Summertime is here, and with it comes a nonstop barrage of foam boards assaulting our nation’s shorelines. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, thousands of hopeful beginners will descend upon our beaches clinging to not only their soft top, but their dream of becoming a skilled surfer in a mere lesson or two. Many have already thought past their current summer vacation and are planning their next in Hawaii, because surfing Pipeline and riding the whitewater to shore for approximately 1.3 seconds are practically the same thing.
But one man’s dream is another man’s nightmare. Despite being marketed as bastions of water safety, foam boards are dangerous. You may see a surf school as a beautiful thing, with fledgling surfers taking their first steps into the world of wave riding; but I see chaos, destruction, and a claustrophobic, neon-colored hell. This is because I suffer from Styrophobia – a fear of foam boards.
It does not matter what break I visit or how much distance I attempt to keep, the foam boards will find me. They always find me. Soft-tops make me feel like the haunted protagonist in a horror movie, surrounding me out of nowhere intent on suffocating and leaving little space to breathe, let alone surf. It feels impossible to escape them, because no matter where I turn or paddle, another soft-top appears. I could be surfing along the face of a wave, thinking I was well on my way towards freedom, before one of AutoCAD’s greatest creations executes a wobbly drop in on the shoulder in front of me. It’s not quite Jack Nicholson axing down a door, but it induces panic and screaming all the same.
Part of what causes my anxiety to ratchet up to 11 when seeing one of these elongated sponges in the water is that I’m afraid of it, but I know it’s not afraid of me. Wreaking havoc with no regard for human life is what the foam board lives for. They are secretly the apex predators of the surfing kingdom, because they are nearly indestructible and can be launched fearlessly into dangerous situations with little-to-no consequences. Rocks, shallow sandbars, collisions, and The Great Wave Pool Invasion are not things these boards fear because they can surf anything and survive everything. Who will stop these extremely durable monsters when they bulldoze every man, woman, and child on the West Coast? No one. They are too strong, too fearless, and too aggressive. Don’t kid yourself, little Jimmy, if a foam board ever got the chance it would plow through you and everyone you care about.
In the unpredictable ocean, surfers are often the most predictable element. They have a familiar rhythm, making it easy to gain a basic understanding of what actions the average surfer might take on any given wave. But foamies are wild cards – rudderless ships poorly guided by novice captains through crowded harbors. Any control you might have over the situation gets sucked into their vinyl-encased vortex of anarchy, rendering all logic useless. Will they paddle in front of a barrel with you inside? Will the aforementioned captain lose his or her grip and turn their watercraft into a homing missile? Or will they go full tombstone and drop in on you, ruining your wave before mowing down a family of four with their discarded board? Their intentions are rarely ever clear, but always nefarious. Foam boards cannot be trusted.
Like all fears, mine is rooted in imagination and poses no actual threat. All of my worries are unfounded. To my knowledge, no one has perished via mass foaming, and surf school instructors seem to be thriving, despite swimming daily with these voluminous beasts. A tiny, half-inch-long spider poses no threat to me, just like a giant, eight-foot-tall foam board from my local Cost Corporation is certainly not going to chase me through the ocean hellbent on rearranging my face. Because that would just be a ridiculous fear to have, right?