“Are you regular or goofy?” my love asked. (For the purpose of narrative facility I shall call him T1.) T and I were standing in front of a row of rental surf boards in Nosara, a sleepy surf town on the coast of Costa Rica, where acai bowls and zinc-oxided bodies intermingled in equal measure and where we’d come to celebrate my 57th birthday.
I was a surfing novice at that point—a “kook,” in surf jargon—and had only ever caught waves when an instructor had pushed me into them. In fact, the first time I’d ever met T had been in Ditch Plains, that famed break on the tip of Long Island where my friend Christina, who’d assumed far greater prowess on a board than I possessed, had urged me to meet her friend for a day of surfing. I’d shown up at 8 am that chilly September morning without a wetsuit—that’s how much of a kook I was—and with too little experience to even contemplate riding waves swollen to five feet from the remnants of Hurricane Ian. But that March morning in Nosara, six months later, I did at least know enough about the sport and my stance to answer his question correctly. “Goofy,” I said.
T burst out laughing. “Why does this not surprise me?”
A goofy stance in surfing means the left foot is the anchor and the right foot leads. Estimates vary, but let’s say somewhere between 10% and 30% of surfers catch waves this way, and it usually means the surfer is left-handed, though not always. (I happen to be right handed.) Why “goofy”? Theories abound, but my favorite is that it originates from a 1937 animated surf film by Walt Disney called Hawaiian Holiday, in which Goofy, the character, surfs…well, goofy-footed.
That T loves my goofy side and does not tell me I’m “too much” because of it is one of the many reasons I love him. I’d put up with and stayed with, too long, those who wanted to make me lesser, smaller, quieter, less goofy. As if my deep-seated enjoyment of play and lack of shame—gifts from my dad, who retained his childlike sense of awe and glee up until his death from cancer at 67—were a threat to their masculinity and societal hegemony instead of attributes to be loved and cherished. The same went for jobs and books. How many times had I been punished, silenced, or criticized for being myself, speaking my truths? Too many times to remember or count.
T not only allows me to be my authentic, goofy self, my goofiness is the thing he values.
That first day in Nosara, we chose our boards, carried them into the warm ocean—no need for the off-season sale wetsuit I bought on a whim the day after I met T, already thinking, I would like to surf with him for real one day—and headed out into the white water, where the waves were more gentle. Further out were the bigger waves, where more advanced surfers took my breath away with their grace and daring and where T would do most of his surfing.
I worked with a teacher that first morning. He categorically refused to push me into the waves. “No, you must do it yourself,” he said.
“Wait, what?” I panicked. “But…”
Before I could argue, he was yelling at me to turn my board toward the shore. “Paddle hard! Paddle hard! Paddle hard!” he shouted, as a wave approached, then, “Look behind you! Look behind you! Wait for the white water!” then, “Okay, now! Now! Stand up! Stand up!”
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