Surfing dreams can be glorious, but not always. I recently dreamed I was back at Grajagan, in Indonesia, and realizing that I had been there for a week already and hadn’t surfed yet. I make it all this way, I only have a limited time, and somehow I’m squandering half my trip by not surfing. Why would I do that? The panic is overwhelming.
I then realize I have to get back to England and scramble to get in a few waves. But my rigid surfboard wilts and goes soft when I’m running toward the water. Read into that what you want, but the result is not being able to surf. Then daylight fades.
The stress abates somewhat when I wake up, but the frustration just retreats. The dreams are visceral manifestations of a surfer’s life in London, where there is no surf.
Ask any career surfer about his or her first wave or first tube ride—when you thread the hollow of a breaking wave—and you’re in for an excruciating account that might leave you looking for the exit, unless you’re another surfer. That first ride is like any life-changing event, like when people discover Jesus, perhaps. Every detail is heightened and branded in memory, with a pinch of exaggeration for good measure.
Combine the experience of love at first sight with grasping something that you’ve been practicing for a long time. I committed to surfing in 1992 and the hook set immediately, which inspired a daily routine at Black’s, my local beach in San Diego, and trips to West Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, the Canary Islands, and Mexico over the next four years. I got countless great waves over those trips, as well as when I was at home. But I remember one particular wave, on an average day at Black’s in November 1996, when something clicked.
It was just a slight foot adjustment and tilt of the hips, but it enabled a whole new and altogether better method of surfing the tube backside, with my back to the wave. It was, for lack of another word, enlightening.
For the most part, surfing is entirely self-taught. So the progress is hard to gauge. But on that one cold November morning in 1996, it was pure validation that I was doing something right, that if I continued on the same track with the same commitment, I was going to continue to improve.
I have a few photos of myself at Black’s, in Mexico, and especially in Indonesia, where locals have discovered that traveling surfers will pay a premium for good photos of themselves surfing in pristine surroundings. Some I’ve bought, and others I’ve regretted not buying later on. One particular photo, now erased from a local’s memory card on the island of Nias in Indonesia, I wish I had bought, and I’m determined to recreate what that photo captured—a critical point in a maneuver called, unremarkably, a turn.
Turns can be quite simple and unmemorable, but when waves become more severe, they can be spectacular, to the point where the surfboard is out of the water and the entire rotation is mostly in the air. This photo captured that point in the rotation, when the whole board was detached. I’ve done that turn many times, but this was the first time I saw the visual evidence.
What makes these turns exhilarating is the feeling of compression. First, you load up as much momentum and energy into the initial drop into a wave, then project it all back up toward the most vertical part of the wave, called the lip. It’s essentially a pendulum swing. At one apex is the trough of the wave where you set up the lip turn, and at the other, the lip itself. Then it’s back into the trough and repeat—as many times as possible. Executing a critical turn is all about timing. If you overshoot, you go too high above the lip and fall off the back of the wave; undershoot and the opportunity is wasted on a marginal turn. Get it right and it’s a pyrotechnic celebration.
One of the things that photos and videos of successful turns like this fail to show clearly is that waves advance toward shore, while the approach for a lip turn is going in the opposite direction, away from shore. So when the timing is right at the lip, there’s an almighty collision of board and water that gives a loud clap and sends reverberations through your body. That feeling, with the board pivoting in the air, is a deeply profound and personal experience. When the wave is over and if people saw a particularly good turn—backside or frontside—you can feel eyeballs on you, an unspoken acknowledgement of something well done.
Also, there’s a thing I call the diamond patch. After a big turn, the displacement of water off the top of the wave can be quite spectacular. It explodes straight up in an arc and breaks apart, seemingly suspended in the air until, eventually, thousands of droplets smash into the water’s surface, creating a field of twitching little wavelets that catch and scatter sunlight. Each turn creates its own patch, and when you feel the stomp-pad impression on the sole of your back foot while paddling through diamond patches, it’s like a hero’s welcome.
Since I moved to England in 2003, surfing has become feast and famine—mostly famine. I used to surf 350 days a year, for ten years. Now I’ll go for months without even seeing a horizon. My wife—her name is Tai—knows that it winds me up to a degree, so that I become a chore to be around, but I’ve gotten better over the years.
Work for Tai in San Diego had dried up to the point where she had to get a job in a clothing store in a mall, selling formless sweaters to the flip-flop masses. She was getting a lot of offers back in London meanwhile. We had been recently married and there was no choice in the matter: It was time to tear myself from the dream of surfing every day and working at Surfer magazine. That kind of suspended self-indulgence wasn’t going to last forever. It was time to be an adult.
I was okay with the move but, still, I felt my time at Surfer had been cut short. I had been there about two years—not the best use of a master’s degree, perhaps, but I really felt in my element. I remember when I went to interview for the job, as associate editor, they couldn’t believe I wore a suit. Actually, they couldn’t believe I wore shoes, or didn’t bring a dog. But they let me in, and I feel that I left before the party started.
When we moved to England, it became an understanding that I would be able to surf when and wherever, without question. I try not to abuse it, and Tai is generally okay with it, provided that before I leave, everything is in order: The fridge is full and the laundry baskets aren’t; the cars are pegged with gas; there’s spare cash for babysitters and incidentals.
Tai sets a regimented schedule with our two boys, Oscar, thirteen, and Elliot, nine, while I’m away on surf or other work trips, and then I come home and monkey-wrench it, but that’s all part of the dynamic. It works, in its own frenetic way. When I come back sunburned with a backpack full of damp clothes, she goes on long weekends to the spa, or to visit friends in the country, or to just spend an evening with her [twin] sister in Chiswick, West London. But never as long as two or three weeks. Despite the imbalance, though, she has never said I can’t go surfing.
Tai was the fastest and tallest in her school and could have been a star athlete. But as the daughter of strict and ambitious Nigerian immigrants, the only priority was education. So every distraction, like track, was out. She’s tried surfing but it’s not her thing. One of her things is being a personal trainer, and she swims and goes to the gym.
But God is her passion. She is a fervent Christian and her dog-eared Bible, with its many Post-its, illustrates that she’s serious. She spells out curse words, like s-h-i-t, which, for me, doesn’t have the same cathartic, medicinal value as the word itself. She can’t tolerate any blasphemy.
I think Tai admires my surfing on some level, despite its inconveniences and the selfishness and the strange language she has to endure when I’m around my surfing friends. But I can’t imagine how it would be if the roles were reversed.
I’m forty-eight, with a job, a family, and a mortgage, living in Maidenhead, England, but as a surfer. There is constant tension and struggle to this—unlike those single people I know back in California who are part-time teachers and surf when and wherever they want. If everything fell apart in my life, I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t stay in Maidenhead for longer than necessary. Still, living in a shack and surfing all day every day doesn’t sound like a solution either, and a life like that would run its course pretty fast. It’s a precarious balance.
Part of the balance, of course, is the support and understanding of Tai. She has been integral in making all of this work. It wouldn’t have worked with anyone else I’ve known.
One time a while ago I was walking to the beach with my girlfriend at the time. I was carrying a surfboard, and she was walking on the other side of it. “Look what’s come between us,” I said.
She wasn’t amused.
February 1, 2018. I’m learning about color trends for spring-summer 2019 collections at a leather expo in Chelsea, New York City for the Leather International trade journal, which I edit, but I am far too distracted by the surf session I had yesterday in Long Beach with friends. Without going into the granular details of swell direction, wind, wave size, and so on, the conditions were great. It was sunny and we managed to stay out for three hours—a testament to how good wetsuits are these days. It’s also a massive stroke of luck that the gear I borrowed fit well. There’s nothing worse than a leaky, ill-fitting wetsuit, especially in forty-degree water.
Borrowed suits are one thing, but a borrowed board is different. Before flying out for this trip, I was thinking about bringing my own board just in case. But the forecast didn’t look great so I stuck with hand luggage. The main reason I surf is to improve, and if I’m on a weird shape that feels like the equivalent of pushing a battered shopping cart, I don’t feel notable progress. The board was okay, but it would have been more fulfilling with my own.
I hang my wetsuits up in my closet next to my work shirts, so they have a faint scent of neoprene and, therefore, surfing. Sometimes, on lunch breaks, I walk from the office to the Thames and watch boat wakes peel like perfect waves along the bank. Even though miniaturized and impossible to physically ride, they’re still the genuine article, and they get my heart racing.
Feb 15, 2018. My biggest regret, around which all other throwaway regrets orbit, is that I didn’t stay in New York longer. Back in 2000, I had a degree from Columbia, a big feature in The New York Times, and an invitation to “probably” get a fact-checking gig at The New Yorker through my friend Bill Finnegan, (who has written about many things, including war and conflict, and who later won a Pulitzer Prize for Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life). But all I wanted to do was get back to San Diego and surf.
This is surfing’s dark side. I knew there was surf in New York and I had a group of people to go with, and everything seemed like it was locking into place, professionally. But California was all I could think about.
Things worked out, eventually. I got a job working for, of all things, Surfer magazine, but I feel leaving New York was a bad move. I even thought that Bill thought, “What an idiot.” But he probably empathized on some level.
You often hear surfing described as an escape. You’re out in the water and all the petty, annoying stresses and overbearing responsibilities back on land dissipate. You’re surrounded by nature, a distant horizon ahead and, if you’re lucky, the occasional dolphin sighting. It can be contemplative and revitalizing.
On the other hand, surfing can be an incredibly stressful experience, and nothing like its tranquil, laid-back reputation. So while you might escape one stress on land, it’s replaced with another stress, and the agony of “having to surf.” That’s what it boils down to. I don’t just like to surf or have a passion for surfing. I have to surf. Before some sessions—if the waves are big and disorganized or I’m at a new place with exposed reef and there’s no one else out—you just want to get it over with. You don’t enjoy it much at all. The enjoyment comes afterward, from having surfed.
My dad wasn’t happy that surfing took over my life as much as it did. He always saw the irresponsibility and juvenile, frivolous dead-end on which part of its reputation is built. I remember I tried to reassure him at one point and said I surfed, but I wasn’t a surfer. He liked that.
But there’s no denying I’m a surfer—a good, committed surfer who doesn’t work construction or live off the dole, or wear backward baseball caps and say “dude” every other word. A surfer who knows that surfing isn’t everything in life. But that life can’t be complete without it.
However it started, and for whatever reason, I began documenting every surf session in my life. I started surfing late, when I was twenty-one and after graduating from Boston College, so my journals begin soon after that, in 1993. That September, I quit a job at a law office in San Diego and went to Indonesia for three months to surf. From those first sessions to the most recent, I have detailed written records. Very repetitive in a lot of ways, but it helps cement the experience. I even document my surfing dreams.
Meanwhile, seeing that I’m mostly on land now, I also use mental surfing as an escape. At work or during boring dinner parties, I can get my heart rate through the roof if I retreat and think about putting myself in a particularly challenging surfing situation. The dopamine surges are real, even though I might be standing around someone’s house listening to them talk about their insipid kitchen refurb. That’s when my multi-tasking skills shine: Look engaged, but be miles away, in Tahiti or Fiji.
March 1, 2018. I was never known as a morning person. So once I picked up surfing, it came as quite a shock to others that I’d scramble furiously from under a toasty duvet twenty minutes before sunrise to get down to the cold water. No breakfast, no brushing teeth, no bathroom; I can just piss in the bushes. In the evenings, friends would look at swell data and cross calibrate tide, wind, and swell direction information to see where and what time to surf the next day. But I’d just set my alarm and go to sleep, knowing I’d be at the exact same stretch of Black’s beach no matter what.
This hairpin turn I made from slouchy, indifferent teenager—I barely squirmed out of high school—to monomaniacal, structured twenty-one-year-old convert came as quite a strange transition to my parents especially. These very early mornings beget very early bed times. Thus: so long New Year’s Eve parties, no David Letterman, no Saturday Night Live or movies that start after nine. It never felt like a sacrifice. I wasn’t giving up anything. On the contrary, I felt like I had drive and motivation and everything to gain.
To my parents, though, the pre-dawn ritual was a source of concern. Sometimes I’d be asleep by eight, but not in bed, just on the floor somewhere in the house, in my clothes. This, of course, prompted my dad to think I was on drugs, which was ironic since any intervention concerning that should have happened years earlier, when I’d be out late with friends and sleep to eleven.
I think I recorded eighty-six days straight of surfing around 2002 and I deliberately took a day off because I feared I was becoming a pathological, obsessive hoarder. At this point, I was working at Surfer magazine and interviewed a man in Oregon who had surfed every day for ten years or something absurd. Ten years! He also collected all the filthy wax scraped from his boards and we ran a photo of him standing next to this massive, hideous ball of mottled gray wax, the size of a prize-winning pumpkin. I thought, “I do not want to be that guy.” Almost that guy, maybe, but without the beard, the dog as only friend, and definitely not the wax ball.
If you ask any dedicated surfer what the ultimate goal in surfing is, it’s riding the tube. The barrel, the keg, the pit—whatever you call it, it’s the primary objective. Sometimes waves don’t offer opportunities to do so, but when they present themselves, the hunt is on.
To ride the tube successfully, you have to get the angle of the board right. Point too straight to the shore and you lose speed and get mowed down; too high up the face of the wave and you get caught by that water rushing off the reef or sandbar and up the wave face, and you get catapulted. Either way, you’re underwater, getting pummelled. Sometimes you pop up to the surface without a scratch. Sometimes you get banged up. You might even get stuffed in a coral cave and have to swim your way out, and sometimes you emerge unscathed but your surfboard is in pieces.
But if your line is set right and you find the balance in that vortex, the lip throws over your head, seemingly defying gravity, and races ahead of you so there is a distinct tunnel that spins, warps, growls, and spits from all the combustion happening behind. When there is enough of that energy built up, it has to go somewhere and there’s only one exit. That water getting shot out stings the back of your legs, head, and back, and you sometimes experience total white-out, where all that surging vapor and mist is so thick you’re surfing blind through this twisting tunnel.
But if you come out—and especially if the waves are backlit, with the sun making the waves glow green and blue—you have total transcendent clarity. It’s no wonder people live to do it over and over again, that they find religious parallels.
I tore a pec muscle getting tossed around underwater in west Java, and got pinned to the bottom of the ocean for so long in San Diego that I almost blacked out. Getting dragged across sharp rocks in West Australia, I got a glute puncture that required stitches. And my good friend Ty loves to recount the day we met, like we’re some old married couple. It was in February 1997. He was in a van going down the road to Black’s beach, and I was walking up, pressing a shirt against my forehead. Nothing too serious—about eight stitches after my fin hit my brow—but Ty loves to embellish and tell people I was inconsolable and couldn’t stop crying. Then there was the time I got a fin in the arch of my left foot. That was a little more serious, with subcutaneous fat spilling out, but still only fourteen stitches. I was with Ty that day too and we walked up that same road together, laughing.
The piece de résistance was my wedding night. Tai and I were living with my parents in California at the time and her H1B visa—she is from England—didn’t transfer to a new employer, so marriage was the solution to keep her in the US. We had already gotten engaged two months earlier, so it was inevitable anyway. We went to the local county clerk’s office in Kearny Mesa, a non-descript suburb of San Diego just east of La Jolla, exchanged vows, and were back at the house by about 5 p.m. And there was enough daylight to get down to the beach for an hour or so.
On my last wave, I split my right brow against my left knee. I felt the familiar sting of salt and went to the shore. I saw blood in the foam and felt broken skin. I asked someone on the beach, “Is this bad?” He looked a bit shocked, which didn’t help. I managed to get a ride up the hill, got in my car, and drove home. I told Tai, “Don’t be alarmed, but we have to go to the hospital.”
Tai and I made up for a lackluster wedding with a proper ceremony in Kent, England, the following October: The organ in the medieval church in Chilham rumbled with Handel’s Water Music when we walked out to confetti and bells and into the vintage Rolls Royce that rolled us back to a manor house reception. It was lovely.
When it comes to surfboards, stability is key, especially for a beginner, so that means width and length. Thickness, too, adds to buoyancy and quick paddling without too much effort, which means catching waves with greater ease. These are generally called longboards: rounded noses, about nine to eleven feet long, and for small waves.
With experience, generally speaking, boards get shorter, narrower, and thinner. The front, or nose, gets more pointed and the back, or tail, takes on a variety of different shapes: square, pointed, double pointed. These are called shortboards. They can also be used for small waves too but they have a lot more scope in bigger waves because they can fit in the wave’s contour.
Of course with a shortboard you have to compensate for less overall volume with strong paddling, especially in powerful waves where, in order to catch one, you have to start paddling toward the shore in front of it very early, about halfway up the wave face to counteract the rush of water flowing up. Once you pass that point of falling up, as it were, and start to drop down into the wave, you stop paddling and stand up.
The subtler characteristics of shortboards—what I ride—are on the bottom, the part in direct contact with the water. There’s an infinite range of channels (like gutters), concaves, and the rocker (the curve, as in the feet of a rocking chair, but less severe) to consider, depending on what waves are going to be surfed and one’s ability.
You can always go to a surf shop and buy a board off the rack, but the most rewarding way to get a surfboard is to befriend a shaper, one who makes the boards by hand, and go into hours of counsel about what you want. You can watch the process unfold—from sawing and sanding down the raw blank, or slab of polyurethane, into the right shape, with all those bottom contours you wanted, to the glassing process, when the fiberglass shell that encases the blank is added, and then the final sanding.
There’s nothing like getting a custom board, or shape, with “For Carl” written on the stringer, the wooden strip that runs down the center of the surfboard. This is traditionally where a shaper writes all the details of the board—like a reference number in case you want a replica, the board’s dimensions, and the occasional “Jesus loves you.”
March 7, 2018. I leave on May 1 for Indonesia and I’ll have to sit through some seminars and interview some leather industry wigs, but it’s a small price to pay.
This will be my fourteenth trip to Indonesia, a place that epitomizes the best of everything for a surfer: warm water, inexpensive living, a great abundance of consistent surf, great surfing lore, exotic culture, a lot of unexplored coastline. It’s been a pilgrimage for the traveling surfer for fifty years, and some of the main areas are completely overrun, but Indonesia is so expansive there’s always somewhere to get away from third-world congestion and first-world entitlement.
The local expo organizers have arranged a hotel for three nights in Jakarta, but the rest of the two weeks I’m there is up in the air. I’ve narrowed down a couple of options, and they’re both on Java, just to limit the journey time to get to waves. Java is bookended by national parks and some of the best waves anywhere in the country. To the east is a fairly established low-budget resort arrangement, with all the comforts: movies, air conditioning, and spotty wifi.
The other option, in the west, is more labor-intensive, but the reward is greater: Panaitan is a wave-rich, clawhammer-shaped island wedged between Java and Sumatra and you need a boat, or someone with a boat, to get there. This region is a vestige of the Dutch East India Company; you see in person what paintings that hang in the Rijksmuseum depict. I heard about the waves off this island in 1993 from a Californian named Thomas, staying at a homestay called Sunny House in Tuban, Bali. He told me about this shallow, remote, malaria-infested island, full of mystery, danger, and reward. But from that first “Sit down and I’ll tell you about a magical place” talk with Thomas, it was another ten years before I made it there.
Finally, I made a ten-day trip, starting on September 6, 2003, which was Tai’s birthday. (I managed to get a couple minutes with her on the boat’s sat phone.) Then again in 2005, and 2006, and 2007, and 2008, and you get the picture. Herman Melville made Captain Ahab and his crew sail through here on the Pequod in their search for the white whale. I sat below deck reading those passages while the boat creaked and water lapped the hull. So I’m hoping to go again in May.
But it’s not a relaxing place. The waves are intense; the reef is sharp and the water is very shallow, to the point where you have to wear a helmet and a full winter wetsuit and neoprene ankle boots even though the water is eighty-two degrees. Ambitious surf companies tried to build a surf camp on the island but there were no takers and the jungle reclaimed the slapdash bungalows within a year.
Whatever the decision is in early May—east to the resort, west to Panaitan—the excitement really starts during the packing process: putting pipe insulation on the rails of the boards and bubble wrap on the nose and tail for protection against overzealous baggage handlers. There’s the helmet, winter wetsuit, trunks, sunscreen, ear drops, Imodium, wax, Allen wrenches, repair kits, extra fins, extra leashes (they attach to your ankle and the board), and some Super Glue. The glue is sterile and a good emergency wound dressing.
I lived in Cambridge, England, when I was five, when my dad was on sabbatical working in Fred Sanger’s lab researching DNA sequencing, the early days of the human genome project, so I got the smell of centuries-old cathedrals and damp autumn leaf fires in my nostrils at a young age. Brass rubbings, stained glass, and the cold helped shape me early on. Then I was in Oxford for eighth grade when my dad was on another sabbatical, this time at the School of Pathology. Then Oxford again in 1994, this time for me since I was accepted to St Hughs College to pursue a master’s in comparative linguistics. And now in Maidenhead, England to stay, with a family of my own. We’re right on the Thames (a water source, at least) and thirty minutes from Oxford.
When I moved back to England indefinitely in 2003, and before the kids came along in 2005 and 2009, I was still a correspondent for Surfer and I clung onto that resource as hard and long as I could, leveraging trips around Europe. I also took a month and surfed around Indonesia when Tai was pregnant (but not too pregnant).
Despite all those periods of my life spent in England, I certainly didn’t think that I would wind up here to live permanently, with an English wife, working in earshot of St. Paul’s clock chimes, and going to weekly church bell-ringing practice, my other pursuit.
I got into bell ringing in 2011, after seeing a flyer to “come experience the joys of bell-ringing!” at St Michael’s church in Bray, the next village over from Maidenhead. The ringing has become a natural fit in many ways, not the aggressive pursuit that surfing is, but with similarities. It’s a strange cross-section of people wholly committed to something traditional and peculiar; it’s something I want to get better at (to an extent), and I’ve travelled to other towers to ring (tower grabbing, as it’s called). It has a peaceful/chaotic dichotomy in that when you hear bells outside the tower, it’s atmospheric and sublime, but inside, it can be stressfully hard work. And it can hurt too; I’ve broken a finger in two places ringing.
It’s also a very social, and secular, activity, and after Thursday night practice, we all head to the pub for a couple of pints. The talk about bells, technique, and towers (which actually move from the force of bells swinging, something called tower sway) could easily keep pace with surfers going into agonizing detail about board design, waves, and style.
I’m lucky in that I haven’t had any debilitating injuries, no degenerative issues with hips, shoulders, or back, and my metabolism is the same as it was when I was twenty; I have pants I bought in the mid-1990s that still fit. They don’t look great, but they fit. All of this has helped to keep me in the water. There must be a time coming when I’ll be unable to achieve the critical maneuvers I can do now on a semi-regular basis, but it’s certainly not yet. I can still sense increments of improvement after surfing sessions, which are validating and motivating.
I’ve also added absences from surfing to the list of what helps my surfing, and I’ve convinced myself that these long absences don’t diminish progress, that I’m still getting better. The timing and judgment take a negligible hit, but those fall back into place quickly. The fitness and endurance levels are other considerations. Any exercise I do during those surfing droughts—whether in the gym, swimming local lakes, yoga, taking the stairs, or holding my breath between subway stops—lends to better surfing.
If I don’t think that way, then, considering how much time I don’t surf now, conventional wisdom elbows its way in and says that these absences erode skill and ability. And with all the years I have put into surfing, I would have already reached peak performance.
That’s too predictable, pedestrian, feeble, and depressing. There’s no giving in to that for me. It’s like tinnitus of the soul.
My grandfather on my dad’s side, Erich, was a track star and won many medals. The bronze ones are buried in boxes in my parents’ house; all his silver and gold medals were stolen by the Nazis. He was also a defense lawyer in Vienna in the 1930s, but life deteriorated quickly after the Anschluss. Hitler, a native Austrian, was greeted warmly there, and my dad’s family, Sephardic Jews, sought an exit plan, albeit late. I always remember the story of how my dad’s brother Paul, three at the time, dropped a toy drum from a balcony onto a Nazi soldier. That’s the kind of thing that could have gotten everyone killed, like many of the extended family. But Paul, and the rest of the family, got away with the dropped drum.
We all went to Vienna on a family trip in 1999 and in addition to the opera, museums, visiting my dad’s old home, and whiling in cafes eating strudel, we also went through massive squares and plazas with statues in them. We just stood in one for a while and my dad leaned into my ear and said, “If you listen closely, you can still hear the marching.”
My grandfather was at some point imprisoned by the Gestapo and beaten badly, so most of the logistics to get out of Vienna were left to my grandmother, Rochelle. One man integral to my dad’s family escaping Vienna was another great uncle, Lazar, on my grandmother’s side of the family—the Bulgarians. He was in Switzerland at the time and was able to get tickets, through the Bulgarian consulate, on the Conte di Savoia, leaving Genoa harbor on October 12, 1938. The tickets are framed on the wall in my parents’ bedroom.
Lazar lived in Milan after Switzerland and is buried there, and when I go to Milan for work I make a point to visit his grave—now that I know where to find it. The first time I attempted to locate it was absurd, and as close to what I imagine some people would call divine intervention.
I arrived, finally, at the Cimitero Maggiore after a bus, tram, and numerous inquiries for directions, and about half an hour before the cemetery closed, not having a clue what Lazar’s coordinates or address was—do graves have addresses?—I went to an office, but they didn’t know any English. I drew a Star of David with my finger, and then a little light went off in one of the men. He said in rapid Italian that I had to take a bus to what I first thought was another enormous cemetery on the other side of town. Turns out there was a Jewish quarter of this cemetery, way on the other side, and that’s what he was referring to. But he also pointed to his watch, raised his eyebrows and shoulders, and rotated his hand at the wrist, the international sign for “What’s the point; We’re closing soon.”
So there I was at a bus stop, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of graves. Then a bus arrived, and there we sat. And sat. Eventually, with about fifteen minutes before closing time, we set off and I got off at the last stop. Now what? I’d seen a photo of the grave when uncle Paul visited there years before, but how it looked was resigned to hazy memory: a menorah, brownish, some strewn stones.
Daylight was fading in the mid-winter sky and I think I was the only one alive in the whole place. Then I saw a massive star of David with the sun setting behind it and went toward it—toward the light! I was now in the Jewish section, and faced with a mere 100,000 graves. So through the avenues I went, up, down, across, back. They were all brownish with menorahs on them. This was hopeless. They were going to shut the gates and lock me in there, so I cut my losses and headed for the exit. Maybe next time. Then I took a cursory glance behind me, through all the tombstones, and there it was, a couple of cemetery blocks away: Eliezer (Lazar) Behar, staring right at me.
March 13, 2018. I’m heavy with cold and jet lag in Hong Kong with three days of seminars, press briefings, and schmoozy cocktail events, but it’s all just distraction now that this Indonesia trip is a go. Tai just called as well, as we’re having issues with the two-faced neighbors who are doing an addition to their house, one thing after another: ruptured water main, broken decking slats, and everyone’s favorite—rats. Knowing their history, they’ll probably try to squeeze some money out of us since, as they’ll see it, the water main was probably leaking already so they’re doing us a favor.
I’m wide awake and wondering what the best approach is. But not for neighbors or to what faces me here in Hong Kong. It’s this trip in May that keeps my head spinning.
I’ve been in touch with Bruce, an Australian ex-pat who has a small fishing boat that he uses for charter surf trips out to Panaitan, but his May 8 to May 18 trip is full and I fly back to London on May 15. He might also put together a May 1 to May 7 trip, but I have work in Jakarta May 3rd through May 5th. It’s crossed my mind to somehow wiggle out of the work and do it remotely, but even I have limits; I can’t have work pay for business-class flights so I can get on a boat and surf. Plus, I leave on May 1 and don’t arrive before May 2. Being locked into dates on a short surf trip doesn’t mix well with the unpredictability of the ocean and the Third World.
There’s also the possibility of hopping to Bali for a few warm-up days. Or just abandoning the Panaitan idea and go to east Java, via fast boat from Bali, and surf there just to get the maximum time in the water. Even if the best case scenario came together to go to Panaitan, I could pay the money, get out there and be greeted with weak, gutless waves that aren’t worth the effort. Panaitan is notoriously fickle, whereas east Java is what people call a wave magnet, and there’s always something worthwhile to surf there.
But if Panaitan does come to life, it’s a true pinnacle. There’s almost a feeling of “be careful what you ask for” because the main wave there, called One Palm Point—a left-hand “point” wave that pinwheels off a headland and the ghost of its one palm tree (now long gone)—is frightening even when it’s relatively small. When it’s big, I try not to look where it’s breaking because it’s so violent and destructive—all that water slamming into the reef and exploding straight up in the air. There’s no getting away from the noise. It sounds like constant demolition.
So at the moment, there are a lot of scenarios to look at to get the most out of this trip. I know this labor-intensive situation well and it always reminds me how I’d give up surf trips entirely (almost) if I could get back to the daily routine I had in California. Back then, it was consistent and very low impact on everyone else around. Now trips create an almighty vacuum that is expensive and emotionally draining. But that’s what has to be done.
If it were just neighbors and work on my mind, I’d be fast asleep.
March 24, 2018. Still, so far, east Java isn’t definite, so I have a few things to work out. At least round-trip flights from Jakarta to Bali are inexpensive. All the variables, options, pros and cons, and timeframes are bouncing around in my head, with about five weeks to go until I set off. Luckily, London is full of churches. They offer great aesthetics from the outside, but I use them as a place of reprieve to think things out.
There are a lot of churches near my office at St Paul’s, but my favorite is St Bride’s. It’s a Wren church tucked off Fleet Street with a spire that was inspiration for the tiered wedding cake. It’s not particularly comfortable, with cramped, creaky pews, but it’s quiet, has massive understated windows, and can provide answers to the big questions, like: Should I go to east or west Java to surf?
April 1, 2018. Usually by this time of the year, there’s been a story on the surf websites, accompanied by lots of jaw-dropping photos, of the first solid swell in Indonesia to herald a new wave season—something surfers call “opening day.” That hasn’t happened yet, but even though it’s way too early to know what conditions are going to be like in early May when I’m there, you should be able to gauge the mood of the Indian Ocean by now and get a sense of whether it’s going to be a good early season or not. The fact nothing has happened yet isn’t a great sign, but there’s still time, and hope.
One Palm Point and Grajagan are waves that surfers call “lefts,” meaning they break from left to right if you look at them from shore. But, you guessed it, there are rights too, which break in the opposite direction. Convention says that because I’m what’s called a regularfoot—standing with my left foot forward on the board—I would be better at rights because my body is facing the wave, which gives you a better view of how the wave behaves as it breaks along. Someone with the right foot forward, or a goofyfoot, would traditionally gravitate to lefts for the same reason. But since my home wave, Black’s, is predominantly a left, I’ve honed my skills as a backside surfer, or one who surfs with his back to the wave.
That’s not to say I haven’t surfed a lot of rights, though, and I’ve travelled specifically to surf some. Two that stand out are Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa and Palikir on the island of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia. The former is cold water and has a lot of moods and sections, and while the latter has different sections as well and almost as long a wave, the water is bathtub warm and so clear you can see sharp details of the reef twenty feet below. Both are known for shark sightings but at Palikir, there are mostly benign reef sharks with plenty of food to feast on, so humans don’t interest them.
Jeffrey’s Bay, on the other hand, has a reputation for great white attacks, and if you’re out there alone at dawn or dusk, the eeriness can be paralyzing. When I was there, I got up very early to get the first-shift bounty of waves. But I was always reluctant to be the first one to paddle out.
The most frightening part of surfing doesn’t come from things that can’t be seen or controlled. To me, that scary part is the choice to commit to paddling into a wave of consequence that’s out of your comfort zone.
Waves originate from storms thousands of miles out at sea and they pulse toward the shore in groups, or sets, that number anywhere from two to six or so. There’s a lot of sitting in surfing, the waiting period in between sets, and when they do come there’s an almighty scramble to get into position. The first wave in a set is usually the smallest—the scout wave—and can be tempting, but the next ones are usually bigger, and given how close you are to the water’s surface when you paddle, you can’t generally see over it to the next one.
Unless they are big. That can be an agonizing moment: when you’re next in line to go and you peer over the first wave and see a behemoth.
You’re now faced with a choice. But it’s not like golf, or rock climbing, where you have the luxury to ponder options. You must go. People are screaming for you to go. If you don’t, you’re forever labelled as someone who can’t commit. People will then out-position you in the water, and pity you on land.
I got the yips once on a big day at a righthand wave on the other side of the bay on Panaitan. I was in position for a big set wave and I didn’t go. I told myself if a similar wave like that came through again and I didn’t go again, then I’d just go back to the boat and call it a day. I caught a few smaller ones and then another big one came right to me. And I didn’t go. There were only three of us on that boat trip and the other two didn’t even paddle out that day, but no matter how you measure success in surfing, it all comes down to your own track record, set against no one else’s.
Sand is generally more forgiving than cheese-grater reef, but it can still be lethal. I broke my nose at a beachbreak in Mexico one time, but only mildly. There was a little crunching noise when I moved the bridge and the blood dripping out was a bit alarming, but Tai, who was on the beach fending off feral dogs, just said something like, “Oh good, we can go home now.”
The waves were amazing though.
May 3, 2018. I’m in Indonesia.
I haven’t been surfing yet, but it’s not one of those awful dreams made real. I just have work obligations to fulfill until Saturday, so that’s the earliest I can get in the water. The forecast for waves and decent winds are pretty good but the chances of getting out to Panaitan are slim, so it looks like I’ll book flights from Jakarta to Bali and then a boat to the camp at Grajagan in east Java. The online chatter from people thinking of meeting up down here ceased about two weeks ago, so it’s another solo mission to the jungle.
Leaving home for extended trips like these is getting more difficult. There were a lot of loaded chambers leading up to leaving, and emotions and vulnerabilities rose to the surface. Almost every day last week, I came home to a different problem: a key broken off in the lock, an oven that doesn’t work, cabinet doors falling off a hinge, lights not working.
And on top of all the stress, the lead-up to this trip was especially exhausting since we’re in the middle of written squabbles with our neighbors, the ones who are building an extension, and as they dug the foundations they clipped our water mains, damaged our decking, and left a hole in the wall in their attempts to repair the water pipe. Days later, my son woke me up saying there was a rat in his room. The construction company they hired has slapped up some repairs, but the neighbors absolved themselves of any responsibility. And then the taxi pulled up and I was off to Heathrow.
The good thing about the rats, I guess, is that they were the only way we knew there was an exposed hole in the house. I saw one scurry along the living room wall and my blood turned to ice. It wedged itself behind the dishwasher. And just as when Tai and I became instant experts on couches before we got married while furniture shopping—learning about the differences between Lawson and rolled arms, and what eight-way hand-tied springs were—we learned about rats: what they eat, how small a hole they can squeeze into, and, most importantly, how to kill them. I also learned that they only run along walls, and I suddenly felt a connection to them since I always walk along walls and size them up to see if they’re good wave size.
The hole in our house was eventually filled up and the rat poison worked. I scooped up the bloody, hairy pest in a dust-pan in the living room, next to our old couch, and hurled it over the fence into the neighbor’s yard.
May 12, 2018. I left Jakarta a week ago for Bali, on May 5, and stayed a couple of days, then relocated to Sunny’s on Monday the 7th, since the boat to Grajagan in eastern Java left on the morning of the 8th from the beach close to her house, in Tuban. Sunny’s house is where I first arrived in Bali, on my first trip there, in 1993, where I encountered Thomas talking about Panaitan. Sunny and her son Dennis have a little business renting out rooms to airline crews, since they’re also close to the airport. I got the boat early the next morning and a smooth two and a half hours later, I arrived, along with a handful of other surfers, at Grajagan.
It’s primitive here in many ways, with the vines growing into the rooms and monkeys swinging from the trees. But the waves eclipse everything.
In laymen’s terms, it’s been about ten to twelve feet, and when you have hollow waves of that size slamming into sharp reef, the consequences get in your head. But I’ve been here before and have surfed it at this size, and I know what to expect, for the most part. It still takes a couple of days to get settled, but given the high standard of surfing here and the hunger to get the best waves, it’s important to establish yourself as someone who is going to charge into the biggest, meanest waves that come through, so you earn your place in the line-up, or totem pole, in the water. If people see you hesitate, back off good waves, or only go on the small ones, no one is going to give you an inch.
The environment here, situated in a massive bay in a national park on the eastern tip of Java, is pristine and a constant source of wonder, especially when the pastels explode in the clouds at sunset, and the reef at low tide pops and gurgles. In the water, I got off to a confident start on the first day, but day two didn’t build on day one. The waves were bigger, but I couldn’t weave through the crowd with enough authority. So much for my totem pole position.
Also on day two, I got into a barrel but didn’t come out. Barrels differ depending on the waves and the ocean bottom. For instance, Nias, a right-hand wave off northern Sumatra, is a high, almond-shaped barrel. Teahupoo, at the end of the road in Tahiti Iti, flares open wide and totally round. Saunton Sands in Devon County in England has a very gradual shelf, so waves there don’t barrel at all and are generally referred to as gutless.
Grajagan is somewhere in between Nias and Teahupoo, and some of the barrels feel very round, which means it’s very shallow underneath your feet. I didn’t hit the bottom on this particular wave, but a fin on my board hit my right calf. The skin didn’t break, thank goodness. If it was on the other side, on the shin bone, it would have split wide open. I kept surfing, since it wasn’t debilitating, but when I got to the beach, it swiftly developed into a massive, bulging hematoma. I wrapped it up in compression tape and got some ice from the kitchen. I then set up a comfortable place, with a nice view of the waves, to rest it for an hour at sunset, with a beer.
Then one of those thieving monkeys swooped down and grabbed my ice pack.
May 19, 2018. I’m flying over Doha, about halfway home to London from Jakarta. This trip was rewarding in many ways but similar to many other trips. I got good waves—every day at Grajagan was big, especially the last day before having to get the boat back to Bali—but it wasn’t transformational.
Still, there were incremental breakthroughs, and it only made me want to get new boards, get more fit, and get motivated for the next session—to get better.
May 25, 2018. I got back from my trip on Tuesday and immediately took all the damp T-shirts, trunks, and shorts from my backpack and boardbag and threw them in the washing machine. They still had that briny, low-tide smell, mixed with sweat, surf wax, and sunscreen that I would have liked to hang on to, but no amount of nostalgia can justify preserving such a reeking heap at the family’s expense. The trip was over and it was time to face the real world. Then I checked my emails and things slipped back into the surreal.
One was a group message from Simon to all the bell ringers in our branch—the East Berkshire and South Buckinghamshire Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers—seeing if anyone was available to ring for the royal wedding, on Saturday, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. This wouldn’t be for the main band ringing at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, but Simon wanted to assemble a B team to ring some simple methods at the Windsor Parish Church—off Broadway, so to speak, but just around the corner from the Castle, and on the carriage procession route. I put my name down and he replied, “Great!”
So a few days after arriving from Indonesia—the bruise on my leg still healing from that collision with my board at Grajagan and the reef cuts and small punctures in my feet still throbbing—I was on my bike, riding through Michelin-star ground zero, Bray Village, and along the banks of the Thames to Windsor. After scrambling through security and the heaving crowds, I was pulling on a rope, that timeless English tradition, adding to an atmosphere of celebration for a royal couple watched around the world, and all the while thinking, and being reminded through the dull pain in my feet, of the great waves I got earlier in the week.
A few days later Tai and I went to Wigmore Hall, in central London, to listen to the countertenor Tim Mead belt out some Bach cantatas. Just as surfers flock to Grajagan to get world-class waves, people come to London to hear world-class music. There’s little overlap in the two audiences but I was able to do both within a week.
To sit in that hall, with the period instruments and Tim’s voice, and with a surf trip freshly under my belt, with the throbbing feet and swollen leg, for me, defines accomplishment. The ringing in Windsor added even more. The uniqueness of it stands out for me.
There’s an age-old cliché that’s been propagated about surfing being a mystical pursuit for the perfect wave. It’s that escapist, existential search for something that doesn’t exist; our white whale, chasing the dream.
But I see perfect waves all the time. They’re everywhere. In terms of the convention of what makes a wave perfect—size, shape, color, symmetry, proportion—it doesn’t take much to find it and surf it. Mission accomplished, over and over again. It’s how you surf them that makes perfect waves perfect.
All the variables must come together. I’ve surfed ragged, imperfect waves better than perfect waves sometimes, and had terrible sessions in perfect waves. Perfection is a more of a scenario that exists mostly in my imagination, or a melding of the best portions of previous experiences: back-lit, offshore barrels in warm water; surfing in a flow state; relaxed but intense enough to keep my wits; and just a handful of friends to rotate with and help pinball the glory. A photographer in the mix helps too, to preserve the proof and broadcast it to other surfing friends.
And even if everything does come together just right, the search doesn’t just stop. The pursuit keeps going on, with even more enthusiasm than ever.
I turned forty-eight on October 8 and took the day off. I’m getting older. I’m not old.
Bill Finnegan was just in California, covering a surfing contest for the New Yorker—on manmade waves. And because it’s a manmade wave, in a converted manmade lake, in Lemoore, two hours east of the coast, the contest marked new territory in competitive surfing, and surfing in general, since this site will most likely be a prototype to replicate all over the country. It really throws a world-class wall and an impossibly long, sectionless barrel.
Yet it has its limitations, including a lack of variety. There’s no paddling or wondering if there’s another wave behind the one in front of you. It’s a totally different species in its predictability—exactly what surfing in the ocean isn’t. It’s the tennis equivalent of a ball machine: great for honing technique, stamina, and getting in a good flow, but it lacks dynamism. It lacks vastness.
The forecast in England remains dismal, and it’s accelerating my frustration. The idiots constantly whistling at work—in an open-plan office—speed it up. The self-indulgent people walking on the street with their chins tucked in their necks staring at their phones and getting in my way—speed it up. Delayed trains, disobedient children. It would be more bearable if I could run out and get a few waves, just to rinse the rot.
The 2018 Jaws Challenge is underway. This is part of the Big Wave Tour, a satellite tour of the main World Surf League Tour, which holds contests in more human-sized waves around the world. Jaws is the hyperbolic name given to a wave on Maui, otherwise referred to as Pe’ahi, that only breaks when it reaches the thirty-foot mark. And no one really takes any notice until fifty-foot amphitheatres detonate on the reef. And since it reached that threshold at the end of November, contest directors decided to run the event.
The footage is remarkable. Contestants look like the Michelin Man from the waist up, wearing inflatable vests as they paddle enormous surfboards into these beasts. Once they lock eyes onto the wave they want, waves that block out the horizon, they start their mad paddling into it at about the twenty-foot mark. And then the rush of water going up the face of the wave, combined with the wave rearing off the reef far below the surface, lifts them another thirty feet. They can only hope that their arm strength is superior to that counterflow so they can get to their feet and down to the bottom. Jaws, and all other waves of consequence, big or small, is like a catapult. If you want to hurl something, it needs to be in the basket at the top of the arm. In surfing, you don’t want to be in that basket. You want to be beneath it as the arm reaches its apex, and then ride down the arm as all the momentum throws over your head.
The falls at Jaws are spectacular. The surfers don’t free-fall fifty feet, but rather twenty feet, maybe, and then skip a couple of times, and then slide down the remaining fifteen feet or so, unable to penetrate the water surface, and then they get bulldozed by immeasurable tons of water, packed like boulders. If all goes right in those situations, far beneath, they pull toggles on their vests to release air canisters and they shoot to the surface, looking like that Michelin man, but half-drowned.
I can hear the blood hammering in my ears just watching the Jaws contest from my desk. The adrenaline is contagious—even though I’ll never look over the ledge of a fifty-foot wave. I have no interest in that. You need a head like an anvil to feel confident on that scale. Just the anticipation of committing to one of those waves makes me shake. How do these people sleep at night?
I went to San Francisco to see my brother, Eric, and, yes, to surf. The big picture is that I’m able to travel and surf, and get some fun, clean waves with friends around the world. But the small picture is I’m pissed off that it’s just typical that the exact dates of this trip coincided with spells of mostly piddly waves, sandwiched in between periods of bigger surf, which I missed. Some would say that’s all just part of being a surfer, putting up with disappointment, processing the hurt that’s out of our control, like a Cleveland Browns fan. But it still boils my bile.
There should be better waves. Surfing doesn’t teach patience, as I’ve heard many times over the years. It just exposes impatience. Good things come to those who wait, but I don’t have time for that. Better things come to those who act.
Good surf is a fleeting and fickle resource. People who don’t surf find it difficult to sympathize, especially when our oven stops working and deadlines are looming. But knowing me, I’ll force something to happen soon, at the expense of something, or someone.
There has been a lot of attention given to the climber Tom Caldwell recently and the documentary Dawn Wall, about how he free-climbed El Cap in 2015. In interviews, he refers to a flow state, where you’re in a realm of effortless calm and execution amid chaotic surroundings. While I don’t climb, I can relate, because you seek that same function in surfing. While I was listening to him describe that heightened awareness, I teared up.
But it doesn’t have to be sport to achieve such a state. Musicians, ballet dancers, even stenographers might know it. I certainly know bell ringers who know the feeling. One in particular, Olly, who rings at Bray with me, is one of the best ringers in the country. He’s young, in his early 30s, and mostly rings the heavy bell, the tenor. He has amassed more than 1,000 peals at different towers, in which he rings a method for up to four and half hours. Sometimes seven. Non-stop ringing, controlling a three-quarter-ton bell in rhythm with other ringers. It’s insane. He’s so committed.
Olly is the equivalent of a big-wave surfer, without the possible outcome of death, of course. I watch him ring and he stares at the floor, using his peripheral vision to see what all the other ropes are doing. He’s a machine of precision and it’s awesome to see, and somewhat understand.
Surfing, like ringing, is an obsession. It overlaps with addiction. It can be healthy and it can be destructive. Like any obsession, it has to hurt sometimes. I certainly know that. And Olly and I know that the worst thing you can do to an obsession is stifle it. Compromise is pain.
Flow state and compromise are the two ends of the surfing spectrum, or any spectrum of obsession for that matter, since you don’t have to surf to know tension, struggle, and commitment. Surfing, and the absence of it, is normal life in many ways. I’m not fleeing war or suffering from disease or anything like that, but it’s still consuming and difficult to manage.
The body does what it can to keep up with that furnace inside that makes you, as a surfer, hurry to the water. You always see surfers sprint with their boards across the sand, and when a good wave breaks, they throw in a skip, a leap or a hoot—whatever it takes to get in the water quicker. Does a child walk through the parking lot to the fair? No, she hops, scampers, stomps and pulls on dad’s arm to hurry up! The thrill of the fair, or more importantly the anticipation of the fair, is inextinguishable in the dedicated surfer.
I find myself thinking back to Indonesia a lot. The sunsets there can be unforgettable, especially after a strong rain washes the air and there’s not as much pollution to clog the experience. When there’s just a little diaphanous haze, though, and mist from the waves, the surrounding pastel milkiness and the warmth of the water and air all meld together and create a sublime time to surf, and to be a surfer.
At Grajagan, for instance, this is a very special time, and during my last trip in May, we had one of those sunsets and great waves. I say “we” because there were only a handful of people out, sharing the wealth. I have no idea who they were, but at one point we all just looked at each other and basked in the moment.
A lot about surfing is flukiness, being in the right place at the right time, and being prepared to be on it all the time, in order to maximize the possibility of having those moments.
I know that this traveling for work isn’t permanent, and that the life of a leather specialist will run its course, but I feel obligated to take full advantage of it while I can. Tempus fugit, as they say.
Consider, for a moment, the Boxing Day 2004 earthquake, and the subsequent tsunami that killed 300,000 people in around the coasts of the Indian Ocean, some of them many miles from the epicenter, off Sumatra. I heard about it in a taxi on the way to Heathrow to spend the rest of the holidays with my parents in California. The minivan was packed with surfboards, booster seats, Tai, kids, and luggage, and the damage and death toll reported was incomprehensible. Some areas were levelled, and some nearby areas didn’t suffer much at all.
One mildly affected area was the north Sumatran island of Nias. A subsequent earthquake, on March 28, 2005, was centered closer to that island and nearly 1,000 people were killed. It was, of course, a horrendous human tragedy.
It also had a minor, if odd, surfing angle.
A lot of the delicate reef around Nias abruptly raised about ten feet in the quake and died soon after being exposed to the punishing sun. That violent adjustment caused a famous wave to get better, since swells would hit a more abrupt shelf and create a wider tube. Nias was back on the surf travel map after falling into obscurity. Magazines picked up on the anomaly, surfers flocked to feast on the new and improved wave, and surf tourism flooded to the area.
I went there last year, knowing about the steroid injection the wave had got, and was excited to tap into it. I got plenty of good waves, but it didn’t feel like anything extraordinary, despite the flawless shape of the wave, the hollow tube, and the luscious tropical backdrop. This was Indonesia, after all, and the bar for surf perfection is set high. I hadn’t surfed Nias before so I didn’t have any previous trips there to compare it to. The barrel just seemed almond shaped, rather than really round and bottomed-out, like what I was expecting.
And then the reality slipped in: Veteran surfers said that the reef shelf that had jutted up thirteen years earlier is steadily settling down to where it was before the earthquake, and the wave, as a result, is starting to break the way it used to break. In other words, nothing is permanent, and I should have gone to Nias ten years ago.
Even geological time runs out before you know it.
Carl Friedmann works in London as an editor for a variety of industry trade magazines and lives with his wife and two boys (thirteen and nine) in Maidenhead. Carl earned his bachelor’s from Boston College in 1992, a master’s from Oxford in 1995, and another master’s from Columbia’s J School in 2000. His surfing resume covers six continents over twenty-six years, but he still can’t get the hang of a plain course of Gransire Triples at his local bell-ringing church tower.