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Surf memories, forever young
JOHN GIBBS is a resident of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

GAYS MILLS - I’m constantly thinking about and searching for topics to write about in my column. The other day an idea found me. I bought a used book called The Complete History of Surfing, a 2008 book loaded with pictures, but with plenty of text as well. All books about surfing contain pictures, the topic almost demands visuals. The $39 book was marked down to $2.49! It’s on my winter reading pile. It will be a great read in a snowstorm.

When my family moved from Gays Mills to California in 1951, we wound up in Orange County, Fullerton to be exact, when there were still orange groves there. The groves are long gone, developed into tracts of houses and businesses, but the beaches of Southern California remain. Visiting those beaches is now restricted, due to COVID-19, a fact which must bother the natives no end.

As a young kid, we went to the beaches quite often and that’s where I first learned about surfing: body surfing. Body surfing is a blast. You wade out to where the water is waist or chest deep, wait for a wave, and swim into it toward shore. The wave lifts you up and as it breaks you ride in it with your body. Not all beaches are good for body surfing, but the state beaches we frequented were known for it.

The next step up in surfing is using a rented body board or a tough, air-filled mattress. Both of these things are short, about three-feet long, and quite wide. The rides you get with these two things is longer than body surfing and you can steer them sideways with the wave and get very satisfying rides.

When I was about 15, my friend Craig and I tried board surfing for the first time. Details are sketchy but we had some borrowed boards and went to a place called River Jetty, between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, where the Santa Ana River empties into the Pacific. It was a ‘bunny hill’ for surfers, a gentle and crowded place to catch your first waves. The two-foot high waves were a great place to get your sea legs and say you had stood up and surfed!

From there, Craig and I began to search out good board surfing spots close to home, and there are many along that southern coast. When we got our driver’s licenses, we spent a lot of time at the beach, even in the winter, thanks to the use of wetsuits. Doheny Beach, San Onofre, Carlsbad, a place called Trestles, and many others were our playgrounds. We had to get to the beach to see if the surf was ‘up,’ it wasn’t always. Nowadays there are surf reports online to alert surfers when conditions are right for a good-to-great surfing session.

I didn’t go out for team sports in high school. I chose to work instead and participate in FFA activities. Hunting was not an option in Southern California as it is here (our neighbor went deer hunting in Utah!). Surfing was my ‘sport’ and one of the items on my bucket list is to do it again sometime, even if it’s how I started out: body surfing.