Stab Magazine | Notes On "Sending It"

Notes On “Sending It”

“The beginner eventually discovers this brutal paradox at the heart of surfing: the scarier the surf the less room there is for fear.”

style // Aug 18, 2020
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Ed. note: The following was written by San Clemente resident and apparent surfing greenhorn Fletcher Blake. Despite his proclivity for getting “sucked over the falls” (in San Clem of all places), we appreciate Fletcher’s attitude and general writing proficiency. Park your pretensions and you might find a few golden nuggets of truth in here. Enjoy!

An introductory note for the uninitiated: in surfer-speak, to “send it” is to “commit.”  To make a set of resolute, fearless movements as you are paddling into a wave, and in that moment, hopefully, to hop over the line between surfing and going ass-up in front of the hordes of undercover camera people who seem to be patrolling America’s beaches on behalf of the good folks over at @kookslams. 

This concept of commitment, the generalized version of surfing’s sending it, will be familiar if you’ve played a contact sport. When the pandemic is over, try this. Go to any middle school or junior high football practice and watch a tackling drill, or any other drill where kids are slamming into one another from a distance of at least a few feet. The best football players, at this age, the ones who will play in high school, are the ones who understand it only hurts worse if you’re tentative.

Tommy got sent.

It’s true: you can readily observe the importance of commitment in other “action” or “extreme” sports. But in some sense sitting in the lineup when the surf is pumping is more like waiting in line at football practice than nervously adjusting your helmet at the top of a BMX ramp or hanging your snow-skis over the rim of a steep run. In surfing, as in the tackling drill, you don’t go when you’re ready. You go when it’s time. And no two waves or teammates are exactly alike. It’s probably an accident of the English language and American history that football is not considered one of our “action” sports, anyway.

And surfing is, conversely, a “contact” sport. In May, Surfline said six to seven feet at 204s in San Clemente, my home break. I talked myself into paddling out. I was trying to be careful. But I backed off of one wave a little too casually. I got “sucked over the falls.” I do not have time to elaborate on all the surf terminology present in this essay. What I’d like to evoke, in this instance, is the image of a man in his mid-30s rolling out of a second-story window with an ironing board duct-taped to his ribs. 

I was reminded, at any rate, that there is a superficial logic which would like to sidle up to the problem of “sending it” and ask, with all the greasy verbiage of the last dude talking to the last girl at the bar, “What’s the worst that can happen?” But this is precisely the question you should not be asking. To ask is to wonder. To wonder is to imagine, if only for an instant, rolling out of a second-story window with an ironing board duct-taped to your ribs. The essence of sending it is to move without any thought, of any kind, for the bad ending. Sending it requires a total mental purge.

That’s not to say all aspects of sending it are black and white. There is a kind of “spectrum of sending it.” The imperative to commit intensifies with the size and the steepness of the wave. The beginner eventually discovers this brutal paradox at the heart of surfing: the scarier the surf the less room there is for fear. WSL surfers are cool. But big wave surfers walk around with the other-worldly aura of the free climber, the bullfighter, or the nineteenth-century duelist. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, the absolute worst is the worst that can happen.

So we’ve made it to death, then. The biggest kahuna. I’ve been wondering lately: Just how broadly applicable is the concept of “sending it,” really? It appears in the Bible, I think. Jesus beckons Peter out of the boat and onto the waves. The moment he begins to doubt, he sinks. Okay, so it’s an old idea. But is “sending it” a workable life ethic? Are there moments when the worst thing you can do is stop and think, run a cost-benefit analysis, make “healthy” choices?

The imperative has been cropping up in the smallest ways. I’m a goofy-footer. The writing lineup is usually crowded. Sitting down at my computer, typing the first lines of this essay, I pawed at the keyboard, kicked my feet under the desk, and took one last look right before going left. A concluding note for the now-initiated: in human-speak, to “send it” is to step outside the framework of rationality, to access an inner, un-thinking animal, to gamble boldly in the hopes of walking on water.


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