April 2, 2013
Bobbers and Sinkers
The underpowered Volkswagen hummed as we we sped through the cobblestone streets of the tiny Spanish town. Jokin, the Basque local whose house we were staying at, sang along to some American pop song that was never popular in America. I didn’t want to spoil his illusions of America with this insight however, and kept my mouth shut. The van smelled of damp wetsuits and smoke from hand rolled cigarettes. Surfboards of all shapes, sizes and colors took up two thirds of the bench seat beside me. Rounding a sharp corner, I braced the stack of boards with my forearm.
“How much farther until we will be able to see the wave?” Ryan Burch asked from the passenger seat.
“Ehhh five minutes, maybe a little more,” Jokin responded optimistically. This meant about fifteen minutes, I surmised.
For the last few days, Ryan had been working on shaping and glassing a board specifically for Mundaka. A looming swell had the locals in a frenzy. Big waves spots in Portugal and Spain were breaking and surfers from around the world were flying in. Garret McNamara would ride a 100 foot wave that same day, a few hundred miles from where we were on the same coastline. It was pure coincidence that we were in the area for the swell. We had been planning our trip for months. Unprepared for the coming waves, Ryan shaped a new board, designed for bigger waves. Ryan’s boards are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As a gifted surfer and visionary shaper, Ryan pushes the boundaries of what surfboards can do. Instead of imitating and updating the past, as is the norm these days, he experiments with new designs. Form follows function. My good friend Cyrus has believed in Ryan’s surfing and shapes for years, but it took seeing him in action to fully appreciate it.
As a goofy footed surfer, Ryan’s boards are specifically designed to work with a right foot forward stance. The carbon rails give the board strength and allow them to flex. Check out more of his designs on his tumblr, Bobbers and Sinkers.
The van pulled over on the shoulder on a grassy hill. Firing up the hazard lights, we jumped out and stood on the guardrail. A warm south wind blew from behind us. Even from the hill, a few miles away from the wave, I could tell there was something special happening. Starting at the point and feathering a few hundred yards into the river mouth, the waves lined up. They were big. Bigger than any surfable wave I’d ever seen. The look of shock and anticipation on Ryan’s face reinforced my growing idea that this was a day I couldn’t miss. The urgency and severity of the opportunity was contagious.
“Classic Mundaka! This is rare, a gift.” Jokin said in a thick Basque accent as swung back into the driver’s seat and shut the door. Turning on the van, we peeled off. The whole stop had lasted maybe fifteen seconds.
“You gotta go out.” Ryan said, facing forward in the passenger seating. Before I could answer, he turned around and looked me in the face. “You’ll be fine. Take Cy’s gun.”
As soon as I saw the waves, standing on the guardrail, I knew I had to go. Smiling sheepishly I nodded in agreement.
Sprinting toward the harbor, the arms of my wet suit flapped at my waste. At the end of the walk way, we zipped up our suits, pulled our hoods over our heads and checked our leashes. Pausing, I watched a wave grind through, sucking sand up the face and throwing spray fifteen yards behind it. As I stood in awe, Ryan moved with the efficiency, seemingly unimpressed.
Standing up, Ryan tested his fins and moved towards the ten foot ledge over hanging the mouth of the Harbor.
“I’ll see you out there.”
Here are some more links,
Bobbers and Sinkers Tumblr (Ryan Burch’s Blog).
March 19, 2013
Cooped up in my apartment in New York, just over two years ago, I started obsessing over buying one of my own and living out of it. Since then, I’ve left New York and moved into a van. This transition has fueled my interest in and appreciation for such vehicles. Shortly after moving into my van, I started tagging vans and other campers with #vanlife tag on instagram and then put together the submission-based Tumblr to go a long with it. Recently, I worked with my friend Maddie Joyce on coming up with a new design for the site. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Here are some of my favorite shots I’ve taken doing the last two years and shared through the site.
A Nissan pick up in Central Baja, Mexico, Winter 2013.
A Westfalia parked along the PCH north of Ventura, Winter 2013.
My Syncro parked in the Los Padres National Forest, Summer 2012.
A Toyota parked on the beach in Southern Baja, Winter 2012.
A surplus Russian Transport parked on the Beach in Kamchatka Russia, Summer 2012.
The idea isn’t a fetishizing of the vehicles themselves, but a celebration of the idea of traveling by cheep in a vehicle. The site has received thousands of submissions since launching and its been great to see all the inspiring photos come in. Head over to van-life.net and share your photos of ships of the open road.
Here are some more links,
Vanlife (#tag on instagram),
Home Is Where Your Park It! (Facbook).
March 13, 2013
The Sun Also Rises
“Do you hear that?” I asked to no one in particular. “The rain stopped,” I chuckled in surprise and contempt.
Cyrus (Sutton) looked up from the pot of vegetables he was cooking on a stove in the small apartment in Hendaye, France and studied the window. The squall had subsided, and the trees were no longer shaking like middle school boys at their first dance. “Looks like it,” he said, returning to his afternoon snack.
Since arriving in Bilbao a week before, the wind and rain had never stopped. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest and experiencing a fair share of New England’s Nor’easters, the Basque weather caught me off guard. The storms came in from the North Atlantic, slowed a little bit courtesy of the small speed bump known as the British Isles and then slammed into the southern European coast. During our stay in the Basque country, the largest wave ever surfed,was surfed five hours down the coast in Portugal.
James and Ryan looked out the window and nodded in agreement. Despite arriving in Bilbao a week before, we were still jet lagged and worn out from surfing.
“What time is Sancho meeting us for dinner?”
“We have to meet him in San Sebastian at 7:30.”
Glancing at my watch, it was few minutes before four. I was restless and jet lagged. My clothes were damp and sandy from the constant transition from standing on a rainy beach to wearing a wetsuit to standing back on rainy beach. Rising from the couch, I walked over to the window. The sun peered through a break in the clouds. I reached for my bag and jacket. ”I’m going to go grab a coffee and take a look around. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“I may see you at the cafe, I need to check on the good old internet. You know, make sure its still there..”
Walking down the stairs of the comfortable but sparse apartment building, I exited onto the an empty street. The roar of waves crashing against the breakwater at high tide a block away echoed around the Orwellian apartment buildings. Large puddles surrounded the storm grates and scraps from the various palm trees dotted the sidewalks. During the summer months, Hendaye is full of vacationers from inland. It’s not as fancy as Biarritz or San Sebastian and in the off-season it showed. Save for the a few surfers scrambling to get their wetsuits on, the streets looked post Zombie apocalypse.
Heading towards the beach, I searched the pockets of my jacket for my headphones. Finding them, I plugged them into my phone and resumed Hemingway’s fabled, “The Sun Also Rises.” It was nice to be alone and walking in a city, albeit a small, empty one. Back when I lived in New York, I opted out of taking a cab or subway to work and walked instead. That hour per day was my alone time, it kept me sane. I slipped into a similar mindset as I wandered Hendaye’s empty streets.
Luc’s Mini Cooper and his hand shaped eleven foot single fin.
Sancho making lunch.
“Should I stay or should I go now?”
Showers at the Mundaka Harbor.
Ryan Burch having a beer and watching waves at Mundaka after the best day of surfing of the trip.
The planner in Peta’s shaping bay.
The French and Spanish boarder.
A basement stairway in a five hundred year old castle in Spain.
It’s alive! That little black speck on the wave is Ryan Burch.
A 70′s style single fin gun, a two plus one gun, and Cyrus Sutton‘s experimental one plus one gun.
Mildew in the making.
Sancho looking out over a thousand foot cliff.
Red, white and grey.
Cyrus Sutton and my surfboards for the trip.
Cy and his broken 7’6 gun.
The street lights flickered into action, punctuating twilight. My immersion in Hemingway’s bullfights had lasted two hours. I needed to get back to the apartment for dinner. The wind was turning from a straight west to a south. Low pressure in the Atlantic was sucking warm air from Spain’s interior.
“We could score Mundaka in the next few days,” I mumbled to the empty street. ”With any luck, we might get some sun…” I continued my one sided conversation.
Here are some more links,
The Fun Also Rises (Tumblr #),
Regressing Forward (Cyrus Sutton’s blog).
February 19, 2013
That Wicked Country
“When are you going to that wicked country? Your father tells me you are heading down soon. How do you pronounce it? Ba JA?” my 86 year old grandmother inquired from my cousin’s couch in San Diego.
“Dan and I are leaving tomorrow morning.”
“But it’s Christmas. You’re not going to stay? You just got here?”
“I know, Oma, but the highways in Baja will be empty.”
“Isn’t it dangerous? I hear all these stories of people being found with their heads off.”
“It sure can be. The border areas around Texas and incredibly dangerous, but the place where I go is empty. It’s just fishermen and a handful of surfers,” I explained.
“What do you do for food and water? Isn’t it incredible arid?”
“Well we bring food and water in jugs, and we spear fish. Depending on our luck, we buy fish from fisherman”
“So there aren’t restaurants or towns?”
“Think of it like Nevada with waves. You drive 10 hours on a beat up, two lane road and then turn off and drive a few hours on dirt roads and then you park on the beach.”
“…And then you surf all day? Sounds wonderful.”
“It sure is Oma. Especially if you’re into surfing.”
My cousin Becca sat down on the other side of my grandmother, and the conversation shifted away from my upcoming trip. It was already 9:30, and my jet-lagged relatives from the east coast were starting to wind down. The fireplace popped away on wood trucked in from the Sierras and the smell of a Christmas tree overpowered the scraps of dinner still lying on the dinning room table. I was full, too full, and I laid my head back against the wall. I could fall asleep right now, I thought to myself. Across the room, Dan talked with my aunt. Over the chatter, it sounded like he was having a similar conversation with my aunt about the tenets and risks of driving to Baja.
Sunset at low tide in Central Baja.
A Taco stand in Guerrero Negro.
Two 10 footers.
Naranjas for sale on the side of the 1 in Northern Baja.
There is a bad moon on the rise.
Home is where you park it!
Dan after a four hour session.
The refrigerator at a road side Taqueria.
Off my wave cook.
Red, white and blue #vanlife.
A gringo dog watching over a camp in Central Baja.
At 5:32, the standard IOS allarm went off, waking me from my slumber on the couch. Rolling over, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked out the window. It was still pitch black. The street lamps lit the palm trees and a sixty degree Southern California breeze blew in from the open window. Nothing felt like Christmas morning. My cousin Nikko’s snore crept under the bedroom door into the living room. Sunrise wasn’t for another two hours, but we still had to park Dan’s van at the airport and get gas. Those two hours would go by fast. Kicking off the blankets, I reached for my jeans and pulled them on. Feeling around in the dark, I grabbed my backpack and made sure my iPhone charger was in it. Being as quiet as possible, I locked the door behind me and headed out to my van.
Dan was already waiting right behind my van.
“Happy Kwanzaa to you too.”
“You ready to go?”
Here are some more links,
Out of Reception (Tumblr).