So I didn’t have an article last week. My editor got mad, and I still can’t figure out why; seems to me you can’t hire a surf columnist and then be all surprised when he flakes out on you. But Chris didn’t see it that way. He threatened benching me, and then I told him why I wasn’t there on Tuesday night with my 3,000 characters. I actually had the mother of all excuses. I told him about how I spent Tuesday night in jail.

You see, last Monday I got pulled over by the IVFP for a broken taillight. A few minutes after taking my license and registration the officer asked me to get out of my truck, put my hands behind my head and spread my legs. At this point I realized I was getting more than a fix-it ticket. Seems I had two outstanding traffic violations, which, because I ignored them, had turned into arrest warrants. I was headed to jail for doing 15 over the limit and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Upon arriving at jail they offered me the choice of paying $1,100 in fines and being immediately released, or spending the night and maybe seeing a judge in the morning. “So essentially you have kidnapped me and set the ransom at $1,100,” I told them. “Riley, what’s your choice?” was the only reply. Unable and unwilling to come up with $1,100, I chose to spend the night.

I’ll admit, as I stripped naked to change into my blues, I was freaked out. I could hear shouting from somewhere in the bowels of the building, and the whole place reeked of piss. But it wasn’t the shouting or the piss smell that really scared me. My biggest fear was that my skinny, pale body would become a snuggle cushion for a much bigger inmate.

I had been booked right in time for dinner. Images of cafeteria riots and shakings were running through my mind as I was lined up, marched into a cafeteria and sat in front of a food tray that make the dining commons look like five-star cuisine. I was determined to get through my sentence with a tough looking snarl on my face, but then from the end of my table someone yelled out, “Hey, freshie, you surf?” I couldn’t help but smile.

Turns out Santa Barbara County Jail has a bunch of surfers locked up. They have their own little prison gang thing going, and they let me hang. I met surfers who had been locked up for years, guys so bored they eagerly listened to every word of my crappy “and then I came down the face, but it jacked up so I pulled in” stories, because that is the closest they’re going to get to surfing for a long time. A lot of the surfers were in there for dealing – one kid about my age had got caught with just under a pound of cocaine hidden in the top of his board bag. The hardest thing, he confessed, about serving time wasn’t the crappy food, wasn’t the lack of women, wasn’t even being locked up – it was getting his surfing magazine each month knowing he wouldn’t get to paddle out for the next three years.

Two days later I was set free, and that was swell. I used to think the ditching-class surf session was the best, because each wave was that much sweeter knowing you were supposed to be behind a desk somewhere. I now know that the surfing-while-ditching-class-after-just-being-released-from-prison session is even better. I appreciated surfing more than I ever had that morning. Knowing there were surfers stuck locked up made each wave seem that much more special. I surfed until my arms were numb from paddling, and caught a lot of waves for my brothers behind bars.