LOMPOC - SURF BEACH
Surf, California was a “town” at one point in time. Nothing existed there but a train station. A handful of employees worked for the rail line. Many had families and so Surf’s population in the mid 40’s exploded to 41 inhabitants. Today, the station is all automated and the town portion of Surf--what little there was to begin with--is long gone, and the beach is the only thing to really put the place on the map.
We came out of Lompoc in the early morning under a thick marine layer that dulled the bright morning sky to the color of unpolished steel. The clerk back at the hotel had shown us to a rack of brochures for things to do--hence my abbreviated history of the area in the paragraph above--and we discovered Surf Beach. The name piqued my interest immediately. The previous day we’d driven right past Rincon and I never put my board in the water. But a beach named Surf Beach? Had to be a sign. Oh, and there was a sign alright, but we’ll get to that later.
Brianna’s main interest was the Sea Caves--a cluster of indentations in the cliffs overlooking the beach that had been beaten by millions of years of wind and tide into caves. From a distance, walking down the beach, balancing my board on my head like an African woman bringing a basket back from a market, we saw the caves--porous holes deep in the rock formations, resembling some kind of medieval castle nestled into a cliff. Brianna tugged at my arm and pointed to the caves excitedly.
Brianna wore nothing but white shorts and pink t-shirt and rubbed her arms in the early morning chill. Inside the caves, such as they were (and, let’s face it, these were caves like Surf was a town), the temperature was a lot cooler. I was a little warmer in my wetsuit, but there was definitely a damp, salty chill in the air, thick enough you could almost brush it aside.
In some of the indentations within the insides of the caves, places where water had collected, and, then, trapped, failed to run out with the outgoing tide, we saw sea snails and crabs and other critters who waited like travelers at an airport for the next tide.
However, our spelunking didn’t last long. In one cave we came across what looked like a blood spatter, as if something--or someone--had been smashed in the head with some blunt object, or even shot. That’s when we decided we were good, and to go check out the beach.
We walked along the beach for awhile, Brianna playing detective, and trying to analyze just what foul deed had taken place in the cave, me gazing out at the waves, looking for the right break--the right right break!
The beach was deserted and for good reason: the waves were poor and not good for riding. But we came across one blessed spot, where an unknown anomaly on the seafloor was significant enough to change the shape of the waves in this one area.
I had this idea the night before. I had an old funboard at home gathering dust on the back patio. I decided that I would now pick up a sticker from every beach I surfed, stick it on the funboard, and use it as a kind of passport book of places I’ve surfed. All I needed to do to qualify was get in one ride. Just one.
I was on my hands and knees, rubbing sex wax onto my board. Brianna had wondered to a nearby parking lot at the top of grass-splotched dunes in search of a bathroom. I was in my own little world rubbing down my board, my body and head swaying with effort and cadence. I focused on the tranquility of the abandoned beach, enjoying the sounds of the surf and the calls of the seagulls, hoping it wouldn’t be ruined by an Air Force jet roaring overhead as I was warned it might.
I attached my leash to my ankle, picked up my board under one arm and walked my way down to the chill water. I didn’t make it to my knees before I heard Brianna screaming my name, the offshore wind blowing her shrill voice at me for added emphasis. I turned around to see Brianna standing at the water’s edge--bent over at the waist, hands on her knees, hair hanging in her face, chest heaving.
“Sweetie, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t go! Get out of the water!”
Confused, I walked out of the water, dropped my board in the muck at the water’s edge, and asked if she was alright.
“Yeah, I’m fine, but…” Her voice trailed off. “Come here.”
She led me up the beach and to a sign that stood next to a picket fence in a thatch of scrub grass. She pointed at the sign as if it were a snake and backed away from it as if it were a live booby trap, allowing me to read it for myself:
“WARNING: Repeated Shark Attacks. Some Fatal. Swimming/Surfing in These Waters is Extremely Dangerous.”
The warning was repeated in Spanish. Yup. It was a sign alright. So, no Surf Beach sticker for my passport. Thus, that morning’s excursion was ended fairly quickly. I did some quick research on my phone, and learned that there had been two fatal shark attacks on surfers off this same stretch of beach in a two-year time span. That's like being struck by lightning twice. Or winning the lottery twice. The odds are astronomical. And, yet, it happened. Bad vibes at Surf Beach, man...
Instead of a beach day, we went back to the hotel, changed and checked out downtown Lompoc. There were a lot of murals painted on the sides of the buildings, and it was something of cheap date: free art museum.
After lunch, we did some wine tasting in a section of town known as the “Wine Ghetto”--a cluster of 20 or so wineries from the surrounding valleys and beyond, all crammed into an industrial park. The area was small and walkable, which is good when you’re filled to the brim with wine and in no condition to drive. I’ve always enjoyed cabernets and red blends, as well as sauvignon blancs. But I walked--er, staggered--out of the experience a fan of pinot noirs and chardonnays.
Thanks, wine country!
We stumbled back to our room and, predictably, went to bed early with little fan fair before walking late the next morning, and, through the fog of a fearsome hangover, managed to find out way to the cute little town of Los Alamos for breakfast.
Then it was back on the road to check out Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo!
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