California Unchained

I never search for waves when I’m at home in San Clemente. I usually paddle out at the first spot I check, be it Riviera, Trestles or T-Street, because I can’t be bothered driving 20 minutes to Salt Creek or Oceanside. How much better could it be? I convince myself the answer is not much, and I surf out front. It’s convenient. It’s fun enough. And I’ve gotta get to work in a couple of hours.

This is a problem. Embarrassing, even. Our daily sessions should be dictated by wave quality, not convenience. Because convenience leads to routine and routine is the Alcatraz of life — you can see life’s potential out your window, but there’s no escape.

But in late December one of the guards fell asleep and I broke out. Ten days of sweet, sweet freedom. I drive north in the dark and surf somewhere really, really good in Ventura County. It isn’t a new wave, but it’s new to me. I don’t know where to park. Don’t know any locals. But the barrel is very familiar. I eat lunch with the Coffins in Santa Barbara and then keep driving in the pouring rain. Up to Santa Cruz, my hometown, where I surf the beach breaks in the south about as good as they get. Nostalgia top turns and ice-cream headaches. Old friends. Hugs. Holidays. I unwrap presents and leave the pie half-eaten as I run out the door. Up to Squaw Valley for two days of snowboarding. A spirit quest through the powder, a night out in Tahoe City. Check the forecast and see blood-red stains swirling in the North Pacific. Back to the coast. Nat Young’s qualifying party: three beers, two tacos and one water and then straight to a Half Moon Bay hotel room. Maverick’s at first light. Overcast and howling offshore. I bag a few and break for lunch. Chew. Swallow…breathe. Back out there. Sunny and offshore. Get a couple more and then back to Santa Cruz. I kiss a beautiful girl on West Cliff. Sleep. Family breakfast. Drive to 8-foot Ocean Beach for my final session of the year. I feel tired. I feel fit. I eat a burrito and watch the last sunset of 2012, salt crystallizing on my eyelashes. Then New Year’s Eve in San Francisco.

With my year’s first hangover comes the drive back to Alcatraz. Back to routine. Back to work in a few hours. But shit. Hold on. Uppers actually looks really good right now. —Taylor Paul

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