Monday, April 25, 2011

Crazy Eyes: Part Deux

What's an Easter weekend without a run in with my neighbor, Crazy eyes?

I pulled into the parkade behind a small size SUV. Little did I know that SUV's towing capacity was 150 lbs of crazy. Out popped my least favorite neighbor and the lunacy began.

Let's back it up a little. 

I was out surfing in the mid-afternoon and had come back and just removed my board from the car and gathered my wetsuit etc. Crazy eyes had sat in his car waiting, watching for the precise moment to exit his vehicle and pounce like a jungle beast driven mad by... non-prescription drugs, plastic surgery and failed dreams.

As I picked up my gear and quickly made my way towards the entrance to the elevators I heard his door open and the immediate cry of, "Hey! How was the ocean?"

"Good", I answered, "a little windy but decent enough."

"Polite? Was it polite?" Crazy eyes asked.

Let's stop right there. Crazy eyes had either mispronounced something, used a word he didn't know the meaning of or anthropomorphised the Pacific and assigned it rather pleasing and subtle properties. Alas, Crazy eyes was no Margret Atwood. No, he was at the end of the day simply insane, the Easter Bunny left chocolate eggs in place of his anti-psychotics.

"Urrr..." I was at a loss for words so I simply repeated myself. "Ah... a little windy?" swinging upwards at the end of the sentence in a plea for him to understand.

"Polite?" repeated my bat shit crazy nemesis as we entered the elevator together. It like he refused to give way to sanity. This man was a in immovable rock.

"Sure, yeah." I conceded looking down and noticing that his otherwise summery and normal wardrobe became muddled with his choice in massively over-sized and sockless footwear in the form of old British Knight runners.

Left horribly confused when Crazy eyes got off on the first floor only one thing seemed certain. From this day forth, the Pacific Ocean shall now be referred to as the Polite Ocean.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lessons From The Surf

Ahh yes. Another post about surfing and the wonders thereof. Before you leave, let me just say that this is one less about surfing and more about learning in general. There, I said it so if you still want to leave then do so.

Pete came up with the idea that we should spend a weekend in San Clemente which is located south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego and takes about an hour and a half to reach. Situated there, is San Onofre Beach. Home to some of the best and nicest longboard surfing in SoCal, San O boasts about a mile of coast line and break which to my limited experience goes unparalleled.

When we arrived on Saturday evening the skies were cloudy, the wind was up and it was all in all not that attractive. We had planned to do an entire day on the beach on the Sunday trading off parental duties while we took turns hitting the surf. As it looked then, we wouldn't be spending any time on the beach as families and we might just have to pack in a few sessions here and there and hope that the sun would eventually make an appearance.

Pete and I made our way into the surf and I must admit, it looked huge and kinda scary. The paddle out was the longest and most strenuous I have ever experienced. San O has three breaks. An inside, mid and outside break getting larger in that order. So after hitting the middle break and being exhausted I though I was in a whole heap of trouble when I still had the large outer break to paddle through. The waves were five to six feet with the occasional seven footer mixed in just to scare the shit out of me. After making it through the mid break I called out to Pete saying, "I can't make it" but he had his head down and was paddling like mad to make it out past the big waves which were now breaking closer and closer to us. I saw him make it through and I knew I didn't have the gas so I waited for a large six footer to break and I turtle rolled under it catching my breathe as I got back on my board. Just like Pete had said, there are nice waves and then there are waves that crush and pin you. San O was replete with nice mushy waves and regardless of their size they moved horizontally over the surface rather than jacking up vertically and then slamming back down on top of exhausted surfers.  Another six footer was on its way and so rather than paddling again and becoming tired I just wait for it and turtled again and when it had passed hopped on my board and paddled hard making it to the other side of the break. As I came clear of the big ones, Pete turned and looked at me saying, "Hey! You made it! I thought you might have turned back. Welcome to the outside line up."

These were the first two lessons learned:
1.) Not all waves (or situations) are created equal regardless of appearance.

2.) If conditions are not dire rest, even if it means letting some scary looking waves (or situations) break and roll over you.

Now that I was out past the break Pete turned to me with another gem, "Wow, pretty big huh? Like, maybe a little too big for you."

3.) There are limits to your abilities. Recognize them but don't stop trying to broaden them.

"Yeah dude, I have no idea how I'm going to get back in", I replied. You see, getting out can be the easy part. Getting back in is not unlike trying to climb down something you've climbed up. Pete caught a couple of waves and I was happy to be out there looking for something smaller that I could catch. There wasn't a lot. Most of the smaller ones would fail to form up and would simply wash under me and leave me in the path of other large waves. I saw Pete come off a couple of waves and take other ones in the face as he had to battle back out past the break. This showed me that even right as they broke they were powerful but not dangerous. "I think I'm just going to try and catch something and ride it." I said. Pete agreed and told me if I didn't catch it to just keep paddling and then catch the white water from the next wave. I did just that and was shocked at how powerful the white water was. My board and I took off like a rocket much, much faster than I had ever moved over the water. It eventually knocked me right off the board and I got sucked into the spin cycle. Pete's words regarding the spin cycle popped into my head, "If you get into it relax and just let it happen. Don't fight it, say calm and wait for it to pass and then come up."

4.) Fighting that which is much more powerful than yourself just burns precious energy (and oxygen in this case). Relax, wait for it to pass and use your energy once it has resolved.

Into the tumbler I went. Blackness and the sound of a 747 in my ears I felt my body start to roll in the wave. My feet went up further and further and I just held my arms around my head in case my board were to come crashing down. I relaxed and didn't move and limbs just rolling with the water and as my feet were about a half body length above my head I stopped rotating and the sound of rushing water died and I swam to the surface and quickly looked for my board. I grabbed on and caught the next wave of white water into the beach.

We awoke the next morning at 6am to hit the beach early. The weather was calm and as we arrived we noticed the waves were on average a foot smaller than the night previous. The paddle out was still arduous but knowing what to expect I paddled extra hard. I dry heaved three times from the massive pain and lactic acid in my shoulders. Six hundred yards through big surf is not easy so when I arrived in the outer line up I had to rest for fifteen minutes. Pete however, caught three waves on the paddle out and was grinning like a fool when we met up. "It's beautiful out here!" he said. I agreed without any fear of the four and five foot waves.

5.) Fear is often the product of perception and not of reality.

The waves looked ripe for the picking and try as I might I was having no luck catching waves. My arms were just way too tired to generate the power and speed. I had to rest more while Pete caught wave after wave. I thought I might have more luck on the middle break so I told Pete I was going to head in and catch them instead. As I paddled in I looked behind me and there was a five footer crawling up my butt. I decided I might as well paddle for it and I managed to catch it just as it broke, the white water enveloping my legs. I popped up and was surprised again at how fast it was moving. I was exhilarated to find myself riding a five foot wave calmly  down the line. It was mushy and it turned to a white water ride quicker than I would have liked but rather than hop off I decided to ride that baby all the way into the beach. I rode that wave the full six hundred yards and twenty seconds later I got to the beach with possibly the stupidest grin on my face. I actually was yelling out loud, "This is nuts! This is amazing!" because I couldn't believe how far the wave was able to maintain its power. After a rest, I paddled back out just to tell Pete.

While sitting again on my board out past the break I spotted a pair of dolphins swimming parallel to the waves. Shortly after another surfer down the line called out, "Yeah! They're chasing away that shark!" Now I had never seen any sign of a shark while the forty or so of us were out there waiting for waves. I heard no other mention of it. Pete claims to have seen a fast moving fin that was not shaped like a dolphin's but only after hearing the comment about the dolphins chasing it. Considering there was no other evidence to support the presence of a shark and the fact that the same surfer who had made the comment laughed about it and then just sat there on his board I really have my doubts that there was anything out there. 

This is not to say that there are not sharks in the waters surrounding San Onofre or even the local waters where I normally surf. There are plenty. There are threshers, hammerheads, black tip, siilvertip and whitetip reef sharks AND the big daddy of them all, white sharks. The waters off the coast of San Clemente will even see juvenile great white sharks in late summer and early fall after they spawn and make their way north. So the question really is, are there man eating sharks out there?

There has been only one fatal shark attack in the last eighty years in Southern California. There has been only three attacks at all in the same time. There are sightings every year but rarely if ever do any of the sharks do anything but swim by. Scary? Sure, it's scary when an animal with large teeth and serious potential passes by. I never want it to happen but the statistics speak for themselves. It's safer to surf than it is to drive to the beach. 1,198 Californians were killed in 2008 from alcohol related accidents alone. I'm sure thousands more die in non-related accidents each year.

5a.) Perceived danger is often a result of being out of your element but is sometimes warranted.
6.) Statistics tell us when the danger is real.

The next weekend I hit the local surf at Sunset Blvd. and it was bigger than I had ever surfed there. The waves were four to five feet and normally I wouldn't even get in the water at that size. I knew Sunset to be nice and mushy, just like San O and the waves moved slower. When I got into the surf I quickly realized how surfing the past week in much more powerful surf had altered my perception. These waves were nothing. I went for any wave I wanted with little regard for whether or not they were too large. 

6.) Stretching our boundaries leads to greater comfort in an increasing number of situations.

Eventually I caught one and went "over the falls". That's basically wiping out as you catch the wave too late and are too high on the wave. You vault over your board and out in front of the wave. As I looked back I could see my board riding quite nicely on the wave towards me while I crashed into the water and quickly covered up to avoid getting nailed in the face by the board. Going over the falls was something I had always feared. It seemed like the most terrifying of wipe out options but as it was all happening so quick there was no time to be afraid and I just stayed calm and covered up and waited for the spin cycle ride to end. I surfaced, grabbed my board and paddled back out past the break to try again.

7.) Even that which we fear and is real is sometimes nowhere near as bad as we imagined.

All these little life lessons were learned simply from pulling on a wetsuit and paddling out into the water to catch waves. Maybe I'll be wise enough to apply them to the rest of my life and maybe not but here they are again in summation:

1.) Not all waves or situations are created equal, regardless of appearance.

2.) If conditions are not dire rest, even if it means letting some scary looking waves or situations break and roll over you.

3.) There are limits to your abilities. Recognize them but don't stop trying to broaden them.

4.) Fighting that which is much more powerful than yourself just burns precious energy (and oxygen in this case). Relax, wait for it to pass and use your energy once it has resolved.

5.) Fear is often the product of perception and not of reality.

5a.) Perceived danger is often a result of being out of your element but is sometimes warranted.

6.) Statistics tell us when the danger is real.

7.) Even that which we fear and is real is sometimes nowhere near as bad as we imagined it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Crazy Eyes

It was dark as we drove into the parkade last night and the front of the car dipped as we descended down the ramp to the lower garage. From the left side of the ramp beneath the guard railings suddenly popped a head like a surprised coyote caught in the headlights of our car. The eyes abulge with curiosity and in this case a touch of the crazies.

I call this individual Mr. Crazy Eyes. He lives in our building and I have spoken to him on several occasions all of which have had some memorable content and none of which have been in any way normal.

On this given evening, Crazy Eyes was doing like he does many evenings and he had his guitar and amplifier setup in the last stall next to the ramp. He was on break between imaginary sets and thus having a his forty ninth cigarette of the night while the crowd in his head called for an encore. I have run into his solo performance several times and at first I understood that if he is a musician practicing then doing so in his apartment might be annoying to neighbors hence, practicing in the garage. I think that this in only part of the picture.

Crazy Eyes seems to crave attention like many koo-koo for coco puff folks do. What better place to set up to busk then at the gate of the lower garage where both tenants and passersby can gaze on your single chord glory? Unfortunately, single chord glory is exactly what it is. I have seen him play on three different evenings and each time the same single chord ending in the same flourish is repeated. Strangely, it is neither poorly played nor uninteresting but seems to be the sole progression in the endless open jam he hosts for the crowd of thousands in his mind.

His appearance is what turns his slightly nutty demeanor into a masterpiece. The first time I saw him in our lobby I remember the phrase, "plastic surgery nightmare" running through my mind. He has definitely had some work done and his face looks far too tight. The nose is most certainly sculpted, the cheekbones possibly too. The eyes. Oh the eyes. That overly tight skin just make those crazy eyes pop out even more. If he would just blink, they might seem a little more normal but I don't think I've ever seen him do it even once. Instead, he Charlie Mansons you into the corner of the elevator while he says something crazy to you. These interjections require neither prompting nor response as he tends to continue the conversation without you.

Here is a couple of unprompted gems he has said to me:

- Looking at my bike helmet: "Are you a courier? You look like a courier."
- Looking at my bike helmet on another occasion: "You know, you don't even have to wear a motorcycle helmet in some states!"
- "Do you shop at Trader Joes? You need to buy this salmon (pulls out of bag). It's amazing" The salmon smelled old
- Looking at my surf board and me wearing a wetsuit pulled down to my waist, "Were you surfing today? How were the waves? I heard they were fifteen feet!"

I've frozen up every time he has spoken to me. Getting locked in the tractor beam of his unblinking eyes I am terrified and baffled as the stream of crazy bullshit gushes from his collagen injected lips. Please Crazy eyes, I just want to ride up to the third floor without hearing that the jet contrails in the sky are the government spraying mind control drugs.

As I finished grabbing the last of our bags and entered the lower lobby to wait for the elevator I heard him begin singing along with his jam and damnit, it wasn't bad.

I wonder when he will announce his tour dates?