Heather Hiett
writing and fine art photography

surfing and photography memoir: wild women don't get the blues

I lay face down in the sand wondering why I'd said yes.

Heather and Martina at Stinson Beach, 1996

Heather and Martina at Stinson Beach, 1996

Excerpt from Chapter 1:

first time surfing

Surfing had sounded like a great idea from underneath a comforter. An idea on the phone.

It's February. It's cold. It's Sunday morning. Fog draws down from the sky onto Stinson Beach. I could be in bed, I think, next to Costa – beautiful, young Costa. Instead I slipped out of his arms and into a swim suit and down coat, then crossed the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and north over the Golden Gate.

Martina paces in front of me in black neoprene. I set palms to sand. The beach smells of decomposing seaweed.

"Now up!" she demands in a thick German accent. I push into plank and scoot my feet underneath, crouch, then stand.

"Stay low!" she corrects.

I bend my knees, looking through a pearly haze to the place I imagine the red cables hang.

"Good," she says coming close and pushing me backwards. I catch myself with my right foot. 

"Regular," she says. "You're regular foot. Not goofy."

"Oh," I answer. "What if I want to be goofy?"

She smiles and says nothing. 

I shake my arms loose, remembering a story my dad tells about a mentally-challenged kid on the playground who cried, "Who wants to be normal?" when the other kids teased him.

He had a point. Who wants to be normal? And yet, I'd tried my whole life to be normal. Normal has it's privileges. People are more comfortable with Normal. I'd always made folks comfortable and now I was starting to make them uncomfortable. I hadn't figured out my rally cry, my Who wants to be Normal? In fact, it would take months, and in some cases years, to formulate responses when age mates would boast, displaying their Normal lives right next to my Goofy one. 

The latest taunt was about houses. "You know, Heather, you really need to get into one right now," they advised. Even recently, knowing I'd just divorced, moved from a two-story Victorian rental in Alameda to a live-work loft in Oakland, which stands right next to BART (otherwise known as Bay Area Rapid Transit) and whose elevated tracks hover above those of a good, old-fashioned choo-choo train that blows its horn every morning at 4:45am, shaking the side of my building.

Since I don't have $80k laying around for a downpayment, I won't be getting into one just yet. If I'd stayed on the Normal path, I might be buying a house, but instead I've committed financial suicide by divorcing and changing careers when I'm supposed to be shifting into third, gaining speed while gritting through 60-hour work weeks on my way to becoming Director of Marketing Communications and contemplating a dog, which would lead to children.

Finally, I learned to say, "You know what? The last thing I need is a house with all the traveling I'm going to do."

Which brings me back to this moment, dressed in a black and emergency-yellow wetsuit, color-blocked like a Mondrian painting. Martina hands me the leash and demonstrates how to attach it to the ankle of my Regular Foot. I fumble with the velcroed, double-fold strap because it's new to me. Like surfing is new to me. And being on my own. At 33, I'm a beginner at just about everything, it seems. I collect the bulky board under one arm and wade in.