El Porto, Manhattan Beach, California


One of my favorite surf spots was El Porto in Manhattan Beach in front of the Chevron refinery. Paddling out just after dawn before the onshore breeze picked up, the ocean surface would be like glass. Sitting on my board outside the break, rocking with the movement of the sea, the morning sun would glint across the ocean; beneath me, fish darted through the bright reflections, and brown pelicans glided by in line like some prehistoric military formation.

I was forty when I learned to surf, if I can say I ever really learned. On a day with crisp three to four-foot waves, I might do well; the next day, in the same spot, I wouldn’t catch a wave. Numerous surfers dotted the area, so I tended to avoid the favorite take-off spots and found alternatives that better suited my capabilities.

An underwater canyon allows oil tankers to anchor just off the coast and offload oil, thus the refinery’s location. It also shapes a beach break for surfing. I’d sit on my longboard and watch the horizon until “There it is.” Paddling into position with my back to the swell and the glassy ocean stretched out in front of me, the wet hissing approached from behind. With a few strokes, I felt the lift and push of unstoppable power. And if I made it, I would be skimming down the wave, the board shifting under my feet, a cool breeze on my face. The beast of Chevron in perfect measure with the beauty of the beach.