-Sometime in 1975, Swamis parking lot, Encinitas-
This was before our first child was born. We had finally achieved my longtime goal of living in Encinitas. We had arrived by way of our first and second apartments in Pacific Beach, P.B.: then a condo in University City; sold for a profit of $1,500.00 and a used VW; and now a two bedroom tract home east of I-5.
So, not the full dream. In real life, Trish was working thirty miles south in downtown San Diego, I was working thirty miles north, repainting the interiors of houses on Camp Pendleton, the trailer we worked out of just up the hill from, and with a million dollar view of… wait for it… Trestles.
And, though I wasn’t supposed to be able to, I did park on the beach, with immediate access to Lowers; an hour and a half a day on a half hour lunch break. Sometimes, after work, I’d get in an afternoon session, maybe at Church when the northwest winds blew.
Those ten months that job lasted were, this far removed, dreamlike, surf-wise; and sort of made up for rarely getting to surf Swamis. Still, Trish and I could go to the La Paloma, she could shop at local boutiques- we were, despite living east of I-5, locals. For a former inland cowboy, this was great.
Several times a week Trish and I would meet up after work, get some takeout food, go to the parking lot at Swamis to check the surf and the sunset. Even if the surf was marginal, there were always people hanging out; tourists, surfers, posers; something else to watch while eating.
On one such evening, a tall, thin, and already-wasted guy in Hollywood surf attire was chatting to people near the railing, leaning into car windows, talking surf stories. “Oh, and then there was the classic swell of December, 1969.”
“I know,” Trish said, “You were there.” After a bite. “Go tell him.”
“No. It’s just… yeah; I was (pointing at the water) there.”
At this time, with the second set of formal stairs in use, the cooler thing to do after surfing was to scale the bluff. I did it a few times. Sure, you’d be arrested or stoned (more like lectured) by a mob in the parking lot if you even tried it nowadays. Someone would surely sacrifice an environmentally friendly and reusable smoothy container to knock you back down.
On this evening, in the grainy light of dusk, Trish and I partway through some Mexican food, and directly in front of our partially-steamed windshield, two surfers popped up from the cliff and into sight.
John Amsterdam, wetsuit peeled down, was one of them. I can’t say for certain that he recognized me, but I’ll always swear he gave me the harshest look.
This was the last time, to my knowledge, that I saw Mr. Amsterdam.
I always feel that, maybe some day out at some semi-secret spot on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, I’ll see him again. Judging me; harshly; maybe almost as harshly as I judge myself.
John Amsterdam may always hate me.
-Spring, 1970- Grandview-
With no time to actually surf, I was just checking Grandview out late morning. This was just a little detour between my early (academic-rather than art-related) classes at Palomar Junior College in San Marcos and my job at Buddy’s Sign Service in Oceanside. Seeing Bucky Davis on the beach, I made my way down.
I was, by now, accustomed to surfing without a crew. Phillip Harper and Ray Hicks were going to some JC somewhere farther north. My other friends were also scattered by jobs, or real colleges, or, for some, military service. And I had a busy schedule.
Though I had the reputation, well earned, during high school, that I’d go surfing with anyone willing to drive, or go with me, Ray and Phillip had long been my closest friends and best surfing partners. I wasn’t reaching out to others. No time.
There was work, and school, and church on Saturdays, and a girlfriend. Steady girlfriend. I had become pretty much a regular at the Oceanside’s south jetty, hitting it seven-thirtyish to eight forty-five (give or take, depending on wave quality) most work day mornings. Still, being known, knowing some others in the lineup; these weren’t friends; we didn’t talk.
Still, I was grateful Buddy, Florida Prison-trained sign painter, of Buddy’s Sign Service, didn’t even think about working before nine. If I just couldn’t talk myself into getting out of the water I could make it up by staying later.
If the waves south of Oceanside Pier, the ocean one block and some railroad tracks away, were just too glassy, too irresistible, and there wasn’t a lot for an apprentice sign painter slash shop nub to do; Buddy could usually be convinced to let me go.
“So, you can come in on Sunday to make up for it. Right?”
Because Buddy tried to maintain a persona that included some amount of ex-con toughness, and, with his real name being Lacy, he had earned it; the answer to making up for time lost to waves and school and church and a girlfriend was always, “Sure.”
Other mornings I’d hit whatever piece of sandbar seemed best in the neighborhood. Sometimes, with some inkling of a larger swell, I’d take off earlier from home, starting as far south as Swamis, racing up 101, hoping to hit a few favorable stoplights once I got to Oceanside.
WHEN THE NOW-LEGENDARY SWELL OF DECEMBER, 1969 smashed against the shores, closing out almost everywhere else, I managed to surf Swamis every day of the five day event by skipping school and not telling/lying-to Buddy.
On the first and biggest day; totally undergunned, offshore winds spraying would-be shoulder-hoppers back, most waves would have someone on them, from sixty yards up the reef, locked-in and wailing. The entire bluff was filled each day with onlookers, a few less as the swell dropped enough for Swamis to offer more manageable peaks and walls later in the week.
I had nobody to share the story with other than my girlfriend, my Trish, Trish Scott. A year behind me, she was still in high school and working Friday nights and Saturdays at the Post Exchange on Camp Pendleton. I still told her how, on the second day of the swell, I got thrashed by a section at the inside peak, figured that was enough, swam in, couldn’t find my board, saw the entire cheering section atop the bluff pointing and yelling “It’s in the rip!” So I jumped back in, swam out, and, by the time I reached the board, I was almost in the lineup. So, I looked for an empty shoulder on an inside wave…
“No, no; I’m listening. Go on.”
Trish was more interested in how I’d sometimes see her old friend from when she lived in Oceanside, Barbie Barron, while surfing at the Oceanside South Jetty. “We were in the Oceanside Girls’ Surfing Club,” Trish would say, always adding that she had started board surfing before I had.
“Yeah, but I surf now.”
I WANTED TO TALK TO BUCKY. I knew his relationship with his Trish, Phillip’s sister had ended; she had moved on. Their romance was one my circle of friends seemed to have discussed enough that we created our own fairytale/groupthink/consensus version of their reality. But, I hadn’t heard any of this from Bucky. Or from his Trish.
Bucky had shown up once when Phillip and Ray and I were surfing Swamis Beachbreak, our Summer/small wave default spot. I was filming my friends with my Super 8 camera, trying to convince them to film me. He dropped his cool a bit, got all competitive, told us the problem with boards was they weren’t yet short enough. We had some fun.
I also knew Bucky’s brother had been killed, murdered in some stupid/tragic event. The sort of whispered and incomplete version I heard included some implication that his brother had stepped into some confrontation in defense of the intended target, Bucky.
It may have also been that I wanted to talk surfing.
My conversation with Bucky, him in trunks, me in my school/work outfit, looking sideways at the waves, was low key; what we were up to, how much life was slowing down our surfing, where we were in the draft, Bucky was, somehow, out. I was, with my birth date having received a ‘36’ in the first lottery, and the war predicted to go on forever, and those whose deferments ran out definitely going to Vietnam, considering dropping my student deferment and taking a chance on the next lottery.
“No, I’m really just a nub. Buddy won’t even let me wash out his sign brushes.” I was waiting for a moment to tell him how sorry I was that…
John Amsterdam. Without either of us acknowledging the other, the previously unnoticed John came up from behind Bucky, put his arm over his friend’s shoulder, did, finally, acknowledge me with a dirty look. Actually, it was more like the same harshly judgmental expression.
“Hey, Bucky; let’s go on down the beach, get our heads on.”
And they did. I wasn’t invited. I watched them go around the curve of the bluff. Bucky looked back once, gave me a slight nod. It was all right. I watched the surfers for a few more moments, checked my watch. I had sign boards to paint, and maybe, when it glasses off…
–Spring 1968- Another Saturday- Grandview-
The surf was small and choppy. The rights weren’t working at all. I was the only one out on the lefts when John Amsterdam waded halfway out, staring at me as I surfed.
Staring, judging for himself.
Donn Franzich, on the beach, had already told John that I, the entire unofficial surf team from Fallbrook Union High School, had won my first heat at what may have been the first annual (San Diego radio station) KGB/Windansea Surf Club San Diego County High School Surfing Contest.
Yeah, it was a Saturday, but nobody from my local church would have gone down to La Jolla Shores to watch such sinfulness. I had talked Donn into driving me. He was a Fallbrook resident because his father worked in the bigger (than San Diego) city, L.A., and believed his kids should be raised in the country; avocado trees and a horse or two on a mini-ranch. Donn’s, and some other Dads, were home on weekends.
Two girls rounded out our group: Bill Buell’s sister, Margaret Brown (maybe half-sister, technically) and this blonde Officer’s daughter (name long forgotten- sorry) had talked their way into going along; not really like dates, not really girlfriends, but, sure, girls.
My heat had started at the very moment the city and nearby homeowners had allowed the contest organizers to crank up the public address system. The contestants were listed, including: “The pride of Ocean Beach, and a member of the Windansea Surf Club…” And others. And then, “From Fallbrook… I didn’t know they had surf in Fallbrook.”
The actual fifteen minutes was a blur; paddling, surfing, caught inside. I had taken a couple of lefts, ended up out, I’d feared, of the contest zone. Fifteen minutes after the end of the heat my parents showed up, grownups, in shopping/sinning/going-to-a-grownup movie clothes, lumbering across the sand.
I say ‘lumbering’ because, at that moment, I was a little embarrassed by the inland parents of the inland cowboy surfer.
“I don’t know,” I told them, standing, my contemporaries still seated on towels; “one guy in my heat was…they said… probably not good.”
Ten seconds into my parents’ walk back to the car my heat’s results were announced. They both stopped, then turned toward me. “And, in first, from Fallbrook…” It was probably the only time I ever saw my mother leap into the air.
No, I was no longer embarrassed. My parents, who had taken me on several ‘practice’ trips, who had sat in the car in the almost empty parking lot at 15th Street in Del Mar near dark, were there and the coolest parents on the beach.
What I had won was the opportunity to compete again the next day. My parents would let me borrow the good car.
But now, at Grandview, it was sunny and small, and with Donn and the Officer’s daughter making out against the bluff, Bill’s sister asleep and adding to her sunburn, John Amsterdam was judging me. Harshly. Again.
-August 1968, Lupe’s Left Loopers- Mazatlan, Mexico-
It was never my idea. I never would have thought of it.
Phillip must have heard some discussion of surfing summer waves in Mexico in conversations between his sister’s boyfriend, Bucky, and his friends, friends like John Amsterdam. I was fine with the North County’s beaches.
The increased crowds of summer weren’t such a bother. Oh, maybe kooks and those rich guys from Texas who rented places on 101 by the month, who thought four foot was kind of big, and who went after all the local girls with a certain gusto; and a high rate of success.
Phillip’s stepfather, Vince Ross, was for the plan all the way. “A real learning experience,” he said. My parents and Ray Hick’s mom had to be talked into the plan. With Ray’s father in Vietnam, Phillip and I went over to try to convince his mother that her son wouldn’t be hauled off by bandits or Federalies. Somewhere after we had changed her mind, I was told (not too subtly) to shut up before I talked her into not even allowing him to hang out with us.
Phil’s younger brother, Max, would even out the crew. We’d be taking Vince’s fairly-new Mustang. Each of us sported fresh haircuts (so we wouldn’t be mistaken for hippies). We had visas granted us, with Vince’s help, on our second trip to San Diego to get them.
Evidently, the first time the people at the Mexican Consulate thought I had been, somehow, sarcastic or disrespectful (really, they were closing and said we’d have to come back and I said we live fifty miles away and, wow, I did enjoy that elevator ride, and…). This time I smiled politely and kept my mouth shut.
My portion of the expenses was (and I forgot this for years) contributed mostly (if not totally) from my sister Suellen’s baby sitting money, borrowed by my parents, probably never paid back (in kind).
My Dad, reluctantly, and at my Mother’s urging, when Phillip came over to convince my parents, gave us some ‘manly’ advice. In the backyard, away from my Mom and annoying siblings, he told Phillip and me that we should avoid any people trying to sell their daughters to us for, “you know… you know.”
Oh, yeah; we knew. We giggled anyway.
“Just wait until you meet a nice girl,” he said, “have sex with her.”
Shocking. Phillip and I would laugh about it later.
So, two and a half days and twelve hundred miles from Fallbrook, there we were, watching choppy six foot waves peel off a jetty. Mexicans on old surfboards Gringos had left behind or sold cheap were out. One of them fell, got caught in the rip, swimming hard but not moving. Eventually, another surfer gave him a rest on his board, let him off in the surf zone. Seconds later, he was back in the rip.
“Did we come all this way to watch someone drown?” Ray asked. About the time the boardless surfer made it into the shorebreak and onto the beach, we applauding, I turned. Several other surfers were a ways down the little brick wall we were draped over.
He didn’t look happy; even with Phillip. He and the two guys he was with got into their vehicle and moved on, maybe toward some newly discovered Mexican Malibu. Or maybe to discover one.
-SOME TIME IN 1967, (THE ORIGINAL) GRANDVIEW, LEUCADIA-
Phillip and I were months ahead of our contemporaries in surfing experience when a revolving group of friends got into the sport, separately, at first, in the spring of 1966, and after. While many tried it a few times, a more hardcore-if-loosely connected group, some of them also friends of mine from Boy Scouts, was emerging.
Phillip and I had been surfing Grandview for a while. We had looked for the spot back in our freshman year, riding in the big wagon on an afternoon with the surf blown-out, impossible to see past the lines of breaking waves to open ocean.
“Grandview Street,” my Mom said, just coming into Leucadia on Highway 101; “you think it might be a clue?” The empty lot was just another viewpoint to unrideable chaos.
But now, some of our friends had drivers licenses, cars. On this trip, hanging on the beach near a fire, Ray Hicks and maybe Mark Metzger added to our surf troop, we saw John Amsterdam coming down the water-and-feet-worn access between houses. This might have caused us to look down for a second, as if we had not earned the right- knowing, in John Amsterdam’s eyes, we hadn’t.
“New board,” someone in our group pointed out. “New board,” John Amsterdam told someone, close enough for us to hear. “Dewey Weber Performer. One hundred and seventy-five dollars.” “With the stripes.” “Yep.”
By this time I was riding a nine-nine Surfboards Hawaii noserider Wendy Brook’s father had found buried in the sand at Tamarack. My neighbors, two doors down on Debby Street, had been there in the middle of the night for the running of the grunion. No one in their party evidently considered that someone was (stupidly) hiding it. Since no one claimed it before they left, Wendy’s Dad (Sergeant Brooks to me) strapped it onto their camper, figuring they could use it to float around over at the Salton Sea.
Wendy invited me over to check it out, she and her parents and her little sister all scattered around the back patio.
“Whoa! Surfboards Hawaii!” My covetousness of the coolest of the North County brands was quite obvious. “Salton Sea, huh?” I purposefully tried to convince them using this valuable board for mere floating would be a shame.
No, not to them.
Some time later, Wendy’s Dad, a Marine ordinance man, came home from the hospital after an incident at Twenty-nine Palms, his arm sewn to his chest (so skin would grow back- or that’s what I was told). He was being retired and had decided to move back to wherever they had come from; maybe Texas (maybe worse). Sergeant Brooks offered me the board.
Wendy, remembering my assessment of its value, was not pleased.
I was. Phillip and I tried to disguise the board’s shady past by masking-off and applying a fancy pattern on the front fourth, officially designated as the nose, with *Slipcheck. Maybe we didn’t shake the can well enough or something; the result artistic but no-less-slippery.
THE LINEUP at Grandview must now be explained.
Even if there was an underlying rock reef, it remains my belief that the very gap between the houses that allowed access also allowed runoff, that helping to create a gap in the sandbars. If you took off on a right, you had varying length of shoulder before the inevitable closeout inside section. A not-as-good left lead into the same last section.
John Amsterdam took off on the first wave of a set. I took off on the second wave, probably made a few up-and-down moves, suddenly noticed someone swimming for his nearby brand new, pin-striped, one hundred and seventy-five dollar Dewey Weber Performer just inshore of the closeout section. I pushed hard to kickout, and, not have given the board quite enough push, left the board parallel to and hanging in the lip.
-THE NEXT SATURDAY- GRANDVIEW-
“Is that Erwin’s board?” John Amsterdam asked of Phillip and Ray.
Before either could explain that, yes, they had borrowed my board, undinged in the incident, and that I had to go to church on Saturdays and wasn’t, officially, supposed to engage in something as worldly and sensual as surfing, John asked, politely, if he could run over my Slip-checked Surfboards Hawaii noserider with his truck.
“Thanks for not letting him,” I said the next day, surfing somewhere else. “I tried to tell him I was sorry. I mean, I moved over to the lefts. What else could I do?”
*Aerosol invented by Morey-Pope.