Some of you old enough to remember will know that I borrowed the title for this column from a Surfer Magazine advertisement in the mid-1970s.
Most of us were still locked into single fins in the 7-foot range at that time. The surf leash was well established, but still causing some detractors to say, “Leashes are for dogs,” the fear being that nobody had to pay for their mistakes and falling or not, you were right back in the lineup, with no consequence to goofing up.
There was even a bumper sticker saying, “The leash ruined surfing.” This remains a point worth arguing, but I think I’ll save it for a less joyful season than the one that is upon us.
The Aussies had yet to invade the North Shore, and we were locked into the Gerry Lopez era where less was more, and one deep turn led to barrel worth a dozen off the lips.
The problem in this case was that many of us copied Gerry’s style and his Pipeline boards right down to the narrow tail and wide point 6 inches or more above center. And so, we stood there, yoga calm as if petitioning 3-foot Swami’s to produce Pipeline style barrels.
I was recently reminded of this era after watching Patagonia’s Stacy Peralta’s Lopez offering, “The Yin & Yang of Gerry Lopez,” a film worth viewing, but mostly geared toward hardcore surf historians who long to learn from or revisit the distant past.
But this column was meant to be about Christmas, right. As a surfer who came of age in the ’60s, Christmas day was a time to break, not celebrate, tradition. As Catholics we were obliged to attend church, so midnight mass offered us an entire day to play.
Speaking for myself, we had temporarily abandoned church, while realizing that Santa was never capable of offering the gift we craved most — waves.
And so, my younger brother Dave and I would beg our father to drive us to the beach, or, after turning 16, borrow the family car and drive the 30-some miles to Newport Beach, or Palos Verdes, or, if we had the time and the 25 cents-a-gallon gas money, Baja, Rincon or Swami’s.
Our family was basically intact, but our father having been a surfer in his youth understood the call of the sea. He didn’t care much about tradition, and the national tradition of being home for Christmas had not yet crumbled in early-’60s America.
This worked to our advantage as the beaches were basically empty as most kids gathered with mom and pop, trying to master hula hoops, dial in six transistor radios or peddle that new Schwinn bike if they were lucky.
But Dave and I were the lucky ones, freezing but jacked on the joy of figuring out how to cut back and hang five.
For decades now, the beach has been a Christmas morning destination, especially for surfers. Families gather for a morning surf like they once did Holy Communion, and riding waves together is a tradition that has taken the place of Aunt Gertrude’s eggnog gulping contest.
I have a little spot carved out in my mind where my family and I intend to avoid the Christmas rush. I may or may not slip into the frigid surf but will certainly intend to celebrate the expansive blue gift that continues to bring presents to all good little girls and boys.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good, uh, day.
Check out Chris Ahrens’ latest passion project, GodnGangsters: youtube.com/c/GodNGangsters