A Soul Surfer Savior for Jiu-Jitsu, II

Part Two:  System Normal, All Fowled Up 


Saturday, July 28 2007


The next morning Joel was awake at 0700 when Tosh interrupted his slumber to wrestle, play shoot-‘em-up and most importantly, cuddle on the couch with his dad to watch cartoons.  “Bat Fink” and his mother’s banana pancakes couldn’t hold his attention like his world champion father could, and for Tosh, lying lazily next to his dad on the couch was probably the pinnacle of every Saturday.  The time was probably the most precious because it was also so paltry when you consider the schedule of a world champion athlete of a sport that has no fixed, definitive season.  Joel is in a constant state of readiness for waves and weather and contest wins.  If the stars are aligned and all the requirements can be met, one gets the feeling that somehow Joel will find a way to make it happen.  French Riviera? Hawaii? Australia?  Japan? Fiji? Canary Islands?  All those locations are no problem for a man that has traversed the globe, and won, in many of those places and more.  Right now though, Joel was only interested in Tosh who would only drift away from the couch to run around the living room table, lap-wise, and bob up and down to the reggae coming through the house system speakers.


As soon as he gets out of the terrible-two’s, I am certain that Tosh will be the coolest toddler in the world but right now when he demands attention his dad gives in every time.  The boy named after Peter Tosh has it all set with a father that dotes on him even though his schedule doesn’t seem to permit it.  I can see that when your work takes you away a lot of the time, you can afford to be generous to deepen the bond with your offspring.  I wonder if all famous professional athletes make these concessions for their children as well, but already the answer pops in my head: probably not.  I was in the same school and class with Julius Erving’s son and I remember thinking that it was hard even way back then, but at least Dr. J had a fixed number of games to play every year.  Surfing pops-off when the conditions are good.  Some contests aren’t even held every year due to the weather permitting clause and the good sense that if the waves aren’t acting like they are supposed to then it is better to postpone it for another year.  Joel does a good job of rolling with the punches and getting in wherever he can fit.  He is only one of thirty-two people to ever be inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame as his proof, and he did it in the first year that they inducted anybody.


Jah Rib and I were outside smoking and eating the banana pancakes on Joel’s deck overlooking the guest house in the backyard, so as not to disturb too much family time.  Papa Joe and Joel’s brother, Josh, are in charge of building the incomplete house –and the two veterans from the construction industry have every intention of building it right.  I guess this means that they won’t build it too quickly so that the local hangers-on won’t become too encouraged that they will be able to stay there anytime soon.  Wicked Halloween parties and general longboard reverence have solidified Joel’s house as an awesome destination for those who don’t have to make too long of a pilgrimage to get there.  Those who can’t or don’t make the hajj try to call instead.  The house phone rings intermittently with the surf report for San Diego’s native son as soon as the sun comes up, sometimes sooner.  The routine of it all was an astoundingly scripted rundown of beach breaks from just about everybody that has Joel’s number and his surfing knowledge respect. 


Andy “The Tuna” is another Southern California transplant from Long Island, New York and is one of Joel’s minions that easily fits into the categories of knowledgeable caller and bicoastal hipster.  Joel’s mimicking of a Brooklyn accent gives away exactly who is he is talking to, even through the French doors that separated he and Tosh from what was a promising cipher on his patio.  Andy lives right by the beach in La Jolla so he can work at The Factory, the place where all of Joel’s surfboards are manufactured from blanks.  Plans come into focus rather quickly for the business side of his operation largely because of his entire family chipping in, and guys like Andy that hold it down and guide creations of fiber glass from concept to finish.  I suppose at this moment Andy could not be more valuable: he was providing the surf reports for the region as well as promising to take Jah Rib back to The Factory to work on The Marley Board while we would be at the World Championship of Grappling later in the afternoon.


In between puffs with Jah Rib I heard something about “egg whites for more energy” and “Cardiff Beach,” Joel’s favorite and home break.  There really weren’t all that many places to choose from to surf in Southern California and the rare occasion of summer flats saw that I was in the only place that would have decent waves.  The verdict was indeed in; it was a virtual Lake Pacific from Malibu to Mexico except for those special places that the waves just don’t seem to miss.  I had my wish: another surfing adventure with a living legend on his home court.  I suppose the equivalent is shooting hoops with Michael Jordan in his Brooklyn backyard, or getting a chance to toss the football with Jim Brown in Manhasset (shout outs to Strong Island) but those guys are way past their primes.  The very first time that the invitation was extended to me some two years ago I couldn’t contain my excitement and had to go into the water early to disguise the fact that I was on the verge of wetting Joel’s borrowed Sector Nine board shorts.  I remember the feeling well, sports fans, and I never gave those trunks back.  Small or not the waves at Cardiff would be just manageable enough for me to get a chance to see Joel at play from the best possible vantage point: in the water with him.


We loaded up Joel’s surfer truck after breakfast and headed straight to Cardiff beach near the northernmost outskirts of San Diego, proper.  Joel explained to Jah Rib and I that Cardiff was “like a magnet” for all of the waves in the area and that even though other places were reportedly flat, he was confident that we would be in for a fun, albeit short, time.  He then tried to sell us on the “thirty minute surf session” which had me taken aback at first, but then I thought about the possibility of what I could do to help my tennis game in thirty minutes with say, Serena Williams.  (Even if we never even spoke about tennis the whole time, I think that I would be a little better.)  No matter the time limits imposed to meet other obligations, I was down like four flat tires and was grateful for all of it.  (Besides the fact that getting Joel to enforce a limit is like asking a crack head to smoke half a rock, I’m pretty sure only Tosh could impose a boundary on Joel’s surfing time.)  This Long Island kid is accustomed to taking it however he can get it, provided I don’t have to wear a cold-weather dry suit.  My surfing has definitely gotten better since moving to the West Coast in general, but ever since Joel’s wedding in Hawaii, I have been chasing the feeling of continued progress that comes from constant practice in the presence of others better than you.  Jah Rib passed on the idea entirely because the pain in his side hadn’t really subsided and he was going to do what he did best from the beach.


Thirty minutes turned into an hour because the man known as Tinkerbelle in the surf community is a master at riding small waves as well as large.  As a testament to his adept ability, he can ride them equally well and do things on either size that would make most people, even other professionals, do a double-take.  I was certain that Jah Rib got some great photos of Joel walking effortlessly to the nose of his board while catching little peelers as I was also certain that he didn’t get any footage of me at all.  Surfing for the rest of us that aren’t so blessed to be in tune with the water and all of the types waves that can be ridden on a particular board can take a little longer than half-hour.  I suppose the real difference was that Joel could paddle out in five minutes and catch wave after wave for hours on end, contest style.  Well I guess there is that and the whole balance a grace thing together with the stamina that comes from competing your entire adult life.  I on the other hand had just smoked several blunts, a couple of Al Capone Slim cognac-dipped cigars, and don’t surf with nearly enough intensity or as often as someone getting paid.  I am still the Glen Cove kid that is just happy to be there, in awe of my hero who always appears to walking on water even as I am taking breakers on my mini-afro.  I think that it took me ten minutes to paddle out to where the wave was actually breaking and another forty minutes to pry my eyes away from Joel in order to catch one wave in to a smile greeting from Jah Rib who was shooting Joel faithfully from the sand.


Joel came in slightly after he saw me go down near the end of my sole, short ride.  It must be nice to be able to catch whatever wave that comes along, like a bus to the park, and have that wave appear to steer you to the destination of your choosing.  That is exactly what he did, even beating me to the truck.  I have a long way to go in surfing, but I’m going to have fun figuring it all out, hopefully safely and in good company.  When Joel Tudor steps off of the beach, even at his home break, people notice and offer their takes on what they just saw.  Some shake his hand and others just clapped like they were witnessing a free concert or something.  Today, he didn’t linger too long and indulge the audience as he sensed his momentary escape into the blue-green abyss was over almost as soon as it began.  Instead we loaded up the car and headed back to the house to split up and prepare for the afternoon events.  The short session actually agreed with me and I started thinking that if only I had been more aggressive from the outset that I would have caught more waves.  Maybe it was the blunt that I was smoking while waiting for Joel’s other jiu-jitsu coach to arrive, but I might have just gained a little more confidence despite having gleaned no new ability from watching.


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