Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Surf City USA

If I tell you Santa Cruz, California is the real Surf City USA, someone will pipe up and point out the Beach Boys were singing about Pacific Palisades (or Redondo Beach, take your pick of anonymous Southern California Beach communities). They are right but the fact remains that great waves appear around here, on the north shore of Monterey Bay, about 70 miles south of San Francisco. Surfers fight each other, literally, for access to the best waves. I am not a surfer, never have been, but I am reliably informed Duke Kahanamoku brought surfing to mainland USA here, from his Hawaii'an home in the early 20th century. In the distance you see a little pimple on the point which is a lighthouse now used as a surfing museum. It is the Mark Abbott lighthouse built by grieving wealthy parents lamenting the victim of one more surfing death. It overlooks Cowells Beach, on the far side of the point, and waves that break alluringly under the lighthouse.Off the lighthouse is the only island in Monterey Bay next to Santa Cruz, a rather forbidding lump called Seal Rock thanks to the ubiquitous symbols of the frigid, wave filled waters of Northern California.
People who find Santa Cruz and make it their home will tell you with utter sincerity that it is the most beautiful place in the world, and they have a point. But you don't read Key West Diary for platitudes and bromides so I will be forced to spill the beans and explain why I chose not to live there and made my home in the Keys instead. Santa Cruz is cold wet and windy. Summer temperatures hover around 70 degrees and a high of 80 is practically a heat wave. Summer clothing is long pants and sweatshirts. With the setting of the sun temperatures typically drop to 50 degrees. The winter months are worse with rain, howling storms and temperatures close to freezing. earthquakes, floods, mudslides and forest fires make up for the absence of hurricanes. Traffic is dreadful as anti growth groups have blocked improved roads and Mexican gangs have infiltrated the city and the murder rate is horrific. They also hate dogs around here. It's Beach used to be an off leash area for dogs.I told you summer beach weather in Santa Cruz in no way resembles the fabulous Florida Keys:It turns out It's Beach is still dog friendly. Hurray!The water temperature is around 55 degrees so don't expect people to swim in it. There is a reason Jack O'Neill invented the west suit in his home town of San Francisco in 1952. He moved to Santa Cruz where he and his world wide company are still based. Cheyenne was having none of the foaming cold salt water but she surprised the dickens out of me and started playing with the local dogs (their owners huddled in their cliques as Californians are wont to do. Another strike against the Golden State and in favor of the friendly Florida Keys).She ran and ran like a young Labrador.
She overdid it a bit and we rested in the sand for a while as she got her breath. I admired the scenery and waited for my winded dog to get her puff back. I carried the winded dog up the steps to the road up above and dinner was served roadside. I played with the picture in the computer and have mixed feelings about the result.West Cliff Drive is the epitome of tourist Santa Cruz. I avoided the Boardwalk this trip but there are plenty of pictures on the web if you want to see the waterfront playground that has made Santa Cruz famous as a beach resort. This despite the cold. Santa Cruz also is home to the University of California, Santa Cruz, which used to be a hive of subversive hippie students. They settled in the conservative little seaside town and turned it into a center of Eco-environmental, anti-nuke activism. The activism has died down, the campus is more science oriented and the aging hippies now support meditation centers, past life searches, aromatherapy and various kinds of non sexual massage centers. Hybrid cars are the badge of honor in this town, though electric cars and scooters and motorcycles are far outnumbered in this frigid climate by gasoline automobiles.Activities considered family friendly and normal in recreational areas elsewhere in the country are banned everywhere in this unfriendly paradise.As lovely as it is, all this is banned to Cheyenne, and by extension to myself. Natural Bridges State Park.
Body surfing is gentle fun, if you don't mind being tumbled in the waves with sand ending up in your shorts. West Cliff is a bicycle and pedestrian path along the cliffs above the waves. Expect cold wind and dress accordingly.
The view, with the mountains in the background, is fantastic.
Some people go to great heights to get a better view. I asked for a big smile and this was what I got.
I have never taken Santa Cruz's physical beauty for granted. It is something worth seeing.
Even Cheyenne took the time to drink it all in. She loved the cold summer weather.
I am a big fan of flat waters and easy swimming access.The temperatures favor vigorous exercise. A home along here is a multi million dollar proposition. Housing in Santa Cruz has long been notoriously expensive, similar to Key West.
Eventually one has to suppose it will all fall into the Pacific Ocean, much the way Key West will sink below sea level.

Floating around like this waiting for a wave sounds horrendous to me.Up and at them!
People fish but it seems rather more strenuous than you might see along Florida's gentle shores.
Even taking the dog to the beach is an effort if she decides to get to sea level.
People watching is the sport best practiced along West Cliff. Or wave watching. You can get a ride on Monterey Bay with Chardonnay II, a Santa Cruz 70 sailboat easily identified by the colored stripes on her sails. This is a rather more challenging sail than a drunken booze cruise on a Key West charter catamaran. The brown smear in the water in front of the sail boat is a local seaweed called kelp that sets roots among the rocks at the bottom of the ocean and grows rubbery trunks and leaves that spread over the surface of the water fowling boats and divers while feeding sea life at the same time in the great circle of life.Winds around here are strong and predominantly blow down the coast. The trees know, look how they grow at an angle.
Cheyenne, fed and rested wanted to go back to It's Beach, for a gentle stroll and sniff.
The porous rocks seep water onto the sand and are home to graffiti. Sara is enshrined.
It's a tough life being a surfer if you want to get to the best waves.
It's far from Key West, but Santa Cruz is a hell of place. I was lucky to be a young man there.