Monday, December 5, 2016

A Warm Winter Day

If you're like most people, you associate Warren Miller with skiing and film making (about skiing). But he actually started his having fun in the outdoors career with surfing. In honor of the upcoming 75th anniversary of the day which will live in infamy, I'm reprinting this piece from Warren with(out) permission from The Surfer’s Journal, Vol. 24 #1, August-September 2012.

Warren Miller, sliding right at Malibu, 1940.

It was an unusually warm day for December. Knee-high waves were snapping crisply across the point at Malibu, and I was the only person there. IT was my third year of surfing in what has since become a long-ago time frame; an era when if a second care of surfers showed up, I would think it was crowded. I had spent the previous three hours paddling my 11-foot, 106-pound solid redwood back out for yet another small wave. I was a 17-year old senior in high school, and I had a lot of things on my mind: my morning paper route, learning to ride my $7 surfboard, getting a date for the senior prom, and where would I get $6 for a pair or racing tights to race in the next Herald Express speed skating championship? Important things like that. I decided to go stag to the prom so I could dance with all the other dates, and the eight bucks I would save on the corsage and dinner for two would cover the racing tights plus enough gas for a surf trip. Gas had already gone sky high, up to as much as 11 cents a gallon. I idly wondered when the wind would come up and the freeze me out of the glassy, crystal-clear water (it was a decade before wetsuits came on the scene). The wind never did blow, but when exhaustion set in about 1:00 p.m., I dragged my body and plank out of the water to a warm dune where I had hidden my lunch. While watching a trio of brown pelicans do wing dips, I ate the three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and finished a quart of milk, after which I fell asleep in front of the Adamson’s.

I awoke with a start, shivering in the long shadows of the late afternoon winter sun. A slight wind was gently moving the dune grass. Standing rather stiffly, I stretched, brushed the sand off, then lifted the plank onto my shoulder and trudged up to the point for a few more waves before braving Sunday traffic. The slight winter sunburn I had felt great.

Half a dozen waves later I called it quits, pulling out near shore and paddling on down to the same small hole in the fence that I had cut to get it. I climbed up the beach to the hole, slid my board through, then wiggled through myself, lugged the board over to my old convertible Buick, and slid it down the through the back window. Then began the ritual of rinsing off with the gallon jug of water I leave on the hood to heat up. I had already realized I was one of the luckiest people in the world. I had discovered surfing (in 1939), I had use of my sister’s car one day a week, enough money to buy gas from my morning paper route, and I owned my own redwood board. What else could a teenager want? The board sticking out the back window of my sister’s car always looked like the world’s largest tongue depressor. I climbed into the front seat and fired up the gas-guzzling eight-cylinder engine. Glancing south, I couldn’t see a single car headed north on Coast Highway. Glancing over my left shoulder, not a single southbound car was visible. Switching on my car radio, I was listening to Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” when an announcer cut in, “We interrupt the music to bring you this news bulletin. This morning at 8:05, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Many ships have been sunk and casualties are reported to be very high. We are standing by for further word from President Roosevelt at the White House.”

What were you doing December 7, 1941? I was surfing the point at Malibu all by myself.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.