July 17, 2013

Big Sur Con Todos

Our caravan of three trucks pulled off the 1 and into the small parking lot.   The marine layer masked the sun’s orientation in the sky, giving the vague feeling that it could be anytime from 8am to 8pm. The parking lot was relatively empty, save for a GMC van with South Dakota plates.  In the world of  road trippers, the South Dakota, or SoDAk, licenses plates are a dead give away that the owner resides full time in their camper.  Pulling up to an open spot, I left my door unlocked and walked towards the rocks overlooking Big Sur’s rocky coast line.

The south swell that filled the beaches of Southern California like a Slim Aarons photo was marching north along the coast.  The waves weren’t as good,  but that didn’t matter. It was well worth avoiding the crowds.

“Oooh that looks, fun…Look at that left!” Trevor said pointing to a mediocre, waist high wave breaking off of a few rocks and then crumbling left for 25 yards before closing out on a shore break.

“Frickin’ Teahupoo out there right now…”

“If we don’t surf now, what are we going to do all day.  It’s…. 11:32,” I said pausing to check my phone.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m out there…” Trevor said, turning and walking back to his truck,  leaving Spencer (Trevor’s younger brother) and Alex Yoder to deliberate about the wave.

“The lulls are pretty long.”

“So we will just wait…Didn’t Lopez say, “you can wait on the beach or you can wait in the ocean?”

“Something like that.”

With a hoot,  Trevor ran past,  holding his fish in one hand. “You guys are blowing it.”

Alex’s rolling home.


Alex and his travel companion, Lucy.

South Swell

Drying rack.

Big Sur backroads.

The inside of Chris’ Econoline Van.

Triple decker.

T-Pee building.


Running back to the parking lot,  I grabbed my wet wetsuit and pulled the legs and arms through.  No time for a towel, I reasoned,  kicking off my jeans.  Just then, a bleached white mini van pulled into the lot, stopping awkwardly in handicap parking spot.  A family of European tourist piled out,  brandishing DSLR’s and iPads.  Caught with my pants down, I wrenched the suit over my heal and wiggled up to my waste line.  Well seasoned to similar acts of liberated self expression on their native beaches,  the Germans (by now I had overheard a few harsh-sounding sentences), didn’t bat an eye and were gone within seconds after snapping a photo of the coastline.  With the dregs of a bar of wax, I added to the dirty wax job on my Mini Simmons and headed towards the trail.

“Give the tourists a view of the natural wildlife?”

“Sure did.  Unfortunately they were more psyched on photographing the bridge.”

Chuckles were exchanged at my expense and we headed down the beach to join Trevor.


Here are some more links,

Square State (Alex Yoder’s Tumblr),

Tearevor (Trevor Gordon’s Tumlbr).

May 8, 2013

Not the First or Last

“Has anyone seen the shit shovel and TP?” I asked, hunting around our camp.

“Dan took it and the Lambo (Dan’s shitty mountain bike with Lamborghini badges) ten minutes ago and headed out for his morning routine.”

My small cup of freshly percolated coffee  was kicking in, bringing the mid morning stroll into the desert for a scenic shit from casual to imminent.

“Fuck.” This is not the answer I was hoping to hear. I scoured our camp of three tents, Dan’s Vanagon, Johnny’s pickup and a dozen or so surfboards for an unmolested roll of toilet paper.  Finding one by the camp fire, I left with purpose.

“Those fifteen tacos you ate yesterday coming back to haunt you?”

“Hardly dude,” I responding with wavering confidence , still believing the hubris that my stomach could support the onslaught of a dozen street tacos in Ensenada with no delayed after affects.

 My brisk walk turned in to a slow jog and eventual settled at a dead sprint down the dirt road leading towards the desert and undefined outhouse zone behind the row of camps.  Looking back, our camp and half a dozen other surfers slowly shrank behind me. “I can make it,” I groaned to myself. A hundred yards in front of me,  Dan crested the small hill walking his bike and holding the TP and shovel in one hand.  We moved with a different sense of urgency.

“Give me that fucking shovel,”  I yelled,  doing my best to mimic Usain Bolt at the Beijing Olympics.

“Oooooh, Taco Greed?”  Dan bent over laughing.  Holding the shovel out in his left hand,  I grabbed the baton and kept on my path.

My situation was quickly deteriorating. Perhaps if, I walked slowly I could control myself?  No time for that. The shovel would be used as a clean up operation not to dig a premeditated, shallow grave digging tool as I had hoped when I left camp a minute before.

Avoiding cactus and other foot fuckers that could compromise my chances of making it out of this unscathed and unsoiled,  I left the trail and set out over the hard ground of the Baja Desert.  Dan’s laughs faded as I crested the small hill.  Glancing behind me, Dan’s head was still visible but the camp behind him was blocked.

I spun around, dropping the shovel and TP in one motion. Frantically, I fidgeted with my belt.  Despite my sprinting and efforts, the dike broke as I unbuttoned my jeans.  Inches from the finish line, I crashed.

Nap time.

Home is where you park it!

Suiting up.

Restocking on produce at a local grocery store.

Local transportation.

Erin attending to the morning dishes.

Everything you need,  nothing you don’t.

Tide pool exploration.

Siesta Time.

Kitchen for six.

A luxury.

Shred sticks.

Halibut beware.

Right by the beach.

Let there be light.

Dan’s Subaru powered Vanagon.

Shred sleds.

Ryan heading out to shred a few.

Banana boat.


Changing room.

Going through the roll of toilet paper like a ten year old through Fruit Stripe Gum,  I  cleaned up the mess as well as I could.  Periodically, I paused to burn the mountain of paper collecting in front of me.  As the sun ross behind me,  the off shore wind picked up.  The swell, that we chased down from Santa Barbara two days before, was showing up.  Lines, groomed by the wind,  were bending in around the point.  A few of the old time Baja guys were already out on their fun boards catching the best ones, showing their hard earned knowledge of the finicky wave.

Removing my boxers, I put my jeans back on and started my bowlegged retreat back to camp.

My boxers flapped from my index finger like a flag of defeat.  I considered berrying the boxers along with the mountain of rejected tacos in a shallow grave.  Coyotees would get it in no time and leave them discarded along the beach and I opted to burn them.  Thankfully, the off shore wind kept the shit smell at bay.  I walked slowly,  watching the waves break a hundred yards out from our camp.

“I’m not the first person or the last one to shit myself in Baja,” I reassured to myself. “It’s a cost of doing business.”

Here are some more links,

Fun and Dusted (Korduroy TV),

Old Clothes (Johnny McCann).

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 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.

Old-world streets.

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.

Cobblestone streets.

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).