A Painting by Stephen Davis

A Painting by Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis is a surfer/painter/kite-surfer (and much more) living in Port Townsend.
He was exhausted and surfed-out by the time I disenfranchised the rest of the local surfing population by wave-hogging.
But he heard about it.
Stephen continues to amaze me with his combination of casualness and his ‘gleam in the eye’ enthusiasm, his deep love of the (he’d say) intense emotions and excitement from riding on the natural energy occasionally thrown our way.
And yet, the first thing I liked about him is he said, “Your wave, Erwin; go for it.”
And I, of course, did.
If that says something about me, it says more about Stephen.

Sliding a Secret Straits Spot

Sliding a Secret Straits Spot

With a little time, I’ve gotten over (some of) the guilt I felt immediately after taking more than my share of the waves that, all so rarely, find their way deep into the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
In my defense, there was only one other surfer and a kayaker when I went out on my SUP.
AND I didn’t want to be intimidated by the kayaker.
AND the waves were pretty small when I did go out.
AND, I am 62 years old, eligible for Social Security, senior discounts…
AND I can’t help it that so many other eager surfers came out AND the waves came up…
AND, still, I was still ‘circling,’ taking off farther out and over, repeatedly taking off farther over and out, riding all the way to the shorebreak, where the choice of trying to pull out, pull through, do a ‘fall back,’ or sideslip onto the sand was dependent on whether the wave was still barrelling.
Many were.
I had my leash ripped off twice, my connecting tie to the board broken once, got thrashed several times, and actually pulled out a couple of times.
Very hard to do a standing island pullout on such a floaty board.
So, I did wave hog to the top end of my ability, I did take more than my share of waves.
I did probably irritate the local surfers.
I confess these sins, hope for forgiveness; and must admit that I have committed this same sin in the past.
AND I must add I may recommit.
Many thanks to my friend Archie Endo for taking this and other photos, some providing proof I gave a lot of room to Cody when he took off behind me.
I could say, as part of my ‘guilty with an explanation’ plea, that seeing a camera when I was already frothing, Archie and I having been skunked farther out the Straits on the same day, hearing numerous phone reports of epic conditions, and having several irritating delays thrown in, including a bear raiding our storage locker for bird feeding (old people activity) did add to my being over-enthusiastic.
I could. I’m still, with a focus always on the story, contemplating the rewards and pitfalls.
I did love the rewards.

Ditching School on a Dare from Mark Metzger

The first time I went surfing with someone other than my own family, Phillip Harper’s mom, or (once) with Phillip’s sister’s boyfriend, Bucky Davis, involved my Mom dropping me and a board (and a towel, and probably a sack lunch) off at Mark Metzger’s house. Or Don McLean’s house. It was a house with a pool, at any rate, in the summer before my sophomore year; 1966.

These were my friends from Boy Scouts, though most had gone all through grade school with me. We had a history. My surf mate, Phillip Harper, was new in town, and had not been a Boy Scout. It took a bit of time, with Scouting being less a part of my life as surfing became more a part, before Phillip became a member of this group, aided by being a neighbor of Boy Scout and new surfer, Ray Hicks.

This rotating band of contemporaries, with some friends deciding surfing wasn’t their sport, new people wanting to give it a go, eventually became a fairly stable group of fairly unstable surfers.

Mark Metzger was possibly the least stable. He was one of those red-headed, hot-headed, usually barely under control kids, and, on my arrival at the house with the pool, he quizzed me. “Which way do you set a surfboard down?” “If it’s on grass, like here; top down so the wax doesn’t melt. Like I did.” “No, wax side up so you don’t take some of the kickup, or rocker, out of the board.” The other punks probably nodded along with Mark. I set my board with the others, on the lawn, under the tree, wax side down.

Then, the duty parent not ready yet, we took turns throwing our used boards, in various shades of yellow (no self-respecting parent would buy a new board for a kid until discovering if he or she was going to ‘stick with it’), into the pool, each of us then jumping on, riding across, trying to dismount still dry. I was not the best at this.

“Well, when we get to real waves, maybe Erwin’ll do better,” someone, maybe Gerry Moore, said. Definitely; I was a year ahead of these kooks.



As Juniors, Mark and I ditched school one day, on his insistence. Between first and second period, Mark used the unassailable argument that a real surfer wouldn’t waste such a beautiful, Santa Ana day. Yeah, he dared me, and when I waffled, he used the “p-caw, p-caw” chicken imitation.

Wait. Is it “p-caw?” If it didn’t sound exactly like a chicken, the “What, you chicken?” got the point across.

And, it usually worked. For example, though I was happy enough riding Lupe’s Left Loopers, I was ‘p-cawed’ into being the guinea pig on a (theoretically) right in Mazatlan that showed outside but broke on a concrete slab-like shore. This was while Phillip and Ray watched, from the beach.   

Ditching being tougher once already at school, I told classmate (Eagle Scout but not a surfer) Wayne Raymond, that, if he was at all cool, he’d sign me into Chemistry class, just before lunch. No after-lunch teachers ever took attendance. Maybe he took it as a dare.  

In the school parking lot I switched my longboard onto Mark’s almost brand new (but his) 1968 VW Bug and we headed out (yes, this says something about his parents). On the straightaway on the far side of the largest hill between Fallbrook and Bonsall, Mark, who always told me he took his half of the road out of the middle, passed a car, yelling some rude remark they couldn’t hear comparing the speed old peoples drive with his estimation of their sexual, um, I guess, rate of speed.
Somewhere in the passing, the clamps on the Aloha racks that Mark’s Father had loosened to save the paint job loosened just enough. The boards took flight, wax side down, off, up, and, thankfully, over the just-passed car.

Maybe they did a flip. Don’t know. Just heard a ‘whissssssssssssss.’

The board/rack/weapon landed, still upright, boards still facing forward, on the side of the road.
I’m guessing the old couple, having not had simultaneous heart attacks, and maintaining their (safe) vehicle speed, probably exchanged a comment comparing a young man’s driving skills with, yeah, sexual competence.

Mark’s board had a new ding, mine had no new ones. Wordlessly, we each picked up a side, reattached the racks, tightened into the new paint, took off. Somewhere past the Bonsall Bridge and the Vista/Oceanside turn, we took a breath.

When we got to Oceanside, right at the bluff, we were confronted by one of those fifteen hundred foot high waves of fog that race in when the Santa Ana winds break down.

“Now what, Mark?” “I guess we go back to school.”

When I came into Chemistry class late, Wayne having done his part, proving his coolness, I got busted anyway, but not for truancy.  Not this time.

“Oh, and Mr. Dence,”  Mr. Douglas, the had-to-be-on-purpose stereotypical science teacher with the out of control eyebrows said, “I’ve become aware that, in addition to decorating the desks in my room with surfing pictures, the English teacher has discovered similar artwork.”

So, no surf, but no detention. I did get to clean all the desks every lunch time in both the English and Chemistry classrooms for a few weeks. Mark, as usual, had a clean getaway.

But, as a sort of bonus, I had several great conversations in the rotten egg-smelling classroom, the science nerds and me. If I hadn’t been a surfer… smart kids; they always laughed well before I got to the punchline.

Oh, and if you think they don’t make fun of the cool people…

“I’m just studying the ways of the self-proclaimed cool people,” I may have said. “I’m not really… Hey, that’s not the funny part.”

NOTE: Our mutual friend Ray Hicks, when Mark and some of his cronies didn’t show up for our fortieth class reunion, said the former idea man for many an unrecorded (here) event, may not want his family to realize he wasn’t always the calm citizen he tries to project himself as now. Well, good plan, Mark.


Waiting Out a Lull

Waiting Out a Lull


Surfers, of course, wade out during a lull, possibly thigh-deep, jumping over lines of soup, then, nothing showing on the available horizon, we leap forward and on to our board, paddling like mad for what we hope will be the shoulder of the first wave of the next set.
We’ve all experienced the situation where, just clearing one wave, crashing through the top as it peels over, clearing our eyes, taking a breath, a big open-mouthed breath; we see the next wave, bigger, walled-up, already starting to feather at the top.
Crashing through the curl, the next wave might… worst case, break directly in front of us or, worse…
Paddle. Paddle!
And then there’s the other ‘lull’ experience. No surf. Or minimal surf; so often frustratingly combined with otherwise perfect conditions. Clear, maybe a hint of an offshore breeze, and, even more frustrating as we join others checking-out our favorite spot, we find the lineup empty except for some random seabird floating a bit too casually as the wavelets are beautiful, picking up the reflections of sky and sun, and peeling, perfectly; none to one and glassy.
We look to the horizon, look for a sign, a lost wave from some distant storm, a stray bullet from some open ocean battle, a sneaker set, a rogue wave that just might, even accidentally, roll through those crosshatch areas on the plane before us, those places where some soft squall causes a subtle change on the surface of the glass, something that might be, could be… no, not a wave.
Eventually we look at the other surfers in the vicinity.
Maybe there are stories, biographies even, exchanged. Maybe there’s just a nod, a gesture that says this is a momentary peace.

Fergus and His Uncle on Bright Green Rental Soft-tops

My sister Melissa’s son, Fergus, and his only Uncle who surfs, me, were out at the Cove at Seaside, Oregon. Rather, we were bouncing around on the inside, just past the rocks and before the long, long stretch of beach, looking for a few reforms.

“Go, go, go!” I would yell. And he would go.

He did the classic first-timer thing a few times, jumping to his feet when the wave had already passed. But, considering he had no beach training other than me saying, “Don’t drown,” he did quite well, standing on several waves. Goofy foot. Well.

Meanwhile, his mother and his Aunt Trish were on the beach, watching as the wind that, according to the kid working at the Cleanwater Surf Shop, had blown out the surf daily for the previous week, was calming, becoming almost offshore, and the real break was working. The real surfers were on it, moving down the line

Meanwhile, I was on the inside making sure the mid-west-raised and first-time surf adventurer, on holiday from college, didn’t drown.

Let me tell my joke now: “So, the rental boards are bright day-glo green, with a leash included. Why? So that, when the renter drowns, they can get their board back.” Pause. “Maybe with a body attached.”

“Don’t drown,” I would also yell. “But… paddle!”

ImageYeah, I was also on a rental; something short of an actual soft-top.

This can be explained. My surf/work rig is at some extreme limit of its lifespan, and Trish wouldn’t let me put a board on the softracks on top of the Cadillac she inherited from her father, and it’s quite a ways down to my (and, yeah, Melissa’s) father’s house on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

I did get to put my wetsuit stuff (in a plastic bag) in the trunk, so, and this is important, I could pee in my own gear. Fergus, well, he’s polite, might not have actually urinated in the rented wetsuit.

That would be very polite considering the cute girl at the shop showed a real surfboard (fiberglass and foam, wax…real) as an example of a rental, but, when the guy loaded the boards on Melissa’s rental car (using my softracks), no. Classic bait-and-switch.

Still, with a critical audience watching, I hit a few quick reforms, side-slipped over a section or two on my knees, stood up a few times- not too much more successful than my nephew, he riding all the way to the sand, hands out or pumping.

Great. He didn’t drown. He surfed. This would be Fergus’s story to tell when he met up with another college friend over towards Idaho, they working on an adventure/trip back cross country to school and, well, the Midwest.

“Yeah; I was surfing, man.”

This part of her son’s plan would be a surprise to my sister, kind of a change to her itinerary, but, hey, she was there to witness this part of his future story.

But me, what I wanted, and quite badly, was to paddle the super floaty, poorly balanced, fat-railed pig board out into the lineup.

“Hey, would you call these waves, you know, good?” I imagined myself asking anyone out there. “This is fun. Is this a good wave for surf-boarding?”

And then I’d have to take off, and then, rip.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t try it. Not the taking-off part, the ripping part.

Maybe, but I’ll blame the day-glo board.

Maybe Fergus did pee in the wetsuit. That’ll be part of his story.

I would like to thank Melissa, again, for doing the drawing for my short story, which, sorry to discover, did not win the “Three Minute Fiction” contest that I’d entered it into. Melissa did put our daughter, Dru, up at her house downstate from where Dru works and lives in Chicago recently when her niece had a nasty bout with pneumonia. My sister does promise to do some more drawing, but with less restrictions from her dick-tatorial brother.