By Ryan Leake
October 24, 2011
In case you haven’t noticed yet, Santa Clara Baseball has been implementing “RD” into its general vernacular. “RD” marks the top of daily practice plans. It flanks the entryway of the home dugout. It appears on the club’s practice shirts and hats. “RD” may even become the subject of jewelry, tattoo art, and secret societies. Enough whispers and grumblings have meandered through Santa Clara proper to where it’s only fair that some light is shed on Bronco Baseball’s adoption of “RD”. The last thing our players and staff would want to do is alienate Bronco faithful and make them feel withdrawn from a topic as grandiose as “RD”. The build-up is clearly substantial when a lowly member of the coaching staff (the strength coach) is asked (very hush-hush and on the QT) by an assistant athletic director to elaborate on “RD”. What better platform to answer everyone’s questioning and speculation than to announce “RDs” significance via internet blog…for the world to see. This, therefore, is my attempt to appease the masses…
“So, what does it mean?”
A couple of weeks ago our program had the good fortune of welcoming Aldo Billingsea, an Associate Professor of Theatre & Dance at SCU, as a guest speaker. Professor Billingslea was both imposing in stature and impassioned of speech. As a former college football player, and current theatre actor, Professor Billingslea is well versed in performing for public audience and evoking profuse emotion. With a gentle, yet authoritative tone he beseeched the SCU players to “be ‘bout it,” to go all-in and invest their energy in what they love: baseball. He pronounced himself a lucky man who, through virtue of good choice, has been able to “make his blood pump” with athletics and theatre. He dared the players to do the same; to make their blood pump and fill their hearts. To do what they love, and do it passionately. Inspired by Professor Billingslea’s presentation I woke early the next morning and headed to Santa Cruz for a weekend surf session; a morning that would prove to fill my heart and stir my soul.
“So is it like, ‘Radical Dude’?”
Not even close. But please keep reading…
Being from San Diego one would think I grew up on the sandy beaches of Oceanside, Encinitas, and Del Mar, surfing the likes of Moonlight, Swami’s, and Sunset Cliffs. But for the longest time I actually hated the beach. I was the little kid who turned his nose up at getting sand on his hands and would immediately run to the water to wash away its most miniscule trace. The irony was that I couldn’t stand saltwater so these intermittent rinses would result in a scene reminiscent of a cat pawing at pool water. I never even touched a surfboard until well into my twenties; when my little brother bought one and I proceeded to joke about him becoming a “dude”. The whole idea of surfing was foreign and beyond the realm of anything I would perceive to be “me”. But in 2008, following a year of exhilaration and intrigue (by that I mean sub-zero temperatures, sleet storms, a place called the “Corn Palace”) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota I decided to return to San Diego plunge myself into one of it’s most identifiable cultural activities.
My surfing career began innocently enough; driving 30-plus minutes from Valley Center to Oceanside for novice and misguided sessions that lasted 30-plus minutes (before experiencing lack-of-wetsuit-in-the-Pacific-Ocean chills), then turning around and driving 30-plus minutes back home. As opportunities to surf became more apparent, so did my willingness to take advantage and get in the water. I started to enjoy the ritual of changing into a pair of trunks, waxing the board, paddling out to the breaks (sometimes a ½ hour ordeal), falling off a wave, skin turning blue, shivering, then spending another 2-3 hours trying to regain use of my thumbs. I enjoyed the challenge and discomfort surfing brought to my life. I liked the feeling of something new, something I had to work for, something unforgiving. I liked that I could fall twenty times, stand on the twenty-first, and paddle in with satisfaction. I liked that I could stand twenty times, fall on the twenty-first, and paddle in with a hunger to try again. I liked how surfing never let me take a single thing for granted. As soon as I thought it was easy, a rogue would appear to knock me down, put me through a figurative washing machine, and spit me out—cleansed of my imprudent arrogance. That’s what I liked about surfing. Vastly different from what I loved.
If you’ve ever watched Pulp Fiction you’ll know exactly why I fell in love with surfing. When John Travolta (Vincent Vega) takes Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace) to “Jack Rabbit Slim’s” the two sit awkwardly over dinner and struggle to make conversation. A noticeable stretch passes without a word. Travolta smoking, Thurman sipping on a “five-dolla’ shake” until she can’t resist any longer:
Mia: “Don’t you just hate that?”
Mia: “Uncomfortable silences…why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about BS in order to be comfortable?”
Vincent: “I don’t know. That’s a good question.”
Mia: “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the ____ up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.”
That’s why I fell in love with surfing: I could comfortably enjoy the silence. It could be me and the ocean. Not a peep from either of us. Just a solitary man connected with nature’s most sizeable creation.
By the time I moved to Santa Clara and began work with the Baseball program I had been through month-long periods where I surfed every day, twice-a-day; and month-long periods where I could only surf once or twice per week and suffered physiology-altering withdrawals. My skill as a surfer progressed to consistently standing, turning, and riding down an open-faced line. Not bad, but definitely not good either. I learned the ropes and came to understand unwritten rules of the water between veterans and novices, longboarders and shortboarders, young riders and old. I had developed enough to where technicality was an afterthought and I could focus solely on what I loved about the act: its proximity to the natural world and profound sense of solitude. I knew, once I moved to Santa Clara, that I was ready to paddle the mystic waters of Santa Cruz.
“You’re losing me…is RD some symbol for surfing then? What’s it have to do with Baseball?”
I guess in a way it could be…but not the direction we’re heading…follow along…
The surf scene in Santa Cruz is remarkably different from that of San Diego. Colder water and hippies playing around with sea otters are glaring distinctions, but what makes the greater Santa Cruz area unique is the arrangement of its coastline. In San Diego most surfing is done on wide open beaches where the incoming waves peak, and break, on sand, leading to short rides on irregularly shaped swells. Due to the expanse of beach, surfers generally spread out and are not competing for incoming waves, nor is there any shortage of swell to go around. Although the quality of San Diego’s waves is mediocre, they are highly consistent in frequency, giving surfers a great deal of choice to which break they’ll ride. This could be the main reason wave-riders in San Diego are perceived to be relaxed and “chill”; they’re in absolutely no rush to catch a particular wave. The attitude is more “screw it…I’ll get the next one…if I feel like it.”
Santa Cruz’s coast is much more secluded and riddled with nuance. There are points and coves and arches and reefs and angles and lefts and rights and ups and downs. At the northernmost point of Monterey Bay, and generally isolated from the Bay Area metropolis, Santa Cruz is uniquely situated along the Pacific and its coastal topography lends to intrigue for surfing aficionados and enthusiasts alike. Unlike San Diego, Santa Cruz surfing is organized into clear breaks, not a plethora of open beach. The surrounding terrain and underlying oceanography result in distinct swell patterns, wave directions, and clean shape which lead to longer, more enjoyable rides. However, because the waves are generally confined to peaks and point breaks located sporadically along the coast, surfers are forced to flock to specific spots like vultures on road-kill. To make matters worse, waves in Santa Cruz are much less frequent, so the attitude is more “screw you, get off my wave,” as 10-15 people could be paddling into the same wave. It took me a few sessions to start feeling comfortable with the new setting and I’ve even grown an affinity for the competitive atmosphere in the water. But things got bumped to a whole new level the day after Professor Billingslea’s speech.
“Ok you’re losing me…is RD something geographical now?”
Wow, what an awful guess…
That morning (Saturday) I paddled out at 41st Avenue (actually Capitola) to a right point break deemed “The Hook” when I was approached by a fellow surfer paddling on a black shortboard in a black wetsuit…let’s call him Satan (not too subtle).
“Hey man…get the ____ outta here with your donkey-stick! This is ‘the hook’ and if you wanna ride that donkey-stick take it down with the other donkey-sticks!”
“Don’t be proud dip-____. Just take your donkey-stick away from here!”
Still confused but annoyed by my own silence I offered a reply: “I’m just sitting here…trying to enjoy the water,” not necessarily the best defense, “what’s the problem?”
Satan had had enough of me. He paddled right up next to my board and started pushing it away from where he and some friends had supposedly purchased a section of the ocean. “The problem, ____-head, is that I’m tired of you and all these other donkey-stick-riders (Satan couldn’t find much variety in his surfer-bro slang) getting in the way of real riders…you’re a grown man and you’re on a donkey-stick…figure it out.”
While I hadn’t figured out where Satan got off being such a meanie, I did know what he was referencing. What we had was a culmination of the eternal struggle between long and shortboard riders. Disdain of longboarders has developed within the shortboard community because the latter feels the former spends their entire existence formulating strategies to hoard the oceans waves. In turn, shortboarders have mounted an offensive to belittle and bully their way to every wave before the defenseless longboarders can surmise a counteroffensive. Now the shortboard stratagem had taken the form of verbal assault on poor-little-me. In hopes of avoiding hand-to-hand combat I casually paddled away from the shortboard throng to await a wave set with some longboard brethren.
No more than five minutes following my episode with Satan, a bearded man appeared in the water riding a glistening longboard. He had hair down to his ears, a sun-beaten look to his skin, and a charming zeal for being in the ocean. Also peculiar was the location of a camera he was using to document that day’s session: his mouth. Yes, as he paddled, stood, and walked along his board, a water-proof camera dangled from his mouth, gleaming in the sun; giving him an aura of divinity….let’s call him Gabriel (a little more subtle). Gabriel’s presence was arresting. He was not in the water to bully and threaten. Nor was he there to endanger other surfers. He was in the water to get connected; to be somewhere between Heaven and Earth.
His rides were artistic and smooth. As a set would come in he would offer his hand in dance to the wave of his choice. Up and down the line, weight shifting gently to accentuate the motion of the board. If he neared the end of its line he’d alter his position, point the nose of the board toward shore then turn again down the wave’s face as if to give it new life. His energy penetrated the ocean and the ocean rewarded him with an endless supply of surf.
Gabriel’s ardor invaded my senses and renewed my spirit. In contrast to previous events with Satan, Gabriel’s existence left me expecting something great. I remember thinking to myself: “this is a sign that I’m here. Now. Today. For a reason.” My unusual feelings of mysticism were further justified by the improbable events that followed.
Fresh off another self-gratifying roast of a 60-something longboarder, Satan began paddling, absent-mindedly, toward Gabriel and an oncoming set wave. Unlike Gabriel, Satan’s movements were aggressive and forceful; the angry tension in his body defeating any semblance of grace. He paddled furiously to catch the wave and dropped in, only to find Gabriel already riding gloriously down the line. With fetid emotion Satan charged the unsuspecting Gabriel and knocked him from his trusty longboard. With jeers from the crowded water Satan continued on the wave and came to a halt when it ceased to exist. Gabriel reemerged from below the ocean’s surface, camera-in-mouth, mounted his board and paddled to a central location amongst the teeming masses. Without prompt he removed the camera and prophesied:
“Why are we here!? Why have we all been placed here at this moment in time!? It’s to share the magic! Not for one person or one group, but for everyone. There is magic in every wave. Magic for everyone to enjoy!”
“Ok, RD has to be some sort of Biblical reference then…”
Nope, still not getting it…why don’t I just go ahead and tell you…
Up until Satan met Gabriel I was having a pretty uneventful day of actual surfing. I had caught a few corners and dropped in on some 3-4 foot swells but Gabriel’s words gave way to anticipation. Now I couldn’t help but feel like time was aligning itself in my favor. I enjoyed a couple more pedestrian rides and once Gabriel had paddled into oblivion and Satan called it a day (after falling awkwardly in an attempt to steal another wave) it felt like I was alone. Like the ocean was opening itself to me.
In the distance I spotted a rise in the horizon; an abnormality on the surface of the water. As I assessed the approaching swell with my eyes I instinctually rotated the nose of my board toward shore and positioned myself on the board. I paddled in a southeasterly direction to meet up with the wave’s face and prepare for a right break when I felt the ocean’s power grab my board and lift me to the crest. Knowing I had caught it, I quickly “popped-up”, “dropped-in”, and turned the board right, moving rapidly down the line. In these few seconds I recalled a lesson from Steven Kotler’s book, West of Jesus, where he tells readers to keep their sights forward…look where you want to go, not where you’ve already been. While I’ve found it true that surfing definitely punishes you for looking backwards I had never been able to relax enough to heed such advice. Typically I’d drop in, look down at my feet, stare at the wave’s face, and get pummeled because my wandering, unfocused eyes altered the energy of my ride.
In this particular case I was able to keep my eyes ahead and move efficiently down the line. A few more seconds passed before the wave’s face started growing faster than I could ride it; it quickly became a foot overhead and a wee-bit of panic shot through my body. But instead of give in to the panic my mind evoked Gabriel’s words: “…there’s magic in every wave…”. I tucked deeper into my crouch, knees nearly against my chest, and kept my eyes locked on the ever-shifting shoulder of the wave. I picked up speed and saw my window for a clean ride closing as the wave began to curl and pitch. My mind tried to distract me with thoughts of past failures. Of wipeouts and slip-ups. Of falls and bad decisions. But body and mind began to flow and I felt myself reach out to glide my fingertips along the wave. I was connected. The lip then disappeared from my line of sight as I emerged into a new section of wave. As I became immersed in the next section I was made aware of a moist sensation running over my head, my hair receiving a natural comb-over from the previous section’s lip. For a brief instant water curled from my right side, over to my left and I realized I had caught my first tube ride. It was magic.
“What the hell…that didn’t tell me anything about ‘RD’…I want to know what it is!!!”
Let’s just say “RD” takes away the rear-view mirror so you can only look through the windshield…
— COACH LEAKE