The Coast News Group
When a muscular northwest swell combines with a dropping tide, nothing else matters. Photo by Chris Ahrens

When nothing else matters

Never cared for what they say
Never cared for games they play

— Metallica, “When Nothing Else Matters”


After 40 days and 40 nights of being hosed by the jet stream, I’m fixin’ to exit the ark.

You would think we’d had enough of being wet, but all any of us can think about is more water, in this case that massive body of saline that calls us to become our better selves.

Before opening the trapdoor, however, something is required to keep me moving. Not being a caffeinator, I turn to the trusty playlist, mostly classical these days, with a few oldies in the mix.

And there, like a ruby in the dust, is Metallica’s “When Nothing else Matters.”

This, to me, is more than a catchy tune. It is a memory forged at the Leucadia home of favored son Brad Gerlach, who is wearing that dreamy look he gets when about to hit the lip or make one of his “Gerr” statements.

Gerr, as he is sometimes known, has been transported into another world via electronics. Smiling and lifting his head, he transfers his headphones to my ears, and I share a moment that continues to resonate to this day.

The first time I ever heard the words “when nothing else matters” in that sequence, however, was decades earlier when surf journo extraordinaire Drew Kampion wrote an article for Surfer Magazine of the same name.

In it, Kampion describes facing an upended city block of water called Sunset Beach on Oahu’s North Shore. He captures that feeling of heart and guts elevating during the long drop. I haven’t read that piece for at least 40 years, but it continues to move me because it is anchored in truth.

Those who paddled out last week at Blacks or La Jolla Cove, or any other macking spot that transferred your heart to your throat, know what I mean. Late car payments, tough breakups and the guy who flipped you off on the freeway disappear as an endorphin tsunami floods the brain.

The magic doesn’t fade until hitting that first extended red light or the speeding ticket on the way home. Or being yelled at for not picking up that quart of milk. Now, try explaining how you were in that moment when nothing else mattered.

Perhaps ironically, the first stop on my way to more water is Carlsbad Water. There, I encounter Ricky Schaffer. I first met Ricky in the 1980s when he was highly ranked among Malibu’s elite fleet.

Now the owner of the Oceanside-based clothing company Grom, Schaffer shoulders responsibilities he never imagined when he was a grom, following the lead of Malibu power carver Allan Sarlo. Yet Schaffer, like an increasing number of other aging but never old groms, remains enthusiastic about the things that matter most.

A substantial amount of swell is running, and dirty water pours from city street gutters. Ricky is aware of this, but he’s gonna get his. As a believer in life after death, he tends to focus on unseen realms.

Still, he is not averse to sampling an appetizer, those previews to heaven that appear in the form of a muscular northwest swell combining with a dropping tide. In a few minutes he will be in just the right spot, the only spot in the world at that moment.

Then, without realizing how, Ricky Schaffer will have entered that zone where nothing else matters.