We just got back from two weeks at Stinson Beach. I’d call it a vacation but Ben, per our agreement, was commuting daily to work and I was, for the most part, on my own with the kids so instead, perhaps, I should call it parenting on location.
I love Stinson. I grew up on that beach. Ben and I have corresponding pictures of our childhood selves on those sands, him waving a seagull feather, me clinging to my brother’s back. When I think “beach”, the muted blues and greys of Stinson are what come to mind.
Our first week at the beach this year was populated with friends. By the second week, we were ready for surf camp.
That Sunday I walked over to Live Water Surf Shop to sign up. If you’ve ever seen a bumper-sticker of a shark with a red line through it, that’s Live Water. It’s a Marin institution and is these days owned by Brenna and Pete Gubbins.
And here’s where we enter the magical, mythical realm of high school. Pete went to Tam High in Mill Valley with Ben and me. I spent my twenties in Los Angeles being fairly anonymous and disconnected from my childhood. I was the present me only. And though I’ve been back in Marin for well over ten years, I still find the overlay of adolescence and present life confusing and fascinating. Keep in mind I married someone from high school but Ben and I met at our ten year reunion; we weren’t friends way back when. He was new to me and old. A lot like the rest of these people I continue to bump into.
The surf camp, it turns out, is run by a guy named Glenn Whitaker. A guy I also went to high school with though, like most of these people, probably never talked to. I was shy, shocking as that may seem now. I was an excellent student, I was afraid of my father, I was cautious. Which means that I remember these people way better than they remember me. I sat back and watched behind a curtain of dishwater blond hair while they led their raucous high school careers.
Ben, Pete, Glenn, these were all the cool guys. I don’t think I’ve ever been cool. Oh, sure, I’ve come into my own, I’m comfortable in my skin, I inhabit myself quite nicely now. But I don’t know that that’s cool. It’s just me. I’ve fully embraced my brainy, confessional, emotive self. Which is good, but not cool. “Cool” is just not where my thermostat is set, as much as I would sometimes like it to be.
Surf camp started. My kids popped up onto their feet by their second or third ride. I sat on the sand, swathed in sun hat and sarong and watched. It was hilarious and inspiring, watching these little people catch waves, wipe out. By Thursday, I wanted to try.
Now here’s where the past bumps up against the present. I wanted to get in the water, try to stand up on a board, see what it felt like. I love that quote “Use your body any way you can, don’t be afraid of it or what others may think of it”. I don’t have a whole lot of shame or fear these days and I do have a whole lot of curiosity. So that’s the present.
And then there’s the past. There’s the getting in the water with the cool guy from high school, undoubtedly failing, undoubtedly exposing my tremendous uncoolness. If I could ask my fifteen-year-old self if this was a good idea she would say no fucking way. And then swing her hair back in front of her face.
The present won. I got in a wet-suit, I hauled a board out into the water. I spent two days getting absolutely pummeled by waves, by humiliation, while my children sailed by me hanging ten. My body felt huge, impossible to coordinate. I was trying to speak Japanese armed only with “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto”. But again and again, I manhandled the board back through the white water and gave it another shot. Eventually I managed to stand up for a total of three seconds. I’m not sure if I tamed the wave or if it tamed me but it was a sort of victory.
I did all this in front of the cool guy, with the help of the cool guy, who in the end turned out to be quite a cool guy. And me? Decidedly not cool. But a little brave.