San Diego Stories by Salvatore Filippone

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June 06, 2002

Surf's Up...

I live in San Diego, but I don’t surf. Yes, it’s true. There are, in fact many San Diegans who do not surf. To the many people I meet, this is a cardinal sin. I’ll hear a guffaw, and then a faux look of shock spreads across their faces, or maybe they’ll regard me with a disbelieving shake of the head. I like the beach, don’t get me wrong, but I’m just not cut out to surf (I am a pretty good guitar player, though). Anyway, I’ll explain why. Once upon a time…

At age 22, I acquired an old longboard from my friend Charlie. Another buddy of mine let me have a new full suit that he had hardly used. Having scored these two choice items, I was ready to attack the waves. First, I asked a few surfer friends of mine for tips on where to start, the best break for beginners, etc. Armed with this new information and my gear, I set out for Ocean Beach.

I parked my truck, put on my wetsuit, and headed for the water. I chose a spot a few hundred feet away from the pier. As I approached the water, I became more self-conscious. I could feel the stares. I thought I heard some call out, “Barney!” Were they talking to me? Fuck. I was already being called a barney. I was pretty obvious, I guess. I shrugged it off, and started paddling out.

I hadn’t paid attention to the size of the waves on my way to the water. Big mistake. It was a big day.

After getting slammed by a couple of sets on the way out, I finally was ready to surf, but I was pretty tired from all the paddling. I ignored this and found renewed energy. A swell was on its way. It was huge. I started paddling as hard as I could. The swell arrived, and I felt its energy pick up the board and propel it. I wasn’t ready, but you don’t argue with nature. I dropped into the wave, still lying on my belly, petrified and excited at the same time. I tried to stand up, but wiped out hard. I tumbled underneath the water for what seemed minutes, and finally came up. I heard laughing somewhere. It was drowned out by the next wave that broke over my head. I hadn’t seen it coming. Apparently, I had been watched the entire time.

The laughing had busted my concentration. I was pissed off, at the surfer who had laughed at me, but more at myself for being there. I felt stupid. The word Barney echoed in my head. I began to paddle towards shore, and then I heard the laughter again, but this time it was accompanied by,

“Get the fuck out of here, kook!”

I looked back, and there was the laugher, displaying his extended middle finger. I smiled at him, and watched his smile transform into an angry scowl. I ignored him and continued paddling to shore. Great, I thought, first I almost drown, and now this guy’s going to kick my ass on the beach. I expected to hear splashes behind me, but they never came. He didn’t follow. I got out of the water and headed back to my truck. I was fuming. I changed and left, cursing my heckler.

Five years passed before I tried surfing again.

Looking back, the heckler didn’t make things easier for me, but I went out there without thinking. I could have hurt myself, let alone somebody else. I approached the waves without respect, and got a thrashing. The next time I went out, I practiced in the whitewater, and later paddled out when I had enough experience standing up. Also, I always went with a buddy. I haven’t had a bad experience since. But I still prefer playing my guitar…

Posted by sfilippone at June 6, 2002 10:10 PM


Yeah but you know what? That same loser that was laughing at you was the same insecure prick that didn't want you to learn how to surf in the first place. I've yet to meet an accomplished athlete in any sport, be it surfing or anything else, that is that discouraging to a beginner. The only people who do that are the posers who learned how to finally stand up just last week and can't wait to slap someone else around because they want to personally feel like their sub-par performance was much more to do with difficulty than with their own lack of any real skill. Anyone with half a brain knows what it feels like to learn and that it doesn't help to be kicked in the teeth while doing it. Those that don't understand it are the same cowards that just to get their own kicked in again, again, and again. This guy will probably be 50 years old and still cruise the beach looking for little kids to yell at.

Just remember this: laughing at a beginner is like taking candy from a baby - just because you can doesn't mean you should. And chances you'll pay later - that baby will grow into a man (or surfer) and kick your ass.

Great story by the way.

Posted by: chris at December 26, 2004 10:12 PM