Cambrian: Sports

A Saturday on the North Coast: Zebras, whales and kite sailing

Cambria kite surfer Brooks Lawrence plows through waves at Arroyo Laguna on Saturday, Aug. 9.
Cambria kite surfer Brooks Lawrence plows through waves at Arroyo Laguna on Saturday, Aug. 9. Special to The Cambrian

For North Coast locals and visitors keen on zebras, breaching humpback whales, and a powder-blue and windy sky alive with multicolored kites powering daredevil surfers through the churning waves, Saturday was a banner summer day.

Heading north from Cambria on Highway 1, just south of San Simeon, it was obvious that the Hearst Ranch zebras were close to the fence because 15 vehicles were pulled over to the ranch side of the road.

Sure enough, two male zebras were visible, perhaps only 30 yards from the fence. Dozens of people piled out of cars and aimed their smartphones, Canons and Nikons at the majestic native African animals. Several groups of zebras were also in plain sight.

Just north of the zebras, out in the smooth waters of San Simeon Cove, reports of breaching humpbacks created excitement as folks employed binoculars, hoping for a quick glimpse of the behemoths.

Meanwhile four miles north of San Simeon, the wind at Arroyo Laguna was about 20-25 knots, and the western sky was a riot of color as eight kite surfers (also known as kiteboarders) plied their risky trade.

The sea’s his gallery

Brooks Lawrence’s talent as an artist and furniture designer is uniquely compelling. Lawrence showcases his artistic creations at Brooks Gallery in San Simeon and, in his spare time, he enjoys showing off a different form of artistry.

On Saturday, Aug. 9, the Coast Union graduate and Cambria resident was kite-surfing at a gusty spot just south of the Elephant Seal Rookery.

Lawrence was happy to explain some of the finer points of the pastime, including how four lines help him control his kite (also called a “sail”).

In the past, kites only had two lines, and the surfer was at the mercy of the wind. But with four lines, “If you want more power you pull in; if you want less power, you pull out,” Lawrence explained as he demonstrated. In short, the surfer can tilt the kite to reduce the wind’s thrust and, in effect, slow him down.

“Kiting was pretty much dangerous before four lines,” he explained. “People were getting hurt — some were getting killed” with only two lines between the surfer and the kite, which is why Lawrence didn’t do much kite surfing until the four-line technology was developed.

The kite that captures the wind that drives Lawrence offshore is as big as they come, 12 square meters, and can cost up to $1,700 — although used kites are “pretty cheap,” he added.

Lawrence’s 35-year surfing career began at the age of 10 when his family moved to Cambria.

“I grew up on Happy Hill, on Weymouth,” he said.

Moonstone Beach and the river mouth were his favorite spots as a kid.

“I surfed for 20 years before I picked up wind sports.”

Asked what he experiences when he’s out on the water on a surfboard, driven by the wind, Lawrence first referenced what he calls “an old fisherman’s story the crazier things get on land, the further you have to go offshore.”

Describing his own sense of the world from the ocean, he explained, “A mile offshore, it’s like being in the Serengeti Desert. You’re out in the wild. It’s raw nature. It’s quiet, but there’s sharks and wildlife, and there’s no one there to help you.

“It’s raw, and that rawness is a great feeling. There are no fences and no roads. The cool thing about sailing is you’re always moving, you’re not talking to anybody, you’re not sitting in a lineup waiting for waves.”

After slipping into his wetsuit and attaching the four-line assembly to his harness, a friend lifted the kite and it was immediately soaring. Lawrence grabbed his 12-foot surfboard and hustled out into the crashing surf.

In less than a minute, the wind hurtled him a quarter-mile or so out into the Pacific, driven by what he called “light winds” — raising the question of what it must be like with heavy winds.

The Arroyo Laguna spot has a reputation as being among the best in the world for kite surfing.

Anyone witnessing Lawrence dashing through — and sometimes nearly flying over — 5- to 6-foot waves, on this Saturday in August would be enough to transform most skeptics into believers.