Black Rock Desert, Nev. >> It's easy to find the Southern California surfers at Burning Man, just look for the guys and gals zipping around on motorized surfboards.
The Venice-based Playa Surfers is a beach-themed camp that offers motorized surf lessons and views of Burning Man's main drag from the top of its life-size lifeguard tower. The camp is located on the edge of the central, open space at Burning Man called the “playa,” or “beach” in Spanish.
Water is scare on this particular playa, but there is a plenty of sand to surf.
“When it comes to surfing, usually we try to do it late morning or early afternoon,” Playa Surfers founder Donald Cassel says. “If the conditions are right, we'll bust out the boards.”
Like most Burning Man camps, Playa Surfers is an extended group of friends, most of whom call Los Angeles and San Francisco home, while others fly in from around the world.
Playa Surfers is mostly about a group of friends coming together to have a good time, while providing an experience for others to participate in as well.
“I try to tell everyone it's a camp with a surfer vibe that's about having fun and celebrating life,” Cassel says. “It's really laid back. We build a lot of stuff beforehand, but once we're at the Burn, it's all about having fun and doing whatever you want.”
Last year, the camp raised $60,000 to build a three-story, motorized island with a 50-foot-wide dance floor. The whole thing was built on top of an old city bus chassis and floated around the playa blasting music.
Due to mechanical issues, the tiki island had to stay home this year, but the group hopes to have it up and running again for Burning Man 2015.
Cassel founded Playa Surfers in 2006 after coming to Burning Man for the first time in 2002.
“Once you've been to Burning Man the first time and it changes you, then you want to see that same magic happen to other people you know and love,” Cassel said. “The new fun is seeing new people go there and seeing their reaction to what they weren't expecting —— because it's beyond what you would expect.”
After his first few burns, Cassel decided he wanted to be more of a participant than just an observer, so he decided to put his surfing knowledge to good use and built half a dozen motorized surfboards.
“They work better out in deep playa, where the dust is more compacted,” says Alex Iverson, who was struggling to get his board working Tuesday evening at the festival, which runs through Monday. After a few tugs on the engine's ripcord, he stopped trying to restart the engine and pulled out a deck of playing cards.
“Pick a card,” he says.
Turns out, Iverson is a resident magician at the Emerson Theatre and Hemingway's bar in Los Angeles.
As the sun begins to set, Kavan O'Toole, another Angeleno, hops on one of the boards that is actually running and tears out across the playa towards the Man.
He says he was having a really bad day until Donald told him to take one of the boards out on the playa to relax.
“My day has gone from completely (expletive) to (expletive) awesome!” O'Toole says after zipping in and around art installations and dodging art cars.
“I just learned like 5 minutes ago and now I'm (freaking) shredding it!”