No, I’m not talking about the cadre of Pentagon Shills currently degrading the cover of the NY Times. I’m referring to the brave men and women who got up at 5 am here in Los Angeles, dropped all party affiliations and paddled out into the unseasonably cold waters to surf mediocre waves. It takes a certain kind of person to forgo the warm backsides of their beloved bedfellows, load up cars, stand naked on a pre-dawn beach, pull on stinking neoprene and paddle out into frigid waters which offer only the smallest of waves.
What kind of person, you might ask?
Well, I’ll start with my carload and make it quick- It was me, Slatty, and Sam. Sam lives here and is an avid surfer. Avid in a stealth way. I get emails from Sam at all hours, reporting from breaks north and south. Most missives are brief, “Standing on a pier in Cambria staring at huge waves”. An actor and musician from way back, Sam took to the water in earnest about 4 years ago and has attacked surfing with a kind of masochistic fervor. Sam charges waves (that’s a surfing term for one who surfs fearlessly). He’s got more broken eardrums than a team of deepwater divers and last year he broke his nose…falling on water. This is charging. He shortly thereafter booked a coveted role on a new HBO series, so he may be onto something. As for Slatty, he’s that same character from the last entry, one of my oldest, separated-at-birth friends, who has a Boston Irishman’s gift for comedic flaying and a freshly born addiction to surfing that has yielded terrifying results. He rarely leaves the water when he has the chance. Couple this with the fact that he lives with his family in New York City and only gets out to LA for work (again, an actor. Brilliant, ubiquitous, always gets, “Where do I know you from?” as he walks down the sidewalk), and you see how we came to be up at 6 am, driving 40 miles north when we should have been sleeping. To Slatty’s credit, he pulled up with a full tray of coffees and muffins.
Cut to cold water and a black, neoprene-skinned crowd of surfers bobbing across a 300 yard stretch of 54 degree water: You could be a doctor, you could be homeless window cleaner, you could be a chicken-hawk senator, smirking studio-head or a righteous lefty-campaign volunteer, but if you’re out there when you could be in bed, sipping your coffee, you’re a little bit closer to hearing the big bad rhythm of a much larger beast. And even if those waves are so small you have to paddle like a fool to slide along on a 6 inch face, that wave got it’s start somewhere far, far away and breaks upon your shore like a foreign messenger singing a universal song. And some will surf upon these messages like pros and some will chatter as the cold ebbs through their feet and some will sit like Buddha, big and patient looking out to sea, but all will paddle in eventually. And I feel sagely certain that that news of middle-aged Generals doing Halliburton’s duty, or Democratic candidate’s miserable dividing of allies will all be put in it’s place by the unifying message- that is neither simple nor small- delivered by a cold sea on a Sunday morning.