Surfing ‘With’ Donald Takayama
“I try to meet up with Donald every time I go to California.”
This remark came from a guy who worked for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). I was doing some painting for the property management company overseeing the house he and his wife were renting in Port Townsend, a house with several Donald Takayama surfboards in the garage.
The surfer/renter/NOAA guy’s remark was in response to my, checking out his enviable stash, and having said, “Oh, I surfed with Donald Takayama once; Seaside Reef, back in, probably, 1969.”
So, now I felt I had to explain what I meant by ‘surfing with.’
“I meant we were out at the same time; not like we, like, went there together.”
Too late; I’d already sinned. I was just making it worse.
My girlfriend, Trish, was supposed to go on this trip, on a Sunday afternoon, to her brother’s house in Solana Beach. Jim Scott, recently out of the Marine Corps as a Captain, having only-recently returned from a tour of Vietnam as a Second Lieutenant, number one target. His tour had also aligned with the Tet Offensive of January 1968. Tough time, life-changing; Jim resigned from a definitely-promising military career
Jim and his first wife, Chris, had a house with a sweeping view of that curve of coast from Seaside Reef to Cardiff Reef and beyond.
Meanwhile, Trisha’s father, Major W.M. Scott, U.S.M.C., was in Vietnam.
Trish punked-out at some point after my surf racks had been transferred to her mother’s Corvair, my board secured. “It’s not weird,” she said, “she’ll just drop you off; pick you up when she’s done visiting.”
“That’s weird,” Trish said as I asked her for a few details while writing this.
Weird or not, Maureen and I were off.
I never called her Maureen, or her husband Wilkens, or Bill, or Dad; always Irene and George- Maureen’s nickname for herself, Trisha’s nickname for her father- or, later Grandmother and Grandfather- formal.
Knowing Irene (from the old song, “Good Night Irene,” one she would quote to stop Trish and I from making out, and/or to send me home) really didn’t consider me a great candidate, or even on the high end of acceptable, for someone dating her daughter, and a bit intimidated by my driver, I tried to make some conversation. “Yeah, Seventh Day Adventist.” “No, not a cult.” “Yeah, I guess; poor man’s Jew.” “Yeah, three brothers, three sisters.” “Yes, my Dad was a Marine; World War II and Korea.” “Sure; they probably ran into each other somewhere. Guadacanal?”
Somewhere before we got to the coast, my future mother-in-law, grandmother to three children her daughter had with me, two Jim had with his second wife, Greer, said, concerning one of the women she’d worked with at one of several jobs she’d had before meeting W.M. Scott; “She was so dumb she didn’t know the difference between Kleenex and Kotex.”
Then she went quiet for a while; maybe a little check in the rear view mirror to catch my reaction without actually looking over.
The waves just weren’t working at the spots we passed. Seaside Reef was the last chance. It was mid-afternoon, lined-up but pre-glassoff lefts breaking out from one of the last remaining trailer parks on the North County coast. There was one other surfer out. We didn’t actually speak much, but we did trade off empty waves for a while. I gave him at least a nod or two; had to. Donald Takayama, wunderkind surfer, had been known in the surfing world since appearing in a Bruce Brown film as a Hawaiian teenager pre-“Endless Summer,” pre-1960, surfing at Velzyland, named after board maker Dale Velzy, for whom Mr. Takayama would shape balsa, and later foam boards.
This, 1969, was the era, pre-jail time, pre-restoration as a preeminent shaper and builder of long boards, Donald remembered most fondly when featured in “The Surfers’ Journal” sometime before he died in 2012.
I, of course, tried very hard, too hard, to impress him. He just seemed to be enjoying surfing decent lefts with only some random kid out; a kid constantly scanning the parking area for an ugly Corvair with racks on it; someone who looked like he wanted to say something; just didn’t know what.
This was also the only time I ever surfed Seaside Reef or with Donald Takayama. By the time those who waited for the afternoon glassoff arrived, we were both gone.