Kats Can’t Surf

My boyfriend and I have this little inside joke that my name should be Kat instead of Kate because I’m like a cat- I like warm, calm spaces and curling up under blankets; I value most the quieter moments in life (and the occasional cat nap).

But It turns out that maybe my name should be Kat for a different reason altogether. Cats are notorious for their aversion to water, and as it turns out, I have a slight problem with it too.

Since Wednesday I’ve been visiting my friend Sasha in Los Angeles. When I realized I had a little money left over from trip to Korea, I jumped on buying plane tickets. The trip is for no reason other than to see a good friend, visit a new place, and get out of the house for a bit before I start taking my life seriously again.

Ever since I stepped foot off the plane, Sasha has been determined to give me a real SoCal experience. We’ve been to several different beaches, stopped off at In-n-Out one too many times, hung out with his friends in Malibu and Marina del Rey, and visited the recording studio where he works.

We also, of course, went surfing. Or in my case, attempted surfing.

Malibu Lagoon, where my surfing dreams when to die.

Malibu Lagoon, where my surfing dreams went to die.

When Sasha first mentioned that he booked us to go surfing with his friend Kendall I was really excited. Surfing! Maybe I could claim some accolades as a Californian before the day ended. Maybe I would find a new hobby, or seem really cool to my friends elsewhere. At the least I could take some totally legit pictures (dude!).

But in the typical fashion of highly anticipated events, not a single one of those things happened. Sasha’s friend bailed on us in favor of studying, I barely got halfway out into the water, lost my would-be Californian street cred, and didn’t even get a picture of myself with a surfboard.

“But Kate!” you say, “You grew up going to the beach! You set foot on one when you were only 2 months old! You’ve gone boogie boarding and been pummeled by waves your whole life!” To which I say, true! But as it turns out, I’m a big wuss.

Here’s how it happened. I spent most of the night before and the morning of fighting off my fears. What if I got stuck under a wave? What if I fell off the board? What if I broke a finger? I kept this mostly to myself until I expressed my slight hesitation to Sasha, to which he said, “Well, you’ll probably be okay, just be sure to put your hands over your head when you get thrown off your board to protect your skull. There are sometimes rocks that you can’t see under the surface.”

Rocks! Good grief. My poor little East Coast heart was feeling less sure at this point, but I went with it. We rented a board from a local surf shop (at which the guy at the register greeted me with a friendly, “Hey dude, whassup?”) and drove to Kendall’s to get wetsuits. Sasha, bless his heart, told Kendall that my height was 5’5” when she asked him what my size was; she was actually trying to get an idea of my build to see whether I would fit in her wetsuit or not. We both wound up borrowing her parents’ suits. I should have taken it as a sign when I couldn’t get myself all the way in her mom’s suit- it was WAY too small. We wound up driving back to the surf shop to rent another suit suitably big for my thighs, then back to the beach, and finally the thing couldn’t be put off any more and it was time to go in the water.

We probably should have taken it as a second sign that upon reaching the beach the waves were so small that they were barely surfable, despite the fact that the morning forecast had seemed favorable. Sasha isn’t one to throw in the towel though, so onwards we went.

My first shock came when I realized how far out the other surfers were- way past the sides of the lagoon and out fairly far into the open ocean (or so it seemed to me). This was what set my original warning bells off, even though Sasha assured me that nothing bad would happen to me.

I kept thinking of the time when my dad had to swim out to reach me while I was off swimming on a particularly blustery day on a family visit to the Outer Banks. Thinking back on it, I was probably caught in a rip tide (the danger is real, people!), but all I remember was struggling to swim against the current and never quite being able to make it closer to the shore.

When I finally decided that I could make it out farther I began to reach the place where the waves were actually breaking. These waves weren’t big enough for even the experienced surfers to ride but they looked mighty high when they began crashing directly in front of my face. As it often happens, there were several bigger waves in a row, the last of which pulled me off my board and under the water, and I began having flashbacks to yet another unsettling ocean-related memory.

When I was in Hawaii for a special science trip in high school (I know how that sounds, just bear with me) we spent one day at the beach in Kona. We were in the water hanging out close to shore even though the waves were pretty strong. Just as I was starting to think about heading back in, I saw an absolutely massive wave heading towards me. I tried to swim through it (as one should do if they don’t want to deal with water up their nose) but it crashed directly on top of me and pummeled me to the ocean floor after I flipped over a few times. I don’t think I was in any actual danger but I remember feeling scared enough to get directly out of the water; I haven’t gone too far out ever since.

After I was pulled off my board for the last time I decided to call it quits and paddle back into calmer water. Sasha assured me again but it was a no-go. (I really have to stress that the water was actually really tame by surf standards; I just was done with feeling afraid of every wave.) I made some sort of excuse about taking baby steps, schlepped back to shore, changed out of my wetsuit (therefore ruining any chance of cool surfer pics) and spent the rest of my afternoon relaxing on the beach.

Here's at least one goon who did keep his wetsuit on.

Here’s at least one goon who did keep his wetsuit on.

It’s weird to think that a couple past experiences that don’t come to mind often completely derailed me, but there it is. I at least learned how much work it is to paddle out (it’s a LOT of work), what it feels like to sit up on a longboard (and fall off of it again), and what putting on and wearing a wetsuit is like (constricting but much warmer than swimming in a bathing suit). I’d like to think that if I lived in LA that I would eventually go further out in the water and really try my hand at surfing in my own time once feeling comfortable, but on the day it was too much.

So now I know… for the time being, I am a Kat who prefers to stay on dry land.

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