Monterey, California
May 7-15, 2005

"Time for your first surf lesson. How do you know where the waves are good for surfing?"

Jeff's question caught me off guard. "Look for waves that start breaking far offshore and continue in a steady progression toward the beach?"

His faux-scowl told me that I was thinking too hard. "Look for surfers!"

I flew into San Jose at noon on Saturday and my good friend and gracious host Jeff Weekley took me directly to the beaches of Santa Cruz to scope out the waves. We ended up at "The Hook" in Capitola, a popular surfing area with some of the most consistent waves in the area.

As we descended the stairs down to the beach, my eyes were drawn to an adorable buzz-cut surfer that passed by, flanked by two friends. "That's Kelly Slater," Jeff said. Realizing that I would be out surfing with one of the world's top pros, I wondered if I was getting in over my head. The feeling passed.

Jeff proceeded to instruct me in surf etiquette (which is important on a crowded beach) and taught me the fundamentals of how to catch and ride a wave. However, it would take three more days of surfing before I would have even moderate success at standing on a moving board. Nonetheless, just sitting on a surfboard and basking in the glow of the warm California sun is a great way to spend an afternoon, regardless of one's technical skill.

Bixby Bridge in Big Sur.  Click to see an IncrediZoom Movie. [Click for IncrediZoom Movie]
Kids playing near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  Click for IncrediZoom Movie. [Click for IncrediZoom Movie]
Jeff Weekley & Redwoods Jeff & Redwoods
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Father & son on tramway Father & son on tramway
Between the surfing, scuba, kayaking, and trail running, Jeff and I rarely had a moment's rest throughout my week in Monterey. On our one day of scuba diving, Jeff took me to the kelp forests near San Carlos Beach and the Coast Guard Jetty.

From the surface of the water, one might expect the kelp to be an impossibly dense mass of weeds. But as we descended forty feet to the ocean floor, we found the forest to be remarkably ordered, with each individual plant tapering to an astonishingly thin stipe that appear entirely incapable of securing such a massive canopy.

The inner harbor was rich in an endless array of life, all incredibly foreign in appearance. Animals looked like plants, plants like rocks, and rocks like animals. Thousands of anemones swayed their tentacles in the ocean surge, surrounded by sea stars of every imaginable color and armspans up to a full foot. Jeff pointed out a brilliantly adorned nudibranch, a four-inch slug with translucent white fans of delicate skin along its back. Hundreds of fish swam around us, seemingly unaware of our presence as we wove in and out of the towering kelp.

Big Sur Big Sur
Ice plant in Big Sur Ice plant in Big Sur
Big Sur Big Sur
Rob Jagnow, scuba diving in Monterey Rob, scuba diving in Monterey
Later in the week, we retoured the harbor in sea kayaks, which offer a better view of the native mammals - sea lions, harbor seals, and the threatened southern sea otter. Becky Hopkinson, a friend from San Francisco who has done some adventure racing with me and Jeff, joined us for the day of paddling. With the number of otters we saw around the bay - many tending to their newborn pups - it's hard to believe that there are only 2200 remaining individuals living exclusively off the California coast.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits tourists from approaching the animals, but it's often difficult to avoid them. One young harbor seal was particularly interested in our kayaks and would alternatively approach us and then go back to Mom, who didn't seem to appreciate his curiosity.

When we weren't out on the water, Jeff and I spent time seeing the sights of the central California - often during trail runs along the coast. The six-mile perimeter trail around Point Lobos State Reserve follows the craggy cliffs in and out dozens of secluded coves, offering constantly changing views. We conveniently disregarded warning signs (There was nothing to indicate that entry was actually forbidden), scrambling down the cliffs to one of the pristine beaches with ivory sand and emerald waters. I waded out into the shallow water to peek into a grotto in the cliff walls, but was immediately turned back upon finding the cave occupied by a young seal pup.

For my last day in California, Becky, Jeff and I drove up to San Francisco to participate in the Bay to Breakers race. This annual 12k run from the Embarcadero to the shoreline of Golden Gate Park has nearly 50,000 registered runners and walkers - although the actual number of participants is probably closer to 100,000. For elite runners, the event may be a race, but for the vast majority, Bay to Breakers is more of a community parade, complete with home-made floats, costumes, and in some cases, no attire at all.

Jeff, Becky and I began at the Embarcadero 90 minutes after the official race start and jogged our way up through the herd while I took snapshots of noteworthy costumes. At times, the crowd came to a complete standstill as an oversized float squeezed through a narrow street or the Elvises got a little raucous. In the end, all three of us set personal records for our slowest 12k run - more than 90 minutes of weaving in and out of dense crowds of costumed revelers.

Following the race, we walked the four miles back to Becky's house, stopping for a quick brunch at Harvey's in the Castro. Then it was off to the airport for a flight back to reality - a land without pro surfers, baby seals, or naked people on roller skates. New Mexico is treating me well, but I'm always anxious to be on the move again. The wait is never very long; after two weeks here, I'm off to Boston to see Tomas and attend my commencement. If all goes well, I'll to head to Europe in late June to kick off a 'round-the-world adventure.

Life is a sum of experiences. Don't forget to make time for the experiences that are important to you.

Sunset in Pacific Grove Sunset in Pacific Grove
Rob Jagnow watching the sunset Rob watching the sunset
Rob Jagnow, trying to catch a wave Rob, trying to catch a wave
'The Hook' in Santa Cruz "The Hook" in Santa Cruz
Fisherman at Moss Landing State Beach Fisherman at Moss Landing State Beach
Endangered California Brown Pelicans Endangered California Brown Pelicans
Kayaking with Becky Hopkinson & Jeff Weekley Kayaking with Becky & Jeff
Sea lion in Monterey Sea lion in Monterey
Jeff Weekley
Harbor seal Harbor seal
Mama and baby harbor seals Mama and baby harbor seals
Sea lions Sea lions
Coy mermaid Coy mermaid
Rob Jagnow
Becky Hopkinson's front door in San Francisco Becky's front door in San Francisco
Bay to Breakers - attire optional Bay to Breakers - attire optional
The Elvises The Elvises
The Hot Tamales The Hot Tamales
Quantum & pals in Golden Gate Park Quantum & pals in Golden Gate Park

© Copyright 2005 by Rob Jagnow.