Sometime around dinner. Dinner is a funny thing here. Nine o’clock is a good dinner time. But the cafes are packed at four and five. I’ve circled the same four blocks ten times looking for a computer charger. I walk into a store, hold up the American plug, and try to say “converter.” The sweet and helpless shop keepers look back at my big dumb smile and give me a perfunctory smile back and say “no.” I can push through a lot of things, but there’s no escaping several nights of no sleep. There is a line stretching 200 yards outside the Roxy store for I don’t know what. Women seem hellbent on waiting an hour to walk out with a small bag that contains, the best I can tell, a bag with two small hats, pink Roxie hats. I measure the time I’ve spent walking in circles by the progress that the forty-something year old brunette and two blonds with matching tears in their jeans, knees poking through perfectly, make toward the door. Alexander, the band, has the line, “would you call the earth an asshole, it spins around in circles all day.” I’m not the earth; I’m just starting to feel like an asshole. I’ve had a pact for the last two decades not to eat a hamburger while in Europe, to stick to the local food. But the streets here are dominated by American and Australian brands with no one in them speaking English.
It’s a rule I haven’t broken in decades–never eat a hamburger. Eat the local food. The cheeses meats and liquor. In the past, I’ve almost viewed seeing every museum and historic cultural spot as my moral responsibility to understanding the culture. I leave that country thinking their paintings and castles and local food are that culture. But the truth is, that was their culture. In this town, the iconic American surf brands appear to be French brands. They’ve coopted California surf culture and made it their own. I break down and order, with some difficulty, a “basque burger” from a “Happy Burger” with a beer. The women behind the counter warned me that it comes with a spicy sauce and a black jam. The spicy sauce is similar to the “hickory sauce” at the Apple Pan, LA’s iconic 1950 burger joint. But most American’s would freak on the black jam. Everything in this contest town is so American, I keep pissing people off by speaking English and expecting a reply. But everything American is also so French. I mean this place does not look too much different from The Grove or any other of Caruso’s mall projects.
When my daughter texted me photos of her wearing the new Nike Hyperdunks I sent her at 3am, I woke and didn’t fall back to sleep. That’s not true. Now that I’m remembering. I’d already been awake. I’d been awake since two, since I heard my hotel neighbors, and, whatever they were saying to each other, I was trying not to translate. My imagination, at that time in morning, was graphic enough. I felt something crawl across my shoulder. All sheets in middle-of-the-night lamplight look yellow. A pale bug the size of my fingernail was crawling across the sheet. All of a sudden I realized my feet dangled over the edge of the bed and my back had imprints from the springs in the mattress. My mind was trying to make a comparisons between the lines in the joints of my fingers and the bend in an arachnid’s legs–jet lag and flea bag hotels can do that to you.
Which brings me to the pro surfers on tour and sponsorship. In the old days, this hotel would have been deluxe conditions for professional surfers. Now their sponsors put them up in the best hotels around. Still, they spend roughly half the year on the road or more, competing at a minimum of eleven events a year, almost never in the same time zone. It’s hard to imagine doing what these pros do, paddling out in surf that could kill you, sometimes in sub-optimal conditions, at a break they don’t know well. The first three times I paddled out, my heart didn’t return to its normal anxious rate until I’d been on shore for twenty minutes. Now imagine Kelly Slater. He turns forty-five in a few months. He likes to show up, wherever the contest is in the world, just before his heat, no matter what the conditions. You want to rattle your competition. Show up just before you’re supposed to compete, take off on the biggest wave early, disappear into the wave’s mouth and get spit out of its tube smiling. This thought does not help me sleep.