Sunday, February 20, 2005

10 Things I Hate About HB

The rain is back.

Rain sucks.

Guess that means it's time to flip the coin and see what's on the other side of HB. So without further ado about nothing, here are 10 things I hate about Huntington Beach...

10. Cheesy bars. Don't get me wrong, I love a great bar. Every beach town should have one good Irish pub, one seedy dive with cheap, stiff drinks and dirty pool tables, and at least one cool surf-themed bar with non-stop surf videos and tank-topped chicks with bolt-ons pulling 24 oz. drafts. But HB is simply crammed with shitty, cheesy, smelly, bars - each one more packed with underage kooks, jail bait, and dirtbag bouncers than the next.

9. Paintball. The people who run "Surf City" are confused. On one hand, they're trying to upmarket a once run-down, blue collar beach town with nice hotels, boutiques, and family friendly events like the Woody Wagon car shows, the Kite takeover at 6th St., and the farmer's markets. But they're also willing to sellout the beach to anyone and any event with a checkbook. The annual paintball war at the pier is simply the worst thing on the beach I've ever seen. Hordes of rednecks from Riverside, driving out every local in the vicinity for 3 days straight, and then leaving the beach COVERED with HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of paintballs for weeks and weeks. Hideous. The council members who approved this should be tied up and shot with all the leftovers.

8. Food...Or Lack Of. We've got some of the worst restaurants in Orange County...and that's saying a LOT. Duke's is fun and tasty, and so is Chimayo, but both still reek of franchise. The Red Pearl Kitchen would be a 3rd tier nosh in LA or SF, but here it's our "hip", "stylish", top-ranked spot for overrated Asian fusion. Here's an idea...let's close half the bars on Main, and lure some good chefs away from LA and Laguna with discounted, prime locations.

7. That Damn Tree. I'm not sure what they're called. They might be Cork Oaks. They might be Flaxleaf Paperbarks. All I know is that there's one in front of my house and it's ugly as hell and rains down tiny, needle-sharp leaves all year long. I lost track of how many I pulled out of my son's feet last summer. I'm not the biggest fan of palm trees, but I'll take one any day over these filthy, scraggly, ouchy, glorified scrub brushes.

6. The Apartments. HB is a strange town in that there's virtually no beachfront property - every home is on the other side of PCH. Every home, that is, except for one old development of condominiums, right on the sand, lovingly referred to as, "The Apartments." Overpriced, run-down, rust-streaked white condos accented by dirty blue trim (and matching stained awnings), and completely encircled by disintegrating wrought iron bars (curved and spiked like a medieval prison), The Apartments actually make Main St. look semi-charming.

5. Helicopters. What the hell is it about HB and helicopters? 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it's like a scene from Blue-fucking-Thunder. If it's not some jackass flyboy cop buzzing the pier every hour, it's his buddy with the spotlight hovering over every house downtown, looking for a party to bust. I don't even want to know how much of our tax dollars goes to maintaining and operating these overpriced toys.

4. Contests. Hey, I love a good surf contest now and then. Almost 20 years ago I stood at the water's edge at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and watched Mike Cruikshank charge 12 foot spitting barrels at the 1986 PSAA Vuarnet Pro-Am. It was a watershed moment in my surfing life. And I dig the US Open - an iconic event with an amazing history. But do we really need to have a contest...or two...or three...every damn weekend??? From Magnolia to Bolsa Chica, and everywhere in between, this place is like a Little League surf arena complex. Could they at least sell dogs and beer?

3. Onshore Wind. I never realized how good we had it down in San Diego or up in Santa Cruz. While we do get the occasional evening glassoff in HB, it's afternoon, onshore slop 80% of the time. And for us non-morning people, that's just straight-up cruel.

2. Sidewalks...Or Lack Of. I love old neighborhoods without sidewalks. Carmel By The Sea and Del Mar are just two of my favorites...a throwback to the days of rural beach life. But Downtown HB ain't exactly a sleepy little town, and pushing your kid's stroller or walking your dog on the side of the street while some 16 year-old retard in a raised Toyota Tacoma goes racing past you at 50 MPH, is enough to make you go gray. Indianapolis St....aptly named...might be the worst offender.

1. Skinheads. I don't know when or how it happened, but at some point, long ago, HB became a haven for skinheads, racists, and white supremacists. Back in the 80's it became enough of a problem that the Huntington Beach Police Department created an Anti-Skinhead Task Force. In the past few years, especially as the housing prices have gone through the roof and things have gone "upmarket", the Skinheads have become less and less prominent. But they ain't gone. Just last week I took my son to Lake Park over off Main St...a weekday congregation point for toddlers and stay-at-home-moms. There, my son played with another 2 year-old boy, whose father sat nearby. I'd seen him before - skinny guy with a buzz (so what? I've got a buzz, too). But this time he had on a wife-beater tee and, in addition to a tapestry of typical tattoos covering his arms and shoulders, was displaying a lovely softball sized Swastika on his arm. And as if that wasn't bad enough, my son, who's very fair and very blonde, ran past him. The guy's girlfriend, who was sitting next to him, remarked, "Boy, they don't get any blonder than that." He replied, "That's pure Norwegian gold, baby."

Huh? How about pure Polish Jew?

Fucking scumbag.

Well, there you have it. I live here and, believe it or not, I love it here. My last few posts are a testament to that. But, like I said, it's raining, and rain means no surf in HB. And no surf, well...you know what that means.

The Colonel says, "Here comes the sun."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

10 Things I Love About HB

Okay, so this blog is tasting decidedly less salty these days.

Don't worry, there will be a 10 Things I Hate About HB posted, er... post haste. Promise. And it won't be hard. Believe me.

Right now though I'm still coming down from a 4 hour session in perfect peaks this afternoon, preceded by an unbelievable evening glassoff session the day before, with the most explosive sunset I'd seen in a few weeks.

Plus, my wife and I just had a baby girl, which has me a little loopy right now. Kids'll do that to you.

So without further skidda-ma-do...

10 Things I Love About HB

10. Old beach bungalows. They're tearing them down as fast as they can score permits for skinny, tall, stucco, monster homes, but downtown HB still has tons of cool old houses built in the teens, 20's and 30's. Some of my favorites are on Huntington St. and Franklin, both part of my daily ride to the beach. The only thing better than some of the houses, are the amazing gardens and yards they accompany. A big up to the bungalow.

9. Ruby's on the pier. Where else can midday onshore wind make you practically cramp up with hunger pains, as bacon, fries, and patty melts come wafting through the lineup. They need a Surf-Thru window. Sorry, we reserve the right to refuse service to all spongers and pimply surf shop employees.

8. The clock. Right above Jack's is our Big Ben...a big old tower clock with bells on the half-hour. Anyone who ever asks you what time it is out in the water is either deaf and blind, or from Fountain Valley and doesn't know where to look.

7. Inside reforms. I don't know of any other spot that has as consistent an inside section as HB. So what if it spawned the Huntington Hop? Doing a few nice turns on the outside and then connecting into a slot on the inside and stepping off onto the sand positively kicks ass. Leashes? Who needs 'em?

6. Mann's Pierside. Surf movies on the big screen, all year long. 'Nuff said.

5. The Surfing Walk of Fame. Julia Roberts can eat her kids for all I care. My heroes are all embedded in the sidewalk on Main St. Curren, Lopez, Occhilupo...they're all here, every day, and we're adding more all the time.

4. Duke's. My SF friends are rolling their eyes. Yeah, it's a chain...the same company that owns Kimo's and a dozen other surf-themed restaurants. And yeah, the wine list sucks and they serve drinks in plastic cups during the US Open. But you know what? It's a great concept restaurant and it's the best location in the entire city (Chimayo's, underneath, is down too low and you can't see anything but the sand). And the food's pretty damn good.

3. Nine miles of beachbreak. It closes out on big south swells. It misses north swells. It gets mushy. The water gets dark and ugly and it blows out in the afternoon. But on days like today, we're talking NINE FUCKING MILES OF PERFECT PEAKS. Pick a parking spot...any spot will do...and split a peak with a few buddies. Repeat over and over until your arms fall off.

2. Main St. lights. There's just something so cool about sitting on your board out in the water, after the sun has set, and turning to see Main St. all lit up. It's the opposite of country surfing. You're where it's AT.

1. Sunsets. While Main St. lights up behind you, mother nature has a tendency to light up in front of you. HB may be a concrete jungle, but watching the sun slip behind Catalina is as soulful as any experience in surfing.

Okay, that's it. Enough of this love-in.

I jammed my knee at the park this morning, hanging from the monkey bars while watching my son climb UP the slide. He doesn't have a scratch on him, but my knee is swelling up like Danny Nichols' ego after another photoshoot at Bolsa Chica.

My foot got torn up out in the water today, and my nose is burned.

My brand new car has a flat tire. Neither my wife nor I have even looked at the growing stack of bills in 3 weeks. I'll be changing newborn diapers at 3 in the morning. And my son floated a biscuit in the bathtub this evening which I had to fish out with toilet paper while he laughed and threw Scuba Ernie at me.

Nope.

Still happy.

The Colonel says, "At ease."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Positive Vibrations...Positively

Amazing day.

Mid-70's, offshore wind all day long, dry as a bone, and still a little swell leftover.

Okay, it could have been bigger and a lot more consistent, but I'm not complaining. It was like summer, only better, because the wind blows onshore all summer long.

My regrets from yesterday spilled over into today, so I sacked up and paddled out southside. Lo and behold I had it almost all to myself. Most of the Lennys kept to the northside, and my only company to the south were a couple of local, mid-20's delinquents, sharing stories of, I think, either DUI or anger management classes...it was hard to tell. There were also a couple of teenagers yelling and going out of their way to be as obnoxious as possible, but they left after a half hour or so.

A couple of longboarders joined us for the last 45 minutes, but for a solid hour it was just me and the southside lefts.

Anyhow, I'm kind of putting off talking about what I actually wanted to mention today. Being a smarmy obeservationalist is kind of my MO, so diverting tends to require some warmup laps.

A family friend...a kid named Wylie, who's only 13...is going through treatment for brain cancer. I don't want to go into all the details, but suffice it to say that he's going through hell and so are his parents. Cancer, as most of you well know, is one of those diseases that is usually accompanied by treatment that seems almost worse than the illness itself.

So my cousin emailed me the other day and asked everyone to pray for Wylie, who's coming off a hellish week of infections and sickness brought on by a weakened immune system (if the cancer doesn't kill you, the chemo will). He also mentioned in the email that he knew some of us weren't religious, but that he was a great believer in energy...positive energy...and if we could flow some of that Wylie's way, his family would appreciate it.

Well, I'm not much for religion. Not at all, to be honest. But I am a big believer in energy...both positive and negative. Maybe I was a little too obsessed with Star Wars as a young grom, but the idea of an energy force flowing through all of us, through everything, makes a lot of sense to me. Be it mystical or scientific, I think that's one of the things that drew most of us to surfing in the first place. Off all the "natural" sports and activities, surfing is by far the most interactive...we're literally riding waves of natural energy. It's fairly mend-bending when you really stop and think about what we're doing.

Years ago my grandfather died and that night I paddled out at the River Jetties in Newport for an evening sunset session. I loved the idea that my grandfather's life force, or whatever you want to call it, had been returned to the giant pool of raw energy coursing around and over and under and through the planet (hell, the universe). And what greater bastion of raw energy is there than the ocean?

For an hour, while the sun set, I surfed beautiful, glassy waves - raw energy, of which my grandfather was now a part of.

If this sounds hokey to you, I wouldn't blame you. A while back I wrote a rather surly attack on Danny Nichols, so you might want to go back and re-read that...it's still pretty funny and there's not of shred of earnest philosophizing anywhere near it.

But for those of you that surf...and for those of you who have lost people you love...I know you get where I'm coming from, whether you're a participant in an organized religion or not.

So today, which really was a beautiful day, with some of the most amazing looking conditions you'll ever see anywhere, I passed along some positive energy to Wylie. When the sets rolled through, and the Santa Ana's blew their tops off into the sky, and the sun lit them up from behind like lime green Jolly Ranchers, well, I wish he could have seen them. I think they would have blown his mind.

I hope he gets better. I understand that it's going to be a rough road no matter what. I have my own children now so I'm not really capable of thinking about it too deeply.

Either way, right here, in this concrete jungle, right next to the most crowded pier in California, we surfers tapped into the ocean, just like we do every day. Only this time, we sent some good vibrations all the way to a Chicago suburb for a kid who's never surfed, who doesn't know us, but who's now an honorary HB waverider.

Wylie, when you get better...the chrome chopper bike and tattoo are on me.

The Colonel says, "Hang in there, bro."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Quality or Quantity

When you live in an ultra crowded beach town, the dilemma of quality vs. quantity can become quite real.

Me? I've always opted for the latter...and been fairly comfortable with my choice. 95% of the time, the pier in HB is by far the best spot in town. It ranges from "slightly better shape than the sandbars at Magnolia" to "everywhere else sucks shit and the pier is all-time firing".

On the flipside, the pier is also one of the most competitive spots you'll ever surf...and I've surfed a lot of spots. The most common, and popular, wave at the pier is an a-frame peak on the northside, but it doesn't really matter. The same crew of guys will be on it, as well as its twin brother on the southside when it's happening.

The crew can roughly be broken into two groups - the Lennys and the kids.

The Lennys are the older guys - 30's and up - who pretty much dominate the place between 10 and 2. I'm not sure what most of them do for a living (seems like mostly construction) but whatever it is, it keeps them in the water pretty much whenever the waves are good. They remind me a lot of the South Mission Beach crew down in SD - not a ton of natural talent, but lots of water time, lots of aggression, and a whole lot of yip-yap.

I call them the Lennys because the main guy, who is ALWAYS out, is named Lenny. Lenny is sort of the archetypal...well, Lenny. Mid-late 30's, great shape, chiseled, long hair (circa early 90's) pulled back in a pony tail. Loves to talk. Has a kind of goofy wide-legged, arm-flapping style, but knows where to be and when, and can bash a mean lip once in a while. He's also the guy who knows EVERYONE out in the water.

The Kids on the other hand are the legit HB kids. I'm not sure how many of the Lennys are legit locals. I think a lot of them live elsewhere but have simply chosen HB as their daily spot du jour. Some are probably trannies. The Kids, on the other hand, all live in the area, and all rip. Some are NSSA, some are on the HB High School surf team, some live in Seal Beach, and some are just kids who live up the street with their single moms.

The Kids dominate the early mornings and late afternoons and tend to congregate on the inside where the reform bowls are, but you'll find them all over. They don't talk nearly as much as the Lennys (especially when the Lennys are out), but The Kids are the guys who are really killing it out there. Airs, tail slides, the whole deal.

On a crappy evening glassoff, when it's mostly just them out the water, they're typical high school kids. Tons of shit talking, tons of hassling each other (the random kooks, spongers, and transplants like myself are just kind of ignored...invisible, like we're not there).

The bottom line is that you have two distinct and two insanely competitive groups of surfers who hug the pier pretty much each and every day. They're so competitive that the HB Pier is the only spot I've ever surfed where every wave is claimed long before you even have a chance to paddle for it.

"I'll go left."

"I'm going right."

Huh? What happened? The second a wave...or even an in-betweener...rears it's head, BAM!, it's claimed. Some 17 year-old Kid is going right and some 34 year-old Lenny is going left, and you're just going to sit there and wonder how long it'd take to paddle up to The Cliffs.

So, a mighty long digression, but you see my dilemma. Perfect a-frames and inside bowls with Lenny & The Kids, or walled up, backing-off closeouts at 6th St. with just you, a skinhead kneeboarder and two Asian boogieboarders.

In the past I've usually chosen 6th St. Unless the pier was just unbelievable and everywhere else was just pure crap and the pier happened to be between shifts, with Lennys and Kids punching their cards on Main St., I've always opted for crummier waves, but more of them. Kind of like that joke about the two old Jewish women (stolen from Woody Allen):

"The restaurant was terrible...the food was just awful."

"I know, and such small portions."

But I think it's more than just quantity. In a very real sense (for me anyway) it's about quality too. It's about the quality of my water time and how I spend it.

My whole life is full of stress. Kid, pregnant wife, demanding advertising career with heaps of travel, house under constant construction, in-laws, bills, cell phone ringing off the fucking hook...hell, anyone reading this probably knows exactly what I'm talking about.

The point is, an hour or two in the water is supposed to be my fun time...my time to RELAX. And maybe crawling over 30 other guys and screaming out which direction you're going is fun for some surfers, but for me, like I said, I've got enough people to yell at - and to yell at me - on the land.

So yeah, I pull into a lot of closeouts. I sit around waiting a lot because the lulls are always longer where I surf. I get dropped into by a lot of kneeboarders. I dodge a lot of ditched longboards fresh from the rental rack at Java Jungle. But it's also quiet. No one is yelling, "Right...I said, RIGHT!!!" And no one is yelling, "Duuuuude, Lenny, that fucking bitch never called me back" in that weird, squeaky surfer/skater voice.

So there it is. My choice. Me decision to sacrifice wave quality for a different type of quality...a quality of solitude and the ability to pick almost any wave when they finally roll through.

But before any smugness sets in, I will admit this:

Today was offshore and head high. The Apartments looked fun, but the pier looked epic. The pier also looked really really crowded. So as per usual, I chose The Apartments at 6th St.

I dropped into a lot of closeouts, paddled for a lot of waves I couldn't catch, and then, right when I was ready to head in, I looked south just in time to see one of the pier rats drop into a reeling left, pull in, and get absolutely SLOTTED for probably 3-4 seconds and come swooping out with his arms raised.

We're talking quality.

The Colonel says, "Hey man, stick with the bit."