Surfing is the only thing I can with any real clarity remember doing on New Year’s Eve in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. I had spent a week there two-and-a-half-months previously, at the beginning of my journey. (It seemed more like as many years ago.) So the area felt as familiar to me as it could have without living and working there. And with only one full day left before flying out the afternoon of the first day of 2013, and with money tightening, there was little to do but mostly eat and drink and absorb reliably freaky sights within walking distance of the hostel – other than enjoy one precious surf, of course. I had walked past the iconic wooden lifeguard towers on the quarter-kilometre wide beach to throw myself in the salt water earlier that day, or the day before. It wasn’t just the cold, but also the seaweed I later found in my budgie smugglers that made me hire a wetsuit in addition to the beaten up old longboard I wish I’d taken a photo of. And it was cold. While surfing during the early afternoon at Palm Beach (Queensland), Australia, even during the height of winter rarely would it be cold enough for your toes to become numb. But that’s certainly what happened while I surfed Venice Beach. It made me appreciate that LA was probably further north of the equator than the Gold Coast was south of it. In equatorial distance terms, the City of Angels probably had more in common with Sydney, or at least Newcastle. Nevertheless, I was reminded on my first wave of one of the immutable laws of surfing: it’s like riding a bike. Numbness became a challenge, and while riding a longboard obviously I wasn’t completing bottom-to-top spray-throwing manoeuvres. Still, it was a singular delight I instantly realised how much I missed; while gliding on two-foot gentle green glacial geysers breaking for 20 or 30 metres from the rock wall in front of Windward Avenue, right through to the sand. There were few others out, and of those fewer still had any skill. So I in all but solitude rode those perfect longboarding waves in literally cold sober but satisfyingly soaked bliss for as long as I could stand the temperature – which was probably about an hour.
Almost a quarter of a year’s consistent, if only occasionaly binge-level drinking had taken its toll. The afternoon and early evening proceeded pleasantly enough. I would have bought a burrito for dinner somewhere on the boardwalk. Venice’s at once relaxed and freaky natures would have been increasing in end of year energy in direct yet not necessarily conflicting opposition to each other. I watched what will hopefully not be my, but was certainly 2012’s, final frenetically coloured sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Then I went back to the hostel to start drinking a six-pack of Coronas and smoke possibly my last pack of Marlboros minus black packaging and health warnings all over them. Reckon I got through two Coronas, before I laid down in bed with stomach pains about 7pm. (I blamed the booze, but it was probably the burrito.) Then woke to the sound of everyone within hearing distance counting down from 10 at, yes, midnight on New Year’s Day. The stomach pains gone, I gathered the remaining four – warm – beers and headed out to the smoking balcony to watch the New Year’s revelry. Where I was soon joined by hostel staff who were pleased to wish me a happy new year, which I returned, but could sense my dislocation with the groove of the moment and swiftly focused on leaning over the balcony for enjoyment of the street circus. Putting aside location, it was no less disappointing than all NYE celebrations have been for me. Especially the one when I was passed out drunk in Byron Bay by 9.30pm. But not the other Byron one in which I kissed an attractive brunette tourist as the clock struck midnight – and for most of the rest of the morning. But based on location alone, it was a little depressing to consider how the night might have gone for a 28-year-old Australian if he hadn’t fallen asleep in pain at 7pm. It’s irrelevant. Seconds into 2013, I knew I needed to swill the rest of my Coronas, step out of the hostel and seize what of the night left to me that I could. So that’s what I did. And my destination: the good old Del Monte Speakeasy, across the avenue.