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A Young Surfer Leaves NorCal, Wreaks Havoc In San Diego

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These are the stories of a surfer and his dog, packing up and moving 500 miles from San Francisco to start a new life in Encinitas.

The summer after my sophomore year in high school, my Mom thought it would be a good idea to send me down to San Diego to visit my cousin, who was a freshman at San Diego St. University, and stay with him for a month. I was going to high school in the San Francisco Bay Area and, for whatever reason, my Mom thought sending me away from home would be a great learning lesson in life. If my cousin had been a church-going man with a great moral compass, she might have been correct. Little did my mother realize the kind of mischief and debauchery I would get into with my cousin, who was a deviant deceiving my family into thinking he was a good little boy.

Although he was going to school at SDSU, my cousin Sean was living in nearby La Jolla. Until my first visit to the San Diego area, my familiarity with Southern California was limited to Los Angeles. I had visited my aunt and uncle who lived near Westwood and Beverly Hills countless times, and had become very acquainted with L.A. San Diego was a mystery to me however, and since the internet didn't exist then I only knew what others had told me, that the weather was amazing and that it had a much smaller populace than its coastal Southern California neighbor of Los Angeles.

My mother in a certain aspect was right: That summer changed my life forever. Although probably not in the way she envisioned it. My cousin had his own apartment, and when he didn't have friends over to consume alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs, we would go to the dormitories of local universities. Keep in mind I had just turned 15 years old at this time, as I had skipped a grade many years before and as a result for a large number of years was always the youngest kid in all of my social circles.

The parties in the UCSD dorms were the best. Even though Sean was studying at SDSU, he preferred to live in La Jolla and had a lot of friends who attended UCSD and lived in their dormitories. While I had fun on the SDSU campus, for whatever reason the vibe and the girls were always better at UCSD (even though the attention I received from the girls was more along the lines of adoration for being so young as opposed to the physical attraction I desperately sought after). Yet as wonderful as life was for a 15-year-old teenager being exposed to the social college experience, the most fun my cousin and I had was at the beach.

This was 1993 mind you. Back then, cliff jumping near La Jolla Cove was the norm, not outlawed. And we would go to those cliffs on a daily basis. My jumps were limited to the shorter cliff edges like The Clam. Others like my cousin would find cliffs that reached close to 100 feet in height and leap with pure joy. Often times we'd look down and the water was so clear you could see the garibaldi swimming around. Naturally we'd aim for them as we would jump, although we never actually hit any of them. It was insanity.

I remember there was one cliff that everyone called "Thread the Needle" where the goal was to land in this narrow opening of reef. Every time someone attempted to Thread the Needle we eagerly anticipated witnessing a horrific accident. Amazingly, we never saw one person miss the hole. The Coast Guard would make an appearance every couple of hours and issue tickets to those they witnessed jumping off the cliffs (I don't know how they actually collected any money from the tickets since the people they caught never had IDs and could have given them any random name). Yet people would continue to leap, lawful ramifications be damned.

It was this first summer I spent in San Diego where I saw what would quickly become one of my all-time favorite movies. The Endless Summer. Out of all of Sean's friends, only one of them was a surfer. This guy was named Pat. He looked exactly like professional surfer Pat O'Connell, who would star in The Endless Summer II which hadn't been released yet. Pat's mannerisms were almost identical to O'Connell's as well, mixed in with a little Jeff Spicoli. Pat was your stereotypical surfer and waterman.

Pat not only ruled the cliff jumping scene, but he was also an incredible surfer. Sean never got into surfing that much, but sent me off with Pat one day to go learn how to surf. I was eager to learn, having been enamored with both the ocean and surfing, and Pat amazingly wasn't opposed to the idea of taking a teenager out on one of his surfboards to teach him how to surf. Pat took me to Pacific Beach, and taught me some of the basics.

I didn't catch any waves that day. Pat insisted on having me go out on a shortboard, and as hard as it was just to catch a wave, standing on a shortboard with no prior surfing experience was even harder. In fact, I didn't catch my first wave until a couple of years later during a longboard session in Maui. Those brief sessions in the water I had with Pat that summer were memorable more for enjoying his funny stories and swimming in the pristine Pacific waters than for catching waves on a surfboard.
Lack of waves withstanding, I was hooked. I knew then that I wanted to be a surfer.

My Mom would send me down to stay with my cousin two more summers. Each time was just as fun as the last. And after that last summer, as a barely 17 year-old recent high school graduate who would shortly thereafter head north to attend Humboldt St. University, I knew that I wanted to call this place home. How, and when, were the questions I didn't have answers for. In fact, it took me 17 years to finally figure it out. And here I now am, a transplant in the beautiful city of Encinitas.

Cyrus Saatsaz is the author of Dogwild & Board: Stories, Interviews and Musings from a Surf Journalist. Print editions are available for only $19.99 and digital versions only $2.99 on Amazon.com or visit DogwildAndBoard.com to find a retailer near you.