It might sound kind of cheesy,” Daniel Hart told me the other night over a couple of beers at Island Brewing Company in Carpinteria, “but when I saw Laird Hamilton get spit out of that barrel at Teahupo’o in Step Into Liquid, I knew what that felt like and I wanted to surf.” This was many years ago in Cleveland, Tenn., where Hart had spent most of his life (his family with deep roots in Appalachia, going back many generations). Now 38-years-old, Hart and his wife Amanda (also from Cleveland, also with family roots deep in that soil) have been living and raising their children in Carpinteria for ten years—moving out west primarily for the waves.
A friend of theirs lives in South Pasadena and even if not a surf town, the Harts were visiting on every holiday, Daniel trekking out to surf the LA beaches. Also, back home in Tennessee, they would make the ten-hour drive to the Outer Banks once surfing became part of Daniel’s program. But as any surfer knows, you can’t just surf “sometimes.” It’s a pursuit that takes day-in, day-out dedication for mere proficiency.
Bad traffic one day had Daniel pull off the road in Carpinteria, and one look at the town—Linden Avenue, the shops, the mountains just back from the coast, the beaches and proximity to Rincon, the schools–made him think “this was the place for us.” He said it reminded him of their hometown. So they made the leap, Amanda staying behind with their four kids (at that time) until Daniel could establish a home base. With a degree in Landscape Design and a minor in Horticulture from the University of Tennessee, he’d long been managing projects and over the past number of years he has been doing restoration work as an Operations Manager.
More on that in moment, but for now, consider the pull of surfing that would have a man move his wife and four children to the opposite side of the country, away from the networks of friends and family. And it’s not that Cleveland, Tenn. is a terrible place, either. The town might not have a world-class point break five-minutes away, but those Blue Ridge Mountains hold magic of their own in the ancient forests and creeks, hidden hollows, and the turning of the seasons. Still, you need an ocean if it’s surfing you’re after.
The Harts don’t complain, that’s not their style, but we talked about how surfing gets—the entitlement some of us “native” Californians feel, the aggressive vibe in the water sometimes. They don’t want to come off as being critical, but it’s been hard for them to understand the guarded feelings they encounter occasionally when people make a point of stating the number of generations their families have been in California—the subtext being ownership, possession.
My words here, not the Harts’: But California and the infrastructure that makes living and working here possible has been subsidized by warfare, indigenous subjugation, and the Federal Government since statehood, so “claiming” the region—either outright or by implication—entails a thick gloss over an unsavory history.
“The way I see it,” Daniel told me as Amanda brought us another round, “there are givers, takers, and keepers: ‘Keepers’ keep to themselves, ‘takers’ just take, and ‘givers’ give.” Consistently working in recent years with the Carp Skate Foundation, a non-profit group of mostly born-and-raised Carp skater/surfers, the Harts are committed to seeing a public skate park built in the city. The city council is on board, and the project is in the planning phases with a proposed site near the Sheriff’s substation on the east end of Carpinteria Avenue. The Harts’ 14-year-old son is a skater/surfer like Dad, who has always been into the life since early in his youth in Tennessee and Georgia, the reach of skateboarding being even greater across the country than that of surfing.
The restoration work Hart does has an impact on the land that begins to move in the direction of restoring balance. As the Operations Manager for Channel Islands Restoration, Hart is currently at work in the Hammond’s meadow, eradicating invasive plant species as the first step towards developing a planting scheme to re-establish California natives, both for the sake of the plants, but for the habitat they create as well. Chumash from the Barbareño band are consulting on the project, and CIR’s stated goal is to “return the meadow to a state that would have existed when the Chumash lived there.” The weed eradication is being achieved with a non-toxic spray of orange peel, cloves, and cinnamon.
The town might not have a world-class point break five-minutes away, but those Blue Ridge Mountains hold magic of their own in the ancient forests and creeks, hidden hollows…
The poet Gary Snyder has written about the notion of “new natives”—people here in the West who have begun to see the land and the creatures on it as a unified and sacred whole in the way of Native Americans. As if the land itself—the spectacular quality of the watersheds and western shore—transforms the rational, calculating mindset of settler culture. To be fair, I don’t know if the Harts have a latter-day indigenous worldview. My sense is that Amanda and Daniel just go to work raising their children and restoring impacted areas like the Goleta Slough, Hammond’s meadow, and Cosca way out in Ventura County, where Daniel has also been involved in spreading soil with a strain of native estragalas native that was thought to have gone extinct, without a lot of theorizing.
And their kids? There are six of them: a 20-year-old son, graduate of Carp High and now in college in Tennessee; a daughter 17 at Carp High; a daughter 16 at Carp High, the 14-year-old skater/surfer at Carp High, a four-year-old son, and a two-year-old daughter. “We were inseparable,” Amanda says of herself and Daniel, who became a couple in high school. They married soon after graduation, and lest anyone think that’s what all the kids did in Cleveland, Tenn., the Harts told me that they were the only ones out of their circle of friends to do that. Their children have come, with the ten-year gap between their 14- and four-year-olds, out of the love they share, and the Harts almost seem amused by the mystery of it—the unique personalities of each son and daughter, and the way their parents have been baffled by so many offspring. But who better to bring the next generation in than two committed people, clearly connected for the long haul and connected by work on the land and a crazy draw to the sea?
Lineage is important to us surfers, but lineage cuts both ways—where a person is from can give entrée or present barriers in our too-often territorial pursuit. Still, the old adage “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at” sets a more sensible tone. All this to say that my long time family friend, the woman who now calls me her brother (and she’s certainly a sister to me too), like me, grew up in Newport Beach. And Newport conjures a lot of associations, not all of them positive. It’s a town overrun by glitz and aspiration, seemingly driven by people’s desire to be seen as having it all. True enough, some of them down there are so rich they actually do seem to have it all, with a place in Montecito and another at the Ranch to boot. But what the hell, there happen to be wealthy people in the world—that, in and of itself, is not a problem. Yet having watched our hometown transformed from a rootsy (yes, the words “rootsy” and “Newport” could once have lived side-by-side) place of fishermen, boat builders, and a generally water-focused population to a region of virtually unchecked “luxury” development is an experience that has deeply affected both me and my friend, my sister, Morgan Coffey.
“Having seen what happened down there,” she told me recently, “was really motivating in my work with the Santa Barbara Land Trust, preserving as much of the Gaviota Coast as possible.” For 10 years Coffey met with ranchers, sitting down at kitchen tables to meet goals that included not only open space and natural terrain, but also the preservation of the culture of ranching, as these are aspects of a quickly vanishing California. Left to market forces, the coast will slip away in chunks until all a surfer will get, or any one else looking for the magic of the interface between land and sea, is a mere glimpse hemmed in by those same faux-Tuscan McVillas that now dominate the hills around Newport Coast Road, which, when we were kids (not that long ago in the scheme of things, in the late 70s and early 80s) was as wild as Gaviota, with bobcats and coyotes more a part of the surfing experience at the place we called Coves, than the Mercedes Benz SUVs are today.
Another part of Coffey’s past is her connection to the freak of nature that is the wave at the infamous Wedge. Holding her own as a bodysurfer there and engineering a combination of swimsuits that mostly stayed in place in the notoriously violent shore pound, endeared her to the crew, known from those times forward as “The Wedge Crew.” Of course, every break has its stalwarts—the devotees that form the culture of a spot, and The Wedge Crew occupy a particular blend of enforcement, hijinks and merriment centered on the art of bodysurfing (with a few exemptions given to certain kneeboarders over the years—sorry, no boogie boarders allowed). Like Santa Barbara, Newport also has an illustrious reputation as a party town and Wedge Crew parties, for better or worse, shifted the priorities of numerous attendees.
But out of this milieu—some crazed nights and punk rock exploits at the Cuckoo’s Nest on Placentia Street notwithstanding—Coffey developed an abiding connection to the sea, the clean sparkling waters of the Pacific and the running hills beyond. And with the Newport of her early youth when she led her dearly departed brother, the artist Glen Coffey, on many a skiff adventure under the bridges and through the docks of Lido Island, when sail lofts, Russell’s Brotherhood surfboards, and the Crab Cooker restaurant were the main concerns, when the Cannery was still a cannery, and in the days when John “the Duke” Wayne would saddle up to the bar at the Snug Harbor (is that place now one of those glass and steel structures like something you’d see in the “new” Venice?)—when the Newport she grew up with transformed around her, she did what a lot of folks from there have done (myself included): she packed up and headed North. Way North, to the forests of Marin County, where the fog is the reminder of the ocean and the redwoods make a world of their own.
…The Wedge Crew occupy a particular blend of enforcement,
The particulars matter, of course, and I’ll list them here: Coffey’s work in the natural health care industry that led to a vitamin company hiring her, which entailed a return to Newport (or Corona del Mar, to be precise) until her studies at Orange Coast College got her a scholarship to UCSB where she earned her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology, which in turn led to her work with Santa Barbara Land Trust. She is married to fellow wave rider Scott Leon, a product of the Goleta coastline and many generations of Californios right back to the land grant days. She calls herself a mermaid warrior, and with her current work as Development Director for Santa Barbara Channelkeeper it’s certainly an appropriate title. She loves Anacapa Island and knows the place well—as in, she knows every stretch of kelp bed and rocky nook of cove, swimming deep, gliding underwater on a single breath. A trained naturalist, she has led many tours there, helping others develop a personal love for the place based in knowledge and first-hand experience.
When she met Kira Redmond, Executive Director of Channelkeeper, to interview for the development position, Coffey said that both women just clicked and knew pretty quickly that their professional relationship would work. Putting on the Blue Water Ball each year—a gala event with speakers on the level of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Yvon Chouinard—is a major production that she handles with aplomb, raising money for the group she loves so well. “I joined the crew at Channelkeeper because of my love.My need for saltwater led me to work with the nonprofit with the most impressive track record for championing clean water and a healthy ocean,” Coffey related, “getting things done that matter to every person who cares about our beaches and the Santa Barbara Channel.” And there is a little Newport Beach in all that—the old Newport Beach.
Christian Beamish, author of The Voyage of the Cormorant – the account of his solo surfing expedition down the Pacific coast of Baja California by sail and oar in the 18-foot Shetland Isle beach boat he build – is a surfer, surfboard shaper, and writer. He lives in Carpinteria with his wife and two children.