“There is no better feeling than getting another person stoked on surfing. Truly, it does not bum me out that there are more surfers in the water these days. It just means that I have to get up earlier in the morning. When I saw this man rise on a wave for the first time, I felt as if I had gotten up on a wave for the first time.” –Shaun Tomson. Surfer’s Code.
I almost didn’t paddle out Monday. By the time I got to Salt Creek, the wind was blowing at least 15 knots from the north, and although there was an overhead windswell, it just felt too wild and cold.
Then I remembered that my wife’s 15-year-old cousin, Matthew, was arriving from a 25-degree snowstorm in West Michigan that night. I needed to get out there and get my stoke on.
Matthew had contacted us last fall about spending two weeks with us doing his Winterim, the January independent study program his high school requires, learning to be a waterman. He wanted to study surfing.
When I was 15 and also living in West Michigan, my older brother and I would surf and windsurf anytime there was enough storm activity to generate wind and swell, even with snow flying, waterspouts popping up and lightning snapping. We never experienced glassy overhead swells.
I needed to start thinking about surfing like an excited and nervous 15-year-old high school student seeing Southern California for the first time. Even our worst days look pretty good.
Some of my friends from Michigan and Chicago have moved to Laguna over the past decade. It seems like a visit or two is all it takes, and they start talking about how to sell their home, their business, change their lives and move to heaven-on-earth.
Not that living in the Midwest is terrible, but if you must get your gills wet every day the icebergs and snow on the Great Lakes are problematic.
Laguna resident Ian “Kanga” Cairns, a co-founder of modern, professional surfing and one of the best coaches on the planet, offered to share his private curriculum and spend the day with us helping Matthew understand what surfing looks like at the next level.
My favorite section in the “Kanga Surf Training” is titled “Courage In Heavy Surf.” It reads “Respect in surfing is earned through riding gnarly waves with agro and passion and all surfers who aspire to the pro ranks must learn how to love being beaten by hell waves and come up laughing.” Classic Cairns.
On our first night in Laguna, we’re watching “Bustin’ Down the Door,” the film about Ian, Shaun Tomson, Michael Tomson, Peter Townsend and Mark Richards, who revolutionized competitive surfing in the mid-70s and created the surf industry.
Matthew and I will be free diving the kelp and reefs of Laguna, SUPing the coves and pinnacles on flat days, cruising San Onofre State Beach on longboards and watching a variety of surf films from a wide range of perspectives.
There are nearly as many expressions of surfing as there are watermen; the art of surfing is about the different elements that bring joy to each individual in the water.
It continually surprises me that I don’t see more Lagunans in the water and on the beach every day. Yes, there are a myriad of reason to avoid the beach when it’s windy, when it’s raining, when it’s too hot or too cold. But there are so many better reasons to find the reason to be in the water on those days that I can’t stay out. It’s like exploring for me; finding the nutrient in all the guano.
A friend asked if I enjoyed retracing my steps, going slow, riding mushy waves… For me, there was never a pro career and never will be. Surfing is a vocation for me and my job is to share my love for the sea, for the water and the spirit that I find with others, one way or another. It’s not about “liking” it. It’s that I can’t imagine not doing it.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected]