It was my rookie year with the FBI. I was sent under cover to infiltrate and investigate a string of bank robberies perpetrated by a gang of surfers. Their leader, a charismatic and beautifully coiffed hombre named Bhodi, was not so much a man but a living legend, a suntanned spiritual leader illuminating the path to frothy salt-watered radness and nirvana. He became my friend but he was a criminal. He had to go down…
“Bhodi! This is your wake up call, man. I am an FBI agent!” – Johnny Utah, FBI agent
Okay, this is the plot to the 1991 epic film Point Break starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. I have loved this cinematic opus and celebrated its glory since I was a wee one growing up in the shadows of Chicago. I grew up as a pool rat. I spent every day of every summer in my youth—and much of my teens and twenties for that matter—throwing cannonballs and flips into the pool in my neighborhood. After the summer swim team season finished, my family would spend a week or two every August in Michigan or Wisconsin, where my siblings and I would jump down sand dunes and swim in Lake Michigan. My love of water sports started there.
I was in second or third grade the first time I touched the ocean. I took to boogie boarding and body surfing and the powerful feeling of the ocean propelling my little self through curling, foamy salt water. But I never surfed as a kid. At some point during my freshman year of college I bought the surf doc Step Into Liquid and watched it maybe every other week. (I also watched Blue Crush just as much but that was mostly due to an infatuation with a buff Kate Bosworth in a bikini.) I spent my college years in Indiana which is known for many things but not surfing. When I studied post-grad ski bummery in Telluride, I got my water fix on river trips, boogie boarding waves, Hasselhoff-ing inner tubes through rapids, and sitting shotgun on paddle adventures. Still, no actual surfing, just an appreciation, an unrequited love from afar. But that changed two weeks ago when I finally caught my first wave on the Oregon coast, at an event populated with all manner of wave-riding talent.
“Little hand says it’s time to rock and roll.” Bhodi, surfing god and felon
I squooze myself into a wetsuit and sauntered out to the water’s edge with my instructors, Dale and Declyn from Lincoln City Surf Shop. They quickly taught me how to pop, where to go, and what to do. Before I could say “chea, brah,” Dale was pushing me into churning whitewater. I tried to pop but fell immediately. Then repeated the action on my second try, but I decided to jam more salt water up my schnoz. Surfing is hard.
Then, on the third attempt, I stood up and rode a white wall of water for a handful of seconds. It was probably six inches of forward-moving foam but it felt like Mavericks. A couple of attempts later, I paddled into a wave on my own, popped up, and curled an arcing turn to the left. I haven’t splashed around with as big a grin or such pure eruption of stoke since I was a little kid.
“Surfing’s the source, man. Can change your life. Swear to God.” Surf shop kid, has great haircut
I was in the water for only an hour or so. My shoulders were on fire, my hands felt like cinderblocks, and I had to rest while carrying my board back up the beach. Surfing totally crushed me, but it’s one of my most favorite beginner beat downs of all time. I caught my first wave just down a ways from the Goonies beach during a greybird day. Later that night at dinner, Ian Walsh high-fived me and told me I was a badass…which is crazy. That’s like learning to hit a baseball off a tee and Babe Ruth telling you that you totally rocked it. It was a weird, surreal, and insanely fun weekend.
I felt like Keanu, but I am sure I looked like Free Willy, not the triumphant, leap-to-your-freedom orca, rather the confused-bumping into walls-lethargic large thing in the water. But I was sure as hell smiling a lot and whipping my hair free of salt froth after every watery slam. And as I walked back up the beach to get a coffee, shaking sand and sea out of my ears and mustache, I couldn’t help but get a little welled up. It’s not often you get to fulfill a childhood fantasy. I probably won’t buy a wetsuit and a board but I am hooked, brah.
“They only live to get radical. They don’t understand the sea, so they’ll never understand the spiritual side of it.”
That’s right, Bhodi, that’s right.
Photo by Bob Guerrero