Exhaustion was catching up to me after several days in my truck. Traveling across the Arizona desert in August was more difficult than I thought. A 12-hour drive turned into a full two days due to several unplanned stops. The scorching heat during the day was too much for the A/C to handle, and my truck started to overheat, forcing me to sweat it out in what little shade I could find. It had been two days since my last shower and the smell of body odor filled the cab, making it that much more uncomfortable of a ride. Thankfully, the end was near. As I entered the outskirts of San Diego I found it both frightening and exciting.
I wasn’t used to Southern California driving. Freeways branched off in every which way, buildings replaced the endless desert that I had become accustomed to, and the roads became jam-packed with aggressive drivers. Within just a few minutes of entering San Diego County, I was cut off, tailgated, and had to dodge several buckets bouncing through the freeway. What was this insanity? Placing myself in the center lane, I went with the flow as best I could hoping to survive long enough to get to the beach.
While stuck in traffic I reflected back on the last couple of weeks; I still couldn’t believe that I was actually here. Just a few days ago, moving to San Diego was nothing but a dream. In just one day, that dream became a reality.
I had previously been on a birthday road trip with my friend, in which we drove from Colorado to Canada. The plan was to stop at a skydive event in Montana and a festival in Canada. During the skydive event, I was introduced to a business owner who offered me a job in North County, San Diego. I was taken off guard. Just a few minutes before, I told my friend that if I had a job in San Diego I would move there the next day. After a few moments of contemplation, I accepted the offer. He asked if I could start the coming Thursday. Just like that, my road trip changed. From the music festival I would go straight to California in time to start the new job. Luckily, for the past 4 months I had been living in the back of my truck and had all my possessions already with me, so there was no need to pack.
Back in the San Diego traffic, I was inching along so slowly that it felt like I was making almost no progress, until I saw my first glimpse of the water. I was hit with the realization that I was only minutes away. Turning off the A/C, I rolled down the windows for fresh air and instantlywas blasted by the sweet smell of salt water and cool air. It's amazing how in just a short distance the air went from feeling like a blow dryer to sweet and refreshing. Crossing the bridge into Mission Beach, I began to see the first beach goers. There were people riding beach cruiser, playing beach volleyball, girls in bikinis, and kids on skateboards zigzagging through the pedestrians. It felt more like I was arriving home than to a new city; It wasn’t my first time in San Diego, but it was the first time that I felt like it was exactly where I was supposed to be.
A wide range of things attracted me to San Diego from the perfect weather, to visiting my extended family. However, there was one thing that I wanted the most: surf. Ever since I learned how to catch a wave during a trip to Central America, I was addicted. No matter where I was in the world, I wanted to surf—yet I have never had the chance until now. Of course, the first thing I did was buy a surfboard. I ended up with a 5’ 10” fish; it was short, wide and thick. I thought it was “cool,” not knowing that it would slow my learning curve.
I can clearly remember the first wave that I caught on my new board. It was one of those perfect summer days. The sun was out, and the water was as warm as it gets in San Diego. I drove up to Encinitas to surf Cardiff Reef. Cardiff is one of the friendliest waves in San Diego; both the shape of the wave and the surfers. The size that day wasn’t too big, but it felt massive for my first day out. I struggled to paddle the board out at first. It was so small and I couldn’t find my balance. It felt like a hundred waves broke on my head, but I kept on pushing back until I made it past the break. After catching my breath I tried to catch a wave. I went for wave after wave, failing each time. Getting frustrated, I moved away from everyone else and waited for the lesser waves.
I saw a nice looking wave coming, so I turned and started paddling. As the wave started picking me up, I hopped up to my feet. I thought that I was going to go straight over and fall again. At the last second I was able to find my balance, and then I was surfing! It felt like cruising down the face of the wave slowed down time. What felt like minutes was only a couple seconds. I decided to try turning, only to fail miserably, falling face first into the shallow water. It was a painful fall as I hit the bottom, giving myself a new bruise. As I stood up, choking on salt water, I was too stoked to noticed the pain. This is why I moved to California.
I started to go out everyday, sometimes several times a day. I would paddle out and not come in until I rode at least one wave. There were days where I sat in the water for hours, watching guys around me catch wave after wave while I floundered. I felt like a rag doll in a washing machine, getting tumbled by whitewater over and over, eventually popping up from the foam, and coughing out water that had blasted through my nose, burning my sinuses. Despite the repeated beatings, I was stubborn with the goal to always catch at least one wave. In the end, that wave was always worth it.
Even though I was a total beginner, I felt like the local surf culture drew me in. In terms of friendliness, some breaks are better than others. I made the mistake of paddling out to a few “locals only” breaks, receiving unfriendly looks and never given the chance to catch a wave. Quickly, I learned where the friendly breaks were, usually with the old timers and groms where everyone was stoked and shared waves. The people at these breaks really seemed to know what surfing was about; no competition or ego got in the way of pure stoke and having a good time. When I wasn’t surfing, I learned about the low-key lifestyle at the beach. Riding bikes or skateboarding along the boardwalk became a favorite pastime.
Slowly, I learned how to surf. One wave per session turned into two, and then it didn’t matter anymore. I just wanted to be in the water and surf. My new job was only on weekends, so I was blessed with un-crowded weekday waves. I was finally living the dream that I had ever since that first wave in Central America. Little did I know that it would be the start to the next chapter in my life. Surfing quickly changed my ambitions and took me on adventures that I will never forget. Sometimes we just have to take advantage of that random opportunity and run with it, never fearing the unknown.
Did you ever thought about moving to San Diego? Did you end up doing it? Tell us!
Up next: The Return of Camp Shred