I should say at the beginning I don't surf as good as I used to. In fact, I don't surf as good as I did ten years ago, which was not near as good as I was when I lived by the coast. The problem is, in my head, I still rip. I have the knowledge of a good surfer. I get in out well, and I know how to get in position. I am not nervous in good sized Florida surf, after that the well is almost dry. I am always surprised at how hard it is to get waves, even though I do nothing to strengthen my paddling muscles. Once again, logic is not part of my thought process.
When you surf all the time, there are intrinsic things you do, that go away when you don't surf on regular basis. You have a lot more trouble getting to your feet, and turns are not fluid. This confuses the old brain that thinks it still rips. On crowded days (like yesterday) you only get a few shots at the bigger sets, if you blow it, the crowd mentally marks you, and just like that, you are out of the bread line.
Panama City is not my favorite wave. When it's big, it almost always looks better than it actually is. It is a weird break that is hard to master. It's shifty, peaky, and very inconsistent. Because of it's location on the surf starved Gulf, when there is a faint hint of swell, everyone in north Florida goes there. The crowd however, is very cordial. People talk to you and let you get waves, even if they know you are not local. On the East Coast, that is a dream you will never see. Panama City may be the most "southern" surf break in the world, (in attitude not longitude/latitude).
I had a really cool conversation with a local about a secret (not so secret) spot that breaks in the inlet by St. Andrews Park. He was talking about how you need a boat to surf the spot. He was telling me the ins and outs of how to paddle out and where the take off point was. This is golden knowledge usually reserved for locals of good standing. By the end of the conversation, he actually asked if I was going to be in town Thursday. I felt as though I would have been invited, if I could have stayed. I am still shaking my head at how friendly the guy was.
I got a few waves, phoned in a lack luster performance, and paid about sixty bucks for the privilege. I had an obscene sea food dinner and the drive over and back, was rainy mess. Still, I find myself with a very pleasant after taste. I am hopeful for mankind and surfkind after being treated so well by polite strangers. I guess sometimes when you lose you win. I am very happy to know people can surprise me (in a good way) after so many years in the water.