It was o dark thirty on the second day of swell event number five on the Gold Coast, in the middle of the El Nino 2009-2010 season. I was gingerly working my way down the spiral stairway which leads down from the aerie which is the loft bedroom that overlooks one of the beaches I shoot all of the time. Under my left arm was my Macbook Pro. In my right hand my cel phone. Quietly, carefully, I padded down the bamboo shod steps, and my right hand exploded in song.
Deftly I snapped the cel phone open. Chuck Patterson was on the line. “Hey Dave, headed your way. Whatcha doing?” I knew that it was cloudy out, having peered at the sky already, but knowing Chuck had already likely left home in OC very early, my answer was predictable: “Um, meeting you?”
By the time I reached the kitchen, we had arranged a meeting place. In ten minutes I was in the car, a cup of coffee in my hand and full camera kit stowed. As the car rumbled to life the sexy female voice that is my bluetooth, told me I had another incoming call: Lars Rathje. Overhead the ominous dark clouds began to be tinged with the grey tone of an impending dawn, still an hour away. Well, looks like a crew shoot, I thought. Wonder what the day would offer?
The prior day had been grey with soft flat lighting and a beautiful 4-6 foot WNW swell. Looked like more of the same, except that swell on the buoys was a little bit larger.
Twenty minutes later, saw us all gathered under a brightening dawn sky. Chuck’s big ass truck, chock full of his water toy-tool collection was already waiting in the parking lot of a place we hoped to shoot. He was on the phone, so I meandered out and had a look. Hmm. 3-4 footers peaked and the wind looked to be slightly side shore. An indicator at this time of year, that the day would be Santa Ana. I knew that we would need to look around, to find a more suitable wave.
Chuck joined me, and nonchalantly mentioned that he had gotten off a boat at 3 am. He had been out at Cortes Bank. Said that it had been fun. Interesting. But we were focused. As Lars, Hans and a friend showed up, we all had a quick look, and before the sun was risen, were on our way out of the parking lot. The Chase had begun.
An hour later, having checked a few places, we wound up down the street from my house. Crisp edged blue lines strode down a long point, brushed by a 10 knot, cool offshore wind. My phone had been going off the entire time with messages from Tyler Chandler. Tyler is a budding 16 year old photographer. He and I had been having a tet a tet online for some months. He was camping nearby with his parents for the holidays, as his Dad commuted up to Santa Barbara for work. I told him where we would be, and he walked on down from their campsite.
I opted to long lens, as I had a lot of people to shoot, sans tripod. Hand holding my big Canon 600mm IS lens is not something I often do, but this spot is right on the freeway. It was empty and I did not particularly want to advertise what we were doing, and ruin the session for the few knowledgeable people that would show. But Tyler found me immediately, and we chatted, as I tutored on the nuances of our craft.
He and I clicked away, and frequently changed position as the boys drove through some spinning barrels at mach speed. It was perfect. And challenging. Chuck had opted to SUP the place on his 8’6″ Hobie stinger Quad. The boys were short boarding, their friend was body boarding. A few other people were scattered on the point.
Pretty amazing that Chuck could even stand, having just completed what I knew from personal experience, to be an incredible marathon out to Cortes. He had taken an 11 foot SUP to the wave. Chuck is a tripper. An elite athlete in so many sports, that it is sort of mind blowing. He is one of my favorite subjects due to his savvy and yet easy going nature. We have spent some amazing times together around the world. Here we were again, scoring within eyeshot of my house.
A few hours later, we grabbed a late breakfast at Cajun Kitchen in Downtown Ventura and after, headed immediately South in what had become a bluebird 75 degree Santa Ana day. A check of an infrequently surfed mysto spot, saw it vacant and somewhat fickle at 3-4 feet. Before I knew it, the boys had scrambled down the cliff and I struggled to catch up, as loading a water housing and getting into my 5 mil wetsuit, takes a little time.
This particular wave washes up a cliff and sends a backwash wave immediately out to sea, which sweeps sideways across the next, incoming blue sparkler. It is a high degree of difficulty wave to surf. Yet Chuck was somehow managing to stay astride his SUP board. I am sure he was the first to ride it on that sort of craft. Hmm, I pondered, as I slipped over the boulders, and out through the shore pound: two firsts for Chuck in 24 hours: Cortes, here.
It is complex pioneering a new sport. SUP is so young that it has not yet found stasis amongst the ocean going community. Many people hate the big boards. In similar fashion to what occurred with the advent of the birth of modern longboarding, there is extreme resistance and punishment aimed at its proponents. But people like Chuck are rare in any sport. He is so level, so polite. He reminds me a lot of Garrett MacNamara in his exercise of restraint when SUP surfing a break. As senior watermen, they have it down, and are diametrically opposite of the more novice surfers who use the board’s superior paddling power to dominate a break.
We picked off a few good ones, surfing alone for an hour and a half, before Fred Viela and Jake Kelley showed up. There not really being room for all of us, we opted to reliquish the wave to them as we had already gotten a good turn. I grabbed a couple images of the two before we left. I like the fact that Fred and I always seem to be in synch. I was stoked to get an image of him at his home break.
As the day waxed long, and afternoon waned, we all found ourselves at another seldom surfed, fickle spot. It was 3 PM and we had been going since 6 am. But Chuck he had been going since the day before. Hans and Lars opted out of the third surf and we said our goodbyes. Happy boys.
Chuck and I lolly gagged, hemming and hawing about whether we would shoot, in spite of seeing some really good, oily glass, golden green waves, roll perfectly through. A smallish group of guys plied the break. But off to the side, we kept seeing a solitary peak pop up.
It hit us both simultaneously. The realization. We both saw the light go on and grinned. “What are we doing? You are here, I am here. Lets do it!” And we laughed. I hand held the 600 again, as I perched in the rocky blind of a jetty that lay below Coast Hwy 1, and Chuck put on an amazing display of balls out SUP, alone on one of the more beautiful days that we will see this year.
Then up the beach as the light waned, I saw it. A beaut of a backlit swell, wandering into the reef, where a solo surfer paddled for it. I trained my lens on the surfer, as he dropped in and stumbled to his feet somewhat clumsily. Three frames clicked off as he slid through the barrel. Perfect. In many ways.
In surfing, many of us strive to be what we consider best, We do exploits which increase in difficulty as the years go by. Here was Chuck, a best case example of a waterman, surfing alone, while someone with a fraction of his ability, scored the wave, and likely shot, of the day. I say that because I know that the wobbly surfer’s wave was obviously a peak moment. A high. While Chuck was just playing. It was the rarest of the emerald gems collected on that day as a result.
As sun set, and darkness settled, a dramatic frontal band darkened the horizon. Chuck and I parted. He to his wife, and me to a birthday party that my girlfriend Donna had organized for me. A long day, a good day. As the car’s turbo spooled and I swung into the sweeping turns up Coast highway, it occurred to me how blessed that I was. My friends define me. I am so lucky that they call.
That night, 60 or so, gathered at my house. An amazing collective of some of the most talented people I have ever seen gathered in one place.
Marathons can be a good thing.
Seth Godin has some interesting observations pertinent to this blog and our lives and careers here.
Donna Von Hoesslin posts something beautiful about the New Year, on the Betty Blog here.
On this eve of the start of a new decade, it is not just a wish for a happy New Year I offer, but one of encouragement, and a challenge to include yourself and your own talents in what goes on within your own community, what ever, and where ever, those may be.
Here is something sweet, sent along by Suzi Ryder. Well done!
Below is that sole surfer’s great wave and image.
Click on any images in the gallery below, for a larger view. 56 of 250 images from the final file.