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.
“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.