The quintessential summer hue is the color of skin. Tan skin, coiling out of brightly colored bikinis or board shorts after days on end soaking up hours of sun. Or red, burnt on top of a layer of formerly pale skin, a tragic consequence of poor common sense, unfriendly genetics, or both.
No, nothing says California summer quite like the color of skin, and when you see it you immediately think of hot days and late sunsets in the haze, the sun slowly sliding past the horizon after casting oranges and purples across the ripples in the water. People drifting lazily through glass off sessions and often not touching the beach sand again until well after dark.
Summer is the time for longboards, and short, squat, thicker boards, anything that catches the smaller ripples on the days with barely any waves. It’s the time when having a fish in your quiver means that you don’t have to think about what board you should take to the beach.
Summer is hoping for south swells, long period beasts charging up from the bottom of the world beyond Australia. Swells coursing across the entirety of the Pacific, showing up as monsters in images from Tahiti, losing a little steam as they pass the south facing breaks of Hawaii, to crash on the beaches in southern California as hopefully at least head high waves. If you’re lucky, there will be some hurricane swell lighting up the parts of the coast facing directly south, those more fickle among the points. If you’re really lucky, there will be three hurricanes, nearly simultaneously, pumping waves from strange angles into the coastline, for days of arm-burning paddles until you’re exhausted.
No one remembers that summer starts at the end of June gloom, blanketed under marine layer, cool and cloudy and bucking the celebrated stereotype. Those last few cool days build the excitement, we clamor to shed neoprene in favor of board shorts. We lust for the heat and sunny days, the beautiful crowds, the warm waters.
Without fail, every summer comes with the same regrets. The beaches are crowded, littered with people, littered with trash. Every grain of sand is claimed before the end of every weekend breakfast, and the hike to the beach from the nearest parking space becomes the kind of walk that requires hydration for the trip. Our feet blister, burnt from long walks across griddle-like concrete, cooled by the surf but waiting to be even more painful on the walk home, the blacktops and sidewalks impersonating hot coals. The heat becomes inescapable, the waters warmed to the point of bath water, and sweating while surfing is an all-too-common phenomenon.
That’s when there’s even surf, because every year without fail, a flat spell comes through. Our collective sanity is frayed thin. There are only so many days of going straight on a longboard a person can take before the longing for a good, solid rail turn becomes a cramp in your side that no amount of trimming can accommodate.
The end of summer shows the promises to come. The first swell always seems to lurch to life around labor day, shuffling away the last lingering out-of-town visitors. The water is still warm, and the air still steams in the noon sun. The next few months will stay warmer even longer, thanks to a budding El Nino heating up the Pacific, so we’ll be blessed with board shorts and summer skin tones dotting the beaches deep into the fall. If we’re lucky, our endless summer might even stretch into Christmas.