• Otter Views: Surf and Hempsters

    Otter Views – Surf and Hempsters

    Tom Stevens for CST


    The full moon and Venus rose together Tuesday evening and floated over Seaside like jewels in a violet sash. The moon laid a shimmering silver track across the bay to Lover’s Point, where four surfers enjoyed the last silken pulses of a truly freaky west swell.

    The swell arrived Sunday morning, peaked at about noon, and subsided by moonrise. It was basically a one-day event, but what a day. From Sunday morning into early afternoon, barn-high waves swept in along the coast, cornered at Point Pinos, and unleashed their full fury on the PG shoreline.

    At Lover’s Point, ten daredevil surfers paddled frantically over ever-taller, ever-steeper faces that broke a hundred yards east of the usual takeoff spot. Successful takeoffs were rare, but when somebody actually made the elevator drop and rode one of those beasts to the channel, cheers erupted from the cliff tops.

    By midmorning, the coast road looked like a drive-in surf movie. Parked along the cliff, motorists could see approaching swells long before the surfers could, so a warning chorus of car horns greeted each new set. Spectators standing along the walls pointed seaward and shouted “Go out! Go out!” as if the surfers could hear anything but their own hammering hearts and the sustained roar of those freight train waves thundering down the coast.

    Other hearts hammered as well. In what seemed a dicey decision, the regular Sunday morning ocean swim group donned their wetsuits and colorful caps and stroked out into the maelstrom. Riding a rip current out past the break, they churned off toward a distant buoy, made the turn and headed back through the kelp. From a distance, it looked like they were swimming over hills and down valleys.

    The group’s return to Lover’s Point coincided with the biggest set of the day. As car horns blared and the surfers scratched for the horizon, the swimmers treaded water and gazed up at the hairiest waves many had ever seen from that angle. Luckily, they stayed together, kept their composure, and finally made it back to the beach. That was an ocean swim to remember.

    Curious to see where else the swell was hitting, I drove out to Asilomar, parked, and took the board sidewalk to the Dunes overlook. Huge blue “Steamer Lane” sets broke a mile or more out to sea, then re-formed and rumbled into Asilomar and Spanish Bay, closing out both bays. Looking eastward, even bigger explosions could be seen off a distant point where two houses stood.

    “We call that place Cats,” explained a burly local guy who was also standing at the overlook, sipping coffee. “A lady who lived in one of those houses on the point there had about 30 cats. If you surfed there, you’d see them all out in the yard.”

    “Nobody’s surfing there today,” I said.

    He laughed. “No, not today. You know where I bet is good today? Santa Cruz.” Just then, three young guys in wet suits went running past in the direction of Spanish Bay carrying short boards. “I’d better talk those guys out of it,” the burly guy said. “See you.”

    Santa Cruz had been on my mind lately also, but for a different reason. A recent news feature suggesting Santa Cruz is well positioned to surf the marijuana legalization groundswell reminded me of first meeting the hempsters.

    My old VW van rolled into a Santa Cruz trailer park in 1986, coughed politely, and died. My neighbor there was a hard-working, charismatic single mom and labor organizer who lived in a converted ice cream truck and led a coven of witches when not pitching hemp.

    From her I learned of hemp’s ancient origins, its worldwide uses as rope, fabric, paper stock, sailcloth; its modern application in paints, biomass fuels, even plastics. The first American flag supposedly was woven from hemp; the Constitution printed on it. She told me Henry Ford had built a hemp plastic car body in the 1920s.

    “Did not!” I snorted.

    “I can make your face stay like that,” she warned.

    Santa Cruz hadn’t quite worked up to an entire hemp festival in 1986, but there was always a “hemp booth” at every other festival. I would roller blade to these events and dutifully examine the hempen products on display. These generally ran to shaggy hats, shirts and vests, nubby wallets and Rasta-hued sun visors.

    One time a guy showed up with a wheelbarrow full of “hemp ice cream.” It was oily, mud-colored, viscous, rancid and pebbly, but it was cold. “You call this ice cream!” I gagged.

    “Okay, it needs work,” he admitted. “Maybe another banana, little more molasses . . . “

    “. . . Little less hemp?” I suggested. I never did see hemp paint or hemp car bodies at these festivals, but the sweet, ropy, funk of burning hemp was ever present. At last I got the connection.

    Now that Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana, hempsters everywhere should be happy. Soon they can smoke all the hemp they want, and nobody will turn it into ice cream.


    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 24, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views


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