The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘surfing’

California Street

July 24, 2015 | by

Learning to surf in the sixties.

Grajagan, Java, 1979. Courtesy of Mark Cordesius

For my eleventh birthday, my father took me to the Dave Sweet Surfboards shop on Olympic Boulevard, in Santa Monica. From the rack of used boards, I chose a solid, sunbrowned 9'0" with blue-green paneled rails and a fin built with at least eight different types of wood. It cost seventy dollars. I was five feet tall, weighed eighty pounds, and could not reach my arm around it. I carried it to the street on my head, feeling self-conscious and scared of dropping the board, but as happy as I had ever been.

It wasn’t an easy winter, trying to learn to surf. Even though the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” (“Let’s go surfin’ now / everybody’s learning how”) was on the radio, I was the only kid at my backwater school who had a board. We spent most weekends in Ventura, so I got in the water regularly, but California Street was rocky and the water was painfully cold. I got a wet suit, but it had short legs and no sleeves, and neoprene technology was still in its infancy. At best, the little wet suit took some of the sharpest chill off the afternoon wind. My father liked to tell a story about a day when I got discouraged. From the warmth of the car, he had been watching me flounder—I imagine him smoking his pipe, wearing a big fluffy fisherman’s sweater. I came in, my feet and knees bleeding, stumbling across the rocks, dropping my board, humiliated and exhausted. He told me to go back out and catch three more waves. I refused. He insisted. I could ride them on my knees if necessary, he said. I was furious. But I went back out and caught the waves, and in his version of the story, that was when I became a surfer. If he hadn’t made me go back out that day, I would have quit. He was sure of that. Read More »

The Burden of Home

July 13, 2011 | by

Matt Adler as Rick Kane in North Shore.

If you haven’t seen the 1987 movie North Shore, take that as evidence of your refined palate. The movie came out when I was in sixth grade, and it was so corny that I refused to acknowledge how profoundly I connected with it. It’s the story of Rick Kane, an eighteen-year-old surfer from Tempe, Arizona, who wants to earn the big, pro-circuit money that his idol, and the movie’s antihero, Lance Burkhart, earns. When Rick wins a surf contest at a local artificial wave pool, he skips college and uses the five-hundred-dollar prize to move to Hawaii and tackle the epic waves of the legendary North Shore.

Once in Hawaii, Rick rides the waves alongside the locals. He falls for a native beauty named Kiani and clashes with a tough surf crew called the Hui. Nearly everyone discourages him: “This is our wave.” “Leave local girls alone.” But the line that always stayed with me came during a scene in which Rick is eating lunch with Kiani and her family. Kiani’s three brothers corner him at the table. They mock his surfing and call him JOJ—short for “just off the jet.” Then the oldest brother stares into Rick’s eyes and says, “Go back to Arizona, haole.” It was as if he were speaking directly to me, a teenage kid desperate to leave Arizona.

Like Rick, I lived in metro Phoenix, was obsessed with the beach, and wanted out of the desert. I envied the lifestyle that coastal California afforded: the temperate weather, the scant clothing, the year-round range of outdoor activities. While southern Californians spent their summers riding bikes and hanging out on the boardwalk, we Phoenicians endured an average of a hundred or more days of one-hundred-degree heat. Touch a car door in July, and you’d burn your fingers. But that wasn’t all. Arizona was completely uncool. It’s associated with lame Hollywood westerns, retirees, and golf courses. To coastal denizens, we were hicks.

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