Bob Townsend- Same World, Different Era



It isn’t really even ironic, now that I’m so deeply involved in my ‘real surfers’ project, wherever it’s leading, that I should unexpectedly run into real surfers in odd places. There was the mailman delivering to a paint store Bremerton who, seeing the surf decals on my work/surf van, had to tell me about his surfing days. There have been several others approaching me with surf stories at several different gas stations.

Each ex surfer would get a sudden mad glint in his eye when giving some brief career resume, with an emphasis on some high spot; some session on some magical waves.

There was a homeowner, several years ago, in Port Ludlow, sort of the La Jolla of Jefferson County, Washington state, who told me, back in his Southern California days, he briefly had an employee who founded some sort of surfboarding magazine.

“John Severson?”

“Yeah; that was him. Nice kid.”

I probably- okay, definitely- do bring surfing into most conversations. So, checking out a possible painting job in the same Port Ludlow, a house on a beautifully landscaped bluff falling away and down to a lovely lagoon, some twisty finger of the ocean, it shouldn’t be surprising that, when the homeowner said he wanted to go back to San Diego, after I asked “Why? It’s summer;” after he said he has a house in Rancho Santa Fe, after I said, “If you ask people in La Jolla where the rich people live, they’ll say Rancho Santa Fe;” after he said, “Well, that’s not us;” and after I asked, sort of off the cuff, “Do any surfing down there?” he turned and said… “Used to.”

Okay, so Bob Townsend graduated from San Diego High in 1050, a year before I was born. He started surfing on a paddleboard in the late 1940s, “With a cork on the front so you could let the water out once in a while.” He went to college in Santa Cruz, but, other than that, never surfed north of San Onofre, never wore a wetsuit.  His last board, ridden somewhere around 1959, was a redwood/balsa combo.

Whoa! I was impressed.

Asked where he surfed, he listed Sunset Cliffs, Blacks, Windansea, Swamis, and San Onofre. He knew where Pipes is located, but never, apparently, bothered with Tamarack, any of the North County beachbreaks; and didn’t even consider heading north to, say, Malibu.

“Why would I?”

“Well,” I’m thinking, “Because you could.”

What I did say was, “When I was a kid, going down 101, through the little towns; it was magical. You could still see the ocean past the houses. When we’d go through Del Mar, my father or mother would always say, “Desi Arnaz lives here.”

“Nice guy,” Mr. Townsend said, chuckling a bit; “I sold him a car once.”

Hanging around for over an hour to give a five minute estimate, I had to ask Bob if he remembered there having once been a pier at Cardiff Reef, across from Don Hansen’s original surf shop.

“Yeah, and there was another one in Del Mar.” “Really? Where?” “Over by that restaurant.” “Like, 15th street?” “Guess so.”

I’m not sure if the former car dealership owner (Townsend Lincoln/Mercury, Mission Valley- he sold in in 2006) was just tired of our northwest winters or missed his family enough to miss out on our northwest summers. We agreed San Diego is so much more crowded than back when I was a kid and he was surfing point breaks and deep reefs. 

“I remember hearing, late 50s, I guess,” I said, using an example I often use, “that there were 100,000 people in San Diego proper, another 100,000 in the rest of the county. If I thought it was crowded back in the late sixties…”

“This all brings back great memories,” Bob said. “You know, it was a life style. We used to head out, camp on the beach. Great.”

Later, when I absolutely had to get to another project, Bob told his wife that the painter is from San Diego, actually lived in Mission Hills, Fort Stockton Drive, same street they’d once lived on. She was busy preparing for their drive south, their house over the lagoon on the market. “And he surfs. Up here.”

Last question: “Do you think there’s kind of a code of, I don’t know, honor, in being a real surfer?”       


“Yeah. Me, too. I’ve tried to, anyway. I mean, real surfers don’t…”

I didn’t have to fill in any details. We both nodded. I wrote up a quick quote, said his real estate agent could check out my work, let him know if he should send a check.

“Just call me,” he said, handing me two business cards. “Use this number.”

Still trying to visualize someone riding a heavy board at Sunset Cliffs, I had to ask; “Maybe it was New Break.”

He hadn’t recognized that name. “Over by the college. It’s supposedly super localized.” “The college wasn’t there then.”  

No, I guess not. But there were those magical.waves on mystical reefs; waves that only get bigger, glassier, more forgiving with time.

UPDATE: Bob Townsend called me on the cell phone the other day; introduced himself as “Your old surfin’ buddy.” No, I hadn’t primed and painted the section of railing. It had been raining, a heat spell on the way. He and his wife had made it to San Diego. Yes, I’ll get it; if not the next day, the day after that. Yes, I had mentioned my brother-in-law, Jim Scott, is the real estate broker with the longest business presence in the Mission Hills area. Did he need a real estate agent? He did. 

I had a couple of new questions to ask Bob, partially because I’d been talking to Keith Durrock about his father. Keith’s dad is somewhere in age between me and Bob. He surfed, had been a lifeguard in the Pacific Beach area, and, according to Keith; “It was a whole life style thing. Besides surfing, he and his friends dived for lobster and abalone…it was a different era.”     

So, “Did you do any of that?”

“We all had crowbars with us at all times.”


“For prying the abalone off the rocks.”

So, in my constantly evolving creating and storing mind pictures, I’m adding wetsuitless divers in the kelp, crowbar at the ready.

And the water’s so…your picture might be a bit different.

Blink, back to now.


Windansea, Chris O’Rourke, and the Neanderthal



“Neanderthal,” the Kid said with the deepest voice he could manage.

The first time I decided to surf the famous Windansea, a foggy, glassy, afterwork afternoon, December of 1971, there were, maybe, eight or ten surfers clumped around the peak. Trish was waiting in the car. I must have promised to take her somewhere. Newly married, we lived in Pacific Beach, across the street and just up from Tourmaline Canyon.

Yes, it was practically La Jolla; right where Mission turns to La Jolla Boulevard. So, why not Windansea?

When I got out of the water at dark, after something less than an hour, my bride asked me why I, notorious wave hog, hadn’t caught more waves.

“I was lucky to get three or four.” The waves I did get were insiders or those waves the various members of the local crew were a little too far outside for. And, competing for the scraps on the inside with me was this Kid. It was Chris O’Rourke, before he became famous, before he got cancer. He would have been twelve or thirteen, and was begging the older surfers for waves.

“Can I go? Can I have it? Can I go?”

It worked. For him. I didn’t try. Wouldn’t. Ever. Though I’d also seen several of the surfers out that evening in PB, they were either also being denied waves or were part of the pack, defending their home peak.

The main feature of the rights was a steep drop. Bottom turn, hit the shoulder, cut back, bounce a bit, hope to have enough speed when the inside section jumped up. The lefts offered a longer ride, but, no, I wanted the rights.

Sitting on my board away from and on the side of the peak that would favor going left, but hoping for a sneak-through right, I exchanged a glance in the waning light with the Kid. Not quite a nod. He turned to the group, and, in a stage whisper, with a nod to make sure they knew who he was speaking of; said, “Neanderthal” in the deepest voice he could manage, “Ne-an-der-thal.” Everyone looked. Most chuckled.

I did surf Windansea again, without the freeze-out, but only on those days when most other nearby spots were closed-out. Oh, there were some spots along Sunset Cliffs that would hold a bigger swell. After getting brutally washed against those cliffs once, having my board end up in a cave the next time, finding myself in the biggest tube of my life another time, the choices being- make it or end up against the cliff; I ventured back.

Oh, I made the tube, figured I’d beaten the odds, looked for a way in.

On my first bigger wave session at Windansea I lost my board on two of my first three waves- once nailed by the lip on the drop, the other not having the speed for the inside. On my second swim-in, someone had, nicely, pulled my board from between two of those big, soft-looking rocks, and set it on top of one. Tourist, no doubt.

A couple of years later, competing in a Western Surfing Association contest, I was in a heat at Luscombs (sp?) at Sunset Cliffs for second place finishers in previous heats. Only the winner would advancing. Lined up for the wave of the day, there was the Kid again.

“You going?” He must have been in the contest, but, at this moment, I was the surfer wearing the jersey.

“Oh, yeah.”

I went right; pretty sure he took the left, probably aceing-out some other competitor. Even if he didn’t, the right was better; and I won the heat; probably my sweetest victory in a brief WSA career.  

I can’t say I witnessed Chris O’Rourke break any rules of proper surf etiquette. All these year later, a thousand miles plus away from Windansea, if I run into someone with a connection to La Jolla (and I have), his name is part of a surprisingly well known list of La Jolla surf alumni. Folks from there know their surf local history.

“Neanderthal? He called you a Neanderthal?”

“Oh, yeah.”


I’d like to thank Kirk Lee Aeder for responding when I e-mailed him with a few questions about his friend, Chris O’Rourke. Kirk is renowned surf photographer and the author of the O’Rourke biography, “Child of the Storm,” and said my story “Sounds just like him.” The book would be a proper addition to your surf library. You can find the book at or at Kirk’s site (which you should check out)

realsurfers- Illustration

“On the Wall.” Hey, I meant to include this illustration with the piece on Cheer Critchlow. I’m still learning how to move things from real (drawings) and sort of real (writings) to the magical realm of digital cloud ether. I now have several unredeemable copies of this drawing on my computer. Somewhere. Incidentally, though I know there are several clumsy wording errors I’d love to edit in the Critchlow piece, somehow the whole thing in ‘edit’ mode got changed to some format I’m scared to approach. At some point I’ll go to the original material, move it to a new ‘new post,’ add the illustration, slick it all up.
That’ll be another day, same time I move the whole John Amsterdam saga into something a reader can read start to finish. Might add more art to that, too, while I’m imagining myself as suddenly computer literate.
Thanks for checking out my site. Please read the piece with the illustration, and, since pimping myself seems to be something I’m weak at, please tell your surf-centric friends about the site. We all love to be part of the worldwide community of surfers; it’s just none of want the rest of us to show up at our favorite surf spot. If you could make an exception for my site… thanks.

Speech 101 With Cheer Critchlow

                        SPEECH CLASS 101 WITH CHEER CRITCHLOW

There probably should be some time stamp here. Along with the peak of the Baby Boomer wave, I graduated from Fallbrook Union High School in 1969. “Sixty-nine, Man!”

Before I went to Palomar Junior College, the closest I’d come to hanging with anything that could be called “the North County Surf Community” was when I was on the Fallbrook wrestling team, going against San Dieguito. That school district included Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff, maybe even Del Mar; and excluded Carlsbad and Oceanside- separate tribes, separate Junior College. But Fallbrook was included in the Palomar district. Sure, Escondido and Vista were also included. But, what going to Palomar meant…

…it meant a lot to me. Now I knew other surfers ‘from school.’ I could nod to them, maybe, on campus, or, better, at the top of the Swamis stairs; maybe even hang for a while, comparing notes on the surf, they drinking homemade smoothies, some talking about Jesus; me with my chocolate milk, and, having already used a few swear words to describe the crowds, unable to testify, to say I also had a deep love for our living Savior from before it was cool.

I knew who Charles ‘Cheer’ Critchlow was before he showed up in Speech 101, one of the night classes I took to allow more time for work/surf/girlfriend/church, Speech. It was him image, tucked into a little tube, that was on the sign for Hansen Surfboards, A photograph had been in “Surfer” Magazine, tucked into another tube at a contest in Santa Cruz.  I’d seen Cheer and Margo Godfrey casually walking out to surf the outside peak at Swamis on a big choppy afternoon when Scotty Sutton and Jeff Officer and I kept to the inside peak.

Mr. Critchlow had actually, though he was also still in high school, been a judge at a North County high school surfing contest at Moonlight Beach. Jeff and Scott and I, though we’d ripped in the warm up, were harshly eliminated in our first round heats. We were gone so quickly that several girls from my school showed up after we’d taken off.  Maybe I’d lied about even being in it.

No, Jeff’s Dad took us to 15th Street in Del Mar, near where they had a beach house- and we ripped it up again. No points.

Cheer Critchlow was one of the surfers I viewed, from the shoulder, wailing from fifty yards deeper in the pit during the first day of the swell of 1969. “They (the surfers who were successful) must have some Hawaii experience,” I said at the time.

When I gave a speech on our trip to Mazatlan in my nervous-as-shit, rapid-fire delivery, Cheer Critchlow spoke clearly and calmly, and with some humor, about his first time surfing big Sunset Beach with Mike Doyle.

“So, Mike just told me, ‘If you don’t just go, you’ll never go.’ And I went.”

When I brought in a surfboard I’d shaped and painted as a visual aid, Cheer brought in templates he’d used with and borrowed from, again, Mike Doyle.

When I gave a speech on my future plans, writer, artist; Cheer’s speech revealed school was part of his backup plan. He’d tried very hard to be a professional surfer, and it wasn’t working. Maybe someday, he said, a surfer could make a living from surfing. Very convincing, moving, successful speech.

Still, he could have given me, maybe, a few more points at Moonlight.

Not Nearly Enough on Ray Hicks

Ray Hicks is my surfing contact with Southern California. He is, in fact, my oldest friend from there I still have regular (more like any) contact with. He has to be, in all the time since we first met in sixth grade, the coolest person I’ve known, in that I never saw him lose his cool, even when those around him totally lost ours.

He is also, and I’d love to have some sort of modifying disclaimer here, but, other than that I never thought I wasn’t a surfer, the main reason I got back into surfing at fifty years old plus.

Well, let’s say Ray getting back into surfing and my own petty jealousy.

I was always a better surfer than Ray (okay, there could be several disclaimers here, but I’m the one making the claim). After all, I’d stuck with surfing after high school, when he went to some inland junior college, moved to Barstow, then went into the Air Force (mostly stationed in Italy, cruising in a Porsche), then got out and managed the Radio Shack in Fallbrook (Radio Shack Ray).

But, in 2004, down for my father’s 80th birthday, Ray was a better surfer than me. Way better. It’s been about nine years of me trying to catch up, he and I exchanging e-mails on surf sessions, occasionally surfing together (never up here- yet), and I still haven’t caught up.

Not sure I will.

Image …………………………..

This is Ray and his Surfboards Hawaii Model A back in 1969 (or so).

Ray now lives and works in Carlsbad, pretty much surfs Pipes exclusively. The regulars there are mostly longboarders in our age category; some with boonie hats strapped on, sun screen (mostly too late) slathered on, forming a little pack at the main peak. It’s all very mellow and polite, but it’s not like everyone is invited to join the pack.

Even with the prevailing crowd/ghetto mentality of Southern California, longevity has some rewards. If Ray doesn’t know everyone’s names (or appropriate nicknames) and histories (as he would, say, on the Straits of Juan de Fuca), there is a mutual recognition.  And, sometimes,  consequences.

On one occasion, Ray wrote me, he paddled for an outside wave; someone farther in took off behind him. Because Ray felt he had priority, he didn’t give way. The other surfer took offense, may have bumped my friend on the inside.

So, the local peeksters held a little conference, a trial of sorts, and decided Ray was in the wrong.

“If I’d been there,” I wrote, “I’d have defended you. Next time, run over the inside guy.”

No, probably not. Still, in deference to his surf spot mates, the second time he and I surfed there in our current carnations, he allowed us to go to the main peak, as long as we sat to one side. Fine; always been an inside prowler.  But, somewhere in that session, shoulder-hopping and scrap-chasing, I saw a great wave, yelled “Outside!” and, when the pack responded, caught the wave.

It’s a trick you can get away with… once.

“Hopefully you didn’t hear about it” I wrote from the relative safety of the Northwest. “Oh, I think somebody said something. Don’t worry about it. It’s cool.”


O’side Memories and the End of (the Real) Grandview

                        Oceanside Memories and the End of (the real) Grandview

It seems, since I have written how Grandview, the Leucadia surf spot, had been the step up location, the place older and more experienced (supposedly) surfers went to, some passing-by and labelingImage Tamarack as a Kook beach, that I should write something about my last two sessions there, years apart.

By the spring of 1971, I had been surfing elsewhere for a while. There were no upper classmen I could impress by surfing there, my friends from Fallbrook were rarely around; and Oceanside was where I worked, and, mostly, surfed. I always felt, and still insist, the waves there broke a little bigger, a little harder, than anywhere else in the neighborhood, and, on some days…

There is much to be said for local knowledge, just being nearby to know what the conditions were, being able to take advantage of those shifts that create perfect moments. From the North Jetty (actually the South Jetty for Oceanside Harbor) to the smaller jetty by the parking lot, to this or that numbered street, the pier, numbered streets to the south; this was my surf zone.

It’s still easy to remember moments from a certain swell, a certain session. Maybe it’s the overhead lefts at the North Jetty on my Surfboards Hawaii twin fin; suddenly realizing I couldn’t trim, but had to drop down and power up to generate speed down the line.  Or the lefts seventy-five yards off the south side of the Pier; clean paddle-outs, drops with a back to the wall… and repeat. Or, for the benefit of my old high school friend, Dana Adler, dry and waiting on the smaller jetty, surf toward him, cranking the hardest cutback I’d made to that date.

Feel free to relive some of your best moments.

That’s one of the reason we try so hard, those memorable moments where we flow, where we glide, dance with the ocean.

Or just the way an early morning Santana wind could ruffle the horizon, clean the waves…

Okay. It was at one of the numbered streets north of the pier that I did the most radical move I’d made to that point. Out in the afternoon with Tommy Robeson, fifteen year old brother-in-law of my boss, Buddy (he was 35 or so, his wife, Sandy, 21) we were enjoying the head-high punchy peaks when a carload of after-school surfers drove up, decided, since there were two surfers out, it must be good. They started to unload.

As three of them approached the water, Tommy paddling out, I surfed toward an oncoming lip, but, instead of kicking-out, I whipped into an almost-straight-down cutback, then powered into an almost-straight-up bottom turn, blasting through the lip.

Yeah, it was surfing angry. If I surprised them, I surprised myself more.

Because I was usually on dawn patrol, I did often surf alone; always telling myself this was best. Still, when others were coming out, or there were others in the water, I surfed better. Still true; and if the competitors are friends… even better.

Grandview was gone.

It was always going to happen. ‘Eventually’ had arrived. The empty lot had become too valuable.  I drove up on an early morning to find the access blocked by a house. And a fence. There was, maybe, a sign that indicated the access was now several blocks north, in the area some called the Tomato Patch.

That wasn’t Grandview.

Halfway down the fence north of the new house, the woman from the older house came out, looked up at me walking the top of the fence, and said, “You have no right.”

No, I didn’t.

Fifteen minutes later she and a Sheriff’s Deputy watched me, sitting alone in the glassy water beyond the break.

I would like to remember that I waved, got a weak wave back. I’d like to remember the waves as being classic Grandview. Maybe I waited a while longer than I needed to before getting out of the water. Yes, I took the new access, walked back to Grandview Street.


Thirty-seven years later, I was down in San Diego, taking the train from Old Town to Encinitas, meeting up with Ray Hicks. Ray would provide his backup board and bring my shortjohn wetsuit, dry since the last time we’d gone surfing together, hitting the surf at his main spot, Pipes.

I’d been bugging him about Grandview, telling him how I’d checked out the new access with my daughter, Dru, a couple of visits before. Oh, there’s the new stairs, the new parking lot, all within the now-fully-residential former Tomato Fields. Or where they Strawberry Fields? Well, not any more; not forever.

So, there we were, unloading in the parking lot next to a box van with something about a surf school lettered on the side.

“You want to buy a surf school?” the man, younger than Ray and I, asked.

It sounded kind of good to me. I don’t think he was serious; just a little frazzled.

Now I’d like to say that, moving south a bit to be more at the real Grandview, the waves were classic. Maybe they were; classic high tide closeouts, indistinguishable from any other patch of surf within two miles in either direction, and too crowded to be fun

“So, Grandview…You need to go back some time?” Ray asked as we went for something to eat before he took me back to the station.

“Not really. Maybe… you know I surfed Swamis two years in a row on New Years’ Day. All the young guys were hung over. It might be nice to…”

Oh, I do plan on surfing there again; guess I won’t even imagine it could be the same as it was.   In fact, I’ve had so many dreams where, trying to get to those familiar fingers of rock splayed from the  point to the inside break, as I approached, gliding down the stairs,  it all, the rocks, the waves,  moved farther and farther away.

Just dreams.