I had been out of the water for 6 weeks due to some health issues. That may not sound like very long to someone who doesn’t surf and is free of the addictive behavior it inspires in certain individuals. But for said individuals for whom surfing is more than a mere pastime, 6 weeks without getting in the water is an eternity.
I was waiting for the right day; fun sized waves and light winds, hopefully some sunshine. I knew I wasn’t 100 percent yet, but no telling when I would be-maybe another 6 weeks! Sunday looked good; a 2-4 foot steeply angled south swell was due to light up the points and reefs of Malibu.
My buddy Don was house sitting in Calabasas and said he would catch a Lyft down to the PCH; I would pick him up at Malibu Bluffs State Park at 9:45. The drive west on the 10 was not promising-clouds and fog. But once I got to the PCH it was all glorious sunshine. I drove in awe as if making my way up that fabled thoroughfare for the first time. I showed up at 9:45 and texted Don. At ten til I called him. ‘I’m 8 minutes out, sorry!’ He said. No worries. I spent a few minutes stretching in the parking lot as cyclists and hikers pulled in and sorted their gear. I did some yoga. Got bored, checked my phone. A message from Don; ‘sorry I’m actually 15 minutes out not 8, stupid Google maps!’ Yes, Google maps, so stupid.
Wait, I thought, 15 minutes from when? Now? After 30 minutes or so of doing yoga, stretching, and checking Instagram, Don pulled up with his girlfriend Lauren; quite possibly the coolest, nicest girlfriend of a buddy I’ve ever known. ‘Sorry! Sorry, sorry,’ Don kept saying. ‘It’s cool man’ I said, ‘gave me time to stretch.’ We caught up for a few minutes then hit the road for the final stretch to #redacted#. The winds seemed reluctant to come up; which was good considering it was already 10:30.
Arriving at #redacted# the waves looked a little closed out; the tide was full and most of the peaks were shut down-dumping shore break. We patiently watched for a few minutes and were rewarded with a beautiful set that hit the point at the bluff, reeling for 50 yards or so as some lucky rider expertly piloted his short board through the various speed pockets. 3 or 4 waves followed in similar fashion. We had yet to hear from Nick and Kenny (who were coming to meet us), but we fired off a transmission that simply read ‘#redacted# looks fun!’ And began to wax boards and change into wetsuits.
The brothers (Nick and Kenny are brothers) joined us shortly and we all marched down to the bluff. I was eager to get in the water of course having been out so long on a forced sabbatical, but also because I had purchased a new wetsuit; which apparently was quite effective as I was burning up there on the shore. Not to mention I was due to meet my sister at church in a couple hours. My previous wetsuit (which served honorably for 4 years), had become quite worn out and during its last season in service I ended each session due to excessive shivering. It was May, but the water was still a cool 58 degrees, so I was shocked when I plunged in with my new Nine Plus Japanese neoprene wetsuit and didn’t feel a thing. No piercing cold rush that makes you momentarily dizzy. I paddled out to the lineup, sat up, and felt as warm as I do in the cafe as I write.
Now to catch and attempt to ride a wave. I had no idea how this would go but was optimistic. Five minutes after reaching the lineup a 3 foot wedge popped up before me; I spun around, took a couple strokes, and quickly realized it was a bit of a late takeoff as the wave wedged and quickly pitched on the shallow reef. I didn’t have the reaction time or the strength to compensate, and wound up riding the swell, shamefully, on my belly.
I paddled back out thoroughly deflated, checking out of the corner of my eye to see if the guys had noticed my colossal fumble of a perfectly good right. They seemed oblivious as usual. One of my favorite things about surfing is that it’s full of second chances. You bungle one wave and are momentarily defeated, but after a few minutes you completely forget about it and take the wave of the day. Or just an average wave that makes your day, whatever. I never remember the bad waves, but the great ones I will never forget.
Don caught a set wave and laid down a couple high speed, stylish turns on his 5’4” quad. I decided to be a little more careful in my wave selection for the remainder of the session. Letting a couple go that I wasn’t so sure about, I finally found wide open, well shaped corner. This time I was in good position and the wave allowed an extra split second to get to my feet. I took a conservative approach; drawing a line high on the wave, gaining speed, before making a bottom turn and sending myself back to the lip. The wave sectioned ahead of me and I kicked out with butterflies in my stomach.
I passed Kenny on the way back out. He was sitting wide of the pack on his own peak. We gave each other a nod. I’d had some of my best sessions in the last year at a spot around the corner with him. I contemplated those as I made my way back to the boiling takeoff zone.
Nick and I got to catch up for the first time in months. He recently put in his notice at the job he’s held for over a decade; his painting career having taken off in the last year, and with solo show and art residency in the coming months he figured it was time to take the plunge. I couldn’t be more thrilled for the guy having watched him ply his trade for so long, doing the occasional show and patiently waiting for his time.
Of course I couldn’t resist interrupting him a couple times during our conversation to take some of the wedging rights that consistently rolled through. With each wave I got a little more confidence-making more turns, staying closer to the pocket. I was stoked just to be out there, and especially stoked not to be freezing.
I had to cut my session short to get to church, but was satisfied (and pretty beat) after an hour chasing peaks and avoiding rocks. I caught a racing insider and washed in on the warm sand.
I was 30 minutes late for church, but it was worth it. And anyway I blamed it on Don.