Saturday, July 16, 2005

Session 5151: I was in the Finals!

I was lying in the bed and looking at the window to see the first light that signifies the start of the day. The competition was at 7:30 and the location is going to be the Francis; a beach that I normally avoid surfing because it can be, or shall I say almost always, seriously gnarly. Usually I am fully up by the time the sky gets lighter, but this morning is a bit different. I have been nervous since I gave that $40 entry fee to the surf shop, and I did not catch any satisfactory wave yesterday on a practice session at the Jetty. It is the same kind of the jittery feeling that I had when I had to take the TOEFL test, or a GRE. Both times, I had to get up early, drive 50-60 miles to the next big college town and take the test early in the morning.

I got out of a bed and put on a rash guard and board shorts. The outside was now a full day, shrouded in fog, of course. This is Half Moon Bay in the summer after all. But fog in the morning is a nice thing. It usually indicates a lack of wind and so it would be glassy out in the water. As I gathered the gear and started to load them into the car, I was starting to feel a bit more at ease. I kept telling to myself; "What the hell! This is just a local competition, and I know I would come last so there is nothing to lose."

It was only 2 minutes drive from home to the Francis Beach, but the anticipation of the big gnarly waves are taking me over as I get closer and closer to the park, and finally I had to face the moment of the truth. I parked the car and I immediately jumped out of it and ran to the beach.

"Oh man! Am I going to do this?"

Already there was that familiar sound of, and yes, the gnarly white close outs. Already juniors division was working the waves and some contestants were really good. I wished I started surfing that young!

Getting nervous in the morning is not a good thing; my internal organs would do the kind of things that only happen if I ate and drink too much or sick from flu.

I was hoping that with the changing tide, and hopefully weakening swells, it can get to the point of "doable."

I went up to the tent and greeted Dalyn who owns the HMB Board Shop. He has been quite helpful to me lately (I hope that this is because I buy a lot from him.) At least seeing some familiar faces would comfort me a bit.

Just when I was feeling a bit better about the situation, I saw another local surfer that I hang out with said; "Oh, no. This is biiigggg! I am not going to do this today!"

Right in front of the tent were three judges already scoring. It was actually quite educational to be by the judges listening on the conversation. There was one time a drop in and they were determining whether to disqualify that ride, and also I hear people vocally making comments about each of the rides the contestants are making. It is exactly like a TV broadcast.

The Heat Number 10 is where I was placed. That's about 2 hours away. I continued to watch the competition and then I finally decided to go out and practice some more. Getting out was not easy and I was pushed back a lot as the chest level white water barred my way. I push the nose of the board down, find the tail edge of the board to push the tail edge under to do a duck dive, but I could not feel the tail edge of the board. Darn! This is a long board, I can't duck this guy. I decided to get off the board and waited for a bit, then suddenly there was a moment of a lull between the sets. I dashed out and finally made it out. I was hoping that it won't happen during the actual heat.

I tried to catch some waves and they were definitely catch-able kinds, I went for them and I got up on the board but twice I wiped out, and another hard paddle out. This cycle happened twice and I still could not get the first turn to set correctly. If and only if I do that then I can get in to the face even if I am inside. On the third wave, I was finally getting the first turn in and rode some. I was encouraged, finally, and the forth wave was acceptable. Going back for more, another lull started to set in then the sets stopped for a long time. Now I was starting to worry that my heat might begin soon. In these kind of competitions, things are not that well organized, so there really is not a set time when my heat starts, it requires a lot of checking on the participant's part.

And, as soon as I went back the organizer is calling my name; "Will Manuba Tokunga, please check in at the desk." I thought "Gosh, it's already my turn?"

It turned out that I was going to be in the Men's Longboard Finals? "Finals!" What happened is that 3 of the men who were in two other heats dropped out (actually I was almost going to drop out too based on the practice I just had.) So there aren?t enough people to hold two heats. So in essence some people were zipped as they can surf two heats should there have been the qualifying heat. Now, I have ended up sharing the waves with the best of the breed local surfers. Originally I had a glimpse of a hope that if one of the contestants would not catch any waves and if I did one, then I would go to the second heat!

I reluctantly put the blue jersey on, and slowly walk towards where other contestants are about to be entering the water. This is probably the most nerve wrecking part of competition to me.

Finally and now it is the time to compete! A man at the tent is signaling for us to paddle out.

Everyone jumps over the shorebreak and start to paddle like crazy to get out. They do that so easily! Just that moment the set starts to build. We got about 5 minutes to get out and another 5 to wait in the water to wait for the 5-minute warning horn. I was frantically going out, turtled many times, and but I have barely made the outside. But I did. It would have been awfully embarrassing that even if I did not do that, but the first hurdle is over.

While we waited, two sets passed by, and they were good. I thought I could have caught them. A few more minutes passed by, some good short boarders were catching some good waves. Then the blast of the 5 minute warning horn cut through the foggy air. We were all sitting in the outside of the lineup waiting for the flag to turn green, and that's the sign to go. There is a lot of waiting and anticipation in surfing and this is one of them which is really something I am not used to yet.

They changed the flag to green. We have now gone live and count back the clock for the next 20 minutes. Now we are waiting for the set, and it took for a few minutes before that darkening horizon came. When it did everyone started to go, and all of them were on the wave. I waited for the second one, and I went for it. It was a good wave, I got up on it, but as I was trying to make the first turn, the board over turned, slipped under me and I wiped out.

As I tried to paddle back the sets came after another (and why is it that it always always happens to me?) and I was starting to lose time. I paddled and looked back and I was not making any progress. I was almost going to give it up, and then I thought I would just take it easy and just paddle back for one more wave. I stroked deeper and slower and harder on my paddling hands, breathing deeply and regularly. I was half way between the outside line when the waves were reforming, and I caught one ride. Not a good one but a ride that counts. Then another hard but paddle and I did another ride which was also a countable one. On the next get out though the darn sets got frequent again, and I hard the 5-minute horn again. I was a bit relieved that it will be over soon, and kept paddling out but I was not making any progress. So I decided to call it a day.

On the way back to the tent to return the jersey, one guy said, "Hey, you did great!" So at least it was not a total loss.

And of course what brings all of these nervous wrecks in the end was a great satisfaction of competing against some of the best of the best in local surfing people and added confidence that next year, may be I can become more of a serious contender. Just may be!

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