Chances are, if the sun is up while you are reading this, Chadd Konig and Nole Cossart are paddling. Shortly after sunrise on May 12, the two young surfers set out into the waters off Gaviota State Beach, their 14-foot paddleboards loaded down with dry bags, camping equipment, and a few homemade alais (fin-less, handcrafted wooden surfboards). There was no fancy bon voyage party for the Mexico-bound adventurers, save for the squawks of sea birds, a chilly offshore wind, and a cranky State Park camp host looking to collect their parking dues. Instead, Konig and Cossart stepped into the wilds of the Pacific with little fanfare, disappearing anonymously into a thick fogbank mere moments after leaving the shore.
It is 315 long, treacherous miles by sea from the western shores of Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border. And, from the pristine, sublime beauty of Gaviota to the multimillion-dollar mansions of Malibu and the terribly toxic roiling waters of Long Beach, the scenery along the way is a perfect character sketch of the many moods of Southern California’s celebrated beaches.
Paddling with a purpose beyond just the sheer adventure of making your way to Mexico one stroke at a time, the duo is using their journey as chance to spread the word about a largely untouched slice of coastal heaven in our backyard that currently finds itself slated for an Orange County makeover.
The story of Naples and developer Matt Osgood’s plan to put 71 monster luxury homes on the historic parcel at the eastern edge of the Gaviota is anything but news for Santa Barbarans. However, for the rest of Southern California, the potential paving of this scenic ranch-and what it means for the surf-friendly, bio-dynamic stretch of rock reef thriving just offshore-is a largely overlooked issue. By making surf-minded port-of-calls during their excursion-camping on beaches and couches of friends-Konig and Cossart hope to raise the awareness level of their saltwater brethren about the current fight to save Naples and, with a significant hearing on the subject scheduled for June 5 at the Santa Barbara County supervisors’ meeting, their timing couldn’t be better. “Seeing the land from the ocean is remarkable; you get a perspective on things most people don’t see otherwise,” explained the 21-year-old Konig before adding, “And doing something challenging like this paddle, you are forced to simplify. Rather than focusing on your wants or desires, you only care about what you absolutely need to do. You realize what matters.”
Though they are no strangers to paddle missions-Cossart has crossed the Santa Barbara Channel from Santa Cruz Island to the S.B. Harbor, and together they have done their fair share of multiple day trips, including a Montecito to Hollister Ranch fundraiser for the Community Environmental Council last summer-the Gaviota to Mexico route is by far the biggest and the baddest the two have taken on yet.
With hopes of making it to the border by early June, the plan is to “paddle four hours or so every morning, take a nice long break for lunch and rest, then get in a few more hours before dark,” said Konig. By his estimate, that plan of attack ought to equal “about 20 or so miles a day,” but if the surf comes up, the duo is prepared to, as Konig put it, “hang out and surf as much as possible wherever we are.” As for supplies and preparation, beyond Google Earth maps, 50 pounds of food in a dry bag (on their first night, while camping on a beach in Goleta, they hiked into Isla Vista for Freebird’s burritos), and photographer Branden Aroyan providing land support, the team is relying more on their youthful energy and appetite for adventure than anything else. On the morning of their departure, the 20-year-old Cossart was giddy about the massive undertaking at hand: “I don’t even know what to expect.” To which Konig added, in a tone somewhere between sarcasm and defiance, “Yeah. I haven’t even checked the weather charts. Does it look good?”
As of press time, Cossart and Konig were in Malibu, posted up at the holy point break, harvesting a south swell on their alais, and spreading the Naples gospel over the Memorial Day weekend. Thus far, the modern-day Tom Sawyers have endured pesky south winds and sunburns, nerve-racking boat traffic at the mouths of both Santa Barbara and Port Hueneme harbors, and the literal and figurative drag of the current bevy of kelp beds in the Santa Barbara Channel.
On the upside, they have been joined daily by curious seals and dolphins-a few of the latter swimming alongside as they passed the western end of the Naples reef. They have scored surprising pockets of surf (thanks to a mild northwest wind swell), made a guest appearance at the Sacred Craft Surf Expo in Ventura where they shaped an alaia live and direct for the masses to dig on, and, most importantly, they have been getting eyefuls of what they are paddling for as well as what they are paddling against.
During a brief respite at East Beach in Santa Barbara last week, Cossart shook his head and said, “Already it has been the full tour of the different types of development from Gaviota to Hope Ranch. I can’t imagine what it is going to look like when we get down into L.A. and Orange County. It’s going to be gnarly.”
To support Chadd Konig and Nole Cossart’s adventure, or just to get updates on their progress toward Mexico, visit savenaples.org.