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Making it to the other side–and I don’t mean going toward the light of goodbye

May 2, 2012

I paddled out on a foam board to my surf spot. My arms struggling through the white water. The surf was good, but my body has been sick for the last six months with cancer and has been waterlogged with the effects of chemo. I’ve slowly been shaking them off in preparation to strengthen my body to handle and rebound a complex surgery that could throw me off the game board of life for another month-plus. I’ve been out only once before, but I’ve been doing half-assed prone push-ups and I noticed I had a little more strength in my arms. My goal was to stay out of everyone’s way and not get caught inside. I watched others catch waves that I once easily caught, but I was not at their level and didn’t feel any confidence and didn;t want to risk losing my board because I didn’t think I was strong enough to swim after it.

A guy paddled out and looked at me, curious. I knew him.

I waved and said, “Fred. I don;t have hair. Just got out from chemo, trying to get back.”

“I heard you had another look,” said Tim, a guy in his early sixties who has blonde hair and a ponytail and looks like he could easily wear a Viking outfit or rule the mead concession at a Renaissance Faire.

“I made it here to the other side.”

“My brother didn’t make it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“He was a big man,” said Tim.

“Well I’m just a kook now just trying to get back.”

“It’s good seeing you here.”

“Thanks, go out there and get some waves. It’s good, but right now it’s just beyond me.”

I decided during the lull I would paddle in. I’ve been working small workouts, not trying to push it. I was tired. I placed the board on a rock and sat down. A small flock of pelicans flew over me. A pot-belled dork guy in a wetsuit placed his board down on the sand and started stretching out–he had to be a goon, I thought, because no surfer stretches out before he goes out, only people who are out of shape. I looked out at the ocean, it was sectioning, but there were some nice takoffs. Most of the people out there really didn’t know what they were doing, but that’s the way it’s changed. Surfing is no different to them than tennis, handball, or whatever. It’s not of them, anymore than anything else. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t want to know them.

I sat on the rock in the cover. There have been so many surfers I have met in the twenty-plus years of surfing.

“This place has been good to me,” I said, feeling tears go down my face because all those rides and the guys I surfed with made me a stronger person and reinforced my passion to write and helped me become a better stand-up comedian (When I performed) and a better man with deep friendships and an edge on life that these other people I see will never touch or sense. I’d never have written my three surf novels without this place and the cool guys I first met. I’d never be the Fred I am now without it and them, and I was stronger for it. There have been so many laughs and barbecues and surf trips and hoots and arguments on waves and fighting for rides others tried to take from me. And here I was, breathing heavy, sitting with a board a buddy left for me outside his house to ride because my other board was too heavy for me to carry down the stairs to the beach–and definitely too heavy to carry up the stairs. The time I spent in the place was still looking out for me.

Above me on the road, cranes and trucks were digging up the road along the cliffs, and soon there would be a promenade, and bike paths and all that would bring was rude bicyclists and more people with dogs not on leashes who will jog on the beach and look the other way when their dogs poop. When I first surfed the road was two-way, erosion not made it one way, and they have armored the cliffs to protect newly built multi-million houses which we once casual beach houses with locals. I will still come here and surf and tune them out, but tuning them out takes an effort, and these are people who usually hurt opther people as they get their way.

But here I was slowly climbing the stairs from the beach. My legs rubbery and wobbling. Just trying to get back to the sun and the surf and all the things that shaped me into the dream that I would always carry within me and protect me forever. Now, it was helping me to beat cancer, and it was a section I was determined to make.

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