I had the extreme pleasure of seeing my friends Kelsey and Alex’s Normal Gossip live show a couple of months ago. Afterward over drinks, we were chatting about having hobbies and, more specifically, not rushing into hobbies. Kelsey described how she loved the piano-playing in Tár and decided she wanted to learn the piano. So she started taking lessons. Every week, she said, she arrives at her piano teacher’s studio as a 6-year-old child leaves; when she’s done, an 8-year-old enters as she departs. This is purifying to the soul, somehow, in the best possible way.
I told her I’ve been feeling the hobby wanderlust, too. I’ve always wanted to try surfing, but it never felt reasonable, living so far from an ocean. Now that I’m in L.A., it almost felt like a waste of an opportunity not to give it a shot.
I took one lesson to be sure that I didn’t absolutely hate it, with a wiry sun-cured man who picked the waves and pushed me into them on a giant board. Anytime something less than desirable happened, like a wave slapped into my board that then came at me like a wall, sending me ass over teakettle into the water, he would let out a huge “Woooo!” so I would know that, actually, I was having fun. Despite this, I did not hate it at all.
But when it came time to drive on my own to the beach with my board and wetsuit, I was filled with the old dread. I did not want to be perceived, by myself or anyone; I did not want to have to figure out where to go and how and what to do.
Then I realized that I could take a page out of my own blog and start basically as slow as possible. I could go and not even put on my wetsuit or take out my board, and instead just pretend to take the sea air like a young 19th-century dowager with an incurable case of hysteria, while I watched the surfers. It’s been a couple of decades since I’ve even gone to the beach regularly; I could probably count on my two hands the number of times I’ve been on a beach since I was about 13.
I texted my surfing friend Jason who lives nearby to say that I was too scared to go out but was just taking in the vibes, and they seemed pretty good actually. Jason said to hold on, he was actually about to go out himself, but also to not be scared.
While I waited, I watched. To the right, a bunch of deft surfers were arrayed out toward the end of the constructed breakwater, bobbing over the big waves that were breaking crisply to the right. They grabbed every wave, cutting capable turns back and forth before dropping off the back and paddling out into position again.
To the left and closer to the shore, though, I saw my people. Hanging on for dear life to their longer boards, watching the oncoming waves with anticipation but also distrust. Every once in a while, one would paddle unsteadily into a wave, stand up with arms flung wide to either side, and glide stiffly away as though they were standing on the back of a runaway horse, until they slipped to one side or the other. And that was when the wave didn’t simply pick them up and drop them and their board haphazardly back to the surface to be rolled into the fold of the water. Suddenly, I felt like I might not be so conspicuous.
Jason arrived, board in hand, and told me I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to, but the waves were so big and the wind so strong anyway that he almost wouldn’t try to surf them himself; we could stay nearer to the shore and he could help me. I took many deep breaths of the sea air, for my hysteria, and went to get my board.
Recently, I read William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, and toward the end of the book he mentions a key difference between East and West Coast surfing culture. East Coasters, famous for being standoffish, will cheer on complete strangers who are surfing nearby. West Coasters pretend as if they literally can’t see each other, unless something happens between them egregious enough to merit a yelling match. I’ve been caught in the metaphorical headlights and nearly run over a handful of times at Venice Beach by guys who, let’s be honest, are not exactly priming themselves for the Olympics. Afterward, they paddle by on their boards with nary a glance. To wit: No one I’ve ever run into in a gym has been as strangely rude and aloof as the allegedly easygoing surfer dudes.
But they’re not all like this. One day, an older man with a face coated in thick sunscreen paste and a bucket hat strapped to his head veered close to me on the back of a wave that also punched the edge of my board into my thigh. After he hopped off, he stood back up and turned to me. “Sorry, did I hit you?”
“No, I hit me,” I said, laughing and rubbing my leg.
“Ah, okay,” he said, and paused. “You’re doing good.” He nodded with encouragement. “Keep coming back.” He hopped on his board and paddled away.
Surfing is a generous term for what I do now. Mostly, I’ve stayed out of the real waves and in the whitewater, waiting for an already-broken wave to throw me forward from behind with just enough momentum that I can stand up. And after about two months of once-weekly practice, I can stand up, sometimes for as long as 10 to 15 seconds, other times only for as long as it takes me to fall in again. The falling is, in some ways, as important as the surfing.
Just yesterday, the waves were not so big, so I fought my way out to where they were breaking. I waited till everyone around me caught one, then took a little one for myself. I paddled hard and felt the wave picking me up. I managed to pull myself to only my knees, praying the nose of the board wouldn’t dip under the water and flip me. It didn’t, and I sledded down the hill of water, gathering speed and flying away as the wave broke somewhere behind me.
Over happy hour a few weeks ago, my friend Jess asked me why she didn’t seem to feel a drive to actually get better at lifting. “Just doing a workout feels like enough,” she said. I said (beatifically, in probably only my imagination) that there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
~Liftcord Pick of the Week: The Fiji rugby team trains, among other things, by running up sand dunes. I am admittedly getting turf toe just watching this. ~
Some excellent tips on developing your mind-muscle connection. I was reading back over “What makes lifting dangerous for everyone” and felt I didn’t emphasize this enough: Everything takes time! Learning good form takes time and practice. Adding weight takes time and practice. If you do not have great or even good form today, that says nothing about what is possible for you and your body.
Thom Yorke on yoga and the importance of warming up:
I’m big on preparation before the show. I literally have my own space on tour, which I’m a bit embarrassed about sometimes, but I have to have my own room. I do yoga as well because, like I said, the body and the voice are all tied up so, if the body’s relaxed, the voice is relaxed. Also, the yoga helps with preparing you for when things go wrong onstage.
On tour, doing proper warmups and warm-downs, that’s super important. If you warm up, you know where your weaknesses are before you start. “OK, there’s something wrong here. I can’t push it today because of this.” You get a bit nervous, but at least you’re not surprised by it when you start singing onstage.
When I stopped trying to optimize, I got better.
Early success is less meaningful to future success than you think.
All of my interests meeting in one place: Instagram lumberjack does a witty yet placid axe overhaul.
Tressie McMillan Cottom and Dr. Pooja Lakshmin on how real self-care comes from within.
Dr. Judith Herman, who essentially invented trauma, has a new book on societal justice.
In the hallowed halls of the Institute of TikTok University for Research and Development (I-TURD), scientists have been working round the clock to develop a budget alternative to Ozempic and have now published a major new discovery: laxatives. Reached for comment, The Literal Top Search Results on Google for “Laxatives Bulimia” cautioned, “The belief that laxatives are effective for weight control is a myth. In fact, by the time laxatives act on the large intestine, most foods and calories have already been absorbed by the small intestine.” In response, I-TURD’s lead author on the study made clear, “There’s a link in my bio, use code ITURD for 15% off.”
I’ll thank ICE to keep its nose where it belongs (toilets) and very far away from my brethren at bodybuilding.com.
We were never supposed to see our own faces this much. Committing to being more of a mystery to myself.
No one does it like Daniel in “Submitting My Application To Become A Wealthy Peasant In An Old Painting”:
- I have no grand family name I wish to pass on to my sons after me, but I do have several comfortable straw mattresses and rye fields that will do much good once I am dead
- Lunch is half a partridge, torn apart by honest hands
- Dinner is big dish of pease and a haunch
- I have two shirts
- Always tucking potatoes into the hearth-ash underneath the fire
- I have never heard of a “factory” but there will be three musicians at the wedding to-morrow, stranger, and we are not reckoned among the worst dancers, if you will stay
Not to be missed: Mark Slutsky’s interview with a beautiful missed connection in Sad YouTube comments.
Steve Irwin’s son claiming his birthright (getting in little tiffs with animals, who he loves).
I’m chanting, “gray wolves, gray wolves, GRAY—WOLVES—”
Oppenheimer is actually a girl’s girl.
That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—