Jon Cohen,

Jon Cohen,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 4 1997 3:30 AM

Jon Cohen,

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       When I saw Diane fighting back tears this morning, I said, "You've got bigger balls than me." Diane was in the channel at Swami's where the waves don't break, writhing from back spasms. Apparently, some goon had taken off in front of her on a sizable wave and, after snaking her, had the audacity to shove her. She hit the water at a weird angle, tweaking her back, which she had seriously hurt a few years earlier. That injury had kept her out of the water for a year.
       I suspected that Diane began to cry out of pain, fear, the thought of being landlocked again, and the embarrassment of having friends paddle over to check on her. My comment was my way of saying she shouldn't feel embarrassed. And I meant what I said about her balls.
       As with many people I surf with, I don't know Diane's last name. But we have a water friendship, and yesterday she had noticed me floundering on my 7'2" because I was avoiding the inside pit--the steep spot where most of the waves first break. This inside pit is treacherous because when the larger set waves move in, you get worked. Diane didn't seem to mind the beating. After one set pummeled her, she said to me, "This is a dangerous part of town." A few minutes later, a grinding wave moved toward us and she gently herded me deep into the pit and told me to go for it. Few men, other than my close friends, would ever be so generous.
       Today, when Diane wrenched her back, she only agreed to leave the water after the chills set in and Arty, a close friend, became insistent. Mike, who was also on a shortboard, agreed that we would take turns paddling my 9' noserider (which effortlessly cuts through water) and tow her to shore. I un-Velcroed the ankle strap that leashes my board to me and handed it to Diane, who floated on her back for most of the long paddle in. Arty paddled alongside, shuttling her board.
       A half-dozen locals met us at the shoreline, and then four of us made a chair and carried her up the stairs. Mark Brolaski, who carried half her torso, wisecracked that when he once hurt his back here, none of the guys came to help him. It was funny, and true. Surfing men have extra respect for women like Diane.
       At the top of the stairs, Doug (a local nicknamed "Poodle" because of his curly hair) told Diane he would have come to help, too, if a goon hadn't run into him last Friday, requiring him to get 22 stitches in his foot. Doug's and Diane's injuries reminded me that the fear of large waves I felt yesterday at Swami's was not entirely irrational (see what happened to the famous shack at La Jolla's Windansea beach yesterday at www.uniontribune.com/news/uniontrib/tue/metro/index.html [registration is required to access Web site]).
       Then again, before Diane hurt herself this morning, I was fearless and on fire. I caught and shredded one macker that towered several feet over my head. Right before Mike drove off, he told me why he still surfs regularly at age 51. "It keeps the kid alive," he said.

Jon Cohen is a journalist for Science magazine. He's also a surfer.