Cool Beans

When life presents you a cursing surfer

By Brian Doyle | May 24, 2013


One time I was surfing with my friend Billy at Jones Beach, east of Manhattan. We were terrible surfers, but this did not discourage us and we surfed as much as we could, sharing a tiny board we had stolen from Billy’s brother, who was a stoner you could say anything at all to and he would nod and say, Cool beans. It was a roaring day, the day after a terrific thunderstorm, and the swells were enormous by our standards. We had low standards and a wave three feet high was a whopper that had clearly traveled around Cape Horn from Hawaii or maybe Fiji.

I was sensibly sitting on the beach because I was a terrible coward who did not swim well, but Billy was out in the maelstrom. An older man was out there also. He had fallen off his board and could not get past the surf surge to reach the beach. His board was loose and nearly brained Billy, but a wild board means a surfer down and Billy saw the guy struggling and swam to him and dragged him to shore. The guy’s board vanished in the surge but Billy had his board on an ankle hitch like you were supposed to, so I jumped up and grabbed Billy’s board as he dragged the guy in. The older man coughed for a while, and then he started cursing in such ugly terms that Billy and I were both shocked and didn’t say anything. We had heard a lot of cursing in our lives, but this was something else, like he was trying to punch us with his mouth or something. After a while he shouted he would go right to the police about us stealing his board and he stomped off toward the parking lot.

The reason I tell you this story is that right about here usually foul things would be said in reply to foul things, and also you just never know what will set a person off, but what happened was so oddly funny that it still makes me grin about it 30 years later. Neither of us said anything for a while, and then Billy said, Cool beans, and we fell down laughing and then we decided on one more quick ride and then we better get out of there just in case the nut did what he said he was going to do. All the way down the beach on the way to Billy’s car we looked for the nut’s board but it had been eaten by the ravenous ocean. Probably that board went back around Cape Horn and washed up in Fiji or something. On the way home I said to Billy that not cursing back at a guy who curses at you was a new experience for me, and he said he had learned the trick to deal with his brothers who cursed at him a lot when they were not stoned. There was only one thing to say to this, and I said it with pleasure, cool beans, and I recommend the words to you.

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