Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 5, 2010

Cowabunga

My sister made an interesting observation. She told me about attending a function in the auditorium of a local school, down near San Diego. Hanging in the hall were the retired jerseys of notable athletes: the football stars, baseball and basketball, softball and volleyball standouts, the surfers. Surfers? There, friends, is a testament to the fact that, yes, there is something different about the culture of southern California. It’s an everyday matter to see a car with a sports sticker from a local high school supporting the surf team.

Fifteen years ago, nothing more clearly demonstrated to me that I had come to a very different place than when I found myself working with colleagues my age who couldn’t tell you who were the top teams in the National or American League, or if the Dodgers were any good that year, but who could run down for you the data they’d downloaded via the Internet from a weather buoy out by Hawaii on how the swell was looking for the weekend. I was working with surfer dudes! How cool is that? These were guys who would get up at 5:30 in the morning and, through some arcane alchemy and information gleaned from Web sites, Web cams, recorded messages, tide charts and, I suppose, a wet thumb stuck out the back door, knew whether to head up toward the Palisades or down to PV Cove.

They planned for weeks or months for exactly the right day to make the pilgrimage down to San Onofre or, even farther, Swami’s down in San Diego County. They didn’t go on golf trips with their buddies, they went for a long weekend to Baja. Surfer dudes!

By the way, whatever their political bent, surfers always give a nod of respect to Richard Nixon, who helped open up San Onofre beach to the public. It had been a private reserve and, despite one of the best breaks in the world, was not available to the average surfer till Dick helped make it public.

I’m still a little uncertain about how, exactly, you score surfing for a competitive school team, but, really, there’s nothing requiring any dedication or mastery of obscure or esoteric skills in surfing than for cross-country running or lacrosse? Why NOT surfing? Well, I can tell you why this “sport” is suspect. TWO reasons, in fact: Gidget and Da Cat.

Gidget, of course, was the fictional character in Gidget, the Little Girl With Big Ideas,” based on the author’s real-life daughter, Kathy. Gidget became a film character, too, played by Sandra Dee and other actresses, and to her we owe a lot of our stereotypes about surfing and the surf culture.

“Da Cat” was Miki Dora who in his day was more or less what Laird Hamilton is now: the consummate practitioner of the art of surfing. According to those who saw him, it WAS art. There is footage of him, and his grace and absolute command of balance and grace transcended anything anyone had seen. In fact, you can spot him doubling for a variety of people in various surfing films. HERE is the Wikipedia listing. My colleague Tom will give you a long list of other surfing sites if you want to request them. Also links to those weather buoys, in case you want to know when the surf’s up, and how far.

I also have to mention the Beach Boys as contributing to this image that keeps surfing from occupying the “sport” category in most of our minds. I drive right by Hawthorne High every day, where the Beach Boys spent their time when they weren’t hauling off to Manhattan Beach in their Woody. With all this legend and embellishment, it’s just hard to imagine anything that seems like so much fun merits having one’s jersey retired. Now, if there were a big shark bite out of that jersey….

© 2012 Brad Nixon

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