This must be the place
As you were, I was. As I am, you will be. —Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels
There used to be a group of surfers at my local beach who didn’t like me.They didn’t like my friends who surfed with me, the dogs on the beach, weekend surfers, parking meters or much of anything. They didn’t even like each other. The locals weren’t necessarily violent towards outsiders they just disregarded them. Made sure non-locals knew they would become invisible once they entered the water. If you made yourself visible, you heard about it. At the time, I saw these guys as prototypical versions of what I’d been told were gnarly locals, dripping in cliché. Right down to their names. “Pancho,” “Cavey,” “Archy,” “fresh-out-of-jail Mikey” and “Bobby.” As a young surfer, I knew all about locals. My dad would tell me and my friends stories about getting cans of dog food thrown at him on the beach in La Jolla, where he wasn’t a local. As a grom, I thought nothing could be wilder.
My high school was lucky enough to have a surf team. We met down at a relatively localized spot. I surfed there every morning with a pack of 35 other kids, just down the beach from where the locals hung. But close enough to cross paths. At that stage, most of us were loud, giggly and disrespectful to the whole act of surfing. We were punks. But some of us were determined to be our own version of local. We were the lifers. We’d been surfers, we were surfers and we knew we’d always be surfers. To us, this wasn’t just a class at school. We’d be here anyway. So when certain parents started calling the school about threats to their kids in the water, we rolled our eyes, we knew that was all part of it.
Through the years, our small group of die-hards drifted closer to that pack, mingling and nearly coming to blows over set waves or their general frustration with our youthful impatience and enthusiasm. Eventually, we gained respect for them. And from some of them. We learned how it all worked. When school ended and “surf class” kids went off to college or wherever they go, we kept surfing there. Inching closer and closer to the main peak. We even started to park next to the crew who used to hate us (and still might). We didn’t have nicknames or prison records, but we respected theirs and they, after time, respected that we weren’t going anywhere. Our numbers by then had dwindled down to a pack of a determined five or six. They were beginning to recognize us individually.
The day it all changed for me was a crowded Saturday. I was navigating my way through the thick lineup, picking off my share among the locals and weekend warriors when a solid peak came through and an unfamiliar, rather weathered fellow blatantly took off on me. I nonchalantly rode behind him as he attempted gouges that had long ago gone rusty, perhaps he expected me, the skinny 19-year-old, to kick out and cut my losses. But I kept going, waiting it out as my own form of defiance. When I cut one of his turns short, he lost it. This man was out for blood. Mine in particular. His eyes were a new color of fried. It was Fresh-out-of-Jail Mikey and he didn’t recognize me because, well, he was fresh out of jail again. I sat rail to rail with him as he berated me with spit and threats of knocking all my teeth out. I braced to get popped. I probably cussed back, but deep down I wanted no part of this. Two of my friends paddled up in a hesitant show of force. It was a strange standoff. Youth against the established. The regular locals knew Fresh-out-of-Jail Mikey just as well as they knew me at that point. So while Fresh-out-of-Jail Mikey looked for backup or the go-ahead to teach these punk kids a lesson, locals Archy and Bobby stepped in to defuse the tension before it got violent. “Mikey, let it go, he’s a local too, and you burned him.” Then a set came, everyone moved on. The situation was diffused and my local status was secured.
Since that weird day, I’ve become close with most of the locals where I surf. We have little in common except for one vital thread: we surf the same wave. We’re much more than acquaintances because of this. I sometimes look out over the lineup and see it as some kind of local circus, an aquatic commune or nature’s gymnasium — a place where we can all sort it out and feel safe and free all at once, between endless tide and wind and surfboard banter, there is something bigger happening. On land and in the grid of society, we all do different things. Some work on pools. Some are electricians. Glassers. Shapers. Grocers. Construction workers. Tradesmen. Some are slick corporate day-traders with odd hours who show up consistently enough to be called locals. But no matter what we do on land, once we enter the borderless waterway for some glorified exercise and fun on our surfsticks, we all see it. The gateway. No matter how good or bad the conditions, it offers us a daily glimpse into the infinite subconscious that seems to exist somewhere out the back of every lineup, where we all bob around together, free of our daily masks and frustrations, sharing ethereal moments with a bunch of strangers we know better than anyone. What could be wilder? —Travis Ferré