I need to get something off my chest.
I used to hate you. OK, maybe “hate” is a bit harsh. But dislike? Yeah, I definitely disliked you. Let me explain:
I was born and raised in Florida and Florida made me feel so comfortable. I had country music and a place in the lineup and people around my hometown knew my name. And I had Publix, the best meat market in the world. And that’s a fact.
But with you, California, I had none of that. With you I was lost.
Visit after visit, it was always the same. I couldn’t get a set at Lowers. I struggled to make a heat at Nationals. Nobody hooted me into waves and nobody knew my name. You made me feel small, so I adopted a too-cool-for-you attitude. Like a sullen teenager at a mandatory school safety assembly, I scoffed at having to visit you and I used your name in vain.
When one of my best friends and fellow Florida homer Jimmy Wilson moved West in 2008 — to work for this very magazine — he wrote an article called “The 37 Reasons California Is the Worst Place to Be a Surfer.” The crowds. The closeouts. The gloom. (Among 34 others.) I applauded each and every one, chest puffed with Florida pride. Not for me, I said. I’ll never move to California. Not now. Not ever.
But time passed in the Sunshine State. My mid-20s happened. The lights dimmed on my career as an East Coast professional surfer, and then…
I moved — straight to the heart of your Southern California bosom. (Admittedly, with my tail between my legs.)
But after I moved I was forced to actually get to know you. All four seasons, not just summer. Like a curious new lover, I explored your hidden curves outside of Orange County and discovered your complexity beyond Salt Creek, Newport and Lowers. I learned that June isn’t always gloomy, it is warm enough to wear trunks sometimes, it’s not always crowded, and that you are home to an abundance of beautiful women and it is perfectly awesome that none of them know my name.
The other day I was talking with Parker Coffin about you for this month’s feature on Pg. 96 and he asked me how long it’s been since I moved. “Four years,” I responded.
“How rad is California? And how great has this winter been?” He shot back.
“It really is the best,” I said, and the words came so naturally I shocked myself. I hadn’t really thought about us in a while. When had my feelings for you so drastically changed?
Parker gave a knowing smile. “Yeah it is. Everyone from out of town froths on summer and south swells, but that’s overrated. It’s all about the winter out here.”
I left Parker and spent my Friday evening doing yoga with Noa Deane in the park inside our office. Before leaving for the weekend, we both admired our wall of amazing photos for this issue. “F–k, it’s been good out here recently, huh?” Noa said. I didn’t answer. It was obviously rhetorical. “Where is that photo of Dane from?” and “Holy shit, how about that air of Parker’s!?”
On Saturday I went snowboarding at Big Bear and I stopped by Hollywood and went out with friends on the way home. (The lift tickets and the drinks, both free.) Yesterday, the sky in Encinitas was the bluest blue and the ocean the most perfect temperature in February. And your waves. God, there really have been so many waves! Not huge. Not Maverick’s. But consistent, short interval and peaky. A pretty blonde met me at the beach and I surfed and we got sunburnt and I never even touched a wetsuit. My plans to write this went out the window mid-afternoon because how am I ever meant to focus on a Sunday when life is this good? When I’m with her? And with you?
I drifted to sleep last night thinking about how great my weekend with you was, California — and, really, how great every weekend with you is. Parker couldn’t be more right, I realized, and Jimmy couldn’t have been more wrong. (And these days, he’s the first to admit it.)
And now it’s Monday morning and I just woke up and I’m feeling so guilty that I just have to come clean. So, California, I’m truly sorry. I don’t hate you, not even the slightest. In fact, I think I might be in love.
Mind if I stay awhile? —Zander Morton