By Tim Ryan
Pleasure Point is breaking 3-4 feet with the occasional 5-foot peak. It’s ridiculously smooth…classic California green glass. Wave faces sparkle with little diamonds rising and falling. Nature’s art. A surfer’s dream.
My dreaming is broken.
“Are we going out or not?” Steve, my companion barks at me in our camper van.
“I’m enjoying the moment do you mind?”
I’m remembering 1966 when Steve’s brother (Dennis) and I drove into Pleasure Point from L.A. at 2 p.m. and saw dead glass, 5 and 6-foot peeling south swells from Sewer Peak to Wild Hook, three-quarters of a mile away. Glassy at 2 p.m. We rarely saw anything like that at L.A. county beaches.
“O.K. already! Are we going out?” Steve is relentless, hyping on coffee and surf stoke.
Do I have everything? It’s 52 degrees, water 54 and overcast skies.
My wetsuit gear is still wet from yesterday’s go out and my neck aches.
“Oh God,” Steve says.
O.K., let’s see: Booties, check; gloves, check; hoodie, check; full body Lycra surf suit, check; Lycra surf socks, check; heated Lycra top, check; full wetsuit, check; Celebrex, check. I’m good to go. This is so complicated.
“Hold it!” Steve says. “You have Celebrex? I’m out.”
“Well, Mr. Impatience, would you like one?”
He sneers. The teasing game is something we’ve played for years. I hold up the nearly full bottle of Celebrex and a bottle of high dosage Ibuprofen. I rattle both of them in front of his face.
“First one’s free, junkie.”
“Idiot,” he says. He’s called me that for years and I him. I hand him the Celebrex and we both indulge hoping our joints will feel the affect quickly. Then he – not me – heads down the cement steps to the Pleasure Point beach below and the paddle out.
I just can’t do it today. I’m tired, stiff, feeling down. But I need to rest, recover from the day before. Not here to prove anything.
It’s the cleanest swell of the last three days. Sigh. I’ll watch from the cliff.
Nearly five decades ago – 1966 – Dennis, Steve’s brother – and I, made the trek for the first time from L.A to Santa Cruz for the mythical waves and few crowds the city offered then. Our home would be a blue VW van with a self-made twin bed. Inside was Dennis’ custom Yater with three layers of 10-oz cloth – Renny required Dennis to put down half the price because no one else would buy it if he didn’t – my 10-2 Hobie Phil Edwards model, and two O’Neil Short John wetsuits. No leashes.
Driving down 41st Avenue in Santa Cruz our eyes widened when we passed the actual O’Neill shop, the largest we’d ever seen.
“Let’s go back after surfing and see if he’s there,” Dennis said. Yes we were a bit kookish.
It was August. When we arrived at Pleasure Point, the horizon was filled with lines of clean, glassy overhead south swells. The kelp was gyrating and shimmering in the afternoon sun; a delicious prediction of clean waves.
“Jeeeeesus,” Dennis said.
I was speechless, giddy, and smiling. I had seen Rincon and Malibu perfection, but there were actually quality waves outside of southern California! (Yes, I know, how ignorant.)
We geared up and scrambled down the sandstone cliff side rushing into the chilly water. We did double sessions for three days. Afterward we found a local colleges where we could shower secretly in the gymnasium facility. At nights we would open our sleeping bags on the VW’s mattress, hang our wetsuits outside the van on hangars, prepare our next day’s clothes, then find a neighborhood close to Steamer’s or Pleasures or Stockton to crash for the night.
Each night we fell asleep talking about our best and worse waves, feeble nose riding attempts, wipeouts, swim ins, waves we missed, the feeling of finding such a city with such incredible waves. It was Oz to us and we were the tin man and the lion.
Back to the future.
After two days in San Francisco surfing Ocean Beach las week, Steve and I pack up to head to Half Moon Bay where we will camp for the night. If there’s surf maybe we’ll hit it. We’re both a bit beat from Ocean Beach’s rips and currents and annoying shore break. This may end up a day of rest with some imbibing.
Half Moon Bay State Park is beautiful, on the ocean, and crowded. The adjoining beach break is glassy and about three feet peeling along a sandbar and into a channel. It’s cold – low 50s – so we agree that we rest.
Tomorrow will be Santa Cruz, but tonight we talk story.
Steve reminds me of the his first Santa Cruz trip. His brother Dennis decided after three days with me in SC he wants to give Steve a birthday surprise.
“I want to drive back to L.A to get Steve and bring him up here for his birthday,” he says.
“Uh, this is a perfect overhead swell,” I argue. “Let’s wait until it drops.”
Dennis is insistent so we leave at sunset arriving in L.A. at dawn. Dennis drives all the way; I fall asleep in the back of the van listening to the radio where Beachboys’ sing “Wouldn’t it be nice…”
Two days later we leave L.A. again with Steve and his friend Terry and their boards, an 8-6 Greg Noll and 9-foot Harbor banana model, respectively. We hype the SC waves throughout the drive. And when we arrive in the city the surf doesn’t disappoint.
“I remember how glassy it was,” says Steve who was 16 back then. “I was psyched but nervous.”
That next morning, Steve, wearing a wetsuit vest he bought for $2, Terry with no wetsuit, Dennis and I in O’Neil Short Johns hit Pleasure Point for four hours.
“I remember you took off on this overhead wave and Terry and I caught it inside and proned it in front of you,” he says.
“Why hell the didn’t you stand up? I asked.
“We were terrified. New place, new wave, cold water, kelp. I nearly passed out,” he says.
In the van Dennis and I share the top mattress when we sleep; Steve sleeps on the uneven VW floor below us and Terry is on the front bench seat. Every night we slept like the dead; surfed out, sunburned faces – sunblock had not been invented yet – salt caked hair. Pure joy.
Current reality check….No mas hombre.
Today Steve and I have a tricked out camper van. At Half Moon Bay State Park our dinner is leftovers from a Mexican/Peruvian restaurant in Pacifica where we had a lunch of chicken enchiladas and a Hawaiian burrito. To that we had some red wine, chocolate chop cookies, a perfect campfire, and memories.
Two old guys reminiscing. Joyous mostly, quite nostalgic about those wonderful days of our youth. We miss Dennis, of course. I miss being a bit more innocent and stoked, the classic glide of surfing, the ease of putting on a back zip wetsuit. I have a front zip now which is much warmer.
What was then can’t be the same again. Nor should it be. Life changes. Around the blazing camp fire, Steve remembers during that that first SC trip that a guy at the Doug Hout surf shop at Pleasure Point asked us if we wanted to borrow this new board called a Hobie noserider.
“We had it for four days, riding the tip like we never had before,” Steve said.
Hmmm. A board specifically designed for riding the nose. Imagine that.
That first trip also included a surprise midnight visit around while we snoozed in a Pleasure Point neighborhood. We’re awakened by a not so gentle tap on the van’s side doors.
Dennis sits up; Steve opens the side door.
“What are you doing here gentlemen?” a Santa Cruz police officer says. He flashes his light around the van.
Before anyone answers, Dennis says “Good evening gendarme!” That was classic Dennis. We figure we’re going to have to move.
Then the amazing happens. The two officers stare at our four boards, sunburned faces, droopy eyes, and uncombed hair. They start laughing.
“You guys are way to tired to cause trouble,” one officer said smiling. “You can stay tonight but don’t come back to this spot tomorrow. By the way how was the surf?”
“Those days are gone,” Steve says.
He’s right of course. Santa Cruz has grown exponentially like most California surf towns. And with that growth and exclusivity there are more rules all strictly enforced.
“It’s the most popular surf town in California,” says Todd, a teacher at a nearby New Brighton school. “There’s no going back. Everyone knows this is an incredible place to live and surf.”
This day I watch Steve in the water gliding through green sections with the other classic style riders. I’m happy to see the return of the glide, long boarding surfers being one with the waves, respectful moves for the sake of the sport and not an audience. Old school I know. Steve is a respected example of the style.
A third of the surfers in the Pleasure Point surf are female. Twenty percent of all of the surfers here are post 50. And everyone pretty much is friendly with aloha. They make us feel comfortable and welcomed.
While sitting at our Half Moon Bay campfire I sense that Steve is upset. I’ve known him – and him me – for more than half a century. He’s my best friend – and I’m a selfish guy – but he still hangs with me.
“What did I do?” I ask. (I need to prod him at times.) It’s been a long day of dealing with various logistics of travel with lots of luggage and gear and a cold climate. Drying wetsuits; bagging surfboards. Nerves are frayed. The trip is still another two weeks.
Like a marriage you can’t just let emotions simmer.
“I’ve done something to piss you off,” I say. “I’m tired and not happy about my, you know, go out at Ocean Beach. How did I fuck up?”
Steve’s shoulders relax only slightly. He’s the guy on this trip who makes sure all the van’s doors are locked, all valuables are hidden, we both have car keys, parking spaces are legal, food packed appropriately, and which oncoming cars are likely to crash into us. The guy is always working.
“Uh, well,” he says softly, “when you were strapping your two boards on the van in SF I thought (because your straps were so long) you were also going to let me share yours. You finished yours so I had to get my own out.”
Ouch, he’s right. I was tired and forgetful and just being Tim. I’m not the model of selflessness.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I thought you wanted to use your own straps. I’ll ask next time. I was really tired.”
Disappointment over. We open a bottle of cheap red wine and we laugh about friendship, Hawaii, other surf trips, and what tomorrow will bring.
“Dennis would have loved this,” Steve says as we click glasses.
Aloha to our hanai brother.
Contest time: Can you guess what Steve is holding in the bag? The winner receives…our thanks. Aloha!