I had been landlocked for some time. First in Germany, then in Las Vegas. I escaped to the coast at any and every occasion to keep sane during my time away from water. Now, I’ve made it back to the San Francisco Bay Area, and the transition was golden. It started with packing up my little car for a straight shot 5-hour drive on Dec. 30 across the Mojave for a pit stop in Ventura, California—a foggy surf town just north of L.A.
Ross was waiting for me when I pulled up to his house at 3 in the afternoon, eager to be on the move. He’s the kind of friend that when you get together all your plans go off without a hitch. Even the plans we don’t have but what we make on the fly are executed with the precision of a Navy Ops crew of two. I don’t know what it is but the universe seems to say, “Go for it,” and opens all its doors when we meet up. Ross and I have found ourselves hopping along river rocks to cross streams in Galicia while walking the Camino, diving from sailboats into the ocean off the coast of Honolulu to go snorkeling, jumping waves on jet skis while dolphins played along next to us in the Pacific. There have been many Sam and Ross adventures since we met in college, and they all involve fun, good conversation, and much laughter—the perfect combo to wrap up 2013.
This day was no different. Within 5 minutes of arriving to Ventura, Ross had confirmed that “yes,” I wanted to surf and managed to jenga two 9-foot surfboards into his Prius with me sitting behind the driver’s seat, and we were off. I’ve surfed Ventura before but it was the usually closed out break that we could walk to behind his house at Marina Park. This time we headed to a more longboard-friendly spot just right of the Ventura pier, at the Point. A parking place opened right in front of the beach as we pulled into the packed lot because that’s the way it works for us. And it just got better. For starters, there was none of the fog that usually starts to drift in to cloak the evening through dawn. My 3 weeks of travels along Highway 1 in December were fogless, which is peculiar. As that fact along with California’s driest year on record seem to be signs of global warming, I’m a bit uneasy about all this extraordinary weather but how can you not enjoy a day in the sun?! And sunshine there was, enough for a girl to be in a bikini while passing a football on the boardwalk. Enough for a guy to run into the water in a spring suit. I was wearing a 3/2 comfortably but I could have used a thicker wetsuit to have saved my hands from getting cold, so this guy may have overshot the water temp. Or I, having mainly been in warmer water in the last decade, was being a bit sensitive.
The lines were perfect. It was an unbelievably glassy day with zero wind. The swell created consistent head-high waves—open, clean, and beautiful rights like I’d never seen before in Ventura. It doesn’t get any better than this, Ross confirmed, which was exactly what I was thinking. Well, maybe it could, had there been a few dozen surfers less in the ocean. But who could blame the others when we were about to happily join them?
We clambered down the beach stones and stepped onto the pipe in the water to walk out past the break. The sets were plentiful, so we paddled left fast and got out without taking waves to the head. Once sitting comfortably in the line up, I soaked up the amazing light of late afternoon and decided that Irish-born Ross most be a leprechaun.
The sun began setting in no hurry. A pod of dolphins was leaping past in the near distance. There most have been half of Ventura in the water, but there were tons of waves. The vibe was super friendly. I heard, “You can have this one,” and “No, you take it,” in the line up. Not kidding. Maybe it was the premature New Year’s energy dissipating any localism. Everyone had a few days off, and the end of the year get-togethers had already started. No sense in closing the year off with bad bully karma, right? However, this felt unreal. A listened in on a conversation between a guy and a girl, about how the guy’s wife was doing well and so was their baby and would be back in the water soon and catching up on his growing 10 month old. I listened as some guys shared and arranged New Year’s Eve party plans that of course included surf in the morning as the waves would be even bigger the next day. And during another moment, an entire section of the line up erupted in cheer as a reluctant grom egged on by his dad to take a wave twice his height not only made the drop but shredded it with all of his circa 8-year-old might.
It was breaking big outside, so I didn’t paddle into position as often as I could have. Though intimidating, I could feel that the waves weren’t as heavy as they were big. I paddled further out not to get pummeled but finally admitted to myself that I was in over my head—quite literally with some waves coming in at 6 feet—being as I hadn’t surfed since an April expedition to the warm waters of Mexico. So, I paddled to the inside instead where the waves broke under 4 feet, caught a couple, and called it a day—an awesome day.
Back by the car while waiting for Ross,who was determined to stay in the water until after sunset to have more waves to his lonesome, I swapped camper van surf stories with the other adventurers parked next to us. There’s nothing like a 1960s Ford van in mint condition with a surfboard on top to start a conversation. One guy relayed a trip that included a surf expedition in an old Econoline with his father and brothers down to Baja in the 80s and how they ran out of gas and got stuck for days, befriended locals who hooked them up with airplane fuel that got them back to California but eventually blew out their engine. Another guy told us how this perfect two-tone van had found its owner by luck and not the other way around. I added tales of sleeping in my VW Vanagon, waking to roosters after bonfires at Pipeline and others of cruising in a Fiat camper along the Basque Country in search of surf with a boyfriend. We shared stories in the dusk until Ross returned and I gratefully wiggled out of my wetsuit and into a dry hoodie.
We refueled with warm soup and fresh salads for dinner at Nature’s Grill & Juice Bar on Main Street, a local favorite with a 4.5-star rating in on TripAdvisor, that I now can recommend. With fish and rice plate specials, fruit shakes, soups, salads, and plenty of vegetarian options, it’d be impossible not to find a great post-surf meal here.
Main Street was busy for a Monday because Rebelution was playing at the Majestic Ventura Theater, and the young surfer crowd digs them. With another stroke of luck, we found parking in a crowded and small downtown right behind Rebelution’s ride at the corner of the theater. If you’re planning a road trip to Ventura and need a reason, you can skank with the reggae group Natty Vibes playing in late January or catch ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro next month at this live music venue with a lovely, historic 1920s’ Mission style architecture.
And with that I said, “See ya” to 2013. If its last few days were any indication of the pleasant surprises 2014 will bring, I’m looking forward to this new year’s adventures.