I’ve arrived at the phenomenal Hotel 202. Jerome, the owner, used to open shops up for Rip Curl. He also writes fiction, novels, mostly for fun and has won the town’s best new novel contest. I’m staying here on a friend’s recommendation and I could care less that some of the pros are here. My room is what you’d expect, architecturally, in Europe–clean lines, pocket sliding doors, reading lights you don’t notice until they’re on. A nap, after 26 hrs. of travel, is so tempting but my wife and kids are a zillion miles away and this is a dream and I’ve got a world to touch and taste.
The moisture in the air is like wearing a super-thin Gortex body suit–I can’t tell whether or not I’m cold or warm, whether I’m sweating or my skin is just breathing. I have three airports and three planes in my pores. Last time I was in Europe was a decade ago. You could pick out the tourists by the maps they carried. Now my phone allows me to be slightly more anonymous–I could be following a map or scrolling through selfies and landscapes on Instagram.
I’m headed to the contest sight. I want to check in, to make sure I’m supposed to be here, to feel like I have a reason for being here. I cut through some side streets not on any route. The best way to beat jet lag is to walk six miles. The streets are lined with a mishmash of architecture, but they’re mostly boarded up mansions. Sometimes I feel like I travel the world following the same 3,000 ultra rich people just after they’ve left this season’s vacation home, just after the fashionable season has ended. I’m okay with that–the off-season always seems to be when the best snow falls, the best surf fills in, and the rents drop low enough for writers to afford. Put another way, surfers, snowboarders, and poets thrive in the shadowy hump seasons.
I think I’m at the contest sight. There are people wearing virtual reality goggles made by Samsung pretending to surf, more evidence surfing has made it into the mainstream.
At La Graviere, the surf is junk. Ten feet plus, wind swept, breaking close to shore–I don’t see anybody out. But I see photographers and a crowd. I look back at the water. I see a few birds bobbing in the water, no, they’re three surfers. Almost every wave is double overhead and closed out, breaking, in laymen’s terms, in one single thundering line with nowhere to go. Terry Hardy, Kelly Slater’s manager, told me he got driven so hard into a sandbar out here a decade ago that he snapped his back. I’m still walking like I slept on a row of lumpy airplane seats. A pro drops in, bottom turns and hits the lip, a nanosecond second turn, and escapes to the bottom before he gets pounded. It’s a quick reminder of why I’m here, the difference between pros and me. They make shitty surf look good while I would just feel stupid and scared out there. Its amazing to see.