Surf’s Up at the Redondel
|Andy is the owner operator of the tour outfitter Everyday Adventures. You may reach him at email@example.com|
Like the uninitiated sitting in the safety of the channel at a deep-water break like Mavericks or Waimea while monster sets charge toward shore, I hugged the hardwood Manu rails of the redondel. The MC was frothing up the crowd with proclamations of the virility of the bull in the size of its horns. As the gate swung open and the beast emerged, roars came from the audience encouraging the rider to hang on through wild spins and explosive leaps eventually ending in appreciative applause as the montador succeeded in dismounting unscathed. Then the clownish activity of the brave and inebriated commenced. Known as improvisadores, lunatics scramble into the corral and dart past the bull like irritating horseflies oftentimes close enough for a touch of the horns. Wanting in on the action, I saw that the Minotaur was sufficiently distracted so I began my creep, up behind the bull, gathering speed and courage with each step. Closing in on my prized “slap-on-ass” I was about two meters away when the beast swung its tapir-sized head around to meet my eyes with murderous intent. My change of direction was so abrupt, I nearly fell to the ground and revised my escape plan . What was to be a continuous flow past the bull and onto the fence became a zig -zagged dash for survival eventually slipping through the safety exit gasping for breath.
Like a child peering from behind the protection of the split-rail bullring nervously eating cotton candy I chewed on my surf leash, eyes glued to the horizon, as I bobbed in the lineup of the break known as Matachancho. A couple of lads were deeper than me in the rock strewn, tumultuous waters but I was on the inside boil and had already seen massive swing sets unload on it on this outgoing tide. Adrenaline does strange things to the body and I felt the urge to pee though release was not to be. Dark, green lumps were approaching from Punta Burica and, even though we were so far out already, a mad paddle to the horizon began. The first two waves were picked off cleanly by Mike and Brian and I was left alone as the third wrapped around the point and took aim at the rock boil. Instinct takes over as I swing my 7’4″ TLC and stroke toward the maw. My mind shuts out the thunderous roar behind me as a weightless drop turns into leg compressing G’s off the bottom. Calculations are done as the wall closes in on a bodega-sized pinnacle that, if guessed wrong, will cause significant injury. If done correctly however, glory awaits in a sand-dredged tube hooking over the rider and impaling the dark, basalt obelisk. A few more pumps and off-the-tops and I kick out the back, buzzing with energy and stoked to have survived.
These are similar stories. Though I hardly consider myself a big-wave rider and now surf less since a shoulder injury, I’ve been fortunate to experience decades of wave riding. And, amateurish at best as an improvisador, I’d never even consider mounting one of the bulls in this, or ANY lifetime. Really, what I felt in the redondel during last week’s festivities was unfamiliarity. As a middle-aged retired loon used to getting into, and out of, precarious situations, I wanted to show my kids I still “had it.” But the clumps of dirt and grass, glare of lights and comfort among large, fast, testicularly-challenged bovine was not my theater of expertise. And how montadors willed themselves to tie their hands to the humps of these enormous Brahmans was as foreign to me as scaling Mount Everest. Maybe the rodeo circuit looks at surfers and surfing with equal discomfort. After all, who would voluntarily paddle into the maelstrom to ride down 20 foot shifting mountains of water on thin pieces of fiberglass…? And yet, there is a crossover between the two activities. Clearly this is an arena for young studs like “Calimans” and “Scrappys”… Butch van Artsdalens and Joey Cabells. The era has changed the pull still there.
In the 50’s, a slew of southern Californian surfers routinely made the trip to the seaside bullring outside Tijuana, Plaza Monumental. Picking watermelons along the way, these vagabonds had a surf then traded melons for tacos and tequila, enjoying it all under the hot sun. One surfer, Ricky Grigg, liked the way the toreadors received accolades from the crowd by throwing their hands above them and arching their backs. He incorporated it into his surfing style, and it is emulated today and known as the soul arch.
In 1968, the Surfing World Championships were held in Lima, Peru. During a break in the event, hosts invited the visiting surfers from Hawaii and California to participate in a bullfight and Joey Cabell became one of the stars. According to Leo Hetzel, “The SoCal boys connected with bullfighting . . . the point of surfing being to ride as close to the hook as possible while remaining graceful and composed, similar to the matador passing the bull in the “circle of death” within reach of the horns Locally, in between Alaska Pilsens and wrestling matches, Scrappy and Cali would be on point, ready to lure the bull from a rider freshly tossed off like a David Bowie wig at a set change. Using the quintessential red cape as a means of distraction, I witnessed Caliman escape by inches as the bull changed course to refocus on the billowing fabric
There is a link between running from the snorting, drooling charge of a sharp-horned bull and surfing in front of the roiling thunderous hook of a crashing wave. I’d much rather be hammered by the latter but maybe it’s because I’m more familiar with it.