Nuclear chest: Another lesson in riding |

Nuclear chest: Another lesson in riding

Andrew Harley

Imagine a place where you can ride all year long without the need for a helicopter to transport your primal visions to a 13,000-foot peak. You don’t need gloves or a gondola because the temperature is ripe for riding and the mellow sun beckons bikinis. Just grab your board and go.

Granted, this is just me desperately, shamelessly attempting to relive my first experience, but I can’t help myself. I’m a newborn surfer.

“I tried surf-bathing once.’ (1)

I took 24 years and a history of swimmer’s ear to San Onofre State Beach (Calif.) last week.

Everything we needed for an evening of wave-riding – minus forks and plates – rattled around the back of Paul Wertin’s beige Blazer. The red longboard had my name waxed all over it.

Paul, a lifelong surfer, had his shortboard, and we brought along a tidal tricycle (boogie board) for the folks who felt more comfortable on their bellies.

What a vivid contrast it was to see a half-mile of Volkswagen Westfalias, Vanagons and EuroVans parked at the base of a nuclear power plant. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station loomed over the state beach with its flashing lights and military presence. But, it wasn’t too intimidating due to it’s structure. The giant domes looked like a pair of breasts protruding from the sandy earth, and it’s much more comforting, albeit naive, to think of the energetic contents as mother’s milk rather than apocalyptic poison.

“There is no try.’ (2)

We parked. I put on my brand-new Reef trunks. I pulled out the longboard, and waited for Paul to get his board out.

“I think I’m going to sit on the beach for a while,” said Paul. “The waves really aren’t conducive for a shortboard.”

“Oh … well … I guess I’ll just go out there myself. What am I doing again?”

n Paddle out to where the waves are breaking.

n Do not get sand in the wax on top of the board, or you will seriously chafe your chest and stomach.

n Sit on top of your board until you feel like catching a wave.

n Point your board at the beach.

n When you feel enough velocity, stand up.

“But how do I turn, and that type of thing?”

Paul shook his head and smiled at my confidence or ignorance.

“If you can point your surfboard at the beach and stand up, you’re stoked,” he said.

So, as Paul strummed his Seagull guitar on the trunk of his car, I headed for the amber waves, trying to suppress thoughts of pain.

“I’ve spent most of my entire life surfing, the rest I’ve wasted.’ (3)

When I reached the pointbreak, I was very tired of paddling because for every 30 feet I paddled, a wave would knock me back 20 and usually off of the surfboard.

With determination, I turned and caught the first wave I could. I felt the fast-forward of the wave as my board rose to the top of it, and I stood up.

Easy as pie.

I have no concept of how far I rode my first wave, but as I felt its momentum begin to decrease, I did what felt natural and dove right back into it.

I shot out of the ocean triumphantly.

“I can surf!”

I pulled my shorts back up from around my ankles, and paddled back for more.

After a while, I laid down on top of the board to rest. I fell off the gently-rocking surfboard a few times, once because a pelican startled me as it plunged into the ocean and emerged to take stock of the contents of its mouth.

So it wasn’t the Banzai Pipeline (North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii), but getting pinned down by a 12-foot wave anywhere has a similar effect – you love your sweet breath and wonder why you’ve chosen to jeopardize it on a salty thrill.

When I sat up again, I realized a minor riptide had pulled me past the surfable waves, so I had to paddle some more.

Before I was completely spent, I caught two more waves, rode them for all they were worth and headed back to shore with sore arms and a proud grin.

“Nucular. It’s pronounced “Nu-cu-lar.” (4)

The lights on top of the feminine structures throbbed red as we ate our fresh tuna and veggie burgers. They would later become the subject of more than one sophomoric campfire sing-a-long.

And perhaps it was the skunk who scurried past our fire pit that helped everyone to forget the nearness of the sand still wet with an anxious pit bull’s liquid bowel movements and the possibility that our tuna had once swam the waters between the nuclear power plant and the battleship a mile out.

Despite frequent periods of brief discomfort and heightened disgust, the night I learned to surf is a positive memory. It’s like a warm wave crashing on a bare chest. I see only parts of what happened, but the intensity of the tide can always make it feel complete.

1) Mark Twain

2) Yoda

3) Unknown

4) Homer Simpson

Andrew Harley can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or at

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