OUTER CAPE PORTRAIT / Called to Surf

DANA FRANCHITTO / SURFER & PIANIST / WELLFLEET

Dana Franchitto loves going to work as a substitute teacher at the Nauset Middle School. Even if he won $10 million in the lottery, he’d still want to be there.  He’s played the piano since he was a child. And he also loves to surf. Young surfers here have been his teachers. In the summers, you will find Dana at the parking booth at Lecount Hollow Beach.

 

     I heard the waves calling a long time ago, long before I started surfing, yes. I moved to Wellfleet, I think it was 1984, and I have never regretted one minute of it. 

 

I guess the best way to put it, I feel calledto surfing. You know what it is with me and surfing? Surfing is the extension of the wilderness experience. Thoreau probably would have surfed if he had a chance.

 

 I started late in life. I started when I was 48, and a lot of the people around here started when they were children. My cousin had an old longboard he didn't use. So he gave it to me. I'm a committed long boarder. A longboard, if it's stable and steady, it'll forgive most of your sins. When I first put that the old beater in the water, that tank, I didn't know what I was doing. I couldn't even get through a small wave without getting pushed around.

 

I'll never forget the first time I got on my feet and actually went about one or two feet on my feet before I fell. I had this strange feeling of almost weightlessness, just the ecstasy of wind passing by me, and I'm totally with the wave. I'm not all over the place, you know, trying to stay up. That was a breakthrough. And that had me in seventh heaven!  That was at Nauset public beach. After that session, I went to the Chocolate Sparrow and celebrated with one of my favorite sins, a hot fudge sundae. 

 

The hardest part is for me is standing up, popping up to my feet, and maintaining it. I have a habit of saying, “Oh, did my foot land right?” And I look down at my foot and the next thing, you know, I'm swimming. You look down, you go down.

 

One of my buddies told me, Surf the wave, not the board. And look where you want to go. Don't look at your feet, ‘cause you'll hang your head. And that's going to send you right into the drink. 

* * * *

 

     I think I've regressed a little bit, unfortunately. I don't know what keeps me going. I almost quit one day. I said, “I’ve had enough, I can't do this.” I was going to leave the board on the beach and say, “Anybody want it?  Take it. I'm done.”  

 

Well, I just couldn't do it. After all these years, I just couldn't get a ride on my feet. I just couldn't stand up. It would be just like going to the piano and forgetting where middle C was. It was like that, or a guitar player that's been playing for years forgetting how to play a G chord. That's demoralizing. I've always been an uncoordinated klutz. And it's an issue with me. 

 

I told a buddy of mine I was going to quit. And he says, “No, you're not!” And he was right. I'll always do it. Surfing just seems to, I don't know. I just have no idea why. It's just a way for me to be out in the water.

 

Going surfing this time of year is not like going for ice cream or going out for a pizza. I have to push myself. I have to force myself to take off warm clothes. And usually once I'm fully into my wetsuit, I'm stoked to go, as they say. “Stoked” is the word surfers use, when they're really on fire for surfing.

 

Once I'm in the water, I'm usually all right. And I always say, I'll just do one or two (waves) and call it a day. And I end up staying there for two hours.  I've come out after dark (laughs).

 

When I'm out there in summer, it just feels so free. I feel exactly like the free spirit I aspire to be, you know. It's warm. The water's warm. You know, a wave can knock me off my board. I don't care. And you have a good wipe out, it's fun. 

 

I arrive in the morning at Lecount Hollow Beach. I sit in the booth, it's my job. I make sure everyone has the right kind of sticker, so they can park. I'll eat lunch, or I'll read a book if, you know, the parking lot's full, or people aren't coming. And I used to play my guitar sometimes, and people would listen. They'd love it!

 

 And at the end of the day, about four o'clock, I go turn in my radio, and I come back to Lecounts. And if the tide's right, I jump in. Yeah.

* * * *

 

     I'm a classically trained pianist. Classical piano has been my life since I was a child. My mother was a very fine pianist. Beethoven, Bach, and John Coltrane are my musical gods, if you will. Surfing has influenced my piano playing, because surfing requires the whole body in balance, and you're doing it right from the core. And that's how I try to play piano. 

 

There is an etude by Chopin, Opus 25, number 12, which to me suggests very wild ocean waves. So, I call that my surfing etude, and may Chopin forgive me for it. You're not going to really master that etude, paying attention to every note. You've got to kind of flow with the phrases, just like surfing. You're not looking at water molecules. You're looking at the wave. You're feeling the wave. You're making sure you know where that wave is and how you're going to get it. And you're looking where you want to go. Yes. You're not looking down at the board. You have to look where you want to go. 

 

And it's going up and down the keyboard with these broken chords called arpeggios. You don't play the whole chord at once. You play, you know, up and down these wavy lines. And when I miss a beat there, that's my wipe out. It really does sound like ocean waves. Chopin did not have the ocean in mind when he wrote it. But to me, it just says the ocean.