SWAMIS- In Progress

SWAMIS

nixon

On June 8, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon said 25,000 troops would be out of Vietnam by August.

SECOND WEEK OF JUNE, 1969

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

Two surfers were walking from halfway up the point, along the water’s edge. I wasn’t focused on them; they were shapes, so familiar; surfer and board, nose-up or nose-down, more-or-less crosses in the grainy light, the shadows of the bluff. One was walking faster, trying to catch up. “June,” I heard, or thought I heard; then, more like a question, “Junipero?” Then, closer to the guy in front of him; “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, reaching; 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 down to trade crowded beach breaks for a chance at Swamis point break 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.

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. Ten seconds.

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 do still 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; but, and I’ve tried, I can’t remember Sid’s last name.

But I remember Jumper.

In another moment, with me even with them, trying to be cool, to not look, both surfers were sitting on Jumper’s board. Peripheral vision. No, I probably did turn my head. Never was cool.

Jumper’s hair was shorter than mine, but, even with the patchy start of a beard; he was recognizable, the same guy from, probably, four years earlier, back when I was just switching from surf mats to boards; back when he caught any wave he wanted any time he showed up.  The Army or prison; stories about his disappearance varied; rumors among high school friends who quoted various upper classmen, scattered pieces from other people’s beachfire conversations.

“I heard he moved to Hawaii,” or, “No, Buttwipe; Australia. Or New Zealand.” Or, “Chicago.” “No fucking way.”  “San Francisco, then.” “Nooooo.”

Then someone would go into a Jumper surf impression, with play-by-play commentary, on any nearby surfboard; Right arm back, elbow cocked, hand like a conductor’s, flowing with the up-and-down movements on the imagined wave; subtle, the left arm lower, hand out flat; punctuated with, rather than the classic cross step to the nose, the quick shuffle, the jump; then a crouch and a shift to a more parallel stance, right hand in the wave, left hand grabbing the outside rail. Twist, weight forward; the fin would pop out of the sand.

“Island pullout.”

Someone else would repeat the performance, only, left foot on the tip in a solid five, upper torso shifting to face the wave, arms spreading wide; he would pull the skeg, make the rotation, yell, “Standing island pullout”, and shuffle back on the board, casually drop to his knees, ready to paddle out.

Yes, I participated in this. Yes, I tried to develop that “Jumper” conductor-dancer flow on my skateboard, pivoting, slaloming down my block, on inland hills, miles from the ocean. I had a long enough board, eventually, to go with the cross step; more like Phil Edwards, Micky Dora.

Style.

Jumper was probably my second surf hero. Maybe third. Heroes dominated lineups, kooks and kids gave way, gave waves, watched them.  Now Jumper was, quite possibly, crying, one hand on Sid’s shoulder, one of Sid’s on his. It was Sid who looked around at me with a ‘fuck off’ look.

Peripheral. No, I’d looked back.

I looked away, kept walking.  Still only a short distance 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, Sid and Jumper 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 the down-stair surfers split up and go around.  Jumper moved behind Sid’s block.

A set approached. Surfers, who had been straddling their boards in the lull, dropped to prone, 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 on it 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, drop, 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 opened to the sea. A little standing island pullout into the swampy grass. Swamis.

 

THIRD WEEK OF JUNE, 1969

1948-Noahs-Ark-Cafe

If the Noah’s Ark trailer park wasn’t still there, there on the north end of Leucadia, yet another trailer park squatted up against yet another bluff along 101, protected from the south winds; if it wasn’t still there in 1969; it had been there on those trips with my family, down the coastal route to San Diego.

I understand there’s a jetty there now; Ponto.

I also can’t clearly remember if the fields north of Grandview, the original Grandview, the fields along those bluffs were fields of tomatoes or strawberries. I know there were no houses. There were the Leucadia greenhouses. Flowers. It was what Leucadia was known for. Poinsettias.

Maybe not these particular greenhouses.

Turning off 101, I drove past several. One, and this had been pointed out to me by several of my high school surfing buddies, belonged to the family of Jumper Hayes. On this morning, still dark, what the forecasters called ‘early morning and evening overcast,’ or ‘June gloom’ hanging on, almost misty; I saw Jumper’s old pickup, almost-flat paint a weird shade of green in the light of the yard lamp, parked outside one of the greenhouses. Only the tail, fin over the tailgate, showed this farm rig was a surfer’s vehicle.

I gave myself a bit of a self-congratulatory nod, a quick smack on the shifter, three-on-the-tree; double-clutched down to second, gunned it.

It had become my workday predawn move, up and down Neptune, checking out Grandview, Beacons, Stone Steps; possibly surfing whichever one had a more consistent peak. Or a peak at all.  If it was bigger, big enough, I would push the fourth-hand Chevy four door farther, along the bluff, the increasingly-fancy houses blocking any view of the water, past Moonlight, down and around the Self Realization compound, to Swamis.

Or, depending on my hours; if it was still light when I got off work, I would turn onto 101 at Cardiff reef, pass the state park, try to get a glimpse of Swamis over the guardrail. If it was breaking big enough, you could see it. I would hit the parking lot and get out. Even if it was dark, I’d check the view from Boneyards, past what my high school friends and I called Swamis Beachbreak, onto and beyond Pipes.

And then back. And repeat. Maybe there’d be some last-lighters, still hanging in the parking lot; their stories of new and past glories punctuated with a hoot or a laugh; headlights and streetlights in a descending darkness and a dim glow from the horizon.

Swamis was where I wanted to surf. June gloom or bright offshore glare; breaking or not. What I felt, and was totally aware of feeling, was that my choice of route and destination was mine, mine alone; that I was pretty fuckin’ close to being free.

Within reason, of course.

NOTE: For a short period of time, but right about this time; well past ‘groovy,’ way past anyone remotely cool (or young) calling anyone a ‘Hippie,’ I made the adjustment, from ‘fuckin’, dropping the ‘ing,’ to Fuck-ing, emphasis on the ‘ing.’ This was after running into a guy, Gordie, from my high school at a liquor store in Vista. He now, suddenly, sporting long hair (longer- Fallbrook had a dress code and we’d just graduated), parted in the middle (of course), and clothing that denied his quite-upper class upbringing. “We just don’t fuck-ing see each other, man; like, like we used to.” And he was, obviously, stoned, an even more-stoned girl, possibly still in high school, headband, boutique-chic top, nodding, eyes unable to focus, next to him. Gordie put a hand on my shoulder. I looked at his hand, put my package of Hostess donettes and quart of milk on the counter, pointed to a pack of Marlboros, turned back to Gordie. He sort of gave me a look when I scooped up the cigarettes. “I know man, Gordie; you probably don’t fuck-ing smoke… cigarettes.” He and the girl both giggled. So uncool. “Peace, man.”

Yeah, flipping the peace sign was probably pretty much over, also.

My relative freedom isn’t, perhaps, relevant to the story. Maybe it is; these were times when ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ and ‘revolution’ were frequently used in the same sentence. For someone just out of high school, working various shifts at a supermarket with a view of the ocean; joy and loneliness and a sense of being part of some magical mystery could all be felt in a very short span of time; and repeated, randomly. Mysteries.

Why, I had been asking myself, did Sid call Jumper ‘June,’ with a hard J; not a H sound. If his real name was Jesus; well, anyone would instantly know it’s not Jesus, like Jesus Christ, but Hey-Seuss, like Hey, Doctor Seuss, dropping the ‘doctor.’

Mysteries ask to be solved. Beg, perhaps. Rumors. Surfing, waves, surfing waves was a mystery. Board surfing was more than just drop and hang on. Tamarack was obvious; one peak in front of the bathrooms on the bluff, a bit of a channel; a parking lot at beach level. Good place to learn; sit on the shoulder; wait, watch, study; move toward the peak; a bit closer with each session. Get yelled at; get threatened; learn.

Eventually, you would have to challenge someone for a wave.

But there were always rumors of better waves, great waves, magical and secret spots, places uncool  freshmen kooks weren’t supposed to know about, weren’t supposed to show up at.

Grandview was fairly easy to find. There was a Grandview Street off 101 in Leucadia. Still, when I showed up there with my friends, now sophomores, we got looks. Punks, Kooks; not ready for Grandview.  The hardest looks were from other San Marcos, Vista, Fallbrook, Escondido surfers; other inland cowboys.

ANOTHER NOTE (SORRY): Inlandness was in direct proportion to distance from the coast. Where I lived we called Escondido Mexican-dido. That was, of course, insensitive; maybe; but I understand Meth-condido has replaced it.

As with, probably, anywhere, in order to fit in, you had to persist. I did. As my contemporaries and I searched out new locations; San Onofre, occasionally Oceanside; as some dropped surfing, traded it for parties fueled with liquor purchased by Marines, marijuana bought from friends of friends, I had become another surf addict; and Grandview was still on my route.

By the end of my senior year, I had become accustomed to going surfing alone.

And now, here I was, almost a local, slipping and sliding down the more-sand-than-sandstone between houses, original Grandview, the real Grandview; and ahead of the ultimate local, back after four years or so, Jumper Hayes.

Just ahead.

Peace and freedom and revolution.

MAY OF 1969-

I have to drop back for a moment. The story hinges on this. Chulo Lopez had been killed, murdered. His real name wasn’t Chulo; nickname; I can’t remember his real first name. It was in the paper, even on the San Diego TV news.  “Horrific” the reporter said.  “The Sheriff’s Office said he was probably dead… probably… when his body was ‘posed’ against the thick white walls of the Self Realization Fellowship compound, doused with gasoline, and set ablaze. Set ablaze.”

The reporter stepped aside. The blackened areas on the white white walls formed a sort of outline, similar to that around a candle. The TV camera followed the burn marks up to the gold bulbs atop the wall. There was a sort of symmetry, a repetition.  “Set ablaze.”

The walls were back to white when I next went to Swamis, against my parents’ warnings, two days later. It was a Saturday. Weekend. A predicted swell hadn’t materialized, a south wind was blowing. Maybe it would clean up, even get bigger. So, wait. Surfers I knew well enough to give or return a half-nod, four of five guys, one girl, were sitting on the guard rail; a small carton of orange juice or chocolate milk in their hands; maybe a cold piece of pizza; one or another of them glancing back toward the compound.

I lit up a cigarette, noticed none of them were smoking, squeezed the cherry out, pulled the donette package out of my windbreaker pocket. Frosted, never chocolate.

It seems wrong to me, now, it’s obviously wrong; but, somehow, when I was a teenager, it seemed all the surfers were somewhere around my age. Some younger kooks, some older surfers. Not many; or maybe I just didn’t focus on them; maybe the ones who were well known; names spread through a parking lot or lineup: L.J. Richards, Mike Doyle, Rusty Miller; surfers you would definitely keep track of; just to see if they were all that good. Better. Were they better?

How much better?

But these were days of evolution in surfing; shorter boards, more radical moves, backyard soul shapers, V bottoms and downrail speed machines; and the new heroes were younger; more like my age; s-turns and tube stalls and 180 cutbacks.

“Chulo,” someone said. In my memory there was a sort of muffled chorus, “Chulo,” from the surfers on the guardrail. “They’re saying it’s some sort of cult thing. Maybe it’s related to… you know, those monks burning themselves up over in Vietnam.”

May of 1966, in protest of corrupt Vietnamese Regime…

It was an older man, Wally; who threw pots for a living; sold them wholesale up in L.A. He had walked from the direction of the outhouse (still there at that time) and the stairs (probably two other systems since then), stood between the bluff and the guardrail surfers. There were a couple of us in the parking lot. Second tier.

“Jesus freaks,” someone said, actually more like a question…

 

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