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Tom Ross: When fate catches a wave at Big Sur

Campsites at California’s Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park come with 3
Tom Ross

Steamboat Springs — I always knew in my heart that I was meant to be a surfer boy, or maybe the captain of the junior varsity water polo team. At age 13, I could play the drum solo from “Wipeout” on the edge of a school cafeteria table. Pretty cool, I know. — I always knew in my heart that I was meant to be a surfer boy, or maybe the captain of the junior varsity water polo team. At age 13, I could play the drum solo from “Wipeout” on the edge of a school cafeteria table. Pretty cool, I know.

— I always knew in my heart that I was meant to be a surfer boy, or maybe the captain of the junior varsity water polo team. At age 13, I could play the drum solo from “Wipeout” on the edge of a school cafeteria table. Pretty cool, I know.

But I was hopelessly landlocked in the Midwest. And no matter how many times Clyde Coffee spun The Surfaris’ latest single on WISM, it didn’t make it any easier to catch a wave on Lake Mendota.

Have you ever stopped to contemplate how a fateful decision — one you made yourself, or one made by another — changed the path of your life?



Of course you have.

We’ve all signed up for a workshop or a wilderness class and met a new mentor. If you pursued higher education, you may have been turned down by one college and rejected another in favor of a third. A different cast of characters awaited you at all three campuses, where they would have steered your life in a different direction.



Or, to get right down to it, had you attended a different college, some of you would have married someone other than your current spouse, and your children all would look different. That’s the kind of fate I’m talking about.

I was reminded of the role fate plays in our lives last week during a trip down California’s central coast. We camped among the redwoods in Big Sur and stopped along the ocean to observe elephant seals, snacking sea otters and, yes, surfers.

After a couple more days camped along the ocean at San Simeon Creek, we pushed a little inland and farther down the coast to the relatively remote college town of San Luis Obispo, or as the locals call it, “SLO.” For you North Routt-ers, that’s not S-L-O as in Steamboat Lake Outfitters, but SLO as in “SLO down, you’re living too fast.”

There aren’t good cell phone connections along Big Sur — the highway is perched on cliffs for mile after mile — and when we finally got to a town, I checked in with my folks. That was when my father reminded me that he once had turned down an offer of a position as a professor of agriculture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

I immediately flashed back to scenes of young surfer dudes catching little waves at Moonstone Beach near Cambria and realized that could have been me had my father made that one fateful decision. I would have gone to high school in California instead of Wisconsin, and I would be leading a different life today.

Everybody’s gone Surfin’, Surfin’ USA.


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