Pismo Beach can be one of the worst waves on the Central Coast, but I love it. It’s rumored that Kelly Slater called Pismo the worst wave he’s ever surfed, and considering the waves he’s surfed, I imagine that statement isn’t too far from the truth. I say it’s rumored because I didn’t hear him say it myself, but Slater is a buddy with Pismo local Walter Cerny and it is quite funny to hear them banter back and forth about Pismo. Walter will defend Pismo to the death, while Slater has no qualms about making known his true feelings. But I’ve come to terms with the quality of waves on offer in this little section of Central California. You have to if you are going to call it home. I don’t have the time or resources to chase every swell up and down the coast, so more often than not I end up at that trusty old pier.
The first contest I ever surfed was held at the Pismo Beach Pier. It’s a place that’s seen a lot of “firsts” for me. The first wave I rode down the line was on the north side of its pilings. The first time I got injured surfing was also on the north side of the pier. The first time I saw a shark while surfing was on the south side. The first time I tried to shoot the pier (I lost my nerve at the last second just in time to run into a piling) was also on the south side. The first time I did a proper cutback was at this pier, as was the first time I pulled off a proper air. I can’t say my first barrel was here because, well, try as it might, Pismo just doesn’t really barrel. Ever. I crossed off two firsts in one session, getting hooked by a fisherman’s line and then getting yelled at by said fisherman. And the first time I paddled into waves that truly scared me was also at the Pismo Pier.
As a kid, I remember seeing Pismo locals Walter Cerny, Rick Gannon, and Hugh Soderquist all get photos run in major surf magazines, all taken right here. Despite being an average surf break at best, Pismo’s produced some world-class talent over the years. Seeing those guys in the magazines provided inspiration and a kind of proof that you could come from Pismo and still be a good surfer. It is often said that we are a product of our environment, but I would also argue that our environment is as much a product of us. We have the ability to rise above our circumstances. Growing up surfing the lackluster waves of Pismo I constantly heard friends and acquaintances talk about how the lack of wave quality limited their surfing. To be honest, I’ve used that excuse a hundred times in my life. But then Hugh Soderquist told me something quite profound. “If you can surf well at Pismo, then you can surf well anywhere in the world.” It might not seem profound at first glance, but when you consider the deeper truth of the statement and the attitude behind it, there is something tremendous to be mined out of Soderquist’s statement. I realized in that moment that Hugh never let the lack of quality waves in his environment get in the way of him becoming a professional surfer. Sure, he traveled and practiced in bigger and better waves, but he grew up surfing the same waves I grew up with. Where many of us in Pismo saw, he saw an opportunity. I’m a believer that what we magnify in our lives tends to shape our reality—meaning if we focus on the negative circumstances around us then our life begins to seem negative. Maybe I’m getting a little too deep right now and maybe I’m reading into Hugh’s observation a little too much. But I remember his statement to this day. It provided the motivation I needed not to let wave quality determine my progress in surfing.
Pismo Beach might not be a good wave, but it is a wave. With the right equipment and the right attitude, you can find a wave to surf any given day of the year. There is something to be said for that. And with so much history in one spot, it’s hard not to grow an affection toward the place. My dreams of becoming a professional surfer like Walter, Rick, and Hugh never really did come to fruition, but I came to terms with that; just like I eventually came to terms with surfing the pier. And you know what, it was quite refreshing when I let go of my pride and started enjoying the spot that has watched me grow into a man.