Sunday, May 18

Linda Mar Dusk

I head to the beach from work at 6:30 p.m., driving through city traffic past the ballpark to Route 280. The sun shines brightly for now but thick banks of fog are rolling in from the ocean and spreading across the city. As I climb the hill behind Pacifica, the mist gets so thick that cars slow to a crawl. And as we descend to the coast, it feels like night already. It's 7.15 when I pull into the Linda Mar lot and 7.30 by the time I'm walking along the beach in my wetsuit.

Sunday at dusk--my absolute favorite time to surf--it is almost never crowded and has a unique calm.

I see a decent peak toward the northern end of the beach with just one guy sitting on it. He'll go in soon, I think, and I'll have it to myself. But, as I stretch on the sand, another latecomer gets ready to head in at the same spot. We eye each other, both thinking the same thing--why do you have to paddle in here? After last week's "heatwave" the water has crept into the mid-50s (about 12-14C) and feels like a warm bath. I exalt in surfing without gloves for the first time in months. I feel the water run through my fingers as I paddle and the moguls of wax against my hands as I push the board through the waves.

The sets are inconsistent but, every five minutes or so, they roll in and offer a long right or a steep bowling left that peters out a bit too quickly. The three of us sit close together--collectively trying to keep track of the peak during the lulls--so etiquette demands close attention to who's paddling for a wave and who's on the inside. We don't hassle each other but compete quietly. We are all natural footers--preferring the right--so I focus on the left, often taking off next to one of the other guys as we split the peak. The left walls up occasionally and I ride a few all the way into the beach--giving me a tiring paddle back out. The three of us sit out there for over an hour. No one says anything. No one nods or smiles. No one is hostile. The vibe is completely neutral. We all wanted a solo dusk session and we do our best to create that impression.

As it gets darker, the house lights on Pedro Point appear out of the fog on our left. The uninhabited rocky point on our right disappeared into the gloom long ago. The lines of swell are black but the whitewater is brighter than ever. It gets hard to see the waves but no one goes in. As far as I can tell, we are the only surfers still in the water. I begin to wonder if each of us has resolved to stay out the longest to catch a few minutes solo.

I decide to wait for a decent set to ride a last wave in. As always, this resolution is followed by a long lull and I sit there waiting. One of the guys catches a small wave and two of us remain sitting out the back. The sun set over half an hour ago and the mist is sucking up any remaining light. When I can no longer see more than a few feet, I paddle for a wave and ride it unsteadily into the beach, pulling out just before the shore pound dumps me into the sand. My companion catches the next wave in--he was waiting to be last, I think. It's after 9 p.m. and our three cars are the only ones left in the Linda Mar lot. It is truly night now--pitch black--and, like the other two guys, I fight my way out of my cold wetsuit and drive home alone.