I used to get a lot of dirty comments about the big bottle of Johnson’s Baby Oil Gel I keep in the shower rack. Freshman year, people went for the immature explanation that it was a lubricant for… personal activities. But, after the shower floors began turning a sticky brown-black, people began to notice the stains were caused by the tar that spots our coastal waters.
Our local region exudes an extraordinary amount of natural gas. It’s stinky and dirty and somehow can worm its way anywhere inside your wetsuit.
I once had to scrub my right butt cheek almost raw with pumice to get a particularly dooky-like smear of tar off my skin.
In addition to oozing nasty tar, our little piece of coastline — the beach stretching from Goleta Pier to Coal Oil Point — has a beautiful beach body but an unfortunate case of the kelpies. Like an STD for a beach, I.V. is plagued with massive deposits of kelp.
The stuff is possessed, I swear it. Like clockwork, every time you’re having a particularly crowded sesh and the wave you’ve been waiting for comes along, you’ll start paddling or try to jump to your feet — only to be thrown backward like a hog-tied animal, constricted by the kelp’s tentacles. More than a few times I could’ve seriously benefitted from carrying a weedwacker in the surf.
To be fair, most every surf location has its own quirks. Regardless of your talent, you’ll quickly learn things about the local toothed marine animals, rock formations, shallow reefs, troublesome kelp, rough beach accesses, rip tides, river mouths and the multitude of little obstacles particular to different surf locations. However, some beaches are pristine — unmarred by dangerous protuberances or crafty tides. But those are the rare ones.
For instance, I know that at a certain secretive surf spot underneath the Golden Gate in SF, anyone paddling out during a quickly outgoing tide is sure to be sucked out to sea, to float in absolute fear in the cold, shadowy waters underneath the massive orange bridge.
I also know that if you visited the Westside in Santa Cruz on a solid swell, the Lane has a dangerous rock bordering the takeoff zone that’ll take a hefty chunk out of your boards, fins or dome if you don’t hop it as you pump the line.
Sands Beach has a particularly menacing rock — about a quarter of the way to the river mouth, in the inside — that exposes itself on left-breaking waves at low tide and lurks just beneath the surface on a higher tide.
As surfers, we accumulate a repertoire of water lore that is both essential to our survival and complimentary to our understanding of the elements and the melding of soul with nature. Most of the time, it’s going to take a couple of scrapes and bruises to alert you of certain ocean phenomena in your surf realm.
Notice I said “your surf realm.” That’s the whole point. By encountering the risks and perks that come with the sport, you craft for yourself a niche in the spiritual, soulful sea, a niche that few understand but most envy.
So go find your niche. There’s nothing worse than going to the first full week of class without first dousing yourself in tangy brine-water and rubbing tar out of your hair with baby oil, all in quest of that elusive perfect session.
Daily Nexus surf columnist Elliott Rosenfeld hopes your surf niche doesn’t get in the way of his. Brah.