Dreaming in Blue

Surfing the Ranch with Dana Brown and "Wingnut" Weaver

So, with few skills but plenty of stoke, Steven and I loaded our boards into Wingnut's van. But, as close as you think you are getting to The Ranch, it seems like you're never quite there yet. We had to drive another 10 minutes north on the freeway. Along the way, Steven babbled like a kid on Christmas Eve. I said little as the reality of heading into the Promised Land with Wingnut sunk in.

They say it's a mistake to meet your heroes, and I can't rightly say Wingnut was a hero of mine before this trip, but he is now. Every quality I invested in him while watching Endless Summer II turned out to shine even brighter in the flesh. Wingnut was warm and hilarious— sharing stories, answering Steven's endless questions with patience and interest, bemoaning mooks who vibe people at their local spots, and treating us like absolute peers. That is, until it was time to pull into the Gaviota Beach general store and buy beer. That was our toll fee for riding with Wingnut. Not bad considering that to gain access to The Ranch you have to be a guest of a member, and members have to own one of the 100-acre parcels in the pristine 14,000-acre former cattle ranch along 8.5 miles of unmolested coastline. The cost? Well, James Cameron and the owner of Patagonia have pretty nice spreads there. A twelfth of a share in a parcel can cost hundreds of thousands.

Once you get through the security gate, the drive to the surf breaks traverses a winding, private road through wild hills, canyons and grazing land with pristine, sandy beaches, coves and magnificent ocean on your left. It can take up to 30 more minutes, depending on where you're going, but the view is a stark reminder of the glory of the California coast before development rendered much of it like, well, Santa Monica. Along the way we saw beautiful canyon oaks, fields of poppies, cattle, horses, hawks and a lone coyote that looked like it was out to stir up some mischief.

Our destination was Saint Augustine's, or Augie's, as it's known. It's a reef break situated somewhere between Rights and Lefts, two point breaks so called because the wave goes in those directions at each break. Once there, Dana and Wingnut were like the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby of surfing, a running repartee of slapstick and one-liners. From them I learned that it's important not to grab your board and run headlong toward the surf. First, you must grab your beers and run headlong for a bluff, whereupon you must look out over the break, debate its merits and demerits, comment on the lone, fully suited old bear having a go at the break, laugh a bit about how he's set up all wrong (too far inside, catching the re-forming wave, not the wave) and then scare the shit out of your guests by loudly questioning whether or not that was a shark in the water. Turns out it was a pelican.

The effect of all this, of Wingnut's and Dana's basic, good-natured humanity was odd given all the mythology with which I had arrived here. I wasn't with outlaw surfers struggling to live by a code, worried about being copped as the con; I was with real people at a real place in search of, well, fun. It was both reassuring and somewhat deflating. Part of me wanted the epic proportions of my expectations to be filled.

Tapping the Source

After our hosts had done enough of their Hope-and-Crosby routine to allow for a couple cold ones, we made our way down a path that opened onto a small cove rimmed by gentle bluffs. It was like a central-coast version of The Blue Lagoon. Right away I knew I'd seen this spot rendered in art galleries before, but now I was touching it. Before us was the most beautiful-looking water I'd seen in a while: clear, blue, not the steel gray I'd become accustomed to at El Porto. A few hundred yards out, a horseshoe-shaped wave rose up out of nowhere—like the fountains in front of the Bellagio. It wasn't much of a wave as far as Wingnut and Dana were concerned—probably 3- to 4-foot sets, with occasional fivers coming in, but it looked intimidating to me, especially the way it appeared almost unannounced, circled you quickly and plowed on by. This, I realized, is where the myth comes real, where the source gets tapped. The thought of this wave during a winter swell sent a shiver down my spine. I started coughing again—a psychosomatic, reflex cop-out response. But clearly there was no going back.

Wingnut told us to look at the whitewater blanket left behind by the breaking wave. "Head for the top of that." The first taste of the water was bracing. It was cold, but it felt like the way it should feel paddling out for surf. It felt restorative. Wingnut, a notorious paddler with hands like shovels attached to arms like crankshafts, paddled on his knees and got to the break in about five strokes. Dana took his time. He might have had a beer in his hand when he made the break, I can't recall. Steven and I arrived winded, buzzed and maybe a touch apprehensive.

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