Published in The Surfer’s Journal 22.1
by Dusty Middleton
(TSJ January 2013)
In those first winters on The Land, we were always covered in red mud. All of our clothes, our feet and hands, our pick up trucks, and our surfboards… everything was stained with red.
We were living our North Shore dream, in a time warp outside the normal, present day. Our existence was shoes and slippers thick with clay and grass, clomping around raw land that was only a decade past sugarcane days. We spent endless hours fighting back eight-foot tall clumps of California grass. We planted fruit trees, ginger, heliconia, and vegetables. Ti leaves around a Hawaiian home help keep out the ghosts, and we planted them everywhere.
Our big boards were always ready to go, and we were awake before first light, focused, and ready for battle. We’re a dedicated big wave crew, and you’d be amazed how many days throughout the winter there’s big empty surf to be had, if you know where to look… and if you really want a piece of it.
We’d shoot down to the ocean with a truck full of big boards and spend a few hours out in a wild sea. We’d surf the waves we love and then blast back into the mountains, to the foothills of Ka’ala, to our own quiet world.
The testosterone and egos of the North Shore winter meant nothing to us. The noise and scene were as distant as Hollywood. Our sounds were cows across the river, echoing their strange songs against the mountain. We had silence so deep that when our dog Ure got himself caught in a pig snare in the middle of the night, we followed his yelps from our porch a mile up into the hills and easily found him. The brindled pit bull had never been happier. He danced circles around us once he was free.
Wild Bill is a Viet Nam vet who lived for years on The Land in his army truck amidst the California grass. He’s a skinny character, witty and wise, in his own odd way. He’d sit on the porch and work happily on oil paintings, drinking red wine and nibbling on cashews and cheese. Some nights out there, he’d wake from dark dreams, surrounded in that tall grass by a platoon of Viet Cong, and he’d pull both triggers of his double barrel shotgun, scream and fire into the blackness to scare away his ghosts.
The original house on the farm was built around a forty-foot shipping container. There were usually four of us living in there, two up the rope ladder, sleeping in bunks on top of the container and two down below. Captain Freed ran a pirate flag above his bunk, our little sister Rat slept in the bunk next to him. Kohl and I had rooms downstairs. Kohl ran a padlock on his bedroom door to keep out the riff-raff. My door didn’t have a latch and thus was always open. Up in the trusses were beautiful big boards: Chuck Andrus, Kirk Bierke, BK, Robin Johnston, Chris Freed. Our windows were screens stapled to the studs. We had a propane fridge in the center of the house, a camping stove and a barbecue to cook our food. There were five small lights running off a simple boat-style DC power system hooked up to a small PV panel and batteries. Our rain gutters ran down into a thousand gallon water tank. There was a small bilge pump to pull the water from the tank. The toggle switch was in the kitchen, next to the sink, and in order to make the cold outdoor shower work we used a system of nightly yelling and teamwork.
Short, cold showers were no match for the mud. Our towels were stained with red. Our bed sheets were stained with red. It was a dirty, odd life but it was fun. Sometimes the lack of comfort brings you closer to what’s really important.
There’s something beautiful about walking from your home at night and choosing a trail across the hill, carrying a shovel and a roll of toilet paper. Not at all concerned about neighbors, police… anything. Just taking a shit where you choose, in the high grass, staring up into the quiet of the night, staring up at the stars and feeling happy, completely at peace, ready for the next run of huge swell, and loving the adventure of it all.