Friday, October 21, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Big Sur - Part I

Disclaimer: The following story depicts grown men behaving rather boisterously. I've changed the names of the participants in case their wives, girlfriends, mothers, or bosses stumble upon this blog.

Surf trips are funny things.

Usually if a trip is jam packed with great waves and long, perfect sessions, you'll hear it referred to as "epic".

If a trip has lots of surfing, but nothing quite resembling all-time conditions, they'll call it an "interesting" trip.

If the waves never even showed up to play, and all the travelers did nothing but drink, heckle, and cause trouble, they'll call the trip, "fun".

Our trip to Big Sur last weekend falls in that funny, fish-shaped spot where all three circles overlap.

It started out pretty weak, bordering on a bum trip (which, by the way, in 20 years of surf trips, I can't recall a single one which I would have labeled with the infamous "bum trip" tag).

This was Friday the 14th, and a major NW swell was scheduled to start rolling down the coast all day long. But from HB through Rincon, it was dead flat. Only when we got to Morrow Bay at around 9 AM (we left my house at 5 AM), did the bumps start marching in. Unfortunately, massive high tides were bogging everything down, resulting in big, mushy closeouts and surging shorebreak.

So, no paddling out on the way up. Strike one.

We got to Pacific Valley around noon - it was a slow crawl, with lots of food, gas, and piss breaks (part of it was that we were in two cars and couldn't seem to combine any of our needs into a single stop, and the other part is that my good friend, Howie, has a bladder the size of a pregnant woman).

BTW, in case anyone is confused, Big Sur is actually a rather small area. The stretch of coastline commonly referred to as "Big Sur" is actually 90 miles of towns, unincorporated areas, and state beaches stretching between Carmel to the north and San Simeon to the south. Big Sur proper is simply the closest to Carmel and the most popular. Pacific Valley, 60 miles south of Carmel, is our favorite area. It's home to Sand Dollar Beach, Willow Creek - two fun, consistent, and very different surf spots - as well as Kirk Creek and Plaskett Creek, a pair of excellent campgrounds. It's also far enough south that it only gets a fraction of Big Sur's daytime visitors.

Anyhow, by the time we roll into the parking lot at Sand Dollar Beach, we're socked in fog. Standing at the top of cliff, shivering in our shorts, t-shirts, and Rainbows, we can hear thunderous activity out in the water (it's the kind of swell you can FEEL), but basically we can't see 20 feet in front of us. So we backtrack to Willow Creek, which breaks right in front of the parking lot, and it's completely out of control - closing out, massive cleanup sets, and more whitewater than the Snake River. And with a 5 foot plus high tide, it had that scary X factor commonly described by surfers as, "Dude, there's a lot of water moving around out there."

Strike two. Time to pitch a tent.

We roll into the Kirk Creek Campground. Now we've got another problem. We're expecting 10-12 guys from all over California (SF, SD, Ventura, OC...the full Golden State gamut). But thanks to no reservation policies, the instructions were basically, "Go to Kirk Creek and look for the Colonel's car." The problem is that we're arriving a lot later than expected and there are only two sites left...and they're right next to the campground host (i.e. "Mom and Dad"). So not only isn't there enough room for 6+ cars and 12 guys, but we tend to get a bit rowdy in the evenings and rousting next to the camp hosts isn't exactly going to be a copacetic situtation no matter how much room there is.

So what do we do? We decide to pitch our tents over at Plaskett Creek which has bigger campsites, more campsites, and campground hosts who reside nowhere near ANY of the sites. Plus, it looked empty as we passed by earlier.

Unfortunately, everyone is supposed to go to Kirk Creek and we've got no mobile phone service. None. So we have no way of telling anyone of our change in plans.

Convinced that Kirk Creek is the wrong choice regardless of our incommuincado state, we scrawl a message on a piece of cardboard, stick it on the message board near the entrance (camoflaged nicely amongst 30 million other messages and big glossy pictures of otters and rattlesnakes), and drive BACK to Plaskett Creek, which by now is also almost full.

Beyond frustrated, we pick the last two remaining spots, which aren't even next to each other, and decide to stick with our decision. Just for safe measure, Howie and I also drive the 5 miles down to the miniscule town of Gorda to use the payphone in case anyone is still within cell range. Of course, the phone is an antiquated hunk of shit, and after Howie makes his 10 minute call to his wife and kids ("Timmy, give the phone back to Mommy...Timmy, give the phone back to Mommy...Timmy? I said, give the phone back to Mommy. Timmy? Hello? Hello?"), it only works long enough to get through to one voicemail. We leave instructions to call the rest of the crew, convinced he won't even pick the message up until he's already on the road back home.

So, time to kick back and crack a Tecate, right?

Nope, before we can even throw down so much as a tarp, I have a typically pessamistic thought:

"Hey guys, what do you think the odds are of the boys showing up at Kirk Creek, thinking they're the first ones to arrive, setting up their gear, then going to the front entrance to pay, seeing our sign, and then driving down here to convince us to pack OUR shit up and go back to Kirk Creek?"

(Creating scenarios like this in my head, it's a gift, really.)

"Um, I don't know."

"Well," I continue. "I'll just bet that's what's going to happen. So I don't think we should set our shit up. AND I think we need to drive back over there every hour or so and see if those guys show up and happen to miss our sign."

So now we can't surf and we can't even set our stuff up and settle in for a nice quiet afternoon of drinking beers and playing backgammon.


Frustrated, confused as to what to do, and bored out of our minds, we decide to grab a few beers out of the cooler and take Bigfoot's dog to the beach. Who knows, maybe we'll get a closer look at the waves and see something rideable.

The crappy day culminates when, halfway to the beach and in the middle of a big field, Bigfoot throws his scrappy little dog a frisbee, which sails over a barbed wire fence. The dog, very young and very excited, decides to try and jump through it.

It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. We're all screaming, "No, Spur! NOOOOOO...!!!" And for a split second, as the dog was sailing through the air, halfway through the fence, I actually thought he was going to make it.

He didn't.

He actually stopped on a mid-air...caught by the barbed wire.

Spur yelped and twisted and we screamed and ran, but not before he ripped himself free and limped off into the bushes.

I can honestly say it was one of the worst things I've ever seen. I just stopped, mouth open, frozen, afraid to see the ripped flaps of flesh gushing blood from the sides of this poor puppy.

But believe it or not, that exact moment was when this bum trip began to turn itself around.

Bigfoot had slipped through the fence, fished Spur out of the bushes (the dog, as freaked out as he was, had actually continued his quest for the frisbee), and was running his hands and eyes over every square inch of the dog's body.

"I don't believe it," he yelled to us. "There's not a scratch on him. Not a scratch!"

We ran over to see for ourselves. Spur was on his back, rubbing his back in the dirt. We poked and prodded him, grabbing his legs and rubbing his tummy. Sure enough, he was right - not a scratch

Apparently this dog was made out of kevlar.

Relieved beyond belief (in the few moments between the mis-timed jump and the all body inspection, I'd had visions of either spending the weekend sitting in some vet emergency room in Monterey or watching this shredded dog limp his way around the campfire for two days, dabbing his dirt-packed wounds with paper towels and tequila), we spent the next few hours actually enjoying ourselves on the beach.

Still fogged in, we even talked to a guy who had just gotten out of the water.

"Yeah, I just paddled out to see what was out there. I got about a hundred yards out, did about 50 duckdives, and the whitewater just kept getting bigger. I never even saw the waves breaking on the outside. I finally got a splitting ice cream headache and just turned around."

Happy we hadn't made the same mistake, we just hung out, throwing the frisbee for the invincible dog, climbing on the rocks, drinking our beers, hucking cabbage-sized kelp bulbs at each other, and enjoying a nice foggy, freezing day at the beach in Central Cal.

After getting back to the camp, we decided to unpack. With rain expected that weekend and giant blown-out storm surf everywhere we looked, we figured the chances of anyone showing up - at Plaskett or Kirk Creek - were slim to none anyway. We might as well get a fire going, get into the booze, and enjoy some winter style camping.

By 4:30 we had a kick-ass fire, were properly geared out in jackets and beanies, had the Sprout soundtrack playing, and were getting into the warm Guinness and Bushmills we'd had the foresight to bring (Tecate and Hornitos just didn't seem right for the ocassion). And by 5:30 we were grilling up bratwurst and a marinated pork loin, which is gross name, but tastes epic.

Then, as the winds of fortune continued to shift in our direction, the rest of the crew began to arrive.

First Breauxman, Lynch and Sector 9 showed up from SD along with two more dogs - a big fucking rotweiller and a chubby black lab.

Then Clubfoot and Crosby showed up (from the East and South Bay, respectively) with yet another dog - a skinny golden retriever - followed by Metro and the Croc from SF.

By midnight, we're in full swing. The fire is blazing and the boys are swilling, smoking, slurring, and filling the air with the stench of so much bullshit, you'd think we were downwind from the Harris Ranch.

Big Sur was ON.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No One Rides Twinnies in Hawaii

Kauai, HB, Big Sur, new boards, leashes...where do I even begin?

Let's start with the Aloha State.

This was the 2nd year in a row I've taken the family to Hawaii. We rent a little bungalow on the beach near Poipu right across the street from "Baby Beach". The idea originally was to keep it all about the kids - no surfing. But last year, as I was sitting in a tide pool with my 1 1/2 year old son, watching him huck rocks and splash himself in the face, I noticed waves breaking about 200 yards west of us off the tip of the Lawa'i Beach House restaurant.

GOOD WAVES. Reeling barrels and perfect offshore conditions.

After 5 or 6 days of this, I gave my wife yet another of those pathetic puppy dog looks, she rolled her eyes, and said, "Oh my GOD, stop giving me those looks and go rent a board already!"


Well, kind of...

As most anyone reading this can attest to, renting a board - whether you've done it or not - does not hold a lot of appeal, for a variety of reasons. Even if the waves are firing.

First, surfboards are very personal things. There's a reason most of us get them custom shaped. Every board suits a different sized person, a different type of wave, and a different style of waveriding. The chances of finding the right board at a rental shop are about 20 to 1.

Second, even if you do find the right board, it's probably beat to shit. Rental boards are like rented horses. They look like crap, they don't respond terribly well, and they get treated badly.

Third, good surfers - or at least serious surfers anyway - don't rent boards. They BRING their boards with them in big expensive carrying cases with big expensive shipping charges. While you have to be a pretty damn good golfer to cart your clubs around in those giant kevlar tuba cases, even average surfers bring their own equipment. Which means that the very act of walking into a surf shop and saying, "Hi, I'd like to rent a board" is akin to stamping "KOOK" on your forehead.

So walking into the Aloha Surf Shop in Old Koloa Town, desperate to get some of the action I'd seen up the beach from our bungalow, I swallowed my pride and told the 40 something lady at the counter that I'd like to rent a board. And then followed it up with some of the most rambling, pathetic attempts to save face you've ever seen. Ellen Degeneres herself would have shaken her head and thought, "Kook."

"Hi, I'd like to rent a board."

"Ok, do you want lessons too?"

"Um, no thanks, I've actually been surfing for close to 20 years. This was, uh, supposed to be a family wife and I, we've got a kid...he's 1 1/2...and uh, I wasn't going to bring boards. But then I saw how good the waves were and decided to come rent a board, which is, uh, kind of embarrassing."

"Where are you going to surf?"

"Um, not sure what it's called...we're staying at Baby know, with the baby and all...and I saw some waves breaking near there. Looks really fun."

"Oh, that's dangerous. Acid Drops and PKs. My daughter surfs there every day."

"How old is your daughter?"

"She's 11...she's so good. She rips."

"Nice. Well, yeah, I can't wait to get out there."

"It's pretty dangerous. Maybe we get you some go surf in Poipu? Mellow waves there. Good for learning."

"No, uh, like I said, I've been surfing since I was 13. We live in Huntington Beach."

"Where you surf in Huntington?"

"Uh, where? Um, kind of...well usually, kind of north of the you know Huntington?"

"My daughter, she surf at the pier. For contests, you know."

"Right, right...well, um, so I'd like to get that hybrid board out on the porch. That 7'0" right there. How much is that?"

"Oh, you want that board? How about this board instead? It's a shortboard."

"Um, yeah, it's kind of small and I might be too big for it, I think I'll go with that hybrid egg thing."


"Okay, if that's what you want. You sure you no want to look out back? We got some good boards out there. Pick any one you like."

"Um, okay, sure...I'll go take a look."


"Um, yeah, those are all soft-top boards."

"Yeah, good boards. Good for learning. My daughter learn to surf on those. She really good now."

"I'll just take that hybrid board."

"Ok, you be careful. Acid Drops and PKs only for good surfers. I don't want you to get hurt."

"Don't sweat it...I know what I'm doing. Promise."

An hour later I was sitting outside the lineup at PKs on my rented surfboard, and sure as shit did NOT know what I was doing.

The waves were even faster and juicier than I'd thought - overhead, high tide peaks jacking on the reef into reeling barrels. This so-I'd-thought hybrid was really just a badly designed "fun board" that had all the drawbacks of a longboard, a shortboard, and a pintail gun, with none of the benefits. Big fat nose, narrow was like someone had taken a 1960's era noserider, sawed off the nose and attached it to Gerry Lopez' 1976 Pipe gun. It didn't' paddle, it didn't catch waves, it didn't duck dive, and it sure as shit didn't turn.

After 45 minutes of flapping and clawing into any leftover that rolled my way, I finally locked into a slow-rolling mushburger that I hoped would reform on the inside. It didn't. And when I finally accepted defeat and started paddling back out, I ran smack into the set of the day, feathering and growling 20 feet in front of me.


This was like a bad Indo flashback. I didn't know whether to try and push through, turn turtle, or bail. Frozen with indecision, I tried some spastic hybrid of all 3 and just got fucking WHOMPED. Just drilled into the reef, feet first, with my right ankle taking the brunt of it on a rock custom designed by volcanic craftsmen to tear flesh and chip bone.

I came up gasping and holding my ankle, the rented "hybrid" finally revealing its true function: doing a remarkable job of tombstoning and anchoring me in the impact zone.

Two waves on the head and 10 minutes later I limped up onto the beach, inspected the so-deep-they're-white gashes on my feet and ankles, and walked back to our Baby Beach Bungalow, schooled, bleeding, and humiliated.

Okay, now that was last year. This year there would be no such kooking out. I was going to pack a board - "MY board, Alex" - and get some of that Hawaiian juice the proper way.

(BTW, for those who remember my last post, there was some confusion about airline board charges. American Airlines revised their board charge fees a few years ago. It's $80, each way, PER BOARD. Not per bag. They're very specific about that now. Even if you're a Platinum member. Fuckers.)

I also hedged my bet this year and brought along a friend (charging foreign waves is always better with a bro). Web and his wife - we all went to SDSU together - and their two kids, also the same age as our two kids, rented the bungalow next door.

The nice thing about Web is that he's a charger - tons of energy. He'll surf twice a day if he can, and this is on top of midnight diaper changes, 5 AM Barney videos, late night beers and game after game of Yahtzee on the porch. When we go on our yearly Mex trip, he never gives up. Never. He'll be in his chair, passing out, enough tequila and Pacifico to kill a day laborer, but he WON'T go to bed. Even with eyes shut and chair tipping dangerously back towards the cliff, you can give him a quick, "Web, what up?" and he'll raise his horns in the air and give you a solid, "YOOOOOUUUUU!" like he's hooting you into the pit at Pipe.

So Web and I surfed every day for almost a week. Acids Drops, Centers, PKs, even a dawn patrol jaunt up to 2 foot and mushy Pakala's.

All in all we scored pretty good waves. It was never quite the perfect juice I'd gotten hammered by the year before, but a few decent pits and a handful of big Hawaiian style turns.

The only thing we never quite got wired was the paddle out. The only surefire way to get out to any of the spots in front of the Lawa'i Beach House without dragging your knuckles on the reef, is to walk out on the rocks at the very tip, and time a jump into the water for a quick paddle to PK's.

For whatever reason, the pre-teens who completely dominate the inside at PK's have no problem with this maneuver. For those of us who don't walk on water though, it was a lot harder than it looked. Of the two times I tried it, I escaped both times without cheesegrating my fingers, but only once did I avoid dragging my fins over some underwater devil rock (leaving the leading edges of all three skegs bristling with scraped up fin fur).

The rest of the time we paddled out from somewhere inside the cove, and upon reaching the outside (or inside, depending on if you're a surfer or a snorkler) reef, touched bottom every time. Which, by the way, is 100% luck when it comes to flesh wounds. I drilled my digits into a handful of different rocks and coral heads and escaped with nothing but a scraped knuckle. Web, on the other hand, barely glanced his hand on the wrong barnacle, and got his finger opened up with surgical precision - a long and deep slash that was straight-up Ginsu.

Ironically enough, the urchin filled coral didn't have much effect on our surfing - it was pretty much just a paddling hassle. Then again, when a perfect wall lines up for you, mist blowing off the top with perfect offshore winds, the bottom could be lined with Iraqi mines and it'd still be hard to resist whacking the top or ducking under the lip.

I guess that's just the nature of surfing in the tropics.

Before I call it a day, a few random observations on Hawaii...

I still can't get used to the fact that Hawaii is a state. It feels like the 3rd world, with better roads and more pizza joints.

The "Island music"they play on the radio is pure unadulterated crap. The legit reggae is good (but tiresome after 2 weeks). It's the 70's and 80's pop songs they re-create with cheesy keyboards. Not sure what I'm talking about? Give this a whirl at your own risk (but don't say I didn't warn ya).

Aloha is a marketing gimmick promoted by the department of tourism. Sorry, but it's true. There might be some genuine aloha that exists between locals, but how is that any different from any town where neighbors smile and look out for one another? The locals don't like the tourists. Period. The spirit of Aloha went out with Jack Lord's hair (assuming it ever really existed in the first place).

If you wear a "Grown Here, Not Flown Here" t-shirt you are a retard. Same goes for the "Allbline" t-shirts. Only Jim Anchower gets to wear that one (or possibly Jay & Silent Bob).

The kids in Kauai surf so naturally it's scary. After a session at Acid Drops, Web and I watched the groms tear up PK's. We saw some 8 year-old drop in backside, bottom turn, carve off the top, fade back into the whitewater while the wave reformed, then pull into the barrel - the wave knowledge of a 20 year surfer. It's the complete opposite of HB, where the kids stumble to their feet like Bambi on ice, flap their arms, then try to boost an air. All tricks, no fundamentals.

There is a contingent of young girls in Kauai who KILL IT. One of them is probably that lady's daughter from the surf shop. They're all about 10-14, look like little beauty queens, and can smack a lip like Jon-Jon. Easily the most impressive thing I saw during my stay (unless you include the man-sized logs my son was squeezing out several times a day during his potty training).

The food in Hawaii sucks. Even the chicken is imported from the mainland (and in Kauai you can't spit without hitting a wild rooster). And the closer you get to what the locals eat, the worse it gets. All you have to do is look in the shopping cart of any local at the market. Artificially flavored fruit drinks, Budweiser, pork ribs, chicken thighs, macaroni, and all sorts of pickled and gooey homegrown salad concoctions. Not surprising I guess coming from the biggest consumers of SPAM in the union. Blech.

Hawaii is almost painfully beautiful sometimes. One afternoon, we were playing in the lagoon part of Poipu Beach, right across from Brennecke's, and I looked west to see offshore a-frames breaking in a half dozen spots, palm trees blowing in the tradewinds, perfect sand beaches, a perfect blue sky dotted by a handful of puffy white clouds, all anchored by that water that looks straight out of a Corona ad. At that moment, the thought of going back to blown-out, sloppy, red tide HB was almost unbearable.

The Colonel says, "Mahalo."