The Coast News Group

What cats have taught me about surfing and life

In an essay he wrote some 40 years ago, my friend John Conover made me aware that a cat could teach a surfer a lot.

I no longer have a copy of the magazine containing Conover’s piece, and I don’t recall much about the contents, other than the first line, “I learn a lot from my cat.”

While the idea of learning from a pet didn’t seem all that far-fetched to me, the thought of a water-phobic feline teaching a surfer anything seemed absurd at the time.

Maybe that’s because I had never shared a house with a cat at that time.

That all changed when our daughter brought us Clara, a black kitten who ate when she was hungry, slept when and where she felt like it, cleaned up after herself and did the bigger airs than are “humanly” possible.

Soon joining Clara was another rescue named Pete, a critter my wife called a “flabby, crabby tabby” and whose twin vices, eating and sleeping, probably led to his early departure.

From there came the lovable and intriguingly marked Henry and Percy. (Henry had the best mustache ever and Percy had a near perfectly shaped happy face on his belly.) Sadly, they both died young from a disease acquired in kittenhood.

Next up were Eddie and his brother, Brother.

I watch them closely as they casually slink through the house like Gerry Lopez stalking Pipeline, assessing each situation carefully before making a big move, getting a power lift from the tempered springs of their hind legs.

Eddie and Brother are sleek with microscopic percentages of body fat. They are flexible and can compress themselves into fractions of their normal size when trying to enter a room where something bright attracts them, get under a table to attack a bug or twist like a metallic watchband to kill a flea that has been harassing them for days.

They are slow and observant and deliberate in their movements until they laser-lock on a goal. Then they move without excessive energy, shooting in the direction of the prize like an arrow rather than drifting toward it like a feather blown by the wind.

They live in the moment and accumulate nothing on their daily 1,400-foot journey through our home.

It now seems little wonder that two of their generation’s top surfers, Miki Dora and Tom Curren, were nicknamed “The Cat” — quick, agile and clean, they always landed on their feet.

Although I enjoy eating and sleeping, sometimes to excess, and have no trouble touching my toes, I would never be called “The Cat.” The lack of spring needed for a big vertical leap assures the moniker will never be mine.

That said, I still intend to be more catlike, at least in the way Brother illustrates in the following anecdote.

It was a few months ago when Eddie became ill with food poisoning and Brother jumped up onto the bed, never eating or leaving Eddie’s side until he was well again.

Unlike having catlike reflexes, attentiveness to the ones we love is completely under our control.

Thanks for the lessons, my dear friends.