BEST OF JODY’S BOX: WHY I’VE NEVER READ MY PITBOARD EVER

By Jody Weisel

When I was young, I aspired to live my life as a professional surfer. I was on the Dewey Weber team, was sponsored by the Island Surf Shop and had my own surfboard model from Loe Surfboards. I don’t tell you this to impress you, because back in the 1960s a professional surfer only made enough money to keep surfing. I slept in the foam-blank storage room, surfed eight hours a day and was paid $120—a month—to promote the board I rode.

But, that isn’t what I came here to talk about. I want to talk about total mental immersion in sports, which is often called “being in the zone.” And for me, surfing was my first experience with an activity where distractions were forbidden from entering my conscious mind. All I thought about was the next wave, keeping my place in the lineup and scanning the horizon for the gray shadows that meant the next set was coming. I never thought about how long I’d been in the water. I stayed as long as the waves kept coming. The zone may sound zen-like and magical, but, in reality, it was very simple. When you become immersed in achieving a goal, sports psychologists will say that you are totally trusting in where the zone will take you.

I’m not a big fan of psychological mumbo jumbo. I surfed because I was good at it, and I surfed because when I was in the water I forgot about that water-pump leak on my van. I had no money problems once I paddled out (and who would if they were making $120 a month?). Sharks-smarks; everything that mattered on land dissolved in the ocean. If I lost my board in a wipeout (this was in the days before leashes), I would swim in, get a drink of water, and turn around and paddle straight back out. If it got dark, I moved over next to the pier, because it had lights. And when I finally did come in, I didn’t remember anything about the day. Good rides, bad rides, tube rides and nose rides were expunged from my memory bank.

“I GAVE UP SURFING WHEN I DECIDED I WANTED TO BE A MOTORCYCLE RACER. I DON’T MISS IT AND I’M NOT TEMPTED TO TAKE UP SURFING AGAIN. I DON’T NEED IT ANYMORE.”

I gave up surfing when I decided I wanted to be a motorcycle racer. I don’t miss it, and although I still have rafters full of surfboards, including my signature Loe Surfboards Asymmetrical design and my Team Weber Super Wide, I’m not tempted to take up surfing again. I don’t need it anymore. I’m a racer, and I get from motocross what I got from surfing, including a lot more than $120 a month.

When I go to the starting line, I’m very nonchalant about the race—casual, relaxed and nonplussed (in the contronym meaning); but, once the gate drops, I’m totally immersed in it. Each race is a swirling mass of men and metal, with only brief glimpses of the world around me. I’ve never read my pit board in my life, because I can’t look away from where my front fender is headed. I’m too busy. It might seem strange to say that when I’m racing I’m too busy to do anything, but it’s true. I am busy talking to myself and, if you race, you know about the little pep talks most racers give themselves about going faster, pressing the tank with their knees, doing the hairpin in third, getting their foot off the rear brake pedal (brought on by that squealing sound the pads emit when the fluid starts to boil), feeling the clutch go soft from using it too much (and vowing to ride without the clutch for two laps to let it cool, but only making it two corners) and turning the throttle wide open to get even with the guy who swerved across your front wheel on the last straight (a lap later, I can’t remember his number). I don’t think I talk out loud to myself, but maybe I do.

When I do it right, which isn’t very often, the race is a blur. I don’t mean a blur as in obscured by speed (because given my current speed that would be silly), but blurred by the fog of battle. I remember the start and I remember going under the checkered flag, but between those two events I was immersed in an activity where distractions were forbidden from entering my conscious mind. When people ask me how I did, I reply, “I don’t know, but that reminds me, my water pump is leaking.”

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