Hanging Ten. On an Automobile.

The Cast: Cindy (attempted murderer), Erich (automotive surfer/crash-test dummy), Myself (road-wave warrior/crash-test idiot), The Beast (a monster car).

If you’ve ever seen the Michael J. Fox Teen Wolf movie, there is a scene where Michael’s character (as the werewolf) is doing a handstand on top of a van as the van drives down the street.

Oh, that looked cool! How he managed to maintain that handstand while on a moving van…? It was awesome to see. Now, I know that the movie industry has their tricks and methods—for the safety of their actors—to perform such stunts. However, in my head, there is an element of ‘real’ to all of them, all of those stunts. They can be done successfully, to various degrees, in real life. That’s the way I see it.

I have spent a large portion of my life viewing fiction and then trying to make it work in real life. I have read interviews, articles, watched documentaries on/about stuntmen. I have applied what I know about physics and my own personal athletic training and discipline. As a result, when Erich and myself would try some new stunt it wasn’t without thought, preparation, study, and research—and safety. We weren’t (still aren’t) idiots. So when we first decided to try auto-surfing—we just called it ‘surfing’, we began with the hood of a car.

In the winter, when there is snow, you have a natural cushion when you fall. Which means you can up your training game level in the winter. When there’s snow. And I had a friend that was willing to assist us with our training efforts, Jennifer. She just looked forward to a little time with me—she had a crush on me. She thought it was just play. She didn’t know that for Erich and I, play was training. Training was play.

One winter night Jennifer, Erich, and I were driving around and the idea of the surfing was developed. However, because it was winter, standing on the top of a cold, slick, icy, metal surface was out of the question. Besides, Jennifer didn’t want us standing on her car. We started with the hood of her car.

Erich and I would take turns laying on the hood of Jennifer’s car, holding tight to whatever part we could. Practicing how to find a purchase on the automobile as it would careen through the snowy streets, on that dark night. And as we became better and bolder, we began to practice becoming safely dislodged from a speeding car. The first, and most obvious, step was to be thrown off the hood in a forward direction if the car hit the brakes hard. We just needed an empty and straight street, that had a large (and soft) snowbank at the end of it.

Once found, one of us would climb onto the hood, hold on—for dear life, and then Jennifer would speed down the street and then about 10-feet from the snowbank, she would slam on the brakes, the car would skid to a stop about 2-feet from the snowbank, and whoever was on the hood (with carefully practiced and thought-out positioning) would launch from the car hood and be deposited (with great force) into the snow. If done right, we could get stuck waist-deep.

These first attempts at surfing may have been closer boogie boarding. But then, over time, we slowly evolved our surf style from cars, to station wagons and other vehicles to hanging ten on the top of The Beast.

The Beast was Cindy’s (my future bride) family van. It was one of those large 12 passenger vans from the ’80s. It was big, orange, and a perfect way to carry all of our clan of friends about. And, fortunately for us, Cindy was a pretty good driver. She was not, however, a good wave. The ‘wave’ was the driver/van, as well as the undercurrent. If the driver was not careful, the surfers could get hurt. They must drive at reasonable speeds, take reasonable turns, that sort of thing. Without caution, the undertow could mean the surfer rolls under the ‘ocean’.

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, not stormy. But it was dark. Because, well, that’s what night is. Dark. Anyway, it was night, and Cindy, Erich, and I were just hanging out when Erich and I decided to introduce Cindy to surfing. After some explanation, Cindy was agreeable. And so the three unsuspecting, brave, and very attractive, teenagers ventured out into the darkness—and into the belly of The Beast—not knowing what would come next. Not knowing that none of them would return home to their loved ones that night.

Like I said, it was dark because it was night. And we did enter into the belly of The Beast. I mean, that’s how you ride around in an automobile. Inside. And none of us made it home that night because by the time we got home it was after midnight, so it was the next night, technically. Anyway, Cindy drove Erich and me around until we found what looked like a decent road. Few potholes and about as many decent street lights—as decent as a small town that doesn’t really care can have. Cindy stopped The Beast and Erich and I got out, climbed onto top of the van and discovered that due to its width, we had to stand with our feet really far apart.

See, when you car surf you need to be considerate of the car’s owner and the car. Without enough structural support, you can dent the car top. If the vehicle (your surfboard) is too narrow, it’s easier to fall overboard. Easier to fall off the car and get hurt. The Beast was too wide. I should have just announced that we decided to do the splits instead of surf and been done with it. But Erich and I didn’t like to back down from a challenge.

Atop our surfboard (more like astride our surfboard) I let Cindy know she could put the van in gear and commence the nug. She pressed on the gas a little too hard and I fell backward into where Erich should have been. I say ‘should have’ because he fell backward too. Cindy became upset that we might dent the roof and get her into trouble, and so we re-explained that she needed to drive carefully.

“I thought I would make it interesting for you.”

“Interesting? You’re going to kill us.”

We tried again. Cindy drove forward once again, but more slowly this time. As she picked up speed Erich and I found our balance and became more confident, less sketchy, in our stance on our wide surfboard. Then Cindy turned a corner, and found a riptide. A pothole.

Well, not a pothole exactly, but a spot just off to the side of the pavement where the dirt had eroded away and made a deep pit. Then she hit a pothole. Ahh, surfing a humpback.

After she hit the first pothole Cindy began to drive like a driver with people in the vehicle might drive. Slow, fast, slow. But when you do that, and have people on top of the vehicle, they wobble. Despite all their athletic prowess.

The bump had destabilized our balance, Erich and I flailed our arms and tried to regain our stance. Then Cindy slowed, we did not, and we fell forward. And since we were close to the front of the van I began to go over the falls in front of The Beast and was about to meet a painful undertow.

Fortunately for me, there was a little lip of metal right above the windshield, that designed to help redirect rain water. It wasn’t a visor, just a .25-inch metal lip. I reached out and stabbed my fingers into it and pushed back with all I had so that I could remain on top. The pain was intense. And then the speed up, along with the rear wheel hitting the bump, was almost too much. I was now hanging 20—almost pulling a pigdog, and about to take a header only to be sacrificed to the asphalt-ocean gods.

As I leaned further forward than I should have been able, I began to walk a virtual tightrope between forward momentum and gravity. I was almost in an upside down eye-to-eye with Cindy. She was smiling and having fun. I was screaming at her to stop or else she was going to run me over. But if she stopped, I was still going to bite it in that gnarly curl. Heels-over-head once again. This was no longer a party wave, this was just messy. And worst of all, the girl I had a crush on was about to crush on me—with her van.

I was envisioning how this might end: “What’s this red stuff all over the front of the van?” “Oh, it’s just the blood of my future husband. Don’t worry, I’ll wash it all off.” Not a happy ending.

I was not looking forward to going through this washing machine. Then, somehow, Erich—in his attempts to stabilize himself—had been able to save me by the seat of my pants (literally). Once he had seen how far forward I was headed Erich just reached out in the hopes of being able to grab onto my leg or something. He indeed got something. He got my pants. Specifically my waistband and belt, then he was able to get another handhold on my hip and then pull me back up.

At first, I thought he was accidentally pushing me over, because of our forward momentum—as I could sort of see what was happening behind me when my head was turning about. So I knew Erich was in just as bad of a jam as I was—I held no malice. Meanwhile, Cindy, beautiful, dear, sweet, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly (but was about to kill both of us) Cindy, was going to be our doom. Snuffed out by The Beast on a dark and lonely road. Sad. So very sad.

As soon as Cindy was driving straight again, we bailed. That wave was too much for us. Neither one of us were in the mood to get worked. The Beast was overgunned. Also, Erich and I were total kooks for this type of surf. We wanted to live. So we just politely informed Cindy that we were alright being a couple of shubie’s that night.

Over the years I continued to have had some tubular rides, but on that night, with that ride, I discovered that my future wife—and I love her, dearly—is a little too aggro agg for this quimby. But I still find her babanees.

Note: Banner photo is not The Beast. But it’s pretty close.

2 thoughts on “Hanging Ten. On an Automobile.

  1. I still think that with a little more practice we could have been amazing at it! We just needed someone who didn’t mind getting their roof dented a little bit….. ok a lot.


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