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Back at The Ranch by Chris Ahrens

Posted on October 14, 2014

In the late 1960s the waves on the Hollister Ranch were California’s ultimate prize. There it was, one of the last private, undeveloped landmasses in Southern California with points and coves and favorable winds secured under armed guards that could have ridden shotgun on John Wayne’s stagecoach. But no gun totting cowboy was gonna keep us out, pilgrim we were determined to ride those perfect waves which we heard lacked riders most days.

It was mostly the stuff of legend and coconut wireless rumors that drove us to such obsession. Then, Surfer Magazine’s Ron Stoner fanned the flames with photos of Skip Frye and Mike Hynson, confirming the rumored perfection was, in anything, understated. But to surf there you had to be a ranch hand, a guest, or a member of an elite fleet, the local surf club in town. We were none of the above. Being foot soldiers in this war, or natural first line of attack was to walk in. Bad idea. We were five or six miles in as the offshore winds whipped our boards around so violently we had to grip our boards tightly so they wouldn’t be blown away. When a guard on horseback insisted we turn around, we marched back to the car, like condemned men. It turned out okay as we were rewarded with decent and nearly empty Rincon that evening.

The next attempt worked better. The Ranch was to be subdivided, and we would take advantage of that tragedy. It was my brother Dave who figured out that we could approach the offending real estate company in Santa Barbara, act like we were potential investors, and be granted 30 day passes. We dusted off the suits we had graduated from high school in; put them on over equally musty ties, pressed white shirts and our best spit shinned shoes. We walked into the office imposters and walked away with one of the most coveted prizes in surfing 30 day passes to the Ranch.

Apparently the greedy land grab failed after a year or so, and Dave bought a Ranch boat, while I stuck to my home breaks and basically forgot about the place. Then came John Severson’s 1970s offering, Pacific Vibrations, and surf lust started up all over again.
One hot, mushy afternoon I was sitting in the sand at Beacons with Peter Pinline when he wondered aloud if anyone had a decent Ranch boat. I said that my brother Dave did, and since Dave was living in Kauai at the time, it should be no problem borrowing it for a day or so. The boat was parked in the family’s garage and I called my parents to say we were going to have a few visitors for the night. We arrived on a Friday evening, and I was greeted by my mother on the phone with Dave, who had just then called from Kauai to ask her if the boat was okay. She said it was, told him she loved him and hung up.

We ate dinner, I took my old room, Peter took the couch, and the other two passengers, Jack Jensen and Lauren “Buttons” Montgomery, slept in their car in the school parking lot across the street. This was a turbulent era with Viet Nam protests at their peak, and some knucklehead lit the school on fire that night. The fire department and the cops were soon there, questioning these transients surfers who were camped out at the scene of the crime. Jack and Buttons finally convinced the cops that they were in the midst of a surf trip, the flames were doused and nobody was arrested.

We had a full two hours to make Santa Barbara, so we awoke early, backed the car into the driveway and prepared to attach the boat to the bumper hitch. Bumper hitch? We seemed to have forgotten that one little item. That morning was spent in various junkyards seeking a bumper hitch, which nobody had. When we finally did locate one, the guy wanted 75 dollars for it, which, in a time of 40-cent gas and 150 dollar a month rents, was the equivalent of a month’s wages. You could buy an entire used boat for 75 dollars! We looked and called and begged and… Nothing. So we split for home, stopping at Doheny on the way, in order to rest. And there we were, 40 minutes from Encinitas, as the dream waves we were seeking, peeled forever into a newly formed point after the river had flooded and moved sand into just the right formation.

The next day was just another lousy day in the boring old paradise of Encinitas. As youth usually don’t, we hadn’t yet realized we had it made. I know that now. So, here’s to the joy of here and now!

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