8 July 2017 | Saturday
Woke at 7 am, heat wave; sunny, calm, still cool. Texted Nick to see if he wanted to make a surf run, responded quickly, ‘in!’ Thirty minutes of packing, light stretching, coffee. The van is already an oven at this early hour; could probably dry fruit or dehydrate some cashews in there. It’s engine being housed directly beneath the driver’s seat makes for a toasty ride, added to that the fact that the passenger window is stuck in the up position makes a trip to the beach from my Silverlake apartment seem like a voyage across the Sahara.
I don’t even have to honk, the van announces its presence with a clanging symphony. Nick’s ready on arrival; a small miracle. Load up and in short order we’re South Bay bound-a flawless pick up. This is important because the ‘devil winds’ (sea breezes) come up quick on the hot summer days-woe to him who lingers over coffee. Almost on the freeway, Nick pipes up-
‘Kenny just woke up, wants in…’
Perfect! Kenny; Nick’s younger brother who’s out late every Friday night carousing, talking to girls, and holding us up the following morning, never fails! But we can’t leave Kenny behind.
‘We could just leave him behind,’ Nick offers.
‘We can’t leave Kenny behind.’
Detour to Kenny’s place in Angelino Heights. Beautiful turn of the century cottage tucked away on an impossibly charming street. Kenny loads up quickly and we’re off again, racing the wind.
The El Porto lot is closed; the peaks all look too crowded anyway, a tumultuous sea of flailing advertising agents and yoga enthusiasts. We gladly pass. I drive straight for Manhattan Beach pier. Parking is scarce but we find a spot overlooking the deep blue Pacific. Hustle down to the beach in baggies; it’s a long, hot walk through a dense crowd of holidaymakers and by time we reach the south side of the pier I feel too tired to surf. Kenny and Nick carry on a running conversation but I’m not paying attention; too busy stretching, observing the conditions. Winds are still very light, waves mostly waist high though occasional shoulder high swells roll through scattering the handful of takers. In contrast to Porto, there are only a dozen or so surfers out, a mere fraction of the mayhem a mile north.
The south side looks pretty fun; wedging peaks unfurl on the bar a stone’s throw from the pilings. A second peak further south offers a little more breathing room should one happen to want to go left. We paddle out at the latter. Immediately the cool, clear water recharges every cell of my person. I feel like a new man; roaming up and down the lineup, hunting for corners. It’s nearly full tide but the outside bar is still working, connecting all the way inside. A chest high, bowling left materializes before me; take a few strokes shoreward and drop in. It’s an easy, slow takeoff with all the water over the bar, a few yards down the line though the wave stands up tall and I’m forced to abandon my casual approach and make some forward progress. Moving up on the sled I take a few concise turns to gain speed and soon my 6’5” is gliding down the line towards the shoulder inside. I reach the corner with a fair bit of speed, and lay into a cutback allowing the board’s curves to dictate my line; which ends up being tight and fast and when I come all the way around my back leg naturally drops knock knee style into the front in response to the quick change of direction. The turn feels so damn good I feel like tearing my wetsuit off and doing a war dance right there in the shallows. In my state of exuberance I sort of fumble in the whitewater and lose my board to shore.
For an hour and a half or so we trade incredibly fun peaks under clear skies with light winds and light crowd. Every wave ends in dry sand if you lack the discipline to kick out in time; which isn’t so bad. Nick and Kenny get their share of peaky takeoffs and are grinning from ear to ear with goosebumps all over their bare chests (I opted for a shortie).
My last wave was not one I rode. I had just paddled for a medium size right and missed, and spinning back around was confronted by a massive wave (probably from the next south swell that was apparently arriving that day). The water between it and myself-what little there was-was sucking like a vortex up into the oncoming wall. I pushed with all the force I could summon from my 140 lbs to sink the 6’5”, 3” thick egg, but I would have been just as well to abandon the thing and dive. The wave-which looked like something from Puerto Escondido-dispensed with my sled in short order, ripping it from my desperate grasp and sending the rail directly into my left thigh. The resulting sensation was one I only remembered from high school football, when some idiot would ‘spear’ your leg with the top of his helmet. In any case I more or less floated to shore; propelling myself butterfly style with my arms as the breakers did the rest. I collected my board, nauseous from the pain, and enthusiastically exchanged high fives with the guys; euphoric from the wave sliding.
Kenny told me several days later as I was still recovering that, as him and his brother watched my glacial progress shoreward; having no idea of my injury, Nick had confidently declared as the older brother and thus expert in all matters,
‘Yea, it’s really hard to get in when you lose your board.’