Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hotlips, Part 2

As I shared in my last post, I met Tammy several years ago and was struck by this truly enigmatic surfer girl.  The following is the second half of my conversation with Tammy. 

When did you realize the work you were doing with Doug was for surfing?
Oh, almost immediately. When Doug didn't need help with his ding repair projects, I got lost in all of his surfing magazines. I got a pretty good indication pretty early on what surfboards were for and how surfers used them.  Those magazines took me to a world I never knew existed. Big, beautiful blue and green waves in places I'd never heard of.  It was a complete fantasy world.  Doug's yard was like a classroom and he was like a teacher who answered millions of dumb questions, the kinds of questions that only a little kid can come up with.

Sounds like you and Doug had a pretty special relationship. What did your parents think of you spending so much time with an older boy?
Well, let me first say that there was nothing immoral going on.  If anything, Doug and I were like brother and sister.  Having said that though, Doug and I also became very good friends.  We still are today.  But anyway, neither of us had any brothers or sisters, so we treated each other like the brother and sister we never had.  I think my parents saw this and understood this and were cool with it.   They were pretty trusting of Doug because he was such a good kid.   He was so polite and friendly and respectful and my parents really appreciated that.  They saw the surfing aspect as cultural enrichment, which they were really big on.  It helped that he went to Catholic school and that my parents were Catholic.  Don't get me wrong—he and his friends were a bunch of smart asses, but not around adults.  They were really good guys.  No pot, no beer – at least around me – just a whole lot of Van Halen!

Right on.  So, how long before you got in the water and started surfing?
It wasn't too long.  Maybe a year.  Once Doug got a driver’s license, it didn’t take long before he took me out to Santa Cruz to watch him and his friends surf.  I'd sit on the beach and watch them for hours. I learned what I could from watching them and asking Doug questions.  I learned by listening to Doug and his friends about the local breaks in Santa Cruz and Capitola and the swells they needed well before I ever even paddled out.  So much so that, the more I learned, the more I wanted to surf!  Doug gave in pretty easily and started bringing a longboard for me to use when he went surfing with his friends.  It was an old 9'0" Pearson Arrow, the board he learned to surf on.  There’s no way I could’ve been taller than 5'0", so to me, a 9'0" was a gigantic!  No worries though.  It paddled really well and was thick enough to cut through the soup.  Usually, Doug and his friends would drop me off at Cowell's and then head up to the Lane (Steamer Lane).  Eventually, I worked my way up to Indicators, just below the Lane and then started paddling out with them to Inside or Middle Peak to sit, watch and learn.  When I got comfortable out there, I began shoulder hopping on Doug's waves and would listen carefully to what he said after every wave.

How were you perceived out in the lineup? Let's face facts: you were a young girl on a longboard during a time when most people didn't take too kindly to girls in the lineup, let alone longboarders. What was that like?
Well, as far as being a girl is concerned, it's only gotten better in Santa Cruz the last several years.  Women have really established a presence in the water now and I think it really helps mellow the vibe.  The exact same with longboarding: it's totally respectable again. I was probably more discriminated against for being a longboarder than for being a girl back then, but I always felt safe and protected around Doug and his friends.  Don't get me wrong—the crowds can be bad and you’ll occasionally see a stink eye or two, but I think surfers actually behave themselves a little more when there are girls in the water.  There are girls of all ages out here now — kids, teenagers girls, UCSC students, moms, and even grandmas.  Together they've kind of diluted the testosterone level in the water!

So overall you'd say the vibe in Santa Cruz is pretty good?
Yeah, I'd say so.  When I was sitting in the lineup early on and studying the waves, I was also studying the vibe.  There are some spots around here that are a lot mellower than others and I dig surfing those mellow places a lot because of the mellow vibe.  When the surf gets good though, no matter where you are, surfers get more aggressive.  And I can understand that.  If it's crowded and you want to catch waves, then you've got to be aggressive.

Do you consider yourself aggressive?
I can be if necessary, like when the surf is really good and there are other aggressive surfers out there.  I think it's something you have to be able to turn on and off.  You see, it can be a real problem when being aggressive is misunderstood. Respect goes a long way and I'm a firm believer in it.  There are so many surfers in Santa Cruz where probably half are locals and half are coming over the hill.  You can tell who lives here and who doesn't, so you know who to look out for. I used to get hassled sometimes for being a kook and that's understandable.  I was a kook.  But even though I'm coming over the hill to surf, I've gained enough confidence where I feel I deserve a little respect too. I just try to get that respect with a smile and some really fluid surfing.

Do you have any plans for the future? Does surfing fit into those plans?
Oh yeah, surfing's for life!  The older surfers out here are such an inspiration.  To be honest, I never really lost interest in being a doctor, but that takes so much time and commitment.  I've started taking some EMT classes and am considering a career with the Fire Department.  I think being a paramedic would be the next best thing to being a doctor.  Not only that, but it would also allow me to be a stronger and more active part of the community, which is something my parents hammered on me my whole life.

Speaking of community, how do you see yourself in the surfing community?
Are you asking me if I see myself as a girl who surfs or a Vietnamese girl who surfs or, worse, a longboarder?! 

Nah, it's not much of an issue.  I mean, there are millions of Vietnamese people in the Bay Area.  Because of that, I guess surfers don't trip out when they see me in the water.  But Santa Cruz is a pretty tightly knit surfing community and one I’ve been a part of it for several years now so I haven’t thought about it in years.  At the core, I get nothing but a good vibe from people in the water and I do my best to return that vibe.  But, I don’t try to over analyze it.  We’re talking surfing here.  Everyone's just stoked to be out, catching some waves, no matter what.

Tammy, thanks for being an inspiration to so many people.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.