Locals: Cynthia Kerr, Surfer-Martial Artist
The ability to physically balance ourselves as we stand and move around is mostly taken for granted because so much of this functioning has become automatic ever since we as infants learned to roll over, crawl, stand, walk, and dance. Balance becomes important in sports, some sports more than others. It became obvious how important balance is to surfing when you first tried simply to sit upon a shockingly undulating surfboard, and that was just the beginning.
You can see her at “surfers point,” in fine natural balance. She most often pops fluidly to her feet, quickly in readiness, and perhaps turns for a left breaking, or right breaking wave, in relative ease. Forward-to-back balance looks quite tidy. So does her side-to-side, shifting into turns. Her board, for this created written image, is short and wide with two deep tail fins. Floaty, as well. She told me that the first board she ever had was much longer, and it had a meaningful-to-her “Yin/Yang” symbol on its surface. As we know, the yin-yang is an ancient and very fundamental symbol of balance. This iconic image inhabiting the surface of her board became a reminder for, not just kinesthetic equilibrium in surfing, but also for more profound, interior, and life-sized balances of opposites that allow for health and sanity, as well as effective activity.
In the photo above, you can see a display of balance, and of the power to which balance contributes. Martial Arts is another sport/discipline/challenging-activity that often reflects back to the practitioner how aligned her actual balance is in a given moment. This woman has been a martial artist for much of her life. There seems to have been a notable synchrony and synergy between these two deep-going physical practices, surfing and martial arts. The Taoist symbol of Yin/Yang was particularly emphasized in her Korean-form studies of Taekwondo.
Some might say that all things in life get their qualities and very nature from a myriad of simultaneous, always ongoing, balanced pairs of opposites and larger complex constellations. Consider, with a little self-protective humor, how conditions would be on planet earth and upon earth’s oceans, if delicate balances that hold our earth and tides in their customary alignments, if our solar system with moons rotating, revolving and coursing through the heavens, and if larger galaxies with partly unknown physical laws and dynamics were disrupted. Waves to ride on? Hah. Hard to imagine.
Ventura local, Cynthia Kerr, a fun surfer to watch and to chat with on the shoreline, is a youthful player within las olas. To see her work the waves, it is not obvious in the least that she is approaching mid-life. The fact that she is still and increasingly dedicated to evolving the royal gift of surfing speaks to her strong inner basics, in an ever-maturing self. These basics seem to allow her to move forward with grace and potency.
I have in this introduction waxed airily philosophical – let me return to solid earth and the water we know so well.
At the flower shop-coffee place, A Secret Garden on Main Street, she recently commented that along the way, much before taking up surfing 10 years ago at age 40, she had learned the importance of keeping “beginner’s mind.” Cynthia spoke at some length during the interview about the birth of this disposition to approach each moment, each situation, each task by returning to “the basics.”
Korean Taekwondo Master, Chung Lee, began teaching Ms. Kerr when she was 13 years old. She has since studied with others. There was a time in her adolescence when she would come into class with a not-uncommon cockiness for that age and stage of learning, and her teacher would tell her to drop the ‘tude, that she wasn’t as good as she thought. She laughs as she tells this. During the next 30 years of training she got to practice that which she had actually digested from those long-past teen-age years and from a martial discipline’s lessons. “Go back to basics.” With kicks, punches, and a wide range of movements, don’t get sloppy, have your feet properly placed.
She asserts that in her 27 year career as a new homes’ sales representative, keeping beginners mind has allowed her to engage with many different people and diverse situations with effectiveness and with sufficient inner ease to survive a complicated industry.
About two years ago, Kerr decided to leave Taekwondo. For many years she had told herself that she would get her 5th degree black belt at age 50. There was something particularly aesthetic and compelling about these numbers and symbolism. In an act of growing responsiveness to what she was feeling deeply and perhaps to an emerging sense of being free from the past, from a level more meaningful than ambitious resolve and the pleasing of others, she dropped her membership and regular practice before she turned 50, content to be with her 4th degree, and she transitioned to yoga. Not only does yoga seem more age and stage appropriate, but she has been surprised by how demanding are the basics of suppleness and physical strength. She says with a smile that she is surprised also to not miss Taekwondo one bit – she has moved on to another ancient art that has perhaps a finer synergy and synchrony with surfing.
She is staying with surfing, her primary love, and one can see how her general athleticism and ongoing return to basics informs her surf ability and style. This attention to strong form can be seen in the above photo of her at age 27, high, knife-edged side-kick striking hard.
It is worth mentioning that there seems to be an over-arching theme that she has learned to keep her eye on while in the water with other surfers and within her general daily life. Yes, stay with beginner’s mind, and, also, if something is not working, and sometimes if it isn’t fun, stay flexible and find balance, make changes and adjustments, move on as feels necessary.
A large chunk of our pleasant interview time was given to her highly adjustable new love, Trixie. “Trixie” is a 5’ 6” mini-Simmons style board that is her current favorite, when conditions permit. Though she is ready with long and mid-length performance boards that she enjoys riding, when a friend lent her a mini, immediately she caught three sweet rides. She was hooked by its rightness for her. This is a common story, finding a good fit. So, within the week, Cynthia had one made for herself.
Cynthia was not entirely new to short boards, and you can see her on a small hybrid in El Salvador during a surf camp, October 2013, in the below photo. Here is some of what she says about her pink planing-surfaced shortie:
“I wanted to be more playful on the wave – discovered shorter was better, like a little magic carpet under my feet [smiles ongoingly as she tells the story]. It was fast; it was skatey. I just went ‘this is what I want; this is how I want to be surfing; this is how I want to play on the waves.’”
Cynthia had a lot to say about surfing on various boards. In the few months that she has been riding a mini, she notices that having worked the short board for a while her longboarding has improved – her legs have gotten stronger and she is better able to feel how to crack the lip and carve bottom-turns more deeply. But she had the most to say about her new pink Simmons type. Here are a few more enthusiastic comments:
“The board is very intuitive.” “I can control it better. And I can let it do what it wants to do on the wave.” “I’m getting the skills to ride it when it does what I don’t expect it to – so there are still some skills that need to be gained.” “I have taken it from where we park our cars all the way to the stairs. I was able to ride it up to the top, bring it down and out around the section and cut back, you know, back into the energy, and then cut back again into the face, and even do pumping.” She remembers waves where, “I got to do everything.”
And, so on.
Let’s return for a moment to her insightful thoughts contemplating the importance of her attitude and beginners’ mind. “I try to be very mindful of what I am doing when I am surfing.” ”Actually, I have lived with a beginner’s mind, so, every time I go out I still think I’m probably the worst surfer out there, and I, you know, I want to stay out of people’s way so I don’t hurt them or they don’t run me over. But I try to be very mindful of what the ocean is doing that day, and what the wave is doing that day, and what I’m going to be doing on the wave, and every day is different. And every wave is different even within the day. So you just never know. I mean…” Cynthia continues eloquently and enthusiastically about the richness of where surf meets self.
By the way, she is so NOT the worst surfer out there, I aspire to have her natural ability and board competence. Hah.
Shifting tone maybe slightly and moving to a more general theme, we acknowledge that many surfers are not oblivious to spiritual associations, sensibilities, and feelings. Cynthia spoke of this, and she said what we have heard others say. “Surfing is my church.” She elaborated as many can, and then she spoke of some slightly more unusual experiences.
Cynthia had long been afraid of drowning, and big waves and thumping conditions have daunted her. Early on, these wound up her fight-flight-freeze instincts. We can relate. She has had, later, some experiences where, in being thrashed and held down, somehow she was able to release from the primal anxiety. Sometimes she has played with that and intentionally stayed down, in peace. More surprising have been some experiences where she felt she was “embraced,” “where I felt some arms around me, holding me.” She does not say this as a metaphor. Cynthia now considers the ocean, in a sense, to be her “soul-mate,” and it carries with it a great fulfillment. She is so drawn to the immersive hug and feel of fresh ocean water on her, that as she is coming out of the water at the end of a session, she frequently will turn around and walk back into the water for another full and tasty head dunk.
Later, as we inquired into this experience of being held by surrounding arms, she said it reminded her of wings enclosing her. Angel’s wings. Cynthia also spoke of a couple of other land-based, car-driving episodes where she had an intuition, and/or “heard” a voice recommending that she pull over. She received further felt-touch with a sense of physical force and guidance to stay over. This strange-experienced mandate counter-balanced her normal inclinations to get back on the road since she didn’t understand where any danger was. Then, in one incident, the old lady driver came fast over the rise, drifting around, on Cynthia’s side of the road.
I like to hear these sorts of stories, as I, in my typical scientific mind-set, try to sort wheat from chaff, clear shoulder from blurry foam. This may not always be possible. Some things we don’t understand, and perhaps the resulting felt mystery allows us to experience in a richer way.
It is clear, Cynthia, articulate woman and fine describer of surfing, has been living her richness, and maybe, increasingly, is opening farther to the rich fullness that we all strive for in surfing and in life.
- the beginner, doug honeyman