we see clips of people surfing in California, the sun is out, reggae is
in the air, and life is hunky-dory. The reality is kind of like that but
the exact opposite.
Today, there are so many people in the water that surfing is one part
recreation and nine parts opposition. Unlike a ski slope, there is
room for only one person per wave; and like it or not, you must fight
to be that person. I try to avoid the headache by paddling out before
sunrise, but even then there are guys in the water. So it goes.
Case in Point Dume
I was surfing at a beach near Malibu. Friends have always told me to
keep a tight lip about this spot because the waves are flawless and
it's hard to access from the main roads. I respect that. I'm always
up for protecting nature from humans.
However, given my run-in with one of the locals, I've decided to break
my code of silence and tell you all about Little Dume.
Little Dume is a beautiful beach north of Malibu. Because you have
to check the waves from the cliff, it never looks as big as it really
is. Once you get down there, you are compensated in full for the hike.
Little Dume breaks in both directions and often gets hollow on the
inside. It has one of the most workable shoulders in California.
Last week, I was enjoying a soulful predawn session at Little Dume
during a surprise south swell. Sometimes I'd kick out of waves simply
because my legs were too tired to go on (the sign of a magical morning).
I dropped in on everything that came my way and knew, if only for the
moment, that God exists. Between sets, I sat with a smile on my face
that sex could never put there.
As the sun perked up, people crawled out of the rocks and into the
water, hungry for a taste. Surf hunger is different from food hunger
in that it makes you a little more aggressive, a little less reasonable.
It will keep you up at night if you don't take care of it. It was disappointing
to see so many people at Little Dume. I guess the secret isn't what
it used to be.
Then they showed up: the locals.
Locals are an unfortunate reality of surfing. You don't see them in
the tourist videos, but they are always there policing the beach with
bad vibes and intimidation. Occasionally, they slash a tire or break
a nose to maintain their rep. I understand the need for locals and
have gotten along by showing respect and keeping my mouth shut (even
I can keep my mouth shut when properly motivated).
The six locals paddled out within arms length of each other, giving
us the stink-eye. I moved off the point as a gesture of good will.
I was almost done anyway. My arms felt like two soggy strands of fettuccini.
A peak swelled up before me, a gift from Neptune himself. I had to
go for it. I dropped in on the wave and cut a high line to the right,
where I passed one of the locals. He quickly dropped in behind me,
a breach of etiquette but nothing that bothered me.
Then I heard him holler for me to get off the wave. Imagine a kid
walk into Wendy's and order you away from the front of the line because
he is extra hungry. You don't care if he's Wendy's older brother --
that's bad form. So I ignored him. He swooped in behind me and pushed
me off the top of the wave. My body was fine, but my ego had taken
in some water.
I paddled in to see if the punk wanted to talk about it. When we squared
off, he laughed like the fat kid who stole your lunch money in third
grade. I turned around and saw that his posse had followed me in to
see if I wanted to talk about it. The plot thickened. Twenty minutes
earlier, I was having the time of my life. Now, I was on the cusp of
The kid tweaked his eyes and said, "Why don't you get the BLEEP
home before I put a cap in your ass."
Did this guy just threaten to shoot me? Are guns water-proof? Why
my ass and not my heart or my head?
"As soon as I'm done surfing," I said.
The kid gave me a sucker-punch, which I foolishly defended. His friends
laughed like so many third graders. They paddled back out to the lineup
I finished my session but only out of spite. I couldn't enjoy myself
as I chewed the injustice. Me! A guy who keeps his mouth shut because
he understands the need for goons to protect a beach. What do you do
when the police are tyrants? What do they do in L.A.?
I fantasized about beating them all over the head with my board, but
even in my fantasies I walked away bloody. I had to sit there in a
spill of my own testosterone, waiting long enough to prove that I was
leaving of my own volition. You'd think that I was above that sort
of thing. Not so.
In Palos Verdes, a bodyboarder was beaten to death for paddling out
to the wrong point. When I saw that story on the news, I wondered how
such a thing could happen. Now that I've stared into the eyes of the
beast, I understand. It's the same error we make with the polygraph
test, presuming that everyone has a conscience. The locals at Little
Dume were hostile enough to kill me and get a good night's sleep afterward.
The beaches of California have been overcrowded since Gidget, but
surfers haven't been armed until recently. Maybe kids have grown more
violent because the X-Box gives them bonus points for killing everything
in sight, operant conditioning gone bad. Maybe the ocean is a lab experiment
in which we are too many rats vying for the same piece of cheese. Maybe
that kid was talking about a bottle cap.
Whatever the case, let me just say that Little Dume is a free beach
and one of the best breaks on the Pacific coast. You can get there
by taking the PCH to Dume Road, turning left beside the gas station,
taking your first left again and following it to the cliffs...