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Riding Giants

THE POPULAR IMAGE OF SURFING—a rider on a large, wind-groomed wave—is, alas, an idealization. Waves are bad more often than good, even (in fact, especially) at world-class breaks like Pipeline. Hence surfers travel when they can, in the hope that the waves will be better elsewhere. Occasionally they are. But even in the elite ranks of globe-trotting professionals, most of one’s time is spent doing various mental and physical finger exercises. Great waves arrive like Rilkean storms of inspiration, and serious surfers are fully the equal of artists in the degree of their commitment and obsessiveness. Paddling out at a moment’s notice—on one’s wedding day, on the morning of the big presentation—can entail the destruction of love relationships and the loss of jobs (“Why get fired unless it’s firing?” runs a surf forecaster’s motto). Meanwhile, between swells, which is to say most of the time,

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