This is a creative nonfiction story I wrote for one of my classes. That means that things are a little dramatized and spiced up to give the story more appeal but for the most part, it is a true story. It's about how I got my understanding of the surf scene. I'm also going to attach a video of the trip that this story goes with. I have a few more stories I am going to post over the next few days, so stay tuned. I'm hoping that you will get to know me a little better through my work. Here it goes...
By: Jeffrey Dean Root
My Dad was a surfer and worshiped girls, cars and the ocean. In those days the men you had to compete against for women were Greasers in their hotrods, Cholos and their low riders and Sailors with their ships. Girls loved him, but not because of his car. I mean, he drove around in an old sedan delivery. They loved him because all he ever wanted to do was to have fun. My Mom still says, “He’s lost in the 50’s.”
My father’s past was never kept a mystery to me. He was always willing to bring me back to what he called, “The best years of America.” He started me off dancing to oldies records in the living room when I could barely stand on my own. We listened to bands like Dick Dale and the Dell Tones, Bill Hailey and the Comets and I swore my dad was Mike Love, the lead singer from the Beach Boys. It could have been his haircut, the way he danced, or the way he was such a cheese ball when he sang. He taught me the Surfer’s Stomp, a goofy dance he used to do at concerts that Dick Dale put in Southern California. You pound each foot twice, jump, do a one eighty and land, knees bent with your arms dangling while you sway to the beat.
If there was one thing he wanted to share with his children, it was his love and respect for the surf scene. He moved us to Monterey bay when I was just entering my early teenage years. It was my first time in the ocean, but I immediately bonded to it. By that time my father’s knees were not conditioned enough to stand on a surfboard, but he was never afraid to go crazy on a body board. You could hear him yell out, “Look at that wave break. Awe man that is beautiful!” And then he would run and hop out towards the ocean, feet splashing in the salty water, finishing with a dive, foam board outstretched and gliding through the air before he made his splash. His reunion with the ocean would later spark the fuel within him to light a fire big enough to get his feet planted back on a surfboard at 66 years old. Even his two heart attacks couldn’t keep him from going back out again.
It was when he showed me the film The Endless Summer, that I felt deprived of the long lost art of the youthful surfing journey. I watched as these men visited beach after beach, ocean after ocean and my dad gave his commentary saying, “I’ve been to that beach” and “Oh, look at that woody.” Yes, he would say “woody” as if he were referring to the woody wagon as an erection. I knew he had lived the surf life, exploring the beaches on the California coast, and I wanted to experience it too.
The years went by, California got too expensive and my family moved to Utah. I got married, got into more debt and rarely had time to see the ocean. Once a year I would travel to Southern California to see my friends and reserve one day for surfing. It was my once a year moment of Zen, and I cherished it all winter long, giving myself something to look forward to after six months of depression in the white snowy hell.
It was when I was watching the surf documentary Riding Giants that I saw the first big wave surfers talking about their experiences while living as beach bums in Hawaii. These guys lived in shacks, caught their own fish, stole chickens, and ate pineapples and coconuts. They traded the comfort of a warm bed for a cot or the soft sand. Why couldn’t I do that? Because I was married, had little to no money, and my 1974 Volkswagen Beetle would blow up before I left Utah County.
No! It was wrong to let life get in my way. I think everyone has a right to be selfish every once in a while and it was my turn. I was going to plan a trip up the coast of California and nobody was going to stop me. Of course, I had to run the idea by my wife, Mandi. After all, she was the breadwinner and I was the college student. Oh, and I would need transportation so naturally I would need to talk my sister Krystal and her husband Nate into going and it would give my wife a female to bond with. Also I would need to talk to my two best friends, James and Colin because they had places we could stay while we were out there. But besides that, nothing else would get in my way. I was going to do it…so long as they all said, “Yes.”
I told Mandi of the idea first. That wasn’t very hard. She had always complained that our trips were too short. She grew up in Hawaii and her family loved to travel. My family was too damn poor to go anywhere so I was used to the occasional Saturday trip to the Coloma River. She didn’t even care about how much it would cost. She would have thrown the whole trip on a credit card. That was easy. In fact, everyone I told was waiting for me to finish my proposal so they could say yes. It was really going to happen.
We all pitched in and made suggestions for places we wanted to visit along the way. Instead of staying in hotels we all agreed on camping. It was fun, cheap and most of us were experienced at it, everyone but James anyway. We made fun of him because he went out and spent $120 on a pair of Patagonia hiking shoes. It’s the kind of thing yuppies buy and James was no yuppie. He was just innocent and clueless. We gave him crap for that for a long time. After all, most of the trails we would be hiking on were paved or nicely carved. A pair of $14 payless sandals did me nicely.
We planned the trip seven months in advance so we were well prepared when it came time to head out of Utah to meet our friends in Southern California. I don’t officially feel like I’m going anywhere until I leave the hour-long bubble reaching from Salt Lake City down to Payson. Once the Payson exits are behind me I feel like the car has exited some giant force field and the outside world is only a desert’s drive away.
Driving across the desert on the I-15 is just like riding a boat across the ocean. Every once in a while you will see a small island but the biggest island of them all is Las Vegas. We were not at all attracted to the money, boobs and booze that enveloped the city. Las Vegas could have been reduced to an In-N-Out burger and we would have been just as happy. My father introduced us to In-N-Out by taking us to one that was still standing since the 50’s. I could have thirty sentimental minutes in the Las Vegas In-N-Out with my animal style burger, strawberry shake and fries and I was ready to get out of that hellhole of a city. Carrot Top billboards polluted the sides of the road. Why the hell was he wearing that stupid muscle shirt. I think the steroids went to his hair. All I could think of was, “Orange Ass head.”
Farting would become quite the ritual on this trip. My brother in law, Nate, showed no shame when it came to letting them rip! He would sit back with a cheesy wide-open smile on his pale face, rolling down the window, letting in the fresh, hot Nevada air. Mandi was highly objective but Krystal was always brave enough to join in. We bonded well with this ritual but mine never made any noise. They were all left cheek sneaks and killed everyone in the car. Nate suggested that something crawled up my ass and died. He may be right. Two-years I spent living in Mexico could be the cause for it.
After ten hours of driving through the night we arrived in Marina Del Ray at Colin’s apartment around 5am. Colin is a happy guy, like one of those people you would see on Kids Incorporated on the Disney Channel. He had the beds and couches already made up for our long morning nap. What a friend! James would later arrive waking everyone up singing along to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonne Give You Up,” while dancing around the apartment like an idiot. James always knew how to get a party started.
Although we would stay at Colin’s apartment for the rest of the day, we wasted no time heading off to the ocean. It was time to get our feet wet and Venice beach was calling my name. Venice Beach is renowned for being full of character. It has a skate dancing plaza, Muscle Beach where the body builders show off, burnt out hippies, side walk performers and an awesome business front consisting of the coolest clothing and incense/marijuana shops. The buildings are pink, green, yellow, any kind of pastel color you can think of.
I ran straight to the beach with my board leaving everyone else in the parking lot. The sand was as hot as coals. It felt good to know that it was only making me run faster to the ocean. I found a good spot to throw my stuff on the ground and wax the surfboard. I dug a hole in the sand to place the fin into and pulled out a well-spent chunk of Sex wax to spread on the board. I took a big whiff of the delicious coconut smell. I could almost take a bite of that chunk of wax but there was none left after spreading it on the board.
I looked out at the ocean’s waves breaking right into the pier, slicing through each wooden post. The afternoon did not have the best surf, but after a year of waiting, I really didn’t care. The waves could have been three feet tall that day so long as they could carry this 150 lb body and a nine-foot board smoothly across the beach line. James caught up with me and threw his stuff on the ground. He didn’t take the time to wax his board up. It was covered in nasty sand mixed wax with other small pieces of crab and dead-sea life that could stick to its surface.
We decided to run out together with our boards held straight to keep us aerodynamic from the ocean breeze, feet splashing through cold, murky looking water. I jumped on my board, belly lying flat, face up and arms paddling rigorously. The waves were breaking down hard leaving a lot of suds to push through. Not much of a break, which meant mostly white water rides. When I got out far enough I turned my board around. James and I waited patiently yelling out the occasional “Woo!” But the waves just kept on crashing as soon as they would form, leaving a big white wall of water to push us back to the beach. I finally got tired of waiting for anything good and I spent my afternoon riding suds, one after the other. Sure I had a good time but it was not really what I was searching for.
After about an hour and a half of riding suds I decided to call it quits to hang out with Mandi on the beach. There she was wearing her 1950’s style black and white polka dot bathing suit and a pair of white-rimmed sunglasses. The fact that this beautiful sex Goddess lying on the beach was mine lifted my spirits from the white wash I had just experienced. I cuddled up by her side as she baked away the winter’s white mark. We listened to songs like Surfer’s Stomp by the Markets while chatting with Tim and Rob, a couple of old friends that came by the beach to visit for a couple of hours. Tim was an old friend from high school who was working the LA actor’s job waiting tables. Rob and I had met in Salt Lake. He had renounced his membership from the Mormon Church and moved to LA to become a sex machine. We traded stories and spoke of our aspirations for life. It really wasn’t a bad way to end the day but I could see the ocean mocking me in the distance. Each wave crashed with such ferocity that it hypnotized me into a dead stare.
The next morning we woke up and headed out to our first camping spot. It was a short two-hour ride North on the Pacific Coast Highway. The scenery is just amazing. On one side are the beautiful green mountains and the other is a blue ocean that goes on forever. One could never experience claustrophobia feeling as free as I did while riding next to the ocean. Life is so wide open. I squinted my eyes, looking at ships in the distance, sun reflecting heavy off their metal surfaces as they dropped below the horizon line.
We were all very excited when we pulled into Morro Bay. This small town is a fisher’s port and many of the restaurants are made to look like boats. The seafood is as fresh as it gets and the people are very laid back. The town is known for a lone, round giant rock that sits out in its bay. The rock is a couple hundred feet high and serves as a bird sanctuary.
None of us had seen any photos of the campgrounds so we didn’t know what to expect. When we arrived all we saw were rows of campsites separated not by trees but by paved parking. We knew that this meant no privacy. Kids were running everywhere and people had left their home only to pull out their flat screen TV’s, eyes glued to the screen as nature was ignored. It was a depressing campsite and the only time we spent there was when we had to eat dinner and go to sleep.
I was curious to see what the surf was like so we all jumped into one car and headed down to the beach to watch the sun set. James kept our spirits high by leading us in Tony the Tiger’s Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes song.
Just show them you’re a tiger.
Show them what you can do.
The taste of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes,
Brings out the tiger in you. And You!
As we neared the beach I was happy to see surfers cutting waves but when I realized what area they were in I knew that these guys owned this beach. They were riding pretty far out from the shore but close to the rocks that rose out of the water next to the giant round rock. I sat there admiring them for having the balls to pull off such a stunt. I had no insurance and I hadn’t done enough with my life yet to crush my head on a jagged rock.
As I wondered what the waters of Morro Bay would bring me in the morning, we strolled along the beach as James sang, “Here comes the sun,” but changing the words to, “There goes the sun,” as its clear golden orb, cluttered with birds, dipped slowly below the horizon line. Mandi pulled me close to share what is still the most beautiful sunset I have ever experienced. It’s too bad that camping on the beach was prohibited. My dad had told me how incredible it was falling asleep to the oceans lullaby. Who wouldn’t want to fall asleep on a beach with their lover cuddled close.
Morning came and I decided to go for a little jog. I love running in areas that I am not familiar with. It’s like speed-reading a book just to get the idea of what the story is about. Book Report: I saw a giant swamp area, large trees and a golf course. When I was warmed up we ate breakfast and headed into town to rent two more boards allowing us to be as selfish as we wanted to be with our time in the water. The board I rented looked like it was painted back in the 80’s. It was 2/3rd yellow and 1/3rd hot pink. Sadly they didn’t have any better-looking fiberglass boards in stock so I was stuck with the pansy board. I was really tempted to just purchase one but the load of camping gear on the roof of the car said otherwise. It’s sad really. In this town you could buy a slightly used but beautiful long board for just under $300. That’s a steal!
It was a nice sunny day but the wind was blowing cold. All the men threw on their wetsuits except for James. He wanted to show off his manliness by wearing nothing but a rash guard and some shorts. Krystal and Mandi stayed out of the water to keep warm and take photos of the guys. This is something I was adamant about after not seeing any photos of my old man on the beach when he was younger. And it’s no wonder my mother would constantly find photos in the garbage can. My Dad was too lazy to open up a box and go through it all the way before he decided that everything in it was trash. I figured that my own children would be just as curious with my past as I am with my father’s.
The water was absolutely frigid but shrinkage was the least of my worries. I ran out into an endless battle against hammering waves. This time it was more violent. These waves had a great force that would bring the water high up the beach. The water got so high that we had to move our place on the beach a good twenty yards back. There is nothing cool about saying “I rode great white water today”. This time I just learned to say, “Screw it” and tried to make the most out of it. The only thrills I got out of those waves was their speed and the way they knocked us on our Asses. Time after time I could see Nate yelling as he ate sand when the wave broke on him. The undertow at that spot didn’t help either. It felt like the giant rock was acting as a magnet, pulling us closer and closer as we tried to fight the current.
In all, we surfed for about five hours that day. James jokingly referred to Nate as Lobsterman because he was bright red from sunburn. Mandi looked pretty miserable all huddled up in a chair with her sweater over her face. The most entertainment we got on that beach was watching Colin’s dog “li’l Dude” trying to eat the flies that swarmed over the seaweed in the sand. Colin, James and I ended our day at the beach playing catch with a baseball, a ritual that has become all but extinct for the common American. If only people knew how relaxing it is. If I couldn’t ride a decent wave today I was going to throw the perfect ball. Wrong! I hadn’t thrown a baseball in years and it ended up just flying over James head or going too low and hitting the sand before anyone could even catch it. It was just not meant to be.
Well I knew that we wouldn’t be surfing for the next couple of days so Camping at Big Sur actually lived up to its expectations. On the way up we stopped by Elephant seal beach. We laughed as the Elephant seals belly rolled and bounced off their fat to make their way up to the beach. Their long noses hung back and jiggled, as they would face off with other seals in the water. The Big Sur Campgrounds was a sigh of relief. Trees surrounded our campsite, and although they messed up on our reservations by not getting us the site we requested, they did load us up with free corn, potatoes and firewood. There were no noisy kids running through our sites and if people had TV’s the trees blocked their brightly lit screens.
We made good use of its on site facilities by washing a load of wet clothes from the beach while we played some basketball. Dinner was especially good because of all of the food provisions we had acquired from the staff at the office. We all just wanted to relax for a day after getting our asses kicked by the ocean.
The next morning we took a beautiful hike out to a beach that reminded us all of the Goonies. There were multiple rock formations that formed out in the water. Channels had been carved through the years by erosion. The waves would explode through the channels and settle into the tide pools. We collected shells for keepsakes and pried red, purple and orange starfish off rocks to get a glimpse of their suction cups. We found sticks to poke sea anemones, watching their dark, circular bodies close up in defense. Li’l dude made friends with another dog. We were all just happy to be exploring.
When everyone started to walk back to the car, I saw Mandi sitting on a big rock next to the ocean. I walked up to her and I noticed that she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She asked me if I would just stay there and hold her for a while. I looked back and saw that the rest of the group was already out of sight. I told her that we should probably stick together with the rest of the group and when I said that she became angry and started to cry some more. That was when I realized why she had asked for the moment. It was her birthday. We had plans to celebrate it on the last day of the trip so I had forgotten about the actual day amidst all of the action. I felt like a jerk and I immediately took her in my arms and said I was sorry. She just pressed closer to my body and stared out at the ocean. After a few minutes she looked up at me and said. “Thank you. I’m done.” That was all it took. I realized that in that moment she had found what she was looking for on the trip: a moment alone with her husband by the ocean.
When we returned back to the campsite and I kept on trying to figure out why I had not had my moment yet. What was it that would make this trip unique for me? Mandi further had her day be brightened when Colin and James surprised her by dancing up the hill singing to the Beatle’s “Happy Birthday.” They were lightly drunk and holding a tray of cupcakes with lit candles. She was overjoyed that my friends decided to celebrate her birthday on the actual day rather than postponing it till we reached our last destination. She gave everyone a hug and had a smile on her face as wide as the ocean. I was so happy for her. It was really her day.
The next morning we took time to stop off at the Big Sur Bridge on our way to the beach house in Santa Cruz. I had seen how beautiful the bridge looked in photos and I just had to see if it was as surreal. The bridge arched high over the white sandy beach below. It clung to the two sides of the canyon that was filled with green vegetation. The foggy morning air covered half of the bridge making it look like a pathway to the clouds. Yes, it was just like the photographs I had seen and well worth the stop.
We passed only ten minutes away from my hometown of Salinas where James parents still live but we decided it wasn’t worth an extra stop because they would see us for a day in Santa Cruz. Memories of the area flooded my head. The old surplus army store and the Moss Landing Power Plant still sat by the ocean right where I left them. The sinking road that ran over the San Andreas Fault was still just as fun to speed over. As we entered the neighborhood of the beach house we passed by the liquor store where James had bought us all cigars and a Playboy magazine at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. Heading towards the beach house I saw the bench at the end of the cliff where we all smoked our cigars. It was good to be there.
We hung around the house for a little bit just trying to get settled in for our final three-day stay. The nearby beach was always good in the afternoon to do some body boarding because the nearby cove created a wave that would collide with a second wave creating a V shape headed towards the ocean. Even Mandi was bold enough to go out in the water when we pulled out a full body wetsuit that was waiting for her at the beach house. She rode those waves all afternoon. She told me that she had wanted to go into the water the whole trip but didn’t want to ruin my time with my friends. If only she knew that I would have been happier with her out there than anyone else.
We took a trip down to the Santa Cruz Beach Board Walk, one of the last remaining amusement parks on the beaches of America. The crown jewel of the boardwalk is The Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster from 1924 that is still operational. It was a must for all of us and even though its age would make it sound wimpy, The Giant Dipper does not disappoint. Just knowing the track itself is over eighty years old is enough to make one wary and excited at the same time. We had a great time playing miniature golf on a pirate themed, mini golf course. The cannons on the giant pirate ship would boom as you tried to make your shot. We pretended to be buccaneers, sword fighting with our putters, metal clanking as we plundered our way through the course.
On our way back to the beach house we blasted Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” a song that would affect the way I was feeling that night. There is a line in the song that goes, “I used to rule the world. Seas would rise when I gave the word.” This is how I felt about the ocean during our trip. As a teenager the ocean seemed so easy to tame. The truth is, I never really took the patience to wait for a good wave. I picked everything; I just didn’t realize it until the trip. I thought back to The Endless Summer. Those guys spent the whole summer looking for the perfect waves and all I saw was two hours of the best parts of their trip. Even my dad picked the best moments of his life to talk about. Who would want to watch a movie about guys bitching and moaning because the surf was bad? Who would want to listen to their father talk about what a loser he was growing up? It was all making sense. Whether or not I would find any perfect wave the next morning did not even faze me. I realized that being with the people I loved and staying in a place that made me happy was going to be worth the trip. I could edit out all of the boring parts later.
James, Nate and I woke up early the next morning for the last day of surfing. There is a legendary surf spot in Santa Cruz that every California surfer knows as Pleasure Point. We debated about hitting that beach because it was loaded with the pros that make the cover of surfer magazine. O’Neal himself has a house overlooking the point. Finally James just said, “Screw it. Let’s just go. If we get in anybody’s way, we get our asses kicked but it could be worth it.” So we grew some balls, threw the boards on the car and headed for East Cliff Drive.
We drove up close to the edge to get a good look over the side. We were in luck. There were no more than ten surfers out there and they were hanging pretty far out to catch the big waves. We parked our car nearby and grabbed our boards. It was cloudy, but the low fog made the surroundings feel mystic. There is a sign at the top of the cliff just before you head down the stairs to the beach. In big yellow letters it read:
1.FIRST SURFER UP, CLOSEST TO THE CURL HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY.
2. PADDLE AROUND THE BREAK TO GET OUT.
3. HANG ON TO YOUR BOARD, LOOK OUT FOR OTHER SURFERS.
4. HELP OTHER SURFERS IN TROUBLE.
5. RESPECT THE BEACH AND OCEAN
PLEASURE POINT NIGHT FIGHTERS
These were my kind of people.
Green moss covered the slimy rounded rocks and a large tree sat at the tip of the point, branches over hanging the cliff. We all took a nice long stretch, for we knew it would be our last time in the water on this trip. As I looked out into the ocean I saw no waves. It almost looked like a lake. The surfers were waiting patiently and knew there was a reason for it. I slowly walked waist deep into the cold dark water, laid belly first on my surfboard, and paddled slowly out to sea.
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