What Youth founder spends two days at Surf Ranch Pro. Misses duckdiving. Drives to San Francisco.
We were sitting at a picnic bench next to a Shell gas station in the dusty center of California drinking Coors Light. It was morning still and Chas was with me. We carpooled from The Old Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton where no surf trip has ever started and maybe never will.
We had no surfboards in the car and it was not surf trip. We were lacking the usual buzz that accompanies a surf trip or any trip and instead maybe felt like we were going to youth group. Or summer Bible camp. Not Coachella or Desert Daze or Burning Man or on The Search. But desert surf youth group bible camp. Our usual enthusiasm was just not in the car. We were in survival mode. And hydrating with black coffee and Coors Light. We were on our way to Surf Ranch even though we might be non-believers.
The drive was lonely and alien and the landscape outside the car was peppered with slaughterhouses, fast food logos and gas stations with neglected bathrooms. I gathered that Chas is I think almost tired of it. All of it. Pools. And WSL. And Surf Ranch. Surf journalism. Defending the core.
He is tired of it, we are tired of it. But we desperately want to help and so we are cursed to continue and resisted the urge to turn left and head west for fog and saltwater and the nature’s infinity pool. We stay committed to protecting our beloved and once esoteric little surf culture from the wave pool machine disciples. And we continued on to attend Surf Ranch.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Tachi Hotel and Casino and thought we saw four surf fans in the parking lot. We thought maybe they were surf fans because they were wearing shorts. Chas and I were in pants, and wanted to be surf fans too, but we were in pants. The only other person we saw in long pants all day was Chippa Wilson.
We entered the ranch together and began flapping our wings and conversating like industry buzzards. Matt Biolos. Pat O’Connell. Podcasters and Timmy Patterson. The Hurley’s. I saw that Polo by Ralph Lauren had a booth. And so did Jeep. We continued on and sweat and got hot and talked about the heat and regretted the fact that we couldn’t go do a duck dive and then we drank more so that we could continue conversating like industry buzzards. I still hadn’t really seen the wave despite walking two full laps the length of the pool — which is hundreds of yards long. I met Jen See. I had another beer. Jen See showed me where to watch from so that maybe I could get a good look at the fake wave. The story goes on. I saw some waves from afar and they are fun-looking things for sure, but I’m still more entertained by friends and colleagues and fighting off dehydration with beer. While here, mabe people said I would regret not taking my opportunity to surf it, but I never freaked out about turning down my invite despite the fact that many people think I should pull my head out of my ass and surf it and just shut up and be happy.
I saw Yago Dora and then watched his bubble burst just a little as he drifted below the transfer spot for finals day. The leader board with a cut-off made for something very nearing excitement if you took the time to figure it out. Later Yago would make me stoked because during the un-webcasted freesurf with Chippa Wilson, Archy, Mikey Wright and Albee Layer, Yago rode my favorite fake wave of the day by doing an off the lip shuv-it, to switch barrel ride, to layback backside tube. It was the closest I got to being a psyched surf fan all day. Oh, also when Kolohe Andino told the truth about the judges on camera.
Overall, my day at Surf Ranch was not a bad day. It was totally fine. Dave Prodan of WSL slid a complimentary VIP bracelet on my arm when I got there which allowed me to hydrate with bottomless Stellas and the option to stand underneath the very necessary misters. I watched Bethany Hamilton ride a cool wave with a cool beer in my hand and I felt good about it. I wasn’t angry or cynical or grumpy.
At one point, I did need a breakthough. The heat is real and no matter how much hydrating you do with Stella and Coors Light, heat stroke feels near when you get to the early afternoon. I left surf ranch around 3 to wash off the dirt and sweat. I checked into a motel about twenty minutes away. The local bar next to the motel is called Spirits and had a sign out front welcoming surf fans. Bars like this don’t always welcome you, so this was a cultural opportunity to check it out. Inside I met Tony who sat next to me and noticed that maybe I’m a surf fan because I have 3 different bracelets on and I’m also under the age of 65 which he tells me is the median age of the locals at Spirits. He points out two men in the corner who are above the median age.
“Listen to those two,” Tony says. “They cuss and yell at each other all day until one of them decides to leave. And whoever leaves first is the loser that day.” He is right, they are cussing at each other. And before I go, one leaves out the back door. Loser.
Behind me is a table covered with all the makings of a birthday celebration. Tinsel and decorations and napkins and those annoying little noise makers are everywhere and ready for a festive party.
“Last night was karaoke, tonight there’s a birthday party,” Tony said. According to the napkins it will be a 50-year-old’s birthday. “She’s probably our youngest local.”
Tony’s ex brother-in-law is from Huntington Beach so we were fast friends. I asked him if he’s ever been to Tachi Casino. “Oh yeah, I go there to get fucked up and gamble. Went there last Saturday.”
It took about 30 minutes to get an Uber to show up, but it finally came. I said so long to Tony and headed back to surf ranch.
Chas had long since fled the surf ranch and so I returned alone this time. And I was about to have my finest moment at surf ranch. I left the VIP area and headed for the center of the pool. I found a little space to stand alone and watched as some of my favorite surfers entered the pool together. This is the only time during the day that the pool resembled a real lineup. Yago Dora, Chippa Wilson, Mikey Wright, Albee Layer and the surprise guest, Matt Archbold paddled out (in?)…well, they don’t paddle out, but they are in the water together and kind of paddle around to different areas in the pool.
By now the sun had dipped enough to make the temperature bearable and the lighting was damn near beautiful. The guys in the water were using each other to create sections for airs. This is when Yago rode my favorite wave and Chippa did a few off-the-lip shuv-it’s that I keep replaying on my phone. A really nice girl offered me a Paloma. I accepted, turned back around and watched the pool as golden hour light came in through the trees behind me. I wrapped my hand around the ice-cold Paloma and felt good. I was enjoying myself at Surf Ranch.
By now the sun had dipped enough to make the temperature bearable and the lighting was damn near beautiful. The guys in the water were using each other to create sections for airs. This is when Yago rode my favorite wave and Chippa did a few off-the-lip shuv-it’s that I keep replaying on my phone. Behind me I think there was a Jose Cuervo VIP lounge maybe, and a really nice girl offered me a Paloma. I accepted, turned back around and watched the pool as golden hour light came in through the trees behind me. I wrapped my hand around the ice-cold Paloma and felt good. In this moment, I was not a cynical media dude. All of a sudden I was a surf fan having a Paloma while watching my favorite surfers surf. I was enjoying myself at Surf Ranch.
I would go on to enjoy Social Distortion later that night too. I continued to hydrate. I continued to not have a bad time. I ventured over to the casino to see if Tony was right. I found blackjack tables full of surfers. Joel Parkinson sat at a table wearing a cowboy hat. He sat next to Conner Coffin and Blair Marlin. Lemoore locals looking to get fucked up and gamble like Tony surrounded the surfers. After a bit though, I realized that a casino is a sad place. Sober or drunk, it is a sad place to be and I started to feel real casino sadness. It was weird and sad to be so close, yet so far away from surfing. I ran into Chippa Wilson and we continued to drink our way through the night. We poured beer and spirits and tequila on our casino sadness. My phone died and I bought a charger in the 24-hour gift shop around 2 a.m. so I could get an Uber and as I got in the car I looked back in through the glass doors. It should have been closing time but it was still as busy as it was at 10 p.m. and I was leaving Tachi.
But the casino sadness raged on inside.
All throughout the day at Surf Ranch, what I missed seeing most was paddling and duckdiving. And when I woke up with red eyes from air conditioning and indoor smoking acceptance, I realized that Surf Ranch’s finest feature is it’s proximity to the best place in the world for duckdiving. It is three and a half hours to Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
So I drove and drove and made it to SF and borrowed a surfboard from friend and Away Co. dude Taylor Paul.
I put on my wetsuit and ran to the beach as fast as I could. I paddled out into thrashed windswell riddled OB and I have never paddled out and had a more transcendental and spiritually cleansing surf in my life.
I paddled out as far out as I could into the choppy cool water and drifted down the beach and was tossed around by the north wind and duck dove hundreds of times and rode a few waves. I think I am now the first person to leave for a surf trip from The Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton.