Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Lil' Rip

I was at a surf contest this weekend, watching the kids compete in weak, knee-high waves. There’s one little surfer whom my friend BA and I call “Lil’ Rip”. We don’t know his name, so we call him Lil’ Rip. Thus far, Rip has been known to me as a small, stout, deeply tan teenager who, when he’s not surfing, likes to run screaming around on the beach after the seagulls or otherwise cut some caper to attract the attention of any nearby girls.

My friend BA, however, has always been convinced that Lil’ Rip has serious, professional-level surfing talent, and maybe he’s right. I have certainly seen Rip out there tearing it up even on the biggest days.

Immediately prior to the contest there was a memorial service in which all the surfers paddled out, formed a circle, and threw a flower into the ocean to commemorate the death of a woman who, judging by her picture, was rather young. My wife and I speculated about who this woman might have been, but then the contest got underway.

I was disappointed with Rip’s performance. He seemed more interested in making sarcastic, exaggerated gestures to indicate that the waves were small than in actually winning his heats. Not only that, but he insisted on going right, which was frontside for him, rather than taking the lefts which were actually opening up a little bit. I made a note of all this for later discussion with my friend AB, who, as I said before, had always been a fan of Lil’ Rip’s. AB lives in San Fran now and is always asking me how Rip has been doing. I was afraid that in this instance, my report would not be very complimentary where Rip was concerned.

As it turns out, AB got to me first. He called the next day and said, “I have something sad to tell you.”
“There was this woman, right, who took a bunch of sleeping pills and died in her bedroom. And then, two days later, this woman’s husband was all bummed about his wife dying, so he hung himself in the bathroom.”
“Yeah, that’s bad.”
“They left two kids behind.”
“And the oldest one is Lil’ Rip.”

Things came together in my mind. It was Rip’s mom they were memorializing before the contest. No wonder he lacked focus, no wonder he couldn’t seem to get it together. And then if AB’s timeline was correct, the father hung himself later that night.

AB talked about what we could do. We both declared our willingness to adopt Rip and his little brother on the spot.

“That kid needs someone, man,” AB said. “He’ll never be the same either way, but it could get a lot worse if he doesn’t have someone in his life.”
“God forbid they take him away from the ocean.”
“No, they can’t do that. If has to go live inland with his grandparents or something, he’ll never make it. That kid lives to surf, he’s in the water every day, he needs the ocean.”

AB and I both agreed (maybe we were a little carried away at this point) that we would follow the story and offer our homes if Rip didn’t have a home by the water. As it turns out, we didn’t need to worry. Rip’s uncle lives just north, near a good break, actually, so at least Rip will have mother ocean to comfort him in this terrible time.

If I know mother ocean, she’ll treat him just how he needs – lovingly but firmly, reminding him, as she reminds every surfer, that he’s only a small blip in an immense system. All those clichés come into play here. That’s one thing about extreme sorrow – there’s no room then to make intellectual judgments and you’re glad for anything you can get. Anyway, AB and I are pulling for you, Lil’ Rip, and if I see you in the lineup you can have my waves. Not that you wouldn’t try to take them anyway…


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