“You’re too old, too fat, and you don’t surf enough.”
This is one of several quotes directed to me from Al Perlee owner of “The Surf Shop” in Westport, Washington. I’ll provide the context. I was looking for a new board, and said I was considering something shorter.
The occasion was some time in 2009. I’d been back, as heavily as I could manage, into surfing, riding a chunky and well made nine foot four inch surfboard over pretty much every rock I could find on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, plus a few on the coast.
When I say the board was well made, that would be the glassing. And it had come, originally, with a pretty translucent red fin that I weakened striking the already-mentioned rocks. It snapped off at its base while surfing at Short Sands in Oregon, replaced by a cheaper, non-translucent black one.
Yes, I did claim the snap was due to the intensity of my bottom turns. Every one I asked agreed the board’s shape was just wrong; chunky hips, roundy rails. It could have used a little more kick, maybe a concave nose. What it did was float. And I appreciated that.
By the time I went to “The Surf Shop” in search of a new one, my board was yellowed, most of the big dings patched. I had a sort of pride that I’d put every one of those dings in the board riding whatever waves I could find. This one at the Elwha rivermouth, that one at North Beach on a day with a vicious chop and…
I purchased the board at “Far North Surf Shop,” since then a recession casualty, in Sequim, pretty much halfway between Quilcene and the spots I regularly surfed on the Straits. It had been built by a guy up in Sequim whose name I don’t remember. Nothing personal. I’m thinking it was somewhere under the tenth surfboard the man ever built. There was another one in the shop, its shape even more ridiculous-ly wrong.
The price was decent for a new and pure white long board.
Since I’d blown out both knees, one at a time, and was doing way more longboard kneeboarding than riding standing up, and since I wanted to either advance my skills or switch to something I could kneeboard without using swimfins, and with slightly less personal embarrassment, looking for a smaller board seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
In reference to the knee/standing issue: When telling of my latest sessions to one of several ex-surfer-contractors I worked for, Bill Irwin would always ask if I rode “erect.” Jason Queen told me it takes three knee rides to equal one standing up.
Counting waves per session now included stand up rides/total waves ridden; a good day with half ridden erect. I always try for a twenty wave minimum. Sometimes thirty waves would factor down, using the Queen method, to twelve point something.
There I was, in Al’s shop, checking it out. And Al was actually there, holding court. Let me now mention that Al is probably about my age, no thinner than I am.
That being said, the first thing to note here is that, if a kid works in a surf shop, he or she is automatically cool and assumed to be a good surfer. If someone owns a successful surf shop, especially one in such a harsh location, that person is automatically super cool, that coolness magnified over time. Al is a legend.
Further, every customer must provide evidence that he or she is a real surfer. Otherwise, kook. And I, old, fat, and, based on the times he had ever seen me in his shop, despite my telling him I’d spoken to him several times, the first twenty years earlier, and had made significant purchases in his shop, I qualified. As a kook.
The cruel quote was preceded by, “You won’t be happy. You probably really need something longer.”
Al gave me a great deal on a 5’10” Bic “Peter Pan” fish, a lightly-used rental board. I’ve ridden it twice, loaned it out for extended periods. I did get a smaller board, custom, its shape (concave nose, down rails, professional outlines) widely admired by those I’ve shown it to. I love the board, use it when the waves are bigger, faster, more powerful. Mostly it rides on top of the big ass SUP.
I’m not saying Al was right; I do say I don’t seem to be getting any younger. And, though I surf as often as I can, I don’t seem to be much skinnier, either.