“Have you met Tom Jones yet?“, Lisa asked of everyone, and no one in particular, during a next-to-the-palapa, coffee-mug-holding, waking-up-from-a-coma kind of surf-check-morning. The waves were cracking like thunder and pounding the dark, slippery cobbles; each one a possible magazine spread if anyone knew how to work a camera. Over head sets. A couple guys, already out, were taking off on glassy set bombs in the darkness of the early desert morning.
The sunrise was just starting to illuminate the desert sky, hiding the sparkly starlight. I had been, almost catatonically, gazing at the silhouettes of the cactus and canyon walls, miles off in the distance. The mighty Baja Sierras, even further off, were still casting a shadow to the Western horizon.
“Whad’ya say?”, Mark, an older member of the loose band, from Northern California, a retired carpenter and nearly-deaf fixture of this particular Point, asked, with his trademark hand cupped to his ear.
“Does anyone need more coffee?” I asked, dropping in on everyone.
“No thanks,” Lisa said. Nearby, crusty wetsuits, salt caked, swaying, were sweeping dust off the side of the van in the light, side offshore breezes; a result of the desert land mass cooling off at night, the ocean maintaining it’s temperature.
“Tom is CrazY!” Lisa continued, though there had been a long enough lull that I, and others, had to do a mental replay.
“Oh… Tom; Tom Jones,” I thought but didn’t say. I just smiled as if I understood.
Lisa looked around the informal group. We all seemed, at least to Lisa’s satisfaction, to understand. Tom Jones is CrazY. “I think I’m gonna bake a cake,” she said. Cake?
“That sounds chill,” I said. I wasn’t sure about any of the other morning’s coffee-wake up-surf-check- group members, but my shoulders were aching. Maybe it was from surfing long hours; maybe from sleeping on a shitty mattress; possibly, perhaps, just from being a middle aged man.
My mind wandered to the pros and cons of ibuprofen before I would walk out into the oncoming glare to pull on my wetsuit; the one that, literally, had not seen a fresh water rinse in weeks. And the booties. I hate wearing booties, but sea urchins…
“Ya” , Lisa added, “I’m playing around with my new Dutch oven.”
There were still several urchin quills in the front edge of the pad of my left foot, between the ball and the base of my big toe. I remember dealing with way more urchins at this same spot, 20 years ago. The cobbles are slippery and the urchins grow well in the gaps between the stones.
It works perfectly; the feet struggle to grip a slippery rock until a wave pushes you off balance, and simultaneously obscures the sea floor; then the foot can freely slide into the void where the waiting urchin meets it. Some say booties help. It’s another conundrum then presents itself; the surfboard always feels more intimate barefoot, like sex without the condom.
A solution Aaron (a surgical goofy footer who always gets set bombs and rarely blows them) came up with, is to wear the reef shoes out into the line up with a belt around his waist; one of those adjustable nylon-tie-down-things with the plastic clip, like for a back pack. Then, once he is outside, he straps the shoes to his waist, allowing his toesies their full roam of the board deck.
I am picturing him now, bottom turning and smiling right at me while I’m paddling up and over the shoulder, me staring back at him as he is happily being chased down by a perfect, massive, spinning vortex of water…booties strapped to his waist belt.
I am so inspired by his love of and dedication to the art of surfing; my mind drifting off to thoughts of sitting next to him on our boards, watching him paddle for bumps that transform into beautiful walls as he intuitively finds the perfect take off spot, late and deep; watching him effortlessly drop and simultaneously pop to his feet, then settle into a hard, fast bottom turn as the wave passes under me. Looking shoreward at the wave back, I try to track him and see glimpses of his long hair flying behind his head, followed by spray flying skyward.
Some say there are fewer urchins now because the hurricane flooded the river with rain and the freshwater did them in. Others say the heavy, seafloor-hitting shrimp boats wacked most of them. The same goes for the puffer fish corpses laying all over the beach berm. Was it the hurricane? Was it the shrimp boats? Maybe it’s the impact of the surfers. It’s all relative and rhythmic; storms coming and going as clouds move across the horizon, blanketing the silver sea.
But now, the cracking sets begging for our attention, we all intuitively adjust our gaze from our friends’ faces, and the shadows and the sunrise, on out to sea as we are all unconsciously tuned into the thunder of the point. The energy of the Sea and Earth are crying like a sacred baby to a Mother, each in need of intimacy.
“Right on”, I said, mostly to Lisa; “I might have bumped into him 22 years ago. That was the last time I camped out here for any length of time.”
Tom Jones. CraZy. Dutch oven. Urchins. I turned my wetsuit right-side-out in the last of the long shadows.