“There are people who travel around the world, and there are people who sit in their own backyards. Some of those people who sit in their own backyards visit more places than the people who travel around the world.”
These are the words of my late friend Saul Baker, a pro surfer who’d gotten in a bad car accident in the early ’90s. The accident had changed him. His mind and heart were opened to almost dangerous degrees. He was only 22 or 23, but a kind of old-soul wisdom coursed through him. He oozed empathy and kindness. His generosity knew no bounds. Once, he gave his Byrne three-fin to my then-girlfriend’s son as if he were sharing a bag of chips.
I’ve thought about and repeated Saul’s words a lot over the last couple of decades. They’re right in line with Einstein’s “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” This stuff is particularly resonant in these Covid times where airline travel is not so easy, and sitting in our own backyards has become the norm.
Yet it goes against so much of the surf ethos. Traveling far and wide on the search for the perfect wave has been hardwired into us via “The Endless Summer,” the Naughton/Peterson travel pieces in Surfer, the WSL world tour. Lusting after waves across the ocean—and figuring out a way to get to those waves—is what we surfers do.
But what happens when travel is not an option? How do we maximize summer? This has been a topic of conversation among many of my globetrotting surf pals, and their methods of revising their lifestyles have been interesting.
My friend Danny, from La Jolla, decided to take a couple weeks off work to surf his way up the coast, starting in San Diego and hugging the coastline north to the Oregon border. Last we were in touch he was in Santa Cruz. “Great to be on the road, and really cool to be out of the house after all that time in quarantine,” he wrote in an email. “But man, crazy crowds! It’s like the surf population doubled since the coronavirus hit. I guess more people are out of work, and also just needing the beach. Scored some real good ones at little secret spot though. Six-foot, light offshores, barreling, only two other guys out.”
Another friend, who lives in Hawaii, has made it a point to ride new equipment. “I figure if I can’t ride new waves, I can at least ride new boards,” he said in a phone call. “I never understood longboarding. It’s super fun once you learn how to run up and down the board. Also those fricken finless boards. It’s like riding a bar of soap. You eat shit a lot. But when it comes together it really comes together. I’m looking for a good fish on craigslist. Let me know if you see anything.”
Years ago, I rented a tiny apartment in the West Village of NYC for the month of November. I was new to the city and looking forward to making new friends and experiencing new things. It turned out to be a ridiculously wet and cold November, so instead of socializing I stayed home and watched movies. The now defunct Evergreen Video was right around the corner from my apartment. They had an excellent selection of foreign films, filed by country. I embarked upon the kind of “travel” that Saul had talked about. One week I watched only Brazilian films, the next only French, the next only Aussie. Early on in the quarantine period, pro surfer Tanner Gudauskas did something like this, mining the golden era of surf VHS, interviewing the filmmakers and surfers, a time travel of sorts.
During quarantine the beaches in my local LA County were closed. But Ventura County, to the north, was open. Waves that I’d driven by thousands of times but never thought of riding became, by default, surf spots. By no means were they quality waves, but surfers found the right boards—soft tops, beater longboards—to ride them. Little ecosystems grew: where to park your car, where to pitch camp, where to stash your cooler full of cold beer in case the cops showed up. It was fascinating to see this adaptability, the whole “lemonade” element.
We’re likely to see a lot more of this in the months ahead.