South-facing, usually flat pointbreaks be damned; Santa Barbara is a surf town. World Champions and wannabe world-beaters grow up here, move here, and retire here. Underground legends of all ages haunt our craggy coastline while annual crops of college kids swap notebooks for boards and paddle out seemingly more than they show up for class.
Then, of course, there is everyone else — the sandy-toed, salty-eyed, sunblocked, and stoked masses who ditch responsibility and clog the lineup on each and every sign of a so-called swell.
There is nothing new about this mix; the swirling mosaic of our internationally known surf scene has been around well before Gidget and, Mother Earth willing, should still be here whenever the Jetsons finally show up. Its tiles are the men and women and boys and girls we call neighbors, coworkers, brother, sister, mom, and dad. In short, they are us as much as they are Santa Barbara.
For this year’s annual Independent surf season kick-off, we turned the reigns over to one such particularly glowing young member of this community — a regular-foot named Travers Adler. Twenty-four years young, Adler is a born-and-raised Santa Babylon by the Sea waveslider with a particularly thoughtful and artistic lean. Doodles, paintings, guitar riffs, poems, songs, infectious goodwill, and riding surfboards of all shapes and sizes are the primary currency in his weird and wonderful world. What follow are his shorthand memories from this season’s first swell earlier this month, accompanied by some fresh-off-the-presses photographs of Santa Barbara surfers by Santa Barbara surfers. Hope you dig it, and as the author so often says, “groove on.” — Ethan Stewart
Tuesday, November 2
I look at 17ft.com in the morning, and the swell appears quite big in the North. I wonder if it will swing into the S.B. channel and figure Rincon will probably snag some of it. The tide — medium and getting lower — is going to be ideal in the afternoon. The anticipation to get out there and have the Queen doing her thing, it’s like a buildup on a snare drum.
Early afternoon, and on cue, I get a text from Kyle: “good waves con now.” I hit the coast highway in the Miniature, blasting the Stones’ “Factory Girl” and another song from that album I’ve just borrowed, over and over, hollering along with the parts I know and the parts I’m getting to know. Make it there, and stroll — perhaps run — down the trail. The head-high waves are parading to shore, and people have flocked to experience it. Kyle’s Goin-Steady Ladyfriend, Gilda, and I warmly greet at the hangout spot amongst the ice plant and cobbles. She is relaxing after already having a surf.
I fly into my wettie and get out there. Straight off, I see the wild-haired Demi “Vixen” Boelsterli pumping with a wave, the two of them racing each other into the Cove. Neck-and-neck, Vixen brings her feet together, her hips swinging forward, and her body arched. Her forward hand is raised ever so gracefully into the air while her back hand lags behind feeling the crumbling lip. It’s a playful race, a dance amongst the crowds. Another friend mentions that he’ll be prepared for tomorrow’s crowd by dressing up in his friend’s spandex American Gladiator suit, complete with the padded jousting baton and perhaps a cushion helmet, riding a stand-up paddle board.
Later, after a stroll up the point with some friends, I’m back in the dusky sea. The mustachioed Kyle Albers and I get to talking about developing a Cowabunga Meter to measure one’s stoke. “On a scale of One to Hang-Ten,” he says with a chuckle. As darkness settles, we make our individual ways through the Cove. I get a final ride on a little wave and stay in a squat most of the way down the line. Feeling with my fingers the water, we move along, passing each other over and over. It occurs to me that it’s the little, final rides in that I remember to enjoy it all — the sights, the wind on the face, the mountains and such … peaceful, content, it makes me want to say thank you. Thank you.
Later that night, my brother Will tells me of Andy Irons’s passing [Irons was a 32-year-old former world-champion surfer from Hawai‘i with family ties to Santa Barbara who died unexpectedly from dengue fever during a flight layover in Dallas, Texas, on November 2]. Odd when someone famous dies. Bukowski has a poem about that — I think it was about Marilyn Monroe’s death — and I feel like he described it well. Sometimes death reminds me of what’s important, what I care about, and how I want to live.
I remember a quote from Andy I heard once where he said something along the lines of “Sometimes I catch myself trying to surf like someone else, and it doesn’t work.” And I remember footage in the movie Raw Irons where he’s going for these off-the-lips on some huge gnarly right. Just goin’ for it.
Thinking these thoughts, I meet up with the guys to jam in a basement. I imagine really playing wild and loud, sort of like Andy and the way he surfed.
Wednesday, November 3
Will wakes me in the dark, seeing if I want to join him on a journey to the Ocean. North or south? North we go, ending up at a cove way down the road where we watch two guys on 9-ish-foot boards go into the sloshing, storming sea. They paddle a ways out, to waves that look about twice the size of their boards, as well as some bigger ones, plowing through the lineup. No thank you.
The fog soon comes in, and we lose sight of them. Will mentions that they probably could no longer see line-up landmarks to help know whether or not they’re in the impact zone. One of the guys comes back into view at the tail end of a ride, then paddles back out. Later, they come in together, and Will and I hit the road again. I fall asleep in the front seat. Will tells me he snapped a photo of me while I was snoring and hugging my guitar.
Heading back South, it’s 90 degrees as we drive the inland highway. We check more spots, and end up near where we started, standing on a seawall, watching the surf not far from the house we grew up in. Funny how that happens sometimes. “20,000 roads I went down, down, down, and they all led me straight back Home to you.” Some friends are there, and we decide to hop in. The waves are kinda warbly and I go out on a short board. Crowded. It’s not easy, and I get a bit frustrated when I know I could’ve enjoyed it — forget to remember the joy of the little rides and feeling the water and such. On the way home, we stop by our dad’s house, and he has leftover Halloween candy. I pick out some of the frozen Mr. Goodbars and get to thinking about the 1950s for some reason. Not sure why, but nostalgia washes over me.
Thursday, November 4
Midday, Will and I roll back to Dad’s, and the Homebreak is but a stroll away. I chill in the meadow and sit on a log seat someone made, playing some tunes — guitar and capo — and singing not really loud, not really quiet. It’s sunny and nice with some waves rolling in and no one sitting on the inside. I watch Will have some smooth rides on a board he put together himself — a friend’s father loaned him a place to shape it, and Will had another place to glass it, and another friend loaned him a tool to get the fin box in. After watching for a while, I decide to go for a surf in only my cut-off jeans, figuring the old beige Wranglers will dry soon enough in the sun. I get a fun one and wait for another, getting back to shore before the chill sets in.
An old friend, who lives in the neighborhood, is on the beach collecting some sea glass, and we get to chatting. We both notice Lakey Peterson ripping up the waves. She’s a happy young lady who also grew up in the neighborhood and has a pretty promising future in surfing should she want it. The topic turns to her progression with riding waves, and we conclude that progression, like so much else, is choice. I have no plans and am digging it there, so, when Will departs, I stay behind in the meadow by the sea.
Later still, I join some friends in the water again, just east of the meadow and the log seat, down at the end of Eucalyptus Lane. The waves are wee and glassy and with some time in between them. The swell seems to be fading. A friend, floating in the ocean beneath a wide sunsetting sky, says that one can really ask some big life questions out here. I agree; but think to myself that one may be able get away from those same questions out here, too.
It’s dusk and another fella says that he’s going to stay out until it’s pitch black — just in case one more set of waves comes in. There’s a seawall there I’ve long loved walking alongside in the post-surf eve, the sea washing and pushing against it and me. It’s like some abandoned and magical place then. No, it is magic — Travers Adler