"I worried that this whole move-to-California-become-a-surfer thing might have been a mistake."
This surf virgin woke up in his truck bed to the sound of crashing waves and an orange glow on the windows.
I’d made it.
Last night’s sand in my boots. Ocean in front of my face. Saltwater destiny. The Pacific.
After feeding the dog breakfast and using the passenger-side door for cover while I took a piss that couldn’t wait, I loaded up and hurried out before a State Parks employee could collect a camping fee.
Driving down the coast, I watched water whiz by and felt elated, but a bit childish too, due to the realization that I couldn’t be more of a cliche in that moment if I tried.
I came to the West Coast to chase a dream, like swarms of delusional folk long before me.
Generations of the starry-eyed, deranged and hallucinatory have made a pilgrimage to The Golden State, pulling pipe dreams with them, only to end up cleaning pool filters, slingin’ lattes to the entitled and surgically mangled, or worst of all, obtaining a real estate license and hawking condos to the newly divorced and desperate.
In my first few hours, I worried that this whole move-to-California-become-a-surfer thing might have been a mistake. Rather than salt, I smelled the distinct possibility that I’d been kidding myself, and was destined to end up selling solar panels or ferrying drunk college kids from UCSB around in an Uber.
To further heighten my creeping insecurities, most of the locals I encountered were bronzed and beautiful.
Thanks to the modern swimwear revolution, butt cheeks breathed free on both sand and sidewalk.
At Surfer’s point, dudes with hair from an early-2000s Hollister ad and cool bumper stickers on their cars changed out of wetsuits under ponchos made out of that cool beach towel material, while I’d already begun contracting a sunburn and was stomping around in boots that showed revolting signs of rot after absorbing a few winters worth of Colorado and New Mexico snow.
Near the piers, pelicans floated over the breeze. What the fuck was a surf virgin doing in a place with Finding Nemo birds?
I felt out of place, like a freshman who had snuck into a party at a senior’s house, and was about to be discovered thrown out by the throat.
So many wiser folks had cautioned me, warning that housing was impossible on the coast, and everything expensive.
Despite their attempts at slowing my roll, when BeachGrit set an opportunity in front of my face, I packed up and sent it from the Rockies.
But now shit was real, and I, a surf virgin, was living out of a truck with a 120-pound dog– impulsive and reckless, as is my way.
Checking the internet for leads every twenty minutes, I failed to find any hope on a place to rent.
In the first surf shop I toured, wetsuits and boards were prohibitively expensive. There was a teenager at the register with much cooler tattoos than me, who watched with a mocking eye as I browsed discount flip flops and board shorts.
I tried on a Mr. Zogg’s shirt, but saw a high-alpine, UV-intolerant fraud staring back from the mirror. After hanging it back on the rack I scurried out.
Trying to get comfortable in the back of my truck with the dog at night, I frantically calculated how long I could last before my funds would be depleted by this fossil fuel averse, dollar-devouring wasteland.
It was looking more and more likely that I’d end up on the phone trying to swindle a loan out of a distant relative to get back home before I’d ever come close to sniffing a successful ride on a wave.
But then, after another desperate check of the internet, I found, then toured, a furnished, dog-friendly, reasonably priced casita.
It came complete with a vintage ‘Endless Summer’ poster on the wall. A sign!
After a handshake agreement with the landlord to move in the next day, I ripped back to my campsite to steal another fee-free night of camping, howling painfully shitty Nickelback lyrics out the window on my way.
I’d say California wind felt good blowing through my hair, but, I have none.
The next afternoon I returned to the same surf shop, bought a pair of half-off Reef flip flops and restrained myself from slapping the tatts off the smug cashier.
I then found employment making drinks at a tiki bar, met some folks at a yoga class who offered to take me to some beginner breaks once I got a board, and then BeachGrit’s very own Jen See was kind enough to take the time to provide a detailed guide of what I needed to buy, where I needed to go, and how to start getting myself comfortable with reading and being in the wet stuff.
And then, more grace from the gods of surf.
After serving him the perfect mai tai and telling my story, a seasoned local surfer offered me a used wetsuit and two different boards– all on the arm, free of charge.
I’ll be paddling out for the first time before the weekend is out.
Just like that, I went from hopeless transient to merman-in-the-making.
At Mondos, I sat in the sand and watched an older fella (who looked like he collected and sold used hub caps for a living) painfully stretch his wetsuit over a Miller High Life belly, huff and puff his way to the edge of the water, then successfully paddle out and ride.
Confidence, fully renewed.
Which is bad news for the shitgibbons and grundle butter keyboardists in the comment section.
Like it or not, pretty soon, I’m gonna be one of you.
Read Adrian’s debut story here, “I’ve never surfed before but I think I probably should!” here.
And the follow up, “A surf virgin goes to California” here.