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Friday, October 24, 2008

Barak the Bodysurfer - The October Surprise

Who is Barak Obama? What else is there to know about him? Is there anything left to discover or italicize after 20 months of increasing scrutiny?

With just 10 days left in the election, the answer is a surprising “yes.” And it’s appropriate for discussion (unlike the increasingly sleazy rumors being floated by the ultra-conservative hate machine), given that candidate Obama has curtailed campaigning to visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii.

Here’s my big reveal: Barry Obama is a bodysurfer. Not only that, as a highschooler in Hawaii he practiced his sport at Sandy Beach, the most dangerous beach in the world.

For confirmation of that stat, check out this 2002 Honolulu Advertiser clip:

As to Obama’s choice of sport, it’s here in my August 2008 blog, after his visit to Hawaii:

“Barak went local in a Friday statement, as reported by many sources, including Michael Falcone of the New York Times, in a time-honored way for a politician–by evoking food, the ur-indigenous reference point. “I might go to Zippy’s. I might go to Rainbow Drive-In. I might go get some shave ice,” the candidate said, adding, “I’m going to go body-surfing at an undisclosed location.”

Aside from the undisclosed beach, which every local bodysurfer could identify with a 90 percent degree of certainty–but will never tell Fox News--“5-0-Bama” was delivering a specific message. He was locating himself in a specific neighborhood, Kapahulu-Diamond Head, where my wife and her family grew up, and where the candidate’s half-sister lives. That he did it by his choice of drive-ins is most appropriate to Hawaii.”

I have it on good authority (my wife went to Obama’s high school, Punahou, and her brother John was a classmate of the Democratic candidate) that Barak was a Sandy Beach guy. In Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, that’s not surprising, but it is a sign of beach cred. (That’s what they call street cred in Hawaii.)

Bodysurfing Sandy Beach is a big indicator of your capacity for mastering fear and terror, for hanging out and getting down local-style, for being one of the guys and wahines--and servicemen who make Sandy Beach their number one stop for guts and glory-flavored R&R. (All of which is pretty darned Main Street, Madame Palin!)

Now, I know Hawaii and I know Sandy Beach. In fact, the only time I’ve been to the emergency room for a beach- or ocean-related accident was after nearly snapping my neck there. There is a horrible sound your neck makes after you’ve planted your face in sand where you thought there was water–that’s the sound of Sandy Beach.

So why do people go there? Because it is a wave machine. When the swells are pumping, they jack up so steeply, so suddenly, that they create ramps of water that resemble skateboard half-pipes. And, for bodysurfers who can handle the possibility of pain and paralysis, those watery ramps that exist only for a few seconds are the gateway to an amazing ride, a compression of skill, risk and speed into a single samurai action.

What rock climbers are doing on El Capitan, what backcountry skiers are doing jumping off ledges, what Laird Hamilton is doing on Jaws with his tow-in surfski, is what the boys and girls of Sandy Beach are getting a piece of every day they pile into the car after school and head out to the sun-baked Oahu strand.

Think you now know everything about Obama and bodysurfing? Hang on a moment longer, because I’m still not convinced you get this thing called bodysurfing. It’s not surfing. Meaning it’s not Gidget, not Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, not even Sean Penn as Spicoli the Surfer in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Not the Beach Boys, not the bushy-bushy blond dudes running down to the water carrying sharp-tipped plastic boards (that actually kind of resemble Masai shields, when you let your mind drift in a certain, Obama-esque direction)

Bodysurfing is also not the current icon of cool in car ads that board surfing has become–all those Abercrombie models posing with their plastic planks and six-pack abs. That’s because it’s a purist sport, first of all. Nobody sells clothes, sunglasses, cars, etc, using bodysurfers.

It’s also a sport virtually without equipment–your board is your body. That’s really interesting, if you ask me (and I am a bodysurfer, obviously). Imagine skiing without skiis, snowboarding without a snowboard, and you begin to see what it’s all about.

Now, living in New York City as I do, I know the East Coast has a type of bodysurfing all its own. No offense, folks, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. Like 99% of the ocean swimming population, you think bodysurfing is when a swimmer goes straight ahead and either glides forward on the foam of a breaking wave, or flips ass-over-teakettle.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun either way. I’ve done it at Jones Beach along with the millions of gawking bathers on a 100-degree July 4th weekend.

But Hawaiian-style bodysurfing is something else. (I call it Hawaiian out of deference to the people who gave us surfing as a cultural activity, but like surfing itself, it is a global phenomenon, albeit one practiced largely in Hawaii and Southern California.) In this version, the swimmer kicks hard into the wave, but instead of going straight launches sideways. That’s right, the swimmer moves in a lateral direction.

Let’s put you into the bodysurfing frame of mind. A wave lurches into view on the horizon; you scan it quickly, looking for the critical point where it will break first, and swim right up to that looming avalanche of water. Then, letting it lift you up as it passes, you flutter-kick and stroke hard for an instant, launching yourself sideways off the cliff.

On a large wave, such as those Obama must have faced and taken at Sandy Beach, we’re talking about a 10 to 25-foot drop. Face-first. With a powerful fist of water hanging over your head and back and spinal column, about to pound you into the shallow sand below.

So what do you do? You have fun with the free-fall. And you turn your body into a planing surface, like a ship that uses hydrofoils. Your body becomes the board.

In a split-second, while falling forward and down at a high rate of speed, the swimmer gains control by planing on the wave-face’s wall, doing this by riding on the flat of an outstretched hand and arm. That arm and hand are like the tobaggon that the bodysurfer is riding.

Next, shooting along just ahead of the breaking wave (in the manner you’ve seen in countless video clips of board surfers and boogieboarders), the swimmer maneuvers, spins, loops, ducks under the wave’s falling lip...

Imagine for a moment that you can fly, speeding like Superman, or at least Clark Kent in a Speedo. That’s bodysurfing.

And that’s a pretty good description of Barak Obama handling all the ups and downs and amazing twists and gut-clenching insults of this Presidential campaign.

Some shots from the Sandy Beach 2007 Classic competition:

1 comment:

  1. Well that's awesome. Over here in NZ we're stoked that Obama won it, wish the USA well in healing some of that karma. I'm a bodysurfer, and I gotta point out that a big break doesn't always have big days, or big sets. I gutslide some big breaks, but dont always catch the big ones, depends how it feels, so Obama does not necessarily have to be a hell-man. Cheers