How do you feel about surf forecasts?
I am a terrible optimist. I look at the weather forecast models and I believe what they’re selling. I believe it every single time. There’s a giant hurricane about to slam into Los Angeles? Sure, why the hell not. A beautiful low winking at me as she spirals down from the Aleutians? That is so totally going to happen. Come on, let’s go surfing.
I believe the bouys like they’re mystical omens sent from the heavens. A talisman, a harvest moon, a rare constellation — signs of the sort that I hesitate to question. They claim a freak afternoon windswell and there I go, running out the door. I show up at the beach and it’s flat as fuck and I’m standing looking at the ocean with a shortboard wondering what the hell I’m supposed to do with the thing. The bouys are assholes.
The day after I ate ice cream in Kettleman City, which was right after I left the Surf Ranch, I went surfing in the ocean. I never wanted to see the inside of a car again, but there was south swell, which from my present location generally requires driving either north or south. So I drove to Ventura, which was windfucked and mediocre, but I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad and paddled out anyway. Optimism, it’ll get you in trouble, is what I’m saying.
After three days in Lemoore, I would have paddled out in just about anything. This reacquaintance with the ocean was not a revelation by any means. I fell on half my waves and forgot what to do on the other half. My feet felt completely separate from my body. Even I didn’t have enough optimism to convince myself that I was actually surfing well. Maybe I need to read some of those pop-up guides that litter the internet. They say it’s the most important element of surfing. Maybe i just need more practice.
I may not have surfed with any distinction, but I did see a would-be ripper who was a dead-ringer for Spicoli. I couldn’t tell whether the resemblance was intentional. Hair, voice, the whole thing — he was Spicoli, come to life. That made the whole thing worth it, the driving, the wind, the weirdly far away feet, the falling. Sometimes, it’s not the actual surfing that matters; it’s all the weird stuff and the roadside attractions you see along the way.
Now the seasons have shifted noticeably to fall. I wore a beanie to the coffee shop this morning for the first time in months. The marine layer’s returned and the onshore winds whisper tales of the coming winter. Santa Barbara faces the wrong way for good surf, right up until it faces exactly the right way. I’m not telling any secrets here, when I say it’s either amazing or it’s dead flat for weeks on end. Is it any wonder that I’m addicted to forecast models, when there’s nothing to do but hit refresh day after day after day.
The GFS says it’s going to massive in two weeks. Or maybe it’s three. I’m sure I need a new step-up. Maybe I should have paid more attention yesterday when the man at the coffee shop tried to explain to me how to buy surfboards.
— Hey do you surf?
— Uh, yeah, I guess.
— There’s this website, they have super cheap boards, it’s really great.
— Uh I don’t buy my boards online.
— But you should! Look at these deals! You can get like a Lost for next to nothing!
— Uh I get my boards made to order.
— Well, I know my dimensions.
I rolled my eyes and went back to my macchiato and the New Yorker feature about Boulder, Utah that I was trying to read. I’d been there once, Boulder, I mean, on the way from the start of a bike race to the end. It’s not far from Escalante and the Grand Staircase and some of the most exuberant geology I’ve ever seen. I’ll read Kathryn Schulz on just about any topic, but this one resonated. I was glad to know website guy knew his dimensions, though, because I was worried about that. It might have kept me up at night.
There is a certain optimism in ordering a board, rather than grabbing a finished one off the rack and going surfing right away. It means you believe that there’ll be surf again someday and that the world will still be here eight or twelve weeks from now when the resin dries and the sanding is finished.
You believe that the numbers and squiggles scrawled on that scrap of paper will translate into magic under your feet, just as the readings pumped out every hour by the bouys will translate into good surf at the beach.
Sure, the bouys are assholes, but maybe just this once, it won’t be a lie. That’s what I tell myself. Maybe I’ll show up at the beach with my favorite board under my arm and there’ll be a gluttony of waves. There’s a fine line between optimism and delusion and I’m pretty sure I’ve slamdanced right past that thing. Look at that perfect low, just spinning out there, the stuff of dreams.
At least I’m not in Lemoore anymore.