Thursday, February 11, 2016

Primo Fat

I borrowed the title of this post from Matt Roy. Primo means the best. At least in surf culture. "This is a primo surf spot dude…." Back in the early '90s I was lucky to be friends with some people who wanted to bring surf culture to cycling. They were young, creative punks who frankly could give two shits about the conservative, Italianophile, hero worship, road focused, male dominated culture that was at its peak at the time. They lived in Marin County, Oakland, Santa Cruz and SF where surf culture was a big part of the scene. They launched a company called Swobo. It was awesome. It formed how I thought about bike culture. I had always revered surf culture. Which is weird for a kid living in the burbs on the east coast with zero chance of ever surfing. But I learned to windsurf and was always around the water. Mostly on sailboats. I was a lifeguard. Its sort of funny looking back at it. I booked a trip to Maui from the back of a windsurf magazine. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life. My girlfriend (later to be wife) somehow went along with this whole thing and joined me on the trip. 

I literally did not want to leave Maui. It just felt like where I should be. I came home with coral scars and a total addiction to windsurfing. Fast forward to the 1990s and I have sold all my windsurf equipment and am living in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment in SF with my soulmate. We are typical 20-somethings trying to figure out life after college. We had nothing. Zero money. Expensive hobbies were not an option. I worked like 5 jobs. Bartended til 2 am, woke up at 6 am and worked food prep in a diner. Interned with some weird computer guy. Got a unpaid "job" at a strange magazine called "California Bicyclist" That 80,000 art school degree was killing it! It actually was in a weird way. Art school may not have been the smartest career move but it made me who I am. Wide open. So when my barback asked me if I wanted to go surfing I said "sure" Little did I know that would propel me in a whole other direction. Now, I had never surfed in my life. I was a strong swimmer but that was it. He lived out at the outer sunset and had a whole garage full of boards. We would throw the boards in his car and head out to Noriega St.

I eventually figured it out. Not without some close calls. Ocean Beach is no joke. Vicious rip tides. Big heavy waves. Scariest place I have ever been in the water. You would see headless seals on the beach from time to time. But I was lucky to be with a good crew that knew what they were doing. One of the more insane moments surfing was a time we went down to Half Moon Bay and paddled out into what looked like waves that blotted out the horizon. Waves are weird. You are on your stomach paddling so its hard to tell just how big they are til you get out there. On this day I just paddled as hard as I could to get out over the close out waves. My friend Alan was super strong. I was killing myself just to stay close to him. I won't lie I was pretty scared. But with surf you have to commit to it. To survive sometimes you have to just dig deep and paddle as hard as you can til you are out past the impact zone.

We went over huge waves. They seemed the size of buildings. I am sure they were probably only 6 feet or so. But they seemed enormous. I finally get out past the break and sat on my board. I look around and its only me and one other guy. I ask him where everyone went. He doesn't speak English. Pretty sure he was Brazilian. We sort of smile and with shrugs agree we need to get back to the beach. I put my hands in the water to take a few paddles and feel a huge current. I look over my shoulder and realize we have been pulled waaaaaaayyy outside. That is why no one was around. I look in at the beach and it is just white water. Totally closed out. We are basically heading to the Farallons at this point so I say fuck it. I paddle into the current and take the next wave. It is like dropping off a cliff. I sort of make the drop and turn up to ride down the line and the wave just explodes. I get sucked down so far my ears pop. And I don't hit bottom. Which is a bad sign. I get held under for what seems forever. I pop up. I pull my leash to my board and all that is left is a boogie board size piece of the tail. The whole board was snapped in half under the weight of the wave.

 I have time to take a deep breath and boom. Get smashed again. I hug that tail of the board like its my only hope. I come back up. I get sucked down by one more wave. When I pop up the third time I am pretty relaxed. I basically body surf into the next wave and ride the tail of the board all the way into the beach. Alan is waiting for me with the other two pieces of my board. He is freaking out. He was seconds away from calling the Coast Guard. Pretty sure I would have been shark bait by the time any helicopter or boat could have gotten to me. But that day while brutal was a turning point. I got a new board. We surfed almost every day. To this day surfing in my opinion is the greatest "sport" on earth. Nothing compares. Oddly the closest thing that gives me that same feeling is Winter. I have no idea why. I think its because of how intense it can be. Its beautiful and a magical playground. But if you aren't on top of your shit it can kill you.

My good friend and trail ninja supreme sent me a book about surfing. She grew up in Hawaii and we have shared some books and movies about Hawaii. She, rightfully, is very proud of her Hawaii'n heritage. It is an amazing culture. There is a line in the book that both captures my feeling about surfing, winter and mountain biking. William Finnegan writes: "Everything out there was disturbingly interlaced with everything else, Waves were the playing field. They were the goal. They were the object of your deepest desire and adoration. At the same time, they were your adversary, your nemesis, even your mortal enemy. The surf was your refuge, your happy hiding place, but it was a hostile wilderness—a dynamic, indifferent world." I honestly could care less about euro-centric bike culture. What I care about is building a community not unlike a surfing community. And I think we have done just that. I am blown away by what bike culture has become since I have been a part of it. Its scary how deep I have gone into this crazy bike culture. All of my friends are bikers. My greatest moments outside of my family are with all of you weird cyclists.

If, to me, cycling culture has become so closely related to surf culture. Riding a fat bike in my opinion is the closest you can actually come to that feeling on a bike. It is a tiny community of riders. The conditions can change in an instant. You are always looking for that perfect wave or in fat biking terms that perfect run. When the conditions set up right it is magical. But it its tough. There is a reason so many fat bikes show up on Craigslist. It is fucking hard. You have to paddle out through closeout sets and get your ass kicked. Hahaha, see what I did there? You have to hike-a-bike. The snow can be too soft. Too icy. Too chopped up. But when its right it is amazing. And like surfing you need to scout out the spots. You need to be a part of it. One of the coolest parts of this whole symbiotic relationship with the woods is taking the dog into the woods and scoping out the trails. Fat bikers owe a LOT to dog walkers, XC skiers, Snowshoers. New Englanders are tough as nails. You would think no one would go in the woods when its 20 degrees and icy. To me this is the best time to go into the woods. I LOVE Winter. No ticks. No bugs. No poison ivy. No HEAT and humidity. And less crowds. The people in the woods are stoked to see you. People love seeing fat bikes. I know this was a bit of a ramble. My point is there is no reason to fear Winter. Or look at it like some burden of living on the east coast. Embrace it. Experience it. Love it.

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