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Fall's hush breaks over Venice

Locals breathe in the ocean's raw scent, safe from the clatter of summer swarms.

October 27, 2005|Susan Salter Reynolds

IT'S AUTUMN IN VENICE AND THE LOCALS have taken back the beach, quiet after the crowds of summer and loyally beautiful, just for us. In the summer, police cars and lifeguards and tractors on the beach can make it seem slightly dangerous, like the 10 freeway. The smells of perfume and suntan lotion threaten to overwhelm the smell of the tides. But here in mid-October, the beach at the end of our street is almost empty but for a few sleek surfers and runners and now and then, that species unto itself, often seen in an old straw hat, with trousers rolled: the beachcomber.

There is kelp and lime-bright seaweed, and black, thready seaweed wrapped around mussels and oyster shells and old jellyfish streaked with red like Venetian glass. There is more driftwood: bits of imagined shipwrecks come washing up with the waves. Now and then, there is a piece of sea glass in various shades of green (never blue) so prized by children. With the changing seasons, north and northwesterly swells from the Arctic region replace the summer's south and southwesterly swells from Australia and New Zealand. A tractor grooms the beach like a great Zamboni. Soon, it will create enormous dunes to protect the houses on the beach from winter storms. Our children will sled down them on boogie boards.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 02, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Peace and Freedom Party -- An article about Venice in the Oct. 27 Home section referred to the Peace and Freedom Party as "long disbanded." The California Peace and Freedom Party still exists.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 03, 2005 Home Edition Home Part F Page 5 Features Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Peace and Freedom Party -- An article on Venice in last week's Home section referred to the Peace and Freedom Party as "long disbanded." The California Peace and Freedom Party is still in existence.

Pretty much every morning, Bud Felix stands at the end of 27th Avenue in Venice looking out at the ocean. He's been up for hours already, checking swell reports and surf line buoy readings, which give him a reading between swells. Then he consults his venerable Tide Log. Bud is 60. You wouldn't call him a Lord of Dogtown type, but with his neat white beard and his solid stance, he's a neighborhood patriarch. Reading the ocean takes awhile, he says patiently. Most mornings (and I mean 6:30 a.m.) he's surrounded by young surfers, primarily locals. Bud, a retired piping contractor, grew up surfing in Santa Monica and he's got the ocean in his blood. "I can look out at the water all day," he says, and we've all seen him do it.

Most of the surfers on 27th Avenue are longboarders. Longboarders, Bud explains conspiratorially, are usually "mellower people." Down by the pier you get a lot of short boarders, young guys in good shape, guys who work at ZJs and Horizon surf shops, and other locals. The beach at the end of 27th Avenue is not a good beach for beginning surfers. It's a nice break at times, says Bud, as if he were talking about a child who was having a little trouble at school, it's just not that consistent and Catalina tends to block the southern swells. In the spring, waves change from the west to the south where the storms of New Zealand and Australia generate swells. Around November (winter in the North Pole), huge storms in the Aleutian Islands and Japan make for the best surfing in Venice.

This is when you get "mavericks," the 30- to 40-foot waves, slowed only by the continental shelf. These waves hit the shallow reefs of Southern California and break in water two times the depth of the swell size. Up north, there's no shelf, according to Bud, just open ocean swell.

Like the irascible ocean off this stretch of California coast, Venice has a history of roil and conflict. Community meetings have always been wild and unpredictable. Factions are legion, going back to the early days 100 years ago when residents argued endlessly over the canals, whether or not to have them, how to care for them, whether to secede from Los Angeles County (and some felt, from the United States). Even Abbott Kinney, honored in murals and street signs, seems to have been equal parts shyster and urban visionary. The atmosphere of conflict persists, over issues of development and struggles over gentrification, but even on the streets late at night, where one often hears voices locked in bitter argument compete with the crashing waves; daytime drivers on Pacific Avenue honk and shout and haggle over parking space. Lovers frequently choose our backyard as a good place to break up after a romantic walk on the beach.

If you own an old house in Venice, you must find contractors and carpenters and handy men who understand the peculiar complexities of life in this salty, ruinous air. A bicycle, left outside, has a three-month lifespan. No self-respecting suburban shrubbery stands a chance. Wooden walls and leather purses sprout mold in late February. Wind whistles through the uninsulated walls, purchased in kits in the early years of the century, sold at Sears and sent mail order to eager beach house owners. We wear sweaters.

Visitors from warmer neighborhoods assure us that our houses are worth a bundle, or, at least, the ground they're built on. The cheerful real estate agents say of the home we keep patched together with tar and string, the rooms we plan to have grandchildren and die in, it's a tear-down.

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