beer with some of our dearest old and new friends in Mexico. Over the years, these folks have truly shown us that living in a tent/trailer/van/palapa on the beach is the way to go.  Juan, Ashley and Rocket, Super G and T, Dave, Mark, Josh and Mo, Katie and Mike, Every Wave Dave, the Limeys, Jaimie, La Familia, and others, you all rock.

We spent the last week of February with our friends Newman and Chelsea, which was a total blast. They were good sports for trusting us to take them to some special places in Mexico. Alas, as March rolled around, we started to see the tried and true south swells that bring pumping surf to Mainland Mexico. We’ve been longboarding, shortboarding and everything in between, enjoying the warm water and long rides. We are camped in front of the local wave (we’ll call this “Beach X” – sorry, no real locations now), but have been taking day trips to another nearby break “Beach Y”. Beach Y has a more advanced wave, and we’ve had fun challenging ourselves every few days. Beach Y also has a “right”, and for us regular footed surfers, we are stoked to surf frontside in Mainland!

The surf part of this trip has brought the highs and the lows. Wow, what a roller coaster of emotions tied into the simple act (or not-so-simple) act of surfing. One day, upon getting out of the water I think “Oh my god! I can do this! I can really surf now! I’m catching waves, turning, doing maneuvers, lookin’ GOOD out there. This is the best thing ever!” The very next day, I kid you not, can bring “WTF? I’ve spent the last five months pursuing this stupid activity, and I just tripped over my feet out there. I just got worked. What is going on? What is my problem? Do I know how to do this?” We are happy to report though, that the latter happens less often as we move through this journey of surfing. The lesson here: Impermanence. Just like the tide, all things ebb and flow and nothing is permanent.

We are currently in Patzcuaro, making the long drive back to Oregon and will eventually have to face what we have been avoiding for a very long time…. shoes. And what’s worse than shoes? Socks. But we will have a few weeks to unpack, pack, see family and friends, try to avoid drinking too much Oregon microbrew, and hopefully not freeze to death. (For any readers not in Central Oregon, April is still considered winter.)

One of the golden rules of surfing is “Never leave good surf.” That means if the surf is good, you better have a really good reason to get out of the water (examples: you are bleeding somewhere or your house is on fire). While it’s painful for us to leave this great surf, we are also ready to embark on our next leg of our travels to SE Asia. And I promise that we will do our absolute best to keep the posts coming and the stoke going strong!

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Michoacán Dreaming

About four years ago, we spent a few weeks in Mexico where we flew into Manzanillo and took buses through to Zihuatanejo, along the Michoacán coast. From our seats high up on the bus, we slowly wound through jungle-covered hills with views of some of the most spectacular coastline of Mexico. With its pristine beaches, palapa restaurants, small villages, and great waves, we vowed then to come back and spend more time in Michoacán.

Michoacán is… well, Michoacán. This Mexican state of Michoacán is often referred to as the wild west of Mexico and it still holds up to its reputation. We don’t even pretend to be naïve to the major problems that Mexico is facing with the drug cartels and crime, very serious stuff. And Michoacán has its fair share of problems. But we try to stay informed and talk to as many people as possible to know what is happening and how things feel. So far, so good.

Upon leaving the built up area around Puerto Vallarta, we drove for two days and arrived in La Ticla, infamous for its surf as well as it’s sordid past. In the past, Ticla has had a reputation for being rough and tumble and every few years there would be issues with crime and chaos in the area. To put it this way, one of our surf guidebooks says, “This is a seedy area to spend time in.” (Add in the Fox News element of “PANIC and FEAR”, and you can quickly get worked up about all of it.) We had been keeping in touch with a couple we met in Baja – Dave and Joan from California – and hoped that we would see them in Mainland. They have spent a fair amount of time in Michoacán and it would be great to camp with them. After a few email exchanges we were happy to hear that they were heading to Ticla at about the same time we would be there.

Ticla is… incredible. We’ll just say we like it here. A lot. The surfer vibe is very positive and very international – many Europeans, Mexicans, Aussies and of course, the ubiquitous Canadians (Is there anyone left in Canada? They all seem to be following us in Mexico.) The local crime has subsided, largely due to village appointed “vigilantes” (in other words, security). Rumor has it that the “bad people” that were causing problems, are gone, and gone for good. Real good. You get the picture. Because remote areas in Mexico such as this are largely ignored by federal or state police, villages often take matters into their own hands because their livelihood is often dependent on tourists, even if it’s a just a bunch of dirtbag surfers like us. Remember, it’s like the Wild West.

We are camped on the beach overlooking the surf, on property owned by Apolinar, a friendly man with a huge smile. The freshwater river runs into the ocean nearby, hosting a multitude of birds. The village has everything we need – two small stores, a couple of restaurants, an Internet place and tons of kids and dogs. A truck with fresh produce comes through the camping area once a week, as does the aqua purificada truck. On Saturdays and Sundays a taco stand sets up in the zocolo and we feast on plates of tacos for $2.

Needless to say, the surfing here is incredible, and the consistent surf here is allowing us to really enjoy progressing on our short boards. Ticla is technically a very broad point break, but most days it has been much like a very good beach break, with many good waves. This allows us to seek out waves that suit our abilities/moods/energy for that day. We have been surfing twice a day for most days, as much as our bodies can hold up so far! Morning off-shore winds set up for more hollow waves. Mid-day consists of a nap in the hammock, yoga, or a walk to the river. Afternoons glass off for beautiful sunset surf sessions. Dinner consists of shoving as much food into us so we can surf early the next day.

We feel so fortunate to be able to experience places like this at the right time. And it is helping us get even more stoked about our next adventure in SE Asia! Yesterday morning, as I was sitting on my board waiting for waves, I wondered how I’m ever going to survive not being in the ocean every day. So, waves or no waves, I’m thankful every day that get to walk out into the Big Blue and be in the water!

Hasta luego! Hay olas buenas ahorita!

Have You Felt Old Recently?

We have.

We get up again at 6am to meet the boys at 6:30. Notice a theme here? We wait outside our place, listening to the morning cacophony of roosters, dogs and fisherman driving down to the harbor. Diego (16), Bernardo (15) and Daniel (15) show up, surfboards in hand, to take us on a hike to the “nearby” surf break. This was the place we had recently taken a boat to, and the night before, we asked if they were going surfing and if we could hike with them. They were happy to show us the way.

We stopped at a Mini-Super so they could grab some food and they we headed to the “trail”, through a cow pasture, and into the jungle. Remember when you were 15 and you had copious amounts of enthusiasm and energy? These boys were so stoked to surf day after day, and they RAN up the trail in their flip-flops, over boulders and through the jungle vines. We broke out in a humid sweat, panted, stumbled and struggled, cursed about youth. They sang the whole time and stopped only to pick guava fruit off of a tree.

The line-up was crowded with 15 Mexican rippers, and I mean RIPPERS. These boys were young and fast and so good and there was no way I was getting any of their waves. So, I spent most of it watching these guys catch airs and banter with each other in the line-up.  Something about just being in the water with them was so fun and energizing.  When we got out of the water, they offered us orange juice and sandwiches made of bread and la lechera – caramel flavored evaporated milk.  Sound gross?  It was delicious!

That night, we went to the café to transfer photos, surf movies and music onto their iPhones. These boys were the most kind, funny, polite teenagers that I have met in a really long time, and they were so grateful for the photos. We hope that they find a good future, whether in surfing or otherwise. Thankfully, with Facebook, I can keep up with them, as I’m now “friends” with a bunch of teenage Mexican surfers!  It’s days like these that remind us to be open to the world and always say “yes” to opportunities.  That it is okay to leave your comfort zone and venture into new territory.

We had a great time with Chris’ parents, sharing our travels and showing them the ropes in Mexico, as they are spending a few more weeks here.  We ate tons of seafood (of course), drank many margaritas and beers, and watched many sunsets.

Luego!

“I Take One More, Okay. I Like It.”

Not to diminish the notion “it’s about the journey, rather than the destination”, we do have a small bucket list of things we really have to do. Like swimming with the whale sharks. A must-do. Hiring a boat to take us to a surf break is also on our must-do list, and while we will be able to do this in Asia quite a bit, we definitely wanted to do it in Mexico as well. So we hadn’t surfed for about 10 days, which, as I’ve mentioned before, turns us into cranky monkeys. We ask around at the itty-bitty boat harbor where we are staying and find a guy, Freddie, to take us out the next morning. We tell him to meet us there tomorrow morning and we’ll check it out. These waves are only accessible by boat, or by an hour-long jungle hike. We’ll take the boat, thank you very much.

Early morning departure.

We walk down to the harbor in almost darkness at 6:30 the next morning and find Freddie ready for us and ready to go, so we quickly load our stuff and hop in for a 15 minute cruise north to the surf break. As we pull into the little bay, we see no sign of waves, so we are immediately skeptical and a little bummed out. However, we are paying this guy 400 pesos (about $30), so we tell him to come back for us at 11am. If nothing else, we could be pretty happy hanging out at this little beach for four hours.

Heaven on earth.

Freddie pulls the boat into the tiny patch of sand, surrounded by cobble rock, and there are a couple of little rickety palapas and a guy there to watch our stuff. We climb out and see that, yes, there are waves rolling through! Okay, so this might be good. Good was an understatement and this day turned out to be excellent. It was the stuff surfing dreams are made of.

Jungle and water, with Katy in between.

We paddled out with two local guys – Jesus and Diego. Jesus is a student at the Universidad, studying graphic design. He also happens to be a ripping surfer. Diego is 16 and works at a local restaurant in town. We surfed for a while and exchanged waves, which if you surf with the local Mexican boys, you know they aren’t always so generous about sharing waves. But these guys were awesome. We talked in our mediocre Spanish and they practiced their broken English.

DJ Scratchmaster Flash cruising along.

Within an hour, Chris paddled back to shore to get our camera and sat in the water for a while taking photos of the three of us. Diego wanted to take photos too, so Chris helped him get set up with the camera. Pretty soon, Jesus wanted to take photos. So for about an hour or two, these guys were so happy to take photos of everyone. Every time I caught a wave and paddled back out past them, I would say, “Okay, you go surf some more, I can take photos.” And they would always say, “No, no. I take one more. I like it. It’s good.” We cheered each other on, and they always laughed and made fun of me if I made a girly scream if I had a late drop or fell off of a wave.

Diego posing for the camera.

There were only the four of us in the water that morning.  The company was top-notch.  The wave was short, but playful, not perfect by any means, but fun. We had to dodge shallow sharp rocks, which made it a little intimidating. The water was warm and upon looking down, there were tons of little tropical fish swimming around our feet. The jungle behind us was deep and green and dark and the full moon was setting over the ocean. There was not one thing absolutely perfect about this day but the combination of everything made for the most magical morning.

Mini-barrel for Jesus. Go Jesus!

We had over 300 photos from that day. Later that night, we went to the café where Diego works and loaded a bunch of photos onto his iPhone (welcome to 2012). He was so excited and when we told him we were heading south to Ticla and Nexpa, he looked right at us and asked if he could come with us. Maybe we could find some room in the camper…..

Click here for all of our photos on this day.

Ciao for now.

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