Gregg Noll, the first of the modern big wave surfers, never lost sight of the fun to be found in small waves. In the early-60s, still in the original Gregg Noll surfboard shop, in Hermosa, when asked if he found small waves boring after having surfed the giants, he replied not at all, he would always have fun in the South Bay slop. I know that because I was there, a local kid dreaming of a new board, and I asked him.
Having fun in small surf is the sentiment that fuels Small Wave Riders. There are other reasons – as we get older, paddling out gets harder. And there is the pulling archetype of the surf trip (on the west coast, this means a long cruise on Highways 1 and 101, and Pacific Coast Highway, and Highland Ave., checking out the surf spots along the way); and community, always local, throwing off the work clothes (if necessary) for jeans, t shirt, and sandals – trunks and a surfboard (for “Jesus was a [surfer] when he walked upon the water,” sang Leonard Cohen, or might have sang, had he been a surfer; he sang “…sailor…only drowning men could see him”) – living out of the surf rig, a tent, the occasional old friend’s place up from the beach, eating out of bags, or at the best (discovered word of mouth) local dives, body sticky with sand, wax, and salt; and the blue green grey lure of the ocean, of men going down to the sea.
Of course, over time, conditions change. Jesus now wears a wet suit, including booties, hands, and hood, and every spot is crowded, even the spots where the waves are so small they can hardly be called waves. The locals are even more protective of their spots, so the surfer on safari is sometimes well-advised to select a less crowded spot, even if it means yet smaller waves. But “just get in [the water]” is brother John Linker’s mantra. Once in, once the glass is broken, there’s no closer union with nature, physically and mentally. One doesn’t think on waves, not in the normal sense of thinking; once in, one is guided almost by pure instinct, and the Cartesian split is temporarily taped.
So we were delighted to receive in the mail this past week the 2009 Small Wave Riders annual surf trip video, this year titled 5 Point 5. The film technology continues to improve, as does the technique. The sound track is blended with the waves and action, and the sequences of driving, stopping to check out a spot, paddling out, catching waves, then kicking back after the set, create a structure that feels natural, allowing for hightened viewer engagement. Some of the technique is reminiscent of the best of the old surf films, the ones we used to see in the Hermosa Beach High School auditorium, the independent, locally filmed surf movies, and there are also reminders of the great, original Endless Summer. Of course, these days, the summers get shorter, not longer, let alone endless, and the trip comes to an end, again in the old surf film manner, too soon, after only 35 minutes of small wave surfing. But it’s enough. Our appetite for a wave is soaking wet.