Winter is when things die, man


“Winter is when things die, man,” he said as he leaned back in his chair, putting the cold, perspiring bottle to his lips. Dragging out a sip from his beer, he let his drinking arm fall lazily to the armrest by his side, and he swallowed quietly as he clenched his jaw shut. He raised his eyes from the floor to my face, pointed a tilted bottle at me that dangled between a loose two-finger pinch and said, “But summer, that’s when everything is alive.” Strange isn’t it, the things we remember? The ramblings of that drunken heart to heart have long since faded, but my memory of what equates to little more than a sound bite in the reel of my life is tack sharp. Mainly because I disagreed so much with what my friend had said. Granted, at the time he was talking about relationships, but as a surfer I couldn’t let it go. For surfers bound to the California coast, the year is made or broken by the winter season. Winter is our lynchpin, either the death of us or our lifeblood. Summer, on the other hand is both forgettable and unforgettable. I remember fumbling through my first date in the darkness of an empty matinee. I remember bouncing around in the bed of my friend’s ’97 Ford Ranger with three random girls we met at the bar, racing through the back alleys of Rosarito trying to out run the federales. I remember Bird’s house on the fourth. I remember the wall at 20th. And I remember the way she looked at me when she told me she loved me for the first time and then again when she said it for the last time. Indeed, summer has its moments, all of which are unforgettable. Summer surf, however, is very forgettable. Don’t get me wrong, after nine months of coldwater and full suits, the summer can’t come fast enough. But the constant barrage of people, in the water and on the beach and on the roads, is trying on even the most patient and reminds me that no matter how welcomed a thing may be, it can still wear its welcome out. And in my book, summer has done just that. I’m tired of waiting in a line longer than the one at the DMV every time I want a stop in for something to eat at my favorite Mexican spot. I’m sick of black balls, and lifeguards telling me not to take a left into an empty swim zone. I’m tired of people’s apathy when it comes to keeping our beaches clean, like it’s everyone else’s responsibility but their own.  I’m tired of picking up after other people’s kids. I’m tired of seeing two idiots splashing each other like little girls, claiming they’ll “take it to the beach” because one snaked the other in knee high slop.  I’m tired of the endless traffic in and out of the water. And yes, to say I’m tired of the flat spells goes without saying. Give me a weekday morning when the asphalt is so cold it hurts touch your feet to it as you change into your wetsuit.  You dance the surfer’s jig just to stop your feet from numbing up before you even get to the water. The sand is cold and wet in the shade of the early morning, and for the first few steps you have to clench your toes and grit your teeth to get through it. The water is sobering. You begin to paddle. The first duck dive is always the worst. You surface, the heat dissipating from your body. You keep paddling and diving, coming up each time a little less shocked by the crisp frigidness of the water. The slight wind gives you just enough of a chill to numb your nose and lips. But then you’re there, sitting just past the breaking surf, as the sun crawls over the backside of the ridge to the east, exploding at a slow burst as it hits the horizon.  You catch your breath. You sit and wait. Wait for it you say to yourself, wait for a good one, there’s no need to rush, you’re the only one out. Come this time of year, that morning is what I look forward to, hell, I damn near pray for it. It’s what keeps me sane when I walk down the street to check the surf and there are 25 guys out when it’s two-foot and mushy. Good riddance to the circus that was summer, and let it pass with the approaching winter. And if my friend was right, that winter is when things die, then kill me now, because I welcome the winter.

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