Darryl Wood, Legendary Northwest Spotfinder

The first surfer I met in the Great Pacific Northwest was Darryl Wood. That was in February of 1979, just after half of the Hood Canal Floating Bridge, the link from the Olympic Peninsula to the rest of the world, had been ripped from its moorings in a very localized storm that included hurricane-force winds, along with a powerful tidal surge, that shift made stronger by the almost record low pressure, and waves pushed higher on the sixty mile fetch of the ancient fjord, all focused on the center of the bridge, opened to allow the pressure through, pushed open like a gate, and gone.

A week later, Washington State had brought in a passenger-only tour boat from Seattle, set up some connections with a bus company on the Kitsap County side, and I met Darryl, and many other commuters I might never had met if the bridge wasn’t gone. It was the first boat of the morning, both of us headed for work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. Darryl and another guy from Port Angeles, whose name, and I apologize for this, I have long forgotten, were car-pooling, now only as far as the Southpoint ferry dock. A Civil Service painter, I had just transferred here from San Diego. Darryl and the other guy were Union guys, working on a new facility connected with the dry-docked nuclear-powered vessels. I do remember that Darryl down-played his role as a carpenter, but said his friend was a ‘superstar among the laborers.’

A week later I, a person who had thought I was through with surfing, was surfing, in a diving wetsuit I had just purchased and would later give to a Gary Gregerson,  a friend and fellow signpainter at the shipyard, who planned to use it for walking around in creeks. Sure.

I should say I was attempting to surf at a spot you could then access, after first navigating some winding roads, by driving straight toward the Strait, past the guy who would step onto his back porch, six feet from your vehicle’s window, then pulling to the right on top of firmly in-place riprap. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, 38 degrees, there were three other surfers out, each of whom asked where I came from; and the water was freeeeeeeeezing. My sister Melissa’s board, the only one I hadn’t sold before leaving Mission Hills, longer than the one I had been riding, didn’t float as well with the cumbersome extra rubber, my hoodless head felt like each wave I pushed through was filled with ice cubes, my feet almost instantly went numb, the wax seemed to be as effective as rubbing the board with suntan lotion, and the waves were fast and steep. I caught several waves, couldn’t help but get barreled, and never got to my feet.


Darryl Wood, with coffee cup, his longtime friend and fellow surf adventurer, Arnold, and several other members of the local Surfrider Chapter, cleaning up this parking lot just rolled over by another storm.

“The more things change,” huh?

“You still, um, riding most waves on your knees, Erwin?” “Well, no, I, uh… yeah, pretty much. Get a longer ride and, maybe… how are you doing?” As older guys do, and Darryl is a bit older than I am, we both talk about knees without internal padding. He added shoulders damaged from years of swinging hammers and lifting beams and such.

Still, Darryl remains the surfer I most admire and respect from my tenure in the northwest. He has held, tenaciously, to his Christian values, maintained his sense of surf etiquette, and, although he considers himself quite conservative, he is able to look past the posturing and pettiness of a succession of amped-up surfers. Including me.

I asked what Darryl what he thinks of the increasing number of surfers hitting the Strait, so changed from the days when he personally knew most of the surfers in the area, and knew the landowners who had gates blocking access to secret spots. He shrugged. “If it’s breaking on a weekend,” he said, “there might be fifty, sixty surfers.” This wasn’t a weekend.

On this same day I ran into the guy who owns this access, just checking on the storm damage. I had heard that the lot could be closed if surfers abuse the place (or when this guy passes on), and kissed-up pretty much to the limit of my ability to do so. “It’s not for overnight camping,” he said, expressing his displeasure at having, in the past, before “Darryl Wood and those Surfrider people” put the sani-can in, suddenly finding things he didn’t want to find while weed-whacking.

“See you in another ten years or so,” I said as Darryl and his crew moved on to survey some other properties the Surfrider Foundation oversees. We both turned to watch my friend Keith Darrock make it most of the way across another slightly-chopped-up line.

“He’s good,” Darryl said. “Yeah; always does the tuck.” “Always a pleasure,” Darryl said, taking another glance out, at the indicator, the one outside the lefts. It was breaking. He gave a nod toward the water. Always a pleasure.

6 thoughts on “Darryl Wood, Legendary Northwest Spotfinder

  1. One of the Godson’s of surfing in Washington next to George South. They followed the ethics and etiquette of the Godfather………..Ray Walters.

  2. Years ago a journalism teacher told me to “write about people-people love to read about people”.
    Spot -on.
    But do people really NEED to read about about people?
    That ism the question that has grown in my mind ever since.
    First let me butter you up and say that I believe your insights are keen and your writings are entertaining and fluid…reminding me a bit sometimes of Dan Duane and Hunter s Thompson. Especially when I haven’t been able to recently surf, sometimes I get a sort of vicarious pleasure from your blog. At its best it viscerally evinces the oft-struggle and fleeting triumphs of surfing in the strait.
    You do, all too often, seem to focus on the scuzzy peripheral minutae of our precious pastime(if I had a dime for everytime you type hipster). Maybe its because the epicenter of your nw surf experience is the most crowded gutless So-Cal style wave we have? The experience of riding waves is brimming with positive, transcendent moments and useful life lessons, why glorify the lack of humanity involved?(though I have been surprised not to see a post about your incident at a rivermouth last spring)
    So when I saw you invoking a local legend like Daryl Wood, and the reader’s comment about etiquette, I could not help but voice my didain for this apparent hypocrisy. If it is true, and Mr Wood is the surfer you respect the most up here, then why not take a page out of his book and try to spread a bit more mahalo around your blog, and better yet, your real surfing life? A new years resolution perhaps? Whether you stick to it or not it would be fun to write about no?

    • Mr. Spencer, thanks for the comment. Yeah, I’m trying to play nice. I do, almost always, enjoy any surf experience. I actually don’t hate anyone else also going for a few waves. A few. I’ll never say hi*ster again. What I’m stuck on is the incident you write about from last spring. Most of the places I surf are rivermouths. I’m thinking maybe it was a meeting near a classic point break where a surfer asked some questions about how to determine if there might be waves, acted as if he didn’t already know the answers. Kind of spooky, mysterious. He then joined Stephen Davis and me in the water; knew the lineup, surfed well. Fast, glassy, not too much tidal push, I never got a stand up ride. Or maybe it was on the other side of the river, at a spot I hadn’t attempted since the bottom was rocks, and where, after doing fine on my big board at the So-Cal style spot, I got gravel-lated on my smaller board, the only other surfer out taking off on the set waves, cruising across. Or maybe it was the time Archie and I caught some legendary (I thought imaginary) rights off the island at… wait, I did write about that. That guy on the giant board was totally in the right spot. Happy holidays; I’m only going to be gracious in the (near) future.

  3. I too follow the blog for a hit of surf even though I see waves from my home where I’ve recently started SUP
    surfing. I miss the art. A periodic post with a sketch or two would do nicely. It’s what drew me to the site in the first place. And hearing about water that is colder than mine, the gravely shore, the thickness of wet suits. The details are delicious. And irreverent remarks, sprinkled here and there, make the pieces sing.

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