Saturday, January 3, 2009

Surf, Stoke and Fish Tacos

So this past Monday I get back into the office after an all-too-indulgent Christmas, and among the mail is this letter. I open it and this flimsy little fridge calendar from a Huntington Beach taco stand is the first thing I pull out. Suddenly, I am more stoked than I have been in years.

Photo from

Suddenly in my mind I'm the guy in the lower right. I'm paddling out, maybe for the first time, maybe for the 20th time, it doesn't matter because on a day like that I'm surfing until I think my arms are going to fall off, and then I'm going to surf some more. If it's morning I've been in the water since just before sunrise, if it's evening and the form is still good, I'm going to be in for some time after it's gone down. If it's a weekday chances are I pulled up on the way home from Long Beach, stepped out of the car, wrapped a towel around my waist and pulled my uniform off and wetsuit on right on the side of the road.

It didn't matter what time of day I was in the water - because when I got out, I strapped the board back on the car and headed to Las Barcas for some fish tacos. The best fish tacos in the world. It's a fucking fact. Just look at the goddam thing! I could try to describe the taste, but I would fail miserably. There is good Mexican food, and then there is truly good Mexican food. These things were always fresh and made to order. The corn tortillas were always soft and warm without crumbling, the fish grilled (NOT fried!) to perfection, fresh chips and salsa made right there. Squirt some lemon, take a bite, and I...

Yeah. They're that good. I'm ready to get on a plane now.

My favorite ritual was Saturdays. Hit the water about 6am, get out about noon, head to Las Barcas. Get two fish tacos to go, grab a six pack from the bait/liquor store next door and head back to my apartment. Tacos and beer while I watched Bruce Brown movies until I fell asleep on the couch - salty, exhausted, satiated and mellow. Wake up about 4pm, get my ass back down to the pier and catch the "evening glass" before hitting the clubs with my friends.

That ritual ended for the most part in 1994, when I headed to central California to grad school, but new waves and experiences awaited in Monterey. Since then, I have NEVER missed a chance to have a Las Barcas fish taco. Driving from Rhode Island to San Diego in 97 with my new wife, I introduced her to them. Visiting my Best Man in HB in 03, we met there for lunch and I introduced my son to it. My last ship was in San Diego for a port visit in 2005. One night I decide I need one of these fish tacos so I drive two hours to Huntington Beach, order three, eat three, get in the car and drive right back to the ship.

So back in November I'm talking to an acquaintance and his college-age daughter who happens to go to school in California and living in Orange County. We get to talking about surfing Huntington Beach and I describe the above food of the Gods. Said acquaintance mentions he's heading out to California for some business, and makes note of Las Barcas, saying he'll see if he can get there.

Which brings me back to this letter. He thanks me profusely for my recommendation, completely agrees that they are the best fish tacos on earth, and states he ate three. He also mentioned that he bodysurfed at the pier a bit, and found himself in the rip current alongside the pier and got so tired he needed to hitch a ride in with a longboarder. I warned him about the rip at the pier.

But still...that calendar. That I could share this memory that means so much to me with someone, who in turn could experience it for himself and send me this tiny token of his appreciation that brings everything rushing back - the surf, the fish tacos, the beer, the trips to Mexico, all those memorable waves, the friends, the sheer stoke of youth...

That is truly special.


Dawn on MDI said...

that was beautiful writing, mister. Just beautiful.

Dr. Momentum said...

Those tacos look amazing. Is here room on that plane?

sjb said...

You left out the bit where I was talking to you on the phone that night in 2005. I was very pregnant and alone in WA with 2 kids, and you were very lonely and at a loose end in San Diego. I said, hey, you have a rental car, just drive up to Las Barcos. You said, is that crazy? And I said, absolutely. Now get going!

Bull said...

Dawn - thank you very much.

James - there's always room for you, buddy.

sjb - as always, you've been key to most of the really good decisions I've made in the last 12 years