Raphael Reda

                                                RAPHAEL REDA

            “You have to meet this guy. He’s a surfer. Like you. He’s a real goofball. Like you.” George Hoppe, in reference to Raphael Reda.

It seems I should write these things in reverse order; starting with the most recent event. Then, as they’re posted, a reader could come forward in time.

Actually, one story, even in the planning/remembering phase, leads to another. Once I had written that I’d visited Al Perlee’s surf shop more than twenty years ago, I now feel compelled to mention the circumstances and who I was with when we were told that we could not enter The Surf Shop in Westport in our wetsuits. No way.

It was 1988. Raphael Reda actually put up an argument. “It’s a surf shop.” He looked around as if suggesting the building was not all that fancy. “And we’re surfers.”

“Yeah. So?”

“And we’re planning on going back out again.”

The shop, two disheveled surfers at the door, looked, and looks, kind of like it was a converted garage, with another converted garage added on, not necessarily built by professionals. Still, it was filled with boards and wetsuits and magazines and stuff surfers find fascinating. Mostly it offered the chance, out of a parking lot, to lean on a counter and regale whoever’s there with stories; hopefully enlighten and entertain someone who hears surf stories pretty much non-stop during business hours. “Epic! All time! Classic!”

            But we were outside.

            “We tried the jetty; now we’re going to try the groins.”

“Well, then (nodding as if the groins might be a better choice); come back after that. (appropriate pause) Dressed.”

Raphael and I were in Westport to practice- not just to surf- we were practicing for the upcoming Westport Longboard Contest. The annual event had been started several years earlier by Ricky Young. A former top rated competitive surfer, he sold surfboards in Bellevue, a city across Lake Washington from Seattle, commonly called the “Eastside.” Still, Ricky was able to line up sponsors, organize volunteers, line up surfers and judges. 

At this time, I was still working as a sign painter at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. While the real work was on ships, I worked mostly in a shop, making me a “Shop Pogue.” I don’t think Pogue is a term of endearment. 

My friend George Hoppe had also moved from the discomfort of the ships to the relative grandeur of operating a spray booth in a large building. He, evidently, had paid enough shipboard dues to not suffer ridicule for his plusher surroundings free of bilges and tanks and endless wireways and pipes.

Besides, George was not a person to be messed with. He was confrontational, a master of blue collar repartee, a sort of Don Rickles of the paint shop, with, merely as an example, a creative list of responses to ‘fuck you.’ George and I got along, perhaps, because I laughed at any putdowns directed towards me, and I could talk way faster than he could, and, well, I could keep up in the repartee department.

George, frequently would get me started on a subject, then stand back, say, “He’s on a roll now.”

Raphael was a carpenter, and, since I didn’t go over to the Shop 64 building to meet him, George brought Raph over to my desk/drawing table.

With George observing, Raphael and I did the “Surfer Sizeup.”

This process begins with an exchange of experience; where and when and how one ended up at this location. “South Bay.” “North County.” “Dewey Weber.” “Surfboards Hawaii.” “Malibu, a few times.” “Swamis, all around; Doheny, before the breakwater.” “Had to get away. Didn’t’ want to raise kids there.” “Yeah, same thing.”

Soon enough, with George having gathered a couple of other non-surfers to witness, Raphael and I got appropriately goofy. “Epic!” “All time!” “Classic!”

“Next,” George said, “They’ll be doing the surfing poses.”

 I don’t recall seeing Raphael when he wasn’t enthusiastic, supportive. Somewhere after I left the shipyard, he (or his wife, Grace, not actually clear on this) inherited a large sum of money, moved to the canyons of Topanga, near Malibu. What George (or I) would say is that he had so much money he had to get divorced. Through another shipyard/surfer, Jim Kennedy, someone I run into every now and again, out at Westport, up on the Straits, Ralph (Jim’s version of Raphael) bought land (new land from lava) on the Big Island. 

It was either that or his land was covered by lava. The last time I heard from Raphael, he, knowing I’d written several screenplays, sent me his. It had a good story, mostly bad dialogue. One line was excellent- I stole it for one of my probably-never-to-be-sold scripts. Then he sent me a link to a YouTube video of him, captain of his own tour sailboat, crashing through several waves closing out the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor.

I wrote back asking if he was the Captain, at the wheel, or the guy hanging on to something at the bow; and if it was a “three hour tour; a three hour tour.”

“The Captain, of course. You know, Hoppe always said you were goofy.”

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AL PERLEE

AL PERLEE

“You’re too old, too fat, and you don’t surf enough.”

This is one of several quotes directed to me from Al Perlee owner of “The Surf Shop” in Westport, Washington. I’ll provide the context. I was looking for a new board, and said I was considering something shorter.

The occasion was some time in 2009. I’d been back, as heavily as I could manage, into surfing, riding a chunky and well made nine foot four inch surfboard over pretty much every rock I could find on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, plus a few on the coast.

When I say the board was well made, that would be the glassing.  And it had come, originally, with a pretty translucent red fin that I weakened striking the already-mentioned rocks. It snapped off at its base while surfing at Short Sands in Oregon, replaced by a cheaper, non-translucent black one.

Yes, I did claim the snap was due to the intensity of my bottom turns. Every one I asked agreed the board’s shape was just wrong; chunky hips, roundy rails. It could have used a little more kick, maybe a concave nose. What it did was float. And I appreciated that.

By the time I went to “The Surf Shop” in search of a new one, my board was yellowed, most of the big dings patched. I had a sort of pride that I’d put every one of those dings in the board riding whatever waves I could find. This one at the Elwha rivermouth, that one at North Beach on a day with a vicious chop and…

I purchased the board at “Far North Surf Shop,” since then a recession casualty, in Sequim, pretty much halfway between Quilcene and the spots I regularly surfed on the Straits. It had been built by a guy up in Sequim whose name I don’t remember. Nothing personal. I’m thinking it was somewhere under the tenth surfboard the man ever built. There was another one in the shop, its shape even more ridiculous-ly wrong.

The price was decent for a new and pure white long board.

Since I’d blown out both knees, one at a time, and was doing way more longboard kneeboarding than riding standing up, and since I wanted to either advance my skills or switch to something I could kneeboard without using swimfins, and with slightly less personal embarrassment, looking for a smaller board seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

In reference to the knee/standing issue: When telling of my latest sessions to one of several ex-surfer-contractors I worked for, Bill Irwin would always ask if I rode “erect.” Jason Queen told me it takes three knee rides to equal one standing up.

Counting waves per session now included stand up rides/total waves ridden; a good day with half ridden erect. I always try for a twenty wave minimum. Sometimes thirty waves would factor down, using the Queen method, to twelve point something.

There I was, in Al’s shop, checking it out. And Al was actually there, holding court. Let me now mention that Al is probably about my age, no thinner than I am.

That being said, the first thing to note here is that, if a kid works in a surf shop, he or she is automatically cool and assumed to be a good surfer. If someone owns a successful surf shop, especially one in such a harsh location, that person is automatically super cool, that coolness magnified over time. Al is a legend.

Further, every customer must provide evidence that he or she is a real surfer. Otherwise, kook. And I, old, fat, and, based on the times he had ever seen me in his shop, despite my telling him I’d spoken to him several times, the first twenty years earlier, and had made significant purchases in his shop, I qualified. As a kook.

The cruel quote was preceded by, “You won’t be happy. You probably really need something longer.”

Al gave me a great deal on a 5’10” Bic “Peter Pan” fish, a lightly-used rental board. I’ve ridden it twice, loaned it out for extended periods. I did get a smaller board, custom, its shape (concave nose, down rails, professional outlines) widely admired by those I’ve shown it to. I love the board, use it when the waves are bigger, faster, more powerful. Mostly it rides on top of the big ass SUP.

I’m not saying Al was right; I do say I don’t seem to be getting any younger. And, though I surf as often as I can, I don’t seem to be much skinnier, either.

Shoulder-Hoppers and Name-Droppers

I have only recently come to believe that if my writing career (career in the broadest sense) collided into my real life, the resultant stories would feature real people I’ve had the fortune, good or otherwise, to have come across. No need to exaggerate or embellish, real life has had me brushing against, bumping into, or, in come cases, merely witnessing some real characters. Surfing, in some form, would probably sneak in.  Oh, definitely.

In my life time of surfing I’ve always been a shoulder-hopper, too anxious to catch a wave to paddle out and wait. I am planning on, eventually, putting together a collection of stories. Once I focus on one character, other pop into that story, demand their own.

Fine. Most of the people featured are real surfers, something I’ve aspired to be for as long as I remember. And, as long as I’m remembering…