Thursday, December 21, 2006
Big Joe told the kids stories about a surf spot just north of Santa Barbra called the “Ranch.” He said it's a place where waves still go un-ridden, a place where point break follows point break down a 14-mile stretch of central California’s coastal mountain range. He said, “Here is a place where the wind always blows in the right direction.” The kids would laugh when Big Joe would “talk story” about all the lonely winters he spent surfing perfect waves and camping in the mountains. The catch was, the land was all privately owned, so unless you knew someone, or were a 28-year-old surf shop clerk named Big Joe, who fabricated stories about camping and lonely winters there, the only access was by boat. So when Big Joe would try to round up kids from the shop to hike in from the northern tip, Jalama, down around Point Conception, and into the heart of a great white feeding ground, it was no surprise he couldn’t find a way to make its appealing qualities out weigh it’s dangerous traits. Tate was the rookie of the shop and just graduated from prep school. He was a good kid, but he was a little overly obsessive about keeping the shop orderly. He was one of those kids who thought the lift on his truck was directly proportionate to his popularity. Although he had good intentions, his mouth would always get him into trouble. Big Joe called him the “Hall monitor,” because he constantly critiqued everyone’s performance around the shop.
“ No way,” Tate said. “Too sharky." Besides, you shouldn’t be going in there because it's illegal.”
“I heard the ranch hands shoot you with salt pellets.” Beho said.
Big Joe looked disgusted. He couldn’t understand why these little kids were such pussies. Beho, who would do anything for anyone, was a short Mexican posing as a Hawaiian because he thought Hawaiians got more respect. He had bleached blond bangs and a tattoo of a yellow-fin-tuna on his chest. He dropped out of school to become a pro surfer, but ended up a pro drinker instead. One thing was certain, Beho looked up to Big Joe so when Joe talked, Beho listened.
“You guys are sissy bitches. All we have to do is hike around one little point, watch out for ranch hands, and we will be surfing the best waves of our lives. Besides if any thing happens I’ll protect you. I got your backs.”
“What if one of us gets hurt?” Beho asked.
“Ya, what about the sharks?” Tait fallowed
Big Joe shook his large head and looked out the front door of the shop. Photographs of swells and surfers from the past cover the shop’s walls like a time-line documenting its 40-year relationship with the ocean. It was raining out and the boys hadn’t seen a costumer all day.
Big Joe turned back to the boys and said, “That’s fine. You pussies can stay here and surf rainy crap while I go find some real men to come search for perfect waves with me.” He must have sounded convincing, because within a half a day, the truck was packed and Beho, Tait and Big Joe were heading north on the interstate past Rincon state beach. They arrived in Jalama, left the truck at the campground, and began to hike south along the train tracks. Big Joe wasn’t a lair; he was fabricator. It was part of his charm. He would take small bits of truth and expand them in a way that amplified an otherwise boring story. For example, when he said he spent many winters here camping in the mountains of the “Ranch,” it’s true he had camped in the winter before, just not there. In reality, the only camping he had done was with his father in Death Valley, plus when he said he knew how far the hike from Jalama to Point Conception was, it is true he knew the hike was far, he just didn’t no how far. They were only on the tracks for twenty minutes when Big Joe stopped walking. He motioned for them to get off the tracks. They didn’t question him, as all three boys demonstrated their best army roll into the bushes.
Beho began freaking out, “This is it. Were going to die,” he said.
“Shut the fuck up. They’re gonna hear you,” Big Jo scolded.
“But they’re gonna…”
Big Joe punched Beho in the arm just as a white truck with “Bixby Ranch” painted in red letters bounced slowly down the dirt road and passed them. After the truck was out of sight, Big Joe picked his board and pack and stared down the tracks to the south.
“How much farther do think it is?” Tate asked.
“Couldn’t be much more than a mile.”
Big Joe looked at the kids sitting in the bushes next to the tracks, then back at the ocean and the house on the far point that seem to guard their destination. He knew it was more than a mile. He also knew that house wasn’t the end of the journey. That old white cottage, so perfectly placed on the bending shore, was the beginning of their entrance into the “Ranch.” It was the great bend in California’s coast. It was where the relatively tame weather of southern California met the cold harsh power of northern California’s wet temper. It was “Point Conception.” But he didn’t want the kids to loose hope, so he lied and said it was closer than it was.
“You guys hang in there we’ll be in the water in twenty minutes tops. You will be surfing with sea lions in no time.”
Beho and Tait looked at Big Joe, then back at the house on the point, then back at Big Joe, and finally back at each other. An electric fire burned in their stomachs as they stood and marched forward toward the horizon.
A warm wind blew down from the mountains, and across green fields of maze and out to sea, on it’s way to Santa Cruz Island. It was dry and sunny; every thing was alive around them. Even the wooden fence posts that line the dusty tracks sprouted new saplings. The little cottage on the point grew and grew until it was a large house surrounded by the blossoming springtime. The boys marched in their high tops with their boards at their sides, like explorers of a new frontier. Tait was the first to see them. Long lines of swell wrapped around the point, as they their long journey from the northwest entered the cradle of the sandy cove. Each golden blue crest feathered its white froth as it broke along the south side of Governments point. He pointed as he started to run.
“There they are!” Tait screamed.
Big Joe’s first impulse was to jump back in the bushes, But when he realized what Tait was screaming about he just stood there and watched the to boys jump the fence and scurry through waist-high grass. He pulled out his camera and took a picture of them racing the wind through the field and out toward the perfect ocean. Almond shaped waves beckoned from their salty throne. The boys wasted no time in throwing on their wet suits, stashing their packs, and making their way down the cliff to the water. Big Joe sat on the tracks again stared at his prize in disbelief. The boys were in the water riding waves they had only seen in magazines. Joe stood up and began to walk forward when the truck pulled up behind him. He didn’t even notice. Even the kids in the water noticed, but Joe didn’t. A tall, bald man stepped out of the truck. He was dressed completely in denim except for his snakeskin boots. He had a rifle in one hand and cherry slushy in the other. The man sipped his drink as the sun bounced off his silver shades. Then he spoke.
“ You lost, son? This land here is private.”
Big Joe was running before the man had finished his sentence. The man took the last sip and threw the empty cup into the back of his truck, but made no effort to chase after him. Joe was in a slow motion sprint to the beach. All he could see was the boys making their way out of the water and on to the beach. That’s when the darkness came. His last memory was of the boys looking up at him as he soared through the air. He woke up in the back of the man's old pick up with kids huddled in each corner, wet and shaking. His head hurt, and he could taste blood in his mouth. Although his vision was a little blurry, he could feel no pain. He lay there on his back staring at the blur of the sun shining through the passing trees.
He heard the man’s voice, “Hello sheriff? This is Frank over at the Bixby Ranch. I just plucked some kids off my property. Maybe you could come get’m and Haul them off back to their parents. One of ‘m is hurt. He ran himself strait off a cliff, I never seen any thing like it.”