North / by daniel hamlin

 Photo:  Chris Burkard

I can't remember if this was published somewhere or not (seems to me it was for DEEP Magazine), but I found it in the archives and since I've been spending time up north lately it seemed appropriate...

 

There is nothing quite like the stretch of coastline that is known as Big Sur.  Tucked neatly between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it attracts many a tourist, and rightly so.  Majestic hills lined with oaks, pines, and all sorts of beautiful fauna come to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, creating surreal views and landscapes that seem to come straight out of a Tolkien or Lewis novel.  Every time I traverse that stretch of California’s Highway 1, I can’t help but feel that at any given bend in the road I may stumble upon the best waves of my life. It has yet to happen, but I still get a little excited whenever the ocean comes into view from my car window.

Although finding quality waves on this stretch of coastline can sometimes be a maddening affair, some of nature’s finest work is always on display. I have fond memories of sleeping amongst pines, waking up and walking through open pastures to a trailhead that meanders down the side of a cliff to an empty beach, with head high, glassy peaks peeling away with no one else in sight. It’s this kind of solitude and natural beauty that draws people here, scoring fun surf is usually just an afterthought. 

I’ve hosted a number of surfers over the years and as any good host would do, I try to find them the best surf experience possible. This has generally meant at least a day trip up the coast to Big Sur with each new guest. Usually the waves we score are basically forgettable, but almost always people say they plan on coming back. It’s a testament to the magic of the place. It matters little how moody the place can be, it has a unique draw that is hard to put into words. One minute it is laden with fog providing it with a feel more reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest, the next minute it is sunny and glassy allowing for ones imagination to draw comparisons to the north island of New Zealand or some other far off surf heaven. 

I think one of the things that captivate people about Big Sur is the allowance it affords for escape. One can’t help but get a little lost in the vastness of the natural beauty that surrounds them there. It doesn’t matter whether you are a million-dollar lawyer from Los Angeles or a computer engineer from Silicon Valley, when you enter Big Sur none of that is important. Nature takes center stage and man gets the privilege of simply experiencing something bigger than himself.

My last trip there was just a day trip with some friends. After our surf, as I was changing I began contemplating the pull this stretch of coastline has on me when I caught a whiff of some sage blowing through the air. It’s funny the way smells can trigger memories, and suddenly I remembered past trips along this coastline. I pulled my beanie down and headed back to the car. We checked probably a dozen spots before we ended up here, at this ordinary beach break, only to surf for about an hour. We’d end up spending more time in the car than in the water that day. As we loaded our gear in the car and began to drive away I rolled down my window for a second. That’s when I smelled it again, crisp and invigorating. It was nature, and I was content.