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Tips from a champion surfer

August 04, 2005

Dave Brooks

Small, sloppy waves on the south side of the pier. An indestructible

soft-top long board that could survive a submarine torpedo.

Waist-high waters directly in front of a lifeguard station.

Yeah, I was scared to death.

I've been surfing for about two years, first picking up the sport

in Santa Cruz. Sure, I have braved colder waters, climbed up cliffs

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and worried about the occasional shark, but nothing scared me more

than the thought of paddling out with someone who was much better

than I.

It was July 19, two days before the big crowds started converging

on the city for the U.S. Open of Surfing, and here I was scheduled to

participate in an assignment in which a pro surfer would be

"teaching" me how to surf.

I gleefully hammed my project around the office, bragging that I

was actually getting paid to surf for the day -- but secretly I had

many reservations about my little escapade.

You see, despite its popularity, surfing still seems plagued by a

general discouragement of new people coming to the sport. There's

actual some logic behind this -- there's so few good waves in

Southern California, and more people at the lineup leads to crowds

and fewer waves to go around.

There are even terms to describe this. If you've been surfing

since you were a kid -- no older than age 16 -- you're a "core"

surfer. If you're like me, who started when I was 23, then you're

just some dumb "kook" or a "barney" who flops around in the water.

So, by surfing with a pro surfer for the sake of journalism, I'm

totally opening up myself to being discovered as a "kook." But the

ridicule would be short, and it sure beat writing another piece on

the Orange County Sanitation District, so I agreed to go along.

Before I could paddle out, the public relations people made me sit

through a half-hour press conference. As I was listening to one beach

bum describe how the U.S. Open was "the sickest contest in surfing,"

I caught a glimpse of Taj Burrow, last year's Open champ.

"Well, here goes nothing," I told myself, before walking up to the

big-shot Aussie and introducing myself.

In a moment of characteristic uncoolness, I even told Taj I was a

"huge fan." Despite my fawning, he was really friendly, cracking some

joke I pretended to understand.

OK, if that went well, then maybe this surf lesson wouldn't be so

bad after all. I headed over to say hello to sportswriter Mike

Sciacca, who proceeded to introduce me to my instructor for the day

-- Holly Beck.

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