Phillip and I Surf Grandview With Bucky Davis

…”Grandview,” I said, as if it was a magic word.

-FIRST SESSION AT GRANDVIEW (1966) WITH BUCKY DAVIS-

We’ve arrived at a point in the John Amsterdam (may still hate me) story where it makes perfect sense to include a brief mention of the first time Phillip Harper and I got the opportunity to surf Grandview with my second surfing hero (after Hippie, overlord of Tamarack), Bucky Davis.

Phillip’s sister, Trish, a junior, was dating another upper classmen at Fallbrook Union High School; one who surfed. Because he surfed and was dating Phillip’s sister, Phillip and I begged him several times to take us surfing after school.

“There’s time,” I said. “It doesn’t get dark until six or so. We can have our boards at Phillip’s; it’s on the way, and, and we run out after class, jump in your…” By this point Bucky had walked away or Phillip, not wanting to make a scene, had pulled me away.

But, Trish was taking some after-school modeling classes in Encinitas. Yes, she was model pretty; tall, thin, blonde.  If she couldn’t be a model, Phillip told me, she could be an airline stewardess.

“Oh, sure,” I said; “that’d be something.”

It’s pretty apparent that Trish used her influence to allow Phillip and I to ride along in the VW station wagon, our boards on top, two freshmen in the back; me, at least, probably over-stoked and out of control.

I’m not apologizing.

If Phillip wanted to act cool, and if Bucky just was cool; my over-excitement was really the part that spilled out while trying to act as cool as I could.

So, Trish dropped off over by the A&W, Phillip moved up to shotgun, we arrived at the empty lot at the top of Grandview Street, the sandstone cliff eroded in the middle by water and beachgoers tromping up and back. We checked out the small and still-choppy afternoon surf, a few other surfers out.

“You going out, Bucky? Huh? Huh? I’m going out. Phil; you going out? Bucky? Oh; that wave… I’d be taking off; bottom turn; oh; I’d move up to the nose.” This is all illustrated with moves on the leading edge of the bluff, me walking, foot-over-foot, to the nose on some imaginary board.

When I looked around, several mind-surf rides later, Bucky is squatted down, looking over the edge into the access path, fully eight feet to the bottom. So Phillip squatted down, as if they would soon discuss some further secret of how to surf this heretofore mystical spot.

I squatted down. Bucky looked at Phillip, on one side, then back at me, on his other side.

I rolled when I hit the bottom, jumped to my feet, looked up at Phillip and Bucky.

Both were now standing, Bucky with a grip on my friend, Phillip pulling back. “I skateboard!” I yelled.

“Do you skateboard?” Bucky asked his girlfriend’s brother, releasing his grip.

Despite Bucky saying the waves weren’t good enough; as the afternoon glassoff continued, he did join us in the water.

Something about surfing with friends in fun waves brings out the competitive nature in many of us. And, as such, the perfect ‘watch this’ situation is when you’re taking off, your friend/competitor paddling out. If you can do a little head dip or jump up to the nose, anything special… even better.

Bucky couldn’t help but show up his lower classmen tagalongs. And he was, of course, better than we were; smoother, with better wave selection skills. He even, accidently, got excited, smiled, acted like a seventeen year old. “Yeah, watch this.”

 “How’d my brother do?”

It was fully dark when we picked up Trish. She took over driving. I observed the couple, looking for any overshow of affection. Maybe they touched hands when they passed in front of the car. Maybe there was a look.

“Oh, he did okay; but I was running up to the nose, think I even hung five on one…”

Bucky pushed me back into the seat. Phillip put an arm across me to keep me there.

“Phil did… good. Erwin (looking to Phillip for confirmation)… he kind of ‘jumped’ up to the nose. A real surfer goes foot-over-foot.”

After we got back to Phillip and Trisha’s place, Bucky had to give me a ride the rest of the way to my house. One might imagine he’d loosened up, acted a little friendlier. Not really. “This your house?” “Yeah. Debby Street. I skateboard down the driveways, do a few turns down here.”

“Uh huh,” he said. I took my board off his racks, restrapped his board.

We weren’t friends. I was his girlfriend’s brother’s friend. What he did say is that I should try not to brag it up at school that he’d taken us to Grandview. “I mean, like, my friends wouldn’t…”

“No, no; I get it. I’m cool.”

“Yeah, sure. Foot-over foot; huh?” I did a little on my board as he started up his engine, backed away.

Cool? No; never was. Still, when you’re around someone who is so caught up in being cool, so, in some ways, trapped in the coolness; there’s something about seeing that person forget his self image and other people’s perceptions for a moment, smile his ass off dropping into a glassy peak near dark.

Still, and again, for my lack of coolness; I’m not apologizing.

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John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me (part two)

-SEPTEMBER, 1965, FALLBROOK UNION HIGH SCHOOL-

I didn’t know exactly why I felt so alienated. Part of it was connected to my neighbor, Bobby Turner, moving away. I had become, since meeting him when we were both four years old, playing army and the occasional fist fight, his sidekick. Bobby seemed to need a sidekick more than I needed a leader, and on some level, if we hadn’t been neighbors, we probably wouldn’t have been friends.

Now I was my own man, but in a much bigger pond. At that time, the geographical area that fed into the high school district spread east to the base of Palomar Mountain; north to Rainbow and Temecula, south to Bonsall, and included many of the housing areas on the sprawling triangle-shaped mass of Camp Pendleton.

“The Base” was eighteen miles, straight across, to San Onofre, eighteen miles, by road, to Oceanside.

I was now, in my mind, a surfer.

All summer I’d borrowed the nine-four stock Hobie my sister Suellen had purchased from John Amsterdam for so long that, when I got out of the water, it was frequently time to go home.

But I had improved. Older surfers had stopped telling me to surf somewhere else. I could knee paddle. I swore I had the beginnings of surf bumps.

Then, maybe barely-fourteen year olds are just supposed to feel alienated.

During non-class time I hung out on one of the big cement planters adjacent to the Senior Area, near the trailers where they sold cold lunches and snacks. This would be my spot for the next four years, checking things out on campus.

SOMEWHERE IN MY FIRST FRESHMAN DAYS I met up with Phillip Harper, new, from Orange County. Phillip started going surfing on Sundays with my family; just another kid with seven of us Dence kids, all in the 1959 Chevy station wagon, winged back fenders, boards on top, Hawaiian print curtains all around (made by my sister, Suellen, me helping secure the wires) and a gigantic “Surfer Magazine” Murphy decal on the driver’s side back window.

Surf wagon, almost always with a board or more on top.

Phillip never seemed to be embarrassed by being part of this swarm; my Mom barely in control at best. We always seemed to stop off on the way home at Masters Automotive, right on Highway 101, in Oceanside, my Dad’s second job. My Mom would hit up Dad for some cash. Dad would do a loop around the wagon, check out his passed-out or whiny kids, take a breath, be gone for a while, hitting-up Mac for another advance.

On one trip, waiting in the car, Phillip and I comparing notes on rides and turns and kickouts in the far-back seat, my sister Suellen spotted Sonny and Cher in the alley, furry vests and all. They were obviously waiting for some quick repair to their car. It was Suellen, of course, who recognized them, jumped out to go bug them. If my siblings pressed against the glass, Phillip and I were (hopefully) slightly less obvious.

SURFING ONCE A WEEK JUST WASN’T ENOUGH. There were older surfers in the school, with cars, and Phillip’s sister, Trish, was dating one of them; Bucky Davis. Bucky was friends with John Amsterdam. Though John Amsterdam could easily believe Phillip was becoming a surfer, he couldn’t seem to fathom that I, one of two freshmen (Wendy Wetzel the other) allowed to take Biology, a guy who sat in the front row and paid attention while he and his junior class jock cronies lounged in the back, chuckling off the seriousness of it all; no, I couldn’t really be a surfer.

Even if I now wore a cheaper version of the surfer uniform, the prescribed (by the one-day Dr. Harper) outfit of Levis, J.C. Penny’s t-shirt, colorful windbreaker (Phillip’s, he being incredibly skinny, was fleece-lined. Mine, me being not skinny and this being Southern California, unlined), several choices of footwear, I could not pass muster with John Amsterdam. Because his judgment seemed the harshest, and he therefore, the coolest, his opinion mattered. No amount of talking, begging, or cajoling, even with Phillip doing the talking/begging/cajoling, would convince any of the older surfers to let us ride with them to the beach after school.

And besides, I had to talk. I was way too chatty, too excited when talking about surfing Swamis or waves down by the new State Park, too animated in defending Tamarack as a surf spot. “Tamarack?” “Oh, then where do you surf?” No answer.

“Grandview,” Phillip whispered, after they walked away, another secret revealed.

“Grandview,” I said, as if it was a magic word.

John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me- PART I

   JOHN AMSTERDAM MAY STILL HATE ME

            The ADD version of this story is that John Amsterdam seemed to hate me even before I dinged his brand new, hundred and seventy-five dollar Dewey Weber Performer.

-JUNE, 1965- DUKE SNIDER (FAMOUS BASEBALL PLAYER) LANES, FALLBROOK, CALIFORNIA

It was the night of the party for graduation from Potter Junior High School. I was standing in a long and squirmy line outside the bowling alley (Duke Snider’s daughter, Pam, was in my class) with some of my friends, most also friends from Boy Scouts. A line of cars slowly passed to our immediate left; anxious and excited parents dropping off their little darlings, each darling instantly changing from someone’s child to someone acting as if this wasn’t the most Hollywood thing that had happened to any of us.

Those of us already on the concrete carpet hid our embarrassment for the kids whose parents dallied, visibly fussed, took pictures, said things like, “Oh, you’re all so grown up;” and, “Oh, look at YOU.”

That is, we hid our embarrassment by laughing and pointing, whispering little immaturities to each other. “Boobs. Did you know?” “Oh, yeah.” And now we all knew.

I was in my new still-room-for-growing “Church Coat” from Montgomery Ward, and my almost-a-match permanent press pants, the pockets of which were considerably shallower than jeans. It wouldn’t be a huge admission to reveal that I seemed to have spent much of eighth grade with hands in my pockets. Not for fun; camouflage was often necessary.

This seemingly growing lack of control was bad enough at school, but, on this night, the girls, many of whom I’d known since kindergarten, were dressed in what amounted to evening wear for 13-14 year old girls, designed and selected because these dresses featured those changes in my school mates we’d already noticed.

I might have preferred a little longer coat, too.

Bill Birt, tallest guy in our class, hair on his chest since sixth grade, a bit of spittle always on one or both corners of his mouth, not always because of the braces, turned, said, “I’m gonna dance. You gonna dance?”

“Don’t know how. You know, my religion, I don’t think we’re supposed to.”

“Well, then; do you know how to bowl? No? Well, I’m gonna bowl, too. And dance.”

Ray Hicks stuck his head in, “Can’t dance; might as well sing.”

“What? There’s singing?”

“Well, I’m gonna slow dance,” Bill Birt said, quieter, a bit too close to my face. “You just, um, move your feet a little. You rub against them; whatever they put your way.” At that point, me considering what, exactly I might be rubbing against, Bill broke into his standard sort of ‘ha ha yack ha’ laugh.

“Do you have a sister named Suellen?”

“What?”

It was Joanne Amsterdam, quite a cute girl, fairly new in Fallbrook. She had spun around, breaking from her little group of girls, and was now, in the moving line, quite close enough that she and I could be dancing. “Sue-Ellen? I only ask because I think she bought a surfboard from my brother, John, today. She and your Dad… do you… surf?”

“Surfmat.” I was nodding, like a fool, three or four other boys with heads tipped at this or another odd angle, leaning around and toward us, Joanne and me, my feet shuffling left, then right. Then left.

Kind of like dancing.

 -Next Friday, Part II- board surfing

Bill Irwin Called-Out Butch Van Artsdalen

                        Bill Irwin, Butch Van Artsdalen, and the ‘Call-Out’

“It was at practice. I was a defensive lineman; Butch came running at me. I didn’t really know how to tackle. I just picked him up and dropped him on his head. He didn’t like it much. Later, he said something to that effect in the locker room. I said, ‘You want to take it outside?’ He said, ‘sure;’ but then, I guess he thought the better of it. I was way bigger than him.”

Bill Irwin was a sophomore at La Jolla High School; Charles M. “Butch” Van Artsdalen was a senior. Butch, who would soon be dubbed the first “Mr. Pipeline,” already had a reputation as a talented surfer. Any description on his surfing included his willingness to get into a few more than his share of physical confrontations.

This isn’t about Butch. A surfer who could ride waves of consequence switchfoot, who could prevail in the lineups at Windansea or Pipeline, Van Artsdalen died of alcohol-related issues before he reached forty years old.

Bill was more interested in chasing girls, diving for lobster and abalone, and body surfing La Jolla spots like Boomer than board surfing. When I told Bill that, in early Bruce Brown movies, even surfers who had lasting reputations (my example- Dewey Weber) just didn’t surf all that well if compared to today’s longboarders.

“Maybe he just didn’t shoot them in good waves.” I added, not to seem too harsh.

“Well,” Bill, who admits to having owned a ‘really long’ board said, “Back then we weren’t so much surfing as plowing.”

Bill went on to play college football, to work various jobs, from drywall hanger to flower salesman; to crew on other people’s sailboats, to co-write two movie scripts that sold but were never produced (“We made money,” he told me, “that was the point.”). He lived in the San Francisco Bay area as the counter-culture was evolving, eventually moving to the Pacific Northwest, settling into a career designing and building custom homes.

I say settled. A General Contractor, by definition, is the person who makes sure the materials and, more importantly, the subcontractors, are on the job when scheduled. This requires that even the nicest General sometimes has to be, well, tough.

And I am one of those independent subcontractors with a schedule of my own. Though we could discuss surfing at length, Bill has no time to hear excuses. Bill has a sort of Honor-among-Tradesmen code. A person must abide by his word.

Now, this honor thing really only works with people who are also bound by some similar sense of ethics, those of us who feel compelled to respond to “You said you’d be here tomorrow” with “Okay, then I will.”

“SURF THE COYLE!

One of my first jobs for Bill was a new house at the very end of the Coyle Peninsula, twenty miles into the Hood Canal. There was no running water available, and my brushes and rollers were all soaking in brownish water after hurrying from my last job. I thought it was perfectly appropriate to clean out the wienie roller I’d be using to pre-stain some boards by dipping it in the new finish, rolling the increasingly-correct color on some freshly-hung Tyvek (brand name) house-wrapping.

The Tyvek would all be covered by siding, so, in keeping with a surfing theme, and because I had a sign painting background…in a perfectly-professional one stroke lettering style… “Surf the Coyle.”

“Unprofessional,” Bill said, quite displeased. “Who’s going to see it?” I asked. “I saw it. And it’s tough, because I actually kind of like you.”  “Well, you don’t have to like me, Bill.” “Oh, yes, I do; otherwise I won’t hire you.” “Oh.”

“YOUD BE AMAZED.”

I didn’t meet Bill until after he had a debilitating stroke, fifteen years ago. “Just bad luck,” he says.

His left leg remains stiff. Accounts vary as to whether he was more volatile before or after. He did have a reputation for being a very hard worker, very productive, and he was always nice to clients. Always. Almost always.

I wasn’t a client. Still, Bill has a certain formality, and really, the worst he really ever said to me is, a few descriptives deleted, is “I’m very disappointed.”

It was once Bill’s desire to retire to Hawaii. He spends a certain amount of time there each spring. Several of his employees (carpenters, not subcontractors) went with him and his wife, Mary, to Maui a few years ago.

This is almost an aside. Mary, Bill’s second wife, is another La Jollan, one of the girls he chased in high school. Unlike Bill, Mary did ride a flexi-flyer inside the storm drain, deposited on the sand at Windansea. He introduced me to her as, “Erwin, he came from Fallbrook.” “Oh,” she said, appearing properly snooty for more than just a few seconds.

“How does Bill do, you know, in the water?” I asked his lead carpenter, Jessie Justis.

“You’d be amazed. He does really well.”

No, I probably wouldn’t be amazed, even surprised. Bill’s a fighter. Or, sometimes, he doesn’t have to.