You gotta be brave before you can be good.

Submitted into Contest #129 in response to: Write your story from the point of view of someone learning or teaching an extreme hobby.... view prompt


Adventure Creative Nonfiction Suspense

You gotta be brave before you can be good.

The Golden Gate Bridge loomed high above, as I gazed out at the choppy bay, the likes of which I had never seen. I’d windsurfed in all kinds of conditions and wave types, but this was different.

There are two kinds of water here. The Bay water is runoff from the surrounding land. It is warmer and carries silt. But the Pacific Ocean is cold, stirred by upwellings and tides. This creates a perfect storm of sorts, resulting in turbulent, dangerous, ever-changing wave patterns. It is considered one of the most unusual places to go windsurfing on the planet.

And that, my friends, is why I’m standing here.

The day I arrived was cold and foggy. Only a handful of radicals were out, and they were playing it safe, staying close to shore.

Still, I was beyond excited. The forecast for the rest of the week was sunny and unusually mild for late spring, perfect for first-timers. I pulled on my fleece jacket and sat down on the rocky shore to watch. These guys were good. They were doing maneuvers I had never seen. And the point breaks!

Maybe I should explain. A point break is where a wave breaks as it hits a point of land jutting out from the coastline. On top of that, the large bridge supports in the Bay played all kinds of havoc. Not to mention freighters and all manner of sea-faring vessels passing under the bridge that the surfers had to watch for. I just had to talk to these guys, so I walked down the shore a bit to where I saw their gear to wait for them. When I got a look at their beautiful equipment and top-notch spare boards, harnesses, and booms, I turned around and went back to my rocky perch.

I had pretty shitty equipment, and my wetsuit was even sadder. There was no way I was showing up with my stuff. Thank the Lord I took out a loan the day I graduated from Ohio State last week. I was so exhausted from school, and from working full - time to put myself through, I told the company that had just hired me that I couldn't start for six weeks, and miraculously, they said OK. So with $6,000 burning a hole in my pocket, I headed to a popular windsurf shop in the city I had read about in Windsurf Magazine. Funny, as I drove over the famous bridge, the thadud…thadud…thadud of vehicles speeding across the highway grates was deafening.

But underneath the bridge, it was a different world. All one hears is wind and water. I couldn’t wait to get back there.

The shop was easy to find, as the parking lot was filled with funky old cars topped with colorful surfing gear—and all sorts of quirky people in wild shirts and shorts laughing and carrying on. Welcome to California.

When I walked out, I was the proud owner of a bright red, Rip Curl wetsuit and a spanking new Mistral sail. It was the most money I had ever spent on myself. I drove back to the bay, elated with my new gear.

That lasted about twenty minutes, before second thoughts about my extravagant purchase began haunting me. What was I thinking? I was a poor boy from Reading, Pennsylvania’s Children's Home. An orphan for Pete's sake. I tried to shake it off, not wanting to spoil my dream trip. Heck, I had a big fat salary awaiting me in Toledo. Still, these thoughts were something I would struggle with the rest of my life.

It was getting late, and I’d heard you could pitch a tent at nearby Kirby Cove for a small fee, so I found my way there and set up for the night. Some other campers told me about a nearby carry-out, so I picked up two slices of hours-old pizza and a soda, drove back, and fell asleep minutes after scarfing down my dinner.

In the morning, I was feeling pretty confident in my new gear and couldn’t wait to join the other surfers already well out into the bay. The wind was a bit more than I had hoped for, but the sun was shining, and the sky clear.

There was a small beach between the rocks, and I took off from there, the wind filling my sail within seconds. I was cautious at first, letting the sail out until I felt stable. There would be no jumps for me today, the waves and wind so unfamiliar. Soon, I got the feel of these strange wave patterns and was sailing confidently, even keeping up with the radicals. Then it hit me: what a great place to learn how to water start! A water start is when you start windsurfing laying in the water, not from the shore. It’s hard to learn, but important to know how to do if you are sailing in high winds on a “short” board, and fall off into the water.

I had always wanted to learn, but it’s hard, and I just never took the time. Now I had the time, and this strong wind was perfect! You start by treading water, staying close to your board, reaching up and emptying your sail of any water, positioning the mast perpendicular to the wind, lifting the luff (forward edge of the sail ) out of the water, and allowing the wind to catch the sail. Then hopefully the wind will be enough to fill the sail and pull you out of the water and onto your board at the same time it starts moving forward.  

All this happens in a matter of seconds, if all goes well. Occasionally a rider may be unable to water start if the wind has dropped. If this happens and you are on a small sinker board (a board that will sink when you stand on it if you aren’t moving), you are in deep shit. Even if you are able to climb onto your board, it is so small that it will stay submerged several feet.

But my board was large, so I could always hoist myself up out of the deep water if the wind calmed. I sailed to a good spot out of the path of the boat traffic and slipped into the cold water, holding tightly to the boom. I positioned myself perfectly, but just could not lift the sail up from this position to catch enough wind. I kept trying, almost getting up, but then quickly sinking back down into the sea. Learning to water start is really tough.

I noticed another windsurfer heading my way at great speed. I thought maybe he knew me, as he was staring at me as he approached. He slowed enough to shout, “Are you OK?”

Hmmm…. “YES!” I yelled, “I’m fine!”

He jibed and came around again. “Hey man, are you SURE you’re OK?”

I gave him a thumbs up, but he didn’t smile back. I thought I saw him shake his head as he took off to join the others.

After a few more unsuccessful tries, I was getting tired and pulled myself up onto my board, lifted the sail, and took off instantly, deciding to sail under the bridge one more time before calling it a day. The shadow of the bridge darkened the water, and for a moment I thought I was seeing things. But I wasn’t. I was heading straight for a large fin sticking out of the water, crossing a few yards in front of me. In a split second all the pieces came together. Sharks. That’s what the guy was trying to warn me about, asking if I was sure I was OK.

PLEASEGODPLEASEGODPLEASEGOD don’t let me fall. I held on tight as my board broadsided the shark. Miraculously, I stayed on my board by throwing my weight to one side before leveling out again. I was beyond terrified but managed to carefully jibe and head back to the nearest shore I could find.

I pulled my board in and sat down on dry land, my heart still beating so hard it shook my whole body. HOLYSHITHOLYSHITHOLYSHIT…..I made myself take a few deep breaths and tried to calm myself down. As my heartbeat began to quiet, I realized I had pissed in my new wetsuit.

I didn’t mind leaving a bit of my heart in San Fran, but an arm or leg was out of the question. I hurried back to my tent, packed up, and headed down the coast to California—grateful to be alive.

Two days later on my car radio as I was heading south along the coast, I heard a windsurfer was badly bitten by a shark in the Frisco Bay

It was a beautiful drive down the California coast. I made a small detour north to see the redwoods, and it brought back memories of my time as a child in the forest behind The Children's Home, finding comfort there when there was none for me in the world.

January 16, 2022 15:54

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Hannah Barrett
21:17 Jan 22, 2022

Hi Cynthia! Either you've done a lot of careful research, or you're a windsurfer. The details you provide and the confidence that you deliver them with really give your protagonist an air of authority that I think is critical for this prompt. I grew up sailing, different but similar, and it was nice to see and recognize a lot of that terminology. So very well done with that! In some ways this felt like a short excerpt of a longer work - some of the details, like that he's an orphan - were just dangling out there. I think you could have play...


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Sarah Winston
08:07 Jan 28, 2022

Hello Cynthia, Reedsy paired me up with you to offer a critique, which I find difficult because your writing is excellent, clear, and no typos! (I'm very good at spotting those). Hannah mentioned the Orphan angle didn't advance the plot, and maybe so, but I felt it gave me an understanding of the MC's discomfort in spending so much money on new equipment, mainly because he was embarrassed his equipment wasn't up to snuff with hip Frisco windsurfers. This vulnerability is once again realized when the hip Frisco surfers, familiar with their wi...


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John Kyle LAGRIO
12:52 Jan 29, 2022

kapoyag basa ani uy!


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