Swamis- A Novel- Introduction



Almost leaping from stair to stair, I was looking at the water, the fuzzy horizon, the lines; counting, recounting the surfers already in the water; trying to beat any other surfers who missed the true dawn patrol. It was breaking, tide dropping, swell, hopefully, increasing. It would get crowded.

Two surfers were walking toward me, toward the stairs. I wasn’t focused on them; shapes, so familiar; surfer and board, nose-up, nose-down, more-or-less crosses in the shadows of the bluff. One was walking faster, trying to catch up. “Jim,” I heard, then, more like a question, “Jim?” Then, closer to the guy in front; “Jumper.”

“Jumper,” I thought. Jumper. Now I almost focused.

Almost. It was a moment, still just a moment, between a surfer reaching for, and touching the other man’s shoulder- it was Sid, instantly recognizable, wiry and thin and bow-legged. Sid, a locally-known surfer; Surfboards Hawaii team rider; known to thrash his boards; known to take on crazy waves, to burn valley cowboys and out-of-town surfers, even Orange County magazine surf stars who cruised down 101 to trade crowd for a chance at Swamis magic- Sid, featured in a small, grainy, black and white ad in “Surfer” magazine- I must have blinked; Sid was flat-out, on his back, parallel to that line where the sand turned hard with the receding tide. His board was floating in the shallows, Jumper’s board pressed, nose-first, to his neck; Jumper’s foot on his chest.

Jumper. Fucking Jumper. He was back in town, back at Swamis, apparently out in the dark, out of the water just past dawn.

I wished I had seen him surfing, he and Sid. Now they were almost motionless, a pose, frozen. An image.

If we could just ‘backspace’ time ten seconds, not all the time, but for those moments we witnessed but couldn’t immediately process. Maybe ‘replay’ is more accurate.

Fifty years gone, I’m trying to replay moments, bits and fragments and images and strings; strings of time; so many strings; some tangled, some free.

Oh, I broke free of the North County scene years ago; lost my contacts, forgot names, confused and overlapped stories from Grandview and Pipes and Cardiff Reef. I remember specific rides among thousands; remember, almost precisely, the times I was injured; held down, hit the bottom, was hit by someone else’s board, remember specific waves; but, and I’ve tried, I can’t remember Sid’s last name.

But I remember Jumper.

In another moment, with me trying to be cool, to not look, both surfers were sitting on Jumper’s board. I think Jumper, his hair now long, longer, a beard; still recognizable, though; and probably my second surf hero from when I started surfing; was quite possibly crying, his hand now on Sid’s shoulder.

I looked away. I did what every surfer does, and always has; studied the ocean for a moment before committing; disciple before the alter.

When I looked back, from out in the water, from my lineup, the inside lineup, they were half way up the stairs. Sid was one step ahead, one above. When two guys came down, Sid, probably because he didn’t know them, or because he did, made them split up and go around.  Jumper moved behind Sid.

A set approached. Surfers who were straddling their boards proned-out, started paddling. At this tide, some of the waves from the outside peak were still connecting all the way through. The first one didn’t; the surfer lost behind a section. Two surfers went for the shoulder as I stroked past. The second wave swung wide, peaked-up on the inside. I had it to myself; another takeoff, turn, cutback, back and forth to the inside inside, fitting my board into and through that last little power pocket, peeling over the palm of the finger slabs that spread out to sea. Swamis.

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