Rainy February, looking southeast from the old temple site above Waimea.
Mural at Sunset Pizza.
Peter Devries at Log Cabins
Peter Devries slotted at Log Cabins. After a few days he had this place wired, and ended up surfing it by himself on a huge, stormy morning when no-one else wanted to go near it. Peter charged down there; by the second week we were there local guys like Perry Dane, Love Hodel, and Matt Westwood were calling him into stand-up barrels at Backdoor and V-Land.
White sand, blue water, clean waves, sunshine. What winter is supposed to look like.
Peter Devries at Log Cabins
Full-rail cutback on the shoulder of the same wave.
In one of Dave Parmenter's stories he has this great line that "Time, as it often does during the Hawaiian twilight, slowed to a crawl and then seemed to stop." On the North Shore in winter the sun sets into the ocean just to the right of Kaena Point. The sky turns yellow, the water turns turquoise green, and everyone just kinda mellows out on the beach. We'd usually go surf all afternoon, and then go down to watch Pipe for a few minutes before it got dark. The pack thins out at that time of the day, and waves like this start to go through unridden.
Jeremy, Stefan, and a winter lineup, somewhere on Vancouver Island.
III - Big and Blue
Big blue sea. The left at Rockpiles. Big and blue and empty and totally uncluttered. I like the idea that every time you step into the ocean youíre stepping into wilderness, that as soon as you leave your feet youíre pushing out into a shifting and inhospitable ground where Man is an inferior creature. This, I think, is one of the great allures of surfing; that even on a shoreline as crowded and slutted out to the forces of progress and tourist-driven capitalism as the Oahu North Shore (or, for that matter, the Tofino beaches) you can just dive in or jump out onto a board and transport yourself into a world where Man has very little domain. When you look out at the lineup and the open ocean past the break, youíre looking at something thatís essentially changeless, something thatís looked the same for ten thousand years.
Surfers, as ocean people, are heirs to (and participants in) a philosophy that recognizes that the ocean is a world apart, a world that has the capacity to elevate Man, to make him stronger, healthier, braver, more noble, more aware of his place. Itís a philosophy that every ocean-dependent culture has developed, from Polynesia to Iberia to the First Nations of the Canadian West Coast. And though many of us may not have given it much thought, itís something that all of us intrinsically understand; all surfers (and here I mean surfers in the most general sense, including ocean swimmers, sailors, paddlers, bodyboarders, divers, and fishermen) are aware that the ocean is a thing of strange and wonderful and irresistible power. And thatís why people are drawn to the water, and itís why we usually linger longer than we need to when weíre staring out to sea to check the surf. And each paddle out, each entrance into the surf, is a leaving behind of all the stress and shit of everyday life and human systems. You can simply ditch it all, and paddle out into the big blue sea.
I remember one time back in the fall, coming back from Long Beach in Ron Pakyrnykís truck, listening to him talk about how ďif it wasnít for surfing, I donít know what the f Iíd do;" and thatís exactly what he was talking about. I think that everyone who surfs has a sense that the world out there in the water is a bit better than the one that gets left behind. And thatís why people will leave homes or careers or relationships and totally restructure their lives just to go surfing. Itís also the reason that people become so passionate in their defences of their waters, whether itís the bare-knuckle localism of the North Shore, the sullen cliquiness of B.C. surfers, the environmental efforts of organizations like the Surfrider Foundation, or the efforts of people like Skip Frye and Steve Pezman in California or the Keaulanas in Hawaii, people who are committed to preserving ocean culture by passing it on to younger generations. Everyone somehow knows that what weíve got is too special to give up. And itís the same feeling, the same philosophy, that drives the work of artists like Chris Malloy and Allan Weisbecker and Jeremy Koreski, people who are working to capture and preserve the vision of surfing as a holy and higher pursuit. And itís that feeling of the oceanís wildness and relative purity, even more than marketing and publicity, that I suspect is fuelling the current explosive growth of surfing.
People are feeling the pull of what Jack London, the first journalist to write about surfing, termed Ďthe call of the wild.í And as modern life gets more hectic, more soulless, as the pace of life accelerates, and as coastal areas become more and more developed, more and more people are going to want to escape into the wildness of the ocean. I have no idea what that portends, or where that impulse will lead, because it works against itself when it results in packed-out and attitude-laden lineups. But for now, uncluttered waves are still available for those who are willing to look, even in the middle of winter on the North Shore, or on a spring weekend at the Tofino beaches. As John Severson wrote forty-three years ago, ďin this crowded world, the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts."
II - Off the Wall, absolutely firing
Off the Wall, absolutely firing. This is nearing close-out size, twenty-foot-plus faces on the sets, full and vicious top-to-bottom barrels. The size where things get very, very serious and even the Pipeline Posse guys become, to steal a phrase, Ďawash in trepidationí to paddle out.
The thing about the North Shore is that it doesnít matter how many hyperbolistic surf magazines youíve read, or how much video footage youíve watched, or how many heavy waves youíve seen wherever youíre from; because the first time that you, in person, see those spots break for real, they will simply blow your mind. The power and the noise and the sheer scale of the place will simply blow your mind. And until youíve sat on the steps by the Volcom house and heard the whistle for approaching sets and felt the thud of each wave impacting on the reef and seen the clouds of water vapour get blown out of the tubes, you just canít really know what the North Shore is like. My first sight of the Pipe-Backdoor-Off the Wall reefs, from way down the beach past Log Cabins, was run-of-the-mill Hawaiian insanity: a six-foot set that showed in the deep water on the outside, then walled up and accelerated over Second Reef while the pack scrambled to get over the top. The first wave of that set went unridden, and I still have the picture in my mind of the lip throwing forward, as far or farther as the height of the wave. And then on the next three waves it was three guys in a row, each flying full speed into a gaping turquoise barrel before being caught by the foamball and getting absolutely annihilated in the wash on the inside.
Itís a pretty crazy thing to be at a place like that, a place that youíve heard about for half your life, a place that is so steeped in myth and hype, so blown up in the collective imagination of the surf community. After all those years of memorizing all those articles in all those surf magazines, youíre finally there on the beach on the North Shore, at the fulcrum of the surf world; and youíre watching guys get stand-up barrels in the heaviest waves youíve ever seen, and it blows your mind, and your vocabulary completely fails you, so you just end up mumbling something along the lines of Ďholy s that is so heavy, holy s that is so f ing heavy, holy f ing s so this is what real waves are likeÖí
I - Board doctoring at Love Hodelís
Board doctoring at Love Hodelís house in the hills above Pipe.
In Canada you can surf an entire season and not have a thing happen to your board except for a few heel-pressure dings and glass cracks; but on the North Shore, with hollow waves dumping in shallow water over reefs and lava rocks, itís a given that your boards will get quickly and thoroughly trashed.
Everywhere Ė in backyards, under houses, sticking out of garbage cans, strewn along the beaches Ė are snapped boards, broken fins, sheets of fiberglass laminate, peeled-off stickers, bits of leash. The coast from Haleiwa Aliíi to V-Land is like a minefield for surfboards, and after the first week there not one of Peterís shortboards had come through unharmed. And unless youíre one of those high-level pros who get more boards thrown at them than they know what to do with, filler and resin and sandpaper are part of the daily ebb and flow of North Shore surf life.
Peter claims to dislike ding repair, but to my mind thereís something appealing about it. Something about self-sufficiency and knowing how to take care of your gear. Trappers tending their lines, sailors stitching canvas, soldiers cleaning Gulf sand out of their rifles, that kinda thing. Making sure your equipment is ready and wired, and that when it comes down to it, it will do exactly what you want it to do.
||Malcolm Johnson claims Metchosin roots and is a longtime south Island resident. He graduated from UVic in '99 and now works as a freelance writer. Malcolm is a regular contributor to coastalbc.com.
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