An excerpt from The Fear Project, a new book that explores our most primal emotion
By Jaimal Yogis
Surfline’s California Surf Guide reads: MAVERICKS
Best Size: Triple-overhead to 80-foot faces.
Ability Level: Nothing short of Flea, Laird, or Neptune (Flea and Laird being two of the best big-wave surfers in the world; Neptune being a god.)
Hazards: Death by drowning, sharks, run over by a whale, run over by a PWC, a trip through the rocks, hypothermia, broken boards, ego deflation.
Why did I open that book? I knew all this. The waves at Ocean Beach outside my window look like they could take down a cruise-liner. But seeing the dangers in print changes things. I trip and fumble as I walk around the house, wiping counters that don’t need wiping. I don’t eat. I find myself feverishly tossing an apple and a loaf of bread into a paper bag and loading it into the truck with the rest of my gear: the 9-foot-8-inch Mavs gun, the 15-foot big-wave leash, the 5- millimeter wetsuit, booties, wax, sunscreen, water, towel. I check and double-check that I have everything but still feel vulnerable, exposed. Something must be missing.
Music, music will help, I’m thinking—something to calm me down. Here we go, the Felice Brothers, a favorite. But the normally soothing sounds are grating. Darwin comes to mind: “When fear reaches an extreme pitch…the mental powers fail.” I shut off the stereo, try to breathe. Fresh air. Salt air. That’s what I need.
It’s exciting on the road, views of these diabolical swells exploding against the craggy coast. There are even moments when I laugh out loud, feeling like Don Quixote chasing windmills. Oh life! But the pendulum sways back so rapidly: faith, fear. Lightness, dark.
You can’t follow the expansion and contraction, I tell myself. You’ve made a decision, a commitment, and you’re going forward: forward over Skyline Boulevard, forward through Pacifica with its perpetual gray 1950s funk, forward through the grove of eucalyptus, forward around the misty cliffs, hundreds of feet above the dark blue sea. The waves don’t look so abnormally large from up here and this is better, this view from above. “Everything looks perfect from far away,” I hum. But then comes the view of Gray Whale Cove, the massive warbled wall of water stretching across the bay. I see it as a stampede of elephants and envision myself trampled underneath by those leathery feet. Splat, splat, splat!
Forward past the Half Moon Bay airstrip, onto Princeton Drive, past the fishing boats, and into the dirt parking lot brimming with tourists and surfers’ trucks. I park next to a bearded man in a Subaru wagon with a green kayak strapped to the top. He rolls down his window. “About ten guys out at Mavs,” he says with a mischievous grin.
“You go out?” I ask.
“Nah,” the man says. “I don’t go out there. I know what can happen.” He speeds off in a cloud of dust.
A silver Tacoma rumbles into the slot next to me with two surfers, one with a mop of bleached blond hair. I recognize the blond—baggy sweatpants, a fluorescent mesh hat—as Ryan Augenstein, a pro surfer who competes in the annual Mavericks contest. “Hellman,” he is often called in the surf media. Augenstein looks casual, like he is going out to breakfast. I envy him.
“How’s it look?” he asks me.
“I haven’t seen it,” I say, “but I hear it’s supposed to bump up this afternoon.” I say this with false confidence, as if I think it is a good thing that waves are supposed to get bigger. In truth, I want them small, as small as possible for Mavericks to break at all. “That’d be good,” Augenstein says. “That’d be reeeeal nice.” An SUV full of men who look like they could be the Rolling Stones’ bodyguards—tatted up, black sunglasses, arms like lumber— pulls into the parking lot. Behind the wheel is Jeff Clark—the Jeff Clark who discovered these waves, whom I’ve only seen before in big, high-production surf movies. Clark knows Augenstein, of course. These are the gatekeepers, the Michael Jordans and Joe Montanas. They crack jokes and sip coffee, and Clark says, “The Half Moon Bay buoy’s going crazy. It just hit 18 feet at 16 seconds.” This means the wave faces may be around 40 feet.
What. In the hell. Am I doing here?
I push forward, walking past the lagoon, the reddened cliff, past the couple holding hands and asking—“This is where the Maverick happens?”—past sailboats in the harbor. I’m on the sand now and looking west and I can see the rock garden, “the boneyard,” as it’s called, the black teeth I’ve watched men pinned to by walls of white water in surf movies, battered like rag dolls. The foam explodes against these stones. The sea is angry.
Unlike Ocean Beach, the paddle out won’t be hard. The simultaneous beauty and deception of Mavericks is that there is a deep-water channel running south of the reef, allowing surfers to literally paddle out on peaceful flat ocean, then approach the takeoff zone between set waves from the side, often still with dry hair. I recently learned the safest paddle-out route from my friend Danny Hess, a longtime Mavericks surfer who also designed my board: south through the lagoon toward mushroom rock—“the one that looks like a mushroom”—then a right turn between the mushroom and the most southerly rock outcropping, and finally a half-mile beeline west until you run into the patch of other surfers waiting for waves. (Mavericks has become a pilgrimage site for any serious big-wave surfer so there is almost always a competitive crew.) Following these directions, though simple, gives me a sense of being prepared, not to mention occupying my modern brain so it doesn’t run ahead with its usual disaster scenarios.
A blue October sky above, with each stroke toward Mavericks, I feel lighter. Dr. Lardon’s technique of a “positive anchoring thought” comes to mind too, and I start chanting in my head as I paddle: “I do this every day. I do this every day” to keep the confidence flowing. Much as a little caffeine before a running race can increase performance—but too much can be detrimental—Lardon told me that a light fear response can give energy and increase focus and reaction time, but the longer fear endures and the larger fear grows, the more it stifles athletic flow.
The anchoring thoughts, the smooth ocean, the movement: They all seem to be working to put me in a reasonable balance of faith and fear. But when I finally make it out far enough to see the pack, my stomach knots. There are maybe 15 of them, floating near a patch of kelp, practically shoulder to shoulder. People had told me that the takeoff zone was small at Mavericks, but I had no idea I’d be practically holding hands with them.
This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Surfers are not always the laid-back dudes they’re often cast as in the movies, and the more coveted a wave is, the more difficult it is to make inroads with the local protectors. I’ve witnessed far too many fights in the surfing world to think newcomers are welcome anywhere. I suppose you could compare the feeling of approaching a new elite break to being a fresh walk-on in a heated pickup basketball game. But missing your shots on even the toughest court is just embarrassing. Lose control of your sharp 20-pound board in the wrong place at Mavericks and you could seriously injure someone, or worse.
I know a handful of Mavericks surfers from my neighborhood, but as I get closer, I realize none of the guys out today have any clue who I am. For all they know, I’m one of the annual neophytes who turns up after a few years of surfing with something to prove and ends up leaving via jet-ski rescue or a medevac. And the way my gut is tying itself in knots, I feel like I might be.
I paddle to the south of the pack, safely in the channel, deciding to watch for a while and avoiding eye contact so as to hide my nausea. It’s deceptively flat out here between sets, almost calm. The sun is shining. Harbor seals poke their mischievous whiskers up. But when a wave finally comes, the tone changes.
When the first green wall—tall as a four-story building— marches off the horizon and pushes onto the reef, the base of the wave—the cauldron, as it’s called—drops below sea level, sucking in its gut. It would be one thing if Mavericks were just an exceedingly tall wave that rolled in and crumbled onto sand. It doesn’t. The deep-ocean surge collides so suddenly with the jutting stone reef that the wave becomes as thick as it is tall, driving forward like some angered aqueous rhino.
There is the hook as the swell boosts to full height, and then that weightless, eerie quiet as the lip falls toward the sea. When the lip connects, forming a vapid core as big as the Holland Tunnel, the explosion of white blows higher than the wave itself, 40 feet up, and the sound, Jesus—an explosion.
Nobody catches this wave, and I feel glad about this. Nobody should be getting near that whole situation. And I should definitely go back before anyone sees my ghostly frightened face. But behind this monster there’s another monster, and a surfer is going. I recognize his paddle and his wetsuit. It’s Alex Martins, one of the Mavericks competitors who occasionally fixes my boards at his San Francisco shop. I feel simultaneous relief that I know someone in the lineup (maybe I’m not a total outsider) and worry. I feel like calling out to Alex—don’t do it! The wave looks like it will simply consume him or slingshot him to the moon. But Alex pops to his feet quickly, up early, before the wave goes vertical, composed even as he rides down, down, down, an ant against the green swell.
Oh dear God that looks awful. But something also just shifted in my brain, something deep in that social structure part. I know Alex. Alex is human. I am human. I have dreamed of doing this from the age of 12. People do this. I can do this.
I paddle closer to the pack, nodding and trying to look manly and confident. Nobody acknowledges me. The other faces are familiar only through surf media: Flea, Grant Washburn, Tyler Smith, Skindog. I wish Doc was here. These are all my comic book superheroes! Flipping hell, how did I end up in a surfing movie?
My strategy, if I’m really going to do this (and I’m still not sure I am) is to move slowly. Sit here on the shoulder of the pack and watch. Learn exactly what to do. More importantly—what not to do. I’m not going to try to be a hero. I tell this to my ego firmly. Know your place.
And so the minutes pass, the minutes turning to strange, trancelike hours of watching, hours of gradually moving deeper into the path of the beast, hours of hedging, second-guessing. I try to cheat inside and paddle for the smaller sets—small, meaning, oh, just a few giraffes high—but at the top, I’m looking over the edge of a cliff as it crumbles. Everything in me wants out and back and away. All I can think is that this is where fear makes sense. Mark Foo died on day just like this, his body floating in a lagoon after catching an edge on an 18 footer. Mark Foo, who never came back—never.
But I’ve trained for this. The statistics are on my side, I tell myself: thousands of waves ridden by humans just like me, without incident. You must push past instinct. This is the greatest of human feats. This is philosophy, science. This is—
Oh, mother f—
A rampart of green almost twice as big as anything that has yet come, far outside, has eclipsed the sky. It’s a freak set, a rogue. And so the mayhem begins, the herd mentality. Everyone scraping for the horizon. The wall is coming closer, a dreadful malice in its wedge. It grows and grows, high high above us, and I feel it so clearly, more clearly than ever: that will to live that isn’t even part of consciousness. It’s something in your bones. I’ve never paddled so hard. The men ahead of me look like minnows leaping up the falls, just barely scooting over the crest. Most make it over, but it’s too late for me. I’m in the dragon’s shadow now.
Automatically, I fling my board forward and dive down into the pocket, trying to get under. Diving deep, deep, into the murk, hoping, praying and—what’s this? I’m somehow suddenly through. I breathe air, but just when I think I’m safe, I feel the tug, the slurping at my toes. My board is caught in the vortex and the leash, Velcroed to my ankle, is yanking me down. One last gulp of air, and—
I’m under, pulled deep, deeper than I’ve ever been before. The green murk turns to black, and for the first time I can understand why Mavericks surfers have always said that you don’t know which way is up when you get pushed this far to the bottom. I take a guess and swim: one stroke, two, three four. The light must be around here somewhere. Please, please, lighter, lighter, and—inhale. Yes.
On the horizon, the next wave, equally ugly, impossibly high, is plunging down. An avalanche of foam mows me down and I’m back into blackness: punched, kicked, splayed, held under again. I completely forget to relax and there is simply no way I would. I’m gagging for air, again with no sense of direction. Where the hell is the surface?
I’m not sure how long I’m down, but eventually the water seems to push me up. I seem to have no say in the matter. The ocean just decided. I start flailing for the safety of the channel, thanking God and wondering, once again, what I’m doing out here. A couple of men lost their boards on that wave and they’re swimming in. It’s as if the enemy just tossed a grenade into our fortress. Now the recovery, the cleanup.
Catching my breath in the channel, I contemplate going in. That was not cool. Not cool at all. But once I see that everyone miraculously survived (including myself), another shift occurs. I have genuine information now. The horrible unknown—What will it be like to get smashed by a four-story wave?—is now demystified.
I’m tired and hungry. I’ve been out at Mavericks for 4 or 5 hours since those dramatic rogue sets rolled through and I haven’t caught a wave. Though nobody has said anything, and Alex is nice enough to chat with me, I’m quite sure most of the world-class lineup thinks I’m in the way. Part of me would like to just go in and head home. I survived being crushed by a massive wave at Mavericks. Isn’t that enough for one day? But the truth is, I have physical energy left. My real fatigue goes deeper. What I’m really tired of is hedging, doubting, feeling like I don’t belong,
This whole time, I’ve been waiting for that perfect fearless state to come first, a point where it miraculously feels right to paddle down a skyscraper of saltwater. Like avoiding pain, I’ve been shifting this way and that way around fear, never turning toward it, never embracing it. I’ve been seeing fear as a harbinger of all things bad: a reason I’m not worthy of being here (look how calm the other guys are), a reason I won’t perform well, a reason I shouldn’t trust my training. But the fact is the fear is not going to leave, not before I know in every fiber of my being that I can do this. And despite the fact that these other Mavericks surfers seem like superheroes, 99 percent of them felt just like I do now the first time they were out here.
I’m not in any peaceful, meditative state. In fact, after hours of botching opportunities, I’m incredibly agitated. But bobbing in the light onshore breeze, I take a few deep breaths and feel a renewed vigor in this realization. Just let the fear be there, I tell myself. Don’t run from it. Don’t identify with it. Don’t fight it.
I’m a little hesitant to call what happens next a surrender or letting go. It’s not the usual relax and just be kind of surrender that I’ve felt on retreat either. It’s a more primal surrender to whatever outcome—even, yes, death—and a simultaneous sharpening of the senses, a readiness to fight. Instead of feeling weaker by embracing fear, I’m flooded with a surge of power.
I let a few sets go by, breathing fully and deeply, collecting my energy, focusing. All day, I’ve felt like I couldn’t get into position. I always seemed to be just a little too far to the left or right or outside. But as soon as this mental shift comes, I’m finally, almost magically, in position. The wave is coming right to me, too fast it seems, but I don’t care. Let it take me down if it must.
I turn my board toward land and paddle. Suddenly I’m on my feet looking over the mountain’s precipice, and when it boosts to full height, the whole ocean hiccups. The streams of foam pass underfoot while I scream down this wall so high above me it’s perfectly surreal. I look over my left shoulder at the houses of whitewater and they are just there, just houses of whitewater. Everything is big and beautiful and fast. I ride a football field of water, thinking nothing at all, the avalanche on my heels. The wave flattens, then reforms into a second frothy bowl. I drop down this ledge, half the size of the original and still far above me. It slingshots me forward with another burst of speed, and then, seeing the wave is going to close, I pull off the back, skimming and skimming and skimming across the flat sea.
Lying down on my board, there’s a moment before I snap out of my trance and realize what has just happened. There are a handful of peak moments of success I’ve had in my life—winning an award or a big game—memories I fall back on in times of insecurity. But pulling off the back of that first Mavericks wave, still standing, trumps them all. It’s as if that unhinged adolescent yearning to be part of the most elite pack, to explore the edges of my potential, has been building for 18 years, so often repressed because my critical, rational side saw it as shallow or juvenile. But the primal part of me couldn’t let go of it, and now all that pent up desire is releasing in a single burst of euphoria. I don’t know it yet, but for weeks, months, even years to come, the memory of this one wave, the raw joy, will permeate my life and alter it.
I paddle back to the lineup, an uncontrollable smile plastered to my face, everything around me seeming to pulse with ripeness and life. The sky, the clouds, the sea, they all have a heartbeat. The fear has dissolved. It will be back, of course, but for now, there is this moment when only faith remains. And I belong here. I belong here
Adapted from The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing … and Love by Rodale © 2013 by Jaimal Yogis.
Jaimal Yogis is an author, journalist, and outdoorsman. Jaimal is currently working on a novel and another non-fiction book. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and his son, Kai. See more of his work at JaimalYogis.com and www.fearproject.net
From pow to swells, the Golden State is ripe for achieving the elusive ski-and-surf-in-a-day tandem
By Brennan Lagasse
There’s nothing like the feeling of sliding on snow. Then again, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of riding a wave. It doesn’t get much better than doing both in the same day, and there are few if any places in the world that provide a better opportunity to bag this elusive logistical tandem than California.
Luckily for us, the coast-to-mountains ratio is not only favorably close, but the access to get to both isn’t bad either. While the drive is usually nothing to sneeze at, usually on the order of three hours or so, it’s reasonable enough that it doesn’t take great strains to make the transition from mountains to sea, or vice versa.
Up and down California, the possibility is there, though the geographic and logistical challenges vary. Here’s a run down of the prime ski-and-surf in a day opportunities in the Golden State:
For the So Cal crowd your waves are plentiful, but your choices in the mountains are a bit slimmer and the snow quite a bit more fickle. Still, if you wake up to surf one of the many world-class breaks in the region —— Rincon, Malibu, Trestles, Swami’s, etc. — the San Gabriel Mountains are just a couple hours or so away, trafflc willing. With proper planning and a dawn-patrol start, you can surf through the morning commute, and be dropping into your first lap on Mt. Baldy before most cubicle-ites have taken lunch.
Moving north to Central and Northern California, the drive time between the ocean and the mountains goes up considerably, but your chance to score quality waves and quality snow increase considerably as well.
From Monterey to Sonoma County, numerous breaks line the coast. Of course the ocean is always dependent on swell, wind, weather, and tide, but if there’s something to paddle out for, there’s a proper break on this stretch of coastline that can handle it.
Not only that, but Tahoe and the great ““Range of Light”” are only 3-5 hours away depending on where you’re at. Not bad at all, especially if you happen to catch an early season powder day hiking in Tahoe for the morning, and make it to Santa Cruz for a clean SSW-pulse lighting up the coast before sunset.
It’s not as hard as it might sound. You could easily spend the morning skiing off the famed slopes accessible from Squaw’s KT-22, one of the best chairlifts in the world, or earning your turns on Donner Pass in the north or Carson Pass in the south. Both passes give you high-elevation snowlines, and a wealth of amazing accessible ski terrain. Backcountry options are endless, but you also have great lift-served options with places like Sugar Bowl off I-80, Kirkwood off Hwy 88, and Sierra-at-Tahoe off Hwy 50. When thinking of a snow-to-waves adventure, these areas provide you with some world-class terrain and provide some of the closest access to or from the coast.
Further north, you’d think the chances would continue to improve, but geography doesn’t facilitate that very easily. A trip to ski Lassen Peak or the flanks of Mount Shasta is a possibility, linking up the water portion of the day with the North Coast a few hours across the twisty, turny Highway 299 from Redding. But up there there’s even an easier way to get the mission done.
Horse Mountain in Humboldt County, 45 minutes from Arcata, will probably not be the best snow you’ve ever skied in your life (then again I did have one powder day a few years back where 48-52” fell overnight). You can see the ocean from the summit on a clear day, and you’re more likely to experience the most diverse snow conditions of your life here than anything else. The snow at Horse (elev. 4, 941 feet) is just good enough to satisfy the itch of snow junkies in the area.
While attending graduate school at Humboldt State University, a mere hour’s drive to dropping in on Horse, I was 100% that guy. I figured out on the right day, depending on the tides, I could easily surf a dawn-patrol session, be up at Horse and get a few runs in, and still make it to afternoon classes on time. There were the rare days when the surf was good enough that the most sensible thing to do in between high-and-low tide was to go skiing at Horse Mountain after a dawn- patrol session, then return for a sunset surf, making Horse the meat of the North Coast surfing sandwich.
Of all the natural mediums that cause us to dream beyond our comfort zones, skiing and surfing are two of the most amazing feelings one can experience on this planet. I know there’s a reason why my dogs are named snow (Nieve) and waves (Olas) in Spanish.
In our great state we’re never at a loss for spending quality time outside. Next time you’re letting those creative juices flow, figure out how to lock into one of the most classic California days imaginable and get a surf-and-ski day in.
That night’s beer may be as tasty and rewarding as any you’ve ever earned before!
Brennan Lagasse is a backcountry reporter for Unofficial Networks, environmental consultant, and generally tireless adventurer based in Tahoe. When the storm winds blow, he often gets his surf fix on Lake Tahoe while waiting for the snow to fall.
San Francisco-based Adventurous Sports gets “never-evers” up and surfing fast using their innovative Surf Simulator to teach a smooth and balanced pop-up for the ocean. Students who take the pop-up clinic on Saturday are usually up on their very first wave in Santa Cruz on Sunday.
“The pop-up clinic on Saturday was absolutely instrumental to my success in the water,” said student Libby Estelle. “I was able to pop up and actually ride a wave on my very first try in the water. The other students
in my group had all attended a week-long surf camp last winter and were amazed this was my first time out.”
Now new surfers can also travel to warm waters for their first ocean experience with Adventurous Sports’ new travel company, Solaz Adventures. One-week camps (or private trips) include daily surf lessons, yoga and massage. Solaz combines undiscovered protected locations and superb instructors at their camps in Playa Grande, Costa Rica, and two locations in Mexico, Troncones and Cabo.
The combination of top-notch instruction and warm, uncrowded waves makes for a relaxing vacation. See videos, class dates and trip schedules at www.adventurous.com.
A chapter from Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea
By Jaimal Yogis
In Hawaii, I saw a few fights break out. But I never had any personal collisions with the so-called “localism factor” until I came back to the mainland— or, as the Rastafarians in Hawaii call it, “Babylon.”
After six months at Kalani, I figured I couldn’t live in my heavenly little A-frame forever, so I moved back to California for college classes. To keep up what Rom taught me, I went to that little college town called Santa Cruz: liberal bubble of idealism and drum circles, of health-food stores that out-number Starbucks, of really good cold waves, and, as I would soon find out, angry surfers.
At first I was too tucked away to notice them. I found a quiet studio in Aptos next to a park of redwoods and lolling ferns. Fog cloaked my bedroom windows most mornings and I meditated before dawn to the sound of trickling dew. I could walk to a good beach break and to my new job at the Farm Bakery. I fell in love with a pretty Santa Cruz girl and we tried to be healthy, spiritual do-gooders: yoga classes, monthly beach clean-ups, hospice work, lots of raw vegetables. All was well in the Santa Cruzian cosmos. And I could generally avoid surfing in town where the so-called Surf Nazis roamed.
I first heard this name in my oceanography class. “That’s what people call those assholes,” said a surfer from L.A. who sat next to me. “And they really are Nazis, man, I swear. They think they own the ocean. Man, L.A. was better than this.”
“Well, you expect it more down there. I thought northern Californians were supposed to be more friendly.”
“Not in Santa Cruz, man.”
To be fair, angry locals exist everywhere there is a combination of two things: good waves and male surfers. Serene as our sport can be, put a bunch of testosterone-crazed men in close proximity competing for anything, even just fleeting bursts of saltwater, and there will be problems.
On the whole, I’d say Barton Lynch, the 1988 surf champ, got it right when he said that surfers are “more cocky and judgmental than any group of people in the world.” And Santa Cruz surfers are known as the worst. Not that there aren’t a lot of friendly surfers in Santa Cruz, but the Nazis do enough heckling, shouting, and beating to eclipse the others.
I suppose it’s not their fault. Aside from the cold water—usually about fifty-five degrees—it would be hard to design a better surf locale than Santa Cruz. The entire bay faces south, which means the northwest winds that pound the rest of northern California blow offshore in Santa Cruz and keep the waves tidy almost every day, year-round. Santa Cruz is open to gentle south swells all summer. And in winter, the powerful northern swells that overfill many northfacing breaks get parceled, manicured, and groomed as they bend into the Monterey Bay and collide with Santa Cruz’s sedimentary reefs.When all the right factors combine, it can be a stunning sight.
At some point long, long ago in the dark ages of surfing—before the invention of the wetsuit—Santa Cruz surfers were a brazen, chill-tolerant few with the pristine sanctuary to themselves. But Jack O’Neill changed everything. In 1952, he invented the wetsuit and opened his first real surf shop in Santa Cruz shortly after. The wetsuit* allowed even old ladies, small children, and wimpy Buddhists onto the waves; Santa Cruz transformed from hippie town with a few polar bear club surfers to hippie town with a surf-driven economy. Today, the area seems to have more surf shops than it does gas stations. And from Sunset Beach to Scott’s Creek, when the surf is good, thousands of wet-suited surfers descend on the sea and fill every nook and cove, competing for anything that ripples, refracts, or gurgles.
It’s still a great place to be a surfer. But you have to feel a little bad for the born-and-bred Santa Cruz surfers, whose solitary Eden has been opened wide to every over-eager UC Santa Cruz student, every Silicon Valley drudge fending off a mid-life crisis, and every newly christened surfer coming back from six months in Hawaii and trying to beat culture shock.
So, of course they try to defend their turf—not that that justifies some of their actions. But everything is created by causes and conditions.
* For which, Mr. O’Neill, I am very grateful.
I finally witnessed genuine Surf Nazi rage at a well-populated town spot called the Hook. It was a crowded, small day, and there was much more jockeying for space than surfing going on. But it was also sunny. The air was clear. And everyone who wasn’t getting waves—all but about seven guys—probably figured just sitting in the water was still better than whatever else they had to do.
After an hour or so, I watched three grinning boys paddle out with their shiny new gear, jabbering about girls in their dorm or something. They weren’t terrible surfers. They just had terrible judgment. They paddled directly to the wrong take-off point and dropped in on the wrong guy, a stocky blonde with a chin like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“What the fuck are you doing?” the Arnold-chin guy yelled.
“Surfing,” the boy replied.
It was a brave response. But the wrong one. Within minutes, the boys were slipping on seaweed and ducking hurled rocks. The boys darted back into their SUV, not even bothering to change out of their wetsuits.
Arnold-chin and his friends were proud of themselves. In their minds, I imagine, they were doing their duty: protecting their pristine shores. The three of them laughed about it for a good fifteen minutes— “They were so fucking scared”—and on and on. Then they went back to their conversation about the previous night’s exploits.
“I was sooo wasted. Keyed. Seriously.”
“I know, dude, how many times did you use the Nword?”
“About thirty. But I don’t mean it like that, man.”
Perhaps they had earned the name Nazis for a reason. Anyway, I didn’t want to deal with them. So I surfed conservatively, smiled a lot and apologized profusely whenever I came close to breaking a taboo. It worked for a long time. But then one day, I was in downtown Santa Cruz during a big winter swell. Normally, I’d have headed to one of the more secluded coves up north, but I only had ninety minutes before class.
So I drove down to Santa Cruz’s most famous and crowded spot: Steamer Lane.
The Lane became famous in the ’60s as a good training spot for Makaha and Sunset and other bigwave Hawaiian surf spots. It has since become so “localized” that even the parking lot is divided between locals and non-locals. In other words, before you even touch the water, you know where you stand in the pecking order. And because the wave breaks in perfect view from the Santa Cruz surf museum and lighthouse, a popular tourist lookout, the Lane is like a surf auditorium built for show-offs. It breeds the worst in localism and the best in surfing acrobatics.
Not surprisingly, the two often go together.
I’d surfed the Lane a handful of times and I knew where I stood. I parked in the tourist lot and walked to the lighthouse to have a look. The railing on the cliff was brimming with families flashing cameras, students playing Frisbee, and mobs of surfers, all of them gawking.
“OH! MY! GOD!” I heard someone shout. And then I saw it. In the surf slang of the moment, the Lane was “going off”: ten-foot faces backlit by a warm sun unwrapped across the inlet like a magazine cover. I’d heard the Lane got good. But I had had no idea it could do this.
Dozens of surfers spread out in tight-knit groups like little islands. The best surfers waited in a pack at the most dangerous spot behind the jutting cliff. I watched a big set come in. The surfer furthest behind the cliff caught it, streamed down the face, narrowly missing the cliff’s edge as the wall of water collided with the sediment and shot white spume twenty-five feet vertically. “Oohhh,” the tourists cooed. “Sick,” said the surfer next to me. “So critical.”
I grabbed my board and climbed quickly down the cement steps into the water. On a sign near the entrance, someone had written, “You’re not a local until you’ve lived in Santa Cruz for seven years.”
Charming. Just six years and eight months to go.
I paddled to middle point, a peak safely away from the rocks. And despite the crowd, surprising myself, I got a few very good rides; the waves were setting up in a predictable line, almost like—I hate to say it—a surfing video game. Plenty of room to carve around on the face, time to think about your next snap.
A few professionals (and lots of aspiring professionals) were out in the lineup. Everyone, even the women, seemed to be doing their best alpha-male impersonation: jaw thrust forward, eyes steely, shoulders back, no smiles. Only the good old boys were talking at all, cracking inside jokes to let everyone know that they did indeed own this wave (in case we somehow forgot).
It was a quintessential Santa Cruz day. Between waves, I watched in envy as guys like Darryl Virostko, known as Flea, pulled floaters and aerial maneuvers like his board was an extension of his body. He was like a human-board hybrid. A herd of seals was sunning on a nearby rock. Purple and yellow flower bloomed like fireworks. The cliffs twinkled like new sandpaper.
Peter, a guy I knew from English class, was out at middle point, too. He surfed the Lane regularly and said he’d never seen it so good. “This is rare beauty,” he said. “Santa Cruz gold.”
“I think these may be the best waves I’ve ever ridden,” I told him.
“They may be the best waves you’ll ride for a long time, too. This swell’s gonna be over by tomorrow. Get ’em while you can.”
Middle point was plenty of fun. But after months in Hawaii, I had a chip on my shoulder. And before long, I paddled over toward the pack near the cliff. The waves were steeper over there, barreling in an almond shape as they rumbled by the cliff’s edge.
I was a little nervous. I still hadn’t gotten a good tube ride, ever.
The art of getting inside the wave looks easy in videos and magazines. But it’s actually about as difficult as threading a needle wearing mittens and a blindfold. Making it out of the tube was the hardest part for me. Almost every time I’d made it in, the wave had swallowed.
I knew I had to prove myself if I was going to sit behind the cliff and get any respect. And again, I got unbelievably lucky. On the first wave I paddled into, as I passed the cliff, the lip leapt outward like it was reaching for shore. I ducked, pressed my body close to the face, and a thin sheath of water just fell over my shoulder. It was like ducking behind a waterfall, like breathing underwater, like being shot through the barrel of a shotgun. It was all of this, and also like nothing else. It was my first real tube. I wasn’t deep inside the hollow section, but I was definitely in the shade of the lip, enough for the periscope vision I’d been dreaming about. I heard hoots from the crowd before the wave spat me out in a burst.
I felt like I’d just won the lottery. I wanted to scream to the tourists: “I know what it feels like, suckers!” But one never breaks stoic coolness at a spot like the Lane. Never. So I acted the part—just one of the boys.
But as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” I paddled back with fierce confidence: back arched, stare forward. I figured everyone had seen my wave and that everyone would gladly give me waves the rest of the evening. I paddled deeper into the pack and waited.
But then I made a slight faux pas. Okay, a big one. On my next wave, I didn’t even look to see if anyone was dropping in before me. I just rode, like Tupac, nothing but open wave ahead—pure freedom. And as I rode—yeah! yeah!—I heard a voice: “HO-HO-HO! HO-HO-HO!” Unfortunately this was not a festive greeting. This meant in surf-speak: “Get the hell out of my way, now!”*
* I have no idea which surfer started saying “HO” to signal that the wave is already taken. But it seems to be used all over the world now. I know one surfer who has tacked on a “Merry Christmas” when the other surfer gets off the wave. And unrelatedly, but in an interesting coincidence, repeatedly chanting “Ho” is also what Zen monks in Japan intone on their begging rounds—it’s the Japanese word for “Dharma.”
I looked back to see a surfer in a bright red wetsuit. And no one wears a bright red wetsuit unless they really want to be noticed. He was barreling down the line right toward me, screaming now: “HO! HO!”
Technically, it was his wave. And I tried to follow etiquette and pop off the back of the wave. But for some reason, when I did that I didn’t bring my board. I jumped off, diving over the lip. Thus, I was safely out of the way, but my board was not. And it tripped him. I was all set with my overdone apology when I heard him scream. “Errrggghhhmotherfucker!” Oh man. He was angry, very angry. He paddled toward me spewing words in what almost sounded like fast-forward.
“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I am really, really sorry! I tried to—”
“Hey, I said I was sorry.”
Despite his poor manners and slurred speech I felt bad. It was my fault. If I hadn’t been pretending I was Kelly Slater, it wouldn’t have happened. I apologized again and expected the incident would be over. I wasn’t going to get out like he wanted me to. He didn’t look older than twenty-one and he wasn’t even a great surfer. Besides, everyone gets dropped in on from time-to-time. It happened a thousand times a day at Steamer Lane. He would let it go.
But for the next twenty minutes, the red-suited bandit and his friend, a guy in a bright blue suit and a fluorescent orange top, taunted me with more homophobic obscenities and fast-forward surf slang.
It was really annoying.
And I wasn’t going to fight them. For one thing, judging from their crew cuts, bright suits, and political incorrectness, I figured they probably had older brothers with black monster trucks waiting in the parking lot to run over Buddhist surfers. Secondly, I don’t think I could effectively hold my own against an aggressive starfish if I wanted to. And thirdly, back at the monastery I took a lifelong vow against killing (and fighting) that I’d upheld thus far—with the exception of a few mosquitoes, which I regret. And since I’d broken most of the other vows many times over, I wanted to maintain at least one. I tried to ignore them:
“Deedadeee. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts.”
But after the tenth time the red-suited surfer yelled “faggot” at me, I began to lose my patience. Perhaps if he’d been a little bit more creative—“Hey sea horse, are you pregnant?” “Hey hippo mouth”—I would’ve taken it in stride. But faggot? It was as if these guys had been stuck in a time warp—Miami Beach, 1985—and had suddenly beamed down to Steamer Lane just to test my patience.
I paddled away, but I couldn’t surf at all well. My chest began to tighten.My ribs compressed. I felt nauseous. I was getting… angry. And that was not good.
Good Buddhists don’t get angry, I told myself (unhelpfully). And every time I looked at their bright suits, the anger grew. And every time the anger grew, I got angry at myself for getting angry. Suddenly, on a beautiful day with the best surf of the year, nothing felt right.
The water was cold. My hands were clammy. I started hating everyone, all the stupid surfers, all the ridiculous followers who just wanted a cool surfer identity, which was the only reason they were out.
Unlike me—obviously the only soul surfer left— they were obstacles. Flotsam.
Shantideva, a famous Indian Buddhist philosopher in the eighth century, said that a single moment of anger can destroy eons of good karma. The law of karma, of course, is the causal notion that wholesome deeds always yield wholesome results and unwholesome deeds inevitably lead to unwholesome results. What you reap is what you sow, basically.
Me, I didn’t quite believe that karma worked so straightforwardly just then. But anyway, I figured I should heed Shantideva’s warning and not act out my anger. Plus, I didn’t think I had much good karma to spare. I’d only just started being an official do-gooder in that year. And in all honesty, the beach clean-ups were more of a way to spend time with my girlfriend,who seemed to never have enough time to see me because she was always saving the earth.
So I told myself, “I need to handle this peacefully. I meditate. I’m spiritual. The red-suited demon is just a test. Remember Siddhartha, remember Mara.”
I dug deep into my Buddhist training.
I tried to analyze the anger. Hui-neng, the Sixth Ancestor of Zen, said of the enlightened mind: “The ear hears sounds but the mind doesn’t move.” I’d heard the sounds (“hey faggot”), judged them, and reacted by tensing up. That reaction was based on my perception of a fixed self—a self I felt was currently under threat and in need of defending—my memory patterns, and cultural programming, and this reaction was the proximal thing causing me to suffer. Sure, the guy was a bit uncouth. But he wasn’t shoving my own burning anger down my throat. The anger was coming from inside me. In principle, I had a choice.
Then I recalled that the Buddha said that the causes of anger were frustrated desire or wounded pride. I didn’t want to admit it, but obviously my pride had been wounded, a lot. “Learn to surf,” the jerk in red had said. In the space of a wave, I’d gone— in my own mind—from one of the best surfers at the Lane, to the worst. And really, I was more angry about that than anything.
I took a deep breath and recited my little Buddhist catch phrases: “Just surf, Jaimal. Present moment.
Everything passes. Nothing permanent.”
It helped. But I still felt queasy and still kind of wanted that red-suited devil-child to faceplant in the cliff.
So I moved on to stage two: generate compassion. I silently recited the Metta Sutra, the Buddha’s discourse on loving-kindness: “Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.” I tried to see the brightly colored homophobes as fellow humans who were in the same boat of suffering, who wanted to be happy, just like me, who wanted good waves, just like me. But I couldn’t do it.
I found myself visualizing throwing spiny purple sea urchins at their heads, each one lodging itself in their stupid little faces.
So what about something more human, I thought, something witty? What would Dave Chapelle say? Or Mr. Miyagi? No. No. I racked my brain for something that would teach these boys a lesson. I remembered that surf writer Dan Duane (one of my writing heroes) had a similar encounter with a teenager at Steamer Lane and, in his book, he’d said to the kid, “I could have an Uzi in my car.” You know, just to shake the kid up a little. That was pretty clever. Yeah, I’d tell these guys I had an Uzi—oh, who was I kidding? If anyone had an Uzi, it was their older brothers with the freaking monster trucks.
The whole situation sucked.
I couldn’t calm down. And I couldn’t surf. And I couldn’t say anything to them. And I obviously wasn’t as spiritually evolved as I’d imagined. And I was probably repressing my anger into a spiky little bomb that would erupt years from now and turn me into a serial killer who preyed on people wearing red.
I tried to catch a wave and fell. The red-suited devil saw me fall and yelled again, “Faggot!
Man, he was a little shit. But I tried to fake it, play it cool. I met eyes with him a couple times, grinned and raised my eyebrows as if to say, you’re not bothering me so you might as well give up. But he knew he was bothering me. He splashed me. “Isaidgohomestupidfaggotidiothomoyou’renotwelcome
And then, something strange happened, something cool.Well, first I threw more make-believe sea urchins at his head. But then something cool happened.
As he continued shouting, I watched his face in more detail. When he yelled, it contorted and tightened; it reminded me of a sick pig. The veins in his throat bulged. And it was obvious when I looked closely: the red-suited devil was not having a good time. In fact, he appeared to be in just as much pain as I was, and his pain was self-inflicted, just like mine. And he just couldn’t let go, just like I couldn’t— despite all my spiritual training.
We were both holding on to this thing, this monster between us. And now that I saw it, I could almost feel it hovering there, tangible. It was wrapping its stickiness around our throats—and we were helping it. We were grabbing on to it tightly, believing it was part of us. But it wasn’t. It was a thing we’d each created. It was a bad wave we’d caught and it had closed out and was holding us down. All we needed to do was let it pass. All we needed to do was stop grabbing at it.
And when I saw this, I did let go—a little. And then a little more. I let myself breath more naturally. And when I did this, I even felt kind of bad for the guy. And when I felt kind of bad for the guy, as if on cue, he and his buddy paddled in. As they walked up the steps, they continued shouting nonsense. The red-suited kid even stood on the cliff for a few minutes flailing his arms and screaming obscenities that I couldn’t even hear. I had to give him points for perseverance, but silhouetted against the sky, he just looked like he was having a seizure.
“What’s up that guy’s ass?” said Peter, who’d been surfing middle point the whole time and hadn’t heard the incident.
“I dropped in on him. But he seems to be more angry at life in general.”
“Yeah. Apparently. Must have a hell of a home life. What’s he saying?”
We laughed about it a little, about the ridiculousness of fighting while playing in the waves, and the knot in my chest started to untie. I was still a little mad, but more at myself than at the kid. The redsuited guy seemed like a caricature of anger.
Or maybe a bodhisattva who’d come to compassionately demonstrate what can happen without anger management skills.
A burly samurai once came to a Zen master and asked the master, “Sensei, please teach me the difference between heaven and hell.”
“Why would I give an uncouth cretin like you such a high teaching,” the Zen master said, in apparent disgust. “You’re a worm. You’re less than a worm. You’re a stupid samurai.” Samurai were never treated this way in ancient Japan and the samurai grew instantly enraged. His eyes bulged and he raised his shiny sword, ready to slice the little monk in two.
But the Zen master didn’t flinch. (They never do.) He said to the samurai, calmly, “That, Samurai, is hell.”
Suddenly, understanding the teaching, realizing that he was about to kill a holy man because of his own pride, the samurai’s eyes filled with tears. He put his sword down and his palms together in reverence. He bowed deeply.
“And that,” said the master, “is heaven.”
Looking back over thewater, I noticed it was actually a fabulous day. The sun, now a dark orange, was beginning to sink behind the cliff. The water was turning from a jade green to an oily black flecked with points of light. Brown pelicans, with their pterodactyllike wingspans, skimmed the water, reading the wave lines better than any of us. A spotted harbor seal near the cliff raised its whiskered head above water and glanced around before diving back down.
I breathed the cold salt air in deeply.
Jaimal Yogis lives in San Francisco. “Saltwater Buddha” is his first book.
For more on his writing and other projects, including the film version of “Saltwater Buddha,” visit his website, www.jaimalyogis.com
By Krista Hammond
All photos courtesy of The International Surfing Museum.
Photo: Bud Browne
The magic of a good surf film is such that it can turn a landlocked youth into a surf dreamer without ever having ridden a wave. Whether lured by the fluid purity of a rider slicing ahead of the curl, the easy going appeal of life in board shorts and flip-flops, or the mahalo appeal of the surf lifestyle, surfing offers a wealth of possibilities that appeal to viewers and filmmakers alike.
The success of recent big screen surf films like Step Into Liquid, Blue Crush and Riding Giants have shown that the genre still holds tremendous appeal to a general audience which statistically must include many more landlubbers than surfers. The predecessors of these modern films, classics like Endless Summer, Gidget, The Big Surf, Hawaiian Holiday and Slippery When Wet, not only filled seats, but also spawned a surf industry and cultural phenomenon that extended far beyond the reach of the salt air. Particularly in California, the evolution of surfing appears inextricably linked to the evolution of the surf film.
Surfing was an ancient Hawaiian sport that was nearly unknown in America until George Freeth first introduced it co California in 1907. In 1912 legendary Hawaiian surfer and Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku brought surfing to the masses with demonstrations in California.
Freeth and Kahanamoku were both already working to keep surfing alive in Hawaii, where it nearly died out, during the 1880s and 1890s. Coincidentally, in 1898, just three years after the first motion-picture camera was devised by French inventors Auguste and Louis Lumiere, the first motion pictures were made of surfers at Waikiki. From the beginning, the fascination with surfing clearly coincided with the birth of film.
However, not much more film stock was devoted to surfers during the early 1900s. It wasn’t until the ‘30s, when surfing began to take hold in California, that surf photography truly found a place. Surfer and surf writer Gary Lynch sums up the appeal of surfing at that time: “Life was grand around the California beaches even though the Great Depression had drained the savings and expectations of many. For as little as $15-$25 one could build a hollow board or plank style surf board, sew a pair of swim trunks out of canvas and feel like a king at the beach.”
A young surfer by the name of Doc Ball inspired by his experiences meeting Duke and his own attempts at making a surfboard, went on to document the grassroots surfing movement in California at the time with his camera. In 1929, “there were probably 15 or 20 [surfers] around the whole [California] coast. But, they were mostly all in Southern California where the water was warm,” he is quoted on the website Legendary Surfers, www.legendarysurfers.com.
Bruce Brown and Robert August
Many of those surfers were Doc’s friends, like legendary surfboard shaper Tom Blake. Doc wanted to be in the water with his buddies and not just shoot them from the shore. According to Legendary Surfers,“By 1937, Doc’s reputation as a surf photographer was well established. That year, he built his first waterproof camera housing. The watertight ‘shoots box’ housed Doc’s replacement for the Kodak folding Autographic, a stripped down Series D Graflex. Not only could he get closer to his wave sliding buddies, but the images were clearer.”
While Doc Ball is credited with creating some of the earliest shots of surf culture, the person who takes credit for pioneering the moving surf film is Bud Browne, also known as the “father of surf movies.”
Bud took Doc’s idea for a waterproof camera housing and applied it to a moving picture camera so that he could film action footage from the surfer’s vantage point. For audiences, the effect was mesmerizing.
Browne showed the first known commercial surf film, Hawaiian Surfing Movie, in 1953. He then proceeded to release a movie every year between 1953 and 1964; each film became a postcard of a particular moment in the history of the sport. He filmed all up and down the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco. Other filmmakers, like ski guru Warren Miller, were also showing their documentary sports films around the country at this time.
Surf pioneers like Jack O’Neill, who opened his original Surf Shop in San Francisco, would even rent venues like high school gymnasiums where Browne’s films could be shown. Predominantly surfers came to see these early surf movies. The events were generally rowdy, albeit bonding for the fledgling surfing community.
True documentary-style surfing movies remained mostly underground through the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Meanwhile, fictionalized Hollywood productions like Gidget in 1959 captured the public’s perception of surfing as the epitome of California lifestyle. It wasn’t until 1964, when Bruce Brown released The Endless Summer that a true surf film, made by and for surfers, generated mass box office appeal. It also created the notion of the year-round surfing lifestyle and the global surf safari with its use of international locations. The movie featured two of the biggest names in surfing at the time, Mike Hynson and Robert August, and filmed them surfing in California, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Africa.
“Originally, we were just going to South Africa and then back. But it turned out that it was 50 bucks cheaper to go all the way around the world via South Africa. So that really started the around the world trip,” Brown recounts in an interview on www.surfhistory.com.
The popularity of The Endless Summer encouraged droves of people around the globe to belly up to a surfboard for the first time. The movie’s alluring surf footage and entrancing story line set it apart from its contemporaries. Brown captured the unique thrill and camaraderie of surfing, particularly in the scenes shot in Africa. He filmed young Africans seeing a surfboard and a surfer riding waves for the first time. In the film, Hynson
and August are transformed from surfers to surf instructors and infect the locals with the thrill of catching waves. Even though they can’t understand each other’s language, through surfing they share a moment in common. The Endless Summer changed the face of surfing forever and remained so popular throughout the years that The Endless Summer II was released in 1994 as a follow up.
Original Endless Summer movie poster
The surf movie remains a hot item and has gained an even wider audience in recent years. The release of Blue Crush a few years ago brought female surfers into the mainstream as surf athletes, rather than just ornamental
bikini-clad surfer chicks. Riding Giants captured the evolution and awe-inspiring power of big-wave surfing. Yet perhaps the best indication that the pulse of surf films still beats strong today is evidenced by the 2003 film Step Into Liquid, produced by Bruce Browne and directed by his son Dana. In it, they pay homage to both the pioneers of surfing and the visionaries of today. Most importantly, the film makes surfing look like one of the most magical experiences a human can have. Just ask those guys riding the wake of oil tankers in the Houston shipping channel. The International Surfing Museum located in Huntington Beach is home to a collection of some of the most significant artifacts in the history of surfing. Established over a decade ago and built on the dream of creating an institution that salutes surfing, its pioneers, its culture and its evolution, the Museum is considered one of the best in the world. www.surfingmuseum.org
Australian Jaime Mitchell is the reigning eight time champ of the grueling Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard Race heldevery July. Known in elite paddleboard circles for his prone paddling prowess, Mitchell recently took his paddling act to his feet at Doheny Beach, California for Rainbow Sandals’ 2nd Annual Battle of the Paddle, the world’s largest Stand Up Paddle (SUP) race. “Mitchell is more suited for the races in Hawai’i than in California”, “…a fast prone paddler, but he won’t hang with the top guys in stand up”, was the online chatter posted on message boards before October 3rd, 2009. Accused of being a one- dimensional athlete, Mitchell surprised all with a stunning win, a full 4 minutes and 39 seconds ahead of waterman Chuck Patterson’s winning time at the previous year’s event. The morning after Mitchell’s glorious victory, critics ate their words and Wheaties in stunned silence. Mitchell’s magic formula: sheer athletic ability and a unique SUP race board designed with similar features to his Molokai to Oahu prone race board.
For stand up paddling’s elite, the Battle of the Paddle represents the world’s largest and most competitive race. A “motocross” style course has participants zig- zagging in and out of the breaking surf. It’s a challenge that tests the endurance and surfing skills of the world’s best watermen and women. Athletes fly in from around the world to compete for the coveted Battle of the Paddle crown and a cash purse of $25,000.
Doheny Beach resembled a NASCAR event last Saturday morning with dozens of vendors showing off their latest speed machines. With its festive atmosphere and a jubilant throng of onlookers staking out viewing spots on the sand, the salt air was buzzing with anticipation. As the sun rose that morning, no one could have anticipated what was in store. Mitchell had never competed in a stand up paddle race before. Could the success he’s enjoyed in traditional “prone” paddle races be his in an SUP event? Dozens of rivals were there to take on the challenge. The sudden popularity of SUP in the fitness, kayaking and surf worlds has fueled fierce competition amongst athletes, board designers and shapers. Every innovator, huckster, fitness guru and experienced board and boat builder is climbing on the SUP bandwagon.
With a building swell and increasing onshore winds, this year’s race was to be far more challenging than the last. Mid-way into the first of four laps, and nearing the lead, Mitchell’s hopes were nearly dashed when he fell, loosing his board. Caught in white water, the board arrived almost back to shore without him. Swimming to recover it, Mitchell got back on course. The mishap had cost him approximately eight places. Now in tenth place, he summoned his inner warrior to make up the lost time. When he overtook young phenom Slater Trout and Andrew Logreco to take the lead with a nice margin, the winner was clearly “MITCHO!”, a first time BOP competitor. “After the wipeout at the south buoy, I just put my head down and told myself that I wasn’t going to make any more mistakes” commented Mitchell. Indeed, his remaining three laps were aided by surf skills honed in Australia and Hawai’i. Mitchell, perfectly positioned, surfed several set waves which extended his lead. Jamie completed the 5 mile course with a record time of 1:07:45. The ever so humble “Mitcho” gave credit for his win to his board designers, and added, “I’ve been busy traveling and working with my surf school back home so we didn’t really have much time to train before coming out to California.” Just days prior to the Battle of the Paddle, Mitchell and a tight knit crew of fellow Aussies were up in San Francisco for the Hennessey International Paddleboarding Championships. Mitchell was there to defend his title in the Unlimited (prone paddle) Class. Victory was his when he won that race with more than a three minute lead.
By about 2:30 in the afternoon last Saturday, Mitcho’s lead at Doheny had left little doubt who’s board was the fastest! Mitchell’s unconventional SUP board has a unique concave bottom, chine rails and consistent thickness flow from nose to tail. A stark contrast to the majority of racing boards in the water, Mitchell’s board was designed by Lahui Kai, the Australian partnership of Adrian Birse and Mick Di Betta. The “Mitcho”, Jamie Mitchell’s 12’6″ racing SUP model will be manufactured by Surftech, the innovative Santa Cruz, California company known for bringing exclusive shapes by elite designers to market. Surftech’s unique proprietary construction makes their boards both “waterproof” due to their fused-cell cores and ultra- durable. Fast, stable and light, the 12’6″ Mitcho is a great board for racing or cruising . It’s a solid and proven performer, even in windy, bumpy conditions. Look for Surftech’s 12’6″ Mitcho model in stores worldwide by Spring 2010.