Jan. 16th, 2017

I loved the excerpt from William Finnegan's book in the New Yorker, but the whole thing is rather interminable.
  • the wind, along with the vast jigsaw expanse of the reef and the swells arriving from many different points of the compass, combined to produce constantly changing conditions that, in a paradox I didn’t appreciate at the time, amounted to a rowdy, hourly refutation of the idea of consistency.
  • Team Freitas departed. I remember watching them jog, laughing and loose, a happy family militia, up the long slope of the graveyard. They were evidently late for another appointment.
  • Leslie Wong caught and pulled into the wave of the day, his back slightly arched, his arms relaxed, making the extremely difficult—no, come on, the ecstatic—look easy. When I grew up, I wanted to be Leslie Wong.
  • he moved with unusual elegance. But there was something else—call it wit, or irony—that accompanied his physical confidence and beauty, something bittersweet that allowed him, in all but the most demanding situations, to seem like he was both performing intently and, at the same time, laughing quietly at himself.
  • The ocean was like an uncaring God, endlessly dangerous, power beyond measure. And yet you were expected, even as a kid, to take its measure every day. You were required—this was essential, a matter of survival—to know your limits, both physical and emotional. But how could you know your limits unless you tested them?
  • By the mid-’60s, however, Hawaii’s labor movement, like much of its mainland counterpart, had grown complacent, top-heavy, and corrupt, and my father, although he came to like personally some of the union bosses he fought daily, never seemed much edified by the struggle.
  • between 1778 and 1893, the Hawaiian population shrank from an estimated eight hundred thousand to forty thousand, and by the end of the nineteenth century surfing had all but disappeared.
  • Postwar Southern California became the capital of the emerging surf industry largely because a local aerospace boom provided both new lightweight materials for board-building and an outsized generation of kids like me, with the time and inclination to learn to surf.
  • see how lost they were, in their delinquent, neglected-child glamour
  • California Street was a long cobblestone point, and to me, at ten, the waves that broke along its shelf seemed like they were arriving from some celestial workshop, their glowing hooks and tapering shoulders carved by ocean angels.
  • The ages of adults are absurd, of course, to kids, the numbers too large, mostly meaningless. But my dad’s age was weirdly constant, in a way that even I knew was odd.
  • Each wave is a column of orbiting energy, most of it below the surface. All the wave trains produced by a storm constitute what surfers call a swell. The swell can travel thousands of miles. ... In a long-interval train, the orbiting energy in each wave may extend more than a thousand feet beneath the ocean surface. Such a train can pass easily through surface resistance like chop or other smaller,
  • I felt like Pip, the cabin boy in Moby-Dick who falls overboard and is rescued but loses his mind, undone by visions of the ocean’s infinite malice and indifference.
  • How, then, did surfing become the tumbling center of my tender years?
  • Wave judgment is fundamental, but how to unpack it? You’re sitting in a trough between waves, and you can’t see past the approaching swell, which will not become a wave you can catch. You start paddling upcoast and seaward. Why?
  • These last factors are like the ones that the ancient Polynesian navigators relied upon when, on the open seas, they used to lower themselves into the water between the outriggers on their canoes and let their testicles tell them where in the great ocean they were.
  • guys—donnybrooks even worse than my brawl with Eddie Turner. They had a pornographic fascination. Such fights were theater of cruelty, devoid of empathy among the watchers—a distilled, super-dramatic version of the merciless ostracism to which certain kids were subjected.
  • And so she started using a thin belt, then a thicker belt, then a wire coat hanger—those hurt more. I never fought back, but these were primal power struggles, quite painful emotionally for me, and probably for her too... Certainly I never blamed my parents. But their behavior was, as I see it now, not a small part of the ambient low-grade violence I lived in as a midcentury kid.
  • The displays of strength, skill, aggression, local knowledge, and deference that establish a working hierarchy in the lineup—a permanent preoccupation at every popular break—are a simian dance of dominance/submission that’s usually performed without any physical violence.
  • Surfers call power “juice,” and the juice becomes, in serious waves, the critical element, the essence of what we are out there to find, to test ourselves with—to recklessly engage or cravenly avoid. My own relationship with this substance, with this steel thread, has become only more vivid over time.
  • If you read some of the early published descriptions of surfing—Jack London’s and Mark Twain’s, each occasioned by visits to Hawaii, are the most often quoted—you’ll find them full of clumsy efforts to render action that was too quick, complex, and foreign to the observer’s eye to make any visual sense.
  • In the meantime, surfing became an excellent refuge from the conflict—a consuming, physically exhausting, joy-drenched reason to live... It also, in its vaguely outlaw uselessness, its disengagement from productive labor, neatly expressed one’s disaffection.
  • The newly emerging ideal was solitude, purity, perfect waves far from civilization. Robinson Crusoe, Endless Summer. This was a track that led away from citizenship, in the ancient sense of the word, toward a scratched-out frontier where we would live as latter-day barbarians.
  • Chasing waves in a dedicated way was both profoundly egocentric and selfless, dynamic and ascetic, radical in its rejection of the values of duty and conventional achievement.
  • beaches with water as clear as gin. I showed Caryn how to find ripe mangoes, guavas,
  • my brain aflame with eight or ten brief, sharp glimpses of eternity.
  • But the weirdness between us began with our failure—my failure, really—to make any serious distinction between her desires and mine.
  • It was, once again, a glorious wave, with hues in its depths so intense they felt like first editions—ocean colors never seen before, made solely for this wave, this moment, perhaps never to be seen again.
  • Caryn liked to say, quoting Walpole, that life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel. That pretty well nailed my problem with LSD. The cerebral part was terrific; the emotional part, not so much.
  • up to the point, where there were fewer people. There was a light mist—it was aerated seawater, from all the crashing and smashing—and no wind, which left the ocean’s surface slickly shiny. Its color was a muted gray-white until a wave reared; then turquoise floodlights seemed to switch on, illuminating the wave’s guts from the inside.
  • Still, I wondered what Sam, mental illness and all, might have to tell us about adulthood. Why, for example, did it seem to be always receding as a concept, even as we got older?
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques, which has a nice first line: “I hate traveling and explorers.”
  • Offshore winds, as I hope I’ve made clear, wreathe waves in glory. They groom them, hold them up and prevent them from breaking for a crucial extra beat, make them hollower when they do break, and create little or no chop.
  • There were imported goods, mostly from China, in the tiny makeshift shops—shovels and flashlights, Golden Deer cigarettes, Long March transistor radios.
  • Being rich white Americans in dirt-poor places where many people, especially the young, yearned openly for the life, the comforts, the very opportunities that we, at least for the seemingly endless moment, had turned our backs on—well, it would simply never be okay. In an inescapable way, we sucked, and we knew it, and humility was called for.
  • Beltway airs and provincialism were impenetrable. The truth was, we were wandering now through a world that would never be part of any correspondent’s beat (let alone George Will’s purview). It was full of news, but all of it was oblique, mysterious, important only if you listened and watched and felt its weight.
  • I found the missing chart. Bizarrely, it was in a rack of tourist brochures. The prohibited chart had been used as the backdrop for a placemat-sized ad for a “three day magical lagoon cruise” on a yacht running out of a resort down the coast.
  • Approaching waves straight through them, at the sky and sea and sea bottom behind them. And when I caught one and stood up, it disappeared. I was flying down the line but all I could see was brilliant reef streaming under my feet. It was like surfing on air. The wave was so small and clear that I couldn’t distinguish the wave face from the flats in front of the wave from the flats behind the wave.
  • And yet, to me, most of the countless fish going about their business on the Tavarua foreshore were nameless, mysterious. Some were so pointlessly gorgeous I found myself groaning in my snorkel. Our fishing was pitiful.
  • It felt like a runaway train, an eruption of magical realism, with that ocean-bottom light and the lacy white canopy. I ran with it. Eventually, it bent back, of course, found the reef, and tapered into the channel. I didn’t tell Bryan about it. He wouldn’t believe me. That wave was otherworldly.
  • Scaled up, the mechanical regularity of the speeding hook gained soul, its roaring, sparkling depths and vaulted ceiling like some kind of recurring miracle, the tracery on the surface and the ribbed power in the wall full of delicate, now visible detail, each wave suffused with the richness of a one-off.

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