‘What is up with this dude?’



From The New York Times:

I first moved to San Clemente, Calif., in 2007, my last year of graduate school, renting a house in town about a mile up the coast from the so-called Western White House, the beachfront estate Richard Nixon bought in 1969 shortly after winning the presidency. The Nixons called it La Casa Pacifica and lived there through most of the 1970s. I surfed in front of it a lot that first summer, at a spot the locals called Cotton’s, after the original owner of the property, Hamilton H. Cotton, an F.D.R. man as it happened.

Cotton’s was a long, sloping wave that broke left to right over cobblestone. On a big summer swell, it was a serious wave, one of the best-looking I’ve ever seen, with a fast inside section — the stretch closer to shore. The best view of the old Nixon estate was from out on the water. If you turned shoreward on a big day, the swells would lift you up and hold you aloft for a moment, just long enough to catch a glimpse of the inner compound: a classic Spanish-style mansion with a red-tile roof and a pool, all encircled by tall palm trees. Leonid Brezhnev and Henry Kissinger spent time there. There is a priceless photograph of Nixon, apparently trying for a “Kennedys in Hyannis Port” vibe, strolling at the water’s edge … in dress shoes with black socks.

The first time I surfed Cotton’s, the waves were midsize by California standards: five to seven feet, not huge but big enough that the larger “outside” sets roared like jet engines when they broke. Thick, dark lines of swell were steaming in from the west, sufficiently tall that they seemed to alter the ambient light, though this was probably my mind playing tricks. Despite being a fairly experienced surfer, I was ill-equipped. My home break, far to the south in San Diego, was a mellower spot, well suited for a longboard, and even though I knew the intensity of Cotton’s required smaller gear, I’d arrogantly left my shortboard behind, thinking my experience would trump whatever conditions might arise. In truth, the source of my hubris ran deeper: I loathed Orange County, its ultraconservatism, its bland suburbs, its brainless surfers. I’d show them.

My first wave was a disaster. I got a solid start, building up enough speed to match that of the wave, but the wave somehow ran under me and then broke underfoot, and I pitch-poled down the face. It was a total beginner move. Paddling back out, undeterred, I noticed some of the locals were staring at me and my unwieldy board. Their expressions couldn’t have been more clear: What is up with this dude?

“Surfing in Nixonland”, David J. Morris, The New York Times