Our theme for the month of July is “stunt journalism.” Writers were asked to try something new, take on a challenge, or perform some other interesting feat strictly for the purpose of writing about it.
This is Katie’s last post with us, so a special thanks and a warm goodbye goes out to her today. Katie has been writing with us since August 2014.
I bought a wetsuit.
My experience was nothing like the above photo. I did not do this as part of a glorious eat-pray-surf journey of self-discovery. I did not do this for the sole purpose of writing about it. I did it because I was on vacation with my in-laws, and Groenewolds take their outdoor activities very seriously.
It was drizzling when we arrived at the Lincoln City Surf Shop. I was not alone—all the newest members of the family were in need of neoprene accoutrements, some because they are still growing, making such purchases impractical, others because they, like me, had married into the idea of multi-generational boogie boarding. The shop owner was eager to outfit one and all with suits, “booties,” and hats that made the wearer look like a cartoon of an old-timey British constable.
“How tall are you?” he would ask, sizing up the subject in one long glance. Then, “how much do you weigh?”
Nathan grinned, pleased, when the owner overestimated his bulk: “I thought you’d be bigger, from your build.” I smirked at this rather dude-ly response, but half-heartedly. Because a few Groenewolds later, it was my turn.
“I’m about 5’8”,” I said.
My jaw drew back, as if doubling my chin would telegraph my discomfort. But I told him, and he handed me a Billabong wetsuit with pale pink details. In the small restroom plastered with yellowing clippings on surfboard makers and local experts, I laboriously inserted one leg, then the other, into the suit. I am not sure how to accurately convey the unpleasantness of this experience. There was no part of my body that went gentle into that good night; neither bones nor flesh went willingly to their corresponding locations in the wetsuit. I used all the tools in my arsenal: the skinny jean hop-and-buckle, the nylon ankle-tug, the uncomfortable-underclothing-wriggle. The problem is, a wetsuit is a full body experience. I also had to get my arms into holes designed for toothpicks, and then wrench my stiff, neoprene-encased limbs around to zip up the back of the suit. I stumbled out of the bathroom, exhausted.
“I feel like a sausage,” I said. “Am I supposed to look like this?”
While Nathan admittedly had a vested interest in convincing me to enjoy the activity, I do credit him for telling me, encouragingly, that I looked “fine.” Our ten-year-old niece offered a more ambivalent assessment. When I asked how she liked her suit, she scrunched her nose and said, “it’s funny how they show everyone’s shape.”
I wrestled my body into that wetsuit every day for five days. It got a bit easier once I figured out how to set the hem at my ankles, flop the suit over so the inside faced out, and roll both leg tubes up my body. Once I got in the water, though, I stopped thinking so much about the suit. In fact, I didn’t much think about my body at all. For the first time in recent memory, I swam without worrying about my suit slipping in the waves, or my bottoms riding up, or a patch of leg hair I missed in the shower. The only skin anyone could see was ten frigid, purple fingers and my face. So, swaddled in neoprene so tight that I moved my shoulders like an arthritic rhinoceros, I was free. When a Pacific swell came over the sandbar, about to crest, I kicked my booties away from the ocean floor, wrestled my torso onto the boogie board, did my best cobra pose, and shot forward toward the sand, blinking salt water and strands of hair out of my eyes and smiling. It was, in a word, delightful.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.