Surfing During the California Wildfires

Today seems like exactly four years ago, only this time, the wildfires are worse and the people who live in my town are more on alert as we may have to evacuate. On the news, they are saying the fires may reach the coast!

And yet, I can only think about one thing: how I hope tomorrow will be a repeat of an epic day of off-shore head-high barreling perfection.

I’m not even thinking of evacuating. I’m taking it for granted I won’t have to. But according to the online interactive map of the county, one of the four major fires is right on the border of the city where I live in.

What would I take if I evacuated? Definitely my “Special Ed” board; no way I’d let it burn into a toxic goop. Ed shaped the perfect board for me. I feel like I’m finally dialing into it. Sure, I could always go on Craigslist and get a used board for $100 but my Special Ed Board cost me over $500 and I purchased it just days after I had gotten fired from a job, making the board even more sentimental to me.

I’d also take my passport, wallet, guitars and the book I’m reading and totally advocate to all, Surfing for Health by Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, M.D.

I’m not going anywhere. No way my town is going to be evacuated.

Am I being foolish for being so naive? All I can think about is getting out in the water again tomorrow, whether or not the sky is choked with ash particulate.

The wildfires of four years ago, like today, occurred on a Monday. At the time, we all thought that was it; the mother of all wildfires. It ended up charring a big chunk of the county. Everybody stayed home from work and school. The surf was, for lack of a worse pun, firing. The sky was hellish red.

Thinking about simultaneously surfing, being stoked catching superior waves while someone might be incinerated at any minute is terrible for mental health. We have to live with the reality of emotions like sadness, but when the surf is absolutely perfect and the sun looks like a star from another galaxy, you can’t help but feel more emotionally centered. I try to feel compassion and say a prayer for those who lost their lives, but because I didn’t know them personally, I’m able to disconnect and surf and be happy. That’s just the way it is.

Today started ominously. I didn’t have to get out of bed to notice something was wrong. Facing southeast, my windows in the living room framed a cesspool-brown and faded orange sunrise. The sky looked as apocalyptically graphically-designed as a Cleveland Browns jersey.

Thankfully, I live on the top floor of an apartment complex. I have a clear view of Highway 101 going north and south. I noticed that the local beach towns to the north were clear of any haze and ash.

After checking in on the public radio online broadcast, I still had no clue how close the fire was. It was only after I drove north and made myself at home in the lobby of an air-conditioned resort hotel, escaping the Santa Ana heat, I found out that the next town south of where I live is being told to evacuate.

But thankfully I live on the coast, in a one-bedroom apartment. The part of town they’re evacuating is east of Interstate 5; but still, they are saying there’s a chance the fires will reach the coast. I’m glad I live relatively simply without many attachments. If my stuff burns in a fire, I’ll move on just fine, I think to myself.

I took a mellow, uneventful drive up the coast, my radio tuned at high-volume to the news. (After some self-debate, I decided that listening to the Grateful Dead CD in my car would be unwise and way out of touch with reality.)

It looks like a normal day when I reach the next town up. People are jogging on the boardwalk, though not many are on their cell phones because the news kept reminding people to stay off of them unless it’s an emergency.

I surfed a beach break right behind the resort. Very few people out, head-high, decent consistency, steep drops and clear skies. Fifteen minutes north of an area that looked like a war zone, I’m in paradise.

After the surf, I grab a burger. People are losing their homes no doubt while I am enjoying a burger. The reality hasn’t really hit me yet. It won’t until I hear about a couple who had to ride out the storm in their swimming pool, watching everything around them go up in flames.

But what am I supposed to do? I guess I could volunteer. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do…tomorrow; I’ll go to the evacuation center and do massage therapy.

But tomorrow first light (or dark as it will probably be), my first priority is a surf check, especially since it might still be firing tomorrow like it was today.

Am I too attached to surfing? I suppose I am. If I were forced to live the rest of my life hours inland away from waves, I seriously doubt I’d be able to be happy as a monk in a cave.

But if I follow my bliss, won’t I end up being happier? And won’t that be more of an asset to humanity as a whole? And if I’m happier and more centered and satisfied from my daily connection to the “mighty bosom of the Pacific Ocean” (as Walter Sobchak would say, dude), won’t I be more likely to volunteer my skills and services?

I think so.

I convince my mind I posses a “Superior State of Health” (as Doc Paskowitz would say). With the acrid sky raining ash, I go for a bike ride (a few hours after the surf). I wear a bandana around my face and put on sunglasses. Man, is this spooky. It’s like a ghost town; eerily peaceful.

I am exhausted by 9 p.m. Oxygen is depleted. I need bed. I pray for and dream of good surf and pray everybody’s ok.

It smells bad here.


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