Waterspot: For the love of surfing

Waterspot: For the love of surfing
Photo by Chris Ahrens

Nothing has ever touched me quite like surfing. If you’re reading this, you know what I mean. A close second might be skiing, where the long rides and groomed slopes make it more predictable. Too predictable, as the uncertainty of the hunt for a disappearing liquid treasure keeps us stoked even after more than half a century, in my case.

I’ll never forget that first day surfing, riding a 30-pound hunk of foam and fiberglass in the soup, moving toward shore. Everything else: baseball, BB guns and even Disneyland quickly faded in my thinking. After taking those first waves to shore, I recall thinking that even Disneyland had not lived up to its promise, while surfing had surpassed it.

22nd Street in Newport Beach became our local spot. There, my brother Dave and I would paddle out at dawn, stoke aestheticizing us against the offshore freezing water pellets that hit like buckshot as we watched friends Davey Abbot and Walter Viszolay hang 10 as we took our first baby steps.

Later, when we began driving, we had our choice of beaches and could head north to Rincon, or south to Swami’s. One of my top memories was at Rincon. The year was 1965, and I sat with my friend David in his ’53 Ford Wagon watching the rain pour down on a blown-out and ugly mess. We were about to leave for home when the wind switched from onshore to offshore, and blew the clouds back to reveal a sunny day. 

The tide began to drop, and we watched the miracle of perfect waves peeling like sheet metal down the point. There was nobody around and we scrambled to get our boards. Paddling out, I watched a dozen waves pass unridden before stroking into the first of them. The wall looked endless, moving into the cove as I rode it for what must have been a quarter mile, before paddling back to watch Dave take off and ride in the slot before passing me and ending up a dot in the distance.

We surfed for hours before coming in for lunch. After refueling I was ready to surf again when Dave said we had to leave. What? We couldn’t leave, this was the best surf either of us had ever seen; it would be like abandoning a gold mine. But Dave was a boy of honor and he had a date he couldn’t break. I am not violent by nature, but I grabbed him by the shirt collar and shook him, threatening to punch him if he left. Nothing could dissuade him, however, and I watched empty perfection fade in the rearview mirror. Once on the freeway, I again grabbed Dave by the shirt collar. This time he let go of the wheel and grabbed me back, and we nearly hit a car while skidding to a halt in the pickleweed. The near fatality sobered us up, and we began laughing while recounting our rides on the way home.

There would be other days at Swami’s, deep in Baja, long point waves in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other places that have sewn the tapestry of my life. Nothing compares to those times, and I wouldn’t trade their memories for all the money I never made because of this sport, this addiction, this disease called surfing that I caught in my early teens. I want to thank the waves, those I rode them with and their maker. I have few apologies, but one to Dave. Then again, maybe he should apologize to me.

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