I Want to Be a Surf Bum – Wait, Never Mind

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The closest I’ve been to surfing in recent memory

I am wrapping up one of the best books that I have read in a long time, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. Finnegan is a staff writer for The New Yorker and a lifelong surfer. In his youth, he quit his job and went on a surfing tour around the world.

It gave me ideas. Dangerous ideas. Romantic visions of breaking free from my desk shackles and living an itinerant, aimless life, with the waves as my only guides.

And then I remembered: I am a terrible surfer.

I have neither the drive nor the body type to be a great surfer. Where I had once hoped that my generous curves would provide extra buoyancy, I quickly realized that they are just another thing to throw me off balance as I try to stand up on a piece of foam hurtling through the ocean. The passages I could most relate to in Finnegan’s book were not the ones where he stood triumphant atop some monster swell, but the ones where he described being slammed into the ocean floor and tossed around as he was pounded by waves from above.

And just in case I didn’t consider my body enough of a surfing liability, there’s this thing called surfer’s ear. It’s an actual medical condition caused by repeated exposure to cold water and wind. Cooled ear canals stimulate bone growth and coral-like lumps of bone build within them, eventually blocking the eardrum. So if you’re not worried enough about being concussed or drowned, you can also freak out about your bones turning against you and trying to overtake the rest of your body.

In addition to my inherent lack of shredding ability, I also like the stability that comes with a steady paycheck. Diving into the unknown, particularly when it comes to finances, gives me extreme anxiety. What can I say? If I had to categorize my financial style, it would be “Depression-Era Granny.” This is not to say that I am cheap; frugality in one area of my life does not necessarily carry over to another. I can go years without buying a pair of new jeans, but I think nothing of booking a plane ticket to anywhere (with the proper research and price comparisons, of course).

I also realized that Finnegan visited his surfing haunts in the 1970s. For better or for worse, tourism has come a long way since then – Fiji has gone from being an island backwater to the home of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as a common destination for upscale honeymoons. And do I really want to pursue my bitchin’ surfer fantasies next to newlywed couples sipping umbrella drinks and baby talking to each other? Nope. Not even on my best, most tolerant day.

Seeing as I would never thrive as a surf bum, I guess I am stuck here for now – or at least until I figure out the type of bumhood at which I would excel. Because I am nothing if not an overachiever.

– Kathy

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