Leaving Venice Beach early, we were heading up to surf County Line. The Southern California air was still crisp this early, and with the roof off the Jeep we rugged up in hoodies and hats and towels across our laps. We had loaded up the boards, my old 8’6 and a little 5’10 twin fin fish that I had TW grab off of Craigslist for a couple hundred bucks.
He had been using my old board a lot, and I was glad it wasn’t sitting around collecting dust after I moved away from the beach. I had tons of great memories on that board, so I was glad to be back there putting it to use, but I also was looking forward to seeing what this little fish was like to ride. After my years in Seal Beach, I had grown to love little twin fins.
Venice Beach is only an hour away from County Line, but of course this is LA so you have to plan around the persistent and near continuous traffic. We shot along empty roads in the pre-dawn chill, through Santa Monica and the Palisades, and up towards Malibu. It would all look very different when we returned later.
Since I had lived in Orange County during my time in California, and was dealing with little kids and a growing family, most of my surfing excursions had been to the south, if I had the time to leave Seal Beach at all. So this trip, despite being so close to LA and obviously well traveled, was a new experience for me. Cruising along the PCH as the sun rose and began to warm us up, it was amazing to soak in the beauty available right outside one of the largest cities in the country.
We got to County Line and parked along the side of the road, lines of swell stretched off to the horizon and were peeling cleanly towards the shore. Of course, there were other surfers out, you never really expect to have a break in this area to yourself, but the crowd was manageable with plenty of waves to go around.
We settled into a rhythm of trading waves, and the little fish was perfect for the shoulder high sets and long rights that went all the way to the rocky shore. Trading boards so I could get some rides on ol’ faithful, it was great and nostalgic to feel the familiar fiberclass underfoot, muscle memory still there to pop up into the right spot on the board after years of being my primary wave catcher when I first moved out west.
But my surfing had moved to where I enjoyed the shorter board and swooping carves of the fish, so I used that for most of the session. After years of struggling with inconsistent surfing and never being in good surfing shape when I needed it, living in SoCal had turned me into the surfer I wanted to be, the kind that could hop off a plane and catch wave on a little 5’10 board despite not having surfed in a little while. As long as I stayed in shape, I could pull it off and catch more rides than I missed.
We stayed out in the water for hours, the comfortable temperature warming as the sun rose to the point that it wasn’t being cold that forced you in, but just exhaustion. Surfing this right point, you rarely needed to duck dive. It was the long paddle outs, the end result of long rides, that did us in. But this slow treadmill, as opposed to the urgency of scratching for your life as swells loom on the horizon, wears slower and you can calmly rest as needed. So you can ride this out all day if you really want.
As the time wore on and the tide changed, the wave subtly shifted on the inside bowl. As the water drew out, it began to suck more steeply, more hollow, on the inside. After hours of riding, this change was its own little surprise – the same wave now a new experience with a new rush at the end. It was as if the ocean had sensed that we were rocking to sleep in its calm lap, and now it was coaxing us awake with this little gift of excitement.
Surfing in on a long right, I made similar sweeping toeside turns that a goofyfooter can make when going right, riding high on the wave before leaning forward down to the trough. But this time when straightening back out, the wave steepened and bowled up, despite its shoulder height, allowing for the perfect little pig-dog barrel.
Dropped low, left had gripping the rail, while twisted back and laying into the wave, I dragged my right hand to slow the rocketing fish into the curl. This is the moment makes the entire trip. If I didn’t catch another wave I would be content with the whole effort to get into this moment.
But it wasn’t the only or last time this would happen. The tide would provide this perfect moment more times before it was all over, then the tide would let us know that it was time to go in, that this session was over and now that time had come to bask in what had just happened that leads to such elation, a fuzzy warm feeling in your head and body that can carry you through the rest of your day, or even your life.
We drove over to Neptune’s Nest and grabbed a classic burger and fries, sitting in the busy roadside restaurant while people on Harley’s glug-glugged along and tourists in campers began their PCH trip north.
We would take the Jeep up into the mountains of Malibu, again another place I had never been despite living so close and visit the famous artist communities hidden in its shady canyons, so close to LA but a world apart.