Forgetting Stephanie Gilmore and…

…Remembering why……why we surf.

In an early heat, early in last year’s contest schedule, in a moment of sheer joy, Stephanie Gilmore forget herself. She forgot, for that second, that she was competing, and that adding drama to a ride, mixing up the moves; turning, always turning; that is the gymnastic choreography that wins heats.

She had ridden a wave well past the contest zone, tucking into a tiny barrel down the beach, in among the kids, the grommets, and, rather than turning toward the beach cameras in the last little run of a long wave, she leaned back, left hand in the rising face, right hand in the falling lip.

“A little soul arch tribute,” or words to that affect, Joe, or Pottz, or one of the other World Surf League commentators said. It was, maybe, more surprising, that it wasn’t (correctly) identified as a ‘claim.’ Or, maybe, a reclaim.

And then… then the contest continued, the moment forgotten, not included in the highlight reel. Instead, on the WSL’s opening sequence, along with exciting music and quick cuts to power gouges and backside hacks, there’s a few moments of the same Stephanie Gilmore, out on a wave’s shoulder, doing a sort of double-handed, fists-clenched, power claim.

Because she did remember she was in contest mode.

No, not the same Stephanie Gilmore. Different choreography. Not that it’s not a great dance; not that she doesn’t dance as well as anyone ever has.

Image (235)

So, what about Kelly Slater? Of all the moves, from all the years; all the incredible drops and turns and tubes, all the linking of moves; a favorite might just be a wave, possibly in France, beachbreak, and not the gravel-shifting power waves, but a little ‘bonus section,’ one any other contestant would have missed while displaying his latest ‘claim’ creation. But Kelly, probably a smile as quick as his turn, tucked into it, visible all the way in a rolling shower.

Somewhere around a second and a half of remembering why…

Here’s a new drawing, unrelated to this story:                                                                                 Image (236)

One or two special rides can make all the difference in how we remember a certain session. Probably the least fun I’ve had in surfing, the most frustration, was back, way back, back when I expected to do well (better) every time I went out. And, if I didn’t… This would be my own sort of inner contest.

After eight or ten years of not surfing at all, getting back into it (and now this is years ago); and sucking at it; any decent ride was memorable.

Here’s one I’ve banked: I was out at Pipes with Ray Hicks. After a couple of sessions staying away from the main peak, we had moved over to the right shoulder-side of the established crew, hoping to pick up a few strays. I was no longer a local, and Ray had a nine foot plus board and a, probably, 7’6”. We both did better on the longer board (and Ray did wayyy better than I could), but, since I was having trouble catching any waves on the shorter board, my eyes were burning, I was tired, and quite frustrated, I moved into the reform zone with the (other) grommets and the kooks, jumping into little waves, just hoping to get something going in my muscle memory.

When I’d actually get into one of the closeouts, I’d kneeboard it. A (similarly-aged, I would have been around 52 or so) guy walking out with his board said something to me about his knees and how it looked like I was having fun.

I was. “Yeah. I am.” I didn’t explain how I had once been good. I was, obviously, another kook. And, just then, a little wave peaked in front of me. I turned, leapt into it, pulled into a little barrel, and…


We could all remember not to forget why we surf; those moments, those waves on which we move in harmony with the ocean, dancing perhaps.

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