Earth Day 2020

By Michael Brown

“Hiking In”  by Mike Brown

Hiking In photo: Eric Wilmanns

The anticipation starts when I make the turn off the highway onto the dead-end road and park near the start of the trail. Stuffing my pack with gear, I grab my board, and I scoot across to the trail. I love this hike in.

My surfing life is divided into distinct parts—my teen years in the longboard era learning to surf in beach breaks, my college years getting acclimated to waves of some consequence in cold water conditions, a decade plus on the east coast rarely surfing, and the last 25+ years surfing all kinds of waves here and across the globe. I’ve surfed a few all-time waves, some good waves, a lot of average waves, and more than my share of crappy waves.

It’s easy to be a curmudgeon after 55 years of surfing. Every surf spot feels more crowded, “kids” out paddle me for waves, SUP riders take every wave the kids don’t get, and every person under 25 who lives within a half hour drive of the beach seems to be learning to surf. These days, it seems that everyone is going surfing at all hours of the day (and the night!) no matter how small or how funky the conditions.

You can’t drive up and look at this break. There isn’t a surf cam within 5 miles. You can only guess based on the swell and wind as to whether it’s worth the hike in. I hike in year round because even if the waves are mediocre at best, I enjoy the walk in and out. It’s one of those head clearing, mood changing, I can’t believe I’m here by myself/with my kids/chatting with friends kind of experiences.

photo by Zack Brown

I’ve done it so often that each step triggers an expectation of what I’m going to see and hear next from the brown and gold colors of summer and early fall to the dark mud on the trail and first hints of green in the fields after the rains begin. Right now, it is a sea of glorious shades of green with yellow and purple blooms all over the place. With each step the sounds of the freeway diminish and, when the surf is pumping, the quick up and over the railroad tracks brings forth the sound of waves loud and clear.

It’s then that my anticipation kicks in and I increase my pace to a near jog. Making the turn to the final part of the trail that leads to the bluff and the path down to the beach, I always stop and take a look even when I’ve found 6’-10’ lines of surf stacked to the horizon.  I will never tire of this view.

Way more typical though are low clouds, haze and enough wind that the islands seem a distant possibility and my attention turns to the surf and the number of surfers in the water. While big days generate the most excitement (and apprehension if it’s big and consistent), I enjoy the modest chest high days with few people or even no one out, especially if I’m hiking in with one of my kids or a friend. These are the days that attract fewer people and I’ve enjoyed trading waves and conversations with folks, had the pleasure of seeing a mama otter and her pup, watched formations of pelicans fly by, gotten spooked by seals popping up at a decidedly unsocial distance, and marveled at being in the midst of it all.

It’s on these days, when I’m surfed out and I’ve put my dripping gear back in my pack, tucked my board under my arm, and started back up the path to the bluff, that I smile to myself and think that I’m the luckiest person in the world.

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