The Line Between Respect and Pity

I’ve been trying to get an image of how thick that line is for a couple of days; or even if this is the line I’m really concerned with. Maybe, probably, I’m a bit too sensitive to my own position, as I, um, mature… okay, we’ll just say ‘age,’ in the overall surfer lineup. Maybe? Definitely.  Actually, I always have been.

When I first started board surfing, I’d sneak into the pack at Tamarack as if I belonged there, a big, kook smile on my 13, almost 14 year old face. Soon I was paddling, head down and blind, into a wave at Swamis that, undoubtedly, had someone on it, with me as an impediment to a great ride. I did stay in the lagoon section at pre-jetty extension at Doheny, an eye on the surfers out on the reef. I was learning, frequently thrashed by waves, but always happy to be out there.

It wasn’t too long a time before I tried, hard, to be one of the better surfers out on any given day. Competitive.

This hasn’t changed in fifty-two years. Hasn’t changed yet. Yet, though I’ve always pushed them, I’ve always known my limitations. At least I knew there are limitations. When I was a kook, I knew it. If I didn’t, other surfers told me. I was told to go (by one guy in particular, but also by consensus) to the Carlsbad Slough to practice knee paddling when I pearled on an outside wave, causing four or five surfers to scramble. I didn’t go, but moved away from the main peak. I was sent to the south peak at Grandview when I lost my board in a failed kickout, putting a ding in John Amsterdam’s brand new Dewey Weber Performer. I did go, looking longingly back at the rights.

It’s not me, though I did once have a VW bus (and hair)

Another lost board incident, with a near miss with some stinkbug-stanced kook Marine swimming after his borrowed-or-rented board found him standing on my board in the shallows. “You like this board,” he asked, threatening to break it into “a million pieces if I ever tried to hit him with it again.” He had two friends to back him up; I had my second brother down, Philip. “Okay.” Still, I paddled back out, ten feet away from him and his friends, brave look on my face.

I persisted. With the nearest waves twenty miles from Fallbrook, I always went out. South wind, north wind, white-caps, big or small. There were setbacks, times I just couldn’t connect, couldn’t get into the rhythm; days where trying to get out for another closeout seemed like more work than it was worth; but I was improving.

Hey, this will have to be part one; I just have to go, and I don’t have the whole arc figured out. I’ll be sixty-six in August; I’m still as stoked (and as immature, emotionally) as ever; still want to be, during any given surf session, competitive.  I do admit to having more handicaps than I’d like.  I’ve adjusted. Bigger board, mostly.

I had two sessions this week; the first, at a mutant slab with a massive current. I was humbled.  While I was thrashed and sucked, others were thrashed and got some great rides. I would love to say I wasn’t embarrassed as much as disappointed in myself. That’s what I’d love to say; the truth is, again, I’m still working that out.   Possibly to make up for this, I went to a more user-friendly spot the next day. I didn’t suck.

just coming up. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughan.

Not really surprisingly, a couple of older surfers I’ve surfed with before showed up. When the waves went from almost flat to pretty darn good, one of them, as cool a surfer as one would meet, admitted that, when he sees great waves, “I just get giddy!”

This giddiness, something so profound that we can forget the posturing and coolness, is at the very heart of surfing. It’s something common to all real surfers. Maybe it takes a better wave to bring it out in some, but that bustable smile is there.  We’re all, occasionally, humbled.  The ocean always gets the last word.  Not actually ready to be humble, yet, I’m persisting.


NO SURF… No, there’s always surf…

…somewhere. Usually somewhere else. I’m, luckily, pretty busy painting, today being the only day lately where rain isn’t threatening or falling. Since there are no swell forecasts that predict anything close, and I don’t have time to go to the coast, I googled/yahooed ‘no surf,’ got this image.


The cove is, evidently, now called ‘No Surf Beach,’ along Sunset Cliffs. I actually have a couple of stories about the spot. The first involves Stephen Penn and I, both twenty years old, freshly married and living in San Diego. Steve, formerly of Marin County, and his wife, formerly Dru Urner, formerly of Fallbrook, were living in Ocean Beach; Trish and I in Pacific Beach. Our daughter, Drucilla (born on earth day, April 22, 1980, before it was Earth Day- and, oddly enough, as I edit this, it’s again Earth Day- Happy Birthday), is actually named after Dru, a promise Trish made to Drucilla Urner, evidently in typing class back in high school.

It was 1972, and Steve and I went looking for waves. I had surfed Sunset Cliffs before, but at Luscombs, the point in the distance, and once at New Break (with Bucky Davis and Phillip Harper, walking in back in 1967- we had no problems with locals). When Steve and I arrived at the little parking area in the foreground, there were four or five surfers at the little peak. The tide was lower and the peak was closer to the foreground point. I thought these other surfers were less a problem than Steve did. “They’ll leave,” I said. “Just start catching waves.”

Now, I don’t want to sound all aggro about this, though I may have been a little more exuberant while trying to convince Stephen to go out. It was either here or Ocean Beach jetty. Surfing mostly Crystal Pier, mostly after work and on weekends, with strangers, since Trish and I got married in November 1971 had pushed me toward a sort of ghetto mentality. It wasn’t surfing Swamis beachbreak with friends. This was city surfing. No eye contact.

Yeah, still dealing with my wave lust, bad manners. I wasn’t, I insist, pushy, merely persistent, going for position when possible, always ready for waves someone missed or fell on.

Three hours or so later, with three or four different surfers sharing the lineup, with the tide filling in and the waves ending on the mossy ledge beyond the pinnacle rock, Steve and I were climbing back up the cliff. With almost all of my surfing done between/before/after school/work/other-seemingly-or-actually important-stuff, forty-five minutes to an hour an a half, with me mentally breaking it into fifteen minute ‘heats,’ this was one of the longest sessions I had surfed. I was exhausted.

Maybe it was the competition. I couldn’t get out of the water before Steve; and the waves kept coming. I have more to say on the whole waves vs. life subject, but … Oh, gotta get to some actually important stuff. If I get some work done, and the waves… you know… I’ll be ready.

Later. WAIT! Since there’s no waves in the local forecast, and not mentioning how Adam Wipeout scored, Mike could have but didn’t, and that I ran into Darrin, who scored on the coast, at Wal-Mart, and because I’m planning on going down to my Dad’s house (now my brother’s house) in Chinook, Washington, here’s a shot I stole from a forecast site.


At Great Personal Risk…

…to my ego, I’m posting a few photos from a recent session. Yeah, I know there’s kind of a thing about taking photos of places that might be recognized, and I did tell the stealth photographer I wouldn’t reveal where or who. But I did thank him, despite asking for photos where I don’t look fat.


Guess he didn’t have any of those.


Anyway, I know the waves were actually bigger later. Pretty sure. There’s nothing at all in the forecast for the Strait, so, guess I’d better concentrate on work. OR go to the coast.


Yeah; also working on actually standing up on this board. I’m blaming the oversized booties. No, I can’t explain the odd paddle positioning; more concentrated on my own positioning on the wave. Obviously shoulder high for a fat guy. Yeah, yeah…prrrrrtttt.

Several Angles/Lines on Recent Epic Swell

ONE: I was filling my friend Keith Darrock in on some of the details as I made my way back home, focusing, probably, for a moment, on how I’d almost said something to a surfer who paddled for a couple of set waves he didn’t catch. Now, although I do have a reputation for being too vocal in the water, it’s not for calling people out (more like over exuberance). I may have given the surfer in question a disparaging look that might, easily, be translated to, “you’ll have to assume, sir, that the next time we’re going for a set wave, I won’t back off.”

That didn’t happen. Fortunately. When I got to the beach I discovered the surfer in question is Arnold (sorry I don’t know his last name), one of the early pioneers of surfing on the Strait, an important member of the Olympic Peninsula Surfrider chapter (as am I), and a close friend and surfing partner of the first surfer I met up here, Daryl Wood.

Daryl Wood, left, Arnold, other Surfrider Olympic Peninsula Chapter members on assignment

“I feel like,” I told Keith, “when I get back on the beach, I should apologize to everyone else who was in the water with me.” “You probably should,” Keith said. I did apologize to Arnold for “any offensive thing I might have done,” once he peeled off his hood, once the guy who was riding with him mentioned his name. This, weirdly, coincided with Concrete Pete, freshly back in the Northwest after an extended stint in Cabo and Southern California, gave me a big hug.

Unusual. I don’t think of myself as being a hug magnet. Now, I did once give Concrete Pete credit for getting the wave of the day on a very small (normal, if normal isn’t flat) day. I wasn’t lying. I really wanted that wave. Arnold said he was only offended I hadn’t given him a hug. Really? Okay.

Image (187)

TWO: If Tim Nolan hadn’t already gotten out of the water, I would have been the fourth oldest surfer in the lineup. Tim is about four years older than I am. As long as he’s still surfing, I have years left in my career. In fact, when I first ran into Tim, over ten years ago; Tim, from Palos Verdes, originally; me from San Diego’s North County; he told me my best years were yet to come.

A legend on the Strait, Tim Nolan. Google “Tim Nolan and the Wave of the Day” for more. It’s somewhere in the archives. Still dominates.

I’ll have to say I continue to be surprised by how much I get out of surfing; how a dark and moving line at the horizon can be so… so many things, really; from thrilling to frightening.

Yeah, I know; if you’re nineteen and you see three surfers out, each over sixty, you’re thinking, ‘easy pickings.’ I thought the same thing.

Big Dave, two years ago, taking a rare break

THREE: BIG DAVE, a fifteen year old ‘Crystal Pier Rat’ when I moved to Pacific Beach, San Diego, when I was twenty; is one of my surfing heroes. He’s now fifty-nine, and the last time I surfed with him, he was in the water when I arrived. I surfed for about two and a half hours (Dave actually wears a watch in the water, a practice I gave up), got out, got some coffee, rested a a bit, then went out for “Five more.” That became fifteen or so.

Two things here: Good waves are rare; one should maximize the experience. Big Dave and I both catch a lot of waves.

So, wanting to truly maximize my time, with the waves (super unusual) refusing to stop rolling in, I hung out on the beach a while before changing into my real world (painting) clothes. I wanted to take a new photo of Dave.

Somewhere in this time, Tim Nolan returned, just as Dave went streaking across another wave. “There’s Big Dave,” Tim said, “Owning it.”  Yeah.  When I left, five hours after I arrived, Big Dave was still in the water. I should mention, I was exhausted. That’s why Dave’s moved up a few notches on my list of heroes.

AND, and we have some discussions in the water. Often I’m paddling out when he’s on a wave, and vice versa. “Grab a rail,” he’ll say, “do some side-slipping.” “Yeah, I’ll say, when I see some of those sections, I’ll just drop down (Adam Wipeout would call this ‘barrel- dodging’). Maybe I’m scared.” “Don’t be scared.” “Oh, okay.” “Stay up high; that’s how you make those sections.” “Yeah. Right.”

On my most memorable wave on a memorable day, I stayed high on the wave into a section I was sure I wouldn’t make. I could sort of see Dave down the line, paddling out. I held the high line. Thanks, Dave.


Real Surfer Stephen Davis, Surfing Somewhere…

…else. Yeah, it’s Hawaii.


I’m guessing this is Stig, Steve’s friend from Hawaii. I’ve never met him. Heard about him. I heard how he and Stephen hit some big reef action on the wild coast; in fact, somewhere in my stacked-on-top-of-each-other entries (working on organizing this), there’s a story Steve wrote (wasn’t happy with my editing/changing, so I ran his as was/is) about that incident.

He told me, on the phone the other day, about this session. Stig had come to the big island from his job on Oahu. He and Steve paddled out on a big day at _______ (I guess I forgot the place’s name), in crowded conditions. Sitting farthest out, diving down to check the reef, Stig evidently was in position for several of the largest ‘bombs.’

Steve, no doubt, said ‘bombs,’ downplaying, as always, his own surfing. “Yeah, but how did the locals treat you?” “Fine.” “Well, maybe they think you’re a… I mean, you’re living there.” “Maybe. People are nice. Even the tweakers. So mellow.” “Okay, gotta go.”

Here’s an email from Stephen on a more recent session at a different spot. There are photos, but I don’t know how, right now, to get them from a compressed file to here.

Hi Erwin.
Ya, I didn’t know what to expect when I paddled out there.
I was shocked to see how big it was.
Close to double with ledgey Hawaii drops.
Ya the vibe is —– —— (redacted by me) party wave style but only lots of guys getting barreled that actually rip.
The take off is super sketch. Gnarley slab reef deal. That’s what makes it badass. The chargers go deep and beginners shoulder hop and groms are further inside.
I was a shoulder hopper. I had some looks at empty bombs too because people couldn’t catch them and I wasn’t on it you know.
For me it’s like a big tropical —– —– (redact).
Every one is really nice out there too.

OKAY, I tried. File type is not supported. Okay, I’ll describe the scene. Light colored, obviously tropical water; overhead (as opposed to hugging the mountains) sun; lefts peeling from a rocky outcropping, into a deeper bay. Surfers are variously charging, turning, in tight; but other shots show ten shoulder-hoppers, just waiting; and one photo has someone in position, kick-stalling, as another longboarder drops in. So, yeah, maybe it is like a big-enough day at ____ ______.

Meanwhile, surf-starved northwesterners are probably all over the highways today. I’m headed the opposite direction, so, sob, sob, more waves for you. No, that’s me sobbing; but I have a plan.