California Bodysurf Freakout: fighting fire with water

January 4, 2021 | Surfing
California Bodysurf Freakout: Spencer McGrath draws an imaginary line | Photo: Josh Ball

I don't know who I'd be if my brother hadn't left an unreturned copy of Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" laying around the house.

There are many lives within a life, each searching for meaning. Ryan Masters lives in a box canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

He's a writer, a bodysurfer, and had his first article published 15 years ago in Surfer's Journal.

Masters started the California Bodysurf Freakout - it's a message of hope and stoke.

Because, in spite of what life presents, it's still the only (and best) game in town. And we are together, all living the same finite set of emotions.

It's only the details that vary.

Ryan, 48, and a few neighbors will soon enter the Fire Academy. His box canyon town has a fire station but no firefighters.

They're finding meaning at the local, individual level. How can I better my neighborhood? And he's writing about his experience in a book.

For a good look at what firefighting a wildfire looks and feels like, try the Netflix movie "Fire in Paradise."

I wrote to Ryan and suggested he start running and stretching. Firefighting is an athletic venture.

It seems a combination of cross country running with heavy sharp objects and speed lumberjack/landscaping.

Do you want to be a firefighter? Start running.

I asked him if he'd started training. Masters said he had some nagging surfing injuries but that he's taking it easy.

He wrote that he'd been in the water 11 hours the past couple of days.

Ryan Masters is taking it easy and finding meaning with what lies before him.

Eric Gustafson: adjusting his body for another barrel | Photo: Sachi Cunningham

Water for Fire

The California Bodysurf Freakout is a fundraiser to benefit the people in the path of the California wildfires.

It was held in a virtual setting across several categories, geographically limited to the Golden State.

In 2020, a total of 4,359,000 acres burned and are left in smoldering wait. Poised for rebirth - the land, the people.

It's difficult to grasp the concept of how quickly life changes and how frail our existence is in the face of Nature.

There are only two types of people: those who seek out their mortality and those who have their mortality thrust upon them.

Either way, the emotions attached are exactly the same. Fires. Big Waves. Viruses. Mortality - that's poised too.

California Bodysurf Freakout: a virtual bodysurfing contest to benefit the people in the path of the California wildfires | Photo: Josh Ball

A Virtual Contest with Real Bodysurfing Skills

The virtual submission contest for the California Bodysurf Freakout began on September 1 and closed on December 15.

Among the categories, there's the best barrel, biggest wave, night wave, and nude.

Personally, I would have aimed low and shot for the nude category. However, there was not one nude entry.

I don't know what that says about bodysurfers. But it says something.

The best barrel division may go to Mark Drewelow for a long left at Black's Beach.

When I spoke with Mark in 2019, he said: "My goal is to win every event I enter."

That seems simple enough. Maybe a lot of people feel that way. I'm sure they do. I just happened to believe him.

He's not a super athlete by any means. And passion? Sure, he's got passion, but so does everyone. It's a commonly shared emotion.

A lot of little girls love ponies, but not all of them can be veterinarians.

I asked an oncologist in NYC why it's so hard to get into vet school.

"A lot of little girls love ponies, John," he said.

So what separates bodysurfers, little girls, and veterinarians? I'd say it's the love of learning.

The desire to refine one's activity to its finest points.

It's what surfers and gymnasts and firefighters do in their quest to be better, to learn more.

It's what gives meaning to a piece of our life, and the activity itself no longer exists as work. It is what you do.

Mark is a lead learner in the bodysurfing community. That's what separates him. He's refining form and function - small details.

Like in video below - the same place, about the same wave.

In 2017 Mark doesn't make the tube, but in 2020, he makes it.

I asked him: "Why?"

"I angled slightly more to shore to pick up speed, and then I rode higher in the tube," replied Drewelow.

And the drone pilot, Steve Cummings, also known as Jacuzzi Surfer? He refined his game too. Just slightly.

Have you noticed in the video? He's an artist.

Learning and Finding Meaning

Surround yourself with those folks - learn from them. I do. I try to be my best self - just trying to get better.

In education, the concept is being a lifelong learner.

That was my goal when I was a teacher - instill a sense of curiosity and pay particular attention to the marginalized.

The achievers learned in spite of me.

But bodysurfing is a detail to Mark. He finds meaning in sustainable filtered water for folks who don't have any - it's his thing.

It's how he finds meaning. The bigger picture is global disaster relief.

It's free clean water and a considerable decrease in all the plastic generated by bottled water.

Clean drinking water from accessible filters saves lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, 1.6 million people died of diarrhea - a third of them are children.

Potable water for most everyone on the planet - that's attainable, and Mark is on it.

Fire or water, globally or locally: how are you investing your time? Finding meaning?

Spencer McGrath: who says bodysurfers can't get deep inside the barrel? | Photo: Josh Ball

2020 California Bodysurf Freakout | Results

Wave of the Season: Mark Drewelow and Steve Cummings
Best Barrel: James Prola and Tavahi Matairea Owen
Biggest Wave: Eric Gustafson, Sachi Cunningham, and Thelo Aiken
Best Maneuver: Pat Malo and Cooper Emanuel
Best Handboard Wave: Hannah Van Veen and James Prola


Words by John P. Murphy | Writer and Kpaloa Fins Team Rider | @jpmwrites | www.jpmwrites.com

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