Brendon Thomas Chickens Out

by The Deep Water Breaks

The October 2011 issue of Surfer is titled FEAR. The word is superimposed over a speck of a human trying to glide across the surface of a wallowing tube. The guts of this ‘zine will inevitably be stories of monster waves and rocky breaks, but the first article tackles the often uneasy to mention possibility of facing your fear: chickening out.

In his editorial, The Fear Compass, Brendon Thomas doesn’t rehash a story of his own own heart-stopping drop off the face of a skyscraper-sized wave, but rather with an “admittedly modest day” at Mavericks. One where he admits to being “a lowly cubicle dweller…not an athlete.”

In a nutshell, Thomas gets a text one Christmas morning while on a drive to San Francisco. It’s from Grant Baker, and he wants to go surfing. Thomas realizes that surfing with Grant Baker isn’t surfing. It’s suicide. There’s a swell coming in at Maverick’s and Baker wants him to be in on it.

               Half-Moon Bay from Above

From there we get the rarely written perspective of a surfer who gets butterflies in his stomach, looks into the tempest sea, and decides that he’d rather drive home.

What I like about this article—and what I think makes it possibly one of my favorite pieces that I’ve read in this publication—is how Thomas juxtaposes the pristine conditions of a sunny, peaceful day in Half-Moon Bay with the imminent ferocity of the swell. If you’ve never been there, by the way, this is the location’s natural state.

                 During the Maverick’s Surf Competition

This Summer I spent four days visiting a writer friend of mine who lives in Moss Beach. I had brought another friend with me. She was from Mobile Alabama, a place where a beach is a place to float around on paddleboats. Her only experience of the Pacific Ocean had been a couple flat days in San Diego and some beach-breaks in my hometown, Ventura. So one evening I took her down to a seal sanctuary in Half-Moon Bay that stands out as a crooked point. It was a full moon, accentuating the jagged crisscrossing of waves coming together at inflection points from the northeast and the southeast. They weren’t big. Just a few feet high, and the sky and the view from the beach was incredible, but from that little point, as with most any in that alcove of the Pacific, we felt the immensity of the whole ocean. I had tried to explain to her all Summer what it feels like to drop into the surface of a wave, even one just a fraction taller than you, and how it’s not just that ripple of water you’re on, but the pulse of the whole sea beneath it. Sitting on that bench on that beach, she said, “I get it.”

So there stands Brendon Thomas, at the much more imposing Maverick’s, feeling its “icy chill.” Until he stood there he was ready to paddle out, to face his fear and maybe die in the process. When Grant arrives and coaxes everyone but Thomas to get in the water, Thomas speculates why they would do it:

“To me, it seemed more out of valor than volition, something I understood only because somewhere deep inside me I felt my pride trying to eek out a possibly ill-fated win over common sense.”

As a surfer who’s never paddled out for a double-overhead wave, I found comfort in someone like Thomas having just enough common sense to chicken out. I’m tired of tales of overcoming fear. I want to thank Brendon Thomas for embracing his sanity.    

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