Stories

Our Lady of Black's Beach

I was orphaned as a child. Not that my parents died, but they split. My dad submerged into the clouds of mountain mists. My mother and brother whirled in ellipses of Catholicism and disco, places where I felt uncomfortable and ill at ease.

The last memory I had of my father was snorkeling, catching fish off the Taiwan coast. Speckled black manta rays and hammerhead sharks crashed out on the docks. We caught spiny puffers, long thin trumpet fish, and rainbow wrasses. Upon returning to live in California, I went to the ocean to look for my dad, following the dotted tracks of algae leaves.

In Cemetery Beach at Monterey I got lost in giant kelp forests, and a tiny gobi helped me to find my way. In the turquoise waters off Catalina Island, I befriended horn sharks, octopus, and sleeping garibaldies. Flashlight met lobsters cruising on the sand, as moray eels slid through the bubbly waters. At Santa Cruz harbor, sea anemones and starfish clung to moistened wood; but the trail on my papa lay cold.

Ended up in San Diego, balancing between the pulses of crests and troughs at Black's Beach. Every dawn, I ran down the hill to play with her blue green tresses. She took me in with kindness and generosity, bestowing sparkling gifts of waves, rainbows, and laughing dolphins even as tears drained into her.

In the still dark waves of early morning I met regulars who loved the sea as I did. Party boy David Margulies sat at the edge of the world, and scored dozens of deep tubes. He was our true metronome and indicator of outside sets. He taught me to never take either of the two waves that came in close proximity one behind another. Steve Yamamoto, a.k.a. Dr. Harding, rode atop a yellow fish named Peggy. Allison and Tyler guarded his backside. The lone family man and elder of our troop, he regaled us with gambling stories of Las Vegas pit bosses and academic cash pools. It is said that he owned only one lucky green suit, which he wore to joust with high rollers and blank eyed men. He applied his keen knowledge of wave physics onto ripples high and low. Barb 'n skate Bruce Barbarasch got caught inside as he massaged our lady's feet. He carved the third or fourth wave of a set in pelican fashion, flying on stinky winged booties, O'Neil size 12 or 13.

Bob Gove the seal incarnate glided effortlessly through liquid cracks, while his dog Corona barked patiently on the shore. Shambles Chris Coggan came late, still wearing a wetsuit full of swells from the night before. Caught between railroad tracks and angry naked ladies, he kept sentinel from the hilltop mansion: dialing the surf forecasters, drop knee and charging. Smiling boys from Poole Street Rick and Paul were sun burnt from standing too long in watery barrels; shred heads Evan, Miguel, and Jake ambled down on switch backs from the knoll as light broke atop the cliffs .

Along the morning run to Black's were many treats. On Farms Road, the drunken perfume of a winter sweet tree filled the asphalt path. We picked lemons off of abandoned trees, and laughed at the garbage cans full of cheap wine in front of a UCSD professor's house. A common landscape plant was the South African natal plum, chunky red dog bane fruits with white sap. From them, I made sweet and tart jams, no pectin needed. We paused in the dark to see falling stars, and to see if any cars had arrived before us. Then, we passed through the metal gates that led down to Black's. Sand cliffs cracked open, and the aura of the coastal canyons took over.


The birds sang for the arrival of the sun! The smell of artemisia and true sages filled the serpentine trail; spines and hairs of flat opuntias and round chollas glistened and stood on end. There were ripe red tunas to eat, and clear fruits of the lantern plant to light up the corners. After heavy rains, succulent ladies fingers tumbled from the eroding hillsides. Foxes and rabbits followed one another on the twisted trails in games of hide-and-seek. Lemonadeberry was the perfect face-twisting, mouth-puckering, trail snack.

At the overlook we checked for wave activity. If waves were breaking consistently, the fallen foam formed a white triangle between the rocky lookout. Keep running! Turn the second curve and burrr! This was refrigerator corner, where cold air sat in ambush. Some days, the winds blew so hard that the surfboard became a kite, and one turned into a helicopter. The powerful currents etched parts of the cliff next to the trail into an arch resembling the sloping waves. This architectural feature we limpetted onto as imagined spray blew overhead. At the bottom of the hill lingered the memory of California fan palms we planted, chewed to bits by the roaring winds. A quick sprint on the sand or rocks and into the foam. Ah to touch the water finally. . .

In the water, there are places where waves like to break. They have different names like North peak, South peak, and Gilligan's. Packs of surfers gathered at these spots, voracious and hungry for waves. They eyed the horizon, and paddled for priority like wolves on a kill. Luckily, at dawn, we had the place to ourselves! Lines on the sea, pleated envelopes of energy, collapsing to the right and to the left. Methodically and powerfully.

Black's is a special place for surfers. She is well known on the California coast for her high cliffs, underwater contours, and the waves she generates. A deep submarine canyon funnels far traveling swells from New Zealand, Polynesia and Alaska up towards the sandbar. South and west swells that roamed across the Pacific Ocean emerged as fast cavernous lefts. Northwest storms carried with it Aleutian juice and arctic winds. Black's has the ability to maintain the integrity of her wave shape during these large swells. She rumbles the classic A frame, with a steep top to bottom take off. Wide shoulders and hollow arm pits.

The ocean, she is the beginning and source of all life, the primordial salt brew of radiation storms and crystalline elements. Touching all lands, she is the end point of all effluence and garbage, the liquid womb of umbilical rivers, and the icy poles around which our world navigates. Hine-nui-te-po, unconquered, resumes her sleep there, as does Ursula the sea witch. Nerrivik still waits for angakoks to comb her unruly hair. Yemaya inspires fear in Shango. Seeking refuge, the sea's dark stillness held me in her trance. There, tucked in the watery folds of her muscles, sinew, and fat, I found the comfort of a mother.