Huntington Beach Surf City USA: the home of California surf culture | Photo: Barberena Archive

Just having turned 25, there is so much I still don't know.

And after six months in the water, I have come to the realization that surfing is probably one of the things I know least about.

It seems like the more I dive into it, the deeper and more complex it gets.

Growing up in a Cuban and Colombian household in Orlando, my parents worked hard to raise our family of five.

They made just enough to get by, and while we never had the chance to travel abroad or even out of the state, my dad always found a way to get us over to La Quinta by the Cocoa Beach Pier for at least a couple of days every summer.

There is a romanticism to getting lost in something, forgetting what time and, if you're lucky, what day it is.

In my short time in the water, that single feeling of timelessness may be what keeps me coming back.

For me, my time is spent out of everyone's way off the main break in the whitewater, mainly working on my turtle roll and in continuous dialogue with God.

It is hard for me not to recognize all of it as the Lord's work.

From sunrises that paint the ocean vibrant oranges and yellows to pelicans perfectly reading and drafting every wave, showing off to us the little secret that they're in on that even the best of us will never know.

I find it all so intentional, so meaningful.

Some of my best memories as a kid were getting up before everybody else, throwing some shorts on, and heading down to the pier for sunrise.

I remember watching the surfers that beat me there, and I was amazed, even jealous, that they just seemed to belong there.

Forget Disney. For me, this was the happiest place on Earth.

Huntington Beach: one of the most iconic surf breaks in California | Photo: Barberena Archive

Surfing: a winter surf session at Huntington Beach blessed by a golden sun | Photo: Barberena Archive

The Surf City USA Dream

Fast forward to today, I am done with school, married, and working full time.

As I map out a career and family, though, I wonder what these guys did for a living that made it possible for them to be out there in the middle of the week.

When my wife and I were mapping out our one-year wedding anniversary trip to California, I rallied to throw Huntington in the mix, forever chasing that childlike wonder that gets more elusive the older I get.

An early December flight out of MCO had us leaving the humidity behind us, and before we knew it, we had braved the Los Angeles traffic, jumped on the 405, and were parallel parking our Chevy Malibu in the one and only Surf City USA.

We turned the corner onto Fifth Street, and if there was such a thing as Huntington Kool-Aid, I drank it all up at that moment.

We reached the end of the street, looked left, and there it was in all its glory. The historic home of the West Coast Surfing Championships and today's US Open of Surfing, the famous Huntington Beach Pier.

We checked into our place, the Kimpton Shorebreak Huntington Beach Resort, and the entrance and lobby boasted a breathtaking gallery of work by Aaron Chang, who at that moment joined the likes of Chris Burkard and Elli Thor Magnusson on my list of visual storytellers that inspire and drive me to pursue and do more in this space.

When asked about his vision for recent work, Chang is quoted as saying, "My direction of late is open waves with the idea that it allows someone to project themselves into that beautiful wave."

"So even if you're in a gallery or office, you can enjoy a perfect moment with nature."

Every aspect of the resort was simultaneously comforting and overwhelming to all the senses, which did its job of preparing us for our first California sunset.

Frank Barberena (right): he had his first surf lesson at Huntington Beach Surf City USA | Photo: Barberena Archive

The First Wave

My wife would argue after a year of marriage that more than surfing, perhaps common sense may be my greatest area of improvement.

She may say that she lost me from the moment we hit the sand, but I may as well have been on another planet for the entirety of our time in Huntington.

I picked up a new lens for this trip, my first upgrade from my kit lens, and when we crossed the Pacific Coast Highway, I was a goner.

Even the offshore oil rig looked good in that light.

Rather than taking in that moment together, she froze her butt off by herself on that little beach towel while I went off to shoot, trying to do justice to that little piece of heaven.

Our second day (and anniversary) kicked off with a cortadito and delicious breakfast at 602 Coffee House.

Kimmie said she had something planned for both of us.

After a quick car ride, I took off my blindfold to the beautiful, cloudy Pacific through the windshield, and beyond the RVs and vans in our rearview was the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Finally, she let me in on the big surprise - my wife was surprising me with my first-ever official surf lesson.

We trekked half a mile over to Lifeguard Tower 18 and met up with Keith Coleman, one of the owners and operators of Corky Carroll's Surf School.

Keith was the guy.

Born and raised a couple of blocks down the road, it all seemed so organic and natural to him.

Finally, I got to spend some time in the water with one of those salty dogs I'd watched in amazement as a kid.

My time out with Keith was the first time I had ever really ridden the face of a wave.

His biggest feedback for me was to spend more time in the water and to learn where to place myself in the line-up to conserve energy and continue progressing long-term.

It was like being out with someone I've known for years, and I look forward to crossing paths again down the line.

Frank Barberena: it is never too late to start surfing | Photo: Dave Weldon

Frank Barberena: stoked for life | Photo: Dave Weldon

Forever Stoked

After leaving town, we spent a couple of incredible days out in Joshua Tree and wrapped up our trip to El Segundo, where I got the chance to link up with my uncle Ray.

A long-time South Bay native, Ray has called Cali home since he left Miami Lakes for the University of Southern California (USC) in the late 1980s.

He's been frequenting a break in Manhattan Beach for years, and an early session the day I was flying out was an opportunity I just couldn't miss.

For the first time ever, I had the chance to see what it was like to be a regular at a break.

The guys at El Porto asked about each others' weeks, families, and holiday plans.

A couple of them had cards and gifts for each other, and my cousin Lucas, the only grom in the batch, was loved by everybody.

Being Ray's nephew gave me access to a family, and I got a look at what a future in a surf community could be like for me.

Having just turned 25, there is so much I still don't know.

That being said, there is a lot I want to do. Besides improving my own surfing, I want to meet people in this space and tell their stories.

As a Latino myself, I want to learn more about surf across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Finally, I want to be good to people and the world around us, and I'm stoked for my work and life to show it.

If you're anywhere in Central Florida and see me around or want some new shots in the water, an invite to be part of your little slice of heaven would make my day.

Happy New Year and God-willing. I'll see you out there soon.

Words by Frank E. Barberena | Chief Steward at Faithful Nature |

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