While our numbers were significantly less than the troops who arrived on my home beach of Normandy way back in 1944, the arrival of our entourage at the San Francisco airport this spring was no small feat. Four riders, two filmmakers and one photographer (not to mention a veritable mountain of surfing, windsurfing, photo and film gear) convened from three different countries across the world in the international terminal of SFO. Our mission: to head deep into the den of one of the most territorial surf scenes on the West Coast--Santa Cruz--to film for the next installment of Planet Blow, a film project I'd been working on for five years.
We focused our attention on the area around Santa Cruz for a couple of reasons: It's less cliche than Los Angeles, the cradle of the skate and surf culture, and is known for its big waves and strong northwesterly winds. While the cold water and one of the largest populations of great white sharks in the world were daunting, the scenic coastline and what some call the best wave sailing in the continental United States were more important to us.
Having been through many developing countries and out-of-the-way places during the production of the prior Planet Blow movies, I found that the United States presented something those other spots didn't: a chance to experience a culture that had permeated our lives through movies, music and television.
We are in California, and many details are there to remind us of that: fast food on each street corner, classic American cars that hint at the TV series we grew up with, palm trees touching the blue sky above and skateboard shops everywhere. In a time when international news paints an ugly picture of America, it's easy to forget that some of the best things our modern world has produced were born in this country and often in California. The pacifist movement of the '60s and 70s, jeans, Star Wars, the personal computer, the Internet, skateboarding, Gibson guitars, the wet suit and, of course, windsurfing.
When we travel in poorer countries, we are used to meeting generous people who share their daily lives with us. In America, I didn't think this would be the case. However, I found that preconceived notion far from true. Despite the well-known preference of the locals to "keep it local," the sailors here were immediately friendly to us, talking story, explaining and guiding us to the best spots depending on the wind and wave conditions. At sunset, the parking lots turn into social clubs, where we talked about the weather forecast, the best waves of the day or the legends of our sport while changing into dry clothes after our session.
The area around Santa Cruz is full of good sailing spots, and we could choose one more oriented toward jumping or one better for wave riding. Either way, the scenic beauty of each of these sites is incredible. Our proximity to wildlife was quite real, as we frequently saw groups of whales just outside the break or large sea lions cruising the lineup, reminding us that we are right in the middle of a food chain for another type of less convivial large fish--one that we really didn't want to meet. Though stories of encountering great whites on a windsurfer are rare, local sailors tell us they know of one person who was knocked off his board while sailing one day about 13 years ago (he safely made it back to shore).
After about a week of good conditions, the wind finally got lighter, just in time for us to take a break--an ideal opportunity to visit Big Sur, south of Santa Cruz. This magnificent drive winds you along the high, steep cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Around each corner, a new breathtaking view would appear.
Most of my crew came to America with preconceived notions about the country and its people. But the best parts of America were obvious: the courtesy and respect of priorities on the roads at stop signs and street crossings, the hospitality and kindness of the locals we met. We were given free cookies when we were just simple customers in a coffee shop, and we were invited to breakfast, all seven of us, by people just pleased to show us their side of America at their home high in the Redwood Forest. Our mission was accomplished. We got footage for our movie and the images you've seen on these pages. But when we left the wind and waves of Santa Cruz behind, we took a lesson with us: Although we knew a lot about America, we didn't know a lot about Americans. And now we're glad that we do.
The incredible thing for me was the lack of crowds--on a day like this at home, we would have had 40 windsurfers in a 200-meter space. It was my first time in the United States and I liked it a lot. Everywhere I went, people were asking where I was from and what I was doing here. One of the best experiences was watching a Giants game in local bar, a mellow game until a last-minute home run won it for the Giants. The bar exploded, and we were cheering right along with everyone else.--Nik De Wannemaeker
Besides Hawaii, I think these are the best hard-core wave spots in the United States. For me, this was a homecoming--I lived in Santa Cruz for two years in high school, almost 20 years ago. I didn't have any windsurfing gear, so I was just concentrating on learning to surf. I'm stoked that I left the town still a surf kook and returned a pro wave rider. I'm sure there have been some changes, but Santa Cruz is still the same surf/skate town that I remember--I just think the water has gotten a little colder!
* Sylvain Demercastel, hailing from Normandy, France, is a windsurfer, filmmaker, surfer and former heavy-metal musician. Planet Blow is his film project. He lives part time in Costa Rica, near a very nice wave in Guanacaste.
* Belgian windsurfer Nik De Wannemaeker spends summers on his home beach of Bredene and winters in South Africa, where he says the water is colder, but the fish are just as big.
As a filmmaker, I find the background to be the essence of a trip. I don't want to sail in an artificial pool--for me, windsurfing is about being among natural scenery; it makes every session special. The landscape is an inspiration for my sailing. I was really excited for this trip. At my home in Costa Rica and on many of the trips I take, we get incredible wave riding, but often lighter winds. I love the strong California winds, especially because they mean jumping! I have great memories of all those back loops, and I want more!--Sylvain Demercastel
* Masahiro "Masa" Motohashi is the Japanese National Champion windsurfer. While the pure wave rider and impressive stand-up paddler is a mild-mannered gardener at home, his "Japanese party style" was responsible for getting him and Nik De Wannemaeker kicked out of at least one American bar.
We arrived in town in the middle of a beautiful northwesterly swell and soon found out that we had good timing--the locals said the surf had been flat for weeks. We got to sail quite a few spots; we named one Spy Cliff, which was my favorite. Everything here was unique for me--the cold water, the seaweed, the magnificent cliffs and, of course, the language. I couldn't have done this trip without the help of Fabrice Beaux.--Masahiro Motohashi
This is not one of the best surf spots that Santa Cruz has to offer, so there were no real surfers there, and it was just down the street from our house. We didn't think we could sail it, but one afternoon the wind actually picked up in town, and its angle was good on the small wave right in front of the lighthouse. It wasn't blowing hard, but we thought we could give it a try anyway. So we rigged up in our front yard, walked down and got wet. We each got a couple of small waves and that was it. But the light was great for shooting for our movie.--Fabrice Beaux
* Fabrice Beaux has surfed and sailed in Indonesia, Morocco, Mauritius and the Philippines while living in the year-round wave paradise of Oahu, Hawaii. Next time he returns to Santa Cruz, he's hoping the swell will be big enough to windsurf Steamer Lane.
We got to sail all the good spots outside of town. Each session was a big production--we would show up at the beach with two trucks loaded down with all our gear, definitely a sight for the locals, although they were really cool. For me, it was a dream fulfilled to be able to wind surf here; I was hooked on windsurfing when I moved here as a teenager, but having no gear, I settled for surfing. But I never forgot about windsurfing, and when I turned 18,I went straight to Hawaii.--Fabrice Beaux
PHOTOS BY MAXIME HOUYVET
Demercastel, Sylvain. "Storming Santa Cruz: four windsurfers from across the world convene in Santa Cruz, California, with a mission to score waves, not to piss off the locals (or the sharks), immerse themselves in Americana and oh, yeah--make a movie." WindSurfing Winter 2009: 30+. General OneFile. Web. 2 Nov. 2009.
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