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southern california surfing

“In this crowded world the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts,” John Severson wrote in 1960 in The Surfer, a scrappy, home-made publication that eventually became Surfer Magazine. Solitude was more easily found in Southern California in 1960 than it is today, but driving the coast in pursuit of the perfect wave remains a rite of passage. While much has changed on land, out in the lineup, today’s surfers still ride the same waves and chase the same feelings of escape, freedom, and joy.

I was super stoked to work as a contributing writer on this fun guide book from Wildsam. Read it for information about where to eat, stay, and surf in Southern California. Or, browse for essays from people like Matt Warshaw and interviews with coastal conservation specialists and surfboard shapers. See the book at Wildsam.

the fabulous and ridiculous adventures of surfline man

surfer at sunset walking up the beach

Hapless yet determined, annoying yet impossible to hate, Surfline Man loves surfing more than anything else in life. He reads every last forecast like it’s truth and he spends so many hours thinking about surfing. More, in fact, than he spends actually doing it. Surfline Man knows what’s up, and has many opinions which he’ll share with you at length. But he’s also the most stoked guy you’ll ever meet. Surfing, it’s like his favorite thing!

Yes, of course he drives a Sprinter van. And yes, he bought the red fins, because the looked cool, not because they would actually work with his board. He can’t help but buy every latest and greatest piece of gear in the hope that somehow this one thing will make his life complete. You see how it is.

Here is the full archive of Surfline Man’s fabulous and ridiculous adventures over at Beachgrit, where he was born and continues to live out his days.

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It all began one fateful day: I did not know it was a Surfline Day, when untold hordes come crawling out from every nook and cranny. There is surf today! Everyone go surfing! Omg! And, obediently, Surfline Man and all his besties go surfing. — Surfline Man: An Anthropological Study

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sharron weber: the secret surfer

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there came a significant shift in surfing from the stylish noseriding of classic longboarding to the more slashing, vertical turns of the shortboard era. Easily making the transition from longboards to the new, shorter boards, Sharron Weber was one of the stand-out surfers of her era. She won two world championship titles before largely disappearing from view. This is the mostly forgotten story of two-time world surfing champion Sharron Weber. A slightly different version of this story originally ran in The Surfer’s Journal 29.4. I am grateful to Sharron for sharing her story with me in a series of early morning interviews before she headed off to work at The Tire Warehouse in Lihue.

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On a Sunday afternoon in the early fall of 1972, Sharron Weber won her second world title in San Diego, California. Small lefts rolled through the lineup at the Ocean Beach pier, where locals had nailed the broken pieces of David Nuuhiwa’s favorite board. It was some kind of protest, whose significance no one quite remembers. A crowd watched from the beach as Weber ripped her way to victory on her red, Gerry Lopez-shaped Lightning Bolt.

The plain-spoken owner of a tire store in Lihue, Kauai, Weber was one of the most brilliant surfers of her era. But you would never know it. Unless, that is, you were there.

“She was a big part of this very special period in surfing where surfing was finding a new identity,” said Gerry Lopez. “She was one of the avante-garde.”

Raised in Hawaii, Weber evolved into one of surfing’s innovators, pushing the sport in ever more radical directions. As much as her better-known male peers, Weber embodied the shift from the longboard surfing of the 1960s to the dynamic style of the shortboard era.

In her brief contest career, Weber won six Hawaiian state titles, the 1969 U.S. Championship at Huntington Beach, and the world championships in 1970 and 1972. But by the time Margo Oberg won the first women’s professional world title in 1977, Weber was changing tires at her warehouse. Her time in competitive surfing had already ended.

She is one of the pioneers of women’s surfing. “I’m a secret surfer,” Weber said with her characteristic dry humor. “I’m known in your magazines as not being known.” She shined briefly and brightly. Then she disappeared back into her life, leaving only ripples behind.

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bikes are stupid

You’d think by now I’d know better, but it turns out when it comes to bikes and climbing, you never learn. You might get faster, but you never get smarter.

And so when John and I decided to take a day away from our keyboards and internet tethers, I naturally decided we should go ride the Figueroa Mountain Loop, one of the local climbing rides. I’d done it before, but John never had. I’ll admit it right now: It was all my idea.

I wanted to ride to where the world couldn’t reach me. That part was easy. It was getting home that was the hard part.

We packed the bikes in a rented Honda Accord. My secret superpower: packing bikes into rental cars. There was a parking spot in the shade, a sure sign of a lucky day. We changed in the parking lot. The tourists looked confused.

We rolled out at noon, pushed along by a screaming tailwind. We knew eventually we’d pay for that, but for now, we felt giddy like kids let out of school for the day. We were out for a bike ride. We were going to climb some hills. What could possibly go wrong with this?

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summer dream

swinglife

There’s a deep, blue pool and a rope swing hangs over it. You can picture it in your mind. You can almost feel the cool relief of the clear water, as you and your best friend follow the overgrown trail, the tall grasses dry and bleached in the beating sun.

You’re hot. Uncomfortably, disgustingly hot. Sweat drips down the back of your shorts. Your drenched t-shirt clings. Your toes squelch in your shoes.

It’s an essential ritual of summer, this hike to the water. Maybe it’s a rock quarry or a high-altitude lake or a pond you pass by every day. Summer transforms them into magical escapes.

You head out to the trail with the annoying climb because there’s a perfect swimming spot on the way home. You travel three miles out of your way because there’s a hidden pond laying in wait in the trees. It becomes an all-consuming quest — always to be swimming, that’s all you want.

Your shoes send up dragon puffs of dust as you walk. You’re tired of the sun and the heat and the walking, but you’re tantalizingly close now. You glimpse the glimmering blue through the trees and imagine the fresh caress of the water on your skin.

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