By FlynnBerry While surfing, I like to remind myself that people attacked by sharks are too surprised to feel any pain. This might not even be true. But it is good to hear, especially when no one else is in the water. Mako sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads, blue sharks, dogfish sharks, and thresher sharks swim in the ocean off Montauk. There have been five shark attacks inNew Yorkin the past 342 years, which seems pretty good, as these things go. Still, I remind myself that you’re supposed to punch a shark in the nose if attacked. This advice seems ignorant of key aspects of the scenario, namely, that it is a shark.
My favorite part about surfing is the fear. It satisfies some deep, primal need to be in peril, near the edge of a vast and terrific danger. The fear brings all of my surroundings into bright focus, and they’re gorgeous—the yellow daytime moon, the blue water, the green hills. I kick my legs through the water, and I think about the sharks, and I’m happy.
TheEast Endis a moody place. One evening at Ditch Plains, the water was balmy, the sky pink with sunset, and I pretended I was inHawaiias people went by slouch-stomached on longboards. The next morning, hard rain splattered the water and I bobbed up and down on my board in the gray chop.
I like watching men drive up and stand at the edge of the parking lot with their arms crossed, shaking their heads in disgust at the flat water. I like getting yelled at when I get in the way. I like hearing someone shout a warning, or call a wave. I like that everyone is a little bit batshit, and of course they are. They know how good it is.
A friend of mine fromTexastaught me a drinking game called Shoot and Slap. You take a shot of whiskey, and then your friend slaps you across the face. Then he takes a shot, and you slap him. Oddly, this works—being slapped just enough to sting is a really good chaser. Earlier this month, I realized that surfing is exactly like playing Shoot and Slap with the ocean.
I have a gash on my right big toe, scrapes on my feet, and purple bruises on my knees and hipbones that will remain until the end of summer. The seafloor at Ditch Plains is carpeted in rocks. There is also The Rock, a boulder set off from shore that I never see until I’m seconds away from snapping my fin on it.
My mom says, “I don’t understand how you don’t get hurt every time.”
“I get hurt every time.”
But then there is the whiskey part of surfing—the long, slow rides, the swell coming down behind you, the few seconds when your mind is wiped clean.
I watch people out here, and I learn how to manage pain. A few weeks ago, a guy offered to switch boards with me. This happens every single season. It’s framed as an equal trade, though my board is cheap and theirs are always gorgeous, hand carved longboards, and they only do it out of kindness. After a few waves, he paddled over. “You have sand rubbed into the wax on your board,” he said, laughing, and pointed at his knee, which was bleeding profusely. He refused to take back his own board, which was covered with soft curls of wax that smelled of coconut. He figured out how to stand on my board without removing a layer of skin from his legs, and we kept surfing.
On my way home, I saw a town bus driver pull over at the lookout point, take a photo of the sunset, and then drive on.
Another night, I watched a man eating outside at La Fondita. It’s dark at the picnic tables after sunset, but the man had a solution. He wore a small headlamp, the kind used for camping, to disassemble his burrito.
All of these things are important. I’m not sure what they add up to exactly, but it’s something about working in tandem with your environment, taking your knocks, taking its gifts.
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