Only a surfer knows the feeling


You are five years old, trussed up tight in a huge yellow lifejacket that pretty much dwarfs your bony little bod.  You are clinging to the nose of your father's surfboard as he paddles through the cool sparkling saltwater to the lineup at Cardiff Reef.  When Dad is satisfied that he's in the right spot, he sits on the tail of his long shiny board and swings it around to face the shore.  In the distance, you can see your mother sitting on the beach.  She waves.

You can hear the wave coming because it kind of crackles, and the brown pelican floating nearby starts his preemptive take off, flapping and flailing.  Around you the other surfers shift nervously, but by common consensus, they've decided to let your Dad have any wave he wants when he's got you on board.  In between waves they make funny faces at you like a bunch of rowdy uncles.  You're the local gremmie.

Your Dad begins to paddle slowly, looking over his shoulder to gauge the rapidly steepening wave as it approaches.  When the wave begins to lift the tail of the surfboard, he digs deep powerful strokes to match the wave's speed and start you sliding down the face.  Your face tingles from the speed and spray and your fingers hold the rails of the board so tightly.  You are smiling and your young eyes are bright with pleasure.  The board levels out as Dad stands up, and then you feel the torque and acceleration as he turns at the bottom of the wave and lines up with its face.  You can see the wall of water lined up in front of you, and hear it crashing madly just behind.  Dad is playing with the wave now, teasing it and almost letting it catch you, then smacking off the lip and slipping away. It's unbelievably fun. 

It's almost over when Dad reaches down and lifts you up by the arms to stand in front of him.  Your perspective changes instantly, you're above the surface of the water, your feet are helping to guide the board, you're not a passenger, you're a surfer.

You are Joel Tudor1, and you win your first professional surf contest at 15 and the Longboard World Championship in the Canary Islands in 1998.  You're a hard core badboy surfing rock star, traveling the world, garnering international fame and hauling in some serious ducats.  Mom and Dad are proud.


At ten years old you are still a scrawny little kid and you're struggling with the back end of your brother's loggy DK popout as the two of you make your way to the water next to the pier at Ocean Beach.  You are both wearing your surf uniforms: red Birdwell Beach Britches that are so oversized they barely hang on your hips, white Tee shirts (yours has a Gordon & Smith logo on the back, your brother's has Hobie on it), white noses smeared with zinc oxide, and hair that has been bleached blond by a combination of sun, salt water and an ill-advised experiment with Chlorox.

On your brother's signal, you dump the surfboard unceremoniously in the sand and scan the lineup for friends and wave conditions.  It's small again today, maybe four feet, and pretty blown out in the afternoon onshore breeze.  Not that it matters, it took your brother all day to wheedle a ride with Gramps, and you're goin surfing.  Two kids, one board.  It's your brother's board and he's going first, no argument.  Used to be you'd go out together, one of you treading water while the other one rode a wave, but you're older now and sharing a board is dorky.  As your brother paddles out through the small choppy waves, you settle on the beach, oblivious to the giggling gaggle of girls on the next blanket over.  You're a surfer and girls are for kooks, or at least for later. 

Through the glare of white slatting sun on the water, you can see your brother stroking on a set wave.  There are two other guys paddling for it, but they aren't on the peak and he is.  He takes off very late on the vertical wall and you think he's gonna wipeout, but he manages to get to his feet and make the long steep drop.  You jump to your feet about the same time he does, surprising the girls.  You're stoked with excitement and can almost feel your brother's knees flex as he struggles to carve a bottom turn on the heavy board.  Your arms are in the air, just like his, when he sets his rail and trims the board for a run down the line.  He walks the nose and lays out some funky soul arch, just like Phil Edwards in the last issue of Surfer Magazine.  And you find yourself hooting and dancing in the sand.  That was just so bitchin!

You are Jeffery2, who goes on to be an under-appreciated but widely known airbrush artist who has painted thousands of surfboard blanks and raised two beautiful surfergirl daughters.  You surf almost every day.


You're the only teenage girl who's allowed to hang with the surf rats down at the Shores or Windansea.  But you aren't Gidget, and there's no Moondoggie to protect you from anything.  Surfing is one of the sternest meritocracies anywhere on earth. There's no coasting and no slack. You've got to be on, every time you are in the water, to earn any respect with this crew. Otherwise you're just another kook

It hasn't been easy, but you've earned your spot. You've earned it by getting up before school and surfing for a few hours no matter how lousy it was.  Earned it by spending endless hours in the water on a board that's too big for you. You earned it by talking your parents into driving you to endless funky little surf contests all over southern California. You earned your place by winning the Western Surfing Association amateur women's title four years after you started surfing.

You are fifteen years old in 1968 and you're standing on the trophy platform in Rincón, Puerto Rico accepting the first place trophy at the World Surfing Championships where you have just captured the title from Joyce Hoffman.  You are the best woman surfer in the world, and you've got a vision that's much bigger than this title.  You want women's competitive surfing to be given the same respect as the men's contests. 

You are Margo Godfrey-Oberg3 and you are the first woman big wave surfer.  You dominate the women's competitive surfing scene for many years, before retiring to explore the Bible and your Christian faith.  You lay the groundwork for the future development of professional women's surfing and serve as a role model for thousands of young women surfers.  You end up happily married, living and surfing in Kauai, Hawaii


You're an old guy but you still surf.  You quit surfing for a bunch of years without ever intending to, it just slipped away when you weren't looking.  Then a good friend caught the stoke and hauled you along for the dawn patrol.  When you dropped into a glassy pocket at an longboarder spot in North County, you caught the fever again too.  

You're on fire with stoke4 and aghast that you managed to let the pure cosmic juice of surfing ever get away.  Surfing is a touchstone for you, a reality check and a gentle balm for your sometimes confused soul.  It's a gift that you are still surfing, a second chance, a sacred thing. So now you've got three bitchin sticks and you're scheming up a down payment on a beach lot in paradise for your retirement playground. You have begun the process of teaching your two kids to surf and that makes you very happy.

You are me5 who still wears Birdwell Beach Britches and writes for E2.




1 Joel Tudor, biographical sketch:
2 JeffBro's Galleria Jefe:
3 Margo Godfrey-Oberg biographical sketch:
4 Oddly enough if you want to understand Surf Stoke, you need to watch a skateboarding movie: Dogtown and Z-Boys
5 Gomish Surf Lore: Time stands still when you're in the tube, Rincón, Puerto Rico, Duke Kahanamoku

 Consider this a nodeshell rescue reflecting my shock and dismay at finding that heinous punkass kook pommie bastard chump of a Webster 1913 definition node for Surfer. "Surf Duck," sheesh. 

Surf"er (?), n. Zool.

The surf duck.

[U. S.]


© Webster 1913.

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