Back when small-town America shut down on the 4th of July, and everyone of all races, ages and creeds got together to thank God for freedom, sparklers blistering fingers, fireworks stands offering a safer version of the cherry bombs we smuggled in from across the border, I did my part by cheering for the veterans parading down Main Street while I pledged allegiance before belting out songs of freedom, and eating enough hot dogs and apple pie for an entire battalion of revolutionary warriors.
Now, I wasn’t exceptionally patriotic for the times, just another proud American boy with a baseball cap covering a summer crew cut.
By the summer of 1962, however, I was less interested in the rockets’ red glare than the oceanic colors of blue, green and gray that symbolized another sort of freedom to us, the newly liberated gremmies hoping to find our places in the lineup.
With no rules other than unwritten ones about sharing waves, taking care of our home beach and standing up for our friends, we were free to ride any way and anywhere we wanted.
While most boards were 9-foot-plus single fins, we were free to ride any size and shape with as many fins as we desired. You could paddle out in any sized surf from 1 to 20 feet without anyone but your parents trying to stop you.
Not only did surfing offer freedom, but also equality. Nobody I knew ever cared about economic status, race or creed, although residence was taken into consideration since non-locals, especially those from inland or out of state, were generally considered second-class citizens.
Even then, however, a non-local surfer could find their way in through performance. Another way to be accepted by the pack was by doing more than your share to keep the beach clean. Barring that, sharing food and beverages, or owning a car that could make it to Baja, could also lift the velvet ropes.
I realize that surfing, unless you consider the Chumash Indians with their plank canoes to be surfers, was not invented on this coast. Still, anything as untethered to the world of rules as surfing seems all-American to me.
This morning I stroked out under a blue sky before sliding into 2-to-4-foot surf. As the lineup became crowded, I was still free to do anything other than have someone else’s good time.
I was free to catch the biggest or the smallest waves of each set. Free to go right or left. Free to hit the lip or fall off. The peak was soon packed with young rippers hungry for the best of whatever rolled through.
Because of that I exercised my freedom of choice and paddled away to worse, less-crowded surf, inwardly declaring my independence from the landlocked world seemingly obsessed with laws and licenses all limiting personal freedom.
I would like to say that I was free to rip the waves I caught this morning, but apparently there are some physical laws prohibiting that from occurring.