WIPEOUT: For 10 Seconds I was a Surfer Girl

Monday, July 12, 2010
By Brandy Dolce

Brandy wipeoutby Brandy Dolce

THE 1960s replica longboard again rocketed out from under my feet, shooting into the air like a missile, several times coming close enough to ruffle the wet hair glued to the heads of other surfers naive enough to trust my nonexistent surfing skills.

My first surfing lesson, courtesy of Spellbinders in Allenhurst, made me feel like I was tip-toeing through the aisle of a crowded movie theater where everyone else already had their seats. All I could do was try to avoid stomping on the toes of those who came before me.

“Excuse me, pardon me,” I felt like saying. And then the inevitable, “Whoops, sorry!” which I did say as the board once again careened toward a couple of unsuspecting surfer girls.

I held my breath more than once that morning: When I remembered there was a shark sighting just two days earlier, which cleared the Euclid Avenue beach in Allenhurst I was about to desecrate with my derring-do; when I tumbled over and over again from the boat my instructor, Rick Henrichsen, called a surf board; and when the $1,000 Haney repeatedly sailed to shore without me as an army of watchers bore witness to my kamikaze death dives into the foaming waves.

But I was in good hands. Henrichsen, 54, West Allenhurst, has surfed for 40 years. He went to college to surf, attending the University of Hawaii and UCLA. While he eventually became a stock broker, that’s merely his part-time job. Besides his wife and two children, surfing is his life.

He and longtime friend Ron Fernicola, Allenhurst, who owns Spellbinders, 318 Main St., gave up their boards to the abuse of my cloddish efforts in what can only be thought of as surfing sacrilege.

Before repeatedly punishing myself with what seemed like a 10-foot, 40-pound bruiser of a board, I got a lesson in the basics from Henrichsen.

The board had a single fin curving elegantly from its tail, and, after Henrichsen explained how sharp it was, I suddenly had a new respect for the hooked protrusion, which no longer looked a delicate peripheral, but a machete ready to hack me in two.

Nevertheless, I’d risk it. After all, I didn’t wake up at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning for nothing.

Henrichsen told me never to carry the board horizontally across my front unless I have a wish to be smacked back on to my rear by the unrelenting waves. The proper way to wield your board is under your arm, fin facing in behind your body.

So I did what most first-time surfer girls would in this situation. I let him carry the board.

With my torso Saran-wrapped in a Spellbinder’s rash guard, the little sleeves and high neck shielding my body from irritation, I waded into the low tide of the Atlantic. The water was a soothing shock to my catatonic state, as I had rolled from the dry, safe haven of my blankets only a half-hour before.

I knew as long as Henrichsen was still carrying the board, I was safe. But that soon changed.

Lying flush against the board, I would wait for him to give me a shove in front of an oncoming wave. The wave’s crest would catch me and shoot me toward shore like a torpedo. At least that was the plan. In a matter of seconds, I was expected to get to my feet, first in a squat with my left foot forward, my right to the back of the board, and then graduate to a standing position.

After one hour, eight attempts, and one victorious ride toward shore in which I cornily pumped my fists above my head and yelled in triumph, the people on the beach cheered for me (or maybe for the safe homecoming of the pricey board). In any case, I am now the proud bearer of several bruises which, one week later, I am still showing off like honorary war wounds.

But who cares about those?

For the mere ten seconds that the board and I became one, I felt like a real surfer, though it’s more than safe to say I’m not. Not yet.

Originally published in The Islander, Asbury Park Press.

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