Nov 8, 2007

One California Week

This story was originally published on the now-defunct Fuel.TV, when they were the official website for an action sports cable channel that turned into a MMA network and now, who knows what's going on there).

A surf flick called One California Day, directed by Jason Baffa and Mark Jeremias, takes you on a journey up the California coast, highlighting some of the better breaks the coastline has to offer and some great footage of each spot's local surf heroes. Joel Tudor highlights San Deeaaahhhgo, Jimmy Gamboa shares laughs while owning the longboard scene at Malibu, the Malloy brothers, who reside near Ventura, take a trip down to Baja (which is unofficially part of California), Tom Curren goes tube riding at Rincon, and the movie is capped with the journey to the top of the state, Crescent City, where legend Greg Noll resides.

I decided to follow the lead of One California Day and make my own surf adventure, this time stretching it out to a week. And because cold, bitter weather was hitting San Francisco, my journey would head the opposite direction. I would head south, to the warm weather, beautiful beaches, hot chicas, and clear waters of San Deeaaahhhgo. Along the way I would check out a few other spots, and enjoy one of the many perks California has to offer: Amazing surf.

Thus begins my one week journey down the coast of California.

Day One

My journey begins just south of San Francisco in one of the surf capitals of the world: Santa Cruz. Meeting up with a couple of my compadres, pro surfers Omar Etcheverry, Homer Henard, and their good friend, pro surfer Zach Keenan (who introduced me to a life of no butane with a product called Bee Line, crazy stuff), I got an extensive tour of the west side and got a chance to check out what Homer called “The last local spot in Santa Cruz.” Located north of Steamer's Lane, this secret spot sprouted nugget after nugget of amazing waves. Hardcore locals lurk nearby, ready to lay a beatdown to anyone attempting to paddle out who hasn't been surfing this spot since they were 12.

Goofing around with, from L-R, Zachary Keenan, myself, Homer Henard
Santa Cruz's secret spot, located just west of Steamer's Lane along the north-facing cliff edges.  Beware the locals.
The rest of the Santa Cruz surf that day was sadly poor. There was a nasty red tide that slithered over much of the region's amazing breaks, and the remaining spots not covered with the slime were flat. So, unfortunately, no surf on day one.

To salvage that day, I decided to take a drive down the coast on one of the most amazing roads in the world: Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Despite being born and raised in NorCal, I had never driven down Highway 1 south of Carmel. For those of you unfamiliar with this region, one of the most surreal places in existence, Big Sur, is about 25 miles south of Carmel. And I finally got to experience this gem of a spot. It's an amazingly beautiful place. I highly recommend camping here for a getaway from the chaos.

The two-plus hour drive from Big Sur down the Highway 1 to the next bastion of civilization, San Simeon, is an unreal ride full of amazing views, a pure connection with nature and a touch of fear from the vertical drop down to the ocean. Between historic high-rising bridges covering massive caverns, to a windy coast side road that edges on steep cliffs rising hundreds of feet in the air, this drive was hands-down the craziest stretch of road I've even been on.

The conclusion of this portion of the drive led me to one of my former homes, and one of the birthplaces of my surfing passion: San Luis Obispo (SLO). Before reaching SLO, I stopped at the old Cayucos Pier (where it was completely flat) and Morry Bay, rekindling old college memories. SLO was not to be my destination for the night. No. I would have to stop at a location where I could get up and get waves. Thanks to a suggestion by Omar, I continued south, passing through Santa Barbara and called it a night in one of surfing's more historic cities, Ventura.

Day Two

I crashed in what was probably the nicest Motel 6 I've ever stayed at. Woke up early and bailed the motel with board and wet suit in hand. Set my sights on California St. It's the day before what is rumored to be the biggest south swell of the year. Based on what I see, it's looking like the swell could live up to the hype.

C St. and the Ventura Beach Pier
Didn't have a great session out there. I had a hard time paddling to the right spots. The waves kept shifting. I also haven't surfed in almost a month due to my two main boards having ding repairs, so my paddle strength isn't top notch. Rust is clearly showing. Still, the son's shining bright, water isn't too cold, and there are some really sweet waves breaking here.

Had a solid breakfast sandwich and a cup of joe at a great place just down the street which I believe is called Bad Ass Coffee Co. (which has since sadly closed). The greatest thing about this place though were the vintage surf magazines, dating as far back as 1995. I'm browsing through an old issue of Surfer Magazine from 1999, and there's my boy Omar Etcheverry plastered with a full-page photo! Funny reading about Tom Curren coming out of retirement to return to the WCT, and Kelly Slater wishing people would focus on his six world titles, and not his relationship with Pam Anderson.

I get back on the road and head south to San Deeaaahhhgo. I meet up with my old friend Moses, and we head to Pacific Beach and down some brews that evening. Anticipation about the rumored south swell was growing.

Day Three

The south swell has lived up to the hype. So much so that the website did a complete story on it. Moses and I go to one of San Deeaaahhhgo's more infamous surf spots, a pair of breaks better known as Swamis and Pipes. It's huge out there. Really clean though. Major crowds out in the water also. We decided to contemplate where to go by grubbing on a breakfast burrito at a local grub spot called Pipes Cafe. Great burrito, but the more impressive thing about the place are the signed photos on the walls. Kelly Slater. Rob Machado. Joel Tudor. Laird Hamilton. All the legends have been here. If these walls could talk.

After breakfast, we decided to head 40 minutes north and settled on exiting at San Onofre. One of my good friends Gabe is working on a major project involving dismantling the power plant just off the beach there (the same location where Lt. Frank Drebben of Police Squad infamously said, “
Everywhere I look, something reminds me of her,” referring to the dual breast-like shape of the plant), and he would tell me a couple of days later that in the two years working out there, he had never seen the waves that big.
A larger San Onofre day.
Struggled to get a few rides, but the highlight came about two hours in when I was caught inside at the start of a massive six-wave set that was easily double overhead. Completely crushed. It's a very humbling experience when the ocean destroys you, and a reminder that nature can swat you like a fly when it feels like it. Felt like an eternity paddling out after that, but it was an experience.

Spent a mellow evening back in town at a dive bar called Pitchers and called it a night at Mo's house.

Day Four

Now this is what I was looking for! Water so warm, so clear I could make out the stitchings on my booties (which weren't needed) while sitting on my board. This is why surfers make odysseys to San Deeaaahhhgo. And while I learned how to surf many years ago on the less-enticing waves of Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach (I was a beginner, what do you expect), Scripps was definitely a treat.

Dealing with a slight hangover, I slept in and it didn't matter. A slight offshore wind kept waves happy and up in the afternoon. While the sun didn't shine, the massive south swell still lingered, creating blissful nuggies of waves that I was catching (mostly) left and right with my favorite stick, a 6' 1'' retro twin-fin fish. A treat of a day, best waves on the trip. Rest of the day was pretty mellow, until that night. Saw old friends from my days up at Humboldt St. (who all happened to move to San Deeaaahhhgo, really a trip), and we ended up drinking the night away. I've decided to head north tomorrow. I'll go where the wind takes me.

The trip creeps slowly to a close.

Day Five

With sleep deprivation and a hangover, the wind takes me north. Goodbye San Deeaaahhhgo. Amazing place, a shame there aren't more jobs there. Then again, if there were a plethora of well-paying jobs, we'd all be living there, right?

I head north, and it occurs to me that I've never been to this so-called “Surf City USA” before, AKA Huntington Beach, California. It's also the setting for one of my all-time favorite novels, Tapping the Source, written by surf-noir author Kem Nunn. So I decide to head to there for my next stop.

If you've never been to Huntington Beach before, it is a trip. I understand now why they call this place “Surf City.” It's because of all the surf hype. Granted, there were some pretty decent waves, more-so on the south side of the pier. But just on my California trip alone, I've seen far better nuggets to ride on. However, everywhere you look, whether it's on the pier or Main St. just off PCH, there are surf posters, surf memorabilia, surf souvenirs, surf art, and, perhaps most importantly, surf shops.
The view from the Huntington Beach Pier
Every major brand is represented here. You name it, they've got a shop here. Even's headquarters are based right there, just off the corner of the Pacific Coast Highway and Main St. The waves were decent, bought a couple of surf souvenirs from this cool guy named Ely who showed me a video he made of the ginormous south swell that hit a couple of days ago (it was pretty damn impressive), grabbed a couple of fish tacos, and I said au revoir to Surf City.

I'll give Huntington this: In terms of the industry, it is indeed the capital. However, for waves, I have to continue to pledge my loyalty to Santa Cruz. There's simply too many amazing breaks there. I departed early afternoon, still hit some L.A. traffic, and reached my buddy Avi's house in the afternoon, where I took a long nap. We watched American Gangster that night (pretty good flick, could have been better though), and called it a night.

Two days to go. We'll see where the wind take me next.

Day Six

The wind takes me to one of the world's most famous breaks, the very place where Gidget advanced the female surfing movement more than any other surfer (and I'm not sure if she even knows how to surf). I depart my friend's L.A. pad and head north up the Pacific Coast Highway to the home of my favorite rocker, Tom Petty, and a bunch of Hollywood hacks who have way too many people caring about their every move. I head to Malibu.

I haven't been to this affluent, coastal city since my childhood years. And if my intentions were not to go into the water, I would probably be just as bored now as I was then. Fortunately, the sun's shining, the weather's warm, the winds are mild, and while the south swell that blew up the coast a couple of days earlier was near its end, there was just enough of a trickle left to catch some rides.

I'll say this about surfing Malibu: There is a wild variety of short and longboarders in the water, and there are a lot of bodies in the lineup. Fortunately, there are a lot of spurts where multi-wave sets roll in, so while you have to deal with the crowds, there are still waves to be caught.

Four hours, many waves, and a sun-burned face later, I bid adieu to a couple of cool guys and girls I met out in the water and head north. The journey is creeping to a close. I reach my old college stomping grounds, San Luis Obispo, and stay in the very hotel where my parents used to crash when they would come visit me: The Sands.

Revisiting your old college stomping grounds, especially when you haven't really been there as long as I have (seven years) is a trip. I used to roll through this town and know everybody. Now? I'm as much an outsider as the tourist walking next to me as I stroll downtown.

And things really do change with time. The entire downtown scene has changed. Firestone, which to this day makes the best tri-tip sandwich I have ever consumed, has completely remodeled. There's a new surf shop in town, and it's a big one called San Luis Surf Shop (which recently closed). Parking lots have been replaced with retail stores. My old watering hole, Bull's Tavern, has been completely taken over by cowboys. Someone mentioned to me that a new bar opened up that was the "it" spot, a place called Marty's. And I'll say this about coming back to my old home: When you're the older guy, but not an old guy in a college town, the chicas look at you in a very favorable light.

I don't go too crazy though. The idea of getting trashed by myself didn't seem too appealing, but I did slam a couple down and bought a couple of beers for some poor college kids (at least I hope they were poor). Went back to the hotel and called it a night. The journey is almost at an end.

Day Seven

What started as a week-long surf adventure inspired in-part by the movie One California Day is on its last leg. My plans were to wake up early, pack my things, and head out to either Morro Bay or Cayucos to catch some early waves before heading back home.

“It's completely flat, sorry,” said one of the workers at Cayucos Surf Company, as I started making calls to check conditions. “Choppy, windy, nasty, doesn't look good and I'm not sure there are even waves out there,” said the man behind the desk (or so I assume he was behind the desk) at Wavelengths Surf Shop in Morro Bay. Ouch. Guess I had already experienced my last day of surfing on this trip.

Not to make this day a waste before heading back to San Francisco, I set out to accomplish two things. One, I went back to Firestone and picked up a tri-tip to-go. No way am I leaving SLO without getting seconds on the greatest tri-tip sandwich I've ever grubbed on.

And the second? Pro surfer Omar Etcheverry, one of my best friends and co-host of my radio show The Extreme Scene, happens to have a cousin named Shad who owns the only tattoo parlor in the entire city of San Luis Obispo: Traditional Tattoo. Omar's tats are sick, and we've talked about heading down there, for him to get more tats, and for me to get my first. I head over, meet Shad in-person, and we discuss what's going to be my first tattoo (my skin remains ink-free to this day).

And that's it. Hit the 101 North, pass through desert towns like San Ardo (another major location in Kem Nunn's Tapping the Source) and King City and head home. My One California Week has come to and end.

This trip gave me the opportunity to appreciate just how much California has to offer. In seven days I surfed five amazing locations, experienced breathtaking views, made direct contact with nature, met great people, and that's just a week-long journey from San Francisco to San Diego! There's a whole other half to California going the opposite direction, from San Francisco to Crescent City. I'll save that trip for when the weather's warmer, seeing as how it can get butt-ass cold up there.

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