Summer 2020 was certainly a summer like no other. In addition to the pandemic and chaos, it was my first summer in Newport. It’s also my 50th summer, and I found myself retracing my steps back to the beginning of my life, like a man reborn and going through a second childhood.
For the past six months everything has been closed, so no museums, concerts, music festivals, or even service at an old gothic church I rather like. And so all I’ve done is bike around the island, hike the nature preserves, snorkel in the sea, and sit outside lost in meditation, observing the animals and trees and sunsets and stars in a perpetual state of boyish wonder as if seeing them all for the first time.
And then there’s the surf, since never before have I lived within walking distance from a beach with ridable waves. I took up surfing at age 32 while living in LA, and did it off and on for about five years. So it was over a decade since I’ve done it, but I’ve probably surfed as much in the past four months as I did during those five years. If you don’t know what classic ’60s-style longboarding looks like, here’s an example below. I improved my trimming a lot, or walking up and down the board to slow down, speed up, and stay “in the curl.” Maybe someday I’ll get my toes on the nose:
Unlike shortboarding, which looks like the surfer is at war with nature, longboarding has a relaxed, go-with-nature’s flow feeling. For me the “stoke” comes from the sensation of floating outside of space-time. You’re moving to the rhythm of the sea, not to the flow of time as mankind measures it. How long does it last? Who knows. But it feels like a taste of eternity.
Speaking of being outside of time and space, here’s me with the body of a Nordic alien and the face of a Neanderthal. According to 23andMe, I’m in the top 3% of humans for Neanderthal DNA. And thanks to a caveman diet of fat and protein with little carbohydrate and sugar, I got my waist down from 34 to 28. Nothing sheds earthly corpulence like awakening to metaphysical reality, and you might consider discovering your soul and spirit for that reason alone.
When I get home from a surf session I’ve been listening to ’70s rock, the kind of stuff that as a kid I would have heard blaring from car radios or in pizza parlors. I’ve settled on T. Rex and Suzi Quatro as my favorites. The ’60s psychedelic stuff didn’t stick, but this was definitely my ultimate “hippie” summer. In the background is the sense of dread and uncertainty we’re all feeling, while in contrast an almost terrifying sense of freedom. I haven’t had a haircut since February, and I had the hippie era in mind when I did a story for San Francisco’s Nob Hill Gazette back in July:
As we consider what life was like before all this happened, certain puzzle pieces don’t seem to fit the big picture anymore. Will we see our technological inventions with cold fresh eyes, as mere tools rather than ends in themselves, as we focus on mindfulness and genuine human connections? Or will the experience of solitary confinement and social distancing hasten our transformation into atomized, emotionless cyborgs who can’t experience a spontaneous life moment unless it’s mediated through a smartphone camera?
It certainly feels like we’ve stepped out of lockdown only to find ourselves at a fork in the road. And like every other crossroads, the right path for another may not be the right path for you. Some will be ready to “turn on, tune in and drop out,” as they said in the ’60s, while others will be even more eager for brain chip implants. It’ll be bot-people versus spiritualists in a showdown of San Francisco’s two great social experiment legacies from the past half-century: hippies and techies.
The piece is called “The Eternal Return,” which brings me around to clothing. The belt buckle I’m wearing in the top photo was made by a craftsman in Ukraine and features the Midgard Serpent, also known as a ouroboros, or a snake eating its own tail and symbol of the eternal cycle of the cosmos. I’ve been wearing it along with jeans, boots, and floral and paisley buttondowns, which smell like nag champa incense. I’ve also got enough bangles and rings to put Nick Foulkes to shame.
It’s invigorating to return to one’s roots. Especially ones you never knew. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD