The Endless Session: Lessons Learned

Morgan sets her line on Day 260 with a hard bottom turn. Photo by

Morgan sets her line on Day 260 with a hard bottom turn. Photo by

After years away from the ocean, I found heaven in salt again and made a commitment to surf for a year straight. Daily romps with the sea have taught me countless lessons, but here’s a few that will follow me for life.


The ocean is the best way to start your day

The ocean may as well be a salty planet in a far flung universe. You sit, floating on this archaic plank while foreign creatures swim beneath you, and you fly down the occasional bump in the surface on a moving liquid highway.You detach yourself from land and experience nature unfiltered, maybe pretending you’re an indigenous cetacean yourself. The smell of smog dissipates as your body surrenders to the sea. The flotsam of land is forgotten. A pelican with a seen-it-all attitude flies above. A dolphin flicks its tail below.  How freaking awesome is that?

When I surf in the morning, my day has purpose.  Surfing breeds clarity, and reveals what really matters. If I wait until the afternoon, sometimes I find myself stressing over pointless issues. It doesn’t matter if the waves are hucking wind-blown towers, soft crumbly lines, or barreling slabs of perfection.  The ocean just does something to you, and makes everything right.


I’m not invincible

My mind, however frothing, can’t keep up with my biggest limit in surfing: my body. There was the day at Topaz, where skipping down the beach path with my longboard I tripped over a metal plate and looked down at a shredded toe, nail hanging on by a bloody sliver. Months later in Mexico, a chunk sliced out of that same toe. The same trip left me with reef scrapes all over my body.

There were a couple trips to the ER with suspected broken bones. Countless scattered indents and discolorations courtesy of my heavy log linger far beyond impact. A strained left shoulder put me in a sling days before my Nicaragua trip. And my worst one yet, which I feel even as I type: On June 2, I dislocated my right shoulder and separated my AC joint when my board was ripped from my hands by a tiny wave. For three weeks the only way to surf was with generous pushes from my comrades, and I’m still limited to one-armed paddling.  

Maybe we aren’t meant to do something every single day.  Or maybe I’ve got to find a cure for the “just one more wave” syndrome that magically turns into hours of playtime. But cuts, scrapes, scars and all, I imagine it wouldn’t be as exciting if it was cloaked in safety net.


The more I surf, the more I want to surf

That pretty much sums it up. Some people think a daily dip has been an incessant chore, but it isn’t. I wake up and want to feel the ocean.   pop out of bed longing for waves, like it’s been a year since I’ve seen the sea. Every slide down a wave and every cross step, bottom turn, and noseride fuels more stoke. I actually can’t remember a day that I didn’t want to surf.  Of course there were rough and difficult days, but when my feet hit the sand I came out stronger—and more prepared for whatever lied ahead.


The more I travel, the more I want to travel

When I made the commitment to surf for a year straight,  I didn’t just want to stick around my South Bay digs.  I yearned to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice (work permitting) and often did.  If you include the US, in the past year I hopped around to 4 countries and one Great Lake – Lake Michigan in Chicago last September, Nicaragua In February, El Salvador in March, and Cardon, Mexico in April and May.  Dawn patrol trips an hour south or north average 2-3 times per week, and I’m always plotting my next escape, mind-drunk on the offshore winds of Nicaragua or the bright green backdrop of Noosa.  I want to disappear in Mexico for months and explore the shores of South Africa.  Somewhere frosty is baiting too.  I’ve got the bug, and if anyone feels like adventuring, let’s share board bags.


There’s always a corner somewhere

Though it’s been tough on occasion navigating this El Niño winter with a  9’6” log, there is something beautiful to find in every single session.

The first big windstorm I remember was November 25. Expert logger and my surf (and life) coach Mike Siordia was watching, perched in shelter as I fought against 25 mph winds, paddling through seemingly endless towers of whitewater.  As I vaulted up the final wave between me and the lineup, a gust pitched me and my longboard backwards and smashed us both hard into the bottom. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much sand in my life. And for some reason, I remember smiling and laughing as I was washed ashore with beach mud caked across my face. From then I became a smarter, more educated surfer. I studied winds and charts and swell direction and forecasts for hours, finding small havens on unmanageable days. A few eight-foot beachbreak mornings tested my nerves, but the triumphant feeling of overcoming them is second to none.

The gnarly days make the good days epic. And reveling in the off-chance corner in the even hairier days makes every day, at the very least, good.


I’ve grown to love cold water

Sticky summer days are a logger’s utopia. But something I began to crave, especially after coming back from tropical Central America trips in the dead of California winter, was an icy surf-bath.

People looked at me like I was a silly lunatic in Santa Cruz for wearing a 1mm shortie for hours in 57 degree water.  There were 3 reasons for putting myself through this. the strain involved in putting on a wetsuit (and straining against the restrictive force of it in the water); a purist streak running through my veins; but mostly,

I sought the benefits and clarity that come with a frigid session. The cold-water musings of Chris Burkard and “Iceman” Wim Hof had me set on digging deeper in what I was already beginning to explore in winter waters.  I watched their talks with intent and began a practice, wearing minimal neoprene, free of goosebumps and frozen feet.  And in turn felt so, incredibly, alive.


Some of the Brothers Burritos surf crew just before setting out to sea on Day 362. From left to right, Kira Lingman, Boris Vishnevsky, Donny Suther, Paul Roustan, Frank Paine, Mike Leko, Jose Bacallao, and Jose Barahona, and Morgan Sliff. Photo by Ivan Fernandez.

Some of the Brothers Burritos surf crew just before setting out to sea on Day 362. From left to right, Kira Lingman, Boris Vishnevsky, Donny Suther, Paul Roustan, Frank Paine, Mike Leko, Jose Bacallao, and Jose Barahona, and Morgan Sliff. Photo by Ivan Fernandez.

It’s not just the surf, it’s the people

Sometimes the only ripples you want to see in the water are those made by your fingertips. But other times, you want to share in some stoke with your sea people.  And I must say, sea people are the best kind of people.  

I’ve been had the honor of getting to know surfers from all walks of life – and I love them all. Millionaire surfers, van-resident surfers, grumpy surfers, vagabonds both lost and full of purpose.The Mike Frank’s of Doheny and the Ben Thompson’s of Malibu that express themselves through Fred Astaire-like water dance. The wise gurus like Frank Paine of Hermosa. Jose Bacallao, defender of the ocean. and Jose Barahona, my shaper who has become a father to me. Those like Marion Clark-Setterholm who selflessly bus inner city kids to the water’s edge to see the glory of the ocean, maybe for their very first time. Sharing waves often with these folks, watching their infectious stoke, seeing what they give to the world, and humbly learning from their kind spirits is without a doubt the most rewarding aspect to surfing every day.

My daily surf has made me a better sister, friend, daughter, colleague, citizen, and human being. I’ve just had the best year of my life, and even though I haven’t given much thought to what happens next, I do know that as long as the ocean is in my life, I’ll be just fine. For now, I think I’ll keep on surfing. ER


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Written by: Mark McDermott

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