The mainstream conservative press denounces Surf Ranch Pro: “It’s been fake news from the start, and now the giant concrete pool is hosting the world’s most boring surf event!”
A reminder of the pleasure of breathing, of being alive, of feeling the kinetic energy of a wave underfoot.
I entered St Andrews State Park on a hot sunny early summer day.
It was full of work vans, trucks and old rusty Volvo wagons with old Free Tibet and Gotcha stickers. Wave surfers were scattered across the land at different stages of their ritual, waxing, changing, recounting the highlights of the day in excited tones and with lively hand gestures.
The first tropical swell of the year had arrived and a load filled the air. I was cautiously optimistic, having not surfed significant waves since returning from California.
My muscles were weak, my body fragile.
The carefree confidence I had counted on since a kid full of sand-bottomed tubes and concrete skateparks was gone. Suddenly I felt very old. I tried to assume the faces of all the other carefree surfers trying to match the vibe of the guy parked next to me who had just returned from a five hour session.
“The best I have ever seen!” he said.
“Yeah,” I thought to myself, “people say that every year. “
I had returned home to the Gulf Coast in December for Christmas with the family, a week-long visit that turned into a nine-month ordeal.
On January 1, 2020, I skipped my return flight to LAX to have some health issues checked. One thing led to another and after a week of check-ups I found myself getting a call from my family’s homeopathic doctor grimly instructing me that I had to go to the hospital immediately for a transfusion. blood.
My hemoglobin was six. Was it bad?
The average range for a man is between thirteen and seventeen, I protested a bit, but the truth was, I haven’t been feeling well for a while. My parents dropped me off in the emergency parking lot of the hospital where I was born and I had one of the worst nights I can remember.
I had an allergic reaction at one point in the transfusion and spent most of the night delusional, feverish and sweaty through my hospital gown (I hate those fucking gowns).
It was a night that seemed to go on forever and I remembered a Jorge Luis Borges’ short film about an old general who had to be executed and who lived his entire life just before being shot.
I watched the peaks at shoulder height from the sand as I had done years before as an invincible, self-confident youngster.
The surf was good, and not just by Gulf Coast standards. The swells wedged along the jetties to the east, twisting into shapely peaks before moving up west along the bar. A small handful of locals were picking up the waves in pieces. One of them took care of the critical sections throwing tunes in and drawing graceful lines on the deeper outer bar.
After a bit of battle, I was in the lineup.
Well, I thought, at least I had made it out.
I had a premonition that my trip to the emergency room for a pint of blood wasn’t going to be an overnight visit. Sure enough, a week later I was still detained at the Tallahassee Memorial. Much to the staff’s concern, I used to walk the halls in the morning, and found myself stuck in a desolate passage one day when I didn’t have the strength to complete the trip.
I was escorted to my cell by a stern nurse and threatened in a threatening tone to stay in my “suite”. After eight days, a bone marrow biopsy and countless blood tests and scans, the doctors told me I had a stage 4B Classical Hodgkin lymphoma.
And with that, I was allowed to go home.
Several days later, the doctor called and announced that the radiologist had noticed some fluid around my heart on my MRI and decided it needed to be removed immediately. I said the fluid had shown up on an MRI five years ago and was perfectly harmless there, going about his own business.
They pulled out the fluid around my heart with a long needle, at which point, I was told, my heart stopped. Doctors’ notes mention that he stayed that way for fifteen minutes, during which time the two tallest guys in the room, to whom I’m eternally indebted, applied maximum pressure to my chest in an effort to restart the old ticker for that my mother was praying in tongues in the area as they rushed her out.
My objections were dismissed and I was called in for “routine procedure”.
They removed the fluid from around my heart with a long needle, at which point, I was told, my heart stopped. Doctors’ notes mention that he stayed that way for fifteen minutes, during which time the two tallest guys in the room, to whom I’m eternally indebted, applied maximum pressure to my chest in an effort to restart the old ticker for that my mother was praying in tongues in the area as they rushed her out.
Or tried, anyway.
She insisted on staying and appealing to Almighty God on behalf of the surgeons and, presumably, her son. His demands had to be heeded. I came back with full mental faculties (or at least as full as before) which, I am told, is quite rare after fifteen minutes.
Nevertheless, my chest was subsequently sawn off at the surgeon’s intuition, there was a clot somewhere. No clot. And just like that, I was put together more or less as they remembered I had been put together in the first place.
The water was a radiant blue-green.
The high dunes with their seagrass beds and coastal oaks bristled under the blinding Florida sun. I was delighted to be in the midst of the bubbling swells even though my chest was tender, as if one wrong move could break my breastbone still healing from the surgery.
A big left came towards me and I paddled towards it like it was my last wave, momentarily forgetting the sharp pain in my ribs. To my surprise, I felt the familiar lift and slide under 6’4 ” soon enough. I was standing and surfing before the wave passed over the shallow bar and wasn’t sure what to do with all the kinetic energy underfoot, but quickly found some rhythm and I was walking down the line.
Arrived inside with surprising speed, I made a lower turn, but I poorly synchronized my closing maneuver and was wiped out by the final section.
I have never been so excited in my life
I took three waves in all that day.
After that exhilarating first left, two wide open and tottering rights after which I came home more exhausted and euphoric than after any session I can remember.
It had only been about an hour or so, but it took its toll, with the long break from the surf sessions and all the chemotherapy drugs flowing through my veins destroying cells.
I hid the album in the back of my car and retreated to the wooden gazebo to watch the swell recede with all the bird watchers and toothless old salts gnawing at their cheap cigars.
A light wind had risen across the sea, blowing off the tops of the waves and making small hollows inside.
A flock of seagulls glided, fishing boats returned from the outer reefs. That kid was still there tearing up, throwing throwaway tunes on the final section.
I was happy for him and watched carefully, hoping that he would continue to tear for many years without ever getting cancer or a fracture or even skewing the weather.
(Editor’s Note: Greg Mitchell is a Los Angeles-based carpenter who makes handcrafted furniture for his business West of Noble, “inspired by a life of various creative pursuits, odd jobs, musical and literary influences, long stretches of money and few prospects, barely vintage cars, surf trips to South America, and friends and family. “)