Going back home to the Surf

beach 00After doing several hikes in the desert over the past three weeks, I decided it was time for a change. First option is usually to go up into the mountains, since our home is surrounded by mountains. But I decided to take a different kind of trip; a pilgrimage of sorts – to the beach.

It is a couple hour drive from our house to many of the Southern California beaches, assuming no traffic. But often the drive time can double. And most of the beaches are extremely crowded, especially on weekends. But there are some secluded places, especially on weekdays. Not to mention lagoons and estuaries. Good hiking and even overnight camping can be found if you know where to look.

Once a Surfer

As a kid I surfed nearly every day during the summer. I had a Greg Noll surfboard – custom made at 8’6” and was considered a small surfboard in the early 1960’s. Since we lived 3 miles from the beach, we normally hitch-hiked to get there, often with surfboard in hand. When I had extra money, I would store the board at Stan’s Surfboard Shop (I think that was the name) in Hermosa Beach. Since my parents didn’t know I had saved money and bought the board, most of the time it was kept at my friend, Steve’s house. Later I owned a 10’ Rick surfboard.

I haven’t surfed since 1969, when I went into the military. Backpacking became my main recreational focus and I haven’t lived close to the surf in 35 years. But I am always attracted to the ocean.

Sights, Sounds, and Smells

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Arriving at my destination, I walked along some inland watercourses. You always know when you are close to the ocean; the salt water permeates the air. And for me, it awakened some long forgotten memories.

Most years, the month of June brings us what is referred to as “June Gloom.” Overcast skies in the morning, which usually burn off and give way to sunny afternoons. As a kid, I usually surfed near Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. However in the early 60’s there was no pier. It had been washed away in a storm, and years later a huge concrete pier was constructed. Each morning as I walked down the street, the air and sidewalks were damp with moisture. None of the stores were opened, except for a bakery and the salt water smell of the air was overcome by sweet tantalizing aromas as one approached the bakery. If I had any money, I would buy a glazed donut. Small amounts of sand, tracked by people from the beach, would appear on the sidewalk as we neared the strand, which paralleled the beach. June was the month of conditioning barefoot walking, and the granules of sand on the sidewalk were easily felt. By the end of June, our feet would be hardened and tough.

Normally we would have good surfing until around 10 am, when the surf would be “washed out.” Also by 10 o’clock the flat-landers and “Hodads” were arriving at the beach. The life guards would place “black ball” flags on the beach to designate the no surfing areas, and these guardians of the public would man their stations in the towers, making sure we did not surf the Hodad designated lanes.

Since we were just kids and did not have cars, we hung out on the beach. Usually from 10 or so until noon we would lie on the beach working on our sun tans. We would also go hunting for soda bottles, redeeming them for enough money to buy a basket of French Fries for lunch. There was a restaurant that only sold French Fries, and a basket of fries cost 25 cents.

Afternoons were spent playing volley ball, body surfing (surfing without a board), and generally enjoying the beach. If the surf looked like it would improve in the afternoon, we were ready. If not, we would hitch-hike home around 4 pm. This was life from June until September every year.

And those memories came back as I walked for many miles without actually touching any beach sand.

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Heading north, the land began to rise above the ocean and cliffs overlooked the ocean. I came to a place with few people and walked down to the ocean.


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After about 5 minutes of searching for a good spot to surf, I took off all my clothes except for my hiking shorts and entered the water. As I had done as a kid, I slowly walking into the shallow water… somewhat cold water… moving forward until it would be deep enough to dive in and shock my body with coldness, which would soon disappear with the effort of swimming towards the breaking waves. Waves breaking and dissipating close to the shore is a churning force of receding water and incoming depleting waves; we used to call this the soup.

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Far enough out, I floated waiting for a wave to form. As the wave forms, the base pulls you backwards to the face of the wave and you soon find yourself at the top lip of the wave. As the wave breaks, you position yourself to ride down the face in the general direction the wave is breaking (left or right). Because you don’t have the weight (or maneuverability of a surfboard), you can body surf smaller waves that are not good for surfboarding. And my first wave was a good one… a long ride almost to the edge of the water on the beach.

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After an hour or so, I was tired. Grabbing my gear I walked along the beach and was soon dry. Another excellent trip. And who was it that said you “can never go home?”

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