First time surfing in Santa Cruz

May 23, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

It was overcast day in Santa Cruz the first time I followed my cousins out into the surf. Winds buffeted as I fidgeted in my wetsuit, looking out at the waves at Pleasure Point bluff. We descended a flight of stairs that would deliver us straight from the safety of the cliff top and directly into a freezing onslaught of waves at high tide.

Toting a heavy longboard and praying that I would keep my balance, I chased my cousins gingerly across a stretch of flat rock as seaspray assaulted us. Shallow water glided rapidly back and forth over the slippery sandstone on which we tread. The two girls hit the water, leaving me behind to tie my leash before following them into ocean temperatures that groins of men were not designed to enjoy.

As I waded out, it dawned on me that the seabed was entirely obscured by an impenetrable layer of seagrass. I couldn’t see a damned thing other than a swirling green soup, and as I pressed forward, the occasional sharp rock or shell forced my bare-footed gait into a spastic dance. By this time, my cousins were already paddling to the outside and greeting their friends in the lineup. A surge of freezing whitewater rushed past. Shivering, I jumped onto my board and began to catch up.

The temperature was still deathly, but I managed to build up paddling momentum, and I broke past the roaring whitewater with exhilaration. Having made it past the washing machine, I suddenly found myself floating on gentle, unbroken swells, water slapping against my board as if applauding me for my effort. Having satisfied its test of will, the ocean now welcomed me warmly into her domain. She reached out to greet me with kelp fingers, and I paddled forward, enjoying her lingering touch. My cousin Wendy beckoned from the throng of surfers so I made for them, gliding in next to her.

Just then a loud puff erupted to my left and I turned, finding myself caught in the wide-eyed gaze of a young harbor seal. It had surfaced less than a board’s length away and was looking at me curiously, as if concerned that this particularly awkward human being would drown in the next big wave. I sat up on my board to demonstrate that I was quite alright. Unconvinced, he blinked to convey his doubt, and then abruptly ducked his small grey head back under, resurfacing an arm’s length away.

The seal deftly rolled onto its back, mottled-grey belly facing the sky, and proceeded to place his flippers onto his chest. Like a fat tourist bathing in the Red Sea, the he was buoyant enough that even his hind flippers stuck out of the water. I sat up on my board and continued to gape, but even this movement did not unsettle him. He ignored me totally, occasionally tilting back his head to scope out what lay behind him. The other surfers were oblivious to the nonchalant little ruffian as he basked amongst the seaweed; they were more concerned about their stoke. Seals, sea lions and sea otters are everyday companions to the wave riders of Santa Cruz.

The calm was disturbed as a set rolled in from the open ocean, disturbing the gentle swell. Surfers were beginning to turn around; some were already paddling furiously. Sensing the commotion, the young seal stirred. He indulged in a parting yawn before descending to his underwater playground, leaving the landlubbers to their foolery.

Photo: Santa Cruz Waves