Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Passing The Torch

Muir Beach, California, USA

November 29, 2009

This essay, Passing The Torch, is the fourth in a group of seven on Surfing: It was written at the same time as I am indebted to my son Joshua Nelson Platt and to my father Dr Asher Manfred Platt and to Claus Andrup who inspired this conversation, and to my son Joshua Nelson Platt and to Strive Surfboards  who contributed material.

I learned to surf in Cape Town South Africa in the 1960s ie in the golden age  of surfing - which isn't exactly specific since when it comes to surfing, any  age of surfing anywhere is the golden age of surfing. Nonetheless, to say I grew up in the golden age of surfing is good enough for jazz.

At that time, almost every surfer in the entire country of South Africa knew each other (or at least knew about  each other) on a first name basis. My first surfboard, a nine feet six inches Mackean  weighing thirty pounds, cost me all of my piggy bank savings at the time: a hefty fifty South African rands, about forty five United States dollars at the exchange rate of the day. It had a thin red stripe down the right side of its balsa wood rocker  which morphed  into a semi-umbrella shape when it reached the nose. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.

Until I purchased roof racks (and until I bought my own car when I was eighteen years old, the legal driving age in South African), my father Asher Manfred drove me to Muizenberg  (pronounced Myoo-zin-berg)  to surf. Muizenberg was not only the beach nearest to where we lived, but it was also the nearest beach perfect for learning to surf. In other words, Muizenberg was ideal for gremmies  ie "gremlins", the moniker given to novice surfers like me, with its gentle, long, slow, rolling breakers and, being on the warmer Indian Ocean side of the Cape Peninsula, its bathtub warm water.

We laid a towel over the length of the roof of my Dad's black Ford Zephyr 6  with the license plate CA 62624 - the "C"  was for Cape Province, and the "A"  was for Cape Town  - obviously not the initial, but rather referring to Cape Town being the largest city in the Cape Province. We then laid my Mackean onto the towel on the roof, secured it with long ropes tied to the Zephyr's chrome bumpers, then drove to the aptly named Surfers' Corner  at the very west edge of Muizenberg Beach.

My Dad didn't surf. He and I went fishing for our father and son special time  together. He was, however, my #1 surfing fan, always enthusiastic and eager for opportunities to drive me and my Mackean (and occasionally my friends and their surfboards as well) to the beach to surf after school or on the weekends.

Eventually I wanted to surf more often than my Dad could transport me, so I began taking the train to Muizenberg (by then, for a small fee, I'd permanently stored my MacKean in the railway station's cloakroom), often arriving before dawn, paddling out in glassy water to catch Muizies'  (pronounced Myoo-zees, our term of endearment for Muizenberg) incredibly glassy, slow, smooth, easy to ride rollers lit pink and orange by the light of the sunrise.

As soon as I owned my first car (a 1962 Chrysler Simca 1000  aka "Mille"  which I bought from my Mom Andee) and roof racks, my next favorite surfspot was the more challenging and sophisticated Kommetjie  (pronounced Kom-a-key)  on the colder Atlantic Ocean side of the Cape Peninsula. Kommetjie is divided into Outer  Kommetjie (or Kom Outer  as we called it) and Inner  Kommetjie (or Kom Inner  as we called it).

Kom Outer breaks further out in the ocean with a much larger wave than I was comfortable surfing. But Kom Inner was, for me, a paradise. Kom Inner is a smaller wave breaking cleanly left down a rocky point - ideal for me, a goofy foot  ie a right foot forward surfer. Even though the inner Kommetjie bay is a kelp sanctuary which made the ride at low tide through the uncovered kelp heads somewhat bumpy, at high tide and at spring  tide I was in my element, easily climbing and dropping, and hanging five  and ten  for hours and hours and hours until I simply ran out of energy, or until the tide went out, or whichever happened first, or both.

But it was on some of the world's best waves before they became internationally known as some of the world's best waves at Jeffrey's Bay in South Africa's Eastern Province where I really came into my own as a surfer. Surfing the then undiscovered Jeffrey's Bay set an impossibly high standard for me for surf spots from then on. Nothing and nowhere would ever again even come close to Jeffrey's Bay with its perfect waves, no one else out in the water, and nothing but a few sea gulls pecking at molluscs on the seashore.

My son Joshua is a gifted skateboarder. He's poetry in motion  on a skateboard. From skateboarding it was an easy segue  for him to skim-boarding. He understood skimboarding's principles instinctively, and even though he'd never owned a skimboard before, he knew exactly which one would work best for him when I took him to the local Big 5  sporting goods store to buy him one, a skimboard falling well within the domain of what I call "appropriate gifts"  which I'm intent on buying for my children.

A skimboard is like a skateboard except it has no wheels and is a lot smoother. You run along the seashore beyond the dry sand. As you run, you throw the skimboard ahead of you onto the wet sand, then you jump on to the skimming  board and ride it - hence the term skim-boarding. Skimboarding is en route  between skateboarding and surfing. Joshua, a skimboarding novice but a gifted skateboarder, entered the realm of skimboarding at an already advanced level.

A boogie-board followed soon afterwards. If a skim board is a surfboard you skim on in the shallows, a boogie-board is a surfboard you lie on in the waves. While it's neither necessary and nor is it a requirement prior to surfing, boogie-boarding  is a great opportunity to learn to read waves, the currents, and to get really intimate  with the ocean - an absolute must  if you're going to give the ocean the respect it deserves. Respect for the ocean with surfers is like respect for the danger with skydivers: if you don't have it, you've got no business doing it.

When Joshua chose his first boogie-board at Big 5, he also chose it with an instinctive knowledge of its hydrodynamics which belied his total lack of experience. And when he took off on his first wave with it, as easily as a dolphin or a porpoise would, without any coaching or introduction, I could hear his shout of triumph all the way to the beach where I stood watching him, his #1 fan, my own ears filled with the thunder of the wave breaking around him, my own body vibrated by his first ride, my own eyes and nose like his, filled with and cleansed by the salt water as he disappeared into the foam, then again re-emerged, then disappeared again, then re-emerged. I didn't have to ask him if this is something he'd like to do again. I just knew. When he eventually walked up on the beach again holding his boogie-board proudly under one arm, his eyes shining, his face pink and tingling from the brisk chill, all he said was "Wow!". And I just knew.

Then for his sixteenth birthday, around about the age I was when I bought my Mackean, Joshua requested a surfboard as a gift. Without hesitation, I asked him if he was ready to go shopping today. He was. We spent that afternoon looking at surfboards.

Much has changed with surfboards since the days of my Mackean. An entry level surfboard isn't nine feet six inches long anymore. Joshua liked a Strive  which, at seven feet four inches long, is more than two feet shorter. Also, it doesn't weigh an arm‑stretching thirty pounds. At an astonishingly featherlight seven  pounds, Joshua could pick it up with one hand and  raise it easily above his head. Also, whereas the surfboards built in my Mackean's day had only one skeg  ie one fin, the Strive has three, and is therefore appropriately known as a tri-fin.

There's one more new innovation: the leash. When I started surfing, if you fell off your board ie if you wiped out  and your surfboard was washed by the waves back to the shore, you had to swim for it - a long  swim. Then came the leash, a nine feet, not too stretchable safety line, one end of which is velcro-ed to your ankle, and the other end of which is secured to a link on the surfboard near the skeg. It's long enough so if you wipe out, you can get far enough away from your surfboard that it can't hurt you as you both tumble around in the washing machine action  of a wave underwater. Yet it's secure enough to prevent the surfboard getting away from you and drifting all the way back to the beach. No more long swims! We bought the Strive, a leash, some wax to rub over the Strive's smooth deck to create grip to stand on, a board bag  to protect Joshua's favorite new toy, then headed for the nearest beach.

We arrive about an hour before a spectacular sunset. A full moon has already risen. The setting is perfect. The moment to pass the torch, an authentic rite de passage, has finally come. I have a sense something wonderful  is about to happen. The gremmies  at Surfers' Corner hold their breath. The sophisticats  at Kom Inner smile. The watermen  at Jeffrey's Bay look on intently.

Photography by Victoria Hamilton-Rivers - Muir Beach, California, USA - 6:22pm Sunday November 29, 2009
Laurence with Joshua Platt - first surfboard, first wave
Muir Beach, California, USA - 6:22pm Sunday November 29, 2009
Joshua paddles out into the surf, testing the center of gravity on his Strive, finding the sweet spot  between lying too far back thus raising the nose too high ... and lying too far forward thus digging the nose into the water (known as pearling), both of which render the likelihood of catching waves remote. It doesn't take long for him to figure it out, again belying his total lack of experience.

I want to call out to him things like "Go further out!", "Paddle more to your left - there's a sandbar causing a wave to peak!", "There's a set coming. Let the first one go. The ones at the back are bigger!" ... but I don't. As hard as it is, I bite my tongue and stay quiet. This is Joshua's experience - not mine - and I want him to have it for himself. The time has come for me to get out of his way.

He chooses his wave, a nice unbroken swell, turns towards the beach and starts paddling. The wave gently picks him up; he rises onto his knees ... and then he's standing up!  Joshua is standing up on his first attempt riding his first wave on his first surfboard, and I'm cheering him on, all the way to the beach. The gremmies  at Surfers' Corner are cheering him on, all the way to the beach. The sophisticats  at Kom Inner are cheering him on, all the way to the beach. The watermen  at Jeffrey's Bay are cheering him on, all the way to the beach. The rite de passage  has run its inexorable course. The torch is passed.

You can't really describe what it's like to surf, any more than you can describe what a grape tastes like or what transformation is like. They have to be experienced to be fully appreciated. And as for describing what it's like watching your son surf for the first time, that's even harder. It's awesome. It's sublime. You have to experience it for yourself to appreciate the fullness of it, to revel in the satisfaction of it, to celebrate the triumph  of it, to realize the passing the torch  of it.

Joshua has his own car now. Soon he'll buy roof racks for it on which he'll be able to secure his Strive. And then, like me once I owned a car, his days of needing his Dad, his #1 surfing fan, to drive him to the beach to surf will be history.

He'll be a great waterman, my son Joshua will be. It's in his blood. One day he'll drive his own son or daughter to the beach to surf for the first time. And if I've successfully showed him anything at all ie if I've gotten my job done, he'll know he has to get out of their way and let them have their own experience for themselves.

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