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The Heart of Laguna

By Laura Ford

The Heart girl surfing

Click on photo for a larger image

Painting by Laura Ford 

The waves rolled into shore at Thalia Beach. The tide was rising and the wind was low as the sun made its way up through the marine haze and the molten sky began to fade. 

People were walking their dogs along the beach – Laguna Beach was already awake. A small Sheltie greeted Jake, dropping a tennis ball at his feet as he stood on the shoreline. He picked up the ball and threw it along the beach with a smile and a wave to the dog’s owner. 

The cool water glided into shore, wrapping itself around Jake’s feet as he watched Darren surf. Jake smiled – he felt a little disengaged from his body, as though none of it was quite real. Watching Darren – it was just like watching Gillian all those years ago; the flicks and exclamations, the wildness of the man’s surfing style. Jake smiled as Darren glided along a wave, touching the wall of its luminescent green tube with an outstretched hand before being enveloped by the wave and then resurfacing with a huge grin on his face. Darren paddled into shore and tucked his shortboard under his arm, holding out a hand to Jake. Jake shook his hand and then patted him on the shoulder. 

“Thanks for… ”

“It’s no problem,” Darren replied, holding Jake’s shoulder. “If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be here – period. I was scared of the ocean as a kid – too weak to swim – I never thought much about surfing until… ”

“You’re a great surfer,” Jake said, his eyes distant. “It was meant to be – you’re continuing it all.”

“Trying to, I’ll be 45 in a couple of weeks,” Darren smiled.

“Has it been that long?”

“Well,” Darren felt awkward, “over 20 years.” He patted Jake on the back, “I’m having a little get together, down at The Cliff on Friday – you should come.”

“The Cliff?” Jake looked down at the sand. “Thanks, I’ll see. It’s Gillian’s birthday Tuesday.”

“Gotcha,” Darren replied nodding. “Anytime you want to come watch, just let me know, I’m down here a lot.”

Jake laughed, “I bet you are.” He knew only too well what was in Darren’s heart, what drove him to the ocean and what would keep him there the rest of his days. 


The waves rolled in before her, crested with light. Their green and blue curves reminded Gillian of slides on a children’s playground. She watched the surfers with an intensity beyond her years while swinging a red bucket in her hand as if to an unheard beat. Her keen eyes followed the wave riders as they were propelled by the waves, conquering them with a seeming ease. 

Laguna Beach was full of surfers. It felt like every beach she went to – they were out at sea, taunting her as they played in the waves. As one of the surfers rode into shore, he grinned at her calling out, “Hey, little surfer!” and curled his fingers into the sign for ‘hang loose.’

Right then, Gillian dropped her red bucket – she wanted to look grown up – and looked back at the surfer with her coolest face, attempting to be nonchalant. When he had begun to paddle back out to sea, Gillian wanted to do the same. As the nearest thing to that, she picked up her bucket and washed it down in the remnants of a wave that lapped into shore. 

The bucket was something of a prize to her, discovered on Main Beach with her Mom and Dad on one of their first evenings in Laguna Beach. She had found it buried in the sand near the towels that her parents had set down. 

Another surfer glided toward her now and she watched him intently. Gillian wanted to be like them – sliding down the waves, riding them like a wild stallion, kicking and bucking all the way to the shore just as these surfers did. There was magic in it, and it fixated her.

She turned her head and looked back at the apartment that her parents were renting on Thalia Beach. No one had noticed that she was missing – her mom wasn’t hammering on the glass like a wild thing, sending her father down to scoop her up – not yet. So embarrassing. 

She felt elevated to be down on the beach alone. She was six years old; she wasn’t a baby. Looking down now at her toes in the sand she wiggled them as a wave broke against the shore and carried up the beach toward her. It lapped in around her small feet, momentarily covering the sodden sand in a thin white foam before drawing back out to sea and continuing its eternal rhythm. 

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