Costa Bella

Brendan and I walked up the concrete hill side by side leaning forward to compensate for the steepness of the slope. We’d done this many times and knew this slope all too well. We had grown up traversing it’s patched concrete surface on bicycles, skateboards and on foot. I’d pitched over the handlebars at night coming down its 30% gradient on the way back from a 2 hour swim team work out hitting an invisible chunk of concrete some car had dislodged. As long as we didn’t die or end up in the hospital there was no need to worry Mom about it. She wasn’t real big on giving us rides anyway. She’d had breast cancer and was mostly bed-ridden. She informed us we’d be joining the swim team and told us to get on our bikes and get going when I was 8. We’d been climbing this hill twice a day since on our Schwinn single speeds making the 8 mile round trip. First to school and later to swim-team work out. That was up until she died. Swim Team was done now. Too expensive. There were 4 of us boys who had done that. 7 siblings in all. My sister, Kerry had taken over when mom passed away a couple of years back. I had been 14 and Brendan 12. Kelly was 15 then and Pat 16. The other 3 were older and were on their own. Kerry, was the only girl and second oldest. She had taken over watching us when she was 26. Mike helped a lot too but was up North in Carmel doing masonry and had his own new family. Jack was in Manhattan Beach doing real estate. He had been a Hare Krishna. Mom had said he was brain washed. We still weren’t sure about that.

Brendan had walked in the house a few minutes earlier with the news “I made it from the Hopkins.” That was almost 3/4 of the way up. There were 2 solid 30% graded pitches and a nasty hook turn at the bottom on that ride.  It seemed almost impossible, but I knew he’d done it. Brendan was no bullshitter and easily capable of pulling something like that off. I’d seen him pull in on 12′-15′ barrels with effortless grace. He never seemed flustered. He was my younger brother, but physically superior in many ways. I was taller but more slightly built. Keeping in front of him was challenging, but that was our way. Between the 3 of us, Kelly, Brendan and I that was the way so I grabbed my skateboard and walked out the door.
My skateboard was a rocket. Essentially just a 5′ laminated maple water ski flipped upside down with skateboard wheels and trucks on it. I flipped it over so the reverse camber could provide more flex. Brendan and I had bought the water skis for $5 at the Goodwill store on a shopping excursion. We shopped there regularly for clothes. Since Mom died we’d been on our own more or less financially. Kelly, Brendan and I all worked at the same Mexican restaurant 40 hours a week bussing tables. Kerry basically told us if we wanted to eat, we needed to get jobs. So we did. Well, Kelly did then he got us in. Pat was in College now so had some financial aid, but he didn’t surf or skate, so it was really just the 3 of us that rode Costa Bella. Kelly was in a band and getting high all the time now so we didn’t see him much anymore. Not that we didn’t get stoned too, but he hardly ever even made it to school at all. If we did see him there he would rarely acknowledge us. Too cool. Fucking Kelly.

Brendan and I walked past the nice homes and succulent gardens bouncing on our instep to help propel us up the incline. I could feel my stomach twist at the thought of rolling down this thing. No brakes, no way to jump off once you got going. This thing was pure commitment. I’d been clocked 50 mph on Nautilus and ridden Cardeno, but Costa Bella was way steeper and much meaner with it’s broken seams of poured concrete. I had never even heard of anyone else ever riding it. Just the three of us as far as I knew. Kelly had broken his collar bone on it a year ago. He’d sort of started this whole thing. We would see how far above the “tar” we could go without wobbling out. Kelly had maxed out on a regular length board last year getting air where the concrete and tar met at the bottom of the hook turn. He’s probably been going close to 30 when he’d hit that. That was a trip to the emergency room. Concussion and Broken broken collar-bone. I’d lost count how many times we’d been to the ER. The insurance company finally dropped us. Brendan and I were well above where Kelly had started now. That wasn’t even to the first level spot. We had both ridden from that point before and made it. Brendan had the same board set up I did except mine was faster. I had the green 70mm Kryptonics. He had the reds. My board was a rocket.

We began approaching the Hopkins house. It was at the end of a long flat section just above the first pitch. We weren’t talking. What we were doing was serious. I knew Brendan was worried for me. He knew I was the one that broke. He’d seen me close to death a few years back just before Mom died but he also knew I was going no matter what. I had to. That was the way. We used to fist fight when we were younger. That was also the way. I’d lost face when he’d fought me to a draw. I was probably 15 and he was 14, but already bigger and stronger than me. He had hit me in the face multiple times. I couldn’t seem to block his blows. He was tough, angry and determined. He’d had enough of me beating on him. He knew he could take me and he wasn’t backing down. He’d regularly taken guys my age and older. I’d had to resort to choking him out but we both knew the new order after that fight. Everyone did. I had gotten 2 black eyes.That was why I had to go.

We reached the stopping point. “This is it.” he said. “K” I acknowledged. We didn’t have to say much. We rarely did. We were a miracle at the restaurant together. Kelly Brendan and I.  We worked effortlessly and wordlessly like a well oiled machine. No customer or waiter wanted for a thing when we were on the floor. Like a double-play going all night long we knew what the others were thinking and doing in this restaurant that had become our second home. We would work four 6 hour shifts and one 10 hour shift. Sometimes more. We had a guaranteed meal and all the leftovers we could want plus bringing home $20-30 in tips a night and occasionally some beer or leftover Margaritas. Sometimes stronger stuff. The restaurant was a block from the main surf break, All the poorer surfers worked there on and off. Our manager was the president of the Surf Club. Sort of a male role model as well as our local drug supplier. He charged on bigger days even though he long-boarded. He’d been to college and understood when I would do my homework in a booth in the back before my shift. It wasn’t cool to do my homework so I sort of hid back there to do it. Real reputations here were made in the water and sometimes your shifts could be influenced by how well you surfed. The best surfers got the choice shifts or moved up more rapidly. Some of them were worthless and arrogant at work but had respect on the beach. Your pecking order in town was made out there and most of the waiters in our restaurant ripped and got high living within a few blocks of the break. We were from the wrong side of town so we had to earn our place. We surfed our break and rode Costa Bella, places no one cared about just a few miles away.

Brendan rolled off first. I watched him go. He took a few hard pushes and then stepped on and crouched into his tuck. He glided along the level part and then rolled over the pitch and disappeared. Somehow I knew he’d make it. Brendan never seemed to get hurt or at least not broken. He just seemed lucky. “Would I be lucky today?” I wondered as I set my board down. I could see myself vividly, watching my hands set the maple board with the black grip tape down. I set my left foot on the front third of the board just behind the truck holes. I put weight on it and leaned forward. Things seemed to go into slow motion as I rolled off. A few good pushes and I stepped up both feet about shoulder width apart. I could feel my board gliding along the pavement a slight vibration running through my feet. I wore my blue Quiksilver board-shorts and my black gum-soled bussboy shoes I’d bought at pay-less. They stuck good on the grip tape and were cheap. We all had them. The cleaning solvent in the kitchen dissolved almost anything so we learned not to buy good shoes. I felt like I was floating out of my body as I approached the drop. Oddly disassociated from the experience I rolled over the crest of the flat spot and began the real acceleration. The tar seams clicked by faster and faster. I could smell jasmine and feel the warm sea air on my face my eyes tearing up. I began to tuck more tightly pointing both arms ahead of me pushing my head down between them to create a wind break. My board felt good. I let it roll feeling the rhythm of the bumps between the concrete patches. I allowed my board to flex keeping my legs and body relaxed. Everything felt smooth, almost effortless. I hit the second flat spot in a good position at about 35mph and prepared myself for the turn and the last pitch taking a line as close to the inside curb as possible. Things seemed to slow even more. “Maybe I’ll actually make this” I thought for the first time. The board was humming now as the 70mm wheels and bearings spun just barely making contact with the road. I was hurtling now probably going more than 45 as I began to push down and lean in to make the board turn even though the trucks were as tight as they’d go. At these speeds they’d turn. I’d done it before on other hills, hopefully it would work here too. The board flexed, but something was wrong, I kept traveling outward away from the curb. The board wasn’t turning. I crossed the center line over the tar seams literally floating sideways in a 4 wheel drift across the concrete at 45-50mph. I was still tucked and pushing down with all I had hoping the wheels would grab. Everything was suddenly moving quickly now as I felt myself detach even further from the experience. I knew impact would be any second as the board and I hurtled sideways to the wrong side of a blind curve. If a car didn’t hit me there was no way to make it. The board was sliding now, My feet released… I began to float…

The next moments I don’t recall at all. Somewhere I had made contact with the pavement at least once. My mouth was bleeding and I could feel my front teeth were broken. I was lying against a chain link fence about 30 feet from where I’d lost awareness. The fence must have caught me after I drifted or flew across the opposite curb and down a short embankment. Blood was running down my chest. I felt my chin and it was torn open. As I got up I realized my left arm was twisted at the wrist in an unnatural bend. Broken. I’d seen this before. I don’t know how long I’d been out, but as I walked down the hill Brendan was making his way back up carrying both our boards. “Shoot, Bear” he said. “I thought you were dead.”

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