How to Date a Surfer
When you move to L.A. so your dad can turn his book into a movie, you swear no more Manhattan black and wire-rimmed glasses, no more Catholic girls’ school and boys at dances looking through you. The new you: contact lens, Sun In and lemon juice, Coppertone Oil, hair feathered like Farrah Fawcett. Your parents rent a ranch house owned by a professor on sabbatical in Spain; you sleep in his son’s bedroom. A ten foot surfboard leans in the garage and the Pacific spreads in the distance like a mirror. You want to see your face reflected in its surface.
A neighbor notices you alone in the front yard. Her teenage daughter: hair pulled back with a feathered roach clip and hand on hip. Every summer day, the daughter squeezes into cars loaded with surfboards.
The neighbor says, Gigi, why don’t you invite her to the beach.
Your mouth fills with dread and hope.
Gigi rolls her eyes. Then assesses you. You’ll be in tenth grade? You’ll do.
At the beach, you sit next to Gigi. Her voice in your ear, naming the boys surfing like telling a rosary. The girls wear pale crocheted bikinis; you in your favorite, tropical with white orchids. When the boys catch a ride on the waves, the girls cheer. The wind blows their voices back to shore. When you ask, Gigi says, Girls don’t surf.
You squint at the sun’s reflection on the ocean. Steve carves rick-rack into the barrel of a wave. A nimbus of blonde hair like Lief Garrett. That night, at the campfire, he asks Gigi, Is this the new girl? As you tip down your first acrid beer, he throws an arm around your shoulders. You look so New York. Lassos his shark’s tooth necklace around your neck.
The boys glare down a group of surfers assessing the waves from the bluff. Vals, Steve spits out. The Valley boys lean against a van airbrushed with a fluorescent sunset. One, a dark haired Shaun Cassidy, catches your eye and smiles. When they charge the waves, Steve disappears.
At night, as Steve’s headlights strafe the parked cars, you see, on the side of the lifeguard station, spray-painted in dripping letters, Vals go home.
On their boards in their wetsuits, the boys resemble sleek seals. Selkie boys, called to love by a girl’s seven tears. When Steve walks up the beach from the sea, he sheds his wetsuit like a slick skin and buries his head in your lap.
The weekend after school starts, it’s the same Valley boys, positioning at the line up with your surfers. One drops in front of Steve on a wave, cuts him off. Steve tries to turn but both collide, disappear into churning surf. An arm pulls back for a punch, a surfboard shoots riderless.
Goofyfoot, caught inside, glassy. You whisper these words like a mantra as you lie under the Cheryl Ladd poster in your borrowed bedroom. Your skin holds the jellyfish stings of your surfer’s lips.
You carry Steve’s board from the car down to the beach. You know now it’s a swallowtail twin-fin, a shortboard, but it’s still longer than you. Your arm stretches to grasp the rails. The path skittish with rocks. Steve carries one end of a cooler.
Good thing you’ve got help, the guy at the other end of the cooler says. Meaning you.
Yeah, got my pack horse. The shark’s tooth rests heavy on your skin. You drop the surfboard.
What the hell, Steve says. That’s my new board.
You tread water, the sea Navajo-jewelry-turquoise. Your face reflected in the surf fragmented like those best-friend heart charms. Darkness slithers below; something wraps around your ankle, pulls you down. You think: This is how I die. You thrash, breath bubbling. Then you’re free, barreling to light and air. A sleek head breaches next to you. Steve hums the theme from Jaws. Got you, didn’t I?
You spit seawater.
The full moon hangs like a pendant. That Val keeps snaking me, Steve says, poking a stick into the fire. Down the beach, the Valley kids have their own smoking campfire, a mirror of yours.
This is the last time.
The boys walk to the bluff. The girls and you follow. Steve shakes a can of spray paint toward the Valley kids’ van. The click-click of an ominous rattle. Let’s get this party started.
Your voice feels small. Calm down. It’s just surfing.
It’s never just surfing. The boys crowd you. Gigi’s face whitens.
Time to trade her in, someone says.
You throw the shark’s tooth necklace at Steve’s feet.
You slip down the bluff to the Valley kids’ campfire. The guy who looks like Shaun Cassidy glares. Whattya want? When you tell him, they charge up to their van. You walk to the payphone at the lifeguard station. Next day at school, a bruise blooms purple around Steve’s eye. He looks through you.
You take the longboard from the garage, bum a ride with your mother to the beach, shimmy into the professor’s son’s wetsuit. Balls of Styrofoam and glittering pop-tops mark the waterline. The girls huddle on a fringed Mexican blanket. A girl as young as you were sits next to Gigi; a shark’s tooth dangles between the triangles of her bikini top.
You throw yourself on the board and paddle out, the Pacific shockingly cold even through the wetsuit. You coast up the face of a small wave. You feel buoyant. The ocean’s surface reflects your face.
Steve and the other boys float astride their boards. The swell rolls in behind; it’s going to be a wave your height. You paddle to catch it. Steve paddles to snake you, but you leave him behind.
As the wave breaks, you stand. Exhilaration like that time lightning tingled through your bones as thunder struck. Until you fall and water rushes and you are driftwood against the shore.
Sand fills your mouth.
You try again.
Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website islorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.