The last few attempts with my poor battered board have been rather encouraging. It’s been a while since I’ve tried something new and crossed that threshold from complete incompetency to the emergence of confidence, however fragile it might be. Hopefully the sense of relief and surprise when I catch and briefly ride a wave will soon turn into one of familiarity, but I expect the happy part will remain.
Another post that is not only quite late but also nothing to do with surfing, unless you generously compare snowboarding to surfing; and I did of course foolishly hope that a proficiency in the former facilitated the learning process of the latter.
I’ve never had a white Christmas, but I have had a white Third of July. I could make this nice and tidy by saying it was July 4th, but alas I was back to sea level for fireworks by then. Besides, we celebrated our much cherished and yet taken-for-granted freedom all weekend long by doing exactly what we wished, which was to frolic around Mammoth Lakes and shred up the slopes with what snow remained at the resort that is so dear to my heart.
Ben and I arrived at the decided-upon camp site late at night and met up with other half of the party to arrive, backcountry extraordinaries Jesse and Serena. I love pitching a tent at night when it’s pitch black (there was no moon at the time) so that the landscape is a complete surprise come morning. We were in the high desert, so the ground is covered in snow in winter but covered in green shrubs and grass by spring. In the not-so-far distance, the mountains rose up dramatically. Being camped near some grazing land, a herd of braying cows woke us up and peered at us warily from time to time as we set up a fire for breakfast.
Nearby our campground, which was really just a clearing without amenities or national park fees, there was a smattering of hot springs, and I was intrigued because I’d never set foot in one before. Fortunately the springs weren’t highly publicized and Jesse knew about them from a previous stint camping in the area, so we were the only ones there. Brilliant!
Mammoth Mountain, the ski resort I am now referring to (keep up!) had been pushing this “We’re open for the 4th of July!” concept pretty hard, because that’s just kind of a ridiculous feat in California, so naturally I had high expectations. I barely recognized the resort at all, what with all the brownness showing through the snow, oh, and a zip line for the kids… And yet I was still overcome by a nostalgic familiarity with the gondola tracing steadily up to the top of the slopes and the graceful(ish) curves of snowboarders and skiiers harmoniously intertwining like ribbons on a maypole.
At first I lamented the fact that we couldn’t access Dave’s Run or take Chair 23 among other favorites, but there was still a lot to do and plenty of groomed terrain to cover. And instead of getting overwhelmed with the multitude of runs to take and fighting over which side of the mountain is best, which might happen during peak season, we calmly found a hiding/chilling place in the snow for some PBRs and returned to this spot now and again for relief from the blazing 3rd of July sun.
A reminder regarding apparel: while a bathing suit top makes sense in exceedingly warm temperatures on the slopes, it offers the arms and torso no protection from the sun or from gritty snow preserved with salt. So, wear a gallon of SPF, and don’t fall. Violá, you’re golden.
All photos courtesy of Serena Butler. Stupid cations courtesy me.
If I could travel to any time and place it would have to be Hawaii in 1866, to watch Mark Twain try and fail to surf with the locals. Even if I’m overestimating the potential for amusement here, at least I’d be in Hawaii.
While on assignment for the Sacramento Union in Hawaii, a job which launched his career as a writer, the 31-year old reporter “came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing. Each heathen would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem that a lightning express-train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in three-quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom at about the same time, with a couple barrels of water in me. None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing completely.”
He wrote this in Roughing It. I think it might be my favorite bit of Twain’s prose and I’m inspired to start exaggerating like he did on a more regular basis.
It was the beautiful, sunny, promising Saturday before Father’s Day at Sunset Beach, when I took a spill over the falls. It was one of those moments where you know you’re about to lose complete control of the situation and just say “No, wait!” to no one in particular, and then surrender yourself to physics. Otherwise, nothing too exciting happened. I did notice that there was a much larger proportion of surfer ladies out there than usual, representing. And no, Blue Crush has nothing to do with more girls learning to surf. Personally, seeing Kate Bosworth almost drown had the opposite effect on me.
Later that day I went to the Johnny Cash Music Festival in Ventura with my dad. We got there just in time for the Blasters, who played a great set. Phil Alvin was melting away, his light pink shirt soaked through with sweat in spite the air being a breezy 68 degrees. A few songs in, he dedicated the next one to “All the surfers out there who take the inside break instead of the outside break and stick their nose in the sand.” It was an awesome surf jam. Just for me obviously.
Since I worked on the PR for the festival, we got to hang out at the VIP tent, enjoying some free food and beverages, which greatly impressed Dad, while we listened to Kris Kristofferson. His performance was quiet and subdued, especially after the Blasters brought down the house, but since he has payed his dues in the world of Country Music he can sing everyone to sleep should it please him.
Last but not least X got on stage, and all the remaining revelers who hadn’t been paying full attention to Mr. Kristofferson rushed the stage including Dad and me. People got so into it, in fact, that the cops entered the crowd on horses to maintain decorum, not that I saw any overly rambunctious fans or anything close to a mosh pit. It was John Doe who ultimately got people to behave so they could keep playing, and they played fantastically. Clearly time as not been kind to all, at least outwardly, but they still got it. In the words of Dad, “Old people rule!”
I did finally brush the cobwebs off my board last weekend, but when I took it in the water at Huntington Beach I mostly just laid on it and watched the pelicans. I tried to catch few waves but was gently rejected, due in part to the fact that I wasn’t paddling ferociously enough, I was told.
Looking around, however, I noticed few people were catching anything, unless you count the pelicans catching fish. Plenty of action there. I generally harbor a benign animosity toward birds, as I’ve been bit and poo-bombed a couple too many times. But I give mad props to pelicans. They are like avian ninjas. Plus, I think if any bird were to be compared to a surfer it would be a pelican. If you see the way they glide into position and then quickly dive to catch a completely bewildered fish, it’s sort of like getting in the right position on a wave and paddling super hard to get picked up.
According to Wikipedia (I don’t care what my teachers said, it’s legit) the species we see in these parts is the Brown pelican, which exists only in North America. It is also the only species out of the six total that plunge-dive. Fact about feeding: pelicans have to drain their throat pouches after catching a fish, and in the process said fish can be snatched away by another thieving seabird. I would like to know exactly what seabird is capable of absconding with a fish from a rather intimidating penguin beak. I can’t think of a common seabird that is bigger than a pelican, and so said seabird must therefore rely on swiftness and cunning. In which case, I might have to add to my list of birds that do not suck. Puffins and penguins make the cut, obviously.
I haven’t touched my board in weeks, except to move it so I could vacuum. I know, the neglect is unacceptable. In between oral surgery, windy conditions and so very many important things to do, it just hasn’t happened. But I don’t want to let my baby blog gather cobwebs also, thereby letting down my very many loyal followers.
So what if I have no original content for you? There are so many things I can share. Like this gem of a poem I came across on TheInteria.com, “The Pee on Me,” an ode to peeing in your wetsuit, by Bryan Knowles. The subject matter might seem juvenile and unrefined, but his rhyme and meter are anything but. I mean, who would have thought to rhyme “piss” with “bliss”? OK, so it’s no more sophisticated than the poem I wrote in 8th grade about jellyfish, but it’ll have you peeing in your wetsuit with laughter. Enjoy.
The Pee on Me
Mysteriously, the Channel Islands–with the exception of Catalina–have remained an under-the-radar destination for outdoor adventurers, birders, naturalists, camping enthusiasts, snorkelers, spelunkers, divers, whale watchers, Island Fox chasers, cave explorers, anthropologists, dermatologists, street artists, baristas, barbers, accountants and Lady Gagas–as in, everyone who remains ignorant to the wonders that await them across the channel from the Central Coast. The “American Galapagos,” so called because of the concentration of endemic species, have something for all walks of life and levels of appreciation for stunning ocean views and the resilience of nature.
So, instead of getting my mom another pair of turquoise earrings for Mother’s Day this year, I took her to Santa Cruz Island, the largest in the Channel Islands National Park. Granted, the trip was one of the perks of working at a PR agency and didn’t require a big investment, but it’s the thought that counts, as long as it’s accompanied by a huge balloon and mushy card.
We drove an hour north to the Ventura Harbor for our noon departure with Island Packers, the go-to outfitters for channel crossings. The crew is chipper and friendly, the captain informative and full of jokes. We got on board the catamaran with a mixed crowd, including a group of guys with a few cases of beer, which for some people makes a great breakfast when camping. My mom and I joined my boss and the group of of writers we gathered together for a press trip showcasing Ventura’s many eco-friendly aspects, including tasting at an organic tequila ranch. We didn’t take part in the other activities, and if tequila wasn’t my enemy I would have been jealous.
The hour-long voyage usually comes with any number of marine life sightings, the holy grail being blue or gray whales, humpbacks, and even killer whales, depending on the season. If you get a kick out of frolicking pods of dolphins, sunning seals and sea lions, hunting killer whales, and the way pelicans dive in the water like badass ninjas to grab fish, you’ll probably enjoy the boat ride to the Channel Islands. Unless you’re susceptible to motion sickness because it can be a bumpy ride. The most action we saw though, aside from some sea lions chilling on a buoy, was a crew member retrieving a bunch of stray party balloons from the water, probably saving some leather backed sea turtles from an unnatural death.
We arrived at Scorpion Bay harbor, and got ready for a mellow four-mile hike around the island led by Dave, a knowledgeable National Park Service employee. We stopped now and then to take pictures and to listen while our guide pointed out the various endemic and invasive species. While the terrain seems rather bare in places, Dave assured us that due to the gradual removal of all sheep, pigs and other critters brought over by ranchers in the latter half of the 19th century, native plants are making a comeback and the islands are becoming more and more lush. One plant in particular stands out as one that does not belong among the small shrubs and overall treeless geography: a huge eucalyptus tree dominating the campsite. Hard-core conservationists say it should be removed because historically it shouldn’t be there, but campers appreciate the shade it provides. I say, let it be so that any wayward koala bears that accidentally land on the island have a place to live. But I digress.
I had been to Santa Cruz Island before, also with a press trip, but we spent the day on a guided kayak trip along the cliff edge and through sea caves– like the one below–learning about kelp, sea urchins, geography of the islands and the like. Kayaking, when weather permits, is definitely the way to go if you want a more up-close and personal experience.
We came to the end of the trail at Potato Harbor, named after the legendary Captain Albert “Potato” Dupé who had a thing for spuds. That’s one version. Dave said it’s because it just looks like a potato. Dubious.