Circle in the Sand

LYTIt's not quite what you expect to see at the beach. A circle of 25 big black boxes, each 8 feet by 8 feet, with impromptu "boardwalks" inside and outside the perimeter, though passers-by can certainly walk in the sand if they choose. Embedded in the boxes are photos depicting frozen moments in extreme-sports action, approximately 4 feet by 6 feet, two for each box. After the sun goes down, and some preliminary words are uttered by a man with a microphone (at least 50 percent of which are inaudible over the sea breeze), the boxes light up.

You can see some of the images themselves via our online slideshow, but you won't get the appropriate sense of scale. Many of these, culled from thousands of entries, depict their protagonist as little more than a speck: climbing, skiing, falling, or canoeing against a majestic natural backdrop worthy of an IMAX screen. Not all are so epic: there are moments of athletes asleep on airport benches, or kissing mom. But as any visual storyteller knows, the grandest tales are that much more real when punctuated by intimate moments.

This was the opening night for "Red Bull Illume," a perfect match of sponsor and subject, originally displayed on an Aspen rooftop and now, depending upon where you stand in the circle, featuring a backdrop of either Huntington Beach surf shops, or distant oil rigs on a black horizon. One way or another, it's no stuffy gallery, and the beachgoers who catch the show may not even realize they're taking in some art – but all involved with the show hope that it may inspire a kid or two to take up photography, even though one of the photographers in attendance talks about how broke he's been most of his career, sleeping on couches and eating macaroni and cheese. It seems hard to believe that those who capture split-seconds of the hippest contemporary sports would be wanting for income, but it is implied that things are on the upswing.

illuminatiOne could compare a few of these to those of Leni Riefenstahl, except that the intended complimentary meaning would probably be lost. Still, an image of a circus performer caught in mid-air backflip by the beach is certainly reminiscent of Olympiad's diving montage.

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But I'll leave the review to art critics. The party was the thing, at nearby Chimayo, with free beverages that naturally included Red Bull and vodka. Never having had that particular popular combination before, I decided it was time. . . .

Two years ago, I had to have an infected appendix removed. I was put on Cipro tablets, but because I have trouble swallowing, my aunt Elena crushed them up into scoops of sherbet for me to take. The frozen treat did little to mask the awful, awful antibiotic bitterness, but added a fruity undertone to it that made things mildly endurable. That's what Red Bull and vodka tastes like. I finished it anyway because how do you really assess a drink like that without feeling the buzz? The simultaneous upper/downer felt like a heavy dose of Zoloft.

Yes, I experience these things so you'll never have to know.

The food was interestingly done. None of the usual individual plates or toothpicks for hors d'oeuvres or anything like that, just big trays with a mixture of stuff on them, the kind of stuff you'd expect to see in a buffet line and be able to make a plate from . . . but no plates provided. Anyway, the cornmeal-crusted calamari and tender steak satays were glorious, while the burrito wraps with sashimi tuna were an odd mix that didn't work properly (sushi + burrito = mistake. Ever seen a Jap-Mex restaurant? Me neither. This is why.).

And then there were "Ahi martinis." Sounds awful, but it's not what you think. Rice and veggies served in a martini glass with a tiny fork, and a fish kebab stuck in the side. I object to calling anything non-drinkable a "martini," but it wasn't bad food by any means. Just a bit too fiddly for a standing-room-only cocktail party.

I had a decent conversation with a La Jolla entrepreneur named James, who's developing a hi-def-video helmet cam for extreme athletes, which he says will be the size of a roll of Chapstick. The implications for amateur filmmakers are also something to think about. He expects to be ready to go by spring. I figure he'll be hugely wealthy by next Christmas.

While taking a bathroom break, I overheard two guys talking about how stupid the women they were with are. As depressingly dumb as their conversations about ass size were, you might be pleased to know that both ultimately agreed it's better to be with a slightly smarter woman who might be a little less beautiful.

The beach curfew is 10 p.m., but as I left at 10:15, people were still walking around the "Illume" exhibit. Maybe a special exception exists – I mean, otherwise, you only get two hours of light-up time.

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