He woke up before the alarm at five a.m. because he had been looking forward to this morning all week. He’d been reading the reports daily; the weather and the waves were setting up for ideal conditions. There was more than an hour before the sun would rise and it was cold in the room but he didn’t mind leaving the warm sheets. He got up and as quietly as he could he pulled on his worn flannel jacket and his jeans so as not to wake the girl.
He started towards the kitchen to make coffee, stopped, looked at his watch, then decided he would save time and buy it on the road. The idea of hunting down waves, planning it out, waking before anyone, and searching for them up the coast had not grown old after all these years.
He was hurrying, but still deliberate, to move out from there, somewhere in the long stretch of apartments in Santa Monica, a place he thought seemingly indifferent to the weather, if not lost from it. He wanted to get on the road, speed himself towards the ocean.
He drove all the way to Ocean Avenue and turned right on the palm tree-lined cliff. I hope the waves are good, he said to himself. Something he had promised himself not to do anymore, not to speak it aloud, not to say to it to himself. It was sure to curse it. But I did it today, what’s done is done. I hope they are good.
He was a surfer. Every day was a challenge. Every day he wanted to get better. Draw cleaner lines, surf within his boundaries, surf without any.
Once he was down on the highway he could see the lights of the coast were glowing all the way to the far rim of Santa Monica Bay. Point Dume was the last point of light. There was no moon and so he could not see the ocean at all, not where it began on the horizon nor where it came to shore. But he knew it was there.
Brayden headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway, on his way to pick up his friend. He knew the road so well it was automatic, comfortable. He knew the bay, the points along it. There the hills pushed almost into the sea, the road was constantly battling from sinking into the Pacific.
LA against the earth.
Here he had a chance to think. He had more on his mind than usual: he was going to tell his closest friend, Dane, that he was taking off for Mexico for longer than a week, he thought, perhaps forever.
Brayden still sometimes looked like a boy but it had been a long time since he had felt like one. Now at twenty-four he had done what he wanted to, what he had even recently thought he never would: said screw it, made plans to leave it all behind, to give it a shot, to go to Mexico.
In just five days he’d be there, checking in, checking out, boarding a plane, totally free. He watched the road but his mind was going over the waves in Puerto Escondido. He was imagining himself paddling out on a big day and immediately his heart started to pound.
Three years to the day he had been grinding at a desk developing apartments and condominiums.
For the last few months or longer he had been feeling rotten, robbed. I’m doing it to myself though, he had thought. He had no time. A while back, though he wasn’t sure when, he had felt something inside pulling, pulling away.
While running after dark at the end of the day he would imagine himself surfing large waves off Jalama Beach, two hours north of L.A., at a spot called Tarantulas.
He saw himself pulling up to it, peering over the cliff, watching the ocean unload fifteen-foot waves on the reef, his throat aching with excitement.
Then he was scrambling down the crack in the cliff, hitting the sand, running for the current, being swept not in but out, putting his head down, feeling the frigid water, and heading out to sea.
Still on his run, he had felt like he could howl.
It had started out as a one-week surf trip when he had first planned it. But now he had gotten rid of his apartment, quit his job, and let it all go, although not easily. Not at all, he had whispered to himself in the last few days.
So many hours had passed while he was dreaming of Mexico. He told himself he had better not think about it too much. That now was his time to think about nothing. Relax. He had always and still loved that part of the morning. Nothing could bother him there.
Ten minutes later he turned on Wildlife.
He pulled Dane’s wetsuit and surfboard from a small shed and brought them back to the car. “Thank you.” Dane said and walked slowly to the door. “I barely slept at all.”
Brayden watched him lay into the seat like he was going to fall asleep. They pulled away and headed north.
Once they were past Thornhill Broom and the sand dunes Brayden wanted to tell Dane he’d be taking off for longer than he had planned. Instead he asked, “Couldn’t sleep?”
“No. I was up with a girl.” Dane answered. “I think I’m in love.”
With Dane, you couldn’t tell from his small frame, his lean muscles, his docile manner, that he could surf anything. You couldn’t tell that he could surf almost all waves, that he had little fear, that he could do anything once his feet left land. He had had the chance to be a professional surfer, more, but life, currents of the soul, had set him adrift or carried him on another path. They had been friends long enough, been through enough together over ten years that at times they felt like brothers. Surfing had first brought them together and nothing could take that away.
For years, every few days they got together, or at least talked on the phone, and every weekend they surfed no matter what. They could talk about anything, told each other almost everything.
The coast highway snaked along the water all the way to Oxnard. The smell of the ocean grew more intense before the road headed inland and the smell disappeared. Later in the day the California coast would be bathed in gold spring sunshine.
They had been talking for a few minutes about a girl Dane had just met, said he’d fallen in love with. He was always falling in love. He searched for a word to describe her. “So beautiful.” His eyes were alight with her. “Wait. Are you excited for your trip?” Dane asked.
Without noticing they had passed Arroyo Sequit, its Chumash grounds, supertubes, the slot, Murphy’s – spots they had surfed together on different swells over the years.
“I’m going down there for a lot longer than I told you.”
“I don’t know.” Brayden said. “Forever.”
“How long?” Ignoring the idea completely.
“Three months I think.” That’s the minimum, he thought. “Or longer.”
“Yeah right.” Dane looked away.
“I’m serious. I don’t have a return ticket.”
Now Dane sat up. “What? You’re kidding. Right?”
“What about work? Oh, come on. I don’t believe you.”
“I quit. About a month ago. Yesterday was my last day.”
Dane was silent for a while. He took off his jacket and sat further up. Then it hit him.
“Is this why you’ve been staying at Lina’s?”
“So you could get rid of your apartment?”
“I just thought you two were more serious.” His voice was starting to rise. “You lied to me. Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”
Lina had been his girlfriend. He hadn’t told him they weren’t really together anymore.
“I didn’t lie. You didn’t listen.” You don’t listen at all any more, Brayden thought.
Dane shook his head at him. “Does she know?”
“Of course.” But she doesn’t believe it yet. Or care, Brayden thought.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He raised his right hand up and left it there.
“I don’t know.” Brayden didn’t move. “I just wanted to go. I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of it.”
“Why so long?”
“I want to go down there and I want to put the time in and see how good I can get it. Surf the biggest waves I can. Get one of those big days. I would love a huge one, a giant barrel.” He rubbed his thumb roughly into the palm of his other hand. “Maybe even stay longer. Who knows? I’ll be honest. I don’t even want to think about coming back.”
There was a silence, and then after a while a meaning in the emptiness.
He looks like he doesn’t get it, Brayden thought.
Dane looked over at his friend. His friend then looked back out on the road. The sound of the wind blowing over the car was a strange howl and slowly Dane looked like he understood. And then he looked like he didn’t get it at all.
“What about Carmelina?”
“I didn’t tell you. But two months ago Lina told me she wasn’t in love with me. Didn’t think she could be with me forever. That I,” he pointed to himself, “was in love with something else.” He wanted to say he always felt lonely with her. All of this was hard to say out loud. He could feel it in his throat. “But I think she was never in love with me or was done with me a long time ago.”
“No way. That girl worships you.”
There is a place in Mexico where the waves are massive, better, incredible. It’s not the kind of surfing that can be done in California. Big perfect waves, it takes a bit of adventure or work to get to, but the potential is limitless. Could test any surfer, test anyone. It’s jungle, huts, bugs, heat, another life. But to Brayden more than anything, it was a wave and spring through fall is the season.
“But what are you going to do for money?”
“I got savings. You don’t need much down there. To do what I’m going to do.” Brayden paused. “With thirty grand I could have a house. A beautiful one up on top of the hill. I saw it online. It’s got mango and papaya trees. There is room for animals, a porch that looks at the sea. What more can you ask for in life?”
“You have thirty grand?” He shouted at him.
“Well,” He had almost sixty. “Yes.”
“What the hell?”
Does he listen to me at all anymore, Brayden wondered and put his arm up to dismiss all of Dane’s dismay.
“Should we surf anyways?”
The waves weren’t even half the size they had hoped for. When they had showed up they were disappointed but had been busy talking. No matter what the reports, the buoys, and the weather charts said there was never a way to be totally sure. You had to go to find out.
“Yeah for sure.”
Their wetsuits slipped on. They knew it was still good, meaning worthwhile, no matter the conditions. The two of them had always been that way. They surfed for little more than an hour.
He could see that Dane was worried. “Brayden.” Dane said resigned to it. “Don’t surf it too big. Be careful.” He paused. “ And don’t stay forever.”
When the wind came up from the west they went in.
They headed back.
They believed and knew there was no such thing as a bad day surfing. It was their religion.
“Surf later?” Brayden asked as they came back home.
“Yeah. The swell might fill in this afternoon.” Dane said. “Where you headed?”
“To go tell my dad.”
“Whoa. Good luck.”