Vail Daily column: A longing for the ride
We sat on our boards off Pleasure Point during a lull. Suddenly the horizon humped up huge, dark, mountainous. We paddled for our lives. To meet the mountain, and whatever grew behind it.
As I swept up in the wave’s tow, a green curtain formed out of the black —translucent in the late afternoon sun — and began to curl over. I popped through and kept paddling when I landed on the backside to make sure I wouldn’t wind up dragged over the falls behind me.
Next wave. Next escape. Explosions and froth behind, sun shining from below the clouds and those mountains building fast ahead.
Time to turn around and catch one.
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I had come a long ways surfing the coast of Santa Cruz in a big El Nino winter, sometimes watching a house breaking up under the onslaught on one side of a point and surfing on the other.
But this was much bigger and stronger than anything I’d paddled into before.
Oops, my arms shrunk to alligator proportions and I missed catching the first mountain, and the next. Then, gritted teeth, eyes squint against salt spray, digging hard, my skinny board suddenly hurtling at a height I’d never been on a wave.
Stand up? Forget that. Not today.
I was terrified, humbled and perversely proud to be out there, understanding now why only a couple of dozen of us were out there.
Cars had parked along the road everywhere. Big day. A roar wafted up with the spray as we looked down from the top of the cliff at so much white froth extending out, way out.
“You go ahead,” my more experienced friend said with a laugh when I observed that it looked doable. He was sitting this one out. Have a blast.
Into my cold, damp wetsuit from yesterday, down a trail tentatively on bare toes, into a spent wave sucking back out to sea, and forever fighting my way outside.
You start as a baby in this sport with little waist-high, roly-poly waves and oh-so-slowly learn to catch them. Then you stand, and fall, stand, and fall, stand, fall, fall, stand. And so on and on and on, learning in short bursts.
Until you take on mountains.
I loved surfing. The whole thing, from fighting the always clingy and too often clammy wetsuit, which warmed up almost immediately. Stepping down trails with board under an arm. Getting that initial ice cream headache breaking through the first whitewater big enough to wash over you. Diving and being dragged on bigger days by the leash attached to an ankle. Working out far enough to pierce the curtains and finally getting outside the surf line.
The view alone is worth it. Rides you count in seconds are sublime.
Mornings, sunsets and one glorious evening when we arrived late from work and surfed through sunset and then by the full moon, howling. I went out on days when there was no surf just to paddle around. My favorite times came when a little something rideable would stir up and I’d be the only one there to get it, once or twice with the sun setting and moon rising at the same time.
Marriage, career, kids led life away from the coast. Soon enough, surfing fell 10, then 15 years into the rearview mirror.
Selfishly, I suppose, I hope that Vail never solves its frontage road “problem.” Seeing this, generally with the same gray that came with big surf days in Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, never fails to deliver. I see with more clarity, stomach tightens, a smile spills out. And I might only be driving by.
Snowboarding has come to trump surfing. The kids were ducks to boarding, which I learned right away was counterintuitive to long dormant muscle memory. But no need to dig hard to get to the mountain. Pick a run, any run. They all inspired terror.
Baby steps. Flip this way and that. Fall, fall and fall some more. Big difference, though. That ain’t water.
I don’t get out nearly enough, but I love the chairlift ride nearly as much as paddling out past the surf line. Just being out on the mountain is worth it on its own. Cold, crisp, breathtaking. The rest of life just sloughs away for the hour or two I’ve stolen to escape. I call it research, though. You can’t work at the paper without understanding first hand our collective holy calling.
We stood at the top, setting our free legs into their bindings, looking around in a gray and shaken snow globe, ready to float as if on surfboards.
“Which way?” my son asked.
“Anywhere,” I said. “Anywhere you want.”
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2920.