Wanna go for a ride?
You can imagine me paddling out at Rincon today.
You can imagine the glowing cat-eye green of the waves and the cloud-painted sky overhead. You can imagine the sharp bite of the barnacles and the way the stones shift and tilt under foot. You can imagine the way I almost fell awkwardly, but I saved it just in time. The white fall light. The boards piled on the beach. The inevitable pot smoke.
You can imagine the speed of a low-tide zipper plucked off the sandbar. Steer the board to the very top of the wave and hang there, suspended. You can imagine me laughing right then, laughing at the pointless joy of it. And then turning, because why not. Pretend the final section is a barrel, even if it’s not, not really. Go on, imagine.
A couple weeks back, I drank coffee with Chas. I’d gone south to pick up an alaia, a beautifully thing shaped by Christine Caro from Paulownia wood. No, I can’t ride them. Maybe someday I’ll try to learn, when I’m done obsessing about tiny-ass twinfins. (Yes, I’m still obsessed. I might need an intervention. But it goes so fast! Squee!)
Get you a girl that’ll drive the 405 for you. Get you a girl who’ll pick up your boards. I drove the 405, music cranked in my rented minivan, boards stacked in the back. Hat on backwards. Punk rock sing-along. This would be an embarrassing way to die, I thought. Fuck it, keep driving.
Sitting there at the coffee shop in Cardiff, we could see the first northwest swell of the season building long, beautiful lines. A dreamscape. I’d paddled out quickly within reach of the coffee shop. I am bad at waking up in time for things, bad at mornings altogether. I surfed a quick heat in jumbled high tide. Salt water hair. Sand-dusted toes.
I always imagine you paddling out at Rincon, Chas said. I flapped my arms vaguely, as though to agree, as though to say maybe, or maybe not. A girl has to have some secrets. Later on, I taunted him with photos. Somewhere in California. No directions, no names. Places spoken of in whispers, known, but not quite.
But Rincon sits hard by the freeway, not so much of a whisper as a scream. It’s a weird quirk of California that we build freeways next to beaches, but that’s how it is. Today I watched idly from the lineup as a train raced a semi. The train tracks run parallel to the freeway. It’s the only flat ground around. The train won.
It’s been a slow fall, and that first northwest that Chas and I watched, came and went, a cruel tease. I’d walk down to the beach, hopeful. But no, not yet. Storms drifted into our swell window on the ten-day models, then disappeared. Instead of winter, we have endless fire. Here we are, dancing on the edge of it.
Imagine me at Rincon today, doing laps around the parking lot, looking for a spot. Imagine the angry Tacoma tailgating my VW on the road to the beach. I don’t understand the people who somehow think that tailgating an old VW is going to make me drive faster. This all we got, brah. It doesn’t go any faster. Imagine my boards piled in the front seat, all snug and cozy. Who wouldn’t want to drive to the beach with a couple surfboards tucked in right there next to you? I love the stupid things so much.
Imagine people circling, looking for parking, as I sit, car door open, drinking my coffee and finishing my muffin. Lemon poppy-seed, my favorite. Hogging a Rincon parking spot, just to finish my coffee. I’m an asshole. But chill! So very chill. And then I slide my boards out of the car, slip into my backpack, and head down the trail.
There’s always that magic moment when you make the final turn and see the first set roll in. There are views that are better in this world, but not too many. I pick my way through the rocks, past the house where a man once yelled at me for putting my boards to close to his fence. As though it really matters, as though he didn’t have enough already.
I’d brought two boards, an approach I don’t recommend. I stare at the lineup much longer than I should, trying to decide. Just bring one board, paddle it out, and go surfing. Simple. Sometimes I’m as bad at simple as I am at waking up early and choosing road trip music. I shimmy into a wetsuit and flail with a bar of wax that fell out of the box. I lost my ear plugs and keep forgetting to replace them. It’s one less thing to remember, at least.
Imagine the sun high overhead and the warm rocks under your toes and the steady beat of anticipation. Sure, it’s crowded. It’s always crowded. But isn’t it worth it? Not everyday and not every time, certainly. But isn’t it worth it to slip away and fly free, to dance, weightless.
Just this once, maybe it was.