The video below discusses a man’s struggle with the loss of his brother and the solace and comfort that surfing brings during his time of transition. He has survived the loss of his brother and remarks that it’s surfing that offers him a glimpse of peace and helps him deal with the “good days and the bad.” I can relate to his sentiment because I too survived the unexpected loss my younger brother and have turned to surfing to alleviate my pain over the years.
On this fateful day, the mysterious morning surfer named Mike Perrine, the Surf “Survivor,” describes what has brought him out into the surf before the sunrise. Mike is charging out into the surf even though there aren’t any waves and it’s as a flat as a lake. He also explains how he wants to honor his brother with a Hawaiian style “paddle-out,” which can be loosely described as an age-old ceremony dedicated to deceased members of the surfing community.
As we consider Mike Perrine’s words and his account of the “good days and bad” we look out at the movement at the Malibu Point break. It is another beautiful day, with warm weather and breezy sunny skies. Malibu Point is a historical surf spot that over the years has catered to all types surfers. Whether you are a novice or a professional, a short boarder or long boarder, Malibu has waves for you. Today is no different; we have a professional surf contest happening among the intermediate, expert and novice surfers. There are paddle boarders, short boarders, long boarders, soft toppers and kayakers in the water.
Because of the broad range of surfers and the popularity of this epic point break, Malibu is a bit of a zoo – the ‘Bu Zoo.
The lifestyle and sport of surfing is in itself a ritual. It brings you to the same places over and over and builds a community around the movement and migration of swell activity that sometimes travels hundreds of miles before reaching the coast. Surfing “tunes” you to the rise and fall of tides dictated by the cycles of the moon. It “tunes” you to the frequency and direction of swells and storm activity off the coast. It makes you aware of the direction and velocity of the wind and the geography of land both above and below the water. To find the best surf you have to dial-in all of these variables and features of mother earth and become perceptive to her many changing, yet cyclical attributes.
In addition to the broad category of surfing, there are a few specific and sacred rituals within surfing. One ritual, dubbed the ceremonial “Paddle Out” is mentioned above. The Polynesian/Hawaiian “Paddle Out” is conducted in honor of a lost loved one who was a part of the surfing community, lifestyle, and culture. Once you become serious about surfing it grabs ahold of you and becomes one of the cornerstones of your life. You realize that from that moment on, you are surfing to live and living to surf.
For a surfer who has passed away, this “paddle out” ceremony is an honorable way to recognize and celebrate their life. During the ceremony, friends and family of the deceased paddle out into the water and form a circle with linked hands. Typically words and prayers are exchanged and flower petals or ashes of the deceased are distributed into the water. The object is not to go for surf session that day, but to form a union in the water and pay respects to the deceased as well as the many others who have come before us.
Aside from this ritual, dawn patrol is another well-known and celebrated ritual within the surf community. The dawn patrol ritual is simply paddling out before the sun rises, but it is more than that. This ritual has a deeper meaning because it takes dedication and discipline to get up at that hour and experience that moment of the day. It is a chance for us to celebrate our life and give thanks and praise for the new day. For those surfers that do partake in the dawn patrol ritual, they also benefit from the enjoyment of glassy, un-crowded waves.
After getting to know Mike Perrine, I ventured to my car and was struck by the glance of a local Topanga resident who has been parking his trailer at Topanga ever since I can remember. Topanga is the surf spot where I’d routinely paddle out when I lived on the west side of LA. I surfed this spot for over 10 years and it brings back a strong sense of nostalgia anytime I drive by. It used to take me 15 minutes to get here, another five to get suited up and I’d be in the water within 30 minutes of leaving the house. Now I realize that it has taken me 2 years and this assignment to finally muster enough interest to have a chat with the Topanga trailer man.
Below is a short clip of the time I spent getting to know the “Mayor of Topanga.”
… and the remix, Version 2
Enough about Topanga Canyon, if you’re interested in more information about the world-renowned Malibu Point, continue reading.
There are three major points at Malibu and they all face directly south, which means it catches the south swell perfectly. Granted, depending on the direction of the swell and the size of the waves, other spots along this stretch of beach will break, but for the most part there are 3 main points at Malibu: first peak, second peak and third peak. Long borders that disregard surfing etiquette and end up sharing every wave usually dominate first peak. It’s not uncommon to see more than one person on a wave at first peak and so these waves are affectionately known as “party waves.”
Second peak, also known as middle peak typically has a mix of short and long boarders and the rules are a bit more structured. Third peak has fast and hollow breaking waves, which are ideal for short boarders who drop in quickly and race the short sections looking for barrels and big snaps off the lip. Third peak has very strict line-up and drop-in rules, mostly for safety reasons and pecking orders, so if you are beginner and don’t know when to pull-out and aren’t confident you’ll make the drop safely, stay away from third peak.
Here is a Google satellite map with the 3 points at Malibu roughly identified:
The day I shot the above videos, I counted the number of surfers at second and third peak in 15-minute intervals for the duration of 2 hours. Then I plotted the data on the graphs shown below.
These graphs are a representation of the data I collected that day and although the data didn’t chart to perfect sine waves, it points to the possibility of the greater oscillating frequencies in all things, including surfing. I suspect that a more comprehensive analysis would find data that supports wave-like tendencies in other aspects of surfing such as the frequency and amplitude of waves, swells, and surfer migration.