Tag Archives: surf trip

Your Last Surf Trip

16 Aug
Surf buddies paddle out for last respects.

Arn’s last paddle out.

(Work in progress.)

Will you know when it’s your last surf trip? Will you know before you book your flight? Before you commit to the week in Baja? While packing? Unpacking your boards at your destination anxious to paddle out to get the travel grime off and just get wet? While standing at water’s edge thinking twice about paddling out? While sitting out the back worried a bit too much about getting caught inside? While getting caught inside? During the trip back? While waiting for your boards in oversized luggage? While sharing hugs and good-byes? Or when you opt out of the next one? How will you know you took your last surf trip?

It seems like yesterday, but it’s now nearly 10 years ago that my best friend took his last surf trip. I didn’t know it was his last trip and neither did he. It was my birthday. I headed to Baja for one of our traditional “gentleman’s” trip (as if any foray into Baja could include the term “gentleman”) to celebrate a milestone birthday – alone. None of my usual surf travel partners could or would make it – it was the middle of a Baja crime panic, plus everyone was getting older and, well, busy. So I headed down alone, threatening to send pictures if the waves were good. I didn’t mind. As the years piled up I had grown accustomed to taking surf trips on my own. Scheduling had become more difficult for everyone. Life was doing its thing.

It was late September, so good south swells and conditions were pretty much guaranteed, and I knew I could create anxiety with my buds, if I wanted – especially my best friend who I had surfed with my whole surfing life – by texting shots of the lineup with captions about warm water (for Baja). All the while I would be reflecting on my own mortality. The latter being what we do on every birthday after #39.

The surf was great, as expected. The winds were lighter than usual. And the crowd wasn’t there, which is one of the benefits of September surf travel everywhere. As much as I wanted to share this with friends, I knew there was only one who really mattered, so my only texts were to Arn. If anyone would jump on this, it would be the guy I learned to surf with, who had never backed out of a surf trip, and nary a wave, for that matter. Arn charged harder than anyone I’ve ever known. The only reason Arn wasn’t with me already was that he was recovering from a board to the head (not his, he was a Huntington local) suffered a few weeks prior that was nearly healed.

Arn and I learned to surf at the Huntington Cliffs, moved away from home to Newport as soon as we finished high school, and went on our first surf trip together – Baja, of course. Later, while I was schooling in Florida, Arn shaped me a mushy-wave board and signed it “Arnold the Jap”. We did motorcycle and ski trips while I was living in DC missing a lot of surf, and whenever business brought me home to CA Arn would meet me at the airport with a board and wetsuit. If anyone was going to jump on this opportunity, it would be my best friend, Arnold.

So one look at the video of K-38 that I texted and he was on his way for a quick, 3-day weekend of early fall Baja. This wasn’t a tequila-drenched Baja debauchery weekend. It was just surf, eat, rest, surf, eat, rest. Stay in nice, comfortable condos overlooking the surf. Hot showers, cold beers and best friends hanging out.

My birthday fell on a Monday, the same day the stock market crashed signaling the beginning of the Great Recession. Arn and I were eating our second breakfast after our first surf that day while watching our life savings dwindle to practically nothing on CNBC. That sucked. But the surf was still good, so we went back out and put the stock market in its place. It would recover eventually, just like dwindling swells return. We couldn’t do anything about the stock market, but we could surf.

It was Arn’s last surf, but neither of us had any clue of that as we dragged our happy-but-exhausted butts over the slippery rocks and up the cliff. He wasn’t feeling right as we got to the condo, not sure if it was still the head injury or the onset of the flu, but he knew something was up so he packed it in and headed home a day earlier than planned. He was pretty sure it was related to his head injury, but in the end, it wasn’t.

A month later I got the call: “Mike, I have liver cancer.” I responded in the typical way that someone without cancer does. I was positive, proffered encouragement, “you’re gonna beat this, so-and-so did,” etc. But Arn, always the rational one, had the facts: You get liver cancer and you die. It takes months, not years, and it’s horrible. You deteriorate fast. We had a surf trip planned in a few weeks to enjoy our first stay at the new condo we bought together near Playa Colorados in Nicaragua, but Arn had to cancel, of course. He was about to knowingly paddle out into unsurfable surf.

It was not a fun conversation, of course, but everyone has it sooner or later. And typically you will have more than one. What was most impactful and memorable was the last thing Arn said before he hung up the phone. I still think about what he said nearly every day, and I share this with every surfer I know. What he said was simple and pure. And so obvious that it hit me like a brick.

“Mike, surf more.”

Arn knew he had taken his last surf trip.

I went ahead on our planned trip to Nicaragua, sans Arnold. The surf and conditions were incredible, which actually kind of sucked. A string of good south swells was in the water and the hard offshore winds were not as hard. There were hours and days of oil-like glass, something rarely seen in SW Nicaragua. I remember being out one overhead afternoon at Colorados. I counted six of us in the water – me, a young couple who would later become good friends (Seth and Lindsay) and three other older guys on Rusty Desert Island type boards. We were spread across about 75 yards and the lefts were the best I’ve ever seen there, before or since. And of course, all I could think about was Arn. Why is he missing this? He would so be pig-dogging these glassy barrels. When will he be back? Will he be back? Or did he already take his last surf trip?

The days, weeks and months crept along painfully, especially for Arn. This bull of a man withered into what cannot be described. We spoke every few days, mostly about the business world and goings on with the Nicaragua properties, but always about his cancer’s progress. I tried to watch surf videos with him, but he didn’t want to. I tried to get him to go to the beach just to watch the ocean, but he wasn’t interested. He advised me to “surf more” and then he stopped, in every conceivable way. Eventually, the day came where he decided to turn around and paddle in. No more chemo or treatments. About six weeks later he passed. I was with him the day before. His sons and wife were at his side as he took that whitewater up the beach.

Arnold never knew he was going on his last surf trip until it had passed. The media presents death to us as a long, going-to-sleep process with time and opportunity to say our farewells, wrap things up and pass away. It makes us think that we’ll have an opportunity to take that last trip or surf knowing what we’re doing and enjoying it for what it is. Dying is not like it’s seen on TV or the movies. And you probably know that.

The surf media occasionally features really old guys still surfing. As groms, young adults, full adults and even middle-aged adults we sometimes wonder how long we will surf. But the answer is simple and always the same: “I’ll never stop surfing.” We expect to stay in shape, to keep surfing at the forefront, the #1 priority. Careers, relationships, and family responsibilities can all be managed so as to keep surfing no matter what. Sure, slowing down is inevitable, and challenging oneself with big waves will matter less, but I’ll still keep surfing. I’m a surfer.

You are. But you won’t.

It may slowly creep up on you or it may catch you by surprise, either by injury or disease, like Arn, but one day you will paddle out for the last time.


(to be continued)

Test Run

6 Mar

I loaded up a 6’8″ in a canvas Julie Bag for a test ride. I cruised on up the the newly opened Deus Ex Machina on Venice and Lincoln to show the crew there what they had helped inspire. (There was an article on Deus in The Surfers Journal that showed one of their surf rack modified bikes.) I was surprised at the reaction. The moment I pulled up they all piled out to check it out. I showed them around the bike, making lame excuses for my prototype PVC mount for the front, but they seemed pretty stoked. They took some photos. Much better than this one of the DR back in my little garage, board in rack. How did it work. Excellent-ly. 😉

Yes, bad photo. But this isn't the right board bag, so the good shots will come later. You can see the PVC poking out under the nose. That's been painted black. The bungie up front attached to a tie wrap that goes through a small but convenient hole in the frame behind the triple clamp.

Board Support Up Front

6 Mar

A big concern has been how to support the front of the board and to keep it from hitting the front wheel or fender when turning, and to make sure it doesn’t get caught on the front brake cable. Since the racks are on the rear, they are only holding the back third of the surfboard, so wind and bumps will cause the front of the board to move around. Probably a lot. The DR650es has an oil cooler with a frame extension for protection. It’s a perfect place to mount some sort of stabilizer. For now, and maybe forever, I cobbled together a support piece out of PVC. Here’s the piece for mounting to the frame.

What's difficult to see here is how I cut the PVC to mount onto the frame tube.

Yes, working at night. I ended up putting a piece of neoprene between the PVC and the frame tube to keep the PVC from cracking and to give some shock absorption. Hose clamps are used to secure.


Surf Racks Mounted

6 Mar

Mounting the Carver surf rack to the Manracks tail rack was almost straightforward. As you can see in this pic, one bolt looks different from the other. The Carver rack mounting bolts are LONG, and would drill into the fender, so I replaced the left side bolt with a shorter one, about 3″. Not seen here is that I put a third bolt in the center. That one is even shorter. It’s a solid mount.

You can see that the Carver surf racks clear the DBz luggage racks nicely. That was a relief.

Carver Surf Racks

6 Mar

OK, down to the good stuff: Surf racks on a motorcycle. I checked Deus Ex Machina rack, but you can’t buy it without buying the motorcycle attached to it, and at this point they’re only doing street bikes. I also checked out the Surfer Peg rack, but again, it’s street oriented, and needs to attach to the frame. That’s not inherently bad, but it would require fabrication that I’m not quite interested in. Primarily, though, it’s the street focus that steered me away. I settled on the Carver Racks, even though they’re not for motorcycles – bicycles and scooters, but not motorcycles. What I liked, though, is that it could be bolted to the rear rack.

When putting the racks together I encountered a small problem: The rubber tubes were too long, so the pieces wouldn’t fit together without a bit of cutting. I called the guys at Carver in Hawaii. They were a bit surprised, but were good with the mod.

The Surfer’s Guide to Baja – New Edition

2 Mar

The new, 4th edition of The Surfer’s Guide to Baja is finally back in print. It’s been out of print for nearly a year while the update for the 4th edition has been under way. Available at core surf shops everywhere, or it can be ordered direct from Amazon, Createspace and other online vendors.

UPDATE: The Kindle version now available too…here.


11 Feb

Nicaragua to LA. Arrive midnight on Thursday. Have a sunny LA day, then off to NY at 7am Saturday. Travel can be tiring and unpleasant, but experiencing the contrasts and having the forced thinking time outweighs.

I was told recently that I ran off to Nicaragua on this last minute surf trip to figure my life out, and maybe that’s what I do when I travel – that sure makes sense. But I went to work on the Nicaragua surf guide and take care of real estate business. And surf and get healthy. And just when my sea legs returned and my health meter moved back to the green zone I had to leave. I want to go back, when I think about it. But now I need to focus on other things.

And being back in NY is nice.

Feeling the Shift

14 Jan

I’m feeling the shift from what seems like an interesting idea to taking action.

Today I stopped by LA Cyclesports to price a Suzuki DR650SE. Nine years ago I bought a GSXR750 there, which got me back into motorcycles after a bit of a layoff. It’s fitting that I went there to look at my first off-road bike since I was a kid. After much research I’m pretty sure this is the one, the DR650, the one to take me to the hardest-to-reach surf spots in Baja, and get me down the highway. But first I need to catch you up.

I’ve gone beyond fantasizing to planning and declaring to all my moto-surf trip to Baja and maybe beyond. The idea is simple. Strap a surfboard to a dirt bike and head off. Right.

Which bike? I eliminated the BMW, KTM and other adventure-tourers as too heavy for the really rough stuff and deep sand, and too complicated (having too many parts). My buddies Will and Q have been riding the BMW 1200 Adventure bikes. They ride for fun and train in the woods of New Jersey. I went with them on a Rawhyde weekend training camp for BMW 1200’s, but I rented the 650, which is more of a traditional motocross-style endure bike. A bike that weighs nearly 600 pounds just isn’t my thing. Besides, they’re 6′-plus guys and I’m a scrawny 5’9″. They went on to do another Rawhyde ride, this time in South America where they followed the Dakar race – a grueling ride. I was one part jealous and one part happy not to be dealing with those monstrous bikes. As it turns out, it was a memorable adventure, but the Rawhyde crew mismanaged the thing badly, so they won’t be back. But I’m still jealous and really wish I had gone.

Anyhow, I want a light, simple bike as I’ll be on my own and will need to do everything myself, from picking it up out of a ditch to repairing it after. No water-cooled, multi-cylinder, feature-laden, see-the-world touring rig. No special electronics for everything from heating my butt to adjusting the ride height. Just a plain, simple, big thumper (that’s a single-cylinder bike, typically over 500cc’s), with lots of clearance for the rough stuff.

BA Belton’s “The Alexander Project” trip (http://the-alexander-project.blogspot.com) from Canada to Panama showed how to do it on the Kawasaki KLR 650, a well-respected bike for it’s workhorse-like reliability. A good story and background for my trip. Less surf and more highway than I would like, but it narrowed the search to the so-called “dual sports” – or what we used to call enduro bikes. That narrowed it to the KLR (out), the Honda XR650L (well respected in Baja) and the Suzuki DR650SE. The XR has a 37″ seat height and is great for off-road. But it’s not as good on the highway, and the tall seat makes for difficult slow-going, i.e., can’t put my feet down easily – it’s unstable at slow speeds. The DR has a 34.8″ seat height, is faster on the highway, but the suspension is a bit soft, so it’s not as good for fast off-road travel. And the DR runs about a grand or more less. (That thousand dollars will go a long way toward stiffening the suspension.)

I decided on the DR, with a list of modifications I’ll need to get to. But for today, I found the dealer I will buy from if I buy new. And I can get it out the door for the MSRP, meaning no tax, freight or dealer prep. Awesome. That’s the bike pictured. But I think I’ll look for a slightly used one.