Gone Surfing With...
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?
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.