Birdwell Beach Britches:

In 1961, back in the days of Gidget and the Endless Summer, a seamstress named Carrie Birdwell Mann started making and selling swimshorts at her Orange County home. More than 50 years later the company is still in O.C. making pretty much the same thing, and for the most part- only that one thing.IMG_6570

We call them boardshorts. The world knows about boardshorts thanks to Old Navy and Target, but surfers know about boardshorts largely thanks to Birdwell. Mrs. Mann invented the shorts specifically for them.

Not to take away from what Quiksilver, O’neill, or any other surf brand have accomplished, but when it comes to boardshorts, Birdwell is what all of them are trying to be.IMG_6498

Like any responsible adult, the folks at the factory were a little leary of me when I showed up asking questions. But once they determined that, as they put it, “wasn’t up to any weird @*!!” they were more than happy to show me around.IMG_6492The family sold off the business, or as the current owners say “entrusted” them in 2014. Since then, a couple things have changed, while some other significant things have not.

For instance, they started using actual patters.IMG_6489While this may have removed some whimsy from the whole purchasing experience, it did make predicting if the shorts were going to fit a little more reliable.

They also updated the van.IMG_6597And by updated I mean they painted it not fixed the engine, which is why I found it parked comfortably in the factory parking lot.

What they didn’t change were the people working the floor. They have remarkably low turnover and most of the folks sewing the shorts today, are the same folks who sewed them ten years ago.IMG_6494

This might be in part an explanation for what else hasn’t changed, which is that these shorts are nearly bomb proof. I think these shorts are what the authorities use to identify the victims of shark attacks since the shorts are what always survive.

*I said that not them*IMG_6506

It is interesting that in our modern world of fast fashion and quarterly shareholder returns, there can exist a company and brand that survives without attempting to broaden offerings in order to capture market share or lowering quality to widen the margin and spur more turns.

They didn’t do that and they are still right there.IMG_6566

Like I said before, I don’t surf.

But if taking steps past big box mass retail is a sign- I might be on my way.IMG_6594

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Childhood Dreams at Old Man’s Beach: San Onofre

I had a free morning so I drove to San Onofre State Beach. The internet told me they have beach camping there, the kind where you can pitch your tent right by the sand, but I couldn’t get anyone on the the phone to answer questions about availability, so I checked it out with my free day. I did not find what I was looking for. I found something different entirely.

When I was ten I did not know much, but I did know I wanted to surf. I had just discovered complex math and the associated reality that meant I would never be an astronaut. I had always known I would not play in the NFL, so the only dream I had left, at ten, was surfing.

I grew up inland, but on the side of the Mississippi that flowed toward LA, not New York, so cool was all T&C rather than CBGB. We knew we were posers with our long bangs and neon shorts, but I wanted to move past that. After years of begging, my parents let me go stay with my aunt in California the summer before 8th grade. It was a step closer to my dream and I was planning my path in my head. I figured I would have to start out with a boogie board, but if I got good enough I would advance to standing up. I would need a board. I was ready for the breeze and splash of salt water. What I got was dirt and cactus because Aunt Nancy lived in Palmdale. It was a lesson on the dangers of mobilizing in ignorance.My last hope was college, because I had been trained to know that I must go to college, but I didn’t know anyone who had ever been to school in California and everyone told me I could only afford in state. So I stayed home. Eventually jobs, kids, and adulthood squeezed everything childish, like the dream of surfing out of my head. I moved on. I grew up.

I gave little thought to my childhood self when I took a job an hour east of LA. I was just thinking I needed a job.

Then I made that drive to San Onofre.

There was no paved parking lot and no packs of families lugging coolers canopies and beach chairs. There was no pier and no one renting out tandem beach cruisers. There were only surfers.

“Great morning right?” a leathery grey haired man asked as I closed my car door. He was sitting on a log facing the water. Next to him sat another old man wiping down his glossy red board. “Uh… yes. Sure is.” I replied awkwardly. The two men both smiled and went back to chatting with each other. I looked out at the water and it was bustling with people bobbing up and down just past the breakers, some paddling up and over the waves, and then, out there and everywhere, people were surfing. They stood up on their boards and shuffled out to stand on the nose. They popped up, cut left, then right, then pumped the board to stay out ahead of the whitewater. I loved seeing it.

I looked around on the rocky sand wondering when Anthony Keidis and his band of hooligans were coming to tell me to go away. They weren’t there. In their place were happy people who looked me in the face and said hello. There were men and women, old and young, and they all looked happy. I knew they were surfers, and only surfers, not because they were blonde or said “stoked” but because they all had boards. I saw a wrinkled bald man covered in tattoos chatting with a woman who looked like my frumpy mother. I saw a white guy with dreadlocks playing paddle ball with a child while a boisterous group of ZZ Top beards came lugging giant boards out of the water. There was what looked like an Abercrombie model chatting with some little guy who was wearing what looked like a beret, and a striped shirt that matched his striped board. It was some sort of intergenerational utopia based on a shared vision of riding on waves standing up.​

 

​My childhood aspirations came flooding back and I did not like it. It made me loathe myself.

Here I was standing right in front of what I had always wanted and the thing I felt the strongest, was that I did not fit. It looked like everyone was welcome, this feeling wasn’t coming from them- it was coming from inside me. My mind defaulted to this excuse making checklist of practical reasons why I could not join in. Not just right then, but forever. I live more than an hour away, I do not own a board and do not have any extra money to invest in a hobby that I could reasonably only think to dabble in, and I am fat. I am a poser. I remembered that I always wanted this and I do not belong. The list came so quickly and so naturally that I disappointed myself.

I am grown and capable. I can find solutions. I can learn. I have lived a life standing just outside closed doors and have nearly a half century’s practice of picking locks, borrowing keys, or kicking the door down. If I really want this, I can have it. Knowing this made me tired. I felt lonely.

I could save up money and buy a board. I could set my pride or awkwardness aside and ask someone to teach me. I could make some arrangements and over a period of time, maybe years, I could carve out a schedule allowing me some beach time. If I want it I can do it.

So the question is always whether it is worth it. Do I want to be on that side of the door bad enough to do the work? What will it cost? What will I gain? When you pass through previously closed doors, you inevitably leave something back on the other side. Often you leave someone. What if I am not trying to leave anyone? What then?

Traffic made the trip home take 2 ½ hours. Sitting in my car in my long pants and wingtips, thinking all of the things I just typed out above, I came to the conclusion that I think too much.

I should knock it off and just surf.

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Wentworth Higginson

6pm on a Tuesday 

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When You Imagine California: Santa Barbara

When you imagine California, what you are picturing, is Santa Barbara. Some might say Hollywood is the quintessential California, but those who imagine Hollywood aren’t really thinking about the place, they are thinking about themselves and dreaming of becoming famous. No, Santa Barbara is the SoCal we think of when we look at a map not a mirror.IMG_5951It is the sort of place that surely has some history, possibly some substance, but mostly it has an image. The beach is beautiful, peppered with surfers. People wearing shorts and sunglasses drive convertibles to the marina past white stuccoed buildings flanked by palm trees.

I did not see it, but I sort of assume everyone here writes everything in cursive with pink glitter ink.IMG_5789You can rent beach cruiser bicycles and eat arugula salad on sidewalk cafe. You can visit a Spanish Mission or fish from the pier. You can do or see all the things you imagine doing and seeing in California minus all the things you associate with LA.

It is all Saved by the Bell and no LA Law. It might be a little bit Flaked – but glossier.IMG_5677

I’m not sure who actually lives there, though I have heard some stories, but most people I know only visit. They, or we, drive in and stay the night. We shop and browse light breezy dresses, Tommy Bahama, and beach towels fashioned to look like the California state flag. We eat something light then pay ten dollars for a scoop of ice cream on the pier.IMG_5772Then we get back in our cars, sit in traffic, sit in our cubicles, sit on our couches watching Saved By the Bell reruns, and do our best to ignore the pan handler at the off ramp.IMG_5679

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Claremont

4pm on a Saturday 

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Sundays

1pm on a Sunday 

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Nephew

6pm on a Saturday

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