Why do they do it? What makes them tick? Who in their right mind goes out board in hand when Mother Nature is hell bent on fury? What voice tells you to go to the beach instead of away from it when you know there is a impending tsunami? These are questions I have asked myself about surfers for the better part of my life.
As a sport and onetime commercial fisherman who has spent countless hours on the ocean in a boat not much bigger than a surfboard, I have never been able to quite figure out surfers and why they do what they do. On one hand I can completely relate, for me the ocean seems to draw me to it, the dangers it presents were something that I was usually prepared for but never dwelled upon, I never dwelled upon the havoc it could create and was for the most part conscious of not becoming overconfident. The satisfaction of navigating my skiff through dense fog to prime fishing grounds using only a compass and a watch when other boats were afraid to leave the confines of the Bay, or the thrill of shooting the gap at the Potato Patch Shoal which usually meant dropping into the trough of at times a 6 foot wave that is breaking behind you, knowing that only the power of your 140 horse Evinrude, the maneuverability of your 21ft. Boston Whaler and your ability to remain calm, cool and collective was keeping you one step ahead of disaster. Jumping wave to wave, trough to trough till you reach the safety of Bonita Cove is not only an adrenalin rush but a thrill I will cherish till the day I die. I can honestly say I have had more than one deck hand decline to take the next trip because of their newfound knowledge of the fury of the Potato Patch Shoal.
Having first hand knowledge of the hell and fury Mother Nature can put forth and having witnessed first hand sharks, some close to the size of my skiff pounding sea lions as far out to sea as the Farallons and as close in as the PP buoy outside the Harbor at Half Moon Bay, I am forced to question the sanity of your average surfer, I mean to me it is a given that dressing up like a Great White’s favorite food and paddling about in waters that the Great White is known to patrol in their never ending quest for food is akin to trolling for sharks using yourself as bait, may as well tie some 20/0 hooks to your ankles. This is to say nothing of the violence of the surf in itself. The photo on my left was submitted by a good friend and surfer Alex Ross. Luckily this was not his board and the person that owns this board escaped unharmed. Photos like this only serve to validate my reasons for questioning the sanity of those who surf.
It was not till some years after hanging up my commercial license that I had the occasion to meet Cody through my nephew Steven. Cody is a surfer as is his father and most of his friends, they all hail from Santa Cruz or parts thereabouts and as most people know Santa Cruz is a big surfing community. 8 to 80 these people surf. Doctors, Lawyers, Contractors, homeless, men, women and children, young and old they all surf. I had just picked up a new Nikon D90 so I thought it would be cool to go out and take some pics of surfers and the beach, I asked Cody if I could roll along and take some pics and he said cool……I have to say that after 6 months of taking pics of surfers I still think they are crazy but I also think that they know something that most people don’t. There is a beauty a sort peace mixed with chaos in what they do, it is almost a type of ballet, hell call it Zen I don‘t know. All I can say is there is no longer a question in my mind as to why they do it. The answer could be as simple as “because they can” or can go into all kinds of spiritual and cultural explanations bottom line is, Surfing is as much a part of life to them as walking or eating. There is a peace and a sense of awe that comes from just watching them and I can only imagine what it is like to actually surf.
The guys who surf here are in my biased and somewhat limited opinion “hard core”, for one thing they surf in cold water, when I say cold I mean water that will kill you with prolonged exposure, water that’s makes surfing in Hawaii or So Cal. feel like your are surfing in a fish tank. Now this is not meant to downgrade So Cal or Hawaii, the waves in Hawaii are legendary, they are also warmer. These guys surf everywhere, some travel worldwide in search of the perfect swell. But for the most part most surf the coast between Monterey and San Francisco. They surf spots called Steamers, Mitchells, and Natural Bridges, they sport names like Skindog, Rat Boy and Flea they routinely hike a couple of miles to get to a sweet break. To say surfers are a hardy bunch would be an understatement to call them artists expressing a form of poetry in motion may be thought of as ridiculous or even laughed at and dismissed by them as well people like myself, but I am here to tell you I for one was wrong…. in this layman’s eyes artists are exactly what they are. Each surfer has his or her own style whether it be goofy foot or regular foot, some flow some thrash some power surf big waves while others are acrobatic, their body types range from athletic to full on beer belly but when the conditions are right they all rock… Well… maybe some better than others but who am I to criticize I’m still worried about the whole jaws thing.
Bottom line..when the surf’s up they show up in numbers as if called by some inner force or to put it plainly word travels fast when there’s a South swell. I have worked construction jobs in Santa Cruz where the General Contractor and his crew all have surfboards latched securely to their lumber racks. On many occasion I have shut down my equipment only to hear nothing, no nail guns, no drills, no hammers, no banter that runs rampant on every Construction site. The trucks are gone the crew is gone, where’d they go? was my question the first time I witnessed this phenomenon. The answer was simply…… Surfs Up! So here’s big thumbs to all the surfers of the world with Cody and his bros from Santa Cruz being at the top of that list.