Northern California is an area of the country unlike any other. Not too hot, not too cold. One can get that big city feeling in San Francisco and then drive twenty minutes away and be in a beach town like Pacifica. I could do without the neverending parade of European tourists but that’s pretty much par for the course in any large city in America. Other than that and the outrageous price of living which appears to be pushing more and more people farther away from San Francisco proper, I have nothing but love for NorCal.
But this isn’t about San Francisco. It’s about heading down south of The City, and it’s where I forgot about a lot of bullshit for about four hours on a foggy, slightly chilly Saturday morning in early September. I hate getting sentimental or introspective when I don’t absolutely have to, but on occasion, it’s necessary. Northern California is a magical place and I know everyone hears sentiments like it all the time but it’s honestly true. I never bought into it until this past weekend when I went surfing. It’s a cure-all and I don’t know why. Boogeying on down the line. Wrapping it back into the pocket. Jamming her off the lip, you know?
Wedged between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay is the city of Pacifica. The houses, the restaurants, the people walking up and down the beach – all of it screams “California Cool.” It’s a vibe. It’s a demeanor that an outsider like myself can only dream of emulating. Years of getting absolutely thrashed by waves that a greenhorn like myself wouldn’t dare go near gives the surfers of Pacifica a weathered, seasoned look. They’ve seen some shit, man. Half Moon Bay hosts the prestigious, incredibly dangerous “Mavericks” competition every winter, so obviously the surfing isn’t as intense in Pacifica, but it’s more than enough for most people who just want to catch a few tasty waves.
At least from my perspective, Pacifica doesn’t have the pretension that San Francisco seemingly runs on. To put it simply and in terms I hope you’ll be able to understand, Pacifica drinks Maxwell House. It’s a twelve-cup pot from a Mr. Coffee type of place. Neighboring San Francisco? Free-trade, organic Arabica beans from the local corner store or get the fuck out of their face.
I could be completely off on this sentiment that Pacifica is a down-to-Earth community that had the misfortune of getting stuck next to ostentation incarnate (commonly referred to as San Francisco), but the few hours that I spent there were filled with warm greetings from strangers on the beach and none of the territorial surfer bullshit that I was expecting.
Pacifica is a quintessential surfing community, and although I had never been surfing in my life, I knew I was going to be a natural the second I got my board and started practicing the act of “getting up.” That irrational self-confidence is what keeps me going. It’s why I can walk into a bar and not sweat it when a nine ignores my advances and it’s why I can put a wetsuit on, nosedive on a perfectly good whitecap, and then stand up on my board ten minutes later and make the shit look easy. Yes, surfing is incredibly hard and I realize that even calling myself a novice surfer after one lesson would be foolish. But I had fun and I caught quite a few waves over the weekend so in my mind I’m pretty fucking good at it.
It’s what got me the adoration of the two French surfing instructors on that Saturday morning and it’s what got me out of a funk which I’ve been in for about a week and a half. Surfing is a cure-all and I’m already trying to get down to the gulf sometime in the very near future for a little surfing in Texas. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the fact that all of your energy and attention has to be on the wave behind you. Maybe it’s the beating your body takes from those cascading walls of water which makes you forget about anything else. I don’t know exactly what did it. But surfing was a reprieve for me. It’s the best. I rode the wave this weekend and I liked it..