Friday, July 10, 2009

Review of Everything: Skimboarding

This might be an occasional Friday feature. "Review of Everything" kind of speaks for itself. Here's a special summer sport edition on skimboarding. This first ran last October in Bootleg Magazine.

(Somebody I don't know.)

You’re a runner, not really a swimmer. So you’ll run, throw down the board, hop on and ride the swell into a crashing wave, and try to make the turn back out again. An ocean kayaker once complained to you, because some other guys with skimboards kicked their board out and hit the man in the head. You start talking; he could see what you were doing: staying on the board, full control. Passing the time.

You got a skimboarding video a couple of years ago. The only one you have, the only one you’ve cared to see. It’s still in VHS. This guy Bill Bryan, something like a 7-time world skimboarding champion, rides in on non-existent slivers of water, flips and spins over the California coast. The transition from land to sea—the skimboarder is amphibious. The skimboarder melds to the what the conditions give—the rider does silly spins when no waves exist, and attempts crazy flying backflips and dives in three feet of water when they do. The video skimboarders are amazing.
[More after the jump...]

Awesome Bill Bryan (not me)

Skimboarding demands more of the body. Landing on the coccyx is not punishment, it’s just reward for such stupidity/courage. The ride demands timing in multiple parts. The far-sighted eye gauges the quality of potential incoming waves. The mind calculates the wave speed versus foot speed versus the absent-minded tourist looking for the same type of sea shells they just found last year. The near-sighted eye keeps a close eye on the ground for the suitable place to put down. The hands drop, the feet drop on. The board traverses from dry to damp to wet. The goal, as you tell your wife, your parents, to anyone who asks to try, is to make it back again. To hit a wave, and turn back on it, ride it back in and pop up the board into your hand, walking off like nothing happened.

But everything has happened. At one time, you were just sitting, minding your beach blanket bingo, when a wave catches the eye. And then running like someone is drowning, you drop and ride in, hitting the wave at its highest crest, traveling higher than ever before, landing with a slight tilt, then smoothing out a rocky return.

“Hey honey, watch this.” It’s the family guy next to you, the guy from western Virginia, DC, New York City, watching his son toddle back around with play toys. He watches your speed. Your quickness. It’s a running sprint that surfing can only match with its long paddle excursions muted by too many minutes waiting. Skimboarding is for the quick at heart, not the faint. There are no soft landings on the coccyx. There are no easy remedies for the scraped up knee when the timing is bad.

But those are rare and few when you know what you are doing. So skimboarding takes the faint, takes the poser, takes the Blue Crush beach bum and casts them off. Bruises the first time out are inevitable. A bloody knee with shell pieces clinging to the flesh must come the second time. A damaged pride comes the third time.
Yes, there is the eight year old with flames painted on his wooden board. Yes, he decides to leave it by the trash can on his way out.

It is tantalizing. It looks so simple, like a Jackson Pollock, like a Mark Rothko. This machismo is the prey of skimboarding. The sport bends the knee of those with false confidence into the ground, churning their kneecaps into a slightly knicked up mess, reducing bravado to childlike humility—like after trying to ride a bike for the first time. Then those get up, and make the decision right there. And more likely than not, they decide to go rent a surfboard. There are not as many falls so close to those they hope to impress. There are not as many bumps and bruises. There are not as many embarrassments. You are not them.

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