Competing (Vicariously) With Kelly Slater

I started thinking about why I root for someone who has won more major surfing competitions than anyone else some time before the Hurley Pro at Trestles. I’m not sure Maybe it’s because I’m well over 42, his age at the moment, and he represents… Maybe it’s… still thinking…

But, now the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP, soon to be something else) tour has moved on to France, and I just tried (and failed) to stay up late enough to watch the first heat of round two; Kelly relegated to the loser-goes-home heat by not winning in round one as the current wunderkind, Gabriel Medina, did.

Kelly Slater is probably the only other surfer on tour, and, even at that, he’d need help (as in other surfers who can beat Medina in a heat) who can catch the Brazilian, now the same age Mr. Slater was when he won his first of twelve world titles.

Oh, did I say twelve?

Maybe that’s the magic number; the one Slater, so close the past several years, is looking for. Or, maybe, maybe he just loves to compete, loves to win. It’s hard not to love competing when the water is cleared of other surfers during the best conditions (often questioned) during a waiting period lined-up with the optimum swell window for a given spot; not to mention the other perks.

Let’s count up a few: Fame, reserved parking spot, private dressing rooms, clamoring and adoring fans around the world, fame, contest winnings, sponsorships, fame, the true life drama of surfer-to-surfer competition, and, I almost forgot, money.

Fame should probably be broken down to the components; the part that includes those adoring fans who know you’re one of the world’s best, and the part that includes the respect of peers (well, wannabe peers), the fellow surfers who can’t devote their lives to being THAT good; those of us who compete whenever we’re in the water, those who seem to have other reasons for surfing (Yeah, yeah; spiritual, sensual; hard to think of those aspects scrambling for a wave in choppy, crowded, sub-epic waves).

There is the PEER RESPECT portion of what makes up ‘fame,’ proper respect from those surfers WHO HAVE devoted large chunks of their lives to getting as good as they can get at surfing, and, placed in a situation where their best two waves over thirty or so minutes, at any surf spot anywhere in the world, would be measured against Kelly’s best two waves at that same spot, with priority and wave selection and ability to pull off a move factored-in, and with the nerves associated with any competitive activity, and with judges and online viewers and a crowd on the beach… and just the worry that Kelly might (and probably doesn’t have to) give you a look, maybe just a nod, that completes the mind f___k, well…

Okay, sign me up. I’ll do my best.

Mr. Slater has been at the game so long, had the fame and respect so long; with the knowledge that so much of fame is so ridiculous, just has to be ignored, washed or dusted off, pushed aside; that he is casual about it. So casual. That’s style.

One must remember that he brashly said, and this was years ago now, that, when he got into professional competition, he was surprised at the level of the surfing. “At how good it was?” “No, at how bad it was.” Shocking; now that everyone says, and it’s true, that the surfers on the world tour, men and women, are some of the best in the world.

This elite surfer list doesn’t count, of course, the guy you see every time you go to any certain spot; just lighting it up.

So, I got up early, tuned in the ASP feed, just in time to catch Freddy P. in a heat, needing a score in the last few minutes of the last heat to be run today, late afternoon in France. I opened another screen to get the results from earlier. Kelly against Dane Reynolds, the very embodiment of the guy who lights it up without a jersey, sometimes when wearing one. Most surfers can relate so much better with Dane; a seemingly regular guy with freakish abilities (I don’t really believe the regular guy part). Kelly needed the points to maintain position in the world title race. Dane… well, Dane also has sponsors. Despite this being the 14th (out of 14) time he’d beaten Dane in a heat, Kelly was generous in his post-heat statements, saying that didn’t matter, we all know what Dane is capable of. Stylish, again.

Clicking back to the live feed, I caught Freddy get the score he needed. Buzzer beater. Yes, Mr. P said in his interview, after too many close heats that didn’t go his way, he was starting to get some confidence back.

I’d like to believe Kelly is a little more like most of the rest of us; maybe the respect he most wants is his own. I have to believe that each of us wants to surf up to the limits of our ability on any given day. That’s how we judge ourselves. If contest judges did the same, I could, occasionally, score a 9.5 without ever cracking through the lip.

Of course Mr. Robert Kelly Slater would, for the same moves, get a 2.35. Or less. So, and this isn’t just trash talk; “bring it on!”

Meanwhile, still a fan. In my neighborhood, Seattle Seahawks fans call ourselves some part of “The Twelve.” 12. 12. 12.

The Last Saturday Surf Session of Summer

waikiki-crowdsIt seems to be important to me, because I’m self employed, because I don’t HAVE to be a WEEKEND WARRIOR; that I avoid surfing on the weekends. However, and there’s always a HOWEVER, sometimes the swell peaks on a Saturday. This is not just true on the Straits of Juan de Fuca; it’s true at the beaches you want to surf. So, on the last weekend of summer, to mitigate the situation with everyone checking out the same forecasts, making the same decisions, and because Trish was out of town, I got up at four am on a Saturday, checked the buoys, loaded up my stuff (if the buoys had looked more promising, I would have done this the night before), fooled around enough to determine if the swell had already peaked, and headed out.

I arrived at my (current) favorite spot before the sun. DAWN PATROL. I probably favor this spot because no hiking on trails and down cliffs is required, my vehicle is in sight from the lineup,  and usually (if there are waves) there are easy paddle-outs around the waves rather than through. There were four other rigs in the parking area when I pulled in, four other surfers suiting up. I leaped (why is ‘leapt’ incorrect?), glanced over at the rights which I’ve called ‘slow motion Malibu’ at their (almost) best (full speed at the very best), and saw it was breaking, so, naturally, I asked the others, almost suited-up, where they were headed.

“Oh, the rights look good.” “No, no; it’s deceiving. They’re really only, like, ankle high.”

So, here’s the thing about doing the dawn patrol: You get a few waves and then more and more surfers join you. When there aren’t that many waves and those who arrive are trying, as you are, to get in a maximum number of waves before… before whatever they have planned, you can get a bit anxious, perhaps irritated; and, if that is irrational, uncool, non-mellow, maybe resentful; man; that doesn’t mean you don’t have these feelings. Really, only two other surfers came over to the rights while I was there, but, on the lefts, which are longer, a crowd was beginning to grow. And the parking area was filling up with other surfers waiting for the right signal before entering the water- a bigger set, a few waves breaking on the outside indicator, perhaps waiting for their fast and/or ferry food to settle down.

Because I’m self employed, and because the other reason I went so early was because this wasn’t a weekend for me, I had to go back and work; I was looking for a good wave to go in on. I got one; one of those ‘to the parking lot’ rights, but…

…but I wanted a few more waves, so I moved over to the lefts. Usually featuring long walls, the more crowded side seemed to be offer slightly bigger waves. I caught a few, but had to share each wave with others. I caught a few more. With several sections and quite a few other surfers of varying skill levels vying for each wave, of the ten or so I caught, none were solo rides. If I got into one early, another surfer might catch it farther in but closer to the reef. I’d try to allow room, make a section, be alone for a moment until someone else took off inside. Fine. At least no one yelled, “PARTY WAVE.”

There was kind of a party atmosphere; and I did try to go with that. I’m sure my smile looked genuine. “Waikiki!” I’ve yelled in similar circumstances, tight to the wave with two people paddling just beyond the next section, one I would have every intention to make.

Just wanting this last wave to go in on, and already standing, a guy who had done this to me already turned around to do the ‘take off behind’ thing again immediately to my right. “That’s not right” I said, paused just a moment, sped into a section, turned, and made it all the way to the parking lot, at least two shoulder hoppers backing off as I, spontaneously, rather than the “f___k, f___k, f___k” I’d muttered (probably) a little loud in the last similar circumstance, broke into the classic soul song, “I know you want to leave me, boom, boom, boom…”. I should have been happy with the ‘to the parking lot’ ride. Actually, I was; but, discussing the situation in the parking lot with Clint, a boat repair guy from Port Townsend, with whom I’d had a bit of a non-race race with in the traffic lights in Port Angeles, he said he was just about through with this spot.

It gets crowded, not just because sometimes (in answer to someone else’s prayer) a swell sometimes peaks on a weekend, but because this spot is so user friendly. Everyone else is there for the same reason I go there.

And I don’t want to be is the angry guy, willing to get hostile over knee high waves. Maybe I’m ready for more challenging waves. I asked one of the guys who moved their car into a beach side spot next to mine when someone else left why they didn’t go all the way to the coast where the same swell would no doubt be producing overhead, maybe ten foot waves. “I’m scared of ten foot waves,” he said. “Oh.”  I have other excuses; time, um, a certain amount of, possibly, laziness.

But, right now; I’m planning, scheming, getting ready. There’s a swell forecast that’s too south in direction to make it to the Straits; long period, overhead. The first swell of fall. I’ll let you know how that goes. Meanwhile, Clint went back out, trying the lefts, the party atmosphere continued, someone pulled into the spot I left beachside, I passed at least eight board-topped rigs headed out on my way to go to work. Later, Clint surfed a secret(ish) spot near Port Townsend with one other surfer out.


Trestles- In Progress



This photo was taken by Grant Ellis for SURFER MAGAZINE in 2011. It’s pretty much the view I had from the maintenance shed for the San Onofre Housing Area on Camp Pendleton. I worked there from the spring on 1975 to the early summer of 1976, painting interiors when marines and their families were transferred elsewhere. The actual view was from higher and a bit to the left. I could easily crop out the freeway as I was checking out the surf, almost an equally spectacular view from most of the housing area. You might as well delete most of the crowd. Okay. Now focus for a moment on that visible patch of beach. That was about where I’d park, extending my official half hour lunch to an hour and a half, depending (you know what it was depending on). I could have easily been busted by the Military Police or my Civil Service co-workers. Luckily, they were more interested in other activities.

MY ORIGINAL INTENT was to add to the TRESTLES STORY, Trestles from my particular vantage point, and, rather than have Part II, Part III, out of sequence, move the added-to piece up to the first spot with each additional update; but now that I have the photo… we’ll see.

“YOU CAN JUST GET GOING SO FAST…” I told my surfing buddy on the phone. Surely I was as excited in describing my latest surf story as I am when I do so now. Definitely. By this time, 1976, my friend Phil had just become, or was about to become, Doctor Phillip Colby Harper. Back in the conversation, with the tendency, still-with-me, to talk over others, I continued “…going so fast that you go up the wave, then freefall back to the bottom, like… um, it’s like dropping, sideways, with the lip… like, even, inside the lip; then back up again; over and… and… yeah, Trestles. Every day. Extended lunch. Yeah!”

THE FIRST TIME Phillip and I saw Trestles was in 1967. I guess, really, it was Church; we were riding with Bucky Davis, a few years older than us, way ahead of us in surfing, and the boyfriend of Phillip’s sister, Trish. He turned right instead of left past the creek, away from our destination of San Onofre, and up along the beach. He stopped the VW bus when we saw a Marine Corps Military Police jeep on the beach, perpendicular to the water, waiting patiently for the two or three surfers in the water to come in.

“Some day, maybe,” Bucky said. “Not today.” Phillip and I, following Bucky’s lead, flipped off the M.P.s (not so they would notice); the van made a three point turn and we headed around the cove.

THERE WAS a local TV show about that time, on channel 9, possibly titled “Surf’s Up.” It may have come from Santa Barbara rather than Los Angeles. From Fallbrook, North San Diego County, we got that city’s three stations, 6, 8, and 10, and a couple from LA, but the TV Guide listed this surfing program, and, the one time I enlisted my brothers to move the antenna on the roof, I got a blurred, fuzzy image of a segment that happened to feature the magical and forbidden waves of Trestles. “They just roll on and on,” the commentator said, “spinning, like a washing machine.”

Memorial Ceremony for Someone (Evidently) Very Special

The story is, Stephen Davis, seen kite surfing in the photo, was working for me twenty five miles away from the secret surf spot north of Port Townsend when he got a call from Wade, telling him the winds were perfect on the Straits. It was already past seven, with little or no wind on the finger of Puget Sound where we were painting. "Take off," I must have said; and he did; arriving very close to sundown, doing all the arranging of kite and lines and wetsuits.  Wade was already in the midst of what turned out to be a bit of a mystical experience. He had kite-surfed close to a pod of Orcas beyond the surfline, this observed by a group of people holding a Straits-side memorial for a recently departed 94 year old woman. And a sunset that was particularly special. Though Stephen didn't see the pod of whales, he was, coming in by the light from vehicles and the one light in the parking lot, wrapping up the lines and organizing the gear, surprised when a woman from the memorial party thanked him for gliding, flying across the waves... as if he, Wade, the whales, the sunset, were all part of the ceremony. Who's to say? And that added to the magic for Steve.

Hydrosexual Stephen Davis (he snow skis, plays ice hockey, surfs, kite surfs, paddleboards [the open ocean version], and, well, swims) was working with me twenty five miles away from this secret (and infrequent) surf spot north of Port Townsend when he got a call from… (EDIT- Evidently the person making the call, the person in the photograph, responded negatively to the possibility that a few people might associate him, and his name, with any sort of publicity involving, well, I’m not clear on this; I haven’t spoken with the now-unnamed person, and probably won’t. But, if you haven’t read this post previously, you may never know. EDITED OUT), telling him the winds were perfect on the Straits. It was already past seven, with little or no wind on the finger of Puget Sound where we were painting. “You better go,” I must have said, “and now;” and he did; arriving this close to sundown, close enough to snap a series of photos of unnamed kite-surfer, already in the midst of what turned out to be a magically shared and mystical experience. With people yelling, waving, and pointing, the mystery kiter had kite-surfed close to a passing pod of Orcas beyond the surfline. The yelling and pointing and waving was being done by a group of people holding a Straits-side memorial for a recently departed 94 year old woman. The kiter felt compelled to surf close to the pod (not TOO close). Amazing. AND there was this unusually spectacular sunset. Though Stephen didn’t see the pod of whales, he was, later, coming in by the light from vehicles and the one light in the parking lot, wrapping up the lines and organizing the gear, surprised when a woman from the memorial party thanked him for gliding, flying across the waves… as if he, the other kite-surfer, the whales, the sunset, were all part of the ceremony.
Who’s to say where, when, or why magic sails in?
Being part of that possibly-Cosmically-arranged event surely added to the magic for Steve and his friend.

The Smell of Fear on a Brand New T Shirt

This is an update to the previous story. The original deal was that I would receive some sort of monetary reward for doing the drawing for the Quilcene Shin-Dig tee shirts. Fine, but things evolve. It ended up that I did the drawing, got some copies made, added some color. This became the poster. I paid for the printing of ten full sized and twenty flyer sized copies, distributed a few, at the cost of somewhere around $52.00, and traded this for three t-shirts, which would sell for $60.00 at the event; and then bought another, last year’s version, by a different artist, for another $20.00. Then, on the day of the event, because these shirts make such fine gifts, and because the image of the guitar player carving is based on our son, Jaymz, my wife, Trish, insisted I purchase more. $80.00 worth.

So, speaking to our daughter, Dru, on the phone this morning, and, before I had a chance to tell her she would be receiving a shirt, and before I could rant about the actual event, she quoted her mother quoting me saying, “It was the most expensive piece of art I’ve ever done.” Well, yeah; no, not really; but, let me get to the part where I actually performed.

Actually, I’ve not quite recovered from that, performing two original songs (“You Never Said Goodbye” and “I Guess I’m Lucky”) to a small crowd standing in the rain, with an uninvited, retired music teacher standing at the next microphone, totally unaware of what I was planning to do, interjecting little… I don’t know what he was singing, or scatting, or saying… he said he was going to ‘wing it.’

My vision was limited to… I guess I was trying to look at my harmonica… that’s as far as my vision seemed to go. I couldn’t really hear myself; I could hear the occasional interjections, sort of, on the periphery.  I continued with something akin to muscle memory; songs performed so many times driving to or from a job, or a distant surf spot, one hand on the wheel.

When it was over, I walked through the building, tried not to let loose on Mr. Hodgson; walked around the block to my car, and drove home. When I arrived, Trish said I smelled funny. Maybe it was because I had been sitting in the just-started rain for a while in my (advertising, Trish said) orange Shin-Dig t-shirt before I went on. Maybe that’s just what fear smells like… rain, fear ahead of the performance, something like total confusion and embarrassment afterword; all mixed with the smell of me still thinking, somewhere in my brain, maybe from that place that told me I have these songs and someone should perform them, and if it had to be me… that perhaps-self-delusional bit of wiring; that thought had me holding out some hope that my audience, mostly made up of musicians who had performed or would perform later, might realize the lyrics are worthwhile, useful… possibly in their band.

Later, trying to get back to sleep, I was still mulling, still asking, “Just what where you thinking, Jim?”  His answer, out near the street, his truck parked across Surf Route 101 in the Post Office parking lot, had been, “I was calming you down. I was helping.” My response since, not to him, is that I was ready to succeed or fail on my own. As with most things in life, I’m still not sure which is true, but I know there’s a big * next to anyone’s perception of the performance. And that includes my own.

If could compare it to something in surfing, it would have to be that my actual thoughts in riding the biggest barrel I was ever in, at Sunset Cliffs, was not some time-slowed-down version of joy; but was fear; that peripheral vision of the actual cliffs, too close, through the curtain. The joy, or, at least, satisfaction, would be added later. Edited. Like words on a computer. “Backspace.”