Monday, December 19, 2005

Closed for Christmas

Wow, Huntington does NOT like a big NW swell.

Walls, walls, and more walls. Unless of course you're hugging the pier, can paddle like Michael Phelps, and don't mind wedging race tracks that smack into - and through - the pilings.

I tried today. I really did. I paddled out right in between the extra pilings that stick out further than the other ones, and literally paddled sideways while the outgoing tide sucked me out and the north current tried to sweep me down to Newport.

I got most of the way out, still within spitting distance of the barnacles. That is, until a set came smashing through and swatted me down about 4 blocks in half that many minutes.

Then, once I did make it to the outside, it was just one wedging closeout after another - some of them going so square that I'm convinced the entire 10 mile coastline of HB just had its sandbars completely reconfigured in a single afternoon.

Head high, sand-filled, brown and white, dredging suckouts.


And on top of all that, I made the unfathomably stupid decision to wear booties today.

What??? Where the hell do I live...Bodega Bay???

On each wave, as I got progressively more tired from nonstop current-fighting, I dragged my feet a little more. Which means each time I got to my feet - textured rubber fusing to freshly combed wax like an electromagnet - my front foot got closer and closer to the tail.

Taking off on my last wave, a freakishly perfect shoulder-high wave that had no business in today's sea of jackbooted thugs masquerading as waves, I was already spent. My legs felt like hundred-pound driftwood logs (probably not far off). I got as far as the mid-tail and stuck like glue. Too tired to fight it, I just flopped off the side and bodysurfed it almost the entire way in.

And before you get it in your head that this was some semi-stylish Tom Curren-esque way to end an awkward, exhausting session, let me just add this in:

As I bodysurfed this glassy, peeling right, my board was sort of permanently hung up in the lip, bouncing off the back of my head the entire way.

Not to worry. There's a macking double overhead swell hurtling its way across the Pacific, scheduled to make landfall by Wednesday.

The Colonel says, "Tether ball anyone?"

Monday, December 12, 2005

Some Kind of Monster

"Surfer extremely familiar with his regular spot (as well as the other surfers who also frequent the same break) who develops a fairly serious fear of anyone new or irregular who might not recognize them as the well respected character they believe themselves to be and instead judge them by surfing ability alone, thereby levelling a playing field they believe should hold a noticeable home field advantage."

Old expression - new definition.

Usually we call it localism, but it's hard to call any popular mainstream spot localized anymore. Life has become too transparent...too photographed. We're too transient and there's simply too much information available to anyone who wants it.

So it's not really localism anymore. It's more, well, familiarity breeding contempt in an urban, overpopulated setting. Think Deliverance local vs. LA local.

But let's back up for a second.

The last few weeks have been an off again/on again hodgepodge of fairly decent waves. Unfortunately, a lot of the better days have been really good at the pier and really shitty anywhere else along the 10 mile stretch of Huntington Beach. Which means that I, and a lot of other guys, have had no choice but to join the fray north or southside of the pier.

And there hath entered the aforementioned contempt (to get all up in your Queen's English ass).

Lunada Bay is localized. Velzyland is localized. The HB Pier, like Steamer Lane or the South Mission Jetty, is a popular, wide-open-to-the-public, high visibility surf spot that happens to have a devoted crew of guys who surf the place every day and pretty much all know one another. A lot of them don't even live there.

It's familiarity. Or should we say, regularity?

The end result being a lot of attitudes, a lot of loud mouths, and a shitload of competition with the added catalyst of being watched by throngs of tourists lining the pier (a phenomenon closely related to Kodak Courage).

Here's a perfect example:

Yesterday, around 3 PM, it was low tide, head high, and closing out everywhere in HB except the pier, where you had perfect northside rights racing into the pilings. About 20 of us were fighting the current, dodging the closeouts, and maybe even trying to log in some tube time.

And, as per usual on a Sunday evening, anywhere from 30-100 people lined the pier, watching the surfers and waiting for the sun to set.

So I'm paddling back out after a fun little wave, and this guy on a longboard is dropping into a halfway decent set wave. He's a regular pier guy. I know this because whenever I check the posted photos from photogs who shoot the pier every day, he's always in at least one of them. He's fairly tall, in his 40's, and has a face and haircut a lot like the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (now the host of Mail Call for you History Channel buffs). His head is also strangely shaped - a bit like Frankenstein - and he wears the ugliest, cheapest blue wetsuit you've ever seen and rides a giant black and white longboard.

So let's just call him Frank.

So Frank drops into this wave, and like all waves at the pier, there are probably 6 guys still paddling for it. This is the HB pier though, and that's pretty much typical. Regardless, Frank drops in and yells at the top of his lungs, "GET THE FUCK OFF THE SHOULDER!" as he screams down the face on his freaky log.

Faintly amused and semi-confused, I keep paddling back out. I mean, after all, this guy surfs the pier every day. I wonder what the big deal was on that wave.

Soon enough, Frank makes it back out and starts screaming at, well, everyone. It went something like this:

"Hey, John Stamford! Hey, Joe Rickford! Let's see what you've got! C'mon now! 99 percent of these fucking guys shouldn't even be out here! They're ALL KOOKS! Let's get it on!"

So the rest of us, we all start looking around at each other. Who's John Stamford? Who's Joe Rickford?* Am I part of that 99 percent that shouldn't be out here? Wait a minute, there aren't even 100 guys out here. That means NO ONE should be out here? Or are we overthinking this?

Some guys start laughing under their breath. Others just roll their eyes. And I SWEAR I saw one of his buddies (not sure if it was John Stamford or Joe Rickford), look at the rest of us with a positively embarrassed smile.

That's when it hit me. It's not that this guy is local. And it's not that he's going to beat anyone up. It's just that he surfs there every day, and is so used to being recognized by everyone in the water, that he freaks when suddenly he's outnumbered by guys who don't surf the pier every day.

In other words, he finds himself out of his element, even though it's geographically still his element, and is afraid that all these guys might simply view him as a weirdo with a uni-brow and a cheap wetsuit instead of the colorful regular his ego relies on.

Like Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh, "Your shower shoes have fungus on them. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you're a slob."

Frank's version of winning 20 in the show is spending 6 hours a day at the pier for a decade (or two). And without his boyz, he's just a slob with an '86 Toyota Tercel and fungus on his shower shoes.

So he freaks out and he yells. After all, he probably knows he's a bit of a freak and can't surf very well. Why not rant and rave to stack the wave odds back in your favor?

And while I partially felt sorry for him - his Frankenstein head, his shitty blue Toyota hatchback, his crappy wetsuit, and the fact that he probably belongs in the VA psych ward for a pre-existing mental condition that sprouted during a stint washing garbage cans at Fort Ord in the early 80's - he also kind of ruined everyone's session, which up until then had been pretty damn fun.

So that's it. Irritable, angry, frustrating fear - the urban face of localism.

Which, maybe isn't such a bad thing when you consider the way things used to be. After all, you can't beat people up anymore. You can't slash tires or spear people in the chest with your board, especially with a dozen HandiCams trained on your fists.

Instead, you scream and yell and do your best to cast a shitty vibe on everyone in the water. It's your spot, you surf there everyday, and while you can't stop people from paddling out, you can sure as hell have a boatload of contempt for the 99 percent of 20 guys out in the water and do your best to make them as miserable as you are.

And if that doesn't make any sense to you (the math or the concept), join the club.

And thanks to miles of closed-out beachbreak, I saw more of it today.

The Colonel says, "Pray for peaks."

UPDATE 6/16/08: So here we are 2 and a half years later, and these bumper stickers are starting to pop up all over Orange County. They read, "The Waterman Rips" and there's a URL at the bottom. Yup, that's him. And he's even crazier than I thought he was. Fooking nutter, as the Brits say.

* Names have been changed not for their protection, but because I can't remember them.