Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wahine Wannabe for a Night

As soundtrack moments in my life go, it was right up there.

If I was going to walk into a seriously fabulous tiki bar like Hula's Island Grill in Santa Cruz, I could not have asked for a better song to do it to than "Disco Inferno."

At top volume, mind you, which only increased my complete pleasure in the moment. I may walk into many more tiki bars before my life is over, but I don't know that I'll ever get a better song to do it to.

It was merely foreshadowing for how much I was going to enjoy the next few hours because everything about Hula's made my evening. And I'm not talking about the grass-thatched rooves over some of the booths and banquettes, because both the tiki bars I went to in San Fran last year had those.

No, I'm talking about the fact that a tiki bar in Santa Cruz is not just endless kinds of rum and Volcanoes on the menu, it's a surf-themed tiki bar because everything in Santa Cruz is all about the surf.

There were dozens of photographs, mostly black and white, of surfers caught mid-wave, along with old surfer magazine covers ("Who will be 1964's surfing stars?" one headline blared) and even a promo shot from "Gilligan's Island" of the entire cast - Mary Ann and Ginger in bikinis, natch - standing on a surfboard.

One picture showed the evolution of the board itself from the ridiculously tall longboards of the mid-20th century to today's more human sized boards, a history lesson of the hang ten set.

But where Hula's scored the big points was with the surfing videos played on a screen behind the bar (where two shaggy-haired surfer dudes - one with a touch of gray in his beard - affably did time as barkeeps), providing vintage footage of guys nonchalantly navigating waves that could have killed them.

A guy near me asked the bartender where the footage was shot, which is how I learned it was taken in Maui in the '60s, but what I found most impressive was how they surfed because it  was noticeably different than anything I'd seen. These guys weren't treating surfing like an extreme sport, but more like a zen experience where they tried to become one with the wave.

They had a look, too, because they all wore the shorter bathing suits of the era (not the unflattering and baggy board shorts) and all were lean as jaguars (pre-corn syrup diets made a difference), a fact which was called even more sharply into focus when a 2000s-era video came on and everyone looked like they lived at the gym.

Part of the appeal of the old films was the limited color palette and lack of high definition, like in some shots where all you could see was steel bluish water and white spots of sunlight on the ocean. Everything else was impossible to discern.

So here I am, sitting in Hula's sipping a Mai Tai, watching young Californians surfing while "Disco Inferno" segues into "Freddy's Dead" and my past and present are melding into one exquisite moment.

Or maybe that was the Zombie that followed the Mai Tai, I really can't be certain.

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