Youtubesday: Afterburners!

About 8 or 9 years ago I went night surfing @ San O during the late summer when the moon was full and provided the best light for such activities. The water was probably like 71 or 72 (super warm for SoCal, at night no less) and the red tide was super thick. The phosphorescent algae was so active that as you paddled through the water your hands left trails of bright flickering blue/green light that looked a lot like a glow stick and the water cresting over your board spewed bluish green. When you looked back after catching a wave, your board was leaving a wake that spewed the blue/green water everywhere. It was surreal and we stayed out for probably 2 hours; it was difficult to leave and I’ve never seen a red tide like that since. If you told me that I was tripping on acid at the time, I probably would have agreed…but this was legit. One of the most incredible sessions of my life, for sure. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, rad surf video.

Here’s Bruce Irons surfing with a flare attached to his board. It’s slightly less cool than my story, but there’s infinite more evidence to support it actually happened. Ask anyone that was there that night; they’ll back up my story.

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Destined for a Higher Purpose

Many years ago a seed was planted in the forest. Not by man’s hand, but by the wind or by gravity as the seed fell to the Earth and settled into the fertile soil of the forest floor below. That seed would sprout roots and consume water, nutrients and sunlight for dozens, maybe even hundreds of years as it grew from a small and weak seedling to a beautiful and majestic tree infinitely larger than it was as it fell to the Earth.

That tree would then be cut down for the greater good of man, so we are told, and the branches are stripped from the trunk in a matter of seconds as is the protective bark. What took years to form and endured hardships too numerous to count is destroyed in minutes.

Some of the wood may find itself in a rather mundane and boring setting for eternity; a backyard deck, the frame of a house, the floor of a gerbil cage.

Some wood may be destined for a more noble purpose such as a beautiful jewelry box housing family heirlooms, or the handle of a distinguished Gentleman’s cane. Maybe the wood might even live a highly functional and more exciting life as the steering wheel of an exotic sports car, in contact with its owner at all times, relaying a sense of accomplishment and speed.

But some wood is destined for a far more practical, more appreciated and more exciting, connected life; a higher purpose. Yes, some wood will find that there are far more exhilarating places to be than between the hands of a driving enthusiast or supporting a stodgy old millionaire as he strolls down the street. This wood will find itself submerged in the ocean at the working end of a surfboard, gliding through its element, harnessing energy and directing that energy wherever its pilot may choose. This wood waited patiently its entire life to do something, and what an amazing something it does.

The fin maker selects his wood carefully for aesthetic reasons. After all, beauty is indeed only skin deep with a piece of wood. That wood is then cut, sanded, foiled and cared for intensely throughout the entire transformation process. Once finished, a piece of wood that could have been used as a doorstop now looks like it is going fast, even sitting still.

The finished product is attached to the surfboard with fiberglass and resin that serve more as function than fashion, but the fillet of a finely glassed-on wood fin looks like nothing else. The fin looks as if it sprouted from the surfboard and stretched through the glass with gentle precision like the seed it came from so long ago. Finely placed, well-tuned lines hold the fin in place and provide the board with a feeling of connection like no plastic or other man-made material jammed into a hole and tightened down with an allen screw can. No, this fin was made with purpose and an intimate knowledge of the element it will operate in by skilled hands.

The hand-shaped lines of wood fins are like nothing else because you know that someone with skill, passion and knowledge created them for you. Better yet, a surfer created them for you. There is a bond between the fin-maker and his medium. That piece of wood is filled with years of knowledge and stoke and you know it the first time you put that fin through its paces. The solid “I’m not gonna fail you” feeling as you put every pound of your body into a well executed bottom turn and the resulting acceleration into the next movement is euphoric. It’s at that moment you understand that what’s beneath your feet is so much more than a piece of wood, it’s a piece of art in tune with the ocean in a way you never knew was possible.

Pure. Beauty.

The best instruments are ones that a musician crafts and fins are no different. Their intimate knowledge of the subtle nuances and quirks of the wood or metal they craft into an instrument are reflected in the ease and beauty of how the finished product plays. Pick up a handcrafted guitar and strum a couple chords and then pick up a big-name manufacturer’s student model popped out by the 1000’s and you’ll understand the difference between wood fins…and everything else.

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This piece was written for and inspired years ago by a true artisan who continues to make the best wood fins on Earth; the only wood fins you’ll find on my boards. You’re the best, JC. Thanks for the stoke!

Prospecting for Afternoon Gold


 
Note: This was written 3 years ago this week after the most incredible surf session of my life but the photos are a few randoms taken of HB while I lived there that fairly accurately portray what the words are describing. It needs a little editing but I consider this to be the best piece of writing I’ve created. I hope it brings a smile and desire to go surfing…


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I guess there’s no guarantee any time of day is the “magic” time to go surf—you take your chances every time you head to the beach—but some of my favorite sessions of all time have come prospecting for gold when the sun is sinking low in the afternoon. Typically it’s a smaller, mellower crowd of people looking to wind down their lives after working or learning or just living all day. The sun warms the surface water a degree or two, which makes trunk sessions in the Summer no problem and Winter sessions become bearable. Sunlight hits the water at a different angle and everything looks slightly different, calmer. Yes, I love surfing in the afternoon.
 
While the wind/wave conditions might be better in the morning and those believers in the dawn patrol will tell you it’s the best time to surf bar-none, I have my reservations. Dawn patrols are more crowded and typically filled with surfers who are on a strict schedule and have to be out by a certain time or risk being late to school or work. Desperation and determination lead to the ugly side of surfing as aggression and stress levels rise from a palpable tension in the water felt by those involved in—and those observing—the childish behavior. I don’t have anything against dawn patrol sessions, I just typically leave it to a different group of surfers.

Afternoons > Dawn Patrol

 

Compare that to the afternoons: a laid back schedule where the only ticking clock is the sun setting in the West and darkness tells you it’s time to go home. You don’t really have to be anywhere, anyway, right? It’s more of a relaxing nightcap of bourbon instead of a caffeine laden coffee drink to get you running at full-speed as daylight breaks. In the afternoon you’re there to surf, not worry about what comes next in your daily routine. Afternoons are all about living in the moment and that forgotten time of the day can be quite rewarding.
 
One afternoon in recent memory sticks out more than the rest. It was 4PM on an unseasonably warm Monday in January as Santa Ana winds warmed the air like a convection oven. The tides over the last week had been crippling. High tides robbed even the strongest swells of their life while low tides greeted you with a vast, damp desert of sand as a distant lineup beset with frothy closeouts awaited those brave enough to paddle out for the inevitable beat-down.
 
The sand on the beach had been moved around more than a 2nd string shortstop over the last couple weeks as the sheer cliff of sand in front of the lifeguard towers eroded by relentless 6.5’ high tides had grown to a straight 4-foot drop in places. With proper photographic technique and perspective the scene might have resembled a miniature San Onofre if you could somehow make a nuclear reactor appear in the distance.
 
Today, however, was different. Much of the sand had been returned by the uncooperative ocean; the looming ½-foot low tide two and a half hours ahead didn’t seem to have any ill effect on the playground before me. About a hundred yards from the water’s edge were a dozen or so heads waiting patiently for their daily bread. Today’s bread was better than most as the first wave rolled through: a solid head high, mechanically clean wave that peeled forever; no close-out death barrels on offer today. Light offshore winds kept the surface glassy and provided just enough resistance to hold up that extra second needed to throw a razor-thin barrel large enough to hold this surfer. The hot air had me sweating in my wetsuit and the visual stimulus in front of me raised my body temperature a couple degrees, no doubt. I’d wasted enough time putting the leash on and prying myself into the wetsuit: let’s get wet.
 
That feeling of being hot and uncomfortable was quickly replaced with the feeling of being cold and uncomfortable, and now wet. The water was definitely colder today than the last time I went out…a lot colder, but I didn’t care: there’s liquid gold in them hills and I was due.

The weapon of choice

 

Today’s surf vehicle was an iguana green 6’1” canard quad fish I had made six months earlier by a small shaper who made incredible sleds. I’d grown fond of fishes a while back and this was my newest toy. My added weight from a holiday season full of bountiful and numerous meals coupled with the weight of a wetsuit was mitigated by the extra width and thickness of the fish. The sound of my hands breaking the water was all I could hear. No cars on PCH, no birds, no watery white noise, nothing.
 
Paddling out I witnessed my first real perfection of the year. Beautiful lined up waves pitched with enough force and speed to throw a thin-lipped barrel crashing down the line, breaking the eerie silence with a hollow static. Sunlight refracting through the lip looked like a Coke bottle in the setting sun. I’d always wondered why surfers referred to the color of a pitching wave in the afternoon sun as a Coke bottle. Today, I wondered no more. The color was mesmerizing, the sound hypnotic. My heartbeat accelerates with anticipation as the wall of water pitches forward and I, in step, duck under. I surface on the other side as the last foot of the lip is sheared off and rains hard down on my face, still numb from the chilly water.
 
I waited through a couple smaller, less shapely waves for one that would confirm or deny that what I was seeing was real. Had I had been stricken with “surf-goggles” and the size and shape of the waves had been nothing but wishful thinking, blinded by the desperation for a good surf that was long overdue? The answer, it seemed, had arrived. I recognized my wave from a hundred yards away like spotting a loved one at the baggage claim from afar. It wasn’t one of the biggest waves I’d seen in my short paddle out to the lineup but it was solid; shoulder high, at least, and growing. More importantly, it had potential; it looked damn good.

 Kind of like this…but think 100% glassy, and a lot less “I’m going to destroy you”

 

Turning and paddling immediately to catch up to the wave, I feel the tell-tale force of the wave picking the fish and I up for a ride. Taking one more good stroke I pop up and make the turn immediately; no drops necessary on this liquid half-pipe. I’ve got my bearings and I’m looking down the line at the building blue carpet being rolled out before me and holy shit: I’d never seen this before. In magazines, videos, daydreams, yes…but never in person. I pump like mad to keep enough speed to stay a while as the canard quad fins keep me glued to the high-line of a wave that had swelled to over head high and a lot meaner than when it’d started pitching. A couple of big pumps and a quick snap off the lip later I find myself at the bottom of the wave carrying the crescendo for just 1 last measure and lean hard on the rail, confidently ascending the wave with speed and precision I didn’t know I possessed; I was THAT guy I admired on THAT wave but had always seen from afar. I look up at the pitching lip and have a decision to make: be smart and kick out the back and be thankful for what I got, or make things interesting and go out with a bang. The decision, it seems, is a foregone conclusion as I instinctively transfer my weight—eyes widening from the inane decision made by the devil on my shoulder—and aim for the barrel with gusto conjured from some place deep within me I didn’t know existed.
 
The closeout was inevitable; the wave had seen enough of me and wanted to expire itself after a journey thousands of miles in the making. A few more meaningless yards meant nothing to the wave, but they meant everything to me. Time stood still as I carefully composed the last few measures of this opus in my mind. I spotted my target a few feet up the face and deftly positioned myself in the tube as the lip pitched. The tube was hollow enough that a slight squat was all I needed to keep the liquid guillotine from claiming its intended victim. I held my breath in anticipation of either making a successful —albeit close— exit, or being blindsided at Mach 1 by an unseen variation in the otherwise perfect wave. The sound echoing off the liquid walls was deafening; I could barely think. Squinted eyes recognized bad news a short ways in front of me. This barrel was about to implode, violently. Time to get out of here, and fast.

Kind of like this…but think 100% glassy and maybe the same level of “I’m going to destroy you”

 

I promptly exited stage left as the closeout—too distant to navigate—surpassed the speed of the fish. I looked back at the hell I had just left behind; a second earlier it was heaven. The wave did everything I wanted it to do, as if it were somehow reading my mind or connected to me on some level. But now, it was a shoulder high wall of foam; the remnants of a wave that had confirmed that this was going to be no ordinary session. I didn’t know what to do after the ride ended. My face was cold and wet but the water around my eyes was warm and swelling and the chills running down my spine came from inside, not in response to the colder-than-sin water. The smile on my face was only the tip of the iceberg of happiness fighting to escape; I was beyond stoked.
 
Things continued like this for about an hour and a half as we all took turns sharing the beautiful waves on offer before the big red sun disappeared into the horizon. The afternoon-shift and I slowly made our way in, looking for one more morsel to top off an already bountiful session. We’d all gotten to the point of being surfed out and riding in prone would surely be no crime this day.
 
My feet touched ground in the knee high water and the silhouettes of boats, oil rigs and Catalina in the distance contrasted against a rapidly expiring maroon sky. Huntington Beach can be downright beautiful when it wants to be and this afternoon was proof. The sound of PCH was still absent and the perfect waves were the only sound as the afternoon sky yielded to an inky nightscape. It seemed too good to be true, but there I was physically and emotionally exhausted from a once in a lifetime session—in Huntington Beach of all places—trying to comprehend what had transpired over the last couple hours.
 
This moment, this feeling confirmed what I already knew but never had experienced so deeply: sometimes convention and necessity to surf the dawn patrol are overcome by the unconventional and decidedly selfish times to go searching for some afternoon gold. My prospecting mission was a success and I hit paydirt. This afternoon’s waves were perfect, by any standard. This was a session I’d be able to recall every minute detail of for the rest of my life.
 
 I miss you, HB. I love you, surfing.

>The Quote Fish

>4 years ago I had a surfboard made by Manuel Caro under his Mandala label. I never have a “normal” custom board made but instead opt for very crazy artwork or designs and such. It suits my personality as the last thing I really want is a plain white board that looks like 95% of the boards you see in the water; that’s not Bryan Mills. Hell, the only white colored board I have has bright red glass-on fins on it, so take that conformity!

This board I called the “Quote Fish” as it was adorned on the bottom with excepts of some very inspirational and meaningful quotes in my life.

I rode this board yesterday and had one of the best sessions I’ve had in a year. The conditions @ Middles (Trestles) and eventually Church’s due to the drift were outstanding with little to no wind and perfectly peeling shoulder high+ waves on offer. I went with a good friend Shane and we were both stoked we got out of the house and gave it a shot as we were overly surprised with how good it was and how much fun we had. It was probably the best I’d surfed in a year and was a fitting end to a very exciting and rewarding week.

As I rode the board yesterday I was reminded of why I chose those quotes. There was just something special about the session and the waves and the way I was surfing; I was in a “zone” and I remembered that these inspirational quotes were under my feet the entire time for the first time in a long time.

It was more than just a surf session, it was a wake up call; a reminder that these quotes actually mean something to me. They are inspirational, yes, but more accurately they are a description of my life and a certain “fire” inside that I’d all but lost over the last couple years…but recently re-discovered. I am regaining the spirit and confidence I once had that that propelled me into these new experiences and challenges in life head on and when the dust settled, there I was: better in every way imaginable.

That one surf session with this board yesterday has really re-ignited the flame inside of me that was the inspiration for this quote on the board: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

That’s me…I’m back. That’s exactly where I am right now and I am STOKED…

Here are the quotes that are under my feet when I’m surfing this board and a description of my life, always…

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

— Henry David Thoreau


“Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought”

— Henry David Thoreau


“To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson


“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity; But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”

— T. E. Lawrence

>So long, friends…thanks for the memories

>Whoa! Don’t freak out, y’all! If I was gonna do something brash I would use a far more eloquent and cryptic title…

No, this post is about saying goodbye to…surfboards. You see, since I started surfing I’ve only sold a single board to a stranger and that board I sold had some bad juju in it so I was happy to get rid of it.

But with the current economic climate in the United States of Bryan and a lack of TARP relief funds to pay off stupid debts, ridiculously high living expenses in SoCal and endeavoring to start a new life as a trader…I find myself in a situation where I need to raise capital. Looking in the garage at my own surfshop amassed over the last 8 years I made the difficult decision to sell off some old friends.

The first board I sold a couple weeks ago was a custom single fin made by Surf Rx here in HB. I remember when I bought that board being tempted to never surf it in favor of hanging it on the wall as abstract art. That, of course, never happened and I can remember several memorable rides like they happened last week when they were in fact rides from years ago.

The second board I sold just earlier this week was the only used board I’ve ever bought. Since I bought it for so cheap and sold it at a reasonable price I think that board only cost me $40 to own/surf for a little over 2 years. Not really gonna miss that one; it wasn’t my bag and I just held onto it because my friend Mike told me a long time ago to just hold onto all my boards instead of selling them…a practice that’s nostalgic when times are good though not very rational when times are tight.

This weekend I’m selling a 3rd board which is an almost identical replica (in terms of dimensions, not appearance) of another custom board I own. I bought this one with removable fins in the belief/hope that I would be traveling a bunch…you see how that’s panned out. I love the design of this board and it’s a brilliant shape by arguably the best shaper of this type of board anywhere on Earth.

The final board I’m selling is a 5-fin Bonzer, handshaped by Malcom Campbell (who invented the Bonzer over 30 years ago). I got it about 3.5 years ago now and it’s awesome. I don’t like it as much as the other 3 Bonzers I own but it’s still a cracker of a board. This one will be tough to see go. I’m selling it at a price that I believe is lower than what it’s worth because surfers are the cheapest, greediest bastards out there when it comes to buying anything used but what can ya do…

All in all, it’s sad selling these boards for a few reasons. Obviously, it’s sad selling off boards that were all custom made for me and letting someone else enjoy them for the rest of their days; I become attached to every board the second I pick it up. But, it’s also sad having to sell them to raise capital to pay off pesky debts, etc. It’s one thing to sell a board because it doesn’t work for you or you want to get money to pay for another board but it’s another to sell a board to pay for something other than surfing.

But, it had to happen and I’m fine with it now. They’re going to good homes, I’m getting the money I need and I have no doubt that I’ll be filling their places in the board rack sooner rather than later.

So long old friends…thanks for the waves and the memories…

>YouTube Tuesday: Yo Gabba Gabba Surfing

>I only know about Yo Gabba Gabba through watching The Soup and to say I “know Yo Gabba Gabba” is a stretch, at best. It’s a kids show, apparently, and judging by what passes as a kids show these days, kids of this generation are gonna be f*cked up (sadly, this clip does not include Bro-Bee or any of the other strange characters). OK, that might be a bit of a stretch, but this sure as hell ain’t Sesame Street. Back to the point…

What I do know is surfing and how to count to 5. It was with great excitement my friend JP posted over on his awesome surfing blog this video of the Yo Gabba Gabba gang teaching kids everywhere how to count by showing various fin setups on some super groovy boards. An appearance by the always hip and strange Alex Knost and direction by Thomas Campbell who makes some of the finest surf films around and you’ve got kids off on the right track to learning how to count…and subliminally how the use of mild psychadelic drugs and marijuana are A-OK if you wanna be a hippie surfer in Southern California.