Taking the Waves

A tale of love, life and longboarding

"What am I trying to say here?" said Gene Gore, as he stuffed in another French fry at the Purple Cow restaurant. "What is the deeper thought of longboarding?"

To begin, there are two very distinct kinds of surfers. There are longboarders, and there are shortboarders, and they are as different from each other as night from day, or as bliss from anger.

Shortboarders require speed, and live for the big waves. They cut and slash against them and fight the will of the water. Gene said they represent modern aggression. Longboarding is just the opposite. It is the art of graceful cruising. It is understanding the water and following it. Longboarding is dancing with the waves.

"You can relate it to life in general," said Gene, in summary. "You can choose, you know, either to fight it or flow with it."

As for him, he is the devoted longboarder, choosing always to go with the flow, not to struggle but to accept. On the way back to his house, there was a sign that said, "Welcome to Surfside Beach." The sign showed a great, blue barrel of a wave, but the water here is closer to black, and in the summer, it can be as calm as a lake. Gene does his best surfing in the winter, or when a hurricane approaches.

Surfside is a village of trailer homes and shanties on sticks slumbering between the sea and Dow Chemical. Gene's house is the one with the Hawaiian flag. The house faces the sea, and Gene rarely looks behind him. Fearing the city's tap water will kill him, he is content to drink spring water from plastic bottles. When the beach is lined with dead fish, he carefully avoids the carcasses as he makes his way into the waves.

Inside his house -- they call it the Sunshine House -- there are maps of Hawaii pinned to the wall and a ukulele in the corner. Also, there is Rachel, tan and lean, her dark hair bleached by the sun, lying on the couch reading Surfer magazine. Gene never did go looking for a girl, but when he ran into Rachel, "a chick who surfed," he fell in love. They will be married in May -- in the surf, on surfboards.

He lay down beside her and enclosed her in his arms. It was the middle of a midweek afternoon, and the wind was blowing in through the open door, and the waves could be heard crashing, crashing, washing away all sense of time. Rachel said, "Surfing is awesome. All we want to do is surf together the rest of our lives."

And Gene, smiling his half-lidded surfer smile, said the waves, even such as these, are a gift from God for human pleasure. Yes, that's exactly it, he said.

"We weren't put here to be miserable all the time, though it does suck a lot."

Gene didn't begin riding waves, really chasing them anyway, until after his mother had a brain tumor and his father, a high school English teacher, left to marry one of his students.

In Missouri City, Gene grew up in the kind of ranch house with the kind of grass that begs everyone to believe the occupants are not unusual. His mother, Jeanne Law, still lives there. She keeps her television tuned to the Weather Channel, because by monitoring the waves, she knows where her son is.

Gene carries in his wallet a picture, about a quarter-century old, of his mother before the surgery, and his father before he left, and Gene's seven siblings when they were all smiling. Jeanne has the same picture in a frame on the wall, but it has been torn in half.

Sometimes, she thinks she and her husband might have endured if they'd had more money and fewer children. The children were each a heavenly gift, God bless them all, but together, they were a load. There was just so much ... pressure.

In trouble, Jeanne had always turned to God, but then God began complicating things. She and her husband were both devout Catholics, and in Wichita Falls after they married, they began a family, following Catholic tradition. The church taught that the use of birth control is a sin, and so Jeanne shunned it. She gave birth to child after child, and her husband eventually began supplementing his teaching income by moonlighting as a machinist. After four kids, Jeanne's doctor said her body could handle more, but her mind possibly could not. After six, even her priest suggested birth control. Jeanne agreed then, but suffered anxiety, which caused insomnia, which led to exhaustion and finally to a stay in the psychiatric ward.

She received electric shock treatment, but she didn't feel better until she emerged from the hospital and had thrown out her birth control. Jeanne felt wonderfully guiltless when she was pregnant again. Gene Michael, 32 years ago, was the happy result.

He was the seventh of eight children. The structure supporting his life did not begin crumbling until he was about nine years old. The family moved to Missouri City then, and his father took a job as an English teacher at Dulles High School. Within a year, Mrs. Gore was diagnosed with a large brain tumor, and the children were told to brace for her death. She survived the surgery but emerged permanently disfigured, looking nothing like the mother she had been.

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