Road Trippin’ Up the Coast

As laid back as our beach community is, sometimes you can’t help but feel that you’re a part of the rat race. The usual bland features of gentrification have sprouted in this once-sleepy beach town. Wine bars on every block,  independent cafés  demolished to make room for law offices, modest, quaint beach shack torn down and replaced with oversize and out-0f-character McMansions.

Still, my beach town, in my opinion, is the best place to live in the continental U.S., maybe on Earth. I love seeing that bumper sticker “No Bad Days.” It’s so true here. Unless you’ve recently been dumped by your lover or one of your family members passed away unexpectedly, there’s really no reason to be depressed here, other than weeks on end of totally flat surf.

But every once in a while, it’s good to get out of here so when you come back you can really appreciate what you’ve got.

I recently took a road trip on a late Friday morning, I drove up the coast, my destination Morro Bay, where I planned to surf, kayak, eat pizza, drink beer, read and sleep. I’ve never gone on a surf trip by myself. My intention was to surf uncrowded breaks along the way up to Morro Bay, sort of like a localized version of an Endless Summer discovering new spots to surf.

After feeling my blood pressure skyrocket driving through LA County’s gridlock, I was feeling more grounded as I got through Ventura, listening to subversive Communist manifesto programming emanating from UC Santa Barbara’s campus radio station.

As route 1 finally veered towards the coast, a feeling came over me like I was Christopher Columbus discovering the New World. Or maybe I felt a little like Mike Hynson and Robert August discovering a perfect peak in Africa.

I pulled into a small campsite a couple dozen or so miles south of Rincon. The campsite is a paved parking lot with about 20 campsites. This being the start of the winter, not more than a handful of families was camping out.

There’s a small wooden staircase that overlooks this break, which is rocky and during high tide seems almost impossible to paddle out.

A perfect right was breaking for 50 yards with fairly good consistency. I decided to put my wetsuit on and surf.

For the next hour, I had this break all to myself. Actually, after about half an hour, one person paddled out but was a beginner and didn’t try to catch too many waves.

So far the trip had been worth it, but if I wanted to find a place to stay in Morro Bay, time was of the essence.

I got back on the road and bypassed Santa Barbara and ended up headed towards Pismo Beach on the Central Coast. Five hours after driving, I thought to myself that I’m nuts for wanting to drive six hours and have to drive back six more Sunday afternoon to make it back for work on Monday.

So after five hours of driving, I decided to head towards the coast. There was a sign for a little town called Oceano. Trusting my intuition, I pulled of the 101 and headed west hoping that this small beach community was like an undiscovered version of where I live, only smaller.

Trying to find the ocean is an adventure in and of itself when on the Central Coast. Unlike here, in Southern California, where finding the beach is as easy as catching a wave on a 10 foot board in summer surf, reaching the Pacific on the Central Coast is an off-the-beaten-path endeavor.

I finally reached Oceano and discovered a nice place that I could shack up in, which was located across the street from a little Mexican cantina. At the end of this road was a beach that led to the beginning of an onshore sand dune park. The waves were blowing offshore. The current seemed a bit rough but otherwise, it was empty, almost perfect shoulder-high surf. Sounded ideal until I talked to the park ranger, who told me that the reason why nobody was surfing was because of a shark attack just days ago.

It was at this point that I realized again how spoiled Southern California surfers are. I suddenly grew very afraid at the idea of surfing solo on the Central Coast. Back south I headed.

I decided to take the long way home and passed through the small town of Guadalupe, 15 miles south of Oceano. A couple of bodyboarders in Oceano told me that Guadalupe has good surf. The beach access road to Guadalupe is remote, curvy and 5 miles long. When you get to the end, you are surrounded by a sand dune park. I felt like I was on another planet. I was greeted by a sign that read, “Surfing and swimming not advised due to strong currents.”

So further south I go. It’s after sunset now and I decide to get some dinner in Goleta. I then decide to check into a Motel 6 in Carpinteria, just a mile down the road from the classic Southern California point break called Rincon.

I was really looking forward to watching vapid TV programming and veg-ing out after driving all day. A wicked case of insomnia caused by truck drivers cranking their rigs at two in the morning kept me up and gave me the opportunity to watch a special half-hour infomercial for Girls Gone Wild, volume … can’t remember the number, I just remember feeling a little sad that civilization has come to this. I’m also a little depressed thinking that I should be camping out with some friends and not being a loner staying in a hotel room whose energy was still haunted with dark souls who had stayed here before me.

The next morning, my mood shifted 180 degrees as I walked down the path and around the point for the first time in my life at Rincon. Head-high translucent green waves, about as thick as a paper towel, coming in at a perfect speed and breaking for dozens of yards.

Granted, it was crowded, after all it was Saturday and sunny. I only caught a handful of rides but each one seemed to last as long as the Girls Gone Wild infomercial. Only catching a wave at Rincon does so much more good for the soul than watching gratuitous soft porn at three in the morning in a Motel 6.

Although Rincon is hardly an undiscovered surf break, it was my first time surfing there. And if I want to be a better surfer, I need to start surfing different breaks.

As I head south on the 5 and pull onto my exit., I feel good to be back. Still, the excitement of road tripping and looking for lesser-known breaks is a reminder of how wonderfully carefree a surfer’s existence is; a validation that we don’t succumb to the commercial chaos of the strip malls on the weekends and the rapid gentrification of a once, mellow, laid-back and unpretentious beach town.

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