Surf Cowgirl Chronicles 9: Surfing the Rip

My home break In Del Mar features a rip bowl as the tide plunges (Author pictured, Photo credit Scotty Peck)

“If in doubt, paddle out.” ~ Nat Young

Christian and I have been hitting a new spot closer to home. A couple days ago, he made the call to head back to this break that I have yet to understand. I love the wilderness there, but my hackles go up at the wave height, even though it can be soft.

It’s capricious and dodgy in front of the jetty, but the wave rolls for a hundred yards and when it’s working, the magic shoots through your marrow like a good drug.

“Here’s the strategy,” he said, his trucker hat on backwards. “We paddle out into the rip and grab a few of these rights.”

As a kid, you’re scared shitless by adults trying to keep you out of a riptide, and as a surfer, you learn to use the rip to your advantage, because it means less paddling to get out.

The rip pulls you easily out, like a luxury, but then you fight it to get back in position to snag a set wave.

Rights are my backhand as a goofy foot surfer. I need more practice on them, but have this relationship to the wave wherein my brain turns off easier going right, and I surf better. I land the drops. That moment in free fall feels natural, catching the board underfoot, and shooting the pocket to the shoulder. I fumble my lefts at times.

I’m riding a 7'2" Torq right now, and it’s forgiving. (Pictured above). I grab the rail, set my angle and shoot down the line, and when the wave slows, turn my shoulders back to the power source.

“Hey, that was great! You made 3 cutbacks,” said Christian. You have to earn his praise. He’s a fucking viking. He’s got a heart of gold, but good luck finding it in the grizzle. Still, when it comes out, you can bask in truly having earned that sunshine in his smile.

But don’t get too excited, because he’s about to tell you everything you could do better next time, at hyper speed and don’t you dare interrupt the lecture.

The tide continued to drop… we paddled against the rip, and the wave on the inside formed the rip bowl, which is the weirdest section ever with a forceful hunger that drives you out the side, like the jowls of a beast.

Christian was riding his twin fin. It always makes him happy, that board. Sure enough a bruiser set cruised through and he snagged a barrel, shooting the pocket and then emerging to throw a fan and land a 360.

“Welp, there goes the break,” I joked. We’d had it all to ourselves. Inevitably, as soon as Christian starts looping ariels and landing them solid, any surfers investigating the break from their cars paddle out as fast as they can.

About an hour later we had 13 guys out with us.

Once again, I thought to myself:

Where are the women?

I was the only one, as usual. Me and the men. Old men. Young men. Rarely a woman here. I have a new Billabong suit, with pink down the arms, because I’m tired of being “one of the guys” as a lone wolf woman. I’ve got long blonde hair and they’re gonna notice I’m a girl who can shred.

The rip grew, sucking the brown sand out in a mad lashing tongue. Whitewash pushed towards the rocks with a growl against the pebbles.

We paddled back into position, and the wave changed and began to stretch south, the sets laddering along. The ocean is a shapeshifter, my son who is nearly 9 agrees, and adds that the sea is a trickster.

A large brown pelican dipped into a trough and emerged with her wings just grazing our heads. A smile rippled across my cheeks, full of stoke, a smile I’ve missed feeling during the covid-19 pandemic that destroyed so much of my life: job loss, benefits loss, savings loss. But this moment, this moment is grace.

I caught another right, and didn’t look fast enough and got swallowed by the section. Dragged… flipped, pushed under… then up for air at last, head cage with my arms, all good.

I paddled out, caught another right and overcompensated and turned off the wave.

“My head is always in the way,” I moaned.

“But you’re handling your fear,” he said. “You have to let it hit you and trust it.” He demonstrated by paddling in front of the power source of the peak and pulling into the pocket for a fast ride all the way into the sand.

It was a perfect session, really, the sun warm even in late November at 9am.

Out there with my coach, I can borrow confidence from his presence. I can rely on his eyes, and his understanding. I feel safe and can take off on waves I’d never approach on my own.

And I love every minute! Somehow I emerge with bruised shins, always. The water is cold enough to deceive how banged up you get. There’s always a plum on one of my hips, my back, my thighs.

We end it on one of my best rides, straight into the sand.

On the beach, Christian and I walked towards his van and sat down in the sand to debrief. He set his board on his lap, explained where my heels are, how to finesse setting the rail.

We talked about the overhead waves we’d just sliced and carved into beautiful, ephemeral art. He noticed that I’m less afraid.

“Why is that, you think?” I asked.

“I don’t care about fucking meditation or Zen or any of that shit, the only way to handle your fear is experience. You have to have experience. It’s the only thing that conquers fear.”

“Can I quote you on that?” I joked, laughing.

He gave me a side eye, full of love. “Text me about a lesson next week,” he said, as his adorable daughter leaned her head out of the passenger window in a surprise visit to daddy at his office.

~ Kaia Alexander

Surf Cowgirl Chronicles is proudly brought to you by filmmaker, novelist, entrepreneur Kaia Alexander.

You can find Kaia at

Watch the trailer of my new documentary short, Chalice: Wise Women Rise here:



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