Largely the Truth

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Riptide, Body Condoms & the Jealous Sea - Surfing for Beginners

22 Aug 2011  ·  by Brennan Storr  ·  Be the first to comment!

Tagged under ranting surfing travel road trip Tofino


The oceans are vast, cold, unknowable sirens that have called to men since the day we left the garden and as with all distant maidens we are drawn back each time in the vain hope that they will soften - that they will show us and only us some tiny token of affection.

Instead of affection, however, all the oceans have ever provided are krakens, tidal waves and a place for barrel-chested fishermen to avoid their wives, sometimes permanently.

It wasn't affection that I was after this past weekend as I stepped into the sea at Vancouver Island's Long Beach for my first day of surfing. Instead I was trying to figure out exactly how I had ended up in that spot, with my considerable bulk squeezed into a wetsuit, a rented surfboard under my arm and the vicious expanse of the Pacific Ocean before me.

Though I own a gym membership my day to day fitness regimen consists mostly of walking back and forth between the sofa and the fridge, so when my friends enticed me to join them on a surfing holiday I was apprehensive.

My first concern was the wetsuit - after all, a 260lb man in a neoprene body condom was the sight for which the word "ridiculous" was devised. And I did look ridiculous as I stood there on the beach, the hot Tofino sun beating down on my shiny pate, but then so did almost everyone else. Unless you're built like Armie Hammer the wetsuit will seek out your every imperfection and broadcast it to the world whether they want to see it or not - like ugly people making out on a Jumbotron.

My other, more pressing concern was the sea itself. In addition to being an ardent H.P. Lovecraft devotee I have seen Wolfgang Peterson’s The Perfect Storm several times and reason that if something can be both home to mighty Cthulu and executioner for bands of rugged seamen led by George Clooney then maybe it’s a bit beyond me. Perhaps, I suggested to my friends, the surfing experience could be approximated by covering me in cling film and having me sit in a tub of cold water.

The suggestion was pooh-poohed and I was accused of being “dramatic” but my apprehension remained and every time the sea hurled me end over end like a discarded cigarette butt I wanted to scream, “See what you’ve done, you bastards! It took Swooney and now, for my hubris, it will take me too!” That I survived is a testament not to the mercy of the sea but to the pleasure it takes in toying with its prey.

The capriciousness of the ocean was confirmed when, once I’d gotten the hang of walking my board against the current and even managed to catch a wave or two, I noticed that my friends seemed to have swum a great distance away from me, and, strangely, so had the beach. After a great deal of furious paddling failed to remedy the situation I realized that I had been caught in a riptide, which sounds like a sea-faring G.I. Joe villain but is actually an ocean current that pulls hapless idiots like me away from the beach and into Cthulu’s clutches.

I don't know how but it looks hungry

I vaguely remembered being told that if you are caught up in a rip tide the worst thing you can do is try to swim directly towards the shore, against the current, and so, clinging to my board I tried to move diagonally towards a patch of ocean not intent on my murder. My frantic movements brought me no closer to safety and the coldness of the water slowly gave way to icy tendrils of panic that worked their way up my spine. Every mouthful of seawater became harder to expel than the one before it - hoisting myself up on the board was only a temporary solution because the movement of the waves and my total lack of balance meant I could only stay atop for a few moments. Suddenly I regretted paying in advance for two nights at the hotel.

It was then the sea tired of its sport and I felt a wave pushing me towards shore. After reaching an area shallow enough for my feet to touch bottom a warm wave of relief washed over me and I heaved a great sigh standing there in the waist high water. I was still standing there when the sea delivered one bracing final bitch slap and I decided to break for lunch.

Afterward I hesitated to go back into the water but eventually realized I didn’t have much choice; the final wave had knocked out one of my contacts and without it I couldn’t eye up toothsome young bathing beauties without closing one eye and squinting the other so I that I took on the aspect of a lecherous pirate. Defeated, I pulled out my other lens then hauled my board and bulk back into the waves.

The jealous, frigid sea had made sure she was the only woman for me.

Run the other way, you idiot

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