Hiking Shoes / by daniel hamlin

 Good waves with good friends is about as good as it gets in surfing. Photo:  Chris Burkard

Good waves with good friends is about as good as it gets in surfing. Photo: Chris Burkard

Below is an article I wrote for The Surfers Path about a trip I took with some friends and the benefits of a good pair of hiking shoes...            

The Road Less Travelled

A good pair of hiking shoes…I’ve come to realize they’re one of the most important pieces of surf gear that I own.  Board, wetsuit, wax, and fins are all essential but a good pair of hiking shoes will take you places they can’t.  Want to find your own secret wave?  Where I live that’s likely going to require a long trek on foot.  A good pair of hiking shoes is akin to the poor man’s Jet Ski, they allow you access to coastline that isn’t paved or well-trod. 

            I remember as a kid all I ever wanted to do was go to the mountains and hike.  I spent hours in school daydreaming about the great outdoors.  Then in my late teens I took to surfing and everything else seemed to take a back seat.  Hiking trips to the mountains were replaced by surfing trips along the coast.  But I eventually realized that the two didn’t have to be mutually exclusive; they actually worked together very symbiotically.  Suddenly I could have my cake and eat it too. 

            Not too long ago I was fortunate enough to take a trip with my good friend Chris Burkard to a remote stretch of coastline that requires a two-hour hike to access.  We loaded up our backpacks with food, sleeping bags, tents, water, wetsuits, and some warm clothes.  We strapped our boards to our packs and headed off, hoping to find some good waves to ourselves.  When we finally made camp I was exhausted.  It’s somewhat of a grueling hike due to the soft sand and hills you have to traverse on your way there.  But it’s all worth it.  Setting up camp overlooking a beautiful golden ocean, the horizon on fire from the sunset, stars beginning to flicker overhead, it all seemed to testify to the fact that we were in a very special place.  The kind of place that is hard to get to but is well worth the effort once you’re there; the kind of place you need a good pair of hiking shoes to reach. More importantly, the kind of place you hope is still around for generations after us. 

I was hoping to awake to surprisingly good waves, but what I found when I made my way out of the tent in the morning wasn’t the sort of surprise I was expecting. About 30 yards from our tents, making a complete circle around our campsite was a set of cougar tracks.  I had heard that there was a cougar spotted in the area not too long ago, but they generally stay up in the hills more, so I wasn’t really thinking about it.  In a way, the cougar tracks gave me perspective about why I wanted to take the trip in the first place.  It reminded me of why I loved to camp as a child.  To get out into the wild, where humans are a part of nature and not pseudo-masters of it is to experience a part of life as it was intended.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I love surfing so much as well.  Nature tends to simplify things for me, and out here among miles of untouched beauty all the clutter that accumulates in my mind and blurs what’s important seems to just melt away.  We never saw the cougar, but in an odd and respectful way I appreciated its presence. 

            In a country where cars seem to outnumber people it’s comforting to know that the only way to get to this spot is with a trusty pair of hiking shoes. I find myself more and more grateful for places like this- places that haven’t been “improved” with paved roads and storefronts, places that remain raw and natural, places that evoke inspiration for those who make the effort to experience them. And we quickly learned that we weren’t the first ones to make such an effort. Along our hike Chris found an area full of old Native American chippings that we stopped to take a look at.  I suddenly realized that our little secret spot wasn’t really a secret. People have known about it for centuries.  The fact that it still remains basically the same after all these years is a testament to the rugged and raw beauty of the area.  Hopefully each new generation that “discovers” it appreciates what they’ve found and keeps it as it is. 

            I suppose surfers take trips like this for many different reasons, the foremost of which is likely waves. But regardless of our motivating factors in such endeavors, excursions like this one wouldn’t be possible without a trusty pair of hiking shoes.  I try to keep a pair in my car at all times, just in case.  As the late, great Robert Frost stated,

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

            Who would’ve thought all it takes is a good pair of hiking shoes?

(Originally Published in The Surfers Path)