A Surfers Perspective on Malibu in Flames | Jamie Brisick creates poetry out of loss
It’s usually a day to celebrate when surfing cracks into the hallowed (on-line) pages of The New Yorker. But today Jamie Brisick writes of his personal experience with the Malibu fires in which he lost his home as did many others. Including many other surfers. A heart breaking story, yet once again Jamie finds words to describe the indescribable.
I did not feel some colossal sense of loss. It felt oddly familiar. In 2013, my wife of nine years died suddenly, in a cycling accident. After many years in New York, I moved back to Los Angeles with little more than a backpack over my shoulder. I crashed on my sister’s couch in Culver City. When the opportunity to live in a cheap guesthouse in Malibu arose, I jumped at it. Living in Malibu was a luxury I never imagined. I wrote, surfed, rode my bike in the hills above Zuma Beach. It felt almost too good. And, perhaps, having experienced firsthand the way our lives as we know and love them can disappear overnight, it felt temporary.
That evening, I gathered with other Malibu residents who had stayed around at the Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School. The parking lot had been turned into an emergency-operations center. Ash-covered firefighters lined up for chow. People I’d seen around town but never spoken to scooped up salad, rice, curried chicken, vegetables, cake, and ice cream. Smiles abounded. Hugs lasted a little longer. “How’d you do?” had become shorthand for “Did your home survive?”
Pretty much everyone gathered in that parking lot looked physically beaten down by the around-the-clock firefighting. But spirits were exuberant. The sense of community, the sense of coming together for the larger good (corny as that sounds), was palpable. Normally, the big fish of Malibu are the rich and famous, the people who own the five-million-dollar homes. The fire had turned this hierarchy on its head. These guys—these surfers—were the new heroes. At least for the time being.