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Meditations in a Surf Emergency

“You’d think I was a con. The way I set things up. I said nothing to no one. The things you do for surf.”

It’s Monday and I shouldn’t be doing this. Leaving early. Lying my way out the door. Because a season lolled by surf-less and there’s finally this pulse. Because 90 days broken up by soft-top afternoons left too much to the imagination. Because yesterday was another sweet barrage of daddy duties and baby games. Then a morning window missed. A high tide arrival. And this inability to quell the mind-reel filming through my third eye. I would have welcomed weekend traffic and gone north—sweat the steel box grind—if only there was time. Then came the shutdown winds. So, I’m starting the week on my terms before it all fades, for who knows how long. I’m done waiting. I could have planned more. I knew what was coming. We all did. We all have our reasons.

You’d think I was a con. The way I set things up. The things you do for surf. I said nothing to no one—not even my wife. No breadcrumb hints. By two, work dissipated into afterthought with every mile-marker passed. Two-thirty put nuclear reactors in my rearview mirror. By three I’d seen the freshly blank walls of the freeway overpass—wondering when the big erasure came and what new tapestry it will inspire. New graffiti building on scattered missives, scrawled on what must have been a nighttime mission with the whitewash barely dry. Suddenly suited up in a leaky 3/2—perfect for the offshore heat and water’s chill.

Silence on the dirt path, down with old ghosts dancing everywhere—guiding as they do to our solitary feasts. Not a simple parking lot to paddle out affair. Some effort now to roam the playground. It used to be the only thing. Hopping over slick barnacle stones. Measuring every step so as not to slice a foot. Scanning for where it’s deep enough to climb aboard and sprint outside. That liquid wall where sunshine glows. That every shade of blue and foam. It all combines, calls me home.

I’m done waiting. I could have planned more. I knew what was coming. We all did. We all have our reasons. You’d think I was a con. The way I set things up. I said nothing to no one. The things you do for surf.

It all combines and serves the throne of memory. So many of them now, the rich stock of my thoughts. This place. My past. Our pasts. Our places in it boiled to reduction by time. And at the hour of autumn stillness with fewer souls to count, it becomes a supplication. An outside surge five minutes in. And just like that the right finds me early—cupping just below the rocker’s glossy plane at takeoff, shooting me down the line like missile fire in those scorched hills that remind me of sleeping tigers. The next one drains inside. Slightly smaller, unassuming. Lending purchase for a slow layback. Re-engaging for a mini suck-up tube. Parts my hair to the left. Parts of me always left.

There’s a guy I could be in ten years’ time, when dodgy afternoons are no longer covert but common. A jaw that makes him look more serious or serene than he probably is. Salty eye wrinkles that show time’s surety. Short, cropped hair. Armless in his neoprene armor. He tells me it’s been tough so far. How he needs to rub his bad luck off on someone else. I entertain his wish, while talk naturally swings to the flat spell we’ve endured. And even when it is good—which it is—it’s never as good as we remember. Not El Niño ’97, the beach replaced by thick, fat peaks. Not El Niño ’97, when he said his first son came in with all that thunder—and the creek broke through, losing itself in a sandbar whose left ran long like Baywatch Pam. Maybe it’ll happen again. Someday. Maybe it won’t. We float away, naturally.

This was all a rite of passage. Getting here. Being here. I feared the guys who owned the break back then. Those who surfed it de rigeur. The fables surfacing in pockets of a lesser-than who dared to even try. Everyone’s mellow now, cruising, all smiles. Mostly. Gals, too. Closeouts come with low tide and a crescent moon. And now the waiting is the hardest part. And Tom Petty is a forever California surf soundtrack. And Tom Petty’s heart gave out in Malibu. I’d take this firing over firing in the ’Bu. Take it over bursting Vegas slot machines spitting out coins like bullet casings. We’re here and we’re still waiting. Always waiting. The hardest part.

No one in sight and we didn’t have cell phones. We veered right at the split toward the unpaved path. Because you never know what you’ll miss under the freeway. Like Andy Irons as a Shepherd Fairey print for now. A king, always. The toll road is a king snake and this place is the sword. The toll road is under our thumb. Graffiti on the manholes, even.

Dusky six o’clock and prune hands. Sand cakes my feet. Night’s shadow creeping for a full surrender. I pack up and trek back. A perfumed walk. Dry chaparral. Sticks and leaves and weeds just husks of summer. Gray asphalt waxed with local learnings. That time I was a crutch for a friend all the way to the top. Laboring with him through every swollen step. Every stop severe. No one to help because no one was turning back or leaving. Not that day. No one in sight and we didn’t have cell phones. We veered right at the split toward the unpaved path. Because you never know what you’ll miss under the freeway. Like Andy Irons as a Shepherd Fairey print for now. Wearing a crown. Regal. Basking. A king, always. The toll road is a king snake and this place is the sword. The toll road is under our thumb. The toll road will never happen. Graffiti on the manholes, even. Of an orange face and name that doesn’t bear repeating.

I’m so late, but she’ll understand. I think about those reactors bubbling with poison. How they don’t work no more to spite the millions. How upon reaction they’d explode, everything gone white and ashen. How she wouldn’t even know I was here. How we’re so going nuclear.

There’s a black shirt hanging over a branch—the middle of three big trees erupting as one, from the creek side, swooping overhead. A perfect blueprint for a curtain tube. The shirt is a door placed with purpose. A door for the Ajachamen to come through—dancing, chanting. Strands of them caught in the sparse moonlight and screaming, filling their baskets with fennel and dirt. It’s their hour, always loudest before dark.

Round the top curve. Round the bend. Remember when a bum named Peter Pan popped from the brush line asking for change. A big wide grin of missing teeth. Up on the road. Rusty nails buried within telephone poles sheathed in yellowed newspaper clippings. A sidecar encampment filled with more dry shrubs and flotsam. Peter Pan’s been replaced by a kid wearing shades with hot white frames, holes in his clothes, slouching in a busted foldout chair. A Black Fly’s ad without the girl. Fried out, staring into some oblivion, while old man Karcher’s burning emblem plays the role of North Star. It’s Monday—headlights on the dark highway. I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m sure glad I did.

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David Zimmerle lives in San Diego with his wife, son, and rescue dog. He holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. His work appears in the 99 Poems for the 99 Percent Anthology, TSJ, and Surfer.

Illustration by Bráulio Amado.