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Eternal Optimists : Three surfers let enthusiasm be their guide as they embark on an 'Endless Summer' quest on the county's coast.

August 25, 1994|KEN McALPINE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

We are standing at the ocean's edge, the three of us, in a gray post-dawn. The smell of salt hangs in the air. A spackle of sleep clings to my eyes.

Dave's eyes are open wide, head jerking about like a radar antenna. He is scanning the horizon for waves, of which there are none. Perhaps this is a bit harsh. Occasionally a small wave does lap the ocean's mirror surface. This causes Dave to react as if he's just been goosed.

"Look, look," he says, finger pointing in the direction of a barely discernible hummock. "Right there. It's a little wave, but it's definitely ridable."

Dave's head swivels about and speaks to me.

"It's better than yesterday, don't you think?"

Blind optimism is a critical component of surfing.

Dave is 17 and has been surfing for two years. I am 35 and have been surfing for as long as Dave has been alive. I have walked away from dozens of mornings like this. Still, Dave's enthusiasm is contagious. Besides, we are on a quest, and quests, at least worthy ones, aren't easily stymied. Ours is to search the Ventura County coastline for the perfect wave, and discover whatever other lessons that search might bring. Sure the surf here at Surfer's Point this morning is lousy. But if it was perfect, our quest would be over.

Dave looks at me with moon eyes.

"Can we surf here for half an hour?" he asks.

GLOBAL SEARCH

Surfers had no doubt hunted for waves before, but it was Bruce Brown who first introduced the concept to the masses nearly 30 years ago in his movie classic "Endless Summer." In that film, surfers Robert August and Mike Hynson journeyed about the globe, bumbling upon adventure and numbingly perfect surf. When the film's last frame flicked from the screen, surfers stumbled from the theater possessed. A world of waves, a lifestyle, beckoned.

Some hardy souls even followed Brown's siren call, risking airline food, amoebic dysentery and Napoleonic customs officials to surf remote waves in places like Indonesia, South Africa and Fiji.

Relaying the thrill of Brown's original film to Dave and his friend Gavin, also 17, might have been difficult had Brown not recently released his long-awaited sequel, "Endless Summer II." In the new movie, surfers Robert (Wingnut) Weaver and Pat O'Connell retrace the global wanderings of Brown's original adventurers, and throw in some interesting forays of their own.

As with the original, the film's effect on a surfer is nothing short of combustible, akin, say, to having Cindy Crawford model spandex at a fraternity meeting. Dave and Gavin had already seen the movie when I proposed an "Endless Summer" adventure in Ventura County.

When I showed up at their house at 5:30 in the morning, they were in the car, waiting. We had cause for excitement. California is rife with prime surf spots, and Ventura County is no exception. From Rincon Point at the county's northern end to County Line at the southern border, the coastline is pummeled with good waves. I know this because I have surfed most of them. Plus, I called Bruce Brown and asked.

When I spoke to Brown, he allowed that he currently does virtually all his surfing near his Santa Barbara ranch. But he was still familiar with other California surf.

"It's pretty funny," Brown told me. "We'd be traveling, shooting a movie, and we'd come home and the surf would be better here."

We also discussed some of the philosophy behind surfing. I asked Brown what surfing would be like if the waves were perfect all the time, if, in essence, there was no need for the hunt.

"It probably wouldn't be much fun," said Brown. "The joy comes when you check a place five days in a row and it's lousy, and then you show up on the sixth day and all of the sudden it's great. It's like climbing a mountain. If Everest was in everybody's back yard, it wouldn't be that big a deal."

Yet surfers, Brown included, ardently pursue this ideal.

"True," said Brown, pausing to chew on the thought. "I suppose all of us are always looking for the utopian place."

Of course there is no utopia. Even in California, the surf isn't perfect all the time. Here at Surfer's Point in Ventura, Dave, Gavin and I are learning this firsthand. We sit in the water, staring at a gray skyline. Occasionally a few waves roll through, distinguished from the surrounding ocean as slight wrinkles on an otherwise flush carpet.

Several long boarders notch some decent rides--their big boards allowing them to catch and ride even the most infinitesimal of waves--but we are riding boards far too short for such small conditions. Recently I have begun to consider riding a long board, though I doubt Dave and Gavin share my interest. Most 17-year-olds view long boards in the same light as the Beatles, trailer homes and teeth that rest by the bedside.

"Definite long boarding," proclaims Dave when we exited the water after an hour of sorry surf.

"Small and slow," says Gavin.

GAUGING THE WAVES

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