VAST went on a 12-day road trip for a good cause . . . and good surf.
WORDS Sam Yang IMAGES Brian Filoteo
VAST is an L.A.-based surf apparel company that “is committed to spreading good vibes, finding empty peaks, and celebrating the bounty of life in its many forms.” The company’s founder, Sam Yang, recently went on a road trip along the California coast with his Creative Director Jun Jo, Brand Director Sophea Kem; surfer Alex Pendleton, photographer Brian Filoteo, and filmmaker Wula Wu in search of solid waves while also raising awareness for Schooner’s Landing and the Albion River community located near Mendocino Coast; in recent years the area has been badly damaged by flash floods, fires, and mudslides, which have affected ecosystems in nearby bodies of water. The men explored California in a custom Volkswagen Synchro, while Yang rode behind in a Harley-Davidson street track built by Speed Merchant’s Brandon Holstein. Below, Yang recounts the 12-day road trip ... its highs and lows, its lessons taught and learned.
Our first day, we drove through Rose Valley Falls. Last year forest fires charred the landscape. We saw blackened trees and areas where the land had fallen away after heavy rains ... it felt out of this world. But as we walked around and looked closely, we saw that life is growing again. When pine trees burn, the pine cones open and drop seeds. In nature, when one life ends, it gives life to another. An inspiring phenomenon to witness.
We made it to Fresno the first night and on our second day, we passed through Milpitas to visit our friends at Simplicity in Sound, who refreshed the Synchro’s interior and gave her a custom stereo system, in anticipation of our bonfire nights and campsite parties. We kept checking the surf reports, to see where we could stop off for a couple hours, but the winds were out of control; we stopped at Lindamar at Pacifica State Beach, where the waves are somewhat protected by the cove and bluffs.
We then went to Mendocino, which is not known for surf. I’ve been abalone diving in Mendocino and at Schooner’s Landing for years, but last year the abalone started starving and disappearing because rising ocean temperatures caused kelp, abalone’s main food source, to die off. When I came back last October, instead of seeing abalone stacked three high, I saw only empty abalone shells on the ocean floor. A few weeks later, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that abalone season would be closed indefinitely. As we ate breakfast in Schooner’s, I kept thinking about what we would find beneath the ocean surface. People said the kelp forest had gone, and rocks were barren except for barnacles, covered in purple sea urchins. An hour after breakfast we put on our dive gear and hopped into the water. The ocean floor felt alien; not only were the kelp and abalone gone from the water, many of the fish that lived in the kelp forest had disappeared as well.
Our time in Schooner’s wasn’t without lighter moments. We stopped for coffee at Lost Surf Shack in Fort Bragg, where the owner pointed us toward a few possible spots for waves. We ended up at Big River, just a few miles north of Schooner’s Landing. Sitting in the line-up, we kept looking back to shore, its beautiful beach and bluffs. We stayed until it was almost too dark to see. And before we left Schooner’s, we gave our friend Gabriella, Schooner’s park keeper, a sweater from our “Nature Always Wins” collection.
In nature, when one life ends, it gives life to another. An inspiring phenomenon to witness.
We spent a little time chatting with her about the plight of the Albion River and the Schooner’s community before leaving for Santa Cruz. The surf report didn’t look promising, but we drove out to Shark Fin Cove, a public beach that features a large rock formation that looks like a shark’s fin. We admired the view from the bluff and snapped a bunch of photos before riding north to Waddell Beach, where kite surfers enjoyed blown-out, knee-high waves.
We then drove to Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground, our home for two nights. A beautiful campsite we didn’t want to leave, but locals told us to check out Andrew Molera State Beach, which has white sand, boulders thrusting out from the bottom of the ocean, and a backdrop of green, rolling hills. We stayed at the beach most of the morning, goofing off and letting go of the weight of adulthood, with the occasional set rolling through with a peeling right point break. When we had our fill, we drove to Pfeiffer Beach State Park, where Alex would try to surf through the famous Keyhole Rock.
As Alex paddled into the rock and waited for waves, a small crowd gathered. When a wave of water pushed through the rocky opening, Alex paddled for it, caught the wave, and did a couple tight carves. As quickly as he rode it, it was over...epic. More people came over to see what was going on, and Alex, feeling a bit more confident, paddled back into the hole and waited for the next wave. Seven or eight minutes later, another rideable set pushed into the hole. Alex got more speed and made a tight cut back after pumping down the face. It wasn’t a world-class wave or a record-breaking ride, but it was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
The next day, we packed up camp and slowly made our way to Morro Bay; heavy rains had washed out a section of the Pacific Coast Highway between Big Sur and Morro Bay, but luckily we could follow an access road through the mountains—a beautiful drive with grandiose views of the entire Big Sur coastline. When we arrived in Morro Bay, we had a quick session at Morro Rock, surfing waves that started out messy but cleaned up as the hours passed. Looking at the surf reports, we saw an unusual, late-season swell hitting SoCal the following day. We were supposed to camp at Carpinteria and spend a night in Ventura, but we decided to scrap that idea and head to Rincon.
In Rincon, there were no white caps, conditions were glassy, and waves broke cleanly and consistently. The peaks weren’t quite connecting but as we surfed, the swell picked up and we had some fun rides. We were bleary-eyed and road weary after almost two weeks traveling by bike and van, but we didn’t want the trip to end and fall back into “real life.” Our trip wasn’t about where we went, or how far we traveled, or how big the surf was. It was about re-discovering the beauty of the outdoors and finding our place in it. Like the environment of Schooner’s Landing and the Albion River, nature is in constant ebb and flow, and so is our relationship with nature. In order to preserve its beauty and innocence, we have to remind ourselves to take a step back and let things happen organically, as they were meant to happen. Sometimes that means ditching your plans and riding your custom Harley-Davidson until you run out of gas, which happened.
There are also times to step in, when you see someone, or something, that needs a little help. Schooner's Landing, where the fragile ecosystem is breaking down, needs our help, and we want to bring attention to its plight. An important thing to remember is that everything will eventually work out. Adventuring up and down the California coast, I realized that my beloved Albion River community will one day find a way to rebuild. Like my friends in our van, on our search for clean swells, we eventually get back on course and make it back home.