“Don’t use the stairs bra. You don’t want to look like a kook at ‘the Lane’ !” , said the intense Santa Cruz surf shop employee. “Go to the point past the lighthouse, disregard the warning signs of death, jump the metal fence, walk to the end of the cliff and jump off. You’ll be directly in the lineup just like a true local. Trust me bra, it’s cool.” At 16 years old, this advice from a guy with a skateboarding red-eyeball tattoo jutting out of his flannel neck collar was knowledge to be taken seriously. That was 1996. Now, 20 years later I have returned to this rugged bohemian town with an assignment to once again jump the cliff, enter its crisp waters, and capture it’s unique visual aesthetic. This time I’m not with my parents but with my own wife and children. As we hop out of the van in the car park of Steamer Lane, the salty air hits the face with pungent aromas that mix softly with hints of sun baked seaweed. Everything is just as I remembered it. The sound of surf pounding is immediately heard but not seen as the vertical cliffs hide the impact zone. “Let’s check it kids,” I say as we walk comfortably barefoot over the green manicured lawn of the Steamer Lane lighthouse grounds. Reaching the metal railing at the cliffs edge the lines of swell become visible and instantly reverberate to the heart. A rolling 5 to 6 foot swell face shows its form before crashing heavy on the cliff walls exploding millions of droplets 20 feet in all directions. My 2 year old says, “Boom!” My 4 year old asks, “Daddy what does that sign say?”
I read aloud, “Warning! 99 people have died on these cliffs and waters since 1965. Play it safe!” Pointing to my head I say, “Sounds like a plan.” And with that word of state-sponsored wisdom I returned to the van and prepared to reengage the spot I had left 20 years before. After packing the housing with care slipping on a bone dry wetsuit that had not seen water in months (EDA Surf local beach currently 81 degrees), I kiss the family good-bye and jumped the barrier. Descending down the headland to my right, a group of sun bathing seals give a blissed-out look. I threw some shakas there way then walked to the end and jumped into a cool 58 degree green universe. Over the course of a four-day period this cycle was repeated numerous times during which many contrasting swell forms and light moods were experienced. The outcome was refreshing. As the goal of this project was to deliver the visual aesthetic of Santa Cruz water to any wall, any where. It is clear that such a mission should leave a space visually cool, as if someone turned your thermostat down to 68 degrees. As you toy with your thermostat during these extra warm summer days, consider watering the wall with the cool water of Santa Cruz. You will be refreshed.
-Ruttkay / @edasurf