Catch a Wave...If You Can

South Beach surfing has its ups and downs -- mostly downs -- but for a dedicated posse of locals it still can be swell

"Good morning, thanks for calling X-isle surf report for Friday morning. Come by the shop, we're open today, we're getting lots of new things in, getting ready for the holidays. So don't forget, make X-isle your place for Christmas shopping. As for the wind and waves, not much is happening. It's a beautiful beach day but no rideable surf. For upcoast information, call 976-TUBE. Later."
A wet, skinny preteen with a nine-foot longboard under his arm paces anxiously outside the open door of Rolo's Restaurant on Ocean Drive at First Street. Seawater drips from the calf-length hems of his soaked black hipsters as he pivots on the sidewalk, waiting for an order of fries.

"It's head-high!" the kid yells excitedly over to where a guy who resembles an MTV-style gangsta is down on the pavement gleefully waxing his board. The gangsta wears a silver neck chain thick enough to choke a Doberman.

"Says the waves are head-high," the gangsta shouts to a third surfer, this one in his late 30s, who's sitting at the restaurant counter in a pair of old baggies buttoned just below his bare beer belly.

"Yeah," the old-timer calls back. "But that kid's only about three feet tall."

Surfing is a very subjective thing. Unlike a lot of sports with consistent conditions and hard-and-fast playing rules, surfing -- which most surfers don't consider a sport at all, but rather a way of life -- is relative.

Wave measurement is one example of surfing's subjective nature. In Hawaii, for instance, surfers size up a wave from its back, while on the East coast (Maine to the Keys) the size of the face of a wave usually determines its height. Since the back of a wave is approximately half as high as its face, a wave that measures six feet on the East coast would be considered only three feet high in the South Pacific. California calculations fall somewhere in-between, meaning that a similar-size wave off a California beach would be estimated at slightly higher than four feet.

Here in Miami, surfers are more likely to measure waves in body parts than feet, rating them knee-high, thigh-high, waist-high, head-high, and, if it's really pounding, like during a tropical storm, double-overhead. When the waves are ankle-high or less, it's called flat. On a lot of days, the stretch of ocean off South Beach between First Street and the jetty at Government Cut is flat. So many days, in fact, that some people assume there's no surfing in Miami at all:

"Hello, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. This is visitors' services. May I help you?"

"Yes, I'd like some information about surfing in Miami."
"There is no surfing in Miami. You must mean windsurfing."
"No, I mean surfing. Surfing in Miami Beach."

"We don't have surfing in Miami Beach. There're a few people with those boogie boards sometimes, but that's it."

"I don't mean to argue with you, but I've heard that people surf, on surfboards, in Miami..."

CLICK!
"Hello? HELLO?"
Surfing still may not rank as a tourist attraction here, but serious surfing has existed in Miami for over 30 years. And not just during a hurricane.

"It's pretty much the same here as anywhere as far as the spirit," says Dave Hahn, who along with his father, Carl "Bird" Hahn, has been running Bird's Surf Shop in North Miami Beach for 26 years. "Everyone's just as excited about it here as people in Hawaii. We just don't get a lot of waves here, so we're a lot hungrier."

At First Street on South Beach (which rivals Haulover Park as the city's best surfing spot), the surfers' presence has been one of the few constants in a neighborhood that has undergone dramatic transformations during the past three decades. Surfers have been there to see the area rot with urban decay and have watched as it became a victim of misguided renewal and a certain developer's greed. While one group of surfer wanna-be's has come and gone, and another recently has plopped itself down in the area, a particular breed of urban surfer has endured. That group includes "Rat," "Fat," "Ham," "Red," "Bill Goon," "Skeletor," "Phil the Drill," "Bam-Bam," and the rest of the guys who've skipped school, bummed rides, and, as they've grown older, found some way to make a living and still be able to celebrate the arrival of a "north swell."

If it weren't for the Bahamas, Miami could be the Maui of Florida. As it is, beaches farther north, such as Sebastian Inlet and New Smyrna ("the wave magnet"), deserve that distinction A if one ventures to compare the East and West coasts at all. But the Bahamas keep a lot of ripping weather systems from hitting our shore. Mercifully for surfers, a north swell -- a low-pressure system accompanied by a cold front and high winds -- can slip through the narrow slot of northern exposure between the Bahamas and the South Florida coast, slapping Miami with varying degrees of intensity and creating as many as a dozen good surfing days in a row. On average, though, there are only four to six days a year when the surfing's as good here as anyplace else in the world. That's when people haul out their cameras and snap pictures of locals riding some fairly huge peaks.

"Like once every five years we get good surf photos from Miami," reports Surfer magazine senior editor Ben Marcus, speaking over the phone from his office in Dana Point, California. "I don't know anything about Miami but I know they must get some surf down there sometimes. I've seen the pictures."

"Good morning, this is the Saturday, December 10, X-isle surf report for 11:00 a.m. It's looking like a really beautiful day at the beach right now, so if you're coming out, stop by. We've got a lot of longboards right now, Robert August, and some new Rusty boards in A they look unreal, from six to nine feet. As far as the wind and waves, there's a south and southwest wind blowing. There's a cold front coming in, just offshore waves right now. It's a clean, nice sunny day right now. For upcoast information, call 976-TUBE. We'll be seeing ya."

As is the case on most winter days, a small crowd stands on the wooden staircase that leads to the beach at First Street. They're staring at the ocean, where about three dozen male surfers sit on their boards in the water. The surfers also look out toward the horizon, pivoting their boards in the direction of the beach in preparation for the possibility of a wave, then pivoting back again. Most of them remain in that sitting position, straining their eyes in an effort to distinguish a wave from the predominant ripples. Every couple of minutes, one of them starts paddling and manages to stand up for a short ride. Even though the waves are only about knee-high, a couple surfers are aggressive enough to catch the swells anyway. One hangs five on a two-foot wave.

"It's not only the size and condition of the wave, it's your state of mind," philosophizes Mark "Rat" Rosen over a breakfast special at Rolo's. "You're going to see half a dozen guys out waiting for the waves even when it's knee-high, because their desire for surf is greater than the actual reality of it. When they see any white water, they see the possibility of a ride."

Rosen, a short, young-looking 38-year-old from South Miami, has been surfing on South Beach since his teens. He owns a landscape maintenance company, an occupation that allows him the freedom to head to the beach when the surf calls. "You can have waves here for 45 minutes, where you hit 12:45 and surf until 1:00 and it's the most incredible surf, compared to any surf. But after that there's nothing," he explains. "That's how the surf is here. It's fickle, and you have to be in tune with it. And in order to be in tune with it, I have friends who I rely on to call me. I have four or five dependable people, and one of those four or five dependable people will see that wave come in at 12:45, and tell me, 'Hey, it's here.' I don't know where it came from. I don't know where it's going. Now it's up to me to make a decision and get in my car, knowing that by the time I get there it could be gone. Or I could get there and I could catch just part of it. And I'm committed, so I'll do that."

James York, who friends sometimes refer to as "the spiritual father of South Beach," has joined Rosen for breakfast at a center table in the small restaurant; they face the counter, where a television is tuned to MTV. A teenage surfer rushes in, greets York, and tosses his car keys to "Rolo" (a quiet Canary Islander whose real name is Atilio Rodriguez), who hangs them on a hook behind the register.

"In my opinion this is one of the best places in the world to learn to surf," York says, taking a sip of orange juice. Also from South Miami, York is an all-around athlete who learned sailing and free-diving from his stepfather. Now 31 years old, he started surfing when he was thirteen as a way of spending time in the ocean on winter days when it was too rough to dive. "Not in terms of the opportunity to be there every single day," York continues, "but because of the fact that the majority of the time the waves are very forgiving. They're very gentle. They're very rolling and it's inviting. It's tropical. The water's warm, it's a sand bottom, it has all the things that are inviting about getting involved in surfing in the first place.

"Once you get to a certain level, it can be frustrating, because then all of a sudden you want more powerful waves, you want a roll that has a bit of teeth to it that's going to give you that kind of adrenaline. So when that time comes, then it's time to move on. But that's really hard if your whole support system is here, your family, your friends.... You just up and leave. And a lot of people do it for a couple of years, and some come back ten years later. Some come back every once in a while for the holidays. Some decide they want to live here and just travel for surf."

York, who has a college degree in English and education, has held various surf-friendly jobs, including free-lance photographer and substitute teacher; he now works as a safety diver on marine research expeditions, frequently leaving Miami for extended periods of time, often in search of superior surfing. Comparing his experiences, he's found Miami to be one of the few places where surfing remains an inescapably urban experience.

"In places like Australia or Northern California, surfing is just an extension of the scenic beauty of the place," theorizes York. "Here it's more of a departure from what visually surrounds you all the time. Once you paddle out and you're facing the horizon to look for waves, you can be in any ocean in the world. Then when you look back and you see this ribbon of cement marching northward A that's a very powerful image, and you are very quickly reminded of exactly where you are."

Across the street from Rolo's, a pit bull chases a ball in the parking lot of Penrod's Beach Club. Nearby a group of surfers from the neighborhood sits on somebody's car. An amateur-competition surfer named Mike Watson strides up from the beach, puts down his surfboard, takes a seat on the curb, and laughs as he watches his friend Neil accidently back his car over his own board.

Watson, age 21, with short white-blond hair, lives on Meridian at Second Street with his grandmother. He moved to Miami from Atlanta when he was fourteen and started surfing with a borrowed board. Soon he was cutting his classes at Miami High. "I'd pretend I was going to school, but I'd just hide around the corner," he remembers. "When I saw my grandmother leave for work, I'd go to the beach. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the family got together, I'd call and say I was stuck in traffic. I was really surfing."

When Watson wasn't in the water, he hung out in the neighborhood. He says now that surfing was about the only thing that kept him out of real trouble, and credits an older surfer who grew up in the projects with helping him in that regard. "There were guys from the projects who used to rip. Then they got messed up on drugs and stuff. You don't see them any more," Watson says quietly.

Although Watson eventually earned his GED, his goal is to become a professional surfer. He's already surfed in Baja, Puerto Rico, and Northern California; next year he plans to move to California to continue competing on the amateur circuit, after which he wants to turn pro, then go back to school to study marine biology. Presently sponsored by Rusty surfboards and Black Fly sunglasses, he regularly travels to surf contests upcoast.

"I go to the contests [by] myself," he says. "Nobody from here ever goes. It's kind of like they see surfing as a hobby or something.... Sometimes when you go somewhere else, you're even embarrassed to say you're from Miami."

Essentially a solo activity, surfing traditionally has been a guy thing, a competitive aquatic male-bonding session that, like other sporting pursuits, gradually has opened up to women. More women surf now than ever before, earning their rightful place in the lineup and a grudging respect from most of their male peers. Susan Short, 26 years old, a tall, Crandon Beach lifeguard, and Lee Bailly, an athletic-looking 28-year-old who used to windsurf, are among the few female surfers who frequent the First Street beach. Bailly used to manage the Tropical surf shop in Coconut Grove. When the store went out of business, she phoned up the owner of a used board that had been left on consignment and bought it. Short first surfed with her boyfriend.

The two women met and started surfing together three years ago. They were roommates for a while, living in a house in Perrine. Rent was cheap, and both were taking art classes at Florida International University. Neither was working, and they drove over to South Beach almost every day. Now Bailly works at the News Cafe on Ocean Drive five days a week. But she and Short surf on most of their days off, and they're as good as most of the guys out there.

"If we didn't have each other plus our guy friends, we probably wouldn't have learned to surf," says Bailly. "Because it's intimidating. There's like five women maximum on any given day in the water. There's an advantage to being a woman out there when guys are mature and polite and you want to catch as many waves as them and they encourage you," she points out. "But there's also a disadvantage when you have these little punks and they want to snake the waves from you."

"Because it was so intimidating at first, sometimes it's hard to believe that now I actually enjoy coming out here," adds Short. "Some days it's like South Beach, yucch, but there's so many times I've come out here and it's like, this is my beach."

And they've mellowed considerably since they first got into surfing. "I have all these memories of sitting out on South Beach, and no waves were coming in, and you'd sit there, all day long, thinking, 'Well, maybe when the tide changes...,'" says Short. "For me [this obsession with the waves] started hurting my enjoyment of surfing. One day a lifeguard friend of mine took me aside and said, 'You've really got to mellow out about this. You're getting really uptight about surfing.' And it was true. You've heard the story: If you're not on it, you miss it."

"Good morning, thanks for calling the X-isle surf report for Tuesday, December 13. Come by the shop, we're open from ten to six today. We have an offer on surfboards this weekend: Buy a new surfboard and we give you a T-shirt and a leash with that. As far as wind and waves go, there's not much going up. There was a little swell last night but it died out. Maybe with the incoming tide we'll update the report [yawn]. For upcoastal information, call 976-tube."

It's been an average morning at the X-isle Surf Shop on Fifth Street. The first customers were some nonsurfing South American tourists, who bought a few T-shirts emblazoned with surfboard company logos. Next a couple of local surfers stopped by to check out the new shipment of boards. Around noon a production crew rushed in to buy a wet suit for a fashion shoot on the beach.

"Didn't care what kind of a wet suit it was," shrugs X-isle manager Bobby Whelan. "Just had to look good, so that was pretty easy." Whelan, dressed in a flannel shirt, baggy jeans, and boots, is leaning against the cash register. Close by, one of the shop's walls has been covered with pictures of surfers riding huge waves; the photos have been marked with the date they were taken and the location. "Yes, this IS South Beach!" is written under one shot of a California-size tube.

Whelan gives a tour of the store, which is crowded with racks of Reef sandals, T-shirts, wet suits, and sneakers. Surfing magazines are displayed in one corner; videos are stacked up behind the counter. In the back of the store, behind all the clothes, surfboards are lined up in row. A surf video from some exotic locale plays on a monitor hung from the ceiling.

"In the Sixties, they thought that surfing was just a fad," notes Whelan. "Now it's more of a lifestyle." But while acknowledging that tourists, models, and local wanna-be's attracted to surf fashion account for some sales, he contends that there are enough real surfers in town to support business. "Most people who come in here are regulars -- seasonal people or locals -- who are into surfing," he emphasizes. "We don't get too many people who just walk in off the street and buy this stuff because it's cool." Whelan goes on to explain that South Americans and Europeans shop for surf gear in Miami while en route to surfing vacations elsewhere because boards and baggies are more expensive -- or unavailable -- in their home countries.

X-isle owner Cheryl Rowars has set out to make the store an exemplar of community responsibility. Her shop features an "X-isle honor roll," which gives young surfers 25 percent off merchandise if they bring in a straight-A report card. (A C-average earns ten percent off.) The store sponsors beach cleanups, and sales from T-shirts benefit environmental organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation. The surf line -- 534-SURF -- not only plugs store merchandise but provides a daily report about ocean conditions.

X-isle moved to its current location from Washington Avenue and 10th Street in 1992; it's the surf shop closest to the South Pointe surfing area, and the largest on South Beach. Established surf stores also can be found all over greater Miami, including Bird's on Sunny Isles Boulevard, Upwind Surfing downtown, and Island Water Sports on South Dixie Highway. Nevertheless, somewhat dryly Whelan observes, "There's not as many as in a town where there's waves."

"Good morning, this is the X-isle surf report for Wednesday, December 14. Lots of cool things happening. Rusty ski caps, Rusty cool T-shirts, also we've got a full supply of Rusty new longboards and shortboards. As far as the wind and waves, about knee-high, a slight little northern swell is starting to show. It could get better during the day. For upcoast information, call 976-TUBE."

In 1963 there were four surf shops operating in the area between Fifth and First streets: Fox's Surf Shop, East Coast West, Buddy Gardner's, and Surf Jet. Additionally there were several places to rent boards out on the beach. If you weren't a dork, you wore flowered Jams and a Hang Ten T-shirt, and you drove a VW or a wood-paneled station wagon commonly called a woody. Surfing was a major-league scene here in Miami and all over the country -- even landlocked areas teemed with kids soaking up surf culture.

"That was the craze, with the Beach Boys and the beach movies, and everyone here was getting into surfing," remembers Mike Bellizzi, who stands at the entrance to the beach waiting for his fifteen-year-old son, Michael, to finish surfing. "South Beach was always the place to surf." Bellizzi, now a fit 43-year-old real estate broker, grew up south of Miami International Airport. He started surfing on South Beach in '63, catching rides to the beach on weekends with his mom. Soon he was skipping school regularly with a bunch of friends from Coral Park High, driving down to the beach in a van. "Route 836 didn't exist then," recalls Bellizzi. "It was a long haul, and it was like we were on a mission to get here as fast as we could. We had all the lights timed all the way down Northwest Seventh Street."

Although Miami Beach was in its heyday as a glitzy resort town, the neighborhood south of Fifth Street was populated by retirees, middle-class snowbirds, and the less affluent members of the first wave of Cuban exiles; they lived in wooden bungalows and modern apartment buildings along lower Ocean Drive. A block of Miami Beach Housing Authority projects for low-income families had been built in the 1950s at 800 Biscayne St., right at the entrance to South Pointe Park.

The Miami Beach Kennel Club greyhound racetrack, located where South Pointe Towers now stands, was the area's main attraction. Behind it was a two-story parking lot appropriated by surfers who would drive in and check out the waves from their cars. Parking cost a dollar for the day, but pennies, scraped across the concrete floor of the parking lot to file them down, were used to trip the meters.

Bellizzi points to the corner of First and Ocean, where there was a drugstore that served breakfast for 25 cents. A block south was Lum's, which later became Chicken Limited, a popular surfers' hangout. The Turf Bar down the street was known for its great hamburgers, huge salads, and pool table.

Across the street, in what's still called Pier Park, just to the right of the spot now occupied by Penrod's parking lot, seagrass and sea-grape plants grew wild, and green parrots nested. The park ended at the foot of the Miami Beach Municipal Pier, built by Ohio businessman George R.K. Carter in 1926. The pier was damaged in both the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes, but Carter subsequently repaired the reinforced concrete structure, adding a wooden building at its entrance that housed a restaurant and gambling casino. Carter sank so much money into the project that it became known as "the Million-Dollar Pier," even though in 1940 he sold it to the City of Miami Beach for considerably less than a million dollars -- $65,000. During World War II the pier was used as a recreation center for military personnel; in fact from 1942 to 1945 it was referred to as "the Serviceman's Pier."

It was the Million-Dollar Pier that lured local teenagers, eager to create a cool surf scene like the one in Southern California, to the far end of South Beach in the early Sixties. By that time, the pier, which had suffered damage from several tropical storms, extended roughly from Penrod's out past what is now the beginning of the beach, with water reaching right up to the top of the pier's ocean end at high tide. When the wind brought a swell down from the north, sandbars would form around the pilings. Twenty to thirty-mile-per-hour winds could create twenty-foot waves. At high tide, the surfers would jump off the end of the pier into the water and catch the tubes, timing their launches carefully with the outgoing surf to keep from getting smashed against the pilings when the ocean was rough.

The surfers provided a new form of entertainment for neighborhood residents, for whom Pier Park was a traditional meeting place and entertainment center. The restaurant and casino had been gutted, but concerts and dances for retirees were held in the park's bandshell. People were already coming out to watch shark fisherman on the pier, and the novelty of surfing attracted an even bigger crowd.

In 1971, after some surfers were arrested for surfing off South Beach in a swimming area, University of Miami student Ross Gary Houston formed the Dade County Surfing Association "to provide a means of organizing the local surfing population for the betterment of the sport and to work towards improving relations between the community and the surfers." According to Houston, there were 2000 Dade County surfers at the time.

By 1972 the group had 300 members. Its meetings were held at the American Savings & Loan at Lincoln Road, basically for the purpose of screening surf movies. The whole thing was a precarious endeavor that relied on surfers' dues for funding, and it lasted only a few years, falling apart when Houston moved on to other concerns.

Nonetheless, during its lifetime the association persuaded the Miami Beach City Council to create new regulations increasing the number of legal surfing spots. Previously, First Street had been Miami Beach's only designated surfing area, but under pressure from Houston's group, the council voted to permit surfing in the "groins" (protruding manmade structures) at Lummus Park at 14th Street, at the beach at 21st Street, and at the beach from 83rd to 85th streets. Accordingly, in a misguided attempt to affect surf lingo, on April 23, 1972, the Miami Beach Daily Sun-Reporter newspaper reported that surfers could now "curl 10" at these three new locations.

Good morning, this is the X-isle surf report for Thursday morning. Cruise by and check us out, a lot of cool things happenin'. New boards from Rusty, come check out those new longboards, and shortboards, too. Other things happening. Our back-store skate store is open, we've got all you need: skateboards, truckboards, wheels, bearings, grip tape, all that crazy stuff you need for skate. Give 'em a call at 538-SLAM. As far as the wind and waves, it's about knee-high, a little north swell chillin' sort of like yesterday, not really too pumpin', but who knows what the tide can do here. If it does get better, we'll update it. Upcoast information 976-TUBE. That's about it. We'll see you guys.

Erosion has exposed the seawall in the vacant area that was once the greyhound track's double-decker parking lot. James York bends down, digs around by the wall, and comes up with a chunk of marine-blue cement. He is standing where Jack Diamond's hamburger shack used to be, over in the far corner of the parking lot.

By the late Seventies when York, then a freshman in high school, started surfing on South Beach, riding waves had long since ceased to be a national sensation. A regular group of local surfers still hung out by the pier, but the businesses they once supported had disappeared. The surf-shop owners had moved their stores up to Cocoa Beach or Melbourne, and some of the surfers had gone with them. Others had put their boards aside for inland careers or taken up trendier hobbies. Miami Beach's glory days were over. South Beach had severely deteriorated.

"It was not a place that you came to relax at the beach then," notes York, walking toward the water. "A couple cars a day were being stolen. They were smashing windows. There were fights all the time. There were cops everywhere. Not a lot was going on on the beach then, either. It was old people who were eating cat food; it was refugees who were trying to rip you off; and it was surfers. It sounds corny when I say it, but you really felt like you were living in a frontier within this setting. Because everyone was on edge. Everything was very unconventional. There was nobody here speculating about land. And there was nobody here who would just bring out a beach chair and enjoy the sun A everybody went to Key Biscayne to do that."

"Surfers aren't really flashy people," chimes in Mark Rosen, "so the criminal element wasn't real interested in us. They figured if we were crazy enough to be out in the ocean when there were 60-mile-an-hour winds and you could barely walk to the beach without being pelted by sand, and there were big gnarly, choppy waves, and man-of-war -- most people just figured we were lunatics so they didn't bother us that much."

About the only remaining surfers' hangout back then was Jack Diamond's hamburger stand, which served as a personal restaurant, message center, and weather tower for the hard-core group of surfers who were on South Beach every day that there was the possibility of a wave. In the morning, Jack, a crusty transplanted New Yorker in his 50s, would take out his dog-track binoculars and check out the conditions. When the surfers called him, he'd give them his version of a surf report.

"If there were no waves, he'd tell us there were waves [anyway], so we'd come and he could do some business," remembers Rosen. "But then a group of us promised him that if he would tell other surfers that the waves were a little bit smaller than they really were, we'd support him. We suggested to him to serve what we liked to eat. He had these hot dogs and hamburgers of undeterminate origin. We had him go down to the Daily Bread Bakery in Miami and get some whole-wheat pitas. We had him get some spinach pies. Then every time we finished surfing we'd go right up there and buy something from him. That was the deal we had."

That deal lasted until 1980, the year the dog track was leveled. Jack closed down his stand one day and disappeared. Five years later, City of Miami Beach officials demolished the sagging Million-Dollar Pier, and the Army Corps of Engineers widened the beach, filling in the area in front of the seawall with sand as part of a plan to build a new jetty closer to Government Cut. So ended an era of South Beach surfing.

"Mother Nature has full control of it now," says York. "Now there's no structure for the formation of sandbars."

Local surfers say the removal of the pier undoubtedly reduced the size and quality of the waves, and, in turn, the number of good surfing days on South Beach. On top of that, some believe global warming has affected the number of surfing days per season.

"My surfing days have definitely diminished over the years," acknowledges Rosen. "Our weather patterns have changed. In the Seventies, winter temperatures in the 50s were common; often they'd get down to the 30s. We'd get slammed with strong weather systems more often."

Recently surfing has become trendy again. So has South Beach. These days the water off First Street is packed with locals, tourists, and surfer wanna-be's. That doesn't seem to unnerve James York too much. He contemplates the chunk of old blue cement he holds from Jack Diamond's hamburger stand for a moment, then looks out at the ocean. He says he'll keep surfing on South Beach as long as he's in Miami. But it's no longer a frontier.

"The conception of surfing has changed, not just in Miami Beach but really throughout the developed world," York laments. "At one time, in order to be a surfer, you had to be an amateur meteorologist and you had to be damn good at it. You had to be a kind of a mystic, you had to understand the ways of the water, the way the ocean is. And if you didn't understand that, you had your head up your ass.

"What really changed surfing was the advent of surf reports," he goes on, shaking his head. "People can call from the comfort of their own bed about 7:15 and know what the surf conditions are, roughly from here to New York to the Bahamas. What that means is if you have the leisure time, the money, and a telephone, you can be a surfer.

"When the group of people who used to congregate down here got together, it was like a tribal thing. People coming together who had a shared basic knowledge, celebrating a weather phenomenon that is unique. You just have a feeling there's surf. You know, like when a really strong cold front comes down through here, and there's that crisp feeling in the air, and the skies are powder blue, and you feel just one or two more notches alive than you did before. And there's waves. There's waves!

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