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Outside » Outside Features

California Dreamin': Soul Surfing and Riding Down Memory Lane


Surfing Santa CruzThe Mamas and the Papas pop into my head about this time every year:

"All the leaves are brown

And the sky is gray

I've been for a walk

On a winter's day.

I'd be safe and warm

If I was in L.A.

California dreamin'

On such a winter's day."

When Winter is clinging onto Central Oregon like gummy klister, I like to kick start spring with a sojourn south. So, last week, I piled my road bike, mountain bike, surfboard and dog into my van and roadtripped down to Santa Cruz for some surfing and then continued on to Palo Alto for some riding. Nothing was going to stop me from getting much-needed saltwater therapy and a Vitamin D infusion - not even the tire schrapnel on I-5 that ripped off my bumper grill and took out the air conditioning on the 92-degree day that began our journey.


Santa Cruz is a 10-hour drive from Bend and a surfing epicenter. Birthplace of O'Neil Wetsuits, board shops line the city streets and the Surfing Museum sits atop a pink and yellow iceplant-blanketed bluff overlooking reknowned Steamer Lane, a world-class point break. (Sadly, the city has shut down the the museum for economic reasons, and a local group is trying to raise $30,000 to keep it alive.) Once you're a surfer, places like this feel like home. For me, even more so, because the ashes of my dear, dear friend Dave Stevenson ride the waves at Steamer's.

I met up with four Bend surfers at Manresa Beach, a beautiful, long sandy beach six miles south of Santa Cruz, for a late Tuesday-morning session on glassy chest-high waves. It was my first time carving a few saltwater turns after a long winter of shoulder surgeries, so for me it was an especially sweet reunion with the ocean. Though I did manage a wipeout in which the rail of my board smashed into my ribs, bruising an intercostal at the very least.

The next day, the surf was blown out, so we recruited a local friend to lead us on a fun mountain bike ride in the hills above UC Santa Cruz. It's always good to have Plan B on a surf trip. Though I did manage to contract poison oak on my ankles in spite of a post-ride Tecnu bath.

By Thursday, the swell was up, the wind was down, and the group was chomping at the bit to catch some waves. After a surf check at Manresa and another at Steamer's and Cowell's, we decided on 41st Ave. Tod and John caught some really long rides from the point on their standup boards while I had a hard time catching anything on my longboard with my sore rib, even if I did manage to rescue a Border Collie mix named Ellie who was lost in the sea. As I was paddling in, a woman yelling from the beach implored me to paddle out to save her dog who was swimming in a disoriented fashion a few hundred yards offshore. Soon after, Ellie and I paddled in together.

The boys did an afternoon session at Steamer's while the girls went thrift store shopping. The proper way to end any good surf day is with good, cheap Mexican food, which is what we did.

On our last day, we surfed the Hook near 41st Ave and it was my best day yet. I was gaining my sea legs, the rib felt a little better, and I swapped my 9'0" Walden for John's 9'4" Nat Young. The best part, though, was surfing with the sea otters who joined us in the kelp.


By Saturday, my arms were full of lactic acid, so I decided to visit some favorite old friends and some favorite old rides around Stanford University. Northern California still has some of the best road cycling there is. I rode past The Dish near campus and decided to climb good Old La Honda. Of course, I had to time the 3.4 miles and 1,300 feet of vertical gain up to Skyline-27 minutes-not as fast as when I was 24, but not bad either. I turned right on Skyline and right again at Alice's Restaurant (of Arlo Guthrie fame) down 84. I love the descent on 84 from Harley Heaven into gentrified Silicon Valley, because I know every swoooping turn and tight switchback like the knuckles on my hand. I finished up by completing The Loop through Portola Valley. I've done that ride so many times, often with Dave, I think I could do it with my eyes closed. A ride like that just takes you home.

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