"I am supposed to surf. In this. Somehow. Impossible."
(True literary art from favorite Jen See. Part I here.)
I woke up to bright sun and tall trees. The world looked reassuringly normal after last night’s drive. The dark had entirely obscured the beauty of the place. Wetlands extended back miles from the coast and tall stands of trees filtered the morning light. I found an espresso and sought out the sun’s warmth.
There was a surf report posted on the wall, but the numbers meant next to nothing to me. It looked like short-period windswell that wasn’t likely to be giant. This was good. Cold, giant beach breaks aren’t high on my list of favorite things. Or in fact, anywhere on my list. I tend to avoid them. Oh hey, let’s go for donuts instead.
I hadn’t brought a board, but they said there was a 6’0” shortboard I could borrow. I pictured an actual shortboard that I could carry jauntily under my arm. The board’s width laughed at me. I almost ripped my arm out of the socket trying to carry it. Jaunty was out of the question. Maybe I could carry it on my head.
We pulled into the parking lot just after noon. Rolling dunes blocked the view of the beach but the grass blades bent ominously sideways. The wind was decidedly onshore. When I’d asked about the water temperature, everyone had assured me that it was the wrong time of year for upwelling. I looked again at the grass on the dunes. If this was the wrong time of year, what did the right time look like? Good luck, California.
The parking lot looked like any other surf parking lot. Some things are the same the world over, but there was noticeably more neoprene strewn around than I typically encounter. There were a crew of locals who clearly knew one another and boards of all shapes and sizes. We parked next to a vintage VW bus that had been neatly restored. I wondered if their heater worked any better than the one in my old bug at home. Probably not.
I walked over the dunes to the beach. A jetty ran up the right-hand side. Scattered peaks marched down the beach. The wind was on it, of course, but less disastrously than I’d imagined. We walked up the beach toward the jetty to paddle out. Left to my own devices, I would have chosen an anonymous peak somewhere down the beach. I like anonymous peaks. They’re comfortable.
The first duck dive hit me like a punch in the face. This water was so cold. My suit did nothing. I felt naked. I am supposed to surf. In this. Somehow. Impossible.
Dungeness crabs skittered happily underfoot. No one had told me about the crabs. They looked creepy and prehistoric and I was pretty sure they were going to bite me. There were probably sharks out there somewhere, too. But the fucking crabs, the fucking crabs were going to get me. I should have gone for donuts.
A tight knot of locals predictably sat on the peak. There were two swells in the water and one produced mostly close-outs, helped along by the steadily increasing onshore winds. The other refracted off the jetty to create a wedgy peak. I liked the looks of that. So did the regulars. Good luck, California.
Surfing has tried its best to teach me patience. It’s still trying. But I recognize futility when I see it. I stared out at the horizon, watching the swell lines, waiting my turn. There was a wild, untamed beauty to this wide open ocean. The cold pressed, but I no longer regretted being here. I’d come to see somewhere different. Now I had.
The numbers dwindled as one by one the others headed in. My hard-won patience was rewarded just before my feet turned to ice. The wind tugged and pulled at my board as I walked up the beach. The kiteboarders, colors bright against the blue sky, darted and danced.
We headed into town for sandwiches and beer. A commercial fisherman sat next to me, telling his buddy a convoluted story about a bad alternator. It ended when he threw the thing overboard. Hopefully the crabs liked it. There was another story about trying to fish during a storm. I gathered that it hadn’t worked out especially well.
The interior of the bar was decorated with mermaids of exuberant proportions. The sandwiches stacked high and the beer was cold. Sun slanted in through the window. It hinted at the coming of fall and the dark of winter. I imagined the place on a winter night, the light warm, the pool cues clicking, a steady hum of conversation, and the occasional brawl out back.
I’d be long gone by then. Back home, I’d chase the swell angles and the tide swings. There’d be a donut stop. And then hands wrapped around a warm coffee, I’d walk down the trail, board under my arm. I’d say hey to my friends and it’d be our turn to sit on the peak.
And I’d hope for one of those magic days when it all aligns just right, when the waves glow in the sunlight and the wind flits lightly over the foam.
Good luck, California.