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Member of the Month {November}

Catherine "Kitty Boo Cat" Jennings

1. Tell us how you started surfing. How old were you and what got you into it? Did you surf in South Africa?

I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, a big sprawling city, on the county’s inland plateau or Highveld. In Jo’burg you live with the best and worst of humanity:  desperate poverty, violent crime, and snarled traffic coexist with unreal affluence, massive diversity and all the exciting art, music and food that offers. To escape the chaos, there is a mass migration down to the coast every summer. Coastal-born snobs even bestowed the derogatory moniker “Vaalies”, mocking our ugly Vaal dam! I can still feel the flip in my stomach at glimpsing the sea for the first time. I was hooked as a child; running straight into the sea much to the distress of my parents who can’t swim. I vowed to one day live by the ocean and then in my early twenties, I saw the film, “Blue Crush” and just KNEW I was Anne Marie deep down. LOL!

I never managed to surf in SA, leaving to join my then boyfriend, Gareth in Richmond, VA. After completing my PhD in Pharmacology, I was offered a dream post-doc at the Scripps Research Institute working for a famous oncogene researcher. I moved to San Diego in May 2016, age 35 and fell in love with the endless SoCal coast. The job and the loneliness took a toll though, and by the end of 2016 I felt a familiar hopeless blackness creeping in. A lifetime of struggling with anxiety and depression had taught me to get help quickly, and part of my recovery was finding a social outlet (the horrors). I turned to Meetup purely in desperation and found Terri and a group of surfing ladies! I was absolutely terrified going to my first meeting, I sat in the car and did breathing exercises, but as soon as I walked in everyone was so kind and welcoming. I truly wanted to cry. I had been surfing a foamie with my husband pretty unsuccessfully (Saffers don’t ask for help), but I caught my first wave at my first Team Shaka (Terri again!) at San Elijo. It was so helpful to know where to paddle out, to know when to start paddling, and have a bunch of girls cheering you on. I come back to that memory often, the pure joy of gliding across the water, seeing the beautiful reef under me, and the sounds of cheering. It was the best thing I had ever experienced. 


2. What's the wave that you dream of? Could be one you caught, the one that got away, or one you have yet to conquer. 

To be honest, I’m still dreaming of the day I can pop-up smoothly and less like a baby elephant. Once I can do that, my surf dreams (like my heart) are all based in Africa: Dakar in Senegal, the skeleton coast in Namibia (check out @thesearchnamibia on Instagram), and Jeffery’s bay of course! (As soon as I left home my parents retired to the Eastern Cape coast right next to J-bay! Total bollocks!) 


3. What soundtrack is playing in your head when you’re surfing?

I always aim for trip-hop, acid-infused vibes, Morcheeba perhaps, or Goldfrapp (90s club kid). More often than not the soundtrack is more frenetic, Rise Against or The Prodigy! 


4. What about SDSL do you enjoy the most?

I love that SDSL feels like a safe space in a crazy and cruel world. I have met so many beautiful and interesting ladies, many I can now call my friends. It has been a revelation for this introverted science nerd. I also find so much joy in seeing SDSL gals in the line-up – instantly the guys give me side-eye and think I am native. Ha! The Shaka and Waikiki sessions essentially taught me how to surf, the etiquette, the timing, the right gear. I now feel so much more confident to go out alone. Even on the many (many) frustrating, shedding a tear on the beach days, I can head over to the FB page and have a good laugh at everyone else’s swell-related struggles. 


5. When your gills have dried, tell us about your Kitty Boo Cat life on land. What other hobbies do you have aside from surfing? What mad scientist stuff do you do?

I am trained as a cancer biologist, and as of a month ago work in antibody-based therapeutics at Celgene. It was hard to let go of my dreams of academic tenure, but industry is surprisingly amazing so far!  When I’m not in the lab or in the water, I’m a pretty devoted to yoga – I try to practice every day to quiet the demons. I also love to read – anything and everything. Currently on my bedside table: “Barbarian Days” by William Finnegan, “Tranny” by Laura Jane Grace, and “Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay” by Nancy Milford. My husband and I also love to travel. We are waiting for our Green Card, but next on the list is Quito, Ecuador. 


6. How would you describe your relationship with Mother Ocean?

There’s a line in Finnegan’s Barbarian Days that encapsulates my feelings for the Ocean: “I was a sunburnt pagan now. I felt privy to mysteries.” There’s something so absolute about surfing, the willing surrender to a greater and wilder power. It demands humility and resilience, and I am grateful for that everyday. I am now also much more aware of how tenuous our oceans are – I have massive anxiety over every scrap of plastic I sea, over the diminishing coral and sea life. Much cleverer scientists than I (many right here in SD) are frantically trying to get first world nations to act before it’s too late but… we all know how that goes.  

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