It’s 9 a.m. on Super Bowl Sunday and the sky’s been spitting splats of water onto the concrete that surrounds Newport Beach for the last five hours. You’d think a local low-pressure system would bring some swell to Newport, especially considering the variety of nuances in its coastline, but nothing gives. The punchy beach break usually pounding 54th Street looks more like a timid jab, the soft lines typically drawn at Blackies resemble kindergarten squiggles, and you’d never know River Jetties actually breaks judging by its pathetic morning cough. The sickness seems contagious, and as the sun hides in its gray blanket, it’s clear that this is an atypical day in Orange County.
The most cutthroat arenas breed the most accelerated trends, and natural selection prevails. Be it Wall Street, Hollywood, or Newport Beach, the moment you reveal a chink in your armor, you become less relevant. Then you disappear.
I’m hiding in a different kind of blanket in the parking lot outside Al Cappuccino Coffee House when a vintage, gray van sloshes into the space beside me. Out jumps Alex Knost, my host for the day, who’s wrapped in a green jacket and purple beanie. We greet one another inside the shop, acutely aware that breakfast offers a welcome refuge from the morning gloom.
“So what do you want to do today?” Knost asks after taking a few bites into an everything bagel smothered in cream cheese, tomatoes, and avocado—topped by a dash of lemon-pepper. The bagel is actually called the “Doheny Bagel,” named for Andrew Doheny, who lives just a few streets away, and it looks a hell of a lot better than my muffin. I feel cheated about my breakfast selection and tell him I’m up for whatever: “What do you do on a rainy day in Newport?”
“We could see a movie,” Knost laughs as Pat Towersey, aka Punker Pat, wanders through the door.
“Dude, you gotta get one,” Knost kids with Towersey as he points to his bagel. “You know that if you leave and don’t get one you’ll be pissed…just get one.”
Pat shuffles over to the register.
The register and storefront windows are collaged with an eclectic assortment of surf paraphernalia. Graffitied surf shots of Andrew Doheny and Ford Archbold with Sharpie mustaches adorn a bulletin board on the wall, and as a torrent of tow-headed groms and bearded ocean rats hobble into this breakfast hovel, it becomes clear to me this is no Starbucks. This is a modest home to an American surf Mecca. It’s the burlap epicenter of the surf industry. As a result, it’s laden with surf history and character—so Alex and I dive right into it.
“I can’t even imagine Newport without the surf industry here,” says Knost. “It’s super easy to be successful, so a lot of kids take it for granted. They think they’re set overnight—then when they go nowhere they get jaded and bitter. Then they get a job as a rep at a surf company and come to terms with the whole thing.”
Seems a bit pragmatic, but, regardless, not many spots in America resonate with this attitude. Just as this rainy day is anomalous to Southern California, Newport is anomalous to the vast majority of American surf communities. That’s what makes Newport such a badass. Someone’s got to be the writhing pulse of an ever-changing industry, and Newport Beach always thumps loudest.
“Waves of talent pass through here,” says Punker Pat. “Newport has little cycles, and no one stays around too long. Like the whole ‘100 Hottest Yards Era’ with Preston Murray, Danny Kwock, and those guys…you don’t see them around anymore.”
Towersey alludes to a logical trend in the ebb and flow of competitive environments. The most cutthroat arenas breed the most accelerated trends, and natural selection prevails. Be it Wall Street, Hollywood, or Newport Beach, the moment you reveal a chink in your armor, you become less relevant. Then you disappear.
That’s not to say Newport isn’t an amazing place. It’s sunny nearly 320 days a year and rarely is there an unsurfable day. Between the bars, girls, restaurants, and waves, life never lulls, which makes it an urban surfer’s paradise.
Meditating on this thought, Alex and I hop into his van, circling through the puddled neighborhood to reassess the conditions, but arrive at the same conclusion: Today is just not our day.
We return to the parking lot that kick-started our excursion, and as the rain begins to trickle down a beat faster, I ask Alex if there’s anywhere on this planet he’d rather live. He sits back in the driver seat, sighs thoughtfully and says, “I’ve seen a lot of places around the world, but I keep coming back here—so there’s gotta be something special about it. No, I don’t think I could live anywhere else.”
Hopefully, the following will help explain why: