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.

 

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If the Session Report is, “It was really pretty…”

…it, most likely, means the waves weren’t happening. It was very pretty yesterday.

I’ve long decided to include the trip there and back into any session report; and, in the Pacific Northwest, with the snow level moving up and down with the same systems that bring swell to some spots and not to others; well, the view of the Olympics, even from the Safeway gas station in Port Angeles, is ultra pretty.

We all try to be scientific, using all the information available, plus past experience (ie; at this angle, this tide, this size, this spot was working); but we always have to factor in the skunk factor (on a similar tide and swell angle, the same spot was not working), and the “Random Theory,” that being that sometimes, even when the factors all seem slightly off, random acts of surf magic can happen.

EDIT- And sometimes everyone gets skunked.

Throw in wishing and hoping and praying, and that it’s a weekend between a constant barrage of wet frontal systems, and you get way too many desperate surfers combing the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Image (35)

My original plan was to either hit West Riverdale at dawn, before the tide got too high, with the Wrench as a backup. Or, I could go to The Outfall a bit later, when the tide got high enough.  I had things to do in Sequim, and, really, I planned on going to work on a painting project later. The problem, pre-dawn, was, the angle just wasn’t there. Oh, the swell, which had been stubbornly southwesterly, was supposed to go more northerly during the day, coinciding with a drop in swell size.

So, I made what I thought was the best decision. Nope. Lots of people at West Riverdale, all on the beach, cars piled high with boards; one guy, Tim Nolan, in the water, and the tide already too high. BUT PRETTY. Vehicles were coming, heading out farther; the coast always an option for those with enough time. Some surfers were, evidently, deciding to wait out the tide. I went out anyway. Tim paddled past me, pointed to the horizon, said something about where the swell was actually going, and got out of the water. I snagged a few shorewashers and surrendered to reality, wetsuit-driving away.

Over at the Wrench, the parking lot was packed with multi-board vehicles and warriors suiting up or suiting down. I squeezed into the back row, asked the guy in the rig next to mine if he could get out. “Hi, Erwin,” he said. It turns out it was Darrin, who provided me a ride on his board when mine was caught in the rip on a big day in December. I was also caught in the rip, my daughter on the beach, on the phone to her mother.

“Thanks, Darrin,” I said, shaking his hand a second time. I had been unable to really thank him properly when I got back out (after Keith Darrock rescued my board, and because one must go back out after a thrashing); and all this gratitude didn’t stop me from (accidentally, I swear) taking off in front of him on my first ride at the Wrench.

Thinking I was doing allright among those surfing, many of them beginners, kneeboarding weak little waves into the creek; one of several guys on standup paddleboards, evidently trying to be civil, asked me if I was new to riding an SUP. “First time, today,” I answered; not like he was so good. “Oh, you’re doing great, then,” he said, “you really seem to have the physics down.” “Thanks.” This was kind of depressing, and the waves were dying anyway.

Deciding I’d switch to only riding erect, I took off on a solid eighteen incher when another SUP hero took off in front of me. When he saw me, he bailed. “No problem,” he said, as if it was my fault, after my board went under his. “I didn’t know you were going to go straight,” I said. Next weak wave, I paddled, standing up, all the way to the parking lot. High tide. Two sessions. I was done.

More surfers, some quite excited, some not even checking the waves, going by the ‘if surfers are out, it must be good,’ were headed for the wild surf as I got dressed and headed toward Costco, then home.

I got a call from Keith while waiting for my order at the Jack in the Box. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk about great waves ‘after’ you get out of the water. I’d made the wrong decision. “You would have loved them.” Yeah. If I hadn’t had stuff that needed refrigeration, if I hadn’t just ordered a milkshake for Trish, if I didn’t know for a fact (or pretty sure near-fact) that the waves Keith and a few others (others in on this super fickle secret spot) had gorged on would be gone before I could get there…

I left my board on the car, just in case. I’ve checked the buoys since 5:30. Nope; might as well go work on the project I didn’t get to yesterday (I did do the drawing, above). Still, hoping and wishing, I’ll leave it on the car, just in case. Okay, it’s 7:13; I’ll post this and check the buoys.

Oh, and Tim Nolan did get in on the waves that had missed West (and East) Riverdale.

The First Book Of Nick

It was one of those days when the waves didn’t match the buoy readings. The direction and size recorded have produced decent waves in the past, but not this morning. At least not yet. Stephen Davis had called my cell phone (not allowed to bring it into bedroom after this) at 3:30 or so in the morning, said he was already at Fat Smitty’s, didn’t think he could wait for me.

And he didn’t. By the time I got to the pullout, most of the front row view spots were taken, and Stephen’s van was backed up to the bluff, he nowhere in sight. Other surfers, none suited-up, were drinking coffee, making breakfast on little camp stoves, or merely staring through foggy windshields. It was a lovely morning on the Strait of Juan de Fuca; clear, calm, the sun peaking over the little headland to the east; just typically weak semi-high tide waves, and (only) one guy out, he on a SUP.

Tom, up from Olympia, called me over to where he was standing with Jeffry, the longshoreman, with a, “Hey, you think it’s gonna work?” I hoped so, and had to comment on the number of surfers ready to get amped-up and hitting-it should even one decent set show up. “Evidently we all read the same forecasts, huh?”

About this time the SUPer caught a wave only a SUPer could catch, rode it to where it fizzled in the hole just offshore. Lacking any sense of proper restraint, I hooted and yelled, “Go! Go! Owwwww!” A bit surprisingly, several other surfers down the way joined in. The hooting, not the surfing. Tom and Jeff didn’t walk away; also surprising. They would go elsewhere, maybe back toward Port Angeles, while other surf rigs, doing the pull-off and drive-by check-out, and going by the surf truism of “It can’t be good; there’s only one guy out,” kept going west, to the coast if necessary (I assume).

I was the second surfer in the water. The first guy out said he hadn’t been surfing all that long, and possibly didn’t know all the rules. “Fine.” After he attempted to take off in front of me or did take off several times, I told him that I actually catch almost all of the waves I go for. “Oh, okay.”

A bit later, during a lull, I asked him what he likes about surfing. He had obviously starting as an adult (somewhere in his forties, I’d guess). “Well,” he said, when I’m on a wave, I feel like God.”

“Um; okay.”

Perhaps I should mention now that, though I didn’t recall meeting or seeing him before, he seemed to know who I am, and said something about my writing. Something positive. All right; so, here’s someone I can’t, like, hate (not that I’m into hating). And, we were the only two guys out, so, no problems.

Several wave exchanges later, I had to paddle over and ask, “So; when you say you feel like… did you mean ‘A’ god, or, like, um, uh, “The” God?”

“Well, Erwin (he may not have used my first name, but let’s say he did); if I’d said ‘A’ god, it would have an entirely different meaning; now, wouldn’t it?”

It would. “Okay then.”

A while later, as the tide dropped a bit and the waves came up a bit, an attractive blonde woman paddled out on a longboard. “Did you come out because you saw how I was ripping it up?” I asked. She said, with an Australian accent, “It (that being my ripping) was a bit impressive, actually.” She proceeded to catch a few waves, surfing well.

Then another guy came out. I’ll save some intrigue here; the guy was her boyfriend, and, I think, co-worker, and, while she had surfed most of her life, he was in his later forties and had been surfing for about a year (kind of the ‘power couple’ re-configured). “Are you out because it looks like we’re having so much fun?” I asked.

“I didn’t drive three hours to not have fun,” the guy said. Oh, her name is Emilie (or Emily), and his is… later heard, but didn’t retain his name; but, a few waves later, he asked, while eyeing, and then paddling for a wave I was also going for, “How do you feel about drop-ins?” “Not fond of them,” I said, riding behind him until, going too slow, the wave broke on him and I had to pull through.

Several waves later, with the waves continuing to improve, but only slightly, other surfers joined the party. Stephen woke up and paddled out.  I went for a (probably more like ‘another’) set wave, but The Boyfriend was paddling, head down and oblivious to me, for the same wave. It was either bail or run over Hugh (I was calling him Hugh; not sure why. I only learned his girlfriend was named Emily because I asked her if I could call her Sally. “No, not fond of Sally”).

Naturally, I bailed. But, there was a wave really close behind it. I took off, but, down the line, god (I refuse to use the capitalized version out of respect for and fear of, you know, the real God) took off. I rode behind him all the way to the shorebreak, then paddling back out, mentioned how, when I was learning to surf, as a thirteen year old, if I’d done that, I’d have heard about it.

I should say, when I did take off in front of people, I did hear about it.

“No, no,” he argued, “you went for the first wave and didn’t catch it. You lost priority.”

Maybe you can sort this out in your own mind or with others. There is more to this story, with a connection to “The Paddle Incident,” all coming up, with photos, in “The Second Book of Nick.” Soon. Coming soon. The Second. Coming.

Clinton Burks on Point Grenville, Me on Jeff Parrish and Tom Decker, and a new Illustration

I received this comment in response to one of the most popular, over time, posts, “Tom Decker and Jeff Parrish.” Noticing the consistent number of hits the piece seems to get, I thought either Tom Decker, well known to pretty much anyone who surfs at Westport over the last twenty-five years, is a name people google, then find my article; or Jeff sends friends to check out what I wrote about him. I’ve had a sort of suspicion that, always just trying the real story, I may have written something that would or should offend Jeff. Since Jeff’s wife, Ruth, has started surfing, and, actually, before that, he seems to have other people he prefers to surf with (and, yes, I am somewhat hurt by this, but no longer whine about it when I see Jeff’s father-in-law, Jim Hodgson, at the post office.). Because I got this comment, I checked.

Yeah, maybe Jeff had a tough outing, called-out by Mr. Decker; but he’s not alone in that. I do drop the name (Tom Decker, though I always ask people from Seattle if they know Jeff. “Which Jeff?” They all know at least one) with folks from Westport, or those who say they surf there a lot, when I see them looking for waves on the Strait. Maybe Tom has mellowed; other names are mentioned as enforcers at the Groins and the Jetty.

So, here’s the contribution:

Clinton Burks (@soloncircus)

Erwin,

If it’s of any value to the surfing community, I’d like to recite some first-hand oral history about Pt. Grenville.

I surfed there from 1967 to -69, when I was in high school. We just showed up with surfboards and camped for the weekend, without any fuss from “authorities.”

Then, in 1969, we showed up as usual, and a truck pulled up and a well-spoken, close-shaved Indian came over to us in an very authoritarian manner, and spoke to us ominously, “Where are you boys from?”

“Bremerton,” we said.

Then he looked at the rock cliffs covered in grafitti, and most of it was the names of various high schools painted in great big letters in a wide variety of colors.

He paused and said, “If I looked up at these rocks and saw ‘West Bremerton,’ or ‘East Bremerton’ written here, I’d arrest you and put you in jail. But as it is, you can just leave.”

So we got kicked out, and never went back. Good thing us Bremerton guys specialize more in thievery and violence, and “school spirit” was for “soces.” Besides, our writing skills were sketchy, anyway.

In 1970 I heard that some friends tried to go there, and the Quinaults confiscated their boards and they had to pay fines. I left the state in 1970, and have not heard anything about it since, except for your piece on this web page.

BTW, concerning Washington surfing at the time, I had the feeling that Pt. Grenville was the only place, because the waves were dependable. I wasn’t part of any big surfing “scene,” because there were so few of us, so I don’t know if there were many guys scouting all the coastline in the state, looking for a good break. In those days, I’d never heard of surfing at Westport. (What’s more, I lived the 1970s in San Francisco, and never heard of Mavericks, though no one else seemed to know about it, either.) People in Bremerton were always going there for more fishing. When we got out of high school, it seemed like everyone went to Hawaii, got jobs, and stayed for awhile.

Aside: We didn’t use wet suits. When I was aged 6 to 9, I spent the summers living in a tent and a beach cabin at La Push, because my father was a commercial fisherman out of there & Neah Bay. My mom told me, “Just wait till you get numb, and you can play in the surf all day.” She was right. Last time I did it was 2010.

Clint Burks

So, I really don’t know anything about Mr. Burks except that he must be about my age, possibly another member of the class of 1969. And I have heard a few stories about Point Grenville in the mid 1960s, some which might explain why the beach was closed. Still, the image of some waves peeling off that point…

Here’s my latest illustration:

realsurfersUPcolor 001

Drop in on the Mild-Mannered(?) Librarian, and What do you Get?

I heard about the photo before I saw it. “It has to be Keith,” Adam “Wipeout” James told me. Then we all met in the water, Adam mentioned it to Keith. “Could be,” Keith said. Then he sent the photo to Keith and me under the heading, “Either of you recognize this hooded surfer?” Then…
7/21/15
To: Adam James
I don’t immediately recognize the surfer in question, but the photo is my new screensaver.
Who sent this shot? It’s so clear, so up close and personal.
It’s like, um, Exhibit #1, misdemeanor drop in, with felony attempted assault with a deadly SUP.
And what about the paddle?
I think it’s self defense as the defendant claimed.
The photo really needs to go on realsurfers.net.
Erwin
 7/21/15
To: Adam James, Erwin and or Trisha Dence
 ?That’s classic! Yes, that’s me getting dropped in on by a large, helmet wearing, SUP rider. I totally remember that wave/day well. It was last winter around Christmas when Erwin, Steve and I rode out together – getting a speeding and non-seat-belt wearing ticket in route. I think you came later, Adam. The waves were solid but it got really crowded fast. I had been on that wave since the top of the point when she blatantly dropped in on me without looking about half way down. The shove was purely out of safety.
You can post the photo, Erwin.
Keith

Adam James
7/21/15
To: Keith DarrockCc: Erwin and or Trisha Dence
No idea who the photographer is. I just saved a screen shot from his instagram feed. I was sleuthing surf shots last  Saturday morning while the kids were snoozing, having coffee and thinking about all the surf I was missing and I just happened across it.   AJ
Actually, I have seen the woman in question out on the Strait several times. The first time I desperately wanted to tell her, “Your Mom’s not here; you don’t have to wear the helmet.” The second time was probably on this day. I was pretty busy having lost my board after my leash got ripped loose, first thing in the morning. Swimming with a paddle isn’t all that much fun, with the high tide causing a big beach swirl. My board, which had been caught in the rip, was rescued by Big Dave (thanks, BD). I was not quite my confident self for a while after that, knee-boarding on a few waves I would have (really) stood up on; and then it got crowded.
Still, Dave and Stephen and I were getting waves, though Brett, electrician from Port Townsend, got vocal with a longboarder with a shamrock on his board who was going for the best of the set waves, and actually (I witnessed this) pushed Brett’s board back as the guy on the smaller board tried to take off. AND, Adam just reminded me, a kayaker with a sparkly rig (not common at this spot) and Mr. Wipeout had a bit of an altercation. “Oh; yeah; I’d forgotten that.”
And, of course, there were other surfers clogging the inside, resulting in several other near-misses. And, of course, there was the speeding ticket for me (I went to court and got it reduced) and the no-seatbelt ticket for Keith (he paid it, his wife, Marley, temporarily banned him from riding with me- yes, I should have had the back seat belts out); AND half the surfers on the beach witnessed the pull-over. “Man, when I went by you were spread eagle on the side of the car.” No, I was trying to fish out the belts.
It seemed everyone was at that spot that day. Later, Jeff Parrish, who no longer prowls the Strait with me, sent me a video entitled “Kneeboard Magic,” featuring me, three bottom turns, three speed sections, and a clean pullout. You’ll have to take my word for it.
AND, the last time I saw the helmet-wearing SUP rider, her surfing had improved, and, since she hadn’t (though others had) dropped in on me, after I got dressed and loaded-up, I walked over to give her a couple of words of encouragement. Really.

Screenshot_2015-07-20-22-36-46-1

S HEART (READ IT AS A ‘U’) P MAN- THE COMIC- , ISSUE ONE, PAGE ONE

realsurfersSUPman 001SUPmanPageOneColor 001

SUPmanPageOneColor 001

I found out how to put images on the site in different sizes. The medium size probably looks better, and the large size does enable the viewer to pick out mistakes more easily. I am trying to adhere to what I perceive as current comic formatting, but, as always, I just can’t help going somewhere just beyond those lines. There’ll be more; I’m thinking, thinking, um, uh, what?

Oh, here’s the black and white version; just because I saved it.

SUPmanPageOne 001

So, if you’re keeping score: SUPman’s nose got too much in the top image, the tutor is not attractive enough, and she just came out as a smudge in the ‘paddling/mine’ image. And, um, and I’m going to stop looking. NEXT TIME…