Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don’t Go In the Water

For me, surfing reaches a low point during winter.  Yes, winter delivers the best swells, empty lineups, and I can even get over the cold water, but its really all the external forces that conspire to kill my enthusiasm. The rain mostly with its threat of all the scary pathogens and bacteria swimming into the ocean can cause gastroenteritis. The name alone sounds scary enough, and it is, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other sorts of scary symptoms. But is the risk worth the reward? It depends. Like eating a street-side bacon-wrapped hot dog cooked in a rusty shopping cart by a political refugee, you might be fine, but then again, you might not be.

But there’s a handwritten Los Angeles restaurant grade sign indicating an “A” rating duck-taped to the front, so you should be find.

Just to be on the safe side, though, I’m staying out of the water this weekend.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don’t Call it La La Land

Nobody from Los Angeles actually wants to live here, unlike say New Yorkers, who exhibit a strange concept where they all acknowledge the shared experience of being a New Yorker. By living in their city, the diverse mix of cultures form a greater entity, even if the entire city appears to be a giant, icy cesspool to us. Sure, New York is divided into 'burroughs,' which I'm assuming is a smug way of saying 'city,' but for the most part, New Yorkers are New Yorkers.

All the nicer, friendlier parts of the city, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Burbank, Malibu, and Agoura aren’t even part of Los Angeles, their respective governments intelligently succeeding from Los Angeles long ago. Even parts of L.A. that are actually part of the city maintain a delusional facade of independence. This is especially true in the San Fernando Valley, where every amorphous blob of strip malls considers itself a different “city.” Even these fake cities can’t seem to maintain any sort of singularity. “Is this North Hollywood? Heck no! This is Valley Village. See the sign? That’s North Hollywood, that strip mall over there. We succeeded four years ago!”

So the people of Los Angeles aren’t exactly the most unified bunch, but there are a couple of things we all can get behind. Not just the Dodgers or the Lakers, that’s sort of a given. We don’t appreciate when our home is referred to as “La La Land.” Usually, we say “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Poriuncula” or if you must abbreviate it, it’s L.A. We don’t appreciate it when the rest of the world assumes we hate walking, only drive SUV’s and that we all detest public transportation. It’s not that we have an innate distaste for trains, buses and subways, it’s just that we detest our  trains, buses and subways.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our Spot

As the Russians and US spent buckets of money developing ways to blow each other back to the Paleolithic age, they came up with some trick technology, including satellite imagery. Google slapped it on the Internet and the same technology used to keep an eye on Fidel and his cronies can now be used check out all the cool stuff in your neighbor’s backyard. It also gives anyone the ability to find good surfing spots, without the need to bribe the locals.

If you live in California, there is now no such thing as a secret spot. There are thirty-six billion people living in California, and half of them own surfboards, making it a fact of life that popular spots tend to be really crowded.

The solution it seems, is to go where nobody else wants to go. In our case, it’s a place located between an industrial park, some sort of spooky power plant and a swamp, where you have to leave your car and amble barefoot across a mile of glass-strewn asphalt. Not to mention the bicep-burning current, the ever present fishing lines (it’s a popular fishing spot), or the odd chance of finding your car looted (it’s a popular looting spot as well).

The upside is that on the rare occasion, there can be some absolutely brilliant waves and no lineup to contend with. No drop ins, collisions or foam board obstacle courses to weave through. Just endless rides with just your friends around, even if it does mean a little more work to get there and enduring the occasional smells drifting from the swamp. So when the scene gets crowded, we go where nobody else wants to go.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


With evening closing it and a horrible onshore wind started picking up, I sat out in the water shivering up a storm from the cold and cursing everything; the foggy weather, my leaking surf booties, the awful, crumbling waves that refused to break, the polluted water and all of the heathens in L.A. who polluted it. I wondering why I was even out here in the first place.  

Out of nowhere, a lone surfer paddles out looking perfectly comfortable in a pair of board shorts. What kind of a freak show was this? I wondered what sort of dark sorcery allowed him to tolerate such temperatures.

We talked a little and he informed me that he was on vacation and had come from Chicago. I had heard of Chicago before; a place filled with abandoned car factories and gangland mobsters somewhere in the middle of the country. They also have some sort of large lake which they enthusiastically refer to as “The Great Lake.” Funny people, those mid-westerners.
I told him this, and he confirmed these rumors. Not only do they have one lake there, but they have several, which they collectively refer to as “The Great Lakes.” Since these lakes are so large, they are actually surf-able. I informed him that Californians do the same thing on our lakes, except we call it “wake boarding.” He assured me he wasn’t referring to wake boarding and that the waves were big enough that you could surf. I nodded, but secretly dismissed the idea. I’ve heard of people surfing outside of California, which may be possible of course, but to surf on a lake? I began to doubt the rest of his claims.

However, in the interests of personal safety and the likelyhood of ending up in the trunk of a Towncar, I did not offend my new-found companion by arguing with him. He might have been one of those Chicago gangsters for all I knew. He paddled away, noting that this was the warmest weather he had encountered while surfing.

Poor guy, must have been crazy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Professional Surfing is Meaningless

I am very talented at many things. I can not only write my name in the snow, but I can change the font as well. Comic sans is my favorite. Like I said, I am very talented, just not at surfing.

Which is why I like it so much, I think. When I go surfing with my buddies, nobody keeps score, and it doesn’t really matter how good anyone is. In some sports the element of competition is integral, like football or soccer, but surfing isn’t one of those activities. I have tremendous respect for the abilities of professional surfers, but I don’t make a habit of following it.

In the Joseph Heller novel Catch 22 the novel’s protagonist Yossarian states, “Like Olympics medals and tennis trophies, all they signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else.”

With a bicycle race, there is a clear winner, and a clear loser. First one across the line takes the checkered flag. Grow the biggest turnip, win the blue ribbon. When you inject competitive aspects into an activity based on aesthetics, you end up with an arbitrary verdict based on somebody's opinion.  In competitive ballet dancing, beauty contests, car show competitions or the United States Knitting Cup, it all depends on the biased views of the judges.

In the long run, it isn’t really fun to play golf without keeping track of score. You can screw around for a bit, taking shots
at the ball cart as it scoots around on driving range, but eventually you’ll want to get serious. Surfing is different. I could go the rest of my life without somebody scoring me on my technique. Which is good, because I’m rather awful.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why Rick’s Saturn is the Greatest Surf Car Ever

While most people are drawn to flashy, high-performance cars, as a surfer, Rick is drawn by the more practical, spacious offerings. The usual demands of comfort, speed and safety are preempted by the ability to transport longboards, sandy wetsuits, and piles of fast-food refuse. No other car performs this task better than Rick’s Saturn. Nobody can differentiate between Saturn models. It’s just ‘a Saturn.’ They all look similar. Like cult members waiting for the mothership to arrive.

Any car can be used as a surf car.  You can build a functional board hauler out ratcheting straps and foam, but the straps will emit a constant hum once you reach freeway speeds. After three or four hours you stop noticing it and go insane, secretly plotting ways to free captive orangutans trapped in zoos.

Perhaps you could argue that a classic van would be a better choice. The choice of free-loving hippies and folk musicians, cab-forward Dodges and Volkswagen vans have endless space for boards and passengers. However, they’re almost impossible find since most of them have evaporated into rust. Even if you do obtain one, it will kill you in a crash or sport a mural conceived during a psychedelic-drug-fueled bender.
A truck seems like the ideal solution. Plenty of places to cram moist, balled-up wetsuits and no need for a poorly-engineered strap rack to carry surfboards. Ideal, until you discover that inner-city hoodlums nick your surfboards every time you leave them unattended in the bed. You can buy them back when they trade hands a couple times and emerge on Craigslist a week later, but that will get expensive.

Surf cars are required to be simple. If an electric window gets stuck when its rolled down, it’ll probably stay that way. Mercifully, Rick’s Saturn has roll-down windows, steel wheels, and cloth seats. No anti-lock brakes or traction control to intervene while you exercise your precision driving skills on Kanan Dune Road.

And since its constructed almost completely from recycled plastic spoons, it will never rust. It will take more than eight hundred-thousand years to decompose, meaning Rick will be driving it for years to come. Maybe the stereo only tunes to Latin hip-hop stations, but it will run as long as you remember to pour oil in it.

The ‘98 Saturn. Perhaps the greatest surf car ever?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Egg Board

The egg, an in-between-er board with a rounded profile, usually sized around seven to eight feet. Loaded with one, two, three, four or however many fins you desire. The station wagon of surfboards, ride-able anywhere but not really excelling in one particular use.

I picked mine up off a high school friend in good condition, just ding or two, thinking I would use it to learn on and trade it for something else. Beginners think they are easy to ride. They’re not. They don’t catch waves easily or pick up speed like a longboard and can’t perform cut backs as easily as a shortboard, so the hardcore types don’t like them either. Too much volume to duck dive like a shortboard and too short to turtle roll like a longboard, the best thing to do is to paddle like un cabron and pray you make it though the whitewater.

So what’s the point? A couple years later I have tried lots of different shapes, but still mostly use the egg. Perfect for ripping up beach breaks, mushy, summer waves and anything else you’re likely to find after work when the wind rolls in. Guaranteed to work ninety-percent of the time or your money back. Made for weirdos who don’t care if its good or bad out, just that they caught some waves and had fun.

Fun. Fun-board. Maybe that will catch on.