It’s been an incredibly intense few weeks, to say the least. Two funerals in two weeks is two many (pardon the pun. Any light humor helps in these times). There’s a lot to say here, but I think for the purpose of me processing everything I’m going to break it into parts.
I’ve spent the past five days out in Santa Cruz, quite a lovely contrast to the blizzard-plagued DC. The travel was tough, but well worth it. (Worried about my flight out of DC last Thursday I hopped on a very early train to NY, bummed around SoHo where my dad works for a few hours, took a nauseating cab ride to JFK, flew to San Jose, and then drove my dad and uncle to our hotel in Santa Cruz. My return flight yesterday had us flying into Dulles but unable to land because of snowy conditions and thus we wasted all of our fuel flying in a circle and had to make an emergency landing in Richmond only to get back in the air and fly to DC. Thank you to Kate (www.mixedaccordingly.blogspot.com) – and Noah who was checking my flight status from home – for braving the weather to pick me up at the airport, only to have to turn around because of the delay.)
The three of us (my father, uncle Kai and I) flew out west for my Uncle Phil’s memorial. I was honored to give his eulogy (in front of a whopping 300 person crowd!) on Saturday, but even more honored to have been able to experience his life out there and meet the incredible community that he was an integral part of. My uncle left the east coast when he was 18, lured to Santa Cruz through his passion: surfing. I don’t think it was just the sport that captivated him – after all he had surfed all his childhood in Newport but still decided to leave. It was the ocean, the atmosphere, the way of life. He was a longboarder. I’m told there is a big distinction between longboarders and shortboarders, although I understand that he has surfed both in his life. His surf spot: Pleasure Point. We stayed at a hotel in Capitola, a section of Santa Cruz closest to the Point. I tried to spend as much time as I possibly could near his surf spot. Obviously because it’s beautiful, but also because I wanted to feel close to my uncle; to soak in what he experienced every day. Every morning I woke up early to go for a run at
daybreak, arriving at the ocean the same time as a lot of the surfers. And I returned for a walk at sunset. Phil used to always tell us that the sun rose and set over the bay. We never understood how this was possible. Honestly, I’m still not quite sure how this possible (it’s a little confusing figuring out what direction your facing, especially if you’re used to having the ocean to the direct east). But it’s true. The sun rises and sets right there on the bay, giving these surfers the most amazing views.
Pleasure Point is quite long, especially when you’re used to surfing at First Beach in Newport where there’s only really one small spot. Over the course of my days there I learned that a great ride was from Don’s house (Phil’s best friend) to Jack’s house (that would be Jack O’Neill – founder of the legendary brand and resident along Pleasure Point’s cliffs). Both my runs and walks there were absolutely incredible – not just for the spectacular views, but also because of the people I met. My uncle was a member of the Pleasure Point Night Fighters a “neighborhood group that originally started as volunteer firefighters during Prohibition in 1919. Through the decades the Night Fighters evolved into a club of surfers that works with residents and elected leaders to protect the area from becoming overwhelmed with new large homes that dwarf the neighborhood’s quaint beach cottages.” My uncle was the vice president for many years. The Night Fighters have been absolutely incredible since his passing. They’ve helped my aunt, organized the memorial at the theatre downtown, and pretty much orchestrated what needed to get done to honor a man who had been their leader for so many years. Wherever we walked (we being me, my father, uncle Kai, and our Newport “contingent” featuring four of Phil’s best childhood friends who I have known since I was born and I’ve grown up with their children), someone stopped us to tell us their favorite story of Phil. Usually we heard people yelling “Niece”, trying to get my attention – they recognized me from the memorial. More than once someone shared their own story of learning to drive stick (my uncle taught me and this was something I spoke about). I think my dad felt a little out of place during these encounters – he’s an east coaster after all – but I loved these guys. Santa Cruz is quite different from DC, NYC, or even Newport for that matter. It’s a much more laid back atmosphere, where friends, family and surfing take priority. I can see why Phil loved it there. There’s a pretty healthy mix of white collar and blue collard “dudes”, all surfers who spent as much time as they could in the water. They all seemed to know Phil, and all had a kind word.
I’m trying to hesitate on looking into the past and saying “I’m sorry I didn’t get to…” I’ve heard enough of my family say those things in the past month and frankly I’m a little sick of it. I am a little sorry that I haven’t been out to Santa Cruz before, although I’m not sure that I’d be able to appreciate it the way I can now, as an adult. Most importantly, I’m thrilled that I was able to take this trip. It was important to be with my aunt, and it was important to learn about Phil and appreciate his life. Santa Cruz was all his. He made his life for himself, and I can see why. Now my goal is to not stay away for too long, and share Pleasure Point with Pete soon.