The waves have been small in the dog days. Fires burn the state and cast a faint filter on coastal light bringing fall into focus a shade early. Our street is strewn with red and yellow leaves. I’m betting on an early winter but I have been wrong the past three years.
It’s been at least two weeks since I stepped foot in the surf. The waves have been large and unruly but it rained which is good. My ten week workshop with the San Francisco Writers Studio has been fulfilling. This class ends Tuesday. I signed up for the next one which starts in two weeks. Between now and then I plan to publish some of the work I’ve done in the class.
Yesterday I got wet and it solidified the notion that SUP days are better than others. Even though I lost my footing more than once, I caught waves and paddled the length of the beach. After an hour session I left the water with a clear head and sore muscles.
So why the title African SUP? Watch the one minute video: It’s the music.
Remember New Brighton? We’ve had so much fun there, but that was in summer with warm water and small surf.
Yesterday the surf was unruly up and down my coast, but there were hints that it might settle down in the afternoon. It was a play day and my gills were dry so I gathered my gear and hit the road. Every beach had monster waves, but I was not going to any beach, I was going to the one that might be small enough for me.
Santa Cruz was on fire with wild waves from the west side to Capitola. When I arrived at New Brighton the tide was low, and there were no fewer than 40 surfers riding smallish fast waves, with not A SUP in sight.
(SUP is an abbreviation for Stand Up Paddleboard.)
So I waited until the tide started to rise, and watched the surfers leave one by one until it was my size, and uncrowded. I caught a couple of waves and had plenty of paddling. Good thing too, since the storm is back today with heavy wind, strong surf, and sideways rain.
My mom was afraid of the pier. It was tall and could carry us way past the breakers where fishermen tossed their lines far into the sea. From below, surfers yelled at each other and rode crashing waves toward the pilings all crusted with barnacles, star fish and bits of fiberglass from the mistimed maneuver. When the waves hit the piles the pier shook like the ocean had some hold on it. But the pier was sturdy and wide with lean white buildings sporting shiny glass windows where life guards kept watch over their flocks. The bait shop had red licorice on racks and anchovies in tanks. They flashed streaks of silver when we bumped the tub with our hips. The bait man’s tiny furry eyes did not want us messing with his fish.
Past the bait shop my mom would not venture. It was over water and there were hooks on the pavement, old men smoking, and kids casting for the first time. It was deliciously dangerous. But it was years before we could go it alone.
The afternoon beach was tuna sandwiches with sweet pickle, wrapped in crunchy waxed paper, cool crisp grapes and soft juicy plums, plus a bag or two of Fritos. The air was thick with salt spray and Coppertone.
Our cabin, the Mackerel, was tropical paradise on the outside. A patio with hand-made wooden chairs, was shaded by dry palm branches. Inside it was creaky plywood floors, painted some kind of brown, peeling from weather, and always coated with sand. Mother moaned of bugs crawling along the Formica counter, pale blue like her eyes. Hot skillet stains could not be cleaned, but it only bothered her. I saw none of this; only a room with the sound of the ocean, right across the street. Every day held the promise of another day at the beach.
We have surf right in front of our world famous Taco Bell. It might be the only Taco Bell on the planet built on the beach. It has stunning views, and at high tide, during a large swell, the surf might flow under the building. But let’s discuss soft top boards, not soft shell tacos.
I saw this guy heading out to surf with a soft top board, like those pictured above, but his was white with blue stripes. Soft tops are the board of choice for most surf schools, since they soften the inevitable fall. I assumed, therefore, that the guy was a beginner.
There were close ups of gulls posing beside the terminus of San Pedro Valley Creek and surf scoters gliding effortlessly over the low tide swell. The guy on the white and blue board, who was hardly a beginner, gave me a handfull of fun waves.
The day before I got married in 1986, my brother who was also my best man, went surfing with me. It was a glorious day at Waddel Creek, a few miles north of Santa Cruz, CA. The sky was blue, the wind gently offshore. The waves were moderate and well formed. We caught lots.
It didn’t occur to me, when I took a toilet break and had the runs, that I shouldn’t have been in the water to start, and it was clearly time to get out. But there was surf and my favorite surf partner was with me, if only for one short outing. So I continued, as my throat felt more ragged, as my lungs started to warm toward a burn.
This past week, some 29 years later, I was fighting a cold. It’s been nagging since I returned home from our three week east coast swing back in October. The waves here have been huge. Way too big for me, but on Tuesday it settled down. I hit the surf, caught a couple of little waves and felt unusually fatigued. But there were still waves so I stayed out. The tide was receding, the offshore wind increasing, and when I finally decided to quit, it was difficult to paddle in. I managed to find the shore and stumbled to my car.
Today my cold is much worse. My body is begging for rest. But I have one more thing to do before I can take a break.
It was a long day and the surf was outstanding, but I wasn’t near the surf until sunset. I still had chores to complete and no time to get my “real” camera so I walked in close to the shore and shot some SUP footage using my iPhone 6S+. The only paddleboarder in the water caught a couple of waves while I watched. Add a little music, a little creative editing license and voila. A short video. A very short video.