Jon Cohen,

Jon Cohen,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 6 1997 3:30 AM

Jon Cohen,

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       As the twirling red lights illuminated my car and the beam from the cop's giant black Maglite shone in my face at 4:58 this morning, I imagined myself sitting in a jail cell wearing my wetsuit, a fleece pullover, and Ugg boots.
       I deferentially explained that I didn't have my license with me and that I was just checking the waves at Swami's, where he had noticed my car pulling out of the lot. "You were going surfing," he said in that yeah-right cop way of turning a question into a statement. Well, I wanted to, I said, but the waves were too small. He asked me how I could see out there. I explained that you can see the white water and that I know the break. He surveyed my eyes, my outfit, the board in my car, and the board on my roof. "Surfers crack me up," he said. I told him that I just lived up the block, and that night surfing allowed me to have my fun and still enjoy breakfast with my wife and daughter and get to work at a reasonable hour. "I didn't think you were a dirt bag or anything," he said. I knew I was off the hook.
       Truth is, I don't often night surf, but I woke up at 3:30 a.m. with a start. Rather than fight it, I decided to answer some e-mail, catch up on some writing, and check the waves on the Internet. Unlike yesterday, I didn't have a notice from Surf's Up waiting in my Inbox, so I knew the buoys were less than 3 feet. The exact reading at Mission Bay buoy turned out to be 2.8 feet at 11-second intervals, which wasn't much smaller than yesterday's. The Coastal Data Information Program Wave Prediction Maps, which forecast wave heights in Southern California based on buoy readings at Point Conception (above Santa Barbara), had a lot of light blue, meaning dinky. Still, I threw my wetsuit in the dryer--the fastest way to destroy a suit, but I was cold--slipped it on and loaded up the 4Runner.
       Two locals were already sizing up Swami's when I arrived, and one of them said the two most dreaded words in surfing: "It's flat." The painting of dolphins on the Swami's bathroom wall, which usually does nothing for me, looked stunning in the amber light from the street lamps. I took a picture and left.
       It was a dumb move leaving home without my wallet, but that's the first positive interaction I've ever had with an officer of the law. And I'm 39. So let this be a lesson to all the parents who tell their kids that surfing is going to ruin their lives. It kept me out of jail this morning.

Jon Cohen is a journalist for Science magazine. He's also a surfer.