A chat with Caroline

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There’s a definite chill in the predawn air, it’s misting and the access road surface to Blacks Beach is slick and dark; the winds are cold and offshore. The body shape and posture is unmistakable; petite, sure footed and confident, arm stretched to the max, all the way over the tiny surfboard.
Even in pitch darkness, you know who it is. There truly is only one person it could be. Standing at just over 5 feet, long hair and a short stride, it could only be Caroline Patuski (nee Alexander), a fixture in the lineup for two decades. Certainly there are many women who surf at Blacks but none before first light with the consistency and attendance of “Caro.”
This month, Michael Schoaff, Blacks Beach Foundation Editor-in-Chief interviews Ms Patuski about what it’s like being….her; in the lineup, getting started, surfing Blacks when it’s big and transplanting from the East Coast.
Thank you, for taking the time for the interview. Next Canyon set is yours! Neoprene lids off to Caroline!
Introduction by Ty Kramer

“Caroline exhibiting a perfect combination of control and style.”

Michael: When and where did you start surfing? Who got you started?
Caroline: I started surfing when I was twenty. I think I started mostly because my sister and her friends were surfing, and I was still boogie boarding. So, it was to keep up with my sister and her friends. I waited till I was in Australia for six months then bought a used board and tried to teach myself to surf. You know, where I couldn’t be ridiculed by people I knew. So, I came back from Australia being able to stand up, and then took it from there.
Michael: When did you first surf Blacks?
Caroline: 2003 when I moved out to San Diego.
Michael: Where did you live and surf before moving to San Diego?
Caroline: Long Island, so being based out of New York I never thought much about surfing until late high school early college.
Michael: Anything else you want to talk about from the right coast?
Caroline: I think it was actually a great place to learn because it’s small 90% of the time. It’s a good foundation for that. Obviously summers are flat and it’s one of the reasons I moved out to California. I wanted to continue surfing on a regular basis and it just wasn’t something that I could do there. You know, it’s too much waiting. I’d say the other thing is that it’s a tight group of surfers because there’s so many less of surfers in the water and you have to be on it when you actually do get waves.
Michael: Anything else you wanna elaborate on about the East Coast?
Caroline: Yeah, I mean there are times that I miss it like during a hurricane swell, but other than that I know that I made the right move.
Michael: What does surfing Blacks mean to you?
Caroline: I think that it’s probably because it’s the most challenging wave as far as size goes. It’s the most consistent and these are some of the reasons that I fell in love with Blacks. I was surfing Scripps consistently that first year and it starts getting small and summer came on and just walking down the road where you could be barely 500 yards away or maybe it’s half mile and it’s like a whole different world. From that day on there was no reason to surf Scripps – when you have Blacks next door.
Michael: What is the most important thing in surfing?
Caroline: To have fun, it’s gotta be that. I mean there’s nothing worse than being in a crowded lineup where people are aggro and fighting for the waves. Why are we out there! We’re out there to have fun! Doing something you love!

“Caro, having fun!”

Michael: What should people know about you?
Caroline: That I’m married to a non-surfer, I think that surprises a lot of people and it’s the reason I ended up finding my current husband was due to a conversation I had walking up the hill from Blacks with Ty realizing that if I wanted to take time to surf and have kids it might be best that my partner did not surf so that someone would hang out with the kids when I wanted to go out for a surf.
Michael: Is there a story from surfing Blacks, scary or funny, that you wanna share?
Caroline: There’s a lot of them I guess, I would just say probably the most humbling times in those first couple years I think I wasn’t aware of just how big it could get and paddling out at dawn one day and I’m not even halfway out to the lineup on a winter swell and a set broke 50 yards outside of the lineup and just knowing there was nothing I could do under my control to change that I was gonna get stuck with it on the head and at some point learning you just have to relax and whatever happens happens. I’ve never had an experience like that doing anything else in my life.
Michael: Do you have any nicknames?
Caroline: I got lucky Caro is the only one. As you know there are a lot of crazy nick names out there. Yeah, as far as I know I don’t have any of those.
Michael: Can you talk about your profession?
Caroline: I work in finance in the golf industry, but I can’t play golf to save my life. I’m not getting any better and I’ve been doing it for the last 16 years so you think I would have learned by now, but no I can’t play well.
Michael: What are your surfing pet peeves?
Caroline: Just you know dropping in on people especially I mean as a woman I have to say if you paddle out where people don’t know you they automatically assume you’re not gonna get the wave and so there’s a lot of establishing like hey now I do have the wave so that’s always frustrating.

“Exhibit A”

Michael: Any cool travel stories that you want to share?
Caroline: I traveled a lot in my 20s. Before moving to San Diego we had a Bed & Breakfast so I had like 5 weeks off each winter and got to do Samoa for three weeks and that was probably my favorite. Being there for a full three weeks you got to see a lot of different swell variety and its live coral reefs, and I’ve never really been anywhere quite like that.
Michael: And no surfing on Sunday right?
Caroline: You kind of have to pay off the town. So, the surf camps would have arrangements with every town so that we had a right to the water and in the town through the area, so it’s all about access it’s an interesting island – but yeah amazing experience.
Michael: Can you share about your family dynamics?
Caroline: Yeah, so two kids one of whom is decided that he does like surfing. So, I have to say that one of my favorite things right now is that if you don’t see me on weekends down at Blacks (that used to be one time I could guarantee I could get down there) it’s because I’m in the water with him and I let him pick where he wants to go out at. And I’m just so stoked being able to see him progress and keep up now, and it’s just great that I have that going forward – yeah that’s awesome.
Michael: Anything else you want everybody to kind of know?
Caroline: I would just say as more and more people surf that everyone just continues to remember to respect each other and that we’re all out there to enjoy what’s there. It just makes it so much better for all of us when everyone keeps in mind that it’s not just about you, it’s about everyone in water so that everyone gets to enjoy the waves.
Michael: OK, now it’s time for the rapid-fire questions. So, please in one or a few words answer the first thing that comes to your mind. Right or Left?
Caroline: Right.
Michael: Coffee or Tea?
Caroline: Coffee always, before surfing too.
Michael: Burrito or Pizza?
Caroline: Do breakfast burritos count?
Michael: Yep absolutely!
Caroline: Alright Burrito.
Michael: Thruster or Quad? (or something else)
Caroline: I’m still thruster. I’m trying to do the Single Fin Mid Length thing, and it is not working for me. So, sticking with my traditional shortboard.

Photos by Blair Austin