I fled from the Tampa Bay Times Forum as soon as the red, white and blue balloons fell from the sky onto Mitt Romney’s plastic hair. I could take no more. No more Paul Ryan’s XXXL suit. No more “We built this!” chant. No more Ann Romney’s plastic hair. And so I fled. For reasons still not completely known I felt compelled to spend whatever was left of the night in Gainesville. Original home of Tebowmania.
Part of my mission, in coming, was to understand the state of Florida. What makes it tick? Why does it exist? Is it as awful as it is in my dreams? And I felt I would be remiss in not going to the Swamp. I arrived at three in the morning and promptly fell asleep. The next morning I woke up confused as to why I was in Gainesville at all. I don’t care about Tebowmania. Being in Gainesville was my Republican National Convention hangover and the only thing I learned about the town is that Florida State has a much better campus than Florida. I learned this driving west through Tallahassee.
I kept driving east, becoming further disoriented. Love bugs smashed into my J-Lo windshield and died locked in the throes of passion. Truckers glared down at me, which I was surprised by because they seemed too fat to glare down. Everyone had “Salt Life” bumper stickers. What is this “salt life”? I felt dizzy.
And then I arrived in Pensacola. I drove straight to Sterling Spencer’s home, on a lovely warm beachy stretch, and he was waiting for me outside. “Let’s surf,” he said. And I said, “Yes please.” We drove in his legendary Omni back up the strand and paddled out as the sun hovered like hell.
I had never believed, before, that there were real waves on the gulf but these waves were so real! Head high and racing down the line, wedging up as they raced. Sterling did many air variations on them. I did not, but had my most enjoyable surf in weeks. I did fine cutbacks. A good, quality, low, smooth, arcing cutback feels better than many things on earth.
There were only a small knot of surfers in the lineup, all Sterling’s friends, and they commented on how this was the best surf they’d had in longer than weeks. In months, or maybe all year. The wind of Hurricane Isaac had calmed down and left fun in its wake. Sterling had tried to surf an hour down the coast the day before but all the gulf’s jellyfish had gone there too and his torso was streaked red.
We surfed and surfed and surfed for three or more hours, all the way until dark, and I can say, without fear of contradiction, that, in my experience, Pensacola has the best waves in Florida. They are dreamy. They perform exactly like super fun waves should perform. Perfect size, perfect force, and even some little barrels. The sand is very white. The water is crystal clear, or so I am told. It was the color of dirt while we surfed.
That night we went to the Sand Shaker and to the Islander Lounge. They were filled with people celebrating the “salt life.” A very drunk woman explained to me that the “salt life” was, “I dunnno, ya know. Like salt. Like you need this salty, like, air and ya know, water to feel good. Ya know?” She rubbed unseen salt on her arms while speaking. And I suppose I did know.
Follow Chas’ Florida adventures on his Instagram, @chasdoesntsurf (#chasgoesright), and here on surfingmagazine.com. As with most of Chas’ work, expect to laugh, love or hate.