Kew’s Corner: 50 Nights–Deconstructing The California Book Project


Part Two: The Central Coast (San Francisco to San Luis Obispo)

It’s a classic pursuit, this lengthwise traversing of California, its thousand variegated miles of Pacific vantage playing host to a million surf trips. For some, the seaside Golden State journey becomes a rite of passage; for others, it is a result of logistical simplicity combined with enough Americana familiarity and elemental unknown to keep gas in the tank of, yes, even the most seasoned California surf-searcher.

For photographer (and ex-TransWorld SURF intern) Chris Burkard, 20, it was indeed a first; for surfer Eric Soderquist, 28, it was a return. Late last year, Burkard and Soderquist lived for nearly two months in Soderquist’s vintage VW bus, combing the coldwater autumnal scene from the Oregon state line to Tijuana Sloughs, Burkard documenting, Soderquist surfing and painting (and driving). Both natives of San Luis Obispo County, the two alighted on a sort of quest with no set plan other than to have none at all, and the unscheduled setting would eventually spawn a book, its working title simply “The California Book Project.

For insight, Kew’s Corner caught up with Burkard and Soderquist, both eager to elucidate on what for them had been a profound and enlightening trek mentally, physically, and spiritually–as California is, naturally.

(Kew’s Corner) After touring the North Coast, what were your reactions and the noticeable differences once you crossed the Golden Gate Bridge?

(Chris Burkard) I think it was obvious that we were out of the redwood forest when our cell phones started ringing every five seconds. It was crazy–almost like back to the real world. It also was weird being in a place with nightlife; up north, we would be in these little shantytowns, and when the sun would go down, we would hit the sack, but in San Francisco, we were able to cruise.

(Eric Soderquist) The North Coast was exciting and wide open, and I felt like a grom up there. It was an explorative feeling. Once we crossed the Golden Gate my phone beeped with way too many voicemails and I instantly wanted to throw it off the bridge. But things became familiar again and I was excited to surf some spots I’ve always enjoyed.

What makes the Central Coast special?

(C. B.) It has its own little niche and is often overlooked. You would be surprised how many people have never surfed here, or when they do, they always say, “Yeah, I surfed Pismo Pier, and it sucked, which is understandable. I think that being able to spend time in Big Sur is where you really get the full effect. It is one of the most magical places in California, and it keeps the crowds away with its towering cliffs and rocky beaches.

(E. S.) The Central Coast is a magical zone where you can find some crazy waves and trippy visuals. While driving to surf you can see circling red-tailed hawks, elephant seals, and a zebra chilling by the fence (the zebras were imported by Hearst). Once you develop a relationship with the area, a whole new world opens up.

As you two guys are from the Central Coast, do you think that that fact in any way prevented you from tasting the area anew? If not, why?

(C. B.) To be honest I think that, yeah, it did a little bit, but that is the same with anywhere you have already seen. You can never say that you can experience the North Coast the same way as you experience Los Angeles, because L.A. has already left a bad taste in your mouth. But we really tried to leave ourselves open. I mean, had we not been from here we probably would have been tripping on the whole scene in Pismo–all the crazy people and bum kids–but we were over it and have been experiencing it for our whole lives. You know, we really did give the whole coast what it deserved. We spent a lot of time where it counted. It’s never easy to get to where you live your whole life and then experience it almost like a tourist, but, hey, we still slept in the van!

(E. S.) We still exploored, and thanks to a heat wave and full moon, we walked around a lot at night checking things out. We saw some perspectives and outlooks that were completely foreign, and I think I heard an owl pick off a baby pig–it sounded crazy. Nature still rules those mountains.

What were your best and worst experiences during this leg of the trip?

(C. B.) Big Sur was probably one of the all-time best experiences of the trip, meeting up with Nate Tyler and getting ransacked by raccoons at our campsite–that was nuts. The worst could have been getting a 24-hour flu in San Simeon and laying face-down in the dirt for four hours.

(E. S.) My best experience was walking along the creeks on a hot day. The smell of the sycamores was an instant feeling of the past, and the waves were fun and emerald green. Worst experiences would probably be standing by flocks of tourists all in line to get the shot to the point of following me to go pee on a tree.

What does the mid-state section of Highway 1 represent to the soul of California surfing?

(C. B.) Highway 1 is much more than a road; it is a path that can lead to some of the most beautiful places in California. For the California surfer, Highway 1 has played an important role since the beginning since many of California’s best waves are located right alongside the road, as were we when we traveled its long, winding path. We sought shelter on it and relied on it for direction.

(E. S.) There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and in some spots you really need watch out for poison oak, and avoid high dry grasses or you’ll get ticks. This one short-cut trail saved me five minutes, and I counted 12 ticks on me. I really hate those things. On Highway 1 or nearby, the giant mountains fight off the inland valley sprawl, and there’s still a presence of higher natural energies. To be able to soak that in is everything to the soul of surfing–or just living on a higher plane–so that road represents the beginning and the end.

(For more information, check out www.thebookprojectca.com, www.ericsoderquist.com, and www.burkardphoto.com. On Kew’s Corner next week: Part Three–Santa Barbara to Mexico.)