Swami’s is still delivering after 50 years. Photo by Chris Ahrens
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Waterspot: At Swami’s, riding a wave of memories

It’s dark when I pull into the dirt parking lot and walk to the cliff’s edge, avoiding a thin sheet of ice covering a mud puddle, to peek through a rusty Cyclone fence to the pretty surf below. The more scientific among us follow the weather and realize the surf will be big. Most of us, however, simply guess, walk, pedal or drive. On this morning we have guessed correctly and are rewarded by the sounds and faint sights of a new north swell.

A few old cars, held together with Bondo and duct tape, are strewn about the lot. Walking to the fence, I stand next to the two Steves, the two Marks, Gary Stuber and Gary the Giant, Donut Dave, Mickey, Margo, Syd, Peter, Jack, Buttons, and the guy with that weird board nicknamed the Tusk.

Flecky appears in his wetsuit vest and trunks, carrying the shortest board I had ever seen as he runs down the stairs, giggling.    

“How big is it?” asks an unidentified voice in the dark. “Big enough,” says one of the Marks. Through the dawn’s early light, we see Flecky tearing into a double overhead peak. He turns and hits the lip half dozen times, trimming out before his fin drags in the sand. This gets the rest of us moving.

Paddling out, I can trace a zigzagging figure. I can’t make out a face, but the rapid-fire broken lines tell me it can only be Cheer. It’s almost like we’re assigned our places in the lineup as about a third of us automatically move to the inside while the rest paddle to the outside peak. The best surfers take off outside, moving fast and occasionally making it all the way through, to the empty lifeguard tower. They have earned the best waves while the rest of us scrap for whatever is left. It’s a few years before the surf leash is invented, and everyone swims well enough to make shore without assistance. We know how to hang onto our boards, especially at high tide when a fall can mean an afternoon patching dings.

The wind blows lightly offshore, stinging any exposed skin and bringing the scent of eucalyptus. Others scamper down the stairs, and someone quips about creating an official-looking sign suggests padlocking the gate shut. Everybody laughs, but it never happens; we are too busy surfing every day.

By 9 a.m. the crowd has leveled off at around 30, crowded but not insane. It works because we all know and generally respect one another. Still, there is an occasional fight. Mostly, it’s just barking.

It probably seems odd in these days of instant reports, but there was a time when we simply got in the car and drove to a break we wanted to ride. We attacked Windansea, Trestles, Rincon and Baja that way, and it usually paid off.

A wave rises in the kelp and everyone else is caught inside. Late drop, turn, climb and drop, watching friends as they paddle up the face, frantically moving seaward.

It’s been nearly 50 years since that wave was born in a storm, traveled a thousand miles, singled me out, broke and died in the damp sand.

There is a theory that time is not linear, but that everything is happening at once. If that’s the case, I’m still riding that wave all the way into eternity.

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