• Image about Balboa Island
Oceanfront near 21st Street
Ambient Images Inc./Alamy
With Pirate’s Covestill my goal, I paddle at a good pace. I’m entering the start of the channel that flows out into the ocean — the cove is located just before the mouth of the bay, right before the red X that Ethan drew, so I won’t be breaking any rules. The water is so calm that when I hop off I forget to pull the board in quickly, between the waves. A baby wave slams the board into my side, but I recover my timing and pull the board by the leash up onto the golden sand.

  • Image about Balboa Island
The Dory Fleet fish market
Travis VanDenBerg / Alamy
The cove is pristine, and I plant myself against a big rock formation, smooth and angled perfectly toward the afternoon sun. A natural beach chair; organic luxury. Behind and above me, a bronze Buddha atop a shingled cliff house sends me peaceful thoughts. To my left, two guys are free-climbing the side and the underside of the cliff, just a few feet off the sand. There are few good handholds, and the climbers’ triceps and deltoids twitch with effort. They drop off, chalk up their hands, try again. I dive into the cove, the water clear and bracing. The board, safe on the shore, its yellow rails shining, looks like a found art object.

On the way back to the dock, a barrel-chested man on the deck of an old fishing boat calls out to me, asking me if I wouldn’t mind retrieving a bottle of fruit punch he left on the postage-stamp–size beach over my shoulder. He’s grizzled, dressed only in sun-bleached cutoffs. His good humor barely masks sincere concern. Clearly he’s a little off, and for a minute I can’t believe he’s serious.“I forgot my key to the boat, so I can’t take it in,” he says by way of (inadequate) explanation. Somehow that two-liter pink plastic bottle constitutes a provision essential to his survival, or so it appears. He’s baking on the deck of the boat even though the air is cool.

I do it — good karma, SoCal style. “Must be something stronger than punch in that punch,” I say as I drift up to him. By now I’m in a crouch, because dealing with a board, a paddle and a jug of punch is a bit out of my repertoire.

“No, really,” the man says. “You don’t want to see me on anything stronger.” He’s clearly delighted, like I’m some kind of savior, and thanks me profusely, this Newport Beach castaway. Then he calls out to an unseen woman in the galley.

“Honey — he brought the punch!”