Dana Franchitto loves going to work as a substitute teacher at the Nauset Regional Middle School in Orleans. 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. 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. Here’s Dana in his words.
I heard the waves calling a long time ago, long before I started surfing. I guess the best way to put it, I feel called to surfing. To me, surfing is an extension of the wilderness experience. Thoreau probably would have surfed if he had a chance.
I started late in life, when I was 48. 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. When I first put that old beater in the water, that tank, I didn’t know what I was doing.
I’ll never forget the first time I got on my feet and actually went about one or two feet standing up before I fell. I had the strange feeling of almost weightlessness, just the ecstasy of it. I’m not all over the place, you know, trying to stay up. I’m totally with the wave. That was a breakthrough that had me in seventh heaven. After that session, I went to the Chocolate Sparrow and celebrated with one of my favorite sins, a hot fudge sundae.
The hardest part for me is standing up, popping up to my feet and maintaining it. I get wobbly. 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.”
Unfortunately, I think I’ve regressed a little bit. I don’t know what keeps me going. Well, I’ve always been an uncoordinated klutz, and it’s an issue with me. 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.”
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. Or a guitar player that’s been playing for years forgetting how to play a G chord. It’s demoralizing. 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. 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.
When I’m out there in summer, yeah, I just feel so free. It’s warm, the water’s warm. A wave can knock me off my board. I don’t care. When 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 parking sticker. At the end of the day, about four o’clock, I go turn in my radio. And I come back to Lecounts. If the tide is right, I jump in, yeah.
I’m a classically trained pianist, but I also love jazz. Beethoven, Bach, and John Coltrane are my musical gods, if you will. Surfing has influenced my piano playing, because surfing requires that the whole body is in balance, and you’re doing it right from the core. And that’s how I try to play piano.
There is an étude by Chopin, Opus 25, Number 12, which to me suggests very wild ocean waves. I call that my surfing étude, and may Chopin forgive me for it! You’re not going to really master that étude by 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 not looking down at the board. You’re looking where you want to go. Yes. 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 up and down these wavy lines. And when I miss a beat there, that’s my wipe out. Chopin did not have the ocean in mind when he wrote it. But to me, it really does sound like ocean waves.