Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Surfer Heaven

On the west coast of Costa Rica there’s a spot with consistently great waves, in a bay with a sweeping golden sand beach lined with jungle. It’s a three hour drive over dirt roads or a one hour plane ride from San Jose. It was there I met two young surfer drop-outs named Patrick and Peter. We hit it off right away. Their friendly vibe was infectious. They were outgoing stoner nomads who lived to surf. They'd been winging it in Costa Rica for the past year. Twenty year olds, they were living like it's 1972, but with better surf boards. Morning and evening they were out on the water, taking turns rocketing up and down the waves. They were by far the two most talented surfers on the local scene.

I hung out with them for a week. They lived with a few other surfers in a squalid cabana within walking distance of the beach. Their only possessions were surf trunks, t-shirts, boards, iPods, a bong, and flip-flops. They were definitely traveling light. In the morning when the birds and monkeys awakened and started screeching we’d head down to the beach to catch waves until the wind changed and the surf flattened out. Then we'd go back to camp, eat a big meal of rice and beans, and crash in hammocks for a few hours before heading back out in the early evening when the waves picked up again. "Pura Vida" is a phrase you see everywhere in Costa Rica. These guys were living it. One day slipped into the next following the same routine: wake up and surf, take a siesta, then go back out and surf some more.

In the evenings they'd sit around cutting out stencils and spray-painting them on old t-shirts and truckers caps. It was a collaborative effort, although Patrick came up with most of the designs; Cubist faces, random phrases, and tribal patterns spray-painted silver or black onto odd corners of the shirt. Without the distractions of television, Internet, or a nearby city they devoted most of their non-surfing time to their art.

Down in Costa Rica the surf scene is going strong. Local Tican rastas party with Mexican jewelry artists, American drop-outs, and European backpackers. They exist apart from the square tourists staying in the resorts that are popping up all along the once-pristine coastline. Hideaways on stilts with tie-dyed banners and surf boards leaning against the walls are scattered throughout the jungle near the shore. Every night surfers of both sexes, all heavily tanned and toned from hours of surfing, congregate at one of the few open air bars that sit along the dirt roads. Reggae plays over the sound system as they drink Imperial beer in the tropical heat and compare experiences from the day's surfing.

Surfing requires strength, especially today’s style which emphasizes carved turns and flips. Peter recalled how he got started: “I stood up on a boogie board when I was 7" he said, "My uncle taught me to surf. We just paddled out and he said 'Go for it'". He grew up surfing the river jettys off Newport Beach. Since then he'd surfed Hawaii and up and down the coast of Central America.

Patrick (a.k.a. “Pato”) hailed from Irvine, California. He and Peter went to high school together there, before they both were expelled two months before graduation for dealing. Patrick seemed to know everyone on the beach and in the nearby town. Driving a borrowed pickup truck into town to buy food, with long, white-blonde hair flopping over his eyes and a dolphin tattoo adorning one skinny hip, he'd call out greetings to kids playing on the road, families on bicycles, giggling local girls, workers lounging in the shade; everyone knew Pato and everyone liked him.

Along with surfing and partying, Patrick and Peter were making t-shirt art too. Patrick:"When I was in high school I would wear clothing by Billabong and Volcom religiously. Then one day I said "Why not do it yourself?" Ever since I have only worn a handful of shirts that I did not print myself".

Years ago I knew a kid named Michael who surfed the breaks off Palos Verdes. He lived in a Volkswagen Microbus that he kept parked near the beach. He spent most of his time at a coffee shop in Redondo Beach. That's where you called if you wanted to reach him. He sit playing chess for hours, stopping only to wander out to his van, grab his board and catch some waves when they were good. He was part of a long lineage of California surf bums. Guys who roll up and down the highways of the West Coast in old vans and pickups, chasing the waves. The commercialization of surfing hasn't eliminated them. You won't find them among the crowds who swarm the breaks on weekends. They're nowhere nearby. They're surfing a secret spot up the coast, one where you have to hike in. Or they're out in Hawaii, or down in Mexico, camping for weeks on end.

Patrick and Peter stayed down in Costa Rica another year before returning to America. They landed back in Irvine, harassed by the local cops until they found a secluded house off a dirt road in a rural part of Orange County. Here they set up a communal house with a group of like-minded friends. These days they spend their time growing vegetables in their garden and building coops for a flock of chickens that give them fresh eggs every morning. They've built a half-pipe for skateboarding and jumps for the dirt bikes they ride on the local trails. They’ve also started making shirts in earnest, hooking up with a guy who let them use a silk screen plant where they print shirts at night to sell at local surf shops and events during the day. They've named this operation Illus Clothing, Inc.

In an email to me, Patrick described the way it works: "Peter or myself or a friend comes up with a picture or logo or image then we tweak it out a little bit. Once we've agreed on a certain graphic we take it into the shop. The silk screen shop is open for business until about 5 or 6 in the afternoon so we usually go into work around 8 or 9 o'clock at night so we don't bother anyone. We make the artwork, buy the shirts, transport the shirts, paint the shirts using a silk screen press and then put them in Pete's van or in my truck and take 'em to the streets"

So far, they sell their shirts through their MySpace page and in a shop in Santa Barbara. They've had luck selling shirts at motocross races so they're trying more of them. Motocross is another adrenaline-junkie pursuit that requires strength and endurance. In the mountains northeast of LA, up around Big Bear Lake, there are miles of trails to ride and plenty of partying once the sun goes down.

Says Patrick: "I lived in a town where all my friends were given cars when they were 16. I used to work to make money to spend money but I didn't have a gut love for what I was doing. Now we're in a United States stuck in a stalemate of war and economic downturn. We are looking to make life better for everyone. It just seems there is way more than enough wealth in this country for everyone to have a decent life"

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Purple Knif Show, DJ'd by Lux Interior

"The Purple Knif Show is a highly sought-after, classic Hollywood radio show from July 1984 hosted by Lux Interior of The Cramps"

Thursday, February 05, 2009