Burning For Frigidity: Surfing the Pacific Northwest

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North America » United States » California » Bodega Bay
September 1st 2009
Published: September 12th 2009
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There is little hope in my mind. I hear waves. Not calm smooth waves, but a miasmic destruction of breakers crushing one another before steamrolling onto shore. I open my eyes and blink into a soft morning light. Inside my tent, it’s neither bright nor dark. It’s that shade of gray matter infusing all color, dissolving vibrancy like bleach to a load of reds. The rain-fly covers the vents above my body, making it impossible to observe what’s outside. I close my eyes and listen, relaxing into the Therm-A-Rest, feeling the stones press into my spine as if receiving a Jujitsu reflexology massage. I open them again, sit up and unzip my portal.

Pacific Northwest—a land of beauty, a land of instability. When you want sun, it rains. When you want rain, it rains. Outside, a wispy layer of fog and clouds send mist over the land. Everything is wet. My tent is dripping. My sandals are soggy. My collection of driftwood and remaining cigarette butts soak up the liquids like dead sponges. And out beyond the shore is mayhem. The waves are dirty, ferocious and choppy. I close the entrance and disappear back within my sleeping bag.

The day progresses slowly. It’s a Friday and the weekday-seekers pack up and depart with wet gear and dry memories while the weekend crowds arrive in hordes of RVs, Moterhomes and Chevy Astro Vans. I get in my car and search for waves.

This is one of my intentions, an underlying reason, for venturing to the edge of the universe. I want to surf. I want to ride and feel the fluidity rippling beneath me. I want to hear the sound of fiberglass slapping water. I want to sink into the density of La Push’s cold thickwater and sit in its vastness while rolling over incoming swells. I want to be a fish, that dolphin frolicking in the currents, freeing my inner child. I must find surf, so I go and explore.

Rialto Beach just north is not a surf spot, but I had to check it out. There, I find a deeper layer of fog blowing off into the forested expanse of the west. It’s torrential and loud, reverberating the cleansing sky with the rustling ocean surf. Here’s the southern starting point of the North Wilderness Trailhead; a coastal route winding from Rialto up to Cape Alava off Ozette Lake. Thru the influxes of raw tides and shifting headlands, it’s a stretch of one of the most remotest and wildest shorelines. The overnight parking lot is surprisingly full of abandoned vehicles and I wonder how they’re fairing. With curiosity, I walk onto the beach and gaze northward. There is nothing but a canvas of white silhouetting the distant sea stacks that receive the brunt of King Neptune’s fury.

I drive. I take random roads and seek a beach. Locals hidden in the woods stare at me. They’re chopping wood, pulling brush, and hauling out secrecies of the forest in large diesel trucks. Dark, cold and wet—it’s as if summer has never reached these parts, while an air of mystique hovers over me, whispering: You don’t belong here. My mind starts to wander. I’m half expecting Missing Children signs tacked to the trees and begin to envision my face as a 5 year old, smiling with gaps in my teeth. I turn around and head for the main road.

The whole coast is socked in with a fall weather system. The temperatures have dropped and winds, clouds, fog and rain descend over the land from off the sea. In my car I accept this and head back to camp to wait, to relax, to let go of expectations. When will I surf? What waves will I catch?

As I flounder in the tent smelling my feral body crying for a refreshing salt bath, I hear footsteps approaching. I’m listening while spreading a swab of peanut butter on my bread in which I retrieved from a dumpster, and as I begin to tip the honey squeezebox over my lunch, there’s a voice. “Is that your tent?” Seconds later the zipper begins to open.

As the stale air of my hobbit hole billows out of this new exit, I exclaim, “Brotha-man! Welcome to my humble shelter. Get the hell in here!”

Two surf minds are greater than one. Simone kicks off his shoes and crawls in.

Now, to step back a bit, Simone is my partner in crime. Without him, things aren’t the same, and when it comes to surfing, in his absence the waves appear worse off and the weather seems more temperamental. Life is not as joyous, especially when it comes to surfing. And La Push has become our grounds. We’ve seen it as nothing and made due to paddle out and feel the waters; and we’ve seen it as everything, as if all the power has been summoned from the depths to hurl into this bay and call upon us. Grabbing our balls and tucking them tight into our neoprene packages, we’ve paddled out and received the battering rams with smiles on our faces. The feeling after being hammered with the steel crests of King Neptune’s trident and surviving is like no other, akin to stepping out of an old hiking boot, or emerging into fresh air from a smoky room.

You can tell. I’m thrilled to see him.

“Man,” Simone remarks. “You stink.”

I shrug, smile and offer him some stale bread. “I’m glad you made it, dude. But you’ve brought the shits when it comes to weather.”

“Well, hopefully it’ll bring on the swell.”

This is true. When there’s weather, there’s a swell to follow.

Simone is equally as ready as I am. “Let’s go check out the north end.”

As I cram the last corner of lunch into my mouth and feel the razor-edge crust slice the roof of my mouth, I smell my pits and happily reply, “Done.”

The north is happening. We’re stoked. We’re like two little kids tossing around newly acquired swear words, laughing and pushing, retelling memories to invoke a deeper sense of connection between us, between our bodies and the surf, between Mother Nature and King Neptune’s fury.

We pull the last layers of neoprene over our heads and look at each other.

“Thank God for a 5/3mm wetsuit,” Simone begins. “One of the finest purchases we’ve ever made.”

“And homie, I’ve got a full bladder. Let’s get in the water so I can feel that warmth flood my suit.”

Our boards are tucked into our armpits and we do a careful observation. “Wax?” Simone queries.

I look at the deck of my 6’2” pistol. “I’m lubed and sticky, Jiffy-style. Any new dings in yours?”

He shakes his head. “Man, I’ve had this board basically since my first ride. You remember when I brought it back from Pismo? She’s seen a lot.” By now, Simone stroking his hog, a bright yellow 8 footer with repair patches from the waves ridden and stories lived.

“A treasure,” I remark.

A nice jetty sends out a current at the north end, and with enough skill the rip will take you right out and not crush your bones upon its craggy boulders.

There have been occasions when Simone and I were the only ones paddling out during a stormfront. The waves were often double overhead—gnarly angry beasts—and after 45 minutes of struggling to conquer the tackling breakwater and pass into the end zone of steadiness, our bodies have been so exhausted that we were forced to turn around and meet our destinies back upon shore. There, we would lie on the sand panting, shaking heads and shrugging shoulders. Yet shortly, with renewed efforts, our will would strengthen again to test the waters once more.

Today is easy. We hit the outgoing current, slip passed the siphoning skull-crushing crags and launch into an oncoming set. The waves are strong, peaking and thus pitching over like a tumbling gymnasium wall. They send chills up and down our spines. I watch Simone take off on a nice left.

It’s slow motion when in the moment. He sees the approaching force. It stands 10 feet soaring; maybe more, maybe less. With grace, the yellow stinger flips around and his paddle commences. Simone has picked the right spot. While peering over his shoulder to time the entry, speed increases and soon his eyes are so wide they want to pop out and be plucked by a gliding pelican. But in a blink, the wave slides up from behind and settles underneath him, hurtling his board upon its glassy face. Simone is on, and he feels this. With agility, his hands push off the deck and legs fold into themselves allowing the feet to perch under his center of gravity. Knees bent, he’s standing, riding low and leaning into the wave. And as the wave passes me, I lose sight of him and can only hear his howl as it carries him farther toward shore. Respect.

One after the other, we paddle, we observe and feel the sea moving through us. It’s a meditation upon the energy of the deep blue. You can often guess where the next swell will crest if your senses are attune to this ebb and flow, the rhythm and motion of making love with Nature. It’s a sensual act of soul-surfing.

The hours and minutes pass without notice and I begin to move slower, weaker. My shoulders creak. My neck is stiff. And my ribcage, sternum and feet are sore. I can barely move the joints in my exposed hands. Time is up.

There is little to compare to this entire experience. Walking on water would give justice. Floating, skydiving and lucid dreaming can accurately describe the sensations, but add a badass impression of being thrown into a plastic-ball playpen created by the one-and-only Universal environmentalist Ronald McDonald. At the car, we’re joyous for the third straight hour, reflecting on how King Neptune is compassionate once more. We show respect and our childlike spirits. He responds and grants us our dreams.

Night falls. I smell good as campfire smoke blows inland. We’re cooking refried beans with quesadillas and our hunger is ravenous. The energy of the session—we must refuel and bring on the strength for more surf; a long vicious swell rolling in from the depths of the Pacific. We do not know what’s coming.

With tired muscles, accompanied by the tranquility of the ocean melodies and the hiss of the crackling fire, sleep comes easy.

Dawn arises and I instantly think: Damn weather.

It is miserable. We can’t even see the ocean, a mere 25 yards away.

“Um… what’s happenin’ out there?”

Simone stands on a dead log and is silent.

“I’m antsy,” I reflect. “I’ve been here for awhile and I’m thinking I need to move on if the surf is off.” I’m surprised to hear myself say this, but realize it’s true. Farther south—better weather, cleaner waves, more surf.

Simone turns around and looks at me from his perch. “Well, what the hell do you wanna do?”

“Beach 3,” I reply. “Let’s go exploring and by the time we’re back the weather will pass.” Yes, I know. I’m being optimistic.

Beach 3 is a walk. We hit the main road and take 50 minutes to reach the trailhead. Into the tall fortifying trees, we descend back towards the coast, passing soggy overnight campers whom head back to their cars wet, dragging heavy gear over shoulders.

The beach is reserved. Tucked into a larger bay, a scene out of Into The Wild invokes thoughts of adventure, isolation and wildness. To the left and to the right, huge sea stacks loom above reedy kelp beds. These obstacles create a smooth surface upon the water where small beachbreak topples onto its rocky terrain. Up and down we stroll, thinking of nothing and pondering everything. It doesn’t matter at all. None of it. This illusion is a passing imagination. I pick up a stone and marvel at its motif before tucking it into my pocket.

By the time we emerge back onto the road, our clothing is wet, but dry all the same. Over our fabrics, a dusting of mist blankets each fiber, which looks like glitter from astute angles. It reminds me of clear tropic waters glistening in the sun. It reminds of the months camping on a Costa Rican beach amidst indescribable surf. It reminds me of an island gem called Bali. It reminds me of someplace other than here; a bamboo shack with thatched roof somewhere on a beach where I step out in a sarong each morning holding a fresh coconut in one hand and a machete in the other. I’m checking the surf from my balcony. I know it exists and in this state of mind, connected to mind-body-and-spirit, and I know I can manifest it.

But for now, Simone and I psychotically wish to create frigid dense surf wearing a 5/3mm wetsuit off the Pacific Northwest coast. We grub back at camp. I devour the rest of the refried beans and Simone eats a fresh sandwich loaded with chevre and salami. And then we drive to the north end where an even thicker layer of fog makes the harbor appear as if it is being tear-gassed. We hop back in the car surging with disappointment.

I look over at him. “Man, I’m out.”


“Yeah, brotha. There’s got to be better goodies south of here.”

Simone socks me in the thigh. “One more paddle, man. One more!”

I’m convinced. At camp I throw on my suit beside him, grab my board with an extra layer of wax and head to the water’s edge.

I peer into the fog. It’s lifting. No one is out there.

“What’s with the apprehension?” Simone wonders.

I frown and shrug. “What?”

“Then get your sorry ass in the water.”

I’m breathing. I’m feeling out the conditions. There’s potential. I take one more breath before running toward the waves.

What proceeds is an immaculate conception of divine surf. It pumps out of nowhere except from that deep blue. It’s solid as we reach freedom outside the breakers. And as we ride through the fog, these rolling beasts heave and flex. Simone takes off. I follow him with another steep descent, reaching the bottom before digging my weight into the rear leg. I lean hard. I cut a deep turn up onto its face, gain speed down the line, and then tilt back to arch a wide cutback teeming with velocity. The whitewater is rumbling as a tear into it to get pushed onto the clean beauty of this peeling beast. Fuck yeah!

It is an endless joy and the weather only improves. After a few rips, we look back towards shore and watch other surfers gearing up. They’re stoked. We’re stoked. Another set rolls in and I shout to Simone. “Outside brotha! It’s outside!”

He lies down and moves his arms. Once again, Simone’s in the sweet spot, like the pleasing of a woman, making her moan and shutter in all the right places. He turns around, lays back down, makes a few strokes and rides; taking it right and facing the wave. With finesse, he drags his hand along its surface like that long caress of skin on skin. Absolutely beautiful.

The session is a dream. One after another, they keep coming and our surf becomes only more electrifying. I hop up. I rip passed a dodging surfer and tuck into a barrel. I see it create a shelter over my head. Then I feel it closing out and allow it. It consumes me with smiles, hollering with bliss. Next thing I know I’m in the wash-cycle of the heaviest soil, spinning and churning in green mush. My eyes are closed. My breath is held. I relax and let it take me. Then, I pop up at the surface, grab my board, and climb atop for more.

All good things come to an end. There is the build up, a moment of climax like a peak religious experience, and then the slow drop off. By the end of our session, the surf disseminates and diffuses. Tides change and the breakers move closer to shore where a steeper underwater drop-off creates faster peaks. They pitch up with speed and barrel over. I tuck into a few and quickly lose it. The falls become harder. My energy drains. I reach terra firma and slog up onto a massive tree trunk. The sun slowly begins to peer and a blue sky radiates, materializing more color than ever.

The next four days progress even slower. I spend my days driving, endless driving. There is nothing. No surf south of Cannon Beach, Oregon. I shake my head and wonder, like the time before that and the time before that: Why did we leave La Push so early?!

Finally, after the endless turns and twists of Highway 101 down Oregon’s coast into California, and the knots and hairpins along Highway 1 carved into the death-deifying cliffs of Northern and Central, I reach Bodega Bay, California. After these long days of surfless-ness, wherein the Pacific takes on the form of a windless Lake Superior, I find a wave. California surfers play off Salmon Creek and I join them, dodging purple jellyfish underneath the bright sun of the south. It’s beautiful and damn it feels good. I give my praise to King Neptune before heading inland to the valleys of ripe vines and sweetening grapes.

To be continued...

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12th September 2009

these are the certain places where u can fresh your mind beyond ur expectation, ur imagination. Rialto Beach, here as i feel the process of climate change is very nice...... thanks for sharing ur views with us.... http://www.catalinaresort.com.au

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