I’m not sure who was the first surfer to be compared to a cat, but it now seems obvious.
Ever since the early ’60s when Miki Dora slinked from Malibu shadows, and later endorsed a surfboard model called “Da Cat” and built by Dora’s friend, Greg Noll, I have heard of surfers being called cats. (Surf dogs are far less common, with Pipeline legend Rory Russel singularly holding down the moniker.)
David Nuuhiwa, who in the late teens was sleek, quick, agile, aware as moving water, and barely seemed to touch his board even when walking on it, always landed on his feet and was therefore often compared to a cat.
Australian surfing champ Tom Carroll and his American rival Tom Curren were both initialed TC, which sometimes meant “Top Cat,” which they both were.
I vaguely recall something my friend John Conover, who founded and continues to run Tidelines Tide Calendars, wrote in the mid-’80s about learning from his cat.
While I don’t have his entire kitty tribute committed to memory, I was interested enough in the content of his four-paw salute that a friend and I discussed its content at length one evening.
If cats didn’t sleep so much, they might run the world. If they enjoyed swimming, they might also rule the waves, something that would, no doubt, leave fewer fish for other creatures.
With all that, the cat/surf connection was still a bit fuzzy with me. That all changed 20-some years ago when Clelia, our daughter, placed a fuzzy, black dot onto the lap of my wife, Tracy.
The cat, Clara, soon enlightened me as to how cats surfed airwaves or unseen vibrations that danced through the atmosphere. Like most cats, Clara did more than just see the environment — she felt it, she sensed it, she heard it, she smelled it.
There were also things that none of the five known senses could account for — the sudden hunch of the back leading to a 3-foot vertical leap that arrived without apparent outside stimulus.
After Clara came Pete, a clumsy, clueless, flabby, crabby tabby that we loved despite his lack of catlike reflexes. Next were brothers Henry and Percy. When Percy died young, we picked up a rescue called Clementine who was wiser and faster than anything but the coyote.
When Henry died unexpectedly, we opened hearts and home to twin brothers, Eddy, and Brother.
The pair has shown me what I think Conover meant —that cats do a better job of being human than most humans. They sleep when they’re tired, eat when they’re hungry, don’t eat if they’re not feeling well, and let you know exactly how they feel about you.
Cats are silent hunters, watching their prey before destroying it with a quick flick of a five-stiletto paw. Cats surf waves of sound, site and vibration, intersecting with three-dimensional beings for our mutual benefit.
Cats enjoy things with no connection to anything practical, seeking the innermost limits of pure fun.
The comparison of a person to a cat is a compliment to the human, not the cat. I’d like to see John John, Felipe or Kelly do what Eddy and Brother can do.
Check out Chris Ahrens’ latest passion project, GodnGangsters: youtube.com/c/GodNGangsters