Peter Heller : Journal

Adventures in Words and Landscapes

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Downeast

August 23rd, 2010 · Uncategorized

North Haven, Maine. Recovering from a blast of a book tour. Flight back across desert much less eventful than the way across. WIndy out in Kingman, windy in Gallup at the reservation when I stopped to gas up, windy in Santa Fe where I stopped for the night. Then a perfect, clear, green morning back up the San Luis valley, brushing the Sangre de Cristos on the through La Veta Pass. Now fog, ospreys, buoy clang, gull cry. More fog. Mom’s husband Pete–he basically grew up here on the island, his grandfather built the farmhouse. He comes alive here. I love it, too. Rock, dark woods, a field like mown gift, the cold sea. Lots of reading. Kim and I take the sea kayak out in the late afternoon. This morning, early, little niece Cammy and I flip through the bird book, both agree that a wood duck with his brightly colored head is just the fanciest thing.

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The Hook

August 7th, 2010 · Uncategorized

Read at Capitola Books and Café. Four old classmates from high school showed up which made my night. Good, little engaged crowd, some real old time surfers—silver foxes, or fish—and I was honored to have them there. This morning drove from the oak and grass hills of Aromas, back to Surf City. Walked down the twisting wood steps at the end of 41st, trotted along the sandstone skirt of the cliff and out into the kelp beds and surfed the famous Hook. This stretch, less than half a mile in either direction, has more famous breaks per yard of shoreline than maybe any place on earth. Pleasure Point, O’Neil’s, 38th, Drainpipes, the Hook, Shark’s. On and on. For once in my life I had stood up on the bluff, leaning on the wood rail, and watched before I launched. One guy told me the place was notorious for localism.
“Will I get my tires slashed if I go out there?”
“Nah. Just don’t drop in on the wrong guy. You might have an altercation.”
It was pretty crowded. Maybe twenty longboarders, rising and falling in the thick brown kelp, not too many sets. I paddled out. An older guy smiled. “Where you from?”
“Denver.”
We were off. Nobody understands a surfer from Denver. “You get points for just paddling out here,” he said.
Wierd surfing in the thick kelp. Once I took off on a nice shoulder and the kelp grabbed my leg, cinched it like a constrictor, wouldn’t let me go. Caught a few, fast drops, got sectioned, wiped out. Always takes me a little while to figure out a new wave. Then one long green ride all the way to the tiny beach. Got out.
Santa Cruz. It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t sharky, and the surfers were friendly. Go figure.

Coffee and a Flower, Shell Station, Big Sur

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Birds

August 5th, 2010 · Uncategorized

Big Sur yesterday. Fog, wind, birds. Cliffs, rocks, cold green water, birds. Every time I see a bird now, I think, “You are not covered in oil. The water you dive into is not covered in a burning sheen. Lucky birds.” Well, they capped the well. Can’t get the tarred birds out of my head. The teeming, nesting skimmers whose fledglings launched into that stinging water. Thank god for the unpoisoned places.

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Kook the T-Shirt

August 5th, 2010 · Uncategorized

Here at the Seal Beach Kook party are, from left:
Bruno, legendary French surfboard shaper. Me. Michael Pless, the Saint of Seal Beach. Michael, Jr., Surf instructor extraordinaire. Michael, Sr. made the cool shirts.

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Sleeping with Friends

August 5th, 2010 · Uncategorized

On to San Luis Obispo for a reading at Border’s. Spent the night with Mandy, old ship mate from the Sea Shepherd’s Farley Mowat. We became friends in the gales and twenty foot seas of the Antarctic ice edge. Her cabin is on the edge of the the Morro Bay estuary, miles of wild wetlands and the Pacific breaking on the empty beach. Surf thresh all night, and—ferrets. She has two white, wriggly, rescued, manic, bundles—or tubes—of high energy play. She and her boyfriend Twister went into the bedroom with one last entreaty back at me on the Thermarest on the living room floor: “They’re gonna harrass you all night. You sure you don’t want to sleep in the RV?” No, I wanted to brave the ferrets.
As tight as I clutched the sleeping bag to my chin, Mo and his sister nosed and pushed and found their way in. They slipped down either side of me like torpedos of mischief, and nibbled on my toes. They ran up and out and licked my hair. They leapt onto my stomach. I laughed out loud. They had more sense of fun than any five year old human I’d ever met. Finally they took pity on me; Mo clamped onto the meat of my palm with one more affection filled bite, and they bounded off to wherever they slept. I slept better than I had in weeks.

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Old Man’s

August 5th, 2010 · Uncategorized

Huntington Beach, up at 4 am, excited to drive down past San Clemente to San Onofre State Beach, and the break lovingly called Old Man’s.  Carl Hampe and I decide to meet and have a day.  He’s a smart, adventurous producer who loves a good story, worked on Slumdog Millionaire and likes to kayak difficult whitewater, and surf.  Sunday, gonna be crowded, they only let 250 cars in at a time, better be in line by 6am.  We are.  I can see Carl’s old bio-diesel twenty cars ahead on the switchback above.  The guy behind me in a big old truck drinks his coffee, smokes a vanilla cheroot, and invites me to paddle down to “Dogpatch” to surf with his buddies.  He’s an old hippy/cowboy, a rare mix, and we chat quietly while the sun rises.  When all the cars start up to enter the park, he gives me a hug.  Surfers always frigging surprise me, the random glimmers of aloha spirit.

Surfer’s have been winding down off the bluff to ride this generous wave for fifty years.  Carl and I surf the big slow waves until my biceps cramp.  Hours.  Catch some long rides.  Take off together on waves and split the peak, he one way and I the other.  I love my new, used Takayama 9-0.  Between sets, we sit the boards, rising and falling, and share kayaking and surfing stories, stories about making stories.  He is funny, unguarded, a blast.

Finally we crawl out of the water, shower in the bamboo grove spigot, drive to breakfast at the firehouse-red café in Dana Point, then go out to Doheny’s in Dana Point for another session.  The place looks, smells, sounds like a dream of So Cal summer, yells of kids, beach volleyball, grills smoking, bicycle bells jingling, gulls.  Must be 60 surfers out there.  Somehow we paddle out and find an opening.  Catch one shapely little wave after another.  Carry our boards back to the cars on the hot paved path.  Body humming with fatigue and a pervasive, muscular good will.

I love surfing.

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Seal Beach Reverie

July 31st, 2010 · Uncategorized

Coffee and apple fritter in the Seal Beach pier parking lot with the Saint and crew under a thick, gray overcast, very relaxing, then suited up, grabbed the beautiful new Takayama hibiscus red 9-0 longboard, tucked it under my arm and walked the wet sand all the way up the beach, past three lifeguard towers, while the willets and sandpipers stutter-legged over the low tide- flat, pecking for whatever they eat for breakfast. So peaceful. I felt so happy. Surfed the jetties at the river (Ray Bay, ton of sting rays–I didn’t put my feet down once), caught ride after ride, some pretty long. Just a few guys out there, all mellow, talking, trading waves. Love the new, old board. Tomorrow reading in Laguna Beach, then up the coast to Santa Barbara and northward. Gonna keep the rental SUV for this part of the trip so I can keep the board with me and surf every day.

Not Seal Beach!

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Kook Barnstormer Tour: Wing and a Prayer

July 29th, 2010 · Uncategorized

Seal Beach, Orange County

Yesterday just breathing salt air and half asleep all day, so glad to be here. Pretty strenuous coming across. The Seal Beach Kook party was Tuesday evening, so I tried to fly the little Cessna out of Santa Fe at dawn on Monday, but got denied due to monsoon storms. That left me with one day to get all the way across. I showed up at the Santa Fe airport just at daybreak on Wednesday, looked pretty clear, satellite imagery showed an open path over Phoenix, so I hopped in and turned the key…dead. Completely. Dang. Found a guy with a pickup and we ran jumper cables and jumped the plane. Started!
“Hey,” I yelled over the roar, “you think this is gonna charge up as I fly?”
“Hope so!” he said. Me too.

Took off at sunrise and headed for Phoenix. Stopped once for fuel at a one pump high desert airport called St. John, flew west, big uplift ahead and…solid cloud deck. Thunderstorms everywhere. No way through. Shoot. This is not normal desert weather this time of year. Turned around, had to dodge a thunderstorm. Saw myself missing the reading, the OC launch. Figured I’d head north to Flagstaff, try there. It was clear. Dodged more storms by the Grand Canyon and came into Palm Springs with a huge relief. Only the LA Basin and the most congested airspace in the world to get through. When I landed in Long Beach and taxied up to the Long Beach FLight School, the guy in coveralls driving the little tug, said, “Peter? Welcome!” The air operations director for the flying club was reading Kook and loving it!

Had just enough time to shower, grab a book and get to the party overlooking the Seal Beach pier. Sold out all the books in first half hour. Mike, the Saint of Seal Beach, our first surf instructor, made up gorgeous Kook t-shirts with the book’s cover all over the front. We had a blast. Everyone from a surfing plumber to the CEO of Mattel was there, all stoked to read the book. Some folks had already read it and were lit up. One man said he was teaching it to his summer school kids and they loved it because it was real and honest and funny. It inspired them. All of this made me remember why we write a book.

Surfed this morning. At the home break. So good to be back in the water, among friends.

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A Reason to Write

July 23rd, 2010 · Uncategorized

Just got this email from Hawaii. Sweetest message I ever received from a stranger.

Oh, my, what a great book! It takes me back so many years, just after returning from two tours in Viet Nam…phew….what a great, fun, tear jerking kind book! I had grown up in Seal Beach area, rode Harbour surfboards, as well as Bruce Jones from Sunset, and Robert August from Huntington Beach….I have surfed the Cliffs, Bolsa Chica, and all those wonderful breaks down south while travelling in my 1969 Ford Econoline Van…built in bed across the wheel wells, storage under the bed, surfboard racks across the inside…each holding one board with tight straps or two with ropes….propane stove and lanterns…trips to Baja….K-38, K-55, etc….oh, my, Peter, you hit the mother lode in my heart and memory bank! I live in Hawaii, have taught school for 34 years, will retire next June…surf regularly…9’0″, 9’2″, 2 9’6″ s 9’10” and three 10’0s. Yes, the older we get the longer the boards. I remember about 10 years ago, when I was about 51-52 I found that I needed to have a long board. I bought an 8’0…yes, an 8’0….I was EMBARRASSED! Then, at surfing other spots here on the Big Island, a 9’0″ was needed….got it…rode the hell out of it…then, after seeing lots of older guys riding 10’0″, I bought one….it was so degrading at that time…yes, as you said in “Kook,” lots of old dudes hang around their cars in the parking lot and talk about old times—so true! I am 61 1/2 and often come to the beach at 530 am and have coffee with my mates, all surfers, but my same age….we have stoke, but not willing to paddle out at daylight….need to access the tide, wind conditions, etc before we choose to paddle out. We have a fellah, from “Kook” era, worked for Hobie, shaped boards, etc. Now he lives here and makes boards, old style….10’0’s, plenty of concave, single fins, etc…the boards I have mentioned before are all his! I am so happy to write this and send this your way as you brought back so many memories via your book. I do feel, Pete, that everyone is a Kook…beginner, intermediate, and even pros…we all have our “kooK” days and just smile and grin as we pearl, wipe out, fall off in soup, etc etc. I thank you for your efforts, bud….I will tell everyone I know to read this. My wife bought it “early” on Amazon and she just received it today…I am standing in my garage, surf shop, ding repair shop….surfboard tables for my computer I am writing you on and just beaming with pleasure after reading the book. Ride on, bruddah….mahalo for the memories, phil Heavenston Ps. my wife yelled at me and told me to tell you she has read the rest of your books and loves them…total stoke, bruddah. aloha
Wear the sun in your heart, ride a wave each day if you can, OR remember one you have ridden, and cultivate feelings of happiness and peace to everyone you meet…live aloha, phil

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The Kook Abides

July 23rd, 2010 · Uncategorized

Flew the little Cessna on the first leg of the Kook barnstormer reading tour today, from Denver to Santa Fe. Had learned to fly in 20 days in Montana for a story, another Kook adventure, and this was the beginning of my first big cross country trip. Glorious early morning, skirting north of the Spanish Peaks, down over the flanking meadows of the San Luis Valley, along the riven canyon of the Taos Box. All well. A few whispy clouds, windrows edging the farms throwing long shadows. Spoke to Air Traffic Control in Santa Fe who told me to land on runway 35. Just as I was turning for my final approach he called, “Triple Three Alpha, you’re landing on 2! You are on final for 2!” Landing on the wrong runway is not advised. He made a split second decision. “No wind, landing on 2 approved, go ahead.” Whoops. I landed. The guy in the tower, I knew, was loved by his mother. He is a great dad. He has a dog. He has a sense of humor. The Kook abides.

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