This past Easter weekend, while most of my friends back in L.A. partook in the pastel-colored, sugar-laden pagan traditions of dying eggs and baking pastries, I got a taste of the SLO life in the Happiest Town in America. And a bit of cold seawater as well.
Ben and I decided to spend the long weekend in San Luis Obispo, whose acronym SLO suits the town pretty well. Past cozy Ventura and picturesque Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo is far enough to qualify as a road trip and a thousand miles away from the L.A. mentality. Recognized as the Happiest Town in America, SLO boasts wide sidewalks (apparently this is linked to a town’s happiness), stringent smoking laws, beautiful beaches, plenty of bike paths, and countless hiking trials. A utopia for anyone who’s not a sun-shunning goth, no?
SLO, being home to Cal Poly, is also the quintessential college town where Ben spent his undergrad glory days. He’s graduated and moved back to Long Beach, but some of his good friends are still in the area, and we stayed with the one and only Sir Avery Cromwell (whom I still owe $12 in refreshments–hope you’re reading this! And you have my hairbrush!) in Morro Bay, an easy 10 minutes north of Downtown SLO. Avery has this cool old two-story house a few blocks from the beach, with a guest room (no floor for us!), a crotchety old cat, a nice roommate and a well-stocked bar for entertaining. A good host he is.
After some jovial banter and reminiscing, we walked to join the rest of the Cromwell Clan for dinner at Hofbrau at the harbor, with lovely sunset views, for pitchers and German-style comfort food. Then we went to a bar nearby for pints of the ubiquitous Firestone DBA and games of pool and shuffleboard. Firestone, when combined with pure skill, makes me a fairly decent player of both.
We got up early enough on Saturday morning to go surfing at the Pit. The Pit is right next to the Rock. I don’t know why neither have better names but in any case, the Rock makes for an easily identifiable landmark and meet-up place as well as a great backdrop for surfing at the Pit. Which doesn’t look like a pit? What do I know.
What I do know now is what about 53 degree water feels like and I’m really glad I bought booties to keep my toes from going numb. After the initial iciness, I got used to it and warmed up pretty quickly. The waves seemed pretty small as we suited up, but there were frequent sets of growing waves and I decided against paddling through the breakwater to the line up. Ben started catching waves right away, as usual, and eventually Avery and his brother showed up, waded on past me with kind words of encouragement as I briefly stood up on some whitewater. Which was completely fine with me, even when Avery’s dad paddled on out to the real waves. Baby steps…
After a while we took off for nearby Cayucos, where Ben’s friend Dane lives, and we had delicious smoked fish tacos and hung out in the backyard until we went surfing again. There’s a good spot about six seconds away from Dane’s place. This time the guys debated whether or not to bring longboards since we were expecting small surf, and they did. Once again, while the teasing baby waves sparked some optimism in me as I struggled to put on wet booties, they somehow grew to shoulder high by the time we paddled out past the break. This session for me turned out to be mostly a practice in turtle diving and paddling into shore. But the whitewash was too mushy to surf so I sat and watched. Needless to say, the others were more successful but still had to work to hold onto their longboards.
That night I had a glimpse into the nightlife in Downtown San Luis Obispo, through Peach & Frog Pub, Bubblegum Alley, and another bar with $2 cans of Tecate–score! There we met up with another surf buddy, Ross, whose mellow demeanor was at odds with the harrowing surf tales that he and Ben shared with me.
We started Easter Sunday morning by putting on cold wetsuits while it was drizzling, but I wasn’t complaining, in spite of the fact that my cold wet booties were putting up a staunch resistance to my feet. Maybe I whined a little. No one tells you that putting on the gear is half the battle.
Finally we paddled out into the “kiddie pool,” no big deal. The waves got a little bigger, but I was still assessing my options. A little bigger still, and it was back to turtle dive practice, which lead to a massive brain freeze and me trudging to the car, not entirely defeated but ready for a hot shower.
Last on our itinerary was something more familiar: a hike at Bishop’s Peak, which is the highest in the chain of nine peaks between San Luis and Morro Bay. I’m pretty good at hiking. It’s like walking, but harder. The fog had lifted and it was no longer drizzling, so the hike afforded us a great view of SLO, the surrounding mountains, vineyards and fields, all the way out to the ocean. It was a great way to get some terra firma exercise, but Ben had to do something to make the activity a bit dangerous, namely the Leap of Death. It’s pretty self explanatory and I don’t want to give anyone ideas by going into detail.
And so, it was with fond memories and achy limbs we left the Happiest Town in America and its waves that happily taught me a lesson or two.