Opinion: You Gotta Cop It Sweet

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By Michael Ray.

By Michael Ray

The phrase “You gotta cop it sweet” is an old surfers’ proverb. It means you cannot select the time when the surf will be good. It happens when it happens. You ride the wave when the wave comes. 

It also is about life. A little story follows. It is a surfer story, but you’ll get the point.

It was back in a time when surfers camped out above empty beaches between Tijuana and Ensenada. There were a few local shacks serving lobsters and beer, and that was it.

I was at home for the weekend in Newport from my freshman year at college and in a grand funk. I had fancied myself still in love with an old high school flame named Karen, and she had just broken up with me, again. I knew some old friends were going camp surfing below Tijuana, and even though I was a mediocre surfer, I followed them there.

It would be a lousy weekend. I knew it. The weather report was for heavy fog, cold evenings and colder water—-and no surf. Plus, the surf spot sported nothing then except one of those shacks offering lobsters and beer done their way. Plus, getting across the Tijuana border then was just as horrible as today, except the long lines went both ways.

Fitting my mood, I drove alone. No hurry, I thought. The border checkpoint would take hours. Instead, though, there was no line. But then I had to navigate through Tijuana, always a chore because back then, there were no direct roads, few signs, and you had to know the correct shortcuts. Luckily, I quickly found the shortcuts and was on the highway south.  

As I drove along with the Pacific, I noticed the ocean fog, but it was blown far outside by a slight Santa Ana wind, and the shore sunny and warm.

When I arrived, I was the last, so parked where I could, at the point on the northern end and took a goodly hike on rocks to get to the shoreline. But it was still mid-afternoon, the surf was rising, and only a few surfers were out, meaning even a mediocre surfer like me could catch plenty of waves. And I did, one after another, hard rights off the point. 

I was joined by friends and, at about 4:30 p.m., we were dead tired and paddled in. What else to do but buy some beer and lobster?  

At the lobster shack, there were half a dozen surfers I didn’t know, including several “girl surfers” (there weren’t many back then). One of them, a brunette named Janet, had recently graduated from Newport Harbor High School, while I had attended Corona del Mar High School, so we didn’t know one another and chatted.

Janet did know my old girlfriend, Karen, and made it clear she didn’t like her. 

The next day, the surf was bigger and faster, and the offshore winds stayed warm and constant. Janet was next to me in the line-up, and we took turns grabbing rides, hooting and hollering. After several hours, exhausted, we made our way to the beach shack for more refreshment.

A bit before dark, Janet asked to “look at” the view from my camper at the point. It became more than that; we didn’t make it back with our friends at the shack until almost nine. 

The whole weekend was unexpected. I was ready for gloom. I got the opposite.

And there you have it: the old surfers’ proverb: “It’s the same old story. You got cop it sweet.”

Michael is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer emeritus of Laguna Forward PAC.

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