My surfing days are over. They ended a few years ago at a place in Maui the locals call “Hole in the Head.” No need to go into embarrassing detail. Let me just say the place is aptly named. Don’t get the wrong idea here. I never was what you’d call a major surfer dude. In fact, my skill level never really got above “kiddy board” competence.
But what I lacked in ability, I more than made up for in foolishness. No wave was too large that I couldn’t distinguish myself by my spectacular crack-ups. My well-earned surfer nickname tells it all. They called me “Wipe-out White boy.” But they meant that in a good way — I’m sure of it.
Anyway, it was idolatry that got me on a board in the first place. Now idolatry is a tricky concept, isn’t it? According to one definition, idolatry is blind or excessive devotion to something. I guess compulsive gamblers, sex addicts and shopaholics technically qualify as idolaters. There are support groups for gamblers and sex addicts. Maybe for shopaholics too. But, so far as I know, there’s no umbrella “idolaters anonymous” for those of us who have suffered from blind devotion to something dangerous, unfaithful or humiliating.
And then, of course, there’s the question of degree. Blind devotion needn’t be total. And, at what point does devotion become “excessive?” It’s hard to say when fascination steps over the line and becomes low level idol worship.
My flirtation with idolatry started at a young age. I was the only kid I knew who celebrated the anniversary of the day the Gutenberg Bible was printed because that made printed books available to readers of modest means. I was the only kid that observed a moment of silence on the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison patented the motion picture camera. Motion pictures, of course, made it possible for adventurous boys to sail with Sinbad, stand with Crockett at the Alamo and learn the anti-vampire potency of crucifixes and garlic.
Then there was surfer music and movies. For an Oklahoma boy who didn’t see the ocean until he was 21, the surfer life appeared to be filled with magic, grace and excitement. And all you had to do to get initiated was get to the waves. Unfortunately, there was a little more to it than that.
For 30 years, off and on, I kept searching for the magic formula that would lead to acceptance by the gods of surfing. Though I was never permitted to join them, I take some comfort from the fact that I certainly amused them.
So anyway, today I’m a recovering idolater. Sometimes, just to prove I can do it, I walk into a book store and leave without buying anything. Now I can go to bed at a reasonable hour even if I know there’s a Bela Lugosi movie coming on late. And now, I can sit by the ocean and ignore the devilish little voice that whispers “Just six more hours on the board, buddy, and you could shoot the curl with the best of ’em.” The real test will be when the grandkids get a little bigger. Will grandpa be able to resist the temptation to show ’em what he can do? Mary, my wife, says “YES!”
Aug. 24 is the birthday of the world’s most influential surfer. Duke Kahanamoku was born in 1890 and grew up on Oahu. He was an “old school” surfer riding the waves on the traditional Hawaiian board made of koa wood 16-feet long and weighing more than 100 pounds. Duke was instrumental in introducing surfing to California and Australia. He single-handedly rescued eight of the 12 survivors of a fishing boat that capsized off Newport Beach. His efforts to save these men was called, by one eye witness “superhuman.” It was this remarkable rescue that led life guards around the world to have surf boards as part of their life-saving equipment. To a large extent, Duke is the father of the surfer movement that led so many of us astray.
What’s all this got to do with manliness? Not much really. Today, some of the finest surfers in the world are women. I can’t say that makes it any easier to admit I never really got the hang of it. Well, the facts are the facts.
Oh, by the way, Aug. 24 also is the anniversary of the completion of the Gutenberg Bible and the anniversary of the day Edison patented the motion picture camera. Devilish coincidence? I don’t think so.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
Wed, August 19, 2009
by Michael Hinkle