I originally wrote this story for The Toast, which was one of my favorite sites in the era of The Awl and The Hairpin, among others, when there remained space online for weird, funny things that weren’t really relevent at all. They were just fun to read. Anyway, I wrote this for an audience of women who didn’t surf. It’s about surfing, California, the miracles nature creates, and how our illusions stay with us, despite or maybe because of their distance from reality.
The clutch pedal feels cold under my bare foot, and there’s sand lodged in deep between my toes. I’m pretty sure I have ten of them, but I can only feel two or three. Sky, air, sea, they’re all grey, so much so that it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. The heater in my VW is episodic. It works, but never until it’s good and ready. My hair smells like kelp. My feet are so cold. I pull my beanie down lower and drive faster.
The surf is best in the winter here, when the winds in the North Pacific whip up storms that hurtle toward the coast. That’s where the waves come from; they come from the spinning winds and they come from a long way out to sea. Sometimes the storms make a wrong turn and tuck up into the armpit of Alaska never to be seen again. That’s good for Alaska’s massive snow-fed rivers and mighty salmon runs, but not especially good for surfing in California.
The best storms for surf hang out around Hawaii — because why wouldn’t they? — or they crash into the coast somewhere north of San Francisco. If the storms are too close, the surf is wrecked. If they’re too far away, the waves are too small by the time they arrive at the beach. To make good surf, the storms have to be just the right size in just the right place. It’s a miracle we ever surf at all.
But surf we do. We surf when it’s clean and perfect. We surf when it’s big and we surf when it’s small. It’s best on the low tide, but we surf the high tide, too. We have boards of every size and shape for every possible occasion — long boards, short boards, boards with wide tails, boards with pin tails, boards with a little more foam, boards with a lot more foam. They come in every shape you can imagine and some you can’t. Blown out, knee-high slop or head-high, reeling perfection — We surf it all.