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By The Boards


Only a few things in my life warrant waking up at 5:30: Work. Surfing. Snowboarding. Natural disasters. And not necessarily in that order, I might add.

At this time of year, I have a lot of friends who think as much about snowboarding as they do about surfing. They're torn over where to spend a vacation--at the beach or in the mountains? On a day off from work, the choice is easier. If there's a swell, you surf. If it's the morning after a dump of powder, you snowboard. If they're both working and you're amping for twin fixes, you do what I just did: Surf in the morning, jam up the mountain and snowboard in the afternoon. And that night, sleep very well.

After rousing my roommate, Dan Brown, whom I had forced to ride along on this trip, I began loading my pickup. It struck me as odd to have both my surf and snowboards, plus a wet suit and a snow jacket. And I had horrible thoughts about cruising the 91 Freeway later that morning at what would likely be a speed of 15 m.p.h. But I got over them.

I admit I'm useless in the morning. (I can count the number of early surf sessions I've had this year on one hand and still have a couple of fingers left over.) That would explain the aborted departures from my house in Laguna Niguel. Twice I walked out without my snowboarding boots, and it wasn't until we were halfway up the mountain that I realized I had left behind my gloves, wallet, money and credit cards. Still groggy, Dan and I made our way up Coast Highway toward the Santa Ana River jetties in Newport Beach. We met up with Billy Bryan from Laguna Beach and April Lawyer, who lives in Big Bear Lake.

We pulled on our wet suits without flashing passers-by using the towel-as-sarong technique and hiked barefoot across the cold wet sand. A slight offshore breeze held up a playful-looking shoulder-high wave, and my spirits lifted. The prospect of good surf made the day look suddenly inviting. Although the waves didn't live up to their promise, we each caught a few decent rides. Not a great session, but as a friend of mine says, "Any surf is better than not surfing at all."

After peeling off our wet suits and pulling on street clothes, we made a pit stop for gas, a box of doughnuts and a pint of milk. Dan and I hopped on the 55 Freeway bound for Snow Summit, in Big Bear Lake, with the others trailing. Feeling the beginning stages of the flu, Dan tried to sleep.

As we drew closer to our rendezvous point at the base of the Summit, I started to get the buzz that comes when I'm close to the lifts. I raced up the very curvy "Rim of the World" section of Highway 330, my concentration broken only by screams of "SLOW DOWN!" from my now-alert passenger, pulled into Carl's Jr. and waited for April and Billy. After a power lunch, we put on our snowboarding gear, snagged lift tickets and, by 1:30, loaded onto Chair 2.

We started with a warm up down a run called the Miracle Mile, then headed to the jumps and handrails set up for snowboard tricks. Billy and April trudged up the hill like a couple of sled dogs, practicing such maneuvers as a "shifty-to-fakie," "melancholy air" and "muffin butter," while Dan and I, still feeling fat from a weekend at Mammoth two days earlier, took a more leisurely tact. At 3:45 we called it a day.

We had survived. Heck, we had thrived. Goodbys done, Dan and I took the road down the backside of the mountain--Jimi Hendrix on the stereo, the southern peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains lit by a smog-enhanced sunset.

I was humming and absorbing the scenery as we crossed a bridge over the Santa Ana River. I almost missed seeing the sign. Had I glanced away from the road just then, it never would have hit me that we had closed a circle. In eight hours, we had backtracked from the river's final destination to its source. Like a couple of adventurers, we had tapped into our Southern California roots.

Sure, you could try this surf-to-snow stunt in Oregon, Northern California or New Zealand, but you'd be a human Popsicle by day's end. And maybe those places don't have our problems--smog, traffic, crime--but in a day of board riding, I rediscovered why I live here.

Styling by ROSE APODACA / Special to The Times

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