Dreaming in Blue

Surfing the Ranch with Dana Brown and "Wingnut" Weaver

In the early '90s, when The Endless Summer IIwas filmed, longboards were out of fashion. At a time when Tom Curren was setting the table for the mind-blowing maneuvers of today's stars like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado, Wingnut was iconoclastically retro. His heroes were old-school surfers like Corky Carroll and Robert August, one of the star of The Endless Summer. Though talented enough to have made a mark professionally, Wingnut largely eschewed competition and dedicated his life to a throwback interpretation of the quest—one based on style and purity. He was the progeny of Mickey Dora and the soul surfers of the '60s. What he was doing wasn't always understood or even welcome at the time, but Bruce Brown was a genius for putting him in The Endless Summer II. Watching the film, you can't help but laugh in appreciation for his brilliance on the waves and still be stirred by his quixotic insistence on riding everything—everything—on a longboard. As ridiculous as it sounds, given his stunning talent, Wingnut seemed to be telling everyone, Hey, you can do this too. Simply put: If you want to blame anyone for the popularity of surfing these days, might as well blame him.

The significance of all this wasn't apparent to me when my friend Steven called a few weeks ago to tell me he had a plus-one to the screening of Step Into Liquid at the Ford Amphitheater during the Los Angeles Film Festival. Having recently gotten stoked on surfing, I said hell yeah to his invitation.

California Dreaming

It's hard to overstate how far from the realm of possibility the idea of a surf trip would have sounded to me when I was growing up in Pittsburgh, a place of unlimited limitedness, it seemed to me. Once, though, it was the third largest corporate headquarters in the country, the steel-made Seattle of its day, with Andrew Carnegie playing the role of Bill Gates and Old World barons like the Mellons, Scaifes and Olivers amassing fortunes in his wake that would make Microsoft millionaires of today feel like petit bourgeois. Unable to transition to the new service economy, the city—dark, rusting, claustrophobic with hills that seemed like prison walls—started dying in the '70s and '80s. Success, what little there was to be had, was frowned upon. As a teenager in Pittsburgh, you drank boilermakers, smoked pot, got in fights to prove you were tough (the highest aspiration), and generally walked around with a chip on your shoulder. In short, you imitated the adults. Only the Steelers—during the team's glorious late-'70s and early-'80s championship runs—gave the city anything to cheer about. But let's face it, even the Steelers, epitomized by fang-faced linebacker Jack Lambert (a Kent State graduate who is rumored to have answered "Reload" when asked what should have been done during the Kent State Massacre), weren't the jolliest crew.

A place like The Ranch would have seemed so exotic to me then, so California, so far, far away from the gray skies and Black Sabbath T- shirts of Pittsburgh. The bliss the two surfers in Nunn's novel were chasing would have been scoffed at. If I had even known about such a thing, or even the possibility of such a thing, in my teens, I can just picture the puzzled looks on my friends' faces had I tried to tell them about it. "California?" they would have said, "Isn't that where all the fruits and nuts live?" This was Deer Hunter territory, after all.

But life, as the philosopher said, is what happens when your old friends from high school are still in Pittsburgh being pissed about theirs. As fate would have it, I ended up in California. I actually ended up surfing in California. A few weeks ago, I ended up watching Step Into Liquid under the stars at the Ford Amphitheater in an audience full of stoked surfers, marveling at how Dana Brown managed to pull off such a beautiful, soulful film, despite having the weight of his father's Endless Summer legacy hanging over him. The day after the screening, Steven, my surfing archangel, called me again. This time it was with news that we'd been invited up to The Ranch to surf with Dana Brown and Robert "Wingnut" Weaver. I could hardly believe it. It was both wonderful and terrifying. Across the bow of my excitement shot the arrows of doubt: Who was I, who had been surfing for a matter of months, to be allowed into this hallowed place? I felt overmatched.

Nothing Worthwhile Comes Easy

I spent the couple of weeks leading up to the trip in the water, hoping to develop enough chops not to embarrass myself. The place where I surf, El Porto, is a notoriously closed-out beach break with a fast, hollow wave. Its only advantages are consistent waves—quantity, not quality—and enough room to spread out a bit. They say if you master El Porto, you can surf anywhere, and it's true there are a lot of really good surfers there. I'm not one of them.

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