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"Surf: Dropping In"

[written July 6, 2003]

"Not tragic to die doing what you love. You want the ultimate thrill, you gotta be willing to pay the ultimate price."

-Bodhi, from Point Break

There are only a few movies centering on surfing, and Point Break is one of the most well-known of them. Patrick Swayze plays the role of Bodhi, a bank robber who leads a gang of adrenaline-seeking surfers directly into the FBI's Johnny Utah, Keanu Reeves. When Utah first connects with Bodhi while undercover, Bodhi differentiates himself from other surfers:

BODHI: "The one you decked is Bunker Wiess. The big one is his brother, Warchild. The other two always hang. They think they're some kinda death squad around here."

UTAH: "What's their program?"

BODHI: "They're punks. Nazis. Their brains are wired wrong. They hurt surfing because they give nothing back, and they have no respect for the sea. They just want to get radical. It's mindless aggression. They'll never get it, the spiritual side of it."

UTAH: "You always talk like this? You're not gonna start chanting or anything are you?"

BODHI: "Yeah, I just might!"

Jump to my life. This is the first time I've ever lived in Cali, but now I'm convinced it's the only place I'd ever live in the States. When I first came to Monterey, I wasn't really expecting to go to the beach much, because all everyone ever talks about is how cold the water is in central/north Cali.

Well, it's true, but I caught the surfing bug, bruddah...

The first time I went, I went with a jerk beefcake dumbass and a nice beefcake dumbass. The jerk was all like, "Dude, I'm pretty gnarly on a board; I'll hook you up with some pointers". Me and the nice guy just politely thanked him.

After renting some boards and wetsuits from MWR, the military's recreational organization, we headed down to Asilomar, a beach which is maybe 5 minutes away from the military post as well as Pebble Beach. It was full of choppy, relentless waves that you can't really surf on because the waves break up each other's patterns.

We didn't really know that at the time.

That first day was a lot of swallowed water and tired arms. I can't say I enjoyed it too much, plus the wetsuit doesn't stop your hands from cramping up, and your feet from going numb.

The best part of the day was seeing The Jerk go in for five minutes and mysteriously injure his arm, leading to his driving off to do some shit while we surfed. What a poser!

I decided I'd try again a few weeks later. I went to the same place again with another friend. It wasn't long before his board was on one side of the beach, and he was flailing somewhere on the other. He quit after that one.

After that, I gave up. I had no one to surf with, and little hope at improving. The waves sucked. My dreams of being Bodhi were bleak.

BODHI: "It's basic dog psychology, brah. If you scare them, get them pissing down their leg, they submit...you control them. If you project weakness, you draw aggression...that's how people get hurt. Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true. You project strength to avoid conflict."

A few months later, I moved in with a guy who owned his own wet suit and booties and used to live next to a Cali beach. Some guys on post organized a surf club and my roommate expressed interest in going to the first meeting. After coming back from the first one, he was stoked.

He went without me, his first time, and met up with the surf club in Capitola, a little south of Santa Cruz, at a place called Pleasure Point.

I remember the day well because I was pissed off waiting for his ass to get back, so we could go up to San Fran. As it turns out, my friend had a great time, and that's why it took so long for him to return.

A couple weeks later, we both went back to Pleasure Point. To get there, we drove north along Highway 1, passing through miles of cropland, with everything from garlic to strawberries to artichokes to even these strange 15-foot boards carved and painted in the shapes of hard-working white farmers. (an eery sight when you drive through at night, and see only large silhoettes through the usual darkness and fog) What an honest, hard-working example of American agriculture! Well, not really, because, among those cut-outs, you always see hundreds of illegal alien Mexican workers toiling, picking fruits or vegetables.

As it turns out, pretty much all of Highway 1 along the Cali coast is crop land. And near Salinas and Watsonville, which are between Monterey and Santa Cruz, is one of the largest areas containing migrant workers in the country. As detailed in "Reefer Madness" by Eric Schlosser (who also wrote "Fast Food Nation"), Salinas and Watsonville make a killing off unregistered Mexican employees and sharecroppers in an attempt to drive down operating costs.

It gives our drive north a whole new outlook, knowing that we're passing through crops fertilized with the sweat of people being taken advantage of. The highway troopers of course look the other way, towards people going 10mph over the limit.

So we rented the necessary equipment (wetsuits for body warmth) and looked at the break. Nice, long rolling waves which are easy for beginners, but which don't come that frequently. If anything, they come in bunches, but you'll only catch 1 or 2 before you're at the shore and can't ride the others. Then more waves won't come for maybe another half an hour.

The place was a blast. We would return there many more times. After surfing for 4-5 hours, we'd change, turn in our stuff, and then go get some pizza from Pleasure Pizza, oven-baked by 16-year-olds who must smoke pot and surf in their off-time. We'd sit outside the restaurant, among scores of young, beautiful people, and we'd get these really chewy, delicious chocolate chip cookies from the convenience store next door. Then we'd go back to post and proceed to talk about the experience the rest of the week to anyone willing to hear.

Well, it didn't take long before other people wanted to come. One guy from our class ended up being the first to come, but he surfed for only a little while before watching from the beach. (and getting a bad sunburn on his feet, I might add)

But he would return again and liked it much more the next time. We'd bring some other people, but most don't like the experience: paddling till your arms become bricks, ingesting some salt water inadvertantly, feeling cold in your extremities.

As it turned out, the surf trips had become such a story that we jokingly started a group called H3O, for my roommate, the above guy, and me. It didn't take long before we used all the clichéd phrases: "We ride together, we die together," for example.

But H30 didn't leave much room for expansion, so we decided to turn it into an inner sanctum of sorts, the founding members of a board that would organize the larger group, Surf Jihad, an homage to our Arabic studies. Now Surf Jihad is intended for anyone who wants to join us on the break.

H3O has been busy. We've been trying to put together an initiation process for Surf Jihad, one which includes films that should be part of a surfing canon. We started with "Point Break", but then we added a more recent film, "Blue Crush", featuring hot female surfers and the Pipeline on the north shore of O'ahu. Michelle Rodriguez and her hot, mean self try to motivate her friend who's going to surf the Pipeline, the most dangerous spot on Earth, for a contest. I thought this movie would be cheesy and despite complaints to the contrary, the surfing footage is top-notch.

We've also added "Big Wednesday", which has Gary Busey as the aptly-named "Masochist". "Endless Summer" is still being screened. All members will have to have watched these movies in order to have some idea of what they're getting into. And yeah, maybe we'll start chanting and shit.

Another weekend, it was just H3O surfing. The newest guy was paddling hard for a wave, when another man who was already standing up cut across him and accused my friend of dropping in on him. I told my friend that I could see the guy calling him names when he was done on the wave. My friend, for some reason, decided he was going to paddle over to the guy and tell him to "watch where the hell [he was] going." Well, next thing we knew, the old guy was like, "What the Hell did you just say to me?" and then he paddled over and got in my friend's face while my friend kept egging him on. "What are you going to do, old man?" was responded with "You're barred from this beach, kook!" "Kook" is some dumbass name surfers use to describe a newbie who's trying to act in the know. Next the guy had my friend in a headlock from behind and I guess he was trying to pull him under, but my friend is 6'3" and was standing on the ocean floor. "You're twice my age, and you're acting like a baby!" my friend said. The old man gave us our first taste of "localization", another dumb term which stands for the protectionism locals give to certain beaches. The old man rapped my friend on the head twice, while my friend continued to tell the guy that he's an advanced surfer and could've easily avoided my friend if he wasn't being a prick. Eventually, the guy gave up and swam away. He'd lose in a fight to my much bigger friend, but he got in, "Take your rental board and go home." I responded, "We have to start somewhere, SIR."

Prior to this event, I thought the warnings of locals were just silly stories. Now I see that it curses the sport of surfing, with insecure assholes deciding they want to own a patch of water and keep others off it. I want to be better at surfing, but for the most part, surfers are complete cocks.

Also prior to this, our friend's nickname had been "The Prodigy", because he seems to be talented at everything, and is quite young. But after this event, we now call him "The Punk", even though the old man was out of line.

My roommate and I decided we needed nicknames too. We settled on "The Pope" for him, because he's, well, I don't remember. I think it's because he says he's into the spiritual side of surfing or some shit. Or because it was an old nickname of him. It's probably because he often stupidly chooses abstinence when presented with a sexual opportunity. =P

My nickname was "The Professor", because I always seemed to have dumb and irrelevant information to share on various subjects. But H3O decided to lengthen it, I guess, and now it's "Professor Doublehump", to acknowledge my ability to eat and eat and eat, like a camel drinks water, or something. It really doesn't make sense in retrospect, but it's still funny.

So now I try to surf every weekend, since that's the only time I have time, but my time's running out before I move away from Cali, possibly for a very long time. We'll see; some get stationed in Hawai'i, which is even better, natch. Hell, that's where beefcake jerk is going.

I've learned a lot, but Pleasure Point is just too slow and now we're eager to find another place or two to go to, to get even better. We can see ourselves getting better than the beginners, for once. But it's a long way from doing aerials, or carving the lip, or any fancy stuff. We've tried a few beaches along the Cali coast, and there's a long beach over in Carmel with frequent waves that break pretty close to the sandbar. I'd like to try southern Cali beaches, with warmer water. And I think about my missed opportunity to surf when I went to the north shore of O'ahu a few years ago...

When I talk about surfing, people always express their desire to pick it up too. But they never end up going. You can't resist the feeling of having a huge wave catch your board and hurtle you down and out, gliding you across the water before you slide up to your feet. It's an addictive sport. A sport full of dickheads, to be sure, but still a great sport. And one that changes your perspective on life. =P

Ben Harp: "Special agent Utah! This is not some job, flipping burgers at the local drive-in! Yes! Your surf board bothers me! Yes! Your approach to this whole damn case bothers me! And yes! YOU BOTHER ME! And Pappas! Oh, for the love of Christ. How the hell did I even let you talk me into this whole bone-headed idea to begin with?"

Pappas: Harp! We are working under-cover. It takes time. We've produced a few...

Ben Harp: NO! No no no no no no NO! Let me tell you what you've produced... Over the last two weeks, you two have produced exactly squat! SQUAT! During which time the ex-presidents have robbed two more banks. Now for Christ's sake, does either one of you have anything even remotely interesting to tell me?

[brief pause]

Johnny Utah: I caught my first tube today... Sir.


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