The Marble

As Jim's story proves, surfing can teach us all a certain grace under pressure. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

Steve Pezman, the founder and publisher of The Surfer's Journal, has been jokingly referred to as the living Buddha of the surf world. This is partly due to his latter-stage mesomorphic build, but mostly because his wisdom knows little bounds. This intelligent, thoughtful guy has been involved with surfing for more than half a century, and has seen it all. Ask him a question, and a warm glow will enshroud him, and then some prescient words will flow from his lips like fresh water from a spring well.

Ok, that's a little much, but you get the idea.

I worked with Steve for many years and heard him say many wise things. Some of those things seemed way off-base and even ridiculous at the time, but then at some point further along, I would realize how dead-on his words were.

One of Steve's favorite thoughts about surfing is that in its essence, surfing is a "self-centered activity," which is a "non-depletive, non-productive act."

This is some Pezman dharma I'm going to have to disagree with.

Kind of.

What I mean to say is that surfing may not be immediately productive in the traditional sense, but it has a certain residual effect. An afterlife.

If you practice surfing long enough, you acquire certain instincts, and these instincts can be helpful and productive in the real world. If nothing else, surfing in significant conditions teaches you not to panic, and trains your muscle-memory how to act spontaneously.

This can occasionally be very practical in the real world.

There is perhaps no better example of productive, non-panicky, last second doggie-door thinking than the story of The Marble.

Like modern man, the story of The Marble begins in southern France. Our protagonist is a modern pro surfer, a wave rider known to all of you. For purposes of anonymity we will call him "Jim" in this tale because we do not want his super-human efforts in the following circumstances to overshadow his accomplishments in surfing.

This particular summer our journeyman has come to the Cote de Basque to surf in a World Qualifying Series event, and to shoot photos. If you've ever visited this part of the world, or anywhere along the European coast in summer, you'll know that the beach is constantly packed with people like sardines in a can, and today is no different.

On this, the first morning of his trip, Jim hooked up with a surf photographer for a morning flash session at Le Grand Plage in Biarritz. All was going well until Jim felt nature beginning to call. The depressurization of his lower intestine had begun, and the constipating effects of a long trans-Atlantic flight had been reversed. Surfing, airline food, and strong European coffee had worked their magic.

An experienced traveler, Jim knew he had a mission ahead of him. Finding a public restroom near a beach in France is about as easy as finding ketchup.

He parted with the photographer, quickly dressed and began his quest.

Jim used his considerable travel skills to scan the landscape for anywhere that might offer a public facility. The streets were crowded with people and he scoured every beachside business for a rest room. He used his limited but effective linguistic skills to ask anyone he could find where a bathroom might be, but all he got in return was an indignant, bothered "Non."

Jim then remembered that some of the only places in France that offer public bathrooms are parking structures, so as soon as he spotted one, he ran inside. Much to his delight, Jim found the bathroom right away, but alas, due to the morning hour, the door was locked.

It was at this point that Jim began to fathom his predicament. The urge to purge was getting stronger and stronger, and there was nowhere to release the turtle. No place to drop the kids off. No venue to build a log cabin.

This was serious.

Getting a little desperate, Jim went to DEFCON 2. He quickly walked a block inland, looking for a more stealth locale. He scoured everywhere he could, but to no avail.

He really, really had to go now.

He began to sweat profusely.

Finally, at the eleventh hour, he spotted an open café and headed straight for it. As he walked in the door, he began to cringe in an effort to keep a lid on things. These were labor pains of a different sort.

When he went inside, Jim found the café full of people, but there, at the back, was a bathroom door.

The Promised Land.

Jim knew what to do next. Instead of a panicked run for the door, he walked up to the counter and bought a bottled water. He knew that a non-paying customer in a French café would get rejected faster than a nerd on a prom date.

With an elevated heart rate and a quiet desperation in his eyes, Jim then power-walked to the bathroom door, reached for the handle, and faced pure horror: it was locked. Worse yet, when he had tried to turn the handle, a voice had emerged from within, indicating in disturbed French that the toilet was now currently occupied.

Jim was crestfallen. Just destroyed.

But Jim's will power and guts now came to fore. He sucked up his disappointment, and he retreated within himself like a powerful Himalayan Zen Yogi. He knew he only had to hold on for a few more minutes, and it would all be over. He put his physical urgency aside, and meditated the porthole shut.

But Jim lost his concentration when he began to think how long this guy ahead of him was taking. It was only minutes but it seemed like hours, and as soon as Jim began having impure thoughts about the bathroom occupant, his concentration broke and something terrible happened: Jim's anus began to open involuntarily.

Jim then felt the horror of horrors, the nightmare of every eight-year old the world over: a foreign object was now traveling down his own pant leg.

As the object found its way to the bottom, Jim could only watch as a perfect sphere of poo emerged from his pants and rolled onto the floor, about a foot in front of him.

There, on the hardwood, in plain sight, was a fecal orb.

Apparently Jim's colon had decided on its own to express its great urgency, and had sent a small spherical scout. An organic canonball.

A perfectly round, brown marble.

In what seemed like slow motion, Jim's surf-honed talents then kicked in. He used his instincts to assess the situation and take last split-second action. Jim could see that the café full of people, less than ten feet away, had not spotted the marble yet, and while maintaining eye contact with them, stretched out his leg and covered the marble with his flip-flop. And then, with the nonchalance of a Magic Johnson no-look pass, scooted the marble backwards with his foot and rolled it against the wall.

With the delicacy and dexterity of a concert pianist, Jim ever-so-lightly covered the marble with his foot and assumed a casual James Dean pose, one foot slightly cocked, like he had stood that way for his entire life.

Then, as the Frenchman finally emerged, Jim darted into the bathroom and left the marble against the wall. He then grabbed some tissue and with the combined skills of a decorated trench infantryman and an under-sized NFL running back, retrieved the poo ball and brought it back across the goal line.