Chas Goes Right: Central Florida

The Slater Way or the <del>Highway</del> A1AThe Slater Way or the Highway A1A

The early morning sun rose orange and followed me from Pensacola back across the panhandle. The Redneck Riviera. I had been surprised by Pensacola, by its weird dreaminess, by its best waves in Florida, and maybe the whole of the east coat. By the minimalist design of Sterling’s beachfront home. I could have stayed in Pensacola but there was more of Florida to see. There was Daytona Beach.

And I arrived in Daytona, driving past the Speedway, just as the late evening sun sank below the horizon. The sun might be Floridian because it is unearthfully gorgeous at both rise and set. I followed the glow toward Shea Lopez’s home. Shea and his brother Cory are central Florida legends just like the Hobgoods, Kelly Slater and Oliver Kurtz and Shea was kind enough to invite me to the extended Lopez clan reunion. It was important for my Florida reckoning.

His home was alive with family. His father, cousins, aunts, uncles, wives, kids, kids, kids. They ran this way and that while Shea watched over all, smiling benevolently. He took me to the backyard and showed me all the flora and showed me how impossible it is to keep it looking fine. There are hurricanes and freezing winters and scorching summers and a vine brought over from Brazil that surrounds everything and chokes everything out. He told me about what it is like to grow up, here, surfing and how Sebastian Inlet had been destroyed by the Corps of Engineers. “It used to race in thwap thwap thwap thwap thwap slapping against the pylons and then refract perfectly…but not anymore. My brother still has a plot of land down there…”
We then went over to his brother’s house, right on the intercoastal waterway, and there was more family. His mother, cousins, aunts, uncles, wives, kids, kids, kids, kids, kids, kids. Most were from Florida but strays came from San Francisco and New York. Cory’s property is a slice of heaven and mosquitos ate us as we stood in the back yard looking it over. His boat, at his dock, looked nice. “Yeah” he said, “There is this thing called the big loop. You can take the intercoastal waterway all the way north and then cut over into the Great Lakes and then down the Mississippi and back into the gulf. I’ve always wanted to do that…” Cory was not drinking, due to injury, but Shea and I were and as the kids ran around beating each other with plastic swords, Florida family style felt fulfilling. After dinner I thanked them all for their warmth and left, driving south for Miami.

I spent Labor Day at the Miami Standard, a fine hotel on the water, and yachts cruised past with topless women on their decks. Miami felt different from the rest of Florida. It felt both nicer and not as nice. The people liked to show off. They wore garish hats and too much white. I wore black and accidentally went to a Timbaland party at the famous Fontainbleau designed by Morris Lapidus. Mojitos were expensive but very untoward behavior from young Cubanas was free. They wore garish bikinis.

The next morning I turned north, toward Melbourne Beach, and met the famous Jamie Tworkowski of To Write Love on Her Arms. He is so kind, almost ridiculously kind, positive and handsome. He is also friends with Miley Cyrus but his work with TWLOHA is more impressive. It is a non-profit organization that helps kids deal with depression and suicide. It also sponsors CJ Hobgood, which is totally amazing. The organization recently won a million dollar prize from Chase Bank as part of the Giving Awards.

Jamie and I drove to Sebastian Inlet and I told him, “They say Sebastian is not the same wave that it once was…” He thought for a minute and responded, “Mmmmm. It is still pretty fun.” Ridiculously kind and positive.

It was maybe two to three feet when we arrived and we paddled out because why not? It was the most fun two to three ever. The water was bathtub warm and crystal clear. The waves were filled with juice and still raced and slapped the Sebastian pier pylons as they rushed in, just like Shea said. Thwap thwap thwap thwap thwap. It was mesmerizing. And as weird as Florida is, it is mesmerizing too.