I couldn´t process the scene that was taking place in front of me. Eyes closed with a scrunched up face and completely silent, my German friend Robin laid face up on our white deck table outside of our bungalow at two a.m. As though bound by invisible chains, he barely moved. People wielding beer bottles and shaving razors encircled him. A few of the people showed up from nearby bungalows dressed in monkey costumes, making loud ¨ooohooo¨ noises. They poured beer on him for lubrication, drawing short lines with their blades down the left-hand side of his body. Those who weren´t running a razor over Robin´s skin were laughing and making drunken announcements into a block rocker’s microphone. After 30 or 40 strange minutes, Robin arose from the table, half of his body freshly shaven.
There was a seemingly simple reason 50 percent of Robin’s beard, chest, arms and legs looked like a prepubescent boy: He bet he wouldn´t lose a game of beer pong – a sport he learned studying abroad in San Diego and wanted to export to Europe. Unfortunately his aim was as bad as the stakes.
But stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, I´m at a loss to explain how all these bizarre, separate elements came together. What magical powers in the universe, what complicated forces of cause-and-effect, what god´s of beer pong lead random people in monkey gear to take a razor to my friend at 2 a.m.? This wasn´t an isolated moment. Things seemed to defy explanation from the beginning when Robin, a few of his friends and I drove to the southwest of France in a van for the German Surf Championship. A week I learned to embrace the unexplained and unpredictable.
First indication of bizarro world: I got a tan. Even though I surf quite a bit, I have a perpetually pasty complexion, mainly thanks to my wetsuit and a northern European heritage that apparently refused to procreate with anyone whose skin could withstand more than 10 minutes of sun exposure without spontaneously combusting. Due to plenty of time at the beach, I’m happy to say my skin, especially my chest, no longer belongs to the paler shades of white category. One week later, I’m trying to maintain my tan, but have a feeling I’ll be back to my transparent, blinding white self soon.
A country without any well-known surf spots, the fact that Germany has a surf championship was another sign I was in some kind of alternate universe. More surprisingly, the Germans actually know how to surf. I was expecting some kind of pity contest that was more novelty than competitive, like that movie Cool Runnings (wait, did the Jamaican bobsledders get a bronze medal in the end? Childhood memories are failing me, possibly making this the worst. metaphor. ever.). From my place on the beach, I watched surfers carve stylish lines in breezy conditions. Have to say it made me feel guilty for not being a better surfer since I have so many nearby breaks at my disposal back home.
In San Diego, part of my morning routine has always included pouring over surf forecasts. Before France, I did the same, yet models and buoys can only take you so far. I was excited, but based on the forecasts I saw, I wasn’t expecting the best waves. Also, similar to San Diego, small swells generally make summer the worst season for surfing. That’s how France started, but the surf was a well-shaped five fee three days in, and on my second to last day, I watched with amazement as the waves jumped from three feet in the morning to nine feet by the end of the day. Robin and I paddled out for a sunset session. The push and pull of close interval waves at a heavy beachbreak, the amount of swell in the water – it was a dogfight to reach the outside. Burning arms, I caught a lucky break mid-journey, following a sweeping current that spared me from duckdiving extra waves. Robin wasn’t so fortunate. When he reached the outside and joined fellow surfers in the lineup 10 minutes later, a series of four or five mountains approached on the horizon. A set had arrived, a series of waves as big as 10 to 11 feet.
I barely slipped under the first wave as it crested, before the dagger came down, dragging surfers with it to the beach and subjecting them to the underwater spin cycle treatment. After taking a few rides of my own through the washing machine, I finally caught a wave an hour later. It was an unconscious and weightless drop into a nice long right-breaking wave that maintained it’s steep face all the way to the shore. Walking back to the bungalow with a smile, I kept thinking about how weird it was summer waves could give me such an adrenaline rush. Looking at the sky, spirals of gold hued clouds in the sky as the sun went down.
To add to this otherworldliness, I was basically the Tolkien American in a sea of Germans. How to bridge the cultural gap? A. Rely on limited knowledge of German and body language and B. drink healthy amounts of Newcastle. Was not only more sociable, but in my mind, every drink took my closer to German fluency. Throw in a Hasselhoff reference here and there, and I had conversing with Germans down to a science. Nailed it.
Speaking of zee Germans, my German friends Florian and Sebastian, who I also met back home just happened to be surfing in France as well. It was really good seeing them, even though it was only for a few nights. Brought back good memories of a time when locals and international students all hung out together by my old house near SDSU. Really cool and simultaneously surreal running into them in France.
New friends included bungalow mates Lina, Philip, Robin’s twin brother, Tom and Jorg.
Her German accent colored by a stint studying in New Zealand, Lina was really down to earth. Philip was a good-natured kitesurfer who could usually be found making smartass announcements into his block rocker’s microphone. After a long night of partying that was too much for me, apparently he and Tom used the block rocker to wish some girls from Munich a good morning as the sun rose. Tom was always upbeat and hilarious. I won’t forget how he wore a revealing Borat-esque wetsuit with a fake mustache to get laughs at the beach one day. It was horrifying, yet I couldn’t look away. And there was Jorg, a cardboard box that we painted a face on. He protected our surfboards and bungalow from harm.
Other surf stories include a pounding, board-breaking of a wave that reeled off a jetty. I was at loss to explain how we could find the spot 30 miles away from our bunaglow in an industrial part of town. But after a few days in the southwest of France, I learned to stop searching for reasons and just enjoy life, both in and out of the water.