My brother James has surfed, but he doesn’t own a surfboard. He doesn’t know what the swell is doing, or forecast to do, on any given day. He has a good job. He plans out his weekends in advance. Though he has surfed, he wouldn’t describe himself as a surfer, and thus is not susceptible to the same fanaticism as I am.
Once, James and I planned a snowboarding trip to Bear Valley. Our aunt Elaine had booked a cabin months in advance and somehow convinced me to commit ahead of time. The week leading up to the trip was bathed in sun that melted the snow. The day before James and I planned to drive up together, two friends called to talk about the swell forecast. “It’s going to be huge,” said one, who planned to drive down from up north. “It’s going to be epic,” said another, who planned to drive up from down south. I flaked on James and stayed behind to surf.
When James planned to visit me in Mexico, I hoped this trip would be different, as I’d be protected by the expectation of surf. He packed his guitar and some books to read, including my recently-completed manuscript. We travelled around Guerrero and Michoacan, visiting the places I’d written about in all of their wild, raw, and riveting glory. In the mornings, we surfed. When the waves got so big that I surfed them from the back of a jet ski, James watched patiently from the beach. In the afternoons, we visited hot springs, hiked to waterfalls, or took kayaks out on the river. We ate tacos and tamales, drank agua fresca and cold coconuts. I arranged for air conditioning and a rental car, a sharp diversion from my normal accomodations: termite-ridden squalor and a notable absence of toilet seats.
I showed my true colors after breakfast one morning when I realized that our kitchen wasn’t equipped with a sponge. I asked James if that was his loofah hanging in the shower of our cabana. It wasn’t. Assuming it had been left behind by a previous guest, I used it to wash dishes. “That’s gross,” James replied when I boasted about my resourcefulness. He was right.
On James’s last night in Mexico, we planned to go out for dinner to celebrate the trip. A friend stopped by a few hours before sunset and invited us out for an afternoon surf. James opted out due to a terrible sunburn, but I decided to have one last hurrah longboarding Saladita before heading off to surf another break the next day. “How long are you going to surf for?” James asked. “Just an hour or so,” I replied.
As I paddled out, the fluttering wind died and a new swell began to fill in. The waves grew larger and larger with each set: shoulder high, head high, overhead. Despite the abundance of waves, it was hard to catch one. Everyone I’d ever seen surfing at Saladita, including la banda—the local surfers—seemed to be out that evening. And I was tired—very tired—after the stint with the jet ski. I should have gone in, but I was mesmerized. The ocean was as smooth and flawless as a mirror. The sun hung in the sky like an orange disco ball, radiating neon lights across its surface. Just one more, I thought. I caught one wave, and then another, but I just kept wanting more.
When it finally got dark, I came in. I’d surfed for two and a half hours. James was very hungry, and very pissed off. Understandably so. I’d surfed every day he’d been there, and I’d just extended my trip so that I could continue surfing after he left. Why did I have to surf for two and a half hours on his last night in Mexico?
Pinche olas. Literally translated, it means ‘fucking waves.’ But it’s also a term of endearment. My friends call me Pinche Aloe (with a tender smile and a laugh) when I crack a good joke, or when I surf for far too long. Any surfer knows, when the waves are good, you have to surf them. It’s why most of us don’t have good jobs, don’t plan our weekends out in advance, and readily live in squalor. It often gets us in trouble with our loved ones, but those who truly love us understand—or at least accept—this bizzare drive. We can be surf-crazed, flaky, infuriating jerks, but we’ll take to you spectacular places. We’re worth the hassle if you come along for the ride.