Facing West on a Maximum North

“Grizzley” Adam “Wipeout’s” older son, Calvin “Boomer” James, with “The Burn,” aka “the Burner” model custom board.

As always, I would like to cover a couple of topics. I will get back to the board.

We’re a few days past the summer solstice. The sun is rising and setting on horizons almost shockingly north of where the sun was six months ago. I have observed this time lapse movement for so long it seems as if I have always oriented my life according to where the sun sets. West. That is where the ocean is; that is where the waves are. West.

West is the direction the teenage me looked, out on the lawn, imagining magical waves beyond the rounded, north to south rows of drought and fire burned hills, past the smog drifting down from the Orange County/L.A. vortex. At maximum north, the sun set over San Onofre, maximum south, Oceanside. Perhaps I more imagined than saw the bounce-back effect a brilliant sunset on the water had on the high clouds. No, it was real, reflection on a horizonal plane. Horizontal.

For the last forty-plus years, living somewhere around fifty/sixty feet above sea level on gravel and rounded rocks and clay left behind in an ancient fjord by one of any number of ice ages, my view to the west is of an almost mountain-high ridge. If I said it looks like an almost perfect thousand-foot-high peak, probably a better right than a left, well… forgive me. It is yet another wave in the north/south coastal range. Ranges, the Olympics being the highest and broadest.

In the winter, the sun sets to my left, almost to the gap that reveals two other higher, craggier ridges. Today it will hit just to my right of the highest point.

OOOPS. TECHNICAL SCREWUP! I just lost a whole lot of good writing. I tried to save it. Didn’t work. LATER.

Meanwhile, since I lost this part, let me explain the board. JOEL, almost app-millionaire, now a real estate mogul in the making, wanted a surfboard to burn as a sacrifice to any surf gods (not arguing for or against the existence of said small g gods here), with a request for something better than the flatter-than-the-usual-flatness around these parts. Adam has a lot of boards. BUT, partially considering how environmentally unfriendly burning something as toxically chemical as a foam-and-glass board, Adam,, on INTERNATIONAL SURFING DAY (all in, he claims, four hours), crafted the board (below) out of a cedar slab, glued on the fins and… AND, YEAH, it’s way too cool a board to be burning up to appease some minor leaguers (when I appeal/pray/beg/hope for rideable waves and uncrowded glassy conditions and a good parking place, in that order, I’m appealing to the big G crew- yeah, a bit bold), SOOOO, now Joel wants to ride the BURNER. So, now Adam, after discussing what to coat/cover the raw wood with, wants to change the name of the board to the simpler “BURN,” as in ‘Joel might just burn people on the board.’

Emmett (no nickname yet, at least not one I’m aware of) James

SECOND MNEANWHILE- Adam has yet to get Emmett and Calvin addicted to surfing. They’re all out on the coast this weekend, so, of course, Adam is working on it.

On the Bubble

Out of the lagoon and crawling ashore. “Yeah, I’m okay, thanks for asking.”

I’ve told the story enough times now that I kind of know where the laugh lines are. And there’s been almost enough time since my incident that I can see the humor in it myself. Almost.

No, there is something rather amusing about a surfer with an ego as large as mine is, with years of experience in the ocean getting himself in trouble in the water. There is, also, perhaps, some sort of karmic re-balancing in the story if I was able to tell it in full.

What prevents this ‘whole truth and nothing but’ is protecting the not-really-secret but kind-of-secret, and definitely fickle-by-nature, definitely rarely breaking spot where the not-quite-drowning event took place. This not-blowing-up-the-spots is sort of my attempt to get along with surfers who put in the miles and the disappointments and the skunkings to occasionally find a decent wave.

Actually, it doesn’t matter where the story happened so much as what happened. I was caught inside numerous times by relentless waves and a raging tidal current. Both legs of my wetsuit filled with water to the knees, my leash got tangled up and weighted down with kelp, I, somehow, got pushed out of the impact zone. Unable to make any real progress paddling, I thought I could just drop down and walk up to the beach. Nope, too deep. It was probably after the third drop down that some camper on the beach called 911.

Yeah, amusing. I wasn’t drowning. I wasn’t panicked. I was kind of pissed off.

More like embarrassed. More so when a surfer, Kim, in street clothes but contemplating going out, ran over just as I pushed my board up onto the beach, then crawled my big ass self up behind it. I had to struggle to get my leash detached and the water out of my wetsuit, the last of the legs clamped securely around my ankles. Kim carried my big ass board up to my car while I lumbered my way behind her. Thanks, Kim, helping out the old guy.

Old guys. Shit. There were several examples of the karmic reset in this morality tale. When I was suiting up, with several surfers in the water, a car pulled up next to mine. I didn’t see a board inside but thought the driver was a sometime surfer I had recently seen at another fickle, not-breaking-at-the-time spot. “Hey,” I said, “there’s kind of an age limit on surfing… huh?”

It wasn’t that guy. It was, in fact, a woman. Similar hair, that’s my excuse. “I just came here to watch,” she said. “Oh. Well. Um, if there’s a… bubble, age-wise, I’m probably just over it… myself.” “Uh huh.”

Still, I did wonder why she thought there might be waves and riders at this spot at this time. And then I had someone help me zip up my wetsuit, and I went out.

My fairly new wetsuit: Back zip. Last one was front zip; didn’t need help. I have added some length to the pull string on the zipper. My age: 71 in August. So, I’m not only old, I’m… well, my friend, Stephe n Davis, describes me as a Clydesdale, work horse… large. Big shoulders, short legs. My triple-x suit is tight in the top, with legs meant for someone, like, 6’4″. I’m not.

This isn’t a problem if I don’t spend much time under water. It actually has been a problem before. A few months back, different secret(ish) spot, got some great rides and some wipeouts, had the water in the legs issue, not as bad, but my new, glow-in-the-dark leash, somehow, got all tangled up around my legs. Again, there was an extreme rip along the inshore that wasn’t at all helpful. That time, pushing my board up onto the beach, Adam Wipeout was walking back from a long ride.

A minor irony here; the board I’ve been riding for a few years was purchased from Adam. On payments. On another occasion, a different spot, I had a little trouble, after surfing pretty well, getting out of the shorebreak and up the steep beach. Old guys are not always nimble. My/Adam’s board was loose, hitting rocks, while I was getting pummeled. Lesson: Don’t take the first wave of the set if you plan on getting out of the water. Adam, also out at that spot on that day, of course, did a seven-point (out of ten) dismount, ran up the beach, came over, pulled his/my board up to safety. Yes, it is paid for… now.

I have surfed again, in that wetsuit. This time I rolled the legs up about five inches. A sort of cuff. Fits tight against the booties. Uneventful. I would really rather concentrate on the surfing.

Oh, the 911 call? Yes. I was on the phone with Trish, explaining the situation, when Steve got out of the water to see if I was all right. Police turned up. Two cops. “Heard there was someone in trouble in the water.” I raised my hand. “So, you’re all right?” “Evidently.” “Oh, hey, Steve; how’s it going?”

They were through with me. It isn’t like they were going to jump in and save me.

I will get into some other karmic/positioning/priority/burning issues another time. Meanwhile, another tip: If you’re surfing over rough rocks, booties help.

Younger old guy with Stephen Davis after he rescued my paddle from the pilings- different story, different wetsuit. Can’t say I’m thinner now. Definitely older.

Surfer’s Art, Coffee, Ice Cream Available

If you’re out here on the Olympic Peninsula, might as well check out some art on display by local surfers and artists, Stephen R. Davis and Reggie Smart. Steve has three acrylic paintings at Port Townsend’s ELEVATED ICE CREAM as part of a larger show. His works will be there during the month of June. Reggie has multiple, numbered, limited-edition prints available for your perusal and purchase at the BLACK POT COFFEE SHOP just off Surf Route 101 at the River Road exit in Sequim (you know, the one you’d take for Costco, Walmart, all that stuff). The coffee shop is connected to a pot shop, if that helps.

So, you can hang out, get a sugar or non-sugar high, and check out, possibly purchase some of the work done by surfer/artists who actually rip.

Beach at Palalu (sp?) in Hawaii

I do have some of Reggie’s work… on my phone. Reggie did paint the surfboard/sign over the Black Pot Coffee Shop.

I asked Reggie to send photos to my email address since I can’t seem to move them from my phone to… here. Here’s a photo of little towhead Reggie Smart. Check him out on Instagram, search him out, find him. It isn’t, I’ve been told, not THAT difficult. I will update with actual Reggie artwork when he sends it to me.

In keeping with my ongoing difficulty in dealing with modern technology (like transferring stuff from my phone to my computer, which did work, previously), I was able to scan the illustration, below, but was unable to scan a color drawing I recently completed. Maybe if I just…

A potential illustration for potential new Original Erwin t-shirts. Not yet. Soon.
Okay, it worked. The swearing might have helped. I didn’t want to color this in before I had copies of the pen-and-ink version, but, hey, it’s a sketch and… I just couldn’t help myself.

Cutting Margo Godfrey and Cheer Critchlow from “Swamis”

Margo Godfrey, Santa Cruz, Oct 1969

In my attempt to cut and whittle and refine my manuscript, “Swamis,” into something, one, readable, and two, sellable (could have said marketable), I am eliminating this portion. Changes: Virginia (Ginny) Cole is now Julia (Julia), Erwin as a character (put in because some readers might believe Joey (aka Jody) is me, is gone. Out. I should (will) add that Trish did go to junior high in Oceanside with Barbi Barron and was a temporary member of Barbi’s unofficial Oceanside girls’ surf club before Trisha’s dad got transferred to the East Coast. I did see Barbi frequently at the Oceanside jetties and the pier when I was working at Buddy’s Sign Shop in (let’s call it) O’side. I did have a night class, public speaking, with Cheer Critchlow, Palomar Junior (now Community) College. He did, and I reminded him of this, at a high school contest at Moonlight Beach in 1968, in which he was a judge, eliminate real people Scott Sutton and Jeff Officer and me in our first (and only) heats. I never met Margo, did hear and read about her.

With those notes, the story is sort of (kind of) true (if fiction is sliced from real life).


For reference, this was a week and a day before my father’s death, four weeks before Chulo’s.  

Ginny Cole was, to my seventeen-year-old self, perfect.  There is no way my memory, in the fifty-plus years since, could have further enhanced that image, that belief.  Perfect. 

Some of the girls I had gone all through school with were great, and I could easily supply a list of those I’d had crushes on, but, yes, I’d gone all through school with most of them. There were, always, new girls; daughters of Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, temporary duty, three years and gone.  They came from or went to Twenty-nine Palms, Camp LeJeune, Barstow; occasionally one would come from Hawaii, Philadelphia, even overseas.

Fallbrook is on the east side of the triangle that is Camp Pendleton- Fallbrook, Oceanside, San Clemente. From kindergarten on there were sons and daughters of Civil Service workers, pharmacists and ranchers and irrigation contractors and teachers and real estate agents and builders. There were those whose fathers lived, during the week, in apartments in the vast smoggy sinfulness of Los Angeles.

If we were isolated, purposefully, there were always newcomers with stories of different places. Exotic, mysterious, sophisticated, up to date.

Ginny Cole was, in my mind, miles away from dusty Fallbrook. Mysterious, exotic, distant; and she surfed. Ginny would know what it means that someone surfed, and she would know the allure, more fiction, even fantasy, than reality, of surfing itself.  There’s what surfing is, and what surfing suggests, what being a surfer says about a person- the aura around the reality.  Perfect.

Ginny Cole was like the best photos from surfing magazines, like memories of my best rides. I could bring her image into my mind at will, or without willing it; images from the few times I’d been on the beach or in a parking area or in the water with her. Not with her; around her, near her. It wasn’t like she knew me; another teenage surfer, awkward out of the water, not yet skilled enough to be noticed in the water; but working on it; hoping to be a surfer who, when I took off on a wave, people would watch.  

Teenager fantasy, of course, in the same way, playing pickup football, my friends would self-narrate: “Roger Staubach drops back… and the crowd goes wild!”  There were always witnesses in my mind when I would skateboard; carving bottom turns and cutbacks, pulling up and into the curl, crouching, hands out, locked in, eighteen miles, straight, from the nearest saltwater.

Competing.  Improving.

It was more than that Ginny was a girl in the lineup. She could surf, ride a wave with graceful, dancer-like moves, always close to the power. She would always be noticed.

I cannot honestly swear that it wasn’t that I wanted a surfer girl girlfriend the way a girl might want a football quarterback, a lead guitarist in a garage band; the way a guy might want a cheerleader or that girl who’s always just so nice. And so pretty.

Ginny wasn’t phony nice or made up pretty. She was just-out-of-the-water pretty; she was real; she was perfect. I saw it. I assumed everyone did. 

If I did see Ginny as perfect, I did think winning her over would be difficult, challenging. There would be other suitors. I knew I was ridiculous, naïve; definitely, but I was competitive. I didn’t know her, couldn’t see more than my romanticized image of her. I did hope that if she shared that obsession with and addiction to surfing, she might understand me.

Still, also, and always, I knew I was ridiculous.


Virginia Cole wasn’t the only girl surfer in the North County; there were a few others: Barbie Barron, Margo Godfrey. I frequently saw Barbie in the water and in the parking lot at Oceanside’s shorter jetty, or over by the pier.  Southside.

I once saw Margo with Cheer Critchlow at Swamis on a still-winter afternoon; uncrowded, big and blownout. Pretty scary. Yet they were just casually walking out, chatting, wading out on the fingers of rock, pushing through to the outside peak. Scott and Jeff and Erwin and I, our portable crowd; four inland cowboys, shoulder-hopped, choosing only the smaller waves on the inside, watching any time either Cheer or Margo would take off.

Coolness, casualness, some sort of self-confidence, some sense of comfort in one’s own skin.  Things I lacked, things I appreciated, qualities I believed Virginia Cole had. Yes, I do realize how this makes me sound; exactly like a seventeen-year-old on the cusp, the very cusp of… everything.

MORE NOTES: I am also tightening the timeline for the story. I have to. One thing all the over-writing has given me, besides so many back-stories for characters I have to eliminate or cut back on, is the knowledge that there is at least one main and worthwhile story in “Swamis.” I will keep cutting back and hacking and going down the line until… yeah, until.

ALSO: I have changed some other names, partially because I have written words the real people didn’t say, put them in situations that are totally and completely fictional. My best surfing friends Ray and Phillip- sorry, you’re now Gary and Roger (names from childhood neighbors), Wally Blodgett, who drove kids around for dawn patrol, is now Petey (kept the Blodgett part). Sid (whose name I borrowed from a real surfer who was in a Surfboards Hawaii ad in mid-sixties, can’t remember his last name) is, so far, still Sid. I will let you know who else changed as the manuscript changes.

ALSO: Pretty shitty spring for waves on the Strait AND pretty shitty weather for painting houses. YES, it would seem that would give me more time for writing and drawing. So, maybe it’s not THAT shitty.

Good luck to all the real people and real surfers. Remember, this stuff is copywrite protected.

Rather Quickly Forgetting Massacres…

…as we tend to do, turning the channel to avoid any unpleasantness from Ukraine or Uvalde, we look for, yes, pleasantness, peace, quiet beauty. The previous piece, available with a simple scroll-down, was a lightened-up alternative to a harsher, much harsher one. Yes, it is in my files. Ready.

But now, here is the latest work from my friend, Stephen R. Davis.

Northwest Fantasy Point Break, somewhere between Oz and Neverland

There is a certain distance from Steve’s paintings at which abstraction becomes rendering.

Inside, outside

I am considering the places in our minds in which we look at the crazy, fucked up world at the proper distance. Considering. I’ll get back to you on that. Meanwhile… peace.