Nothing can derail local love for favorite son but where is Chas?
If you’ve been to Santa Barbara, you’ll know that Channel Islands occupies a shingled, craftsman-style house next to the railroad tracks. The store is a block or so away from the brand’s original shop whose bones now lie under a luxury hotel. There’s a front porch with rocking chairs and more surfboards than a girl could ride in a lifetime.
Tucked behind the shop is a cozy backyard space tailor-made for drinking beers and watching surf movies. Strings of lights hang from the roof. That’s our goal as we chart a meandering course through the board racks. A horde of people clusters around the pizza’s remains and we slide on through. On land, in the lineup, it’s all the same. Then we’re outside and looking for the beer.
It’s always the same people. Maybe you don’t know their names, but you recognize them. You’re at a surf party. There’s pizza and Coors Light. The guy in front of me has a Rip Curl hat jammed on his head, backwards with the silver sticker still shining on the brim. We run into a few friends, a guy who works at the surf shop, another who works at the deli. A cluster of blonde haircuts laughs at their own jokes.
Dane is here. The people love Dane and pack in tight. There’s a brief effort at a question-answer session, but no one can hear. Dane squints, blinded by the projector’s light. He doesn’t know what to say and we don’t mind. We really just want to see some surfing. We don’t actually have any questions.
Looking for the right wifi network is our time’s version of fumbling with the reel-to-reel. The massive number of open tabs on the computers’ browser gives me anxiety and whoever’s working the keyboard mistypes the password on the first attempt. This is me, like every hour of the day. Then we’re in. The screen goes dark and we all lean forward, anticipating.
A trio of groms climb the back fence to get a better view. A couple others climb over the fence from the outside, apparently too cool to come in through the front door. Soon a line of heads peer over the back fence, too cool to come in at all. We stand packed tightly together, sweating gently in the warm summer air.
We watch as Dane rides an unusually wide variety of surfboards. He looks self-conscious on a midlength, as though the idea of doing less with more confounds him entirely. What do I do with this board, he seems to be asking. He invites us to laugh with him as he falls and we do. The closer the board is to a thruster, the more at home he appears — which comes as no surprise at all. His above-the-lip hijinx please the crowd. Dane is surfing and there’s free beer. We’re happy. Sometimes life is that simple.
There’s a drawing for a new surfboard. I never saw the raffle tickets. Finding the beer was winning enough for me. Stocky and bearded, the master of ceremonies pulls out a ticket with the air of a magician producing a unicorn. Someone named Chas wins.“Chas?” Long pause. He asks again, “Is Chas here?” I never see the winner, but they must have found him eventually.
Then we’re swimming toward the exits. I stop to talk to a friend on the way out, forgetting for a moment that in this particular context, he’s famous. Around here, we’re all just people drinking too much coffee and staring at the horizon and it’s easy to forget that there’s anything more to our identities than our shared rituals. Someone bounds up excited to see him and talk shop. I Cheshire Cat into the crowd.
I use the bathroom and it’s filled with surfboards. Stacks of boards lean against every available wall. It’s not really a surprise to find them in the bathroom, too. It reminds me of the time I visited a mountain bike brand who kept their secret prototypes locked in the women’s bathroom. They didn’t get too many female visitors there, apparently.
We walk outside into the soft, late-summer air and unlock our bikes. A friend stands on the corner. “See ya later Lance!” he yells. I flip him off and laughing, we pedal over the culvert and across the tracks toward home, our red tailights dancing in the dark.
It’s good watching surfing with other people. We should all do that more often.