24 December 2013

Merry Solstice!

Lots of holiday spirit in the lineup today. There was a woman surfing in a Santa hat, and longboarders offering to share waves with shortboarders. "Go ahead and drop in on me. It's Christmastime!"
Surfing Santa lady
Hope you enjoy this seasonal story I wrote (also posted on Medium), and wish you all the best in the new year!
~ ~ ~
Dear friends, family and others,

Happy Holidays! Wow, it has been a year for the record books for us. First was the big move in January. Our little place in the city was feeling a big too snug after my T.L. got creative with last year's Christmas gifts, and then there was that unfortunate business with the city zoning board. (Nosey neighbors are so tiresome, am I right?!) We found a lovely place in the country, with a huge house (the servant's quarters have their own entrance!), a big red barn (birds in the loft, cows below), a pond (great for swimming), and best of all, acres and acres of room to roam!

I can't say the move went off without a hitch (now I know how a general coordinating troop movements feels, ha ha!) but after approximately 11 billion U-haul trips we got everything and everybody over to the new place. The hardest thing to move had to be the Pear Tree. First, because the Partridge refused to budge out of it. We tried tempting her with her favorite weeds and even dandelions to no avail, but then my T.L. had the bright idea to ask one of the Lords to leap up and grab her. Success! Then the Tree itself was just so darn heavy! Good thing the whole band was willing to pitch in to heave it onto the truck. Everyone was so gosh darn helpful - even the Ladies chanced tearing their fine dresses while herding all the birds into their crates for the ride over to the new digs.

Enough about January! We're almost through the year now and all settled in. Well, there are still a few boxes to unpack, I admit. Maybe more than a few. My T.L. is doing his part but really you can't blame us for being a bit behind, can you? I mean, just try to imagine how much time it takes every single day to manage a staff of 50 and care for 8 cows and 23 birds. Which reminds me, does anyone need eggs? We've got eggs out the wazoo. The Geese are popping them out like it's their job, and the French Hens try to keep up with half the staff. My T.L.'s been making me eggs for breakfast for the last 360+ days, bless his heart, but pancakes (blueberry, not pear) would be nice once in a while. So please drop by anytime (call first) to pick up a carton or ten of delicious farm-fresh eggs. We'll throw in a basket of pears too.

Summer was lovely on the farm although the Maids went on strike for two weeks, demanding nicer stools. One of the Lords is a labor lawyer (inactive since my T.L. hired him to leap) and he handled the negotiations. When we got things worked out, the whole crew came together for a Summer Solstice party. The Drummers were drumming, the Pipers were piping, the Lords were a-leaping and oh! you should've seen those Ladies dancing under the Pear Tree - it was just like the old times at Christmas, only much, much warmer. The Colly Birds and Turtle Doves were flying around and fanning everyone with their wings, which helped a bit, but after perhaps a little too much mead, most of us went for a refreshing dip in the pond. Some were even bold enough to skinny dip but not me (perhaps not enough mead). The Swans didn't take kindly to the night-time intrusion, and I'll never forget the sight of a dripping Piper without his pants being chased from the water by a squawking Swan!

I had a bit of a scare in October when one of the Gold Rings slipped off my hand and fell into the sink in the 3rd floor powder room in the west wing and swirled down the drain. I know I have four rings just like it, but they're all precious because my T.L. gave them to me, you know? It just so happens that one of our Drummers used to be a plumber, and he fetched his tool box and got it out of there in a jiffy. Yay!

Well, those are some of the highlights of this year, although I have many other stories to tell. When you come by for the eggs and pears, maybe you'll let me bend your ear. And if it's after Christmas, I can let you know what my T.L. got me this time! I asked him to please take it down a notch this year, and so far I see only one medium-sized box with my name on it under the tree. I'm hoping it's a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones.

Cheers from us all!

17 December 2013


I'm sure every surfer experiences the silent inner conflict at some point. The injured body, painfully expressing a deficiency that renders it less than optimal, less than capable, potentially ready to fail. The inner child, the heart and soul that loves riding waves more than any other activity under the sun, clamoring to go: "The waves are good! Wanna surf! Wanna surf! Waaaa-naaaa!" And the logical mind, urging restraint: "Listen to the body. Give it a rest and recover to surf another day. If you go, you could end up in worse shape and have to sit out even longer."

It's like a devil on one shoulder, and an angel on the other. But hard to tell which is which.

Last Friday, after more than seven years of back pain from a surfing injury and countless less invasive but largely ineffectural measures, I let a doctor inject cortisone into the facet joints along my lumbar spine. He said it would almost certainly lessen the pain within a few days. He said there would be no restrictions on my activities, including surfing, aside from avoiding submersion for a day. He lied.
Yesterday was the first real swell Southern California's seen since I brought home my new surfboard at the end of July, a wave drought that was truly the worst new board curse in the history of surfing. I was eager to test my 5'4" Firewire Spitfire in surf over shoulder high, but I sat out the first day because my back has been hurting more than before I went under the needles. Worse, even in smaller waves on the weekend, it felt weak, and I'd surfed badly.

Today, however, I was going to surf, and surf well, I told myself. It didn't hurt that bad anymore; maybe I was on the way to the pain-free normality I'd been promised, as much as doctors ever promise anything.

A few friends joined me for a surf at my favorite reef break, one that I hadn't been able to surf for lack of swell for far, far too long. The tide was high enough that we had to jump off the rocks to enter, and as I landed, a painful tweak pierced my back. I tried to ignore it as I made the long paddle to the peak. Overhead waves loomed, and I didn't feel up to taking on any of them, not in a crowd, not in my condition. My friends swooped by several times, grinning as they rode. I caught a few waves on the inside as broken peaks passed, feeling weak and slow on the pop-up but taking transient joy before they moved over deeper water and dissipated. The pain in my back grew to the point of almost-tears; I don't know how that ranks on the 1-10 pain scale, but I count it as a 6.

When the tide had dropped enough to render the exit not too hairy, I strung together a couple whitewater rides to shorten the paddle back to the stairs and climbed out, defeated. "Tomorrow!" the inner child piped cheerily. "It will be smaller tomorrow, and less crowded! Surf better then!" The head was not so sure. "Hmm, might be a good idea to rest for a few more days." And the body: "Just, oww! OK? It friggin' HURTS!"

I'm not sure how other surfers resolve this debate. Me? I write. I turn the scattered thoughts in my head into pixels on a screen, typing them down for the first time in a long while for all the internet to see, hoping they coalesce into an answer. Because soon I will change my life in a dramatic way, turning my avocation into my occupation, and it's time to write again for writing's sake, and my own.

The inner child is whimpering now. "Maybe we could decide in the morning? Maybe it will all be better in the morning. Or at least OK. Don't say no... please?"

Hush, child. Here's the Surfline forecast, and it's only poor-fair. But this weekend....

06 October 2013

Real Wipeouts on a Fake Wave: My First (and Last) Time on the Flowrider

This post was published in The Inertia on 26 October 2013.

As every SoCal surfer well knows, August was sorely lacking in swell. When weeks of near flatness continued on, I decided to try the artificial waves at the Wavehouse in San Diego with a few other members of the San Diego Surf Ladies. The park has two wave simulators, the FlowRider and the FlowBarrel, and requires an hour of time on the Rider before anyone can progress to the Barrel.

With water already rushing up the FlowRider's slope, the operator ran quickly through a few instructions on how to ride. When my turn came, he set the snowboard-like flowboard along the edge of the rushing water and put his foot on the front to steady it while handing me the other end of a rope. I placed my feet on the board and tried to shimmy it out into the flow. Bam! The board was lost and and I was down, pushed up the slope by the mad rush of water, across a hard grate, slamming to a stop against the padded back wall. I picked myself up, wiped the chlorinated water from my eyes, and got back in line. With 15 people on the ride each hour, about evenly split between bodyboarders and stand-up flowriders, the waits could be long.
Uh-oh. (Photo by Sugar Molina)
The trickiest part for me was easing the board from the side out into the flowing water, and in attempting that, I fell many times. When my board fortuitously washed up nearby, the operator let me try again twice until I managed that semi-successful ride, but the other falls ended my turn. If the lost board got pushed up the slope to the back of the ride, I was to fetch it - which seemed a sketchy maneuver when there was a rider below, if she’d happen to fall and come hurtling toward me.

The two operators, who worked alone sequentially, focused on what seemed to be their main duty: indicating to the lines of bodyboarders and flowboarders who was up next. The water was promptly shut off when the hour was up. I’d tried a bodyboard once and a flowboard 4-5 times, standing up in the flow only once for maybe 10 seconds.
Success is fleeting. (Photo by Sugar Molina)
Our wristbands granted us access to the hot tubs on the FlowBarrel deck, where we warmed up while watching a few of the guys who’d started on the FlowRider with us trying their luck, along with a couple of experienced rippers. One of the latter was an old dude, who dropped into the hot tub beside me in between rides. When I asked how long it had taken him to get that good, he told me it had been quite a while, but he’d had some down time for reconstruction surgeries on each of his shoulders - for injuries sustained on the FlowBarrel. “This clavicle was sticking up to about here,” he said, pointing a few inches above his left shoulder. “It’s got a cadaver tendon now. And this one,” touching his right shoulder, “it’s held together by a pin.”

The FlowBarrel did look fun, and a whole lot more like surfing, especially with the experts riding. But the newbies experienced some bad wipeouts, getting sucked up the barrel and thrown down by the pitching lip, then washing fast into a corner of the ride. “It hurts more when you fall than the FlowRider,” a compatriot from the earlier session told me. One of my friends who tried it left with a couple of cuts and bruised knees and elbows.

Manufacturer Wave Loch says that “FlowRider injuries are minimized by the use of proprietary padding systems including a tensioned composite membrane ride surface. Much like a trampoline, this ride surface is the key to the reduction of FlowRider accidents… Flowboarders of all types - standup and prone on bodyboards - fall, crash and wipeout in every way imaginable within this water flow and upon our padded ride surface. Wave Loch puts a premium on making sure the experience is a fun one. At Wave Loch our goal is to minimize FlowRider injuries.”
Still, it ain’t the ocean (which poses dangers of its own), and clearly there’s good reason for the small print in the waiver all riders must sign. The FlowRider and FlowBarrel have been blamed for injuries including broken ankles, shoulder dislocation and rotator cuff tear, a bruised spinal cord, dislocated vertebrae, and possibly even a death.

In the hot tub, I examined the bruised side of my foot, which I knew I’d scraped on the FlowRider’s grate when I was pushed over it after a fall. Only when I got home did other parts of my body start to make their injuries known: a sore neck, bruised ribs and thigh, a scraped knee, and worst of all, a painful shoulder joint. It was that last that kept me awake much of the night, despite ibuprofen, and worse, prevented me from surfing the next day. Setting aside an unfortunate kook wipeout that resulted in a back injury, the after-effects of flowriding were worse than any beating the actual ocean has dished out to me. Yet I counted myself lucky. I’ll stick to real waves from now on, thank you.

19 September 2013

Behind Closed Doors: Roxy Makes No Apologies

This post was published in The Inertia on 24 August 2013.

"We don't want to talk about the trailer." That was the refrain Cori Schumacher heard from the heads of the Roxy marketing department when she delivered more than 20 thousand signatures and a thick stack of comments on a petition that asks the company to stop its "all sex, no surf" ads.

The petition was started in response to Roxy's teaser for the Biarritz Pro, which features a faceless blond female surfer (later revealed as Stephanie Gilmore) lolling in bed in her underwear, showering, waxing her board (close-up on her bikini top) and paddling out into the ocean (close up on her bikini bottom), but not surfing - and this, to advertise a women's surf contest.

Many people were outraged, disappointed, or disgusted by the sexy surfless teaser, and signed off on the petition asking Roxy to "stop the sexualization of women in your marketing and advertising and instead, help to present women surfers in a light that women can be proud to be associated with and young girls can truly admire."

In 1993, Roxy pioneered the first boardshorts for women, and ran with the slogan "Fun, Bold, Athletic, Daring and Classy". The company strayed from those admirable roots with this teaser, and lost customers as a result:
As the father of two young watergirls who look up to the Roxy pros and wear a lot of Roxy clothes this is very disappointing. Surfing and the ocean lifestyle don't need to be sexed up and strong capable waterwomen don't need to be objectified like this. I don't know who you think you were targeting with this ad but this is one family right in the center of your what should be your target that will be reconsidering buying Roxy products in the future. -Stephen Watkins, Thousand Oaks, CA
With many similar comments in hand, together with the 20,000+ petition signatures comprising a thick stack on 11"x17" paper, I rode north last Thursday with Cori, her wife Maria, and Krista Comer, professor of Literature and Women’s Studies at Rice University in Texas and author of Surfer Girls in the New World Order.

At Roxy headquarters in Huntington Beach, Krista and I were excluded initially while only Cori was allowed to meet with Danielle Beck and Cathey Curtis, VP and Senior VP of Marketing. We cooled our heels in the modern lobby with Sheri Crummer, who shared stories of being a surfer girl in southern California in the ‘60s, tales of friendship and adventure, while on a big screen on the side wall, today’s surfer girls cavorted in Roxy bikinis.

After an hour, Krista was permitted to join the meeting, which continued for almost another hour. Cori has written about what went on behind those closed doors. In addition to the signatures and comments, she provided substantive documentation that would support a shift to a more performance-based marketing campaign. For example, recent studies have shown that sex doesn't really sell in sports - athleticism is what counts. Here are Cori and Krista talking about their visit and what comes next:

Roxy promised to review the material and invited a future meeting. In view of the backlash, it seems unlikely that they will go so far down the sexy road again in their advertising. Their latest contest trailer is a step in the right direction. But since Roxy made no apologies nor promises, only time will tell if more than 20,000 voices have been heard.

10 August 2013

Inspiring Generations of Surfer Girls

This post was published in The Inertia on 10 August 2013. Two things Paige Hareb sets: good examples and a solid rail. Photo: ASP / Shadley
Two things Paige Hareb sets: good examples and a solid rail. Photo: ASP / Shadley
Blue Crush.
I can hear your eyes rolling, but that thinly-plotted movie, along with Step Into Liquid, got me to the beach and signed up for my first surf lesson on an old ten-foot foam board.Seeing women surf, and surf well, inspired me to try. Would it have mattered if I’d known that women did not actually compete at Pipeline, as depicted in Blue Crush, until three years after the film’s release? I doubt it. From the moment I stood up on that water-logged log, I was hooked. If those girls in the movies could rip, maybe I could too, one day.
It’s been over ten years since I rode that knee-high wave, and I’ve just stepped down to a 5’4” shortboard. I’m so close to ripping I can almost taste it. For another dose of inspiration, I drove up to Oceanside to watch the best of a field of about 100 female surfers tear it up on mediocre waves at the Ford Supergirl Pro. One might bemoan the contest’s excessive use of pink on its website, or that the winner is made to don a pink Supergirl cape, but there is no denying that it is quite refreshing to have a contest that shines a spotlight on the best talent in women’s surfing today – not as a sideshow to a men’s event, but as a three day main event itself.
I arrived just in time to watch Paige Hareb ride from the quarterfinals through to the final with Malia Manuel. Last year, Paige was the only goofyfoot to make the top ten in the world rankings. Since that’s my stance too, seeing her surf provides both inspiration and education. When Paige left the water after winning a heat, I felt a bit like a silly fan girl waiting on the beach in the t-shirt I got as a reward for contributing to the crowdfunding she used to help finance her tour this year. It reads “Winners never quit. Quitters never win.” Still, I figured she’d appreciate the support so far from home. And I wasn’t the only fan. Little girls darted around her in the sand, smiling and awed, before she was corralled for an interview.
Paige Hareb and an adoring young fan
The scene was the same for the other competitors; and everywhere there were aspiring surfer girls seeing what was possible as their role models made the most of the summer waves on offer. It wasn’t just the great maneuvers they landed, but also the ones they didn’t, that made an impression. Even the best fall sometimes, but they still paddle into the next wave and try again.
Chris Grant of online women’s surf magazine Jetty Girl captured the spirit of the event: “Watching hundreds of young girls cautiously approach their favorite pro surfers only to be welcomed with graciousness, smiles and thoughtful words was not only heart-warming, but it was extremely inspirational as well. The ear-to-ear smiles, the sparkling eyes of youth, and the skips down the beach clutching a newly autographed hat or piece of paper would have warmed the heart of even the most grumpy… [T]he surfers didn’t only showcase the current state of women’s high performance surfing, they also inspired an entire generation of girl groms who no doubt are dreaming of riding waves of their own one day soon.”
Just as they inspired this older surfer girl. Thank you, ladies!

22 July 2013

North vs. South: How the Two Californias Stack Up

This post was published in The Inertia on 22 July 2013.
Dawn at San Diego's Ocean Beach
After living and surfing in NorCal (the Bay Area) for seven years, I moved to SoCal (San Diego) six months ago and have inevitably been comparing and contrasting the two regions. One obvious difference is the water temperature. In NorCal, I wore a 4/3 wetsuit year round–always with booties and often with a hood and gloves too. Although the winter water was cooler, mid-summer in SoCal has allowed me to surf in a 2-mil shorty while there are plenty of other folks who have dispensed with rubber altogether on sunny afternoons. One element of surfing is the same wherever you go: the tribe extends throughout the world, and I’ve found surfing buddies down south just as I did up north. Yet there are a few things that surprised me.
Everybody surfs. Or so it seems.
Unlike the Bay Area, which as its name suggests hugs the bay and not the beach, San Diego sprawls alongside the ocean. It’s hard to drive anywhere without seeing a car (or bicycle or skateboard) carrying a surfboard. Grocery stores in beach neighborhoods sell surf wax at the checkout next to the mints. And there are a plethora of surf clubs: town clubs, company clubs, even a women’s surf club, the San Diego Surf Ladies. Many of my co-workers surf, or used to, and stop by my desk for a post-dawn report. Living in Silicon Valley, I never saw this level of wave engagement. I felt like more of an oddity as a surfer, while here, it’s all too common.
It’s harder to surf alone. But not impossible.
With so many surfers living a short distance from the beach, I never expected to be able to enjoy any solitary surf sessions in SoCal as I had at the Jetty in Half Moon Bay. But that magic can still happen here if you’re willing to get to the beach when night is just yielding to morning and paddle out on days which the oracle at Surfline has forecast as less than fair. Of course you understand that I’m not going to tell you where I’ve surfed alone, but I will say that it’s within the San Diego city limits.
I’m still often the only female in the lineup.
One thing I thought might be different in SoCal, due to easier access and warmer water, is the number of women surfers. To some extent, I think there actually are more – enough to form a large and successful women’s surf club – but they generally don’t come out to play when and where I do. At dawn, at the intermediate breaks, I’m still typically the only surfer girl in the water. And I’m rather at a loss to explain this.
People are friendlier.
The first spot I surfed when I moved south was Windansea in La Jolla and the few other surfers in the lineup tried to pretend I didn’t exist. It was not unlike my experiences at the point breaks of Santa Cruz and spots just north. Closer to San Francisco, the lineup would figuratively thaw a bit, but I wouldn’t describe it as particularly friendly unless I’d brought a pack of buddies out with me. Happily, my second San Diego break was Tourmaline Surfing Park, where strangers smile and say hello as soon as you get out of your car in the parking lot. This friendly vibe exists at the majority of breaks in San Diego County. I’ve been called into waves even at competitive spots where I’d anticipated a more aggro vibe like Blacks and Trestles. Yes, Trestles is actually in north San Diego County despite Surfline’s puzzling placement of it in south Orange County. With a larger community of surfers in closer proximity to the coast, it seems counterintuitive but there appears to be a general spirit of surfing aloha in the far south of California that doesn’t come together in the north.
While NorCal surfing certainly had its unique charms and challenges, in six months I have been assimilated and reborn as a SoCal surfer girl. Although I’m still not blonde.

04 July 2013

Sex Doesn’t Always Sell, Roxy

This post was published in The Inertia on 4 July 2013. 

“I have a dream that one day a female pro surfer will be judged not by the tightness of her ass but by the greatness of her surfing.” @Waves_SD on Twitter

Since #WhoAmIJustGuess’s derriere seared my eyeballs far too many times without touching surf, I wanted to write a post on Roxy’s awful teaser for the 2013 Biarritz Pro contest. But my thoughts wouldn’t cohere past “Grr!” and “Ugh!” Fortunately other strong voices stepped in. Twitter and Facebook are all over it, and there’s a hilarious parody video. The furor eventually prompted Roxy to offer an unsatisfying response on its Facebook page.

Former pro surfer Cori Schumacher has decided to do more than talk. She’s started a petition asking Roxy to stop using sexy marketing to promote contests and sell product. When it reaches 1,000 signatures, she’ll personally deliver it to the Roxy/Quiksilver headquarters in Orange County.
Dear Roxy, 
Roxy is the world’s most visible and well known women’s surf brand. Recently, Roxy released a trailer for the 2013 Roxy Biarritz Pro contest that showcases a style of marketing women’s surfing that is not conducive to a healthy, empowered vision of women. Instead of women surfers being presented as an alternative to the sexualization and objectification of women in the culture-at-large, this campaign succumbs to the lazy marketing that is already so prevalent. 
As the most visible and well known women’s surf brand, Roxy has a unique opportunity to truly make a difference in how women and girls are represented in the world. 
We ask that you stop the sexualization of women in your marketing and advertising and instead, help to present women surfers in a light that women can be proud to be associated with and young girls can truly admire.
Add your comments and sign the petition here.

01 January 2013


It's almost time to point the Surfmobile south and begin a new chapter of my life in San Diego. Rocket and Nemo will be strapped to the roof, ready for a coat of warm(er) water wax. And thus ends my sojourn as a NorCal surfer girl. I'll miss my local breaks, especially the solitude of crisp dawn patrols in Half Moon Bay with only one or a few of my surfing buddies. (Although I fully expect that they'll come visit me.)
This also brings to a close the wave journal of a norcal surfer girl, since after a 500-mile drive down the state, I'll be transformed into a SoCal surfer girl. We'll live near the beach and I'll be surfing much more often, so blogging each session would become repetitive and tedious for both writer and reader. But my main reason for resigning from a non-lucrative stint in blogging is an oft-cited one: I want to spend more time with family. Hopefully on the warmer waves, if I can entice him in. Look for me in my new Roxy 3/2 in San Diego-area lineups (I'll finally get to surf Trestles!), on Twitter, and in occasional posts on The Inertia.

Goodbye, NorCal. I'm leaving a piece of my heart behind and taking many salty and sand-encrusted memories with me. Keep warm and stay stoked!