Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Best Cure For Divorce?

I got hooked to the idea of surfing when I was 13. A boy serenaded me on the phone with "Surfer Girl" and then inscribed in my year book, "See you down the shore, surfer girl." He was smitten with me and I was smitten with the idea of surfing.

Years later, I still was attracted to surfers. Todd who I used to drive down the shore with his board on the roof of my car. Dean with the blue eyes who worked at the gas station to save enough money for a surf trip to Mexico.

When I moved to San Francisco, I found more surfers. I moved to a neighborhood called, "The Sunset" for God sakes. I'd even sit at Ocean Beach enviously watching people zip up their wetsuits and run into the water. Still, I never had the courage to get on a board. Even with my strong fascination, I saw the ocean as a giant moving monster. So instead, I saved it for the men in my life.

During a weekend in Santa Cruz with some friends, my surfer-friend Dave Seabury (who I secretly wished was my boyfriend), dared me to stop gawking from the shore.

A wave would rise and I’d lift my chest, swallow some salt water, spit it out, and trudge on again. You can do this, I told myself. Then, I imagined myself falling off the board, the board smacking me in the head, and drowning while unconscious.

I rode the wave on my belly back to land.

“What happened?” Dave asked. “You were about to get up!”

“I’m too scared,” I said, and plodded back to my towel thinking more The Poseidon Adventure (and I mean the original) than The Endless Summer.

After that humiliation, I was done idolizing surfers. I was done dreaming someone would sing Surfer Girl to me again. I missed my family, none of whom surfed, and moved back to New Jersey.

Back in New Jersey, I met Cason. He liked land, loved sailing, hated the word ‘dude,’ and even ridiculed the skate park opening in our small suburban town. “Where do they think we are, Southern California?” he asked. I had given myself a powerful surfer exorcism.

Maybe it was his love of being on top of the water when I wanted to be submerged. But eventually, we separated. During the time leading up to our divorce, I'd drive down to the Jersey Shore and plunk myself onto the beach, staring out at the waves, wondering when I’d allow myself a turn. I was a strong woman. What was stopping me?

I analyzed my strengths:
a) Fixed detached gutters during rainstorms
b) Delivered Jake through natural childbirth.

Anyone who has pushed a child through the dreaded ring of fire knows I didn't need to go any further with my list. Here's what I had to do: stop waiting for a man to call me surfer girl. If I wanted to surf -- then what the hell was I waiting for?

When my father offered to take Jake and me on a middle-of-divorce-craziness trip to Maui - I of course said, yes.

I waited until the last day of the trip, then signed up for a surf lesson. “Mommy’s going surfing!” I told Jake and left him with my dad to splash in the pool.

My instructor, Twolia, was a beautiful Asian woman with a tight, black wet suit top and tiny bikini bottoms. Holding a board on her head, she walked towards me with her seven-year-old son in tow. He balanced a surfboard on his head.

“Do you surf with your son?” I asked.

“Oh, he taught himself to surf when he was four,” she said.

I imagined Jake surfing at the Jersey Shore, his curly hair wet and salty from the water, and kept going.

The horizon was filled with surfers when Twolia and I climbed down a cluster of large rocks to get into the water, then paddled out. I was excited, more so than afraid, and held the board close to my body.

“See the shadow in the distance,” Twoila said. “That’s your wave coming.”

I pulled my body to the back of the board as she instructed and dug ferociously into the water to reach it. Just as the wave propelled me ahead, Twoila yelled, “Stand up!” and my body elevated above the board. Balance kicked in, and I stood.

My stomach turned, and my body rose as the wave drove ahead. I bent my knees and looked to the mountainous landscape that circled the beach, then allowed it to sink me back into the water once the wave dropped out. The board rash across my right thigh was my battle scar.

I thought of the surfer boys from my past. Even my non-surfing ex-husband. None of them would have expected me to surf. And why should they have? I had always been the girl on the shore unwilling to dive in.

Not anymore. Now I was more than a surfer girl. I was a surfer.

What else did I learn? You can always stand up.


  1. Catching up on your words, Hayley! I love this so much! And it's true: you CAN always stand up. If only we knew straight away it was so simple, eh? Metaphor intended, of course.

  2. Thank you karin - if i had only known, i would have gone surfing much earlier in life. Some lessons take a loooooonnnngggggg time....


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