My First Time Surfing Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, February 2017. William Finnegan devoted a few beautiful chapters to the place in his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. “Sometimes, especially on empty, unruly days at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, my inelegant yet committed surfing could elicit a nod of approval from salty locals. I came close to drowning at Noriega, got washed into the big rock at Kelly’s, got a black eye at Sloat when my board snapped back and hit me square in the face, almost drowned again in the heavy undertow at Montara.”

Surfing OB for the first time myself, the first thing I notice as I pull into the parking lot — apart from the cranking surf — is that a surfer de-suiting two cars away from me has a six inch gash on his back. He seems unperturbed, though, as if he doesn’t notice. “Did someone ride over you?”

“Nah, did it myself, went over the falls and landed on a skeg,” he says. “It’s pretty bad,” I tell him, “probably needs stitches.”

“Stitches? Damnit,” he says, more annoyed about the inconvenience than the injury. “I thought I’d gotten away with it. It split my wetsuit, I thought that was all, though.”

I trade a war story about the 22 skeg-induced stitches I once earned and how I hadn’t felt it at the time — the water numbingly cold, it takes a while before the blood and pain surface.

“I live nearby, I’ll get it cleaned up, have my dad look at it,” the wounded surfer says as if his dad might be in the medical profession. “Thanks, bro.” We part ways and I head down to the water’s edge to get a closer look at the waves.

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