July 26, 2018

Call me crazy but I am finding a level of contentment with mediocrity. After an inordinate number of attempts I am surfing the river wave. I am Homo Sapiens. I am upright.

Success is a combination of many variables. In the case of the river wave, some of the stumbles were related to the condition of the wave and others were rooted in my skills.

I started surfing the wave during irrigation season. The amount of water released from the reservoirs that feed the Deschutes River are related to numerous factors ranging from riparian zone health to irrigation needs. The Bend River Wave is best surfed during winter when water flow averages 600 cubic feet per second. I was learning to surf the wave at a flow rate of 1500-1700 CFS. During peak irrigation season the wave is a big ball of foamy whitewater lacking a smooth glassy face to slide into. The "Green Wave" was absent.

Gerry Lopez, my Sensei in all things surf as well as life, continually reassured me I would find success when the water flow dropped and the wave could be shaped into the Green Wave. The Bend wave has knobs and buttons to adjust volume of water directed at the ramp which effects the shape of the wave. It is human-made marvel.

Though I wanted to believe what he was telling me, I was watching my fellow surfers ride while I swam. Plus, my surf partner Muffy Roy, 4 years my junior, did not appear to be having a problem. Muffy has no surfing background. I do. My take, "I suck."

Finding the sweet spot on the wave happened during a drop in the water flow. The Alfalfa farmers had a few days when irrigation was not needed. The water flow was adjusted down and the Green Wave appeared. But I don't think my surf-life changing 8 second ride can purely be attributed to conditions. I was ready when the situation presented itself. The continuous iteration of mounting the river board and increased comfort in swimming the rapids, coupled with a crash course in balancing exercises guided by Gerry, prepared me for the confluence of the variables.

How I improved my balance:

 My gym is in my personal design studio. A convenience as I train as I move through my work day. I have no schedule. I have no plan. I let the workout find me.

-Balance cushion: I have one made by Indo and one made by who knows.... The Indo version looks better built. The no name cushion was cheap. I use the cushion to practice weight transference. Like in surfing. Front – back, heel – toe. I spread the 2 cushions at a length of what Gerry calls the "Attack Stance." The distance between the cushions is slightly wider than my inseam length. The wide stance allows me to crouch low and shift my weight easily. The attack stance is a good position to be in when balancing on moving objects.

-Balance board: I built mine out of 2 pieces of ½" plywood to yield a board 1" thick. My board is 48" L X 12" W. This is not a magic dimension, it was based on the size of the off cuts of plywood I had lying around the shop. I wear a 9 ½ shoe and a 12" wide board seems right. Adjust the board width to your foot size. My board has an inch of rocker measured at the center. I did this because I thought it would look cool. When gluing the 2 pieces of plywood on top of one another, I placed elevated spacers at the 2 ends and placed a 50# weight on the centerline to create a bow. Voila! Rocker. I have traction pads spaced for my attack stance. You can purchase balance boards. I built mine because I had the wood.

I use the balance board 2 ways.

1) On a single cushion placed at the center along the length or offset to the front or back. I think it is good to mix things up though I have no data to prove it matters. I try and keep the board in the air, only touching the cushion.

2) I also place it on both cushions positioned at the front and back of the board. I use this exercise to practice what Gerry calls "feather toes." I replicate the side to side foot and ankle motion used in turning a surfboard. Gerry coaches me to be "light in da loafers", my whole body relaxed. 

I don't try to set PRs for duration during practice. I focus on repetition and frequency. When my path in my studio takes me past the cushions, I stop and stand on them.

Weight Lifting:

I believe strength is essential to maintaining balance. Strength is a component of endurance. Fatigue is the enemy of balance. Weight lifting is a good way to improve muscle endurance as well as increasing strength.

I changed my powerlifting workouts to one focused on muscle endurance. My 1RMs (1 rep max) are down, but I feel quicker and more agile. Heavy lifting beats me up and the only reason I do it is for ego reasons. Quite frankly, big time bench press strength is useless unless one is trapped under a boulder.

Rock Gym:

I climb at an indoor rock gym. When I started, I thought climbing was all about strength. Climbing is about technique and balance, as well as muscle endurance. High level climbing requires a kinesthetic awareness in relation to gravity. Climbing has helped me be more conscious of how I move in space.


What I am finding is this old dog can learn new tricks. It might take me longer and I might have to practice more than my younger friends, but it appears I can still acquire new skills. I encourage you to try new things, practice like you are training for the Olympics. And regardless of the outcome you will be better for it. Because living is trying.

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