Here is a creative non fiction story I wrote this semester. It's just a conversation I had on the beach with an old surfer a few years back. It's not meant to be offensive so if you feel like I'm targeting anyone, that's just the way things were that day. I hope you enjoy it.
He sat on the beach with his faded yellow surfboard lying next to him in the sand. His wetsuit was pulled halfway down his beer belly and his beard dripped with salt water leaving little bits of sand stuck between the hairs. He smiled at the ocean.
“Beautiful day for surfing, isn’t it?” he said to me, eyes squinting as the sun was in its afternoon decline.
“Yeah. I got lucky this week. I used to live about twenty minutes away but now I only make it out to California once a year.” I wanted him to know that I could still be considered a local and not just some tourist, hogging up his waters.
“Really. Where are you guys living now?”
“Utah?” He looked confused and I didn’t blame him. I hated my current living location but somehow I got stuck there with time playing against my financial situation.
“Yeah, I know. You’re probably wondering why I would ever move away from such a beautiful place,” I said rolling my eyes.
“Kind of. Utah’s not such a bad place. There’s plenty of desert camping, too many Mormons though. You’re not Mormon are you?” he asked with a chuckle through his raspy voice.
I knew the Mormon question was going to come up. How could it not? He had every right to ask. I grew up Mormon, even served as a missionary for their church. I renounce the religion just a few years prior and I didn’t really want to burden him with my outing story.
“Once upon a time…but that’s another story. Religion’s not my thing, you know?” I said, hoping to find some common ground.
“I hear you there man. My life with God is personal. I don’t need some self-obsessed priest in a collar to tell me what God wants. My meetinghouse with God is right here on these shores. Welcome to church my friend!” he said with a great big inviting smile. “Happy to have you.”
I was fascinated with his happiness. I could tell that he probably wasn’t living the “high life” and he seemed to be somewhere in his sixties, although I couldn’t tell from the wear and tear that the sun and salt water had done to his leathery face.
“I’ve been wanting to move back here but I just don’t know how I could ever afford it.”
“Afford what, living? Hell, I’ve got myself a studio apartment about the size of a millionaire’s bathroom.”
He described the shower in the corner of his apartment, just a faucet coming out of the wall with no curtain and a drain in the cement floor. There was enough room to store his surfboard and clothesline ran from each wall to hang his towel and wetsuit. I imagined a bed just barely long enough to stretch his legs and maybe a small cooking stove to heat a cup of coffee, for his beard carried the light brown stains above his lip.
This is how he spent his social security checks, all day at the beach and home just long enough to sleep at night. What is it that motivates a man to give up the luxuries of a nice car, a fancy house, a respectable job and everything else that marks one as successfully retired in America? It didn’t seem like he cared all that much of how other’s saw his lifestyle.
“I guess that’s all you need…if you’re not married,” I said, throwing my head to the direction of my wife who was sunbathing just beside me. Her long brown curly hair was pulled to the side. She sensed that she had become part of our conversation and tied up the back of her black and white polka dot bathing suit.
“What are you talking about Jeff,” Mandi said, inviting herself into the conversation with a smile on her face.
“This is my wife Mandi, and this is…”
“My name’s Carl, very nice to meet you Mandi. Jeff and I were just talking about why you need to get the hell out of Utah and live in Santa Cruz.”
“I have no objection there,” Mandi said raising her eyebrows, head tilted and staring at me in the face. Mandi was originally from Hawaii and moved to Utah when she was nine. She was pretty bitter about her parent’s decision to move to the main land. Who could blame her? I once went on vacation with her family to Hawaii and found that it was the tropical paradise I had always dreamed it would be. I guess being a surfer she saw me as the perfect way out of Utah. Little did she know that I was going to take forever getting through school.
“You see. She’s got the right attitude. You have a smart wife my friend,” Carl said, pointing his finger to gesture the fact.
“Yeah I know. I probably wouldn’t have these once a year vacations if it weren’t for her. My family wasn’t much for traveling. Too many kids and not enough money.”
“That’s why we are waiting on kids,” Mandi butted into the conversation. “We’ve got lots to see in this world together,” she said, looking at Carl while placing her hands on my shoulders. I’m sure he could tell that Mandi was a very convincing woman.
“Do you have any children?” I asked, wondering why he was living alone.
“No. I was married once. It didn’t really work out for me though. I was young and too drunk and drugged up to remember those days. I couldn’t really blame her for leaving. I was a real asshole. You know, selfish and rude.”
I respected Carl. He didn’t try to hide anything. He was open about his past experience with the drug scene in Santa Cruz, even if I didn’t ask. It didn’t feel awkward though. With other people, this type of conversation would feel more like a confession but Carl spoke about it as if it was totally behind him.
“I’ve been clean and sober for fifteen years now. Life is good when you actually know what’s going on around you. Better than waking up without knowing where your pants are.”
Carl realized that he was speaking in the presence of a lady.
“Sorry, I didn’t…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I don’t care,” Mandi said, flipping her wrist, as if it was no big deal. I could tell that this made Carl a little more at ease.
“You’re a lucky man Jeff. Maybe that luck will bring you back here one day.” He winked at Mandi as she acted out her best shy look.
“I’m going to go back out in the water. Do you want to come with?” Mandi said as she slipped into her wetsuit.
“I’ll join you in a minute babe.” I wanted to finish up my conversation with Carl.
“Will you be joining us Carl?” Mandi said, holding her board in her hand.
“Nope. All done for the day. I’m probably going to go get some coffee.”
“Have it your way. Nice to meet you Carl.” Mandi turned and ran towards the water.
Carl yelled back. “Nice to meet you too!” He waved watching her skip through the shallow shore until she took a dive into the water with her board.
“I know I said this before but you really are a lucky man. Hold on to that girl. You don’t run into many of them in your life. In Fact, I don’t think I’ve run into one until now.” I could see the look of regret on his face but he wiped it off quickly. I didn’t want to be there to ruin his Zen so I tried to lighten things up a bit.
“Do you know of any other good surfing spots I could try out? This is really my first time coming to pleasure point.”
“Well, you should come here earlier in the morning. It’s kickin’ but you’ll want to follow the rules when it comes to the night fighters.”
I knew exactly what he was talking about. There was a wooden sign at the top of the stairs just before you walk down to the beach. In yellow letters it read,
He told me that he was happy to have me there that morning and that I could come back to his town anytime. I was surprised because I have run into too many surfers who discourage tourism due to crowded waters and losing their “Zen” moment of the day. I didn’t blame them. Those beaches were my waters all through high school and I didn’t go there to dodge the surf school riders while riding a perfect wave. Carl saw it as everyone’s right to have a piece of the ocean so long as they respected her mood swings. “She can be a real bitch, unforgiving and nasty, but if you show her your respect she can give and give.”
He was kind enough to give me the names and locations of other surf spots in the area and departed saying he’d hope to see us living in California again some day. As he made his way up the weather beaten stairs that lead to the main road, I zipped up the back of my wetsuit, grabbed my board and slowly waked into the water. I dropped my board next to my legs and let it float while I splashed my hair to get it wet enough to slick it back out of my eyes. The water dripped down my face and my body adjusted to the frigid North Pacific coast.
With my feet digging into the wet sand I pushed off jumping chest first onto my board and gliding slowly out to sea. Paddling hard, the first set of waves gave their best to push me back towards the shore, but I paddled harder making it over making it over each swell before it crashed hard, kicking up sand from the shallow sandy shore. I pressed my face to the board, ducking under the bigger waves. The vanilla scented sex wax rubbed against my nose as it helped repel the water away from the top of my board.
I reached the point where the waves were spread much farther apart and they pushed towards land long before they curled and broke. I paddled over to a lineup of about twenty surfers hoping to catch just one good wave. There sat Mandi on her board, reaching out to me as to lure me in from twenty feet away. I gently made my way over and positioned myself next to her. Mandi extended her neck out and puckered her lips to give me a kiss and I did the same. Holding hands, we waited as a set of seven to eight swells rolled in. There we were, waiting for life to catch up with us and we were perfectly at ease. There was no struggle to get ahead in life. I could live my life like this and be happy. Nothing else really mattered. Not cars, not houses, just Mandi and the ocean.