First-Time Surfing at Pacifica.

I was at this surf shop. That was a number of weeks ago. I’ve had this curiosity about surfing for a while- I think it’s an interesting activity.

I was talking with the guys at the shop. There were interesting-looking boards everywhere. They had a number of overhead television screens where I could see live footage of some surfing locations. I could see the live waves and weather conditions and stuff- it was all very interesting to look at.

The attendant mentioned Pacifica as an interesting surfing location in relatively close proximity. I noted the name. It would be interesting to check it out at some point.


A while before that, I met this couple at an ice-cream shop in the Sunset district in San Francisco. They had a number of surfboards in the cargo bed of their pickup truck. I struck up a conversation with the guy about surfboards and surfing. He mentioned that I could get pretty good surfboards at Costco for a ridiculously cheap price. They were made of a different material, but they were still pretty good. That was interesting to learn. At some point they offered to pay for my ice cream. I didn’t argue. They were nice. Nice people.


I am at Pacifica. I am at the beach. I took a number of subway trains and then some buses to get here.

I’ve started trying the surfing thing. I’m definitely not doing a lot of things right. I’ve just been getting bashed by the waves over and over and over. I actually didn’t even go through any tutorials or watch any surfing videos before coming here. I just felt it wouldn’t be all that much of an issue:

It’s water. And then there’s a board. And you’re moving about on the board. I skateboard already and I’m pretty alright at that, so how difficult could this possibly be.

Bruh, it’s been difficult. I got past the torrent of waves once. Once I got far enough into the water to turn the board around and face land. It was a strange experience- seeing land from the perspective of someone out in the water, with nothing but a surfboard to hold on to. I felt somewhat unanchored and adrift and disoriented.

The next step was to catch a wave. At that time, I didn’t even know what the next step was. From watching everyone around, I just knew I needed to get into the water, past the waves and then surf back somehow.

There was this guy next to me in the water. He was giving me some directions:

Lie straight on the board, grip the edges with your fingers, let your toes be at the the very edge of the tail end.

It felt very strange. Learning to swim during weekend visits to a Staff club swimming pool back in university in Nigeria, the issue with being in the water was learning to be comfortable off your feet. Off your feet and on your stomach or on your back or however- just not in the upright position that an entire life of experience existing as a being on land, has made you an expert at.

Following that guy’s directions, it felt like I was unlearning another sort of comfortable position. Now I wasn’t putting my trust in my hands and my legs to keep me afloat and propel me through the water- no. My feet were to be be stuck together- immobile, at the end of the board- my hands were to grip the board for a while before I began to paddle. Somehow I was supposed to put all of my confidence in this piece of plastic to keep me afloat and balanced astride the pulsing swells of belligerent ocean water. It felt weird.


The guy giving me directions had a very deep and resonant voice. He looked very Chinese, but sounded very American. Exactly like one of the San Francisco college staff. Exactly like Mister Wang. The familiarity actually helped me feel more at ease, out in the water on the surfboard.


I am back on land. I’m jogging along the beach. There’s this very tall bearded guy I saw taking a break from surfing earlier. I thought he looked interesting. He is sitting on the sand with his board and with a group of people.

Somehow we strike up a conversation. I think I start by complimenting his beard. We begin to talk. His name is Simon. He’s German. He’s here with his girlfriend and a number of friends. His friends also happen to be coworkers at a startup he founded based on some work he did for his PhD in Germany. Interesting. The company was recently acquired by Apple and they all moved to the US from Germany. Interesting.

We keep talking. His PhD had something to do with graphical processing and parallel computing. We talk about that a bit. I mention some Machine Learning Consultancy I was engaged in, in Lagos Nigeria- it involved building Computer Vision software to process real-time traffic footage. We keep talking.

At some point they want to go have lunch. I come with. We go return our surfboards and wetsuits. They are all so tall- the guys. They are like six foot seven. One is even taller than Simon. Like six foot nine. I’m like six foot two, and generally that’s considered pretty tall. But hanging out with these guys makes me feel like an insect. Like an excited, chattering insect.

And I actually like it. I like hanging out with very tall people- it makes me feel like a baby who is surrounded by adults capable of handling whatever problem comes along. It makes me feel very safe.


We are having lunch.

I mention that I’ll be spending the next semester of college in Berlin. Ahhh, they say. Berlin will be fun. The Oktoberfest is coming soon. I should make sure to indulge in the vast variety of sausages Germany has to offer. And the beer. I’m going to enjoy the beer.

I actually do indulge in the sausages. In the next few months. Currywurst. Bratwurst. A number of different “wursts”. I’ll take one at a small sausage kiosk after emerging from a quick autumn dip in the chilly water of Krumme Lanke, while contemplating the anxeities involving my college enrolment and the ambiguity surrounding my general future.

We keep discussing over lunch. At some point Simon’s girlfriend makes a comment about Khal Drogo. Something about Khal Drogo having a large penis. Or at least having a larger penis than Simon. He looks hurt. It’s not a lasting impression- it’s just a brief flicker of discernible discomfort/pain on his face. I think that’s very unfair and inconsiderate of his girlfriend. I wonder why she would say that- obviously primarily to spite him. We keep talking.


In about thirty minutes I’ll be in their car- Simon and his girlfriend. It’s a very small car. First I’ll wonder why such a large guy drives such a small car. I’ll also wonder why a considerable number of people I’ve met in Silicon Valley drive such moderate cars. People in Nigeria with much less money drive such extravagant vehicles. The roads can be remarkably terrible, and people spend hours in traffic, but somehow there’s still a lot of prestige associated with the sort of vehicle a person owns.

People are somehow capable of spending so much money on individual luxury, while the communal welfare is generally deplorable. In the most affluent parts of Lagos you’ll see like a $70,000 Porche wading through knee-deep muddy water pooled in cavernous potholes along the road. I don’t understand it. I don’t get how such an aesthetically dissonant experience could still be perceived as luxury- it superlatively bewilders me.

In the car Simon and I will talk about relationships. Relationship issues. I’ll talk about my relationship. The major issue I’m experiencing is maintaining the desired level of intimacy with a partner who is on holidays with her family, on a different continent. Simon’s major issue is that he’s meeting other people he would like to date, but can’t because of his current relationship. I try to empathize, but I cannot completely relate. Simon and his girlfriend have been in a relationship for fifteen years. I have absolutely no idea what that feels like.

And maybe that’s why his girlfriend makes snide remarks about his penis. Possibly to hack at his self-esteem by undermining his sexual capabilities, in a bid to reduce the likelihood of him exiting the relationship to date someone else he’s interested in.

We’ll talk about a number of other things in the car. He’ll describe how he broke a personal speed limit while driving on the Autobahn. Interesting.


We are done with lunch. We head to the counter. They offer to pay for my meal. I do not argue. I am with the super-tall adults who are capable of handling whatever problems come our way. I am the safe and excited chattering insect baby. They pay for our food and we head out to the car.


Image: That afternoon.

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