Endoskeletal.

Grain Shop

What if surfboards had souls? Surfboards. They do have souls. They’ve got personalities, just like we do. Quirks, habits, and even shortcomings, which we tend to overlook in favor of their more positive attributes. Like a girlfriend who is, actually, pretty high-maintenance, but she’s so ludicrously good at making up, that you’re willing to fight with her. Constantly if need be. Yeah, it’s hard to break up with a board that has the perfect amount of pop or turns on a dime.

But some surfboards are more well-rounded than others. Naturally, some are stronger. Some of them have backbones. Literally. They’re composed of sinews and ribs, and right in the middle of it all: heart. They’re take-home-to-mom caliber. The boards made by Grain Surfboards in York, Maine are that kind of boards. Custom-built, hollow wood beauties. And of course, they exist in a very limited number.

Grain’s rate of production is “very slow.” Founder and principle owner Mike LaVecchia says this unapologetically. “We build maybe two dozen boards a year.”

“But,” he continues, “it’s a small part of the business. April through October, classes are kind of our main thing.”

Grain generally offers three types of surfboard building classes, which allow students to do 90 percent of the building themselves: A seven-day course, a four-day “blitz,” and a two-day finless craft class with alaia master Jon Wegener. Grain also sells kits that include all of the necessary ingredients for about half the price; their buyers do 100 percent of the work. Most people opt for the classes.

Grain Founder and Co-owner Mike LaVecchia

Grain Founder and Co-owner Mike LaVecchia

“It’s really fun to get people working with their hands who don’t typically have an opportunity to do things like this,” LaVecchia says, as he waves his own sturdy hands toward boards in various stages of completion, racked and propped throughout the workshop. “We’re always by their sides to help troubleshoot or fix anything, so we give them the freedom to mess up, knowing that we can make it right.”

East Coast surfing elicits eyebrow raising in many parts of the world. Yes, still. And due to the cold water and perceived lack of waves, Maine may as well be the Moon to most surfers. But Maine technically has more miles of coastline than California (3,478, thanks to its bevy of nooks and crannies) and much of it is surfable. York juts out into the North Atlantic and picks up loads of swell. Its surf scene is burgeoning. Nonetheless it’s hard to get anyone, let alone surfers, to call on coastal Maine and its sub-zero sea breezes in the dead of winter.

“We were kind of twiddling our thumbs,” LaVecchia says. “People are surfing all over the place, but when it’s cold and snowy here, nobody wants to come visit, even though it’s a great time of year to be here. So, we actually had some people ask us about doing classes out West.”

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Concussions and Comrades.

Head InjuryMy most epic of bungles always seem to be born of these moments of perceived desperation. Or, well, maybe desperation isn’t the right word, but… Moments that urgently need to be seized.

I haven’t surfed in a few weeks, so I’ll push myself twice as hard today. (Or, nearly drown.) The end [of summer] is nigh; That rope swing is THE key to rounding out the season. (Or, to breaking my fingers.)

You know, I hadn’t heard many stories about the perils of rope swings until I began sporting a massive splint on my middle finger while struggling to pull espresso. Then, commiserators appeared with peculiar frequency. “Ah, I once shattered both patellas on a rope swing,” they’d say, as if relieved to finally admit that they harboured hard feelings toward a favorite symbol of youth’s wild abandon.

Skiing, on the other hand, is a pastime fraught with tales of terrific crashes and nature’s fury and the consequences of “one, small misstep.”

Personally, I’d experienced a few mediocre falls on skis. That time I got more air than I could handle and skittered down the Dumont Cup course in spectacular fashion. On my back. That time I forward rolled down Airglow on a powder day. Thankfully, I think my years of gymnastics had finely tuned my chin-tucking instincts and I’d never really bonked my noggin.

Last Saturday, I was in prime carpe diem mode (spring is imminent) when suddenly, I was face down on White Heat. Stupid mistake. I am the queen of clumsy. But I was also in this headspace where it didn’t matter that my legs were tired; I needed to keep skiing. Soon, the snow would be slushy and corny, and then it would be gone.

Long story short, I am writing this between long blinks and purposeful stares at anything that isn’t emitting blue light, or any light, which hurts my brain. My instincts failed me this time.

Concussions are weird. This is my first (of which I’m aware) and hopefully, my last. I am really, really grateful that I always wear a helmet and that this particular folly resulted in a “Grade 1” concussion and nothing more. Despite my renewed appreciation for audiobooks, I have to say, these things still suck.

It’s easy to slip into a boo-hoo-I’m-all-by-myself mindset when doctors are saying things like, “Can someone drive you?” and “It’s better if someone’s there while you’re sleeping.” And the responses are “No,” and “Who?” respectively. I will not be complaining today, however.

Last Saturday night, I declined my friends’ offer to sleep in their guest room; I kind of just wanted to be home. But admittedly, I’d heard way too many “don’t go to sleep with a concussion” warnings not to be wary of shuteye. So, um, what I’m about to disclose may make me sound paranoid, but I asked my West Coast friend to call and wake me up before she went to sleep (2 a.m. my time). And another friend to call me when she woke up to go to work (at 6). They both did. And a couple of people texted me in the morning. I didn’t feel alone. And I realized that in my experience, most situations in which you initially feel completely alone turn out to be the ones that make you feel least alone. Think about it.

P.S. I hear a side effect of concussions is saccharine prose.

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Open Book

Tyler Wright after winning the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, the first stop on the 2013 ASP Women's World Championship Tour.

Tyler Wright after winning the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, the first stop on the 2013 ASP Women’s World Championship Tour.

TYLER WRIGHT
rose to the top with nary a trace of ambition.
Her trick?
No tricks. 

The sun is yet to rise. Tyler Wright is in good spirits, carefully studying invisible waves on a barely discernible horizon. Nearby, Carissa Moore also stares seaward as Praia do Guincho in Portugal comes to life before them. They are locked in a quietly blazing battle. It’s only the top of the world that’s at stake.

Thirty hours later, Tyler’s second in the world with no hopes of climbing higher, at least not this year. She congratulates, hugs, and laughs with the woman who took the title from her hands. But you see, she never, actually, saw it as hers. She never expected to be in contention for a world championship. She found herself here. And instead of succumbing to the pressure that accompanies such a situation, Tyler simply ignored it.

At the 2013 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, the third of a then-indeterminate number of events, Tyler and Carissa faced each other in a final for the second time that year. It was Tyler’s third in three contests. It was the start of the title race that wasn’t. Partly because the race was all but deadlocked until its conclusion, and partly because one of the top contenders wasn’t acknowledging its existence. It was early to start sniffing around for a title battle, but with a slew of head-to-heads, it was hard not to. By the time Tyler won in Rio, at the fifth event of the year, she was still saying that a world championship cup was the last thing on her mind. It seemed unfathomable that Tyler was truly indifferent to the title race. How could she be?

But her story remained consistent and her smooth exterior never once betrayed a glory-hungry monster within. So, I started to believe that there wasn’t one.  Continue reading

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Stockholm Stream of Consciousness – Unedited

from: Casey Butler
to: Casey Butler
date: Sat, Nov 15, 2014 at 11:54 AM
subject: Stockholm11.15
mailed-by: gmail.com
: Important mainly because it was sent directly to you.

Hot choc may just end up being dinner. Seems like the Scandinavian thing to do.

Lies. Actually the largest portions of anywhere here, I think. Which makes it quasi-acceptable to pay like $19 for veg risotto. Sort of.

Swedish girls have beautiful hair. And beautiful everything else.

Swedish men are the same.

Surrounded by Viking stunnahs and the thing I most miss is talking with…

Everyone here actually wears Nordic sweaters.

A woman at the table next to me quite literally has hair down to her knees. How?!

Sent while at large.

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Priorities: Same same but different.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine did a radio interview and she had to choose a single word on which to focus. She chose “priorities.” Her explanation resonated with me, which isn’t really surprising, as I’m sure that it’s part of the reason we’re friends, but the funny thing is that I keep coming back to it. I’ve had a lot of conversations about priorities lately and the word just seems so weirdly pertinent to my life right now. (My life always?)

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about priorities is lifestyle–and the choices we make that contribute to it. I will never be the person who says, “Must be nice!” (I swear that few more irritating, passive-aggressive comments have ever been uttered.)

While I realize that many things in life are beyond our control and, of course, it’s not always feasible for people to, say, up and journey across the globe, I also believe that if that were truly what said people wanted, they’d find a way of making it happen.

I’ve received lots of generous messages from friends and family while traveling, asking how it is that I’m able to visit so many extraordinary places. I usually say that I am very fortunate that I’m paid for doing what I love: Writing (particularly about action sports) has not only taught me a lot, but it’s taken me to remarkable locations and brought so many incredible people (above-mentioned friend included) into my life.

But you know what? Journalism–and especially that kind of journalism—is not a job into which you simply fall. I’ve worked hard for those experiences, and I’ve sacrificed things that most 30-year-olds take for granted (nice car, savings) in order to get them. Of course, I’m glad that I have, but the point is, when I had to choose between a 9-to-5 with benefits and a risky adventure, complete with a heap of credit card debt, I chose the latter. And that’s how I ended up in New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Lisbon… It was just a choice–and for me, it was a no-brainer because that was what I wanted from life at the time.

Now, I don’t want exactly the same things, and Continue reading

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Between A Rock and A Hard Place: New York’s Complicated, Cumbersome Surf Scene

Note: This piece was written between September 2010 and December 2012. It’s probably one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written, but it never found a home. If you enjoy reading it, please share.

The Rockstock & Barrels surf competition and music festival returns to the boardwalk at 90th Street in Rockaway, Queens on a sunny Saturday in June. The beach is full of Yankees caps and dyed black hair and intentionally disheveled-looking clothes. Their owners either ride pop-outs or no-expense-spared paragons of craftsmanship; nothing in between. They take to the waves in droves.

“It’s a circus out there on the weekends. It never used to be like this,” confides Rockaway-bred John Gutierrez as he watches hundreds of surfers jockey for chest-high waves.

“You really get everyone,” local Danny Jones says. “You get Wall Street guys that wanna rent soft tops on the weekends and you’ve got hipsters that come down with their freakin’ ripped wetsuits and their weird-shaped boards: ‘Yeah, I shaped it myself, bro.’ Old-timers, young kids…”

“Dailies.” That’s what Rock locals call visitors; interlopers who care little that this is actually someone’s home. At the end of their beach days, the sand is strewn with rubbish: Bottles, cans, you name it. You’ve never seen so much sea glass before.

Danny’s camera bag and lifeguard gear were pilfered from the beach and one of his friends was jumped somewhere in the “lower-numbered streets.” The area between Beach 32nd Street and Beach 84th Street is called Arverne-by-the-Sea. In the early 19th century, this neighborhood consisted mainly of charming (if “flimsy”) beach bungalows. When New York’s Commissioner of Public Works Robert Moses tore down inner-city housing in the mid-20th century, he re-classified Arverne’s summer rentals as year-round homes and moved the displaced residents into them. They were eventually shuffled into public housing projects, and didn’t fare well so far from their jobs. Until recently, most developers ignored Arverne, and what should be some of the most valuable land in the city is largely in tatters. Through much of Rockaway, abandoned beach-front high rises back up to low-income tenements, and many of the people who live in them–within 2,000 feet of the ocean–can’t swim.   Continue reading

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Monday, September 15, 2014. 10:22 p.m. (I think.)

“Do these things work?”

I looked around, surprised. I hadn’t realized that he was talking to me. I looked some more: Tall, teal eyes, nice kicks. He glanced at my phone.

“Oh,” I said. Mobile boarding pass. Right. “Yeah, it should.”

“Okay,” he said, adding, “I don’t fly very much.”

I asked him where he was from, where he was headed.

Seattle (it’s not always rainy), Seattle (he was just visiting his brother)

“Are you flying directly?” I asked.

“I wish. Through San Francisco.”   Continue reading

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I’ll send you a postcard…

Happy belated Labor Day.

While everyone else is back to work and back to school, I’m officially on vacation. (Well, I mean, working vacation, but it’s still glorious. Because it’s that good kind of work that I mentioned.) I’m sitting at Arabica in Portland (Maine) (the original one–settled in 1633, according to the infallible Wikipedia) with beautiful people with beautiful tattoos, probably within a mile of Bill Clinton, contemplating surfboard builders and California rollers.

Tomorrow morning, I’m heading west! I was thinking, this will be my first flight in almost a year, which is insane after hopping from airport to airport on a pretty much weekly basis the year before that. It’s funny the way something can become second-nature and then slip right back into novelty territory. I find myself asking questions like, “Do I need a passport to fly domestically?” “How much time should I give myself at the airport?” To be fair, I usually do need a passport and the [international] standard 1.5 hours before boarding when traveling. I know, I know, douche jar.

Anyway, after my wicked busy summer, I’m so looking forward to reuniting with the Left Coast. And having the time and energy to write more. Look for dispatches from the West and new stories soon. Right now, though, I’m going to pack up the MacBook and go sip some Allagash, straight from the source.

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Long Hours. Short Summers.

You know when Monday feels a lot like Wednesday, which could just as easily be Saturday?

“Happy Friday!” your friends say.

“What’s Friday?” you respond. Four hours later, on your late-arvo lunch break.

Tuesday is the new Saturday. (And Sunday.) Thursday is the new Tuesday.

You have dreams about cash registers/finicky customers/spreadsheets. You don’t think it’s weird when you receive texts before seven in the morning. ‘Cause you’ve been up since five, when you jolted upright in a cold sweat, certain that you’d overslept. (You hadn’t.)

The fact that you earned the “Power Month” badge on UNTAPPD might be cause for concern if you didn’t live in a ski town and if you hadn’t conveniently surrounded yourself with people who count craft beer consumption as a valid hobby and/or part of their jobs.

Your natural state is extroverted. Presently, though, you hate everyone. You spend your Saturday nights cocooned, with catatonic-looking eyes and hands that continuously shovel utterly unnutritious food into your mouth. To boot, you’ve ceased working out. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

These are all telltale signs that work has completely consumed your life. (And, possibly, crushed your soul.) (Just a little.) It happens to the best of us. It’s alright when it’s the work about which you’re passionate that takes over your life, but when it’s the make-ends-meet kinda work, that’s another story. And it sort of makes you question what, exactly, you’re doing with yourself.

Right now, I’m running the heat in my car on my drive to work. A couple of weeks ago, I could, theoretically, get up and go for a run, shower, eat eggs, and be at work by 6 :30 a.m. This morning, I didn’t do any of that extra, productive stuff that makes me feel good about myself and I still got up before the sun. The sky, covered in bruises, mirrors morale inside the vehicle. The air on the other side of the glass is crisp. 46 degrees. It feels like fall.

Just like that, the summer has escaped me. My first Maine summer—well, my first real, complete summer. I envisioned leaping from cliffs and swinging from ropes and spontaneously swimming under the stars [more]. I didn’t really anticipate 50 [daylight] hours spent inside each week, and while I’m honestly grateful for the work, I sort of wish that I’d spent some more time hiking, swimming, boating, surfing, and most of all, writing before sweater weather returned. (It has.) Before red leaves fell into my yard. (They have.) Before pumpkin beers hit the shelves. (They, too, have.) Shiiiit.

A couple of weeks ago, the realization that summer was nearing its close hit me about as hard as Chopes likes to clock Koa Rothman.

And I know what you’re thinking: But it’s August. It’s totes still summertime.

And you’d be correct if I didn’t live in Maine, where you can (marvelously) ski six months of the year. So yeah, August is pretty much fall. And that’s fine. I mean, autumn is my favorite season and I have definitely taken advantage of the pittance of freedom that I’ve allowed myself since Memorial Day: Driving hours in every direction in the name of exploration, visiting many a brewery, blowing into unfamiliar beaches. And even breaking a bone while rope swinging. But the summer I’d imagined? Not quite.

Possibly the worst part about this is that everyone else I know is doing exactly the same thing, and maybe it’s just because, at this point, we’ve been doing it for three months straight (or more), but we’re all burnt out. Misery loves company, but not when everyone’s collectively too exhausted and too strapped for time to invest in face-to-face time. (Girls gotta have some face time—not FaceTime—sometimes.) This is summer around here, I’m told.

So I say, bring on autumn! Let’s cordially bid tyrannical, wetsuit necessitating summer and its weirdo tourists adieu. Let’s wear fullsuits during suitable months! And find time to share robust, soul-warming beers! Pull all-nighters through longer nights! Autumn: It’s the new summer.

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