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Nothing Worthwhile Comes Easy
I spent the couple of weeks leading up to the trip in the water, hoping to develop enough chops not to embarrass myself. The place where I surf, El Porto, is a notoriously closed-out beach break with a fast, hollow wave. Its only advantages are consistent waves quantity, not quality and enough room to spread out a bit. They say if you master El Porto, you can surf anywhere, and its true there are a lot of really good surfers there. Im not one of them.
When you live in Silver Lake, surfing El Porto in the morning before work means getting up at 6 a.m. about the time I normally fall asleep. For a few months Id been managing to do this two to three times a week. I thought that was dedication, until I saw the old guy featured in Step Into Liquid who has surfed everyday for 27 years. Thats dedication!
I started going surfing more and more, forsaking sleep, and my health, to get some time in the water. But my stoke the unifying theme in all of Step Into Liquids vignettes was growing. Everything work, house, wife was starting to take a back seat to getting in the water and catching the wave that would bring back that old feeling of being in the bubble. And it would almost happen. Sometimes once, sometimes twice a day, sometimes not at all, Id get a wave that hinted of the possibility of other waves and better rides. The feeling haunts you once you have it, and, like a dope fiend, you gotta have more.
I knew I shouldnt have gone that morning after I felt a cough getting deeper in my lungs, but I went anyway, despite my suspicions that I had picked up something in El Portos surf, which is conveniently situated next to a power plant, oil refinery and sewage-treatment facility. The week prior to The Ranch trip, the cough was a full-blown respiratory infection, complete with the clambake in the lungs. I was nervous now that I wouldnt be able to make it, but also, wasnt I a bit relieved? For my self-doubt had found an excuse. I spent the entire night before the trip sleepless, hacking up nasties. I called Steven at 6:30 in the morning just hours before we were to leave, and told him hed have to hold up our end of the bargain. It was a disappointment, but it was safe. I wouldnt have to reckon with The Ranch. I went back to bed with the whole thing Kem Nunn, The Ranch, the bubble, the quest, turning over in my head. I thought about all the people who would kill for this opportunity, and I felt like I was letting them down. Its hard to explain, but I also felt that by going back to bed and missing the trip, I was going back to the Pittsburgh still in me. Fuck it, I decided, Im going.
Steven and I were supposed to meet Dana and Wingnut at Bruce Browns house, about 25 miles north of Santa Barbara, by noon. Getting there wasnt the easiest part. Although we had directions of a sort, an address and the caution that if you pass the Blade Runnerlooking refinery, youve gone too far, we must have driven up and down the stretch of the 101 freeway in question five times before we found a sun-baked Highway Patrol cop with a nose that looked like he stole it from W.C. Fields.
You know where [address given here] is? we asked.
No, wouldnt know where that is, he said.
Umm, were looking for Bruce Browns place? we tried.
He looked at our truck and the boards on top and said, Oh, that figures. I know where that is.