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“The longer the paddle, the more rigorous the conditions, the more she’s gonna have an advantage,” he continues, “Twenty minutes out, she’s not even tired. We’re used to smaller waves here in Los Angeles, where you’re not paddling that much. But riding a bigger wave, where there’s more currents, requires more strength. She does great on the Hawaiian leg.”
The subject turns to whether she’s ever scared being so far out at sea. The ocean is so big and humans are so small.
“No, I love it,” she says, her eyes going distant.
She is constantly in motion, whether fiddling with her cell phone, or her sun-bleached blond hair, which dangles between her shoulder blades. She twists in her seat to look out the window in the direction of the sea, trying to catch a glimpse of it beyond the houses and shops. She’s like a wild thing, a bird that’s flown into the room, surprised almost to find itself indoors, wanting nothing more than to be outside.
“It’s a funny feeling,” Adams adds, “with soccer players running in the field, that’s their playing area. For us, that three-quarter-mile away from shore, that’s home.”
For now, Brooke will keep surfing the rest of the season’s contests so she can keep racking up the necessary points to qualify her to surf in the World Championship Tour finals. Twice in her career, she surfed her way to No. 2 in the world. Second-best female surfer on the planet is not so bad. The No. 1 spot, currently held by 20-year-old Stephanie Gilmore, has eluded her so far.
“Stephanie Gilmore is aggressive. She has a natural instinct for wave selection. She won last year,” Adams’ voice trails off as Brooke rejoins us. She squeezes into the back seat of Adams’ truck next to their surfboards, and we drive out to the Venice Beach shore. “I see surfers who are in the finals and they get tired after 15 minutes,” Adams says, “That’s no excuse. It’s like, ‘Dude, you’re in the finals.’”
Brooke nods. “It’s so crowded these days, with all the young kids out in the water. They’re so aggressive! I say just go out there and wait your turn, then enjoy the wave you get. If you try to drop in and snake every wave ...? Some people are like that. They’re superagro, and they piss off the locals.”
It was like that, she says, with the girls in Brazil. Sometimes “bitter old guys” try to snake her waves but not usually.
“When I die I’ll know I used my body,” she says.
And how. Several years ago, her surfboard fin smacked into her eye socket and sliced through the lids. She almost passed out and drowned but managed to cup her hand around the eye and hang onto both her board and eyeball. Doctors removed the eye and repositioned it.
She has that thing athletes have, which blurs the line between pleasure and pain, that quirk of the brain that tells you it’s kinda cool when you’re being spun around in that washing-machine whirl of a submerging wave, one breath away from a foamy, salty demise.
“Sometimes it hurts,” she admits, “sometimes it’s fun.”
On the beach, Brooke pauses to pose for a photograph with a girl in a bikini. The girl’s soft, voluptuous body looks pudgy next to Brooke’s svelte one. Brooke’s abs flex as she twists to display the elegant new tattoo of a swallow on her right flank, just beneath the rib cage. It represents freedom — “a leaf on the wind,” as her motto goes.
“Can you teach me to surf?” the girl asks Adams, flirtatiously. She looks over at Brooke, who has strayed away to walk along the wet part of the sand, board in hand. A pair of dolphins frolicks along the shoreline.
“You wanna look like her?” Adams says, nodding toward Brooke.
“She’s Top 16 in the world,” says Adams, proudly.
The girl squints. “That is so intense,” she says, “I would die.”
Surf Stronger, Vol. 2: Core Training With Serena Brooke, $29.95, www.surfstronger.com.