Friday, October 2, 2015

Tripping Over Jerusalem [1992]

Because of the full moon, I could see that I'd just tripped over Jerusalem.  A portion of my face had landed on Gilgal.

“I meant to tell you about that,” whispered Cokes.  “This guy is some sort of Jesus freak.  He’s got like a map of Bible stuff in his yard.  Try to hold down the noise, willya?”

As I hadn’t yet recovered my breath, which had been knocked out when my solar plexus made contact with Jericho, I wasn’t ready to debate the definition of “Jesus freak”.  In walking over what I thought was a small hill just off of the super-secret, privately-owned entrance to a fabled surf break, I had managed to place myself in the middle of a geographic replica of the Holy Land, complete with the Biblical cities carved in stone, including name plates, placed in scale relationship to one another. 

“Yeah, the first time I came here I thought it was a miniature golf course,” Cokes continued.  “Which would be kind of neat, wouldn’t it?”

“Maybe it’s that, too,” I said with my first complete breath.

“Hey, that would be the gnarls.  Come golfing at Jesusville!  Sin-free until 7!”

With that he started to giggle, then cackle, then laugh so loudly that I expected lights to come on at the mansion house, illuminating us like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

“I thought I was supposed to hold it down.”

“Ah, never mind.  Who could hear us over the surf, anyway?”

Which was true.  The beach into which we were sneaking had once been the proving ground for many of the early surfing champions and their boards.  It was here that skills were refined and informal experiments in board technology were carried out, leading to the advances in fin arrangement and board length and shape that marked the genesis of surfing as a mainstream activity, rather than the curious pursuit of some mildly shell-shocked World War II veterans.

Times had changed in this area since the 1950’s, however.  What had once been a beach that was publicly accessible had become private property.  For a couple of decades, the owner had placed a gate across the only entrance, which was a footpath, but generally left it unlocked.  After a burst of thefts in the increasingly high-priced area, he locked the gate but let some of the area surfers have keys to it.  Not that it made much difference, as by the early 1980’s the keys and their copies had made the rounds of the serious surf community from one coast to the other and back again.

By the 1990’s, though, the new owners decided they didn’t want scruffy surfers walking on their beach and using their ocean, so the footpath was landscaped over with rocks and new plantings, including some surprisingly mature trees, and every portion of the property surrounded by either brick, stone, or security fencing.  Well, all portions except for one small opening in the ramparts where the brick and metal fencing did not quite mesh.  This hole in the wall was a secret closely guarded by only about 100,000 surfers in the contiguous United States.

Still, because of the proximity of the house to the beach, and the new owner’s rumored affection for firearms and pit bulls, the only time that anyone could get to the surf was during the middle of the night, and then only when the moon was full so that one could see the way to the water and the surf.  The fact that this was the primo feeding time for the more aggressive sharks was usually not mentioned.

Cokes, whose nickname was earned not because of any drug use, but because he was all but blind without glasses that were pop-bottle bottom thick, had offered to be my guide because, as he had noted earlier that day, “It’s a place of history, man.”  So, with a cassette of “Surfin’s Safari” set on perpetual loop, we took his venerable Toyota pickup at 1 in the morning to the hole in the wall, squeezed through its opening with a couple of nine-and-a-half foot boards, and navigated our way over the "Jesusville" golf course to the place of well-earned legend.  When I entered the water I had that same feeling I had when I first saw the Liberty Bell, or the time I shook John Glenn’s hand.

Surf beaches can change over time, either due to natural disaster, erosion of the bottom, or changes in current patterns wrought by those who claim to have the science to address such things.  Some of the famous beaches, especially those in family-friendly areas, no longer provide any interest to the obsessed surf community, as they have been “improved” with jetties and other artificial construction so that maladroit, video-addicted children won’t hurt themselves in 12 inches of water.  This beach, however, kept for nearly half a century in a state of suspended animation, still had the rhythm and power that made it a Mecca in the early days of our very odd avocation, and every ride put one in touch with the guys of equal legend who carried nicknames like Midget, Canoe, and Da Cat.

After a few hours riding the evening glass, with dawn getting nearer, and with it the reality of guard dogs, handguns, and hypothermia beginning to claim our attention, we reluctantly left the beach, now almost too tired to lug the boards, not to mention play commando through the fencing to get back to the Toyota

With “Surfin’ Safari” once again playing on the pickup’s tinny radio, I thanked Cokes for this memorable participation in natural and living history.  “Sometimes it’s worth tripping over Jerusalem, I guess,” said Cokes.  Sometimes, indeed.

[Excerpt from Reading Water, all rights reserved ©2011]