Being mean to grommets (kids) when they are becoming surfers is a right of passage. In Ft. Pierce, it was a contact sport. You keep them from getting any waves, and when they do, you harass them for sucking. You drown them, take their boards and eat their food while they are in the water. There is only one problem: Grom's grow up.
Jay Dimartino was a great surfer from the time he was a kid. He is also one the funniest guys I have ever met. He could joke his way out of an electric chair. When he was coming up, we hassled him pretty hard. He moved to the North Shore of Hawaii and was known for charging in big surf. The first year I went to Hawaii, I insisted on looking him up. My friend Kevin, warned me not to go surfing with him. I really wished I'd listened.
The North Shore was too big to surf and we went to a spot on the east side called "Seventh Hole". You had to walk across a golf course to get to it. Way out in the middle of the ocean there was a wave breaking. Jay kept telling me I would be fine, but I became worried when Kevin refused to paddle out. Jay walked out on a limestone shelf and I followed. When we got half way across, he turned to me and said, "Don't step on the black things, they are urchins." I looked down and the entire shelf was black.
We paddled forever, and I never saw a wave break. We were in the middle of the ocean, when Jay sat up.
"Where's the wave?" I said to Jay, as he looked out to the horizon.
He pointed casually out to sea. Waves rose up out of nowhere. He caught one and I was out there by myself. The current was pulling me into the break. Set two came, and I was too far in. The wave unloaded on the shelf and eight feet of white water came towards me. I let go of my board and swam for the bottom. The water was crystal clear and, you could just watch it go over head and then surface. I came up, got a breath, and thought I dodged a bullet. Bubbles started coming up around me. The air pushed down into the reef, was now resurfacing. Suddenly, I was ten feet under water and figuring out, you can't swim in bubbles. I was in a hole in the reef, looking up confused at the rock walls. My cord was taught, and my board pointed skyward. I climbed my cord hand over hand, and pulled myself to the surface, just in time for the next wave to unload on my head. I was out of air, and in a full body adrenalin shake.
"This is it." I heard a voice say.
Luckily, there were only two or three waves to a set that day. I paddled back over to Jay. He was howling with laughter.
"Whadaya doin over there?" More laughter.
I caught one wave, and paddled for twenty minutes against the rip. Jay caught a wave, cruised past me, and laughed at how slow I was moving. I climbed onto the shelf like a drunk sailor and shuffled my feet through the urchin's. Kevin was there, shaking his head.
Jay writes about surfing for About.com. He is every bit as good a writer as he is a surfer. I haven't seen him since that winter in 1991. Karma sucks.