Summer is over.  But that’s old news. My buddy Dave maintained a tradition of polling us for the album of the summer around the time that the season was drawing to a close.  Of course in SoCal, summer never really ends, but at some point you have to start climbing the fence to get into the neighborhood pool and that’s as good a demarcation line as any.

The album of the summer is not necessarily one that came out that summer.  Its not even necessary that you listened to it that summer.  But it should be the album that will always remind you of that summer whenever you hear it.  This summer I had my midlife crisis and the background music was Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens.

I spent the first 25 years of my life a few miles from the Pacific Ocean and never really learned to surf.  I am a fine body surfer and boogie boarder but around the time that most of my buddies got into surfing I was spinning my wheels playing chess (I suck.)  I turned 40 last fall and now I live on the shores of Lake Michigan.  There’s no surf here.

Fortunately I spend a month in California in the summer and this summer it was time to learn.  My buddy Dave gave me a surfboard.  It’s about twice as tall as me and weighs more than my 8 year old.  Its also about 5 inches thick which made it impossible for me to get my arm around it to carry it like a regular cool surfer dude.  I looked like a dork carrying it on my head.

But I can’t imagine a better board to learn on.  Its more like a canoe than a surf board.  It was hilarious to me looking at all of these really cool surfer guys sitting on their tiny little boards that sunk from the weight until they were submerged nearly to their shoulders.  Meanwhile I could dip my toes in the water as I lounged around on my Steve Behre (pronounced berry) cruise liner waiting for waves.  Dave said “It’s massive, its dangerous, and its embarrassing but just in terms of having fun surfing… the next one’s going to be a lot better.”  Thanks Dave.


I got myself a wet suit.  The water stays around 70F in San Diego in August so I probably could have got by without one but (again relying on Dave’s advice) since I was going to be surfing in the morning and since, thanks to Steve Behre, my most temperature-sensitive parts would be afloat and exposed to the morning air, I broke down got myself a spring suit.  When I tried it on, the dude at the surf shop (Rusty’s in Del Mar) says “Its a little loose in the arms, but you’ll grow into it.”  He either thought I was 13 years old or he could just tell that I was going to grow tremendous muscles from paddling.

So I was set. Every morning at 5AM I would start my day with these objects:


You will notice the Advil which is pretty much indispensible when you are a 40 year old man trying to paddle a barge through crashing waves by yourself in the dark.  OK not exactly dark, but I was in the water every morning before sunrise.  I would surf until about 7:30 and then head back to the apartment, usually before the kids were awake.  Parenting advice:  arriving at breakfast with your wetsuit on and harrowing surf tales makes you the coolest Dad in the world. Not to mention the tremendous muscles.

I stood up the very first day.  Fleetingly.  By the end of the first week I could consistently catch waves and stand.  They were small waves thankfully.  I was bragging to my buddy Storn and then I got this email back.

If you are just standing in front of the whitewater after the wave has broken then it doesn’t technically count.  (Not that it isn’t fun.)

How did he know??  In my defense, the Steve Queen-Behre was almost impossible to turn.  I guess that’s the tradeoff.  Storn came down from the Bay Area and he brought his board, which while still technically a longboard was about half the width and weight of mine.


We swapped boards and I could actually get my arm around his (that’s me on the left.)  Didn’t catch any waves though.  Turns out that if you want a surfboard with some degree of maneuverability, you also have to paddle with some finesse.   I put that on the todo list for next summer and went back to my trusty Steve Buoy.  (When you can’t catch a wave you can’t ride the last one all the way in.  “The paddle of shame” is what Storn called it.)

That day was the only time I surfed in daylight so I had Jennie bring the camcorder.  Here’s some shredding on video.

Not video of me, mind you, Jennie was too busy making drip castles with the kids.  Anyway, I don’t need help from no jet-ski.  By the end of the month I could turn and ride the shoulder.

Sufjan Stevens was in my CD rotation that whole month.  It’s a powerful album and one that was made to be played before sunrise.  In your rented Toyota Sienna with a boat strapped to the top:


What’s your album of the summer?