Over 40 Years (and Counting) On the Strait with Tom Burns

The usual thing to expect when the unusual thing (an actual swell) happens (so rare, so very rare) is that any waves you luck into on the Strait of Juan de Fuca won’t last long; hence the expression, “If you see waves, surf them.” However, sometimes you’re there just a little early, a bit ahead of the briefly-opening window. Maybe you’ll notice I’m being all non-inviting here; just don’t want you to waste your valuable time when Westport is always breaking.

So, a few months ago, on a day I wrote about in “The First Book of Nick,” the waves actually got better. I stayed where I was, but a lot of surfers headed farther west or went back towards Port Angeles. So, while I was headed for some painting job, Stephen Davis and Jeffrey Vaughan (not together) hit up a secret (that is, I’m not revealing it) fast and gravelly right, while Tom Burns hit a classic, just off the rocks left that, it will soon be obvious, hasn’t changed too much in forty years.

Tom sent me a couple of long emails of early surfing experiences all over Washington’s coast and the Strait, with these photos:

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And, from forty years earlier, to the day, same guy, two more at the same spot.

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Maybe you’ll notice, even recognize, the rocks in the foreground. Hard to imagine any kind of long ride this close to the beach.

Uh huh; keep imagining. I’ll have more from Tom, but, after he sent me all kinds of info on exploring and sometimes finding great waves, with retro photos and names of early northwest path(and wave)finders, he ended with some comment/threat on how he just knows I won’t get all too revealing.

In a side note on the “Don’t get all excited and think the Strait is often great” category- while I was hanging out as a volunteer with all the judges, huddled under a tarp against the south wind, at the Surfrider Foundation’s Westport Cleanwater Surfing Contest a couple of years ago, Tom, one of the judges I was spotting for, revealed he’s kept a log of all his surf ventures, and discovered he’s been skunked on the Strait more often (way more often) than he’s scored.

So, continue to be tantalized. I still am. Thanks, Tom.

BLOG-LIKE UPDATE- Stephen Davis and I made an afternoon speed run (not, like, speeding, Officer, but like curtailing other daytime activities and heading wnw, hoping/gambling the swell that hadn’t shown up yet would). We found some rideable lefts, surfed there alone for almost two hours, with the swell actually building, before two other rigs materialized in the partially-visible parking area. Interesting how the dynamic shifts, and competitive personalities clash. No, no, I think I won the exchange with the guy wearing the blue prescription glasses/goggles, who said the thing that led him to believe there might be waves was, “The buoys.” Sure, but if had a little faith… we could’ve hassled for set waves earlier.

Duke Kahanamoku’s 125th birthday

It means something to me that the father of modern surfing and I were both born on August 24th, sixty-one years and an ocean apart. Duke Kahanamoku personified the Aloha spirit.

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Hey, man; I’m working on it.

A Temporary Monument to A Notorious Wave Hog

Maybe it was just a sort of harmless prank; maybe it’s a statement that those wave-hogging, SUP-riding, Aloha-be-damned surfers should always hold on tightly to their paddles. Yeah; even if there’s sixty yards of spinning inside tube ahead of him. And yeah, even if the set-wave-grabbing lineup Dominator is somewhere on the downhill side of sixty, with bad knees and… I mean, you should have seen him trying to get to his paddle as the tide dropped… yeah, he may have deserved this.

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I might agree if it wasn’t my paddle.

I’ve been working toward posting something on realsurfers that might go viral. A few pieces, over the three years or so since realsurfers hit the electronic cosmos, have had a sort of slow-motion version. But, what I do know is, even if someone as athletic as whoever found the paddle and jammed it into the wire rope-held pilings pulls it out, King Arthur style, the story will spread. Quickly.  After all, surfers hanging out on the Strait, waiting and hoping some sort of swell might show up, might just have to tell the tale of how the baddest-ass, kook-burning-est, wave-catchin’-est, loudest, least cool guy ever to knee-board an eleven foot board from the pilings to the fence got a sort of comeuppance.

I’d argue with the description if it wasn’t supposed to describe me.

There is more to the story; coming soon. If this wasn’t a happy ending for me (still feeling a bit outside of the tribe of mellow, never-took-off-on-anyone-ever-no-really-like-never-surfers, I’d probably guess anyone ever frustrated by SUP-riding over-compensators might just go, “Right On, Man!”), there is a surprise twist in this little morality play. This twist is forcing me to question my initial reaction to be hurt, then pissed-off at being singled out for this little prank; then humiliated by my pathetic, clumsy, and unsuccessful attempts to retrieve the paddle (witnessed by anyone who cared to look among a gathering crowd on the beach). These feelings were followed by a momentary-but-deep (why me? am I really that much of an asshole?) depression combined by a significant amount of anger at people who I would like to think of as peers (even friends). I aimed these feelings to those responsible, and to those who (owing to a different strain of tribal-think) would never reveal who did this. This rather quickly morphed into ‘fuck them/I don’t need them,’ a throwback to my days as a loner/outsider (yeah, I know you think you are. Probably not) with a fully-functioning (as in, I got waves) ghetto-mentality surfer in Oceanside and Pacific Beach,  and Swamis, and Trestles, and made me almost proud to be the Antagonist.

Still, until I sort it all out in my mind, I’m leaving it at this. [not true- I’ve already added to this piece several times] I’ve been very satisfied with the many surfers I’ve met over my years surfing in the northwest, an contrast this, happily, with my time in California.

Here are a couple of things: I won’t drop a paddle again. I catch almost every wave I try for. If you aren’t getting enough waves, take off in front of me.  Really.  I’ve never really yelled at anyone for this (wait, once I yelled, “Really?”), though my usual thing is to sarcastically yell, “Waikiki!” or “Party!” but, my new and humbler self might just smile and say, “Aloha!”(Durn; still a bit bitter, but working on it)

I’d give acknowledgement to the photographer, but, just in case he’s maintaining a safe distance, I’ll just say, ‘nice photo.’ Oh,and Trish said, “If you had a ladder, you could have walked out and climbed up to get it.” “Oh, uh huh.”

Erwin Would Go

Sure I would; but what if the waves get over two feet?

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When I traded out five hundred dollars left on a painting job for an eleven foot SUP a few years ago, it was never my intention for this to be my go-to board for surfing on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Now dinged to shit and weighing five pounds more when I get out of the water than it did going in (I’d fix the dings but I keep thinking it’s not my go-to board), it is, indeed, the board that fits the conditions. That is to say, if I didn’t have it, I’d be walking out on the reef, looking to the heavens, watching perfect little peelers not quite clearing the rocks, and pray (closer to asking, really) for just another foot of wave height. It has happened. A lot. That is, the asking/praying; the increasing swell, not so often.

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The undervalued part of riding a standup paddleboard is, that, while it does enable a surfer to catch waves outside of the normal takeoff zone, and outside of other surfers, it also enables surfers to ride waves even a longboarder couldn’t get into. So, as happened just yesterday, when I pull up to an empty beach pullout, look at empty-but-barely rideable waves; and, though I’d hope for another foot of wave face, there was no doubt I’d be going out. “It’s practice” I tell myself, and others, “for when it gets, you know, bigger.” My motto is, after all, “I’m here to surf.” It’s the riding of waves that matters to me.

That's Keith Darrock tucking into the outside bomb. Keith described the waves this day as 'kind of weak,' but went out anyway. The question Keith and I ask each other when waves are borderline flat, is, "Would Rico go?" Unfortunately, Rico moved to Maine, probably going on a few thigh-to-knee rollers there.

That’s Keith tucking into the outside bomb as I contemplate a move to the right with a move toward the nose. Really. Keith described the waves this day as ‘kind of weak,’ but went out anyway. The question Keith and I ask each other when waves are borderline flat, is, “Would Rico go?”  Rico (Moore, I think) moved to Port Townsend, surfed even waves I wouldn’t make a try for. When he broke one of his fins on the rocks, he fashioned an embarrassingly crude one out of wood; then broke that one off (lots of big rocks, some popping up in the waves). Rico has since moved to Maine, probably  (hopefully) going on a few thigh-to-knee rollers there.

No, I’m not so stoked on posting these photos of me. I’ve put it off, but, since I’ve lost, like, three pounds since these were taken by Tim Nolan, who also would go on any size wave, here they are. Meanwhile, once my go-to board dries out again, maybe I’ll find some time to patch those dings. Oh, and I promise, no more shots of me unless it’s head high. Okay, chest high. And now I’m hoping and praying for overhead. However, if I can catch a wave, I’m going.

Archie Endo shot this one. It's, like, waist-high, right?

Archie Endo shot this one. It’s, like, waist-high, right?

If You Missed This Wave…

If you missed this wave, it’s probably because it’s at Kalim Beach, Phuket, Thailand. Archie Endo is over there sweating in the heat and humidity, and will be there for a while, working as a middleman in the worldwide fish market. Happy enough to find a wave at all, Archie said he’d much prefer to donning a wetsuit and sliding a few waves on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I actually got a video of Archie getting a thirty second ride on a wave that very well could have been at this spot. Go Archie!

I actually got a video of Archie getting a thirty second ride on a wave that very well could have been at this spot. Go Archie!

If you missed this wave, it’s probably because the place only breaks when every where else is blown out. Or, maybe, like me, you were miles away, near some lake, sweating profusely, working on someone else’s castle, with boaters, insistent that their selection of waterworld music be louder than their boat’s oversized motors, whipping counterclockwise donuts, throwing screaming kids off whatever floatation device they were riding, sitting in, or clinging to; and, besides, there was no real swell.

What Stephen Davis was doing while Kelly and Dane lost their heats in Fiji, but before Owen blasted his first 20 point heat

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Porter Hammer took this photo of Hydrosexual (surf, kite surf, ice hockey, swimming, etc, etc) Stephen Davis s-turning his sailboat past the tourists, some already, no doubt, below decks.

I was on my way home, Trish commentating on the last of Kelly’s defeat (“The waves are really terrible. OOps, he wiped out again.”). I got home in time for the last of Dane’s heat. I did witness, live via computer, Kelly’s and Dane’s earlier dominant heat wins. AND, I did see Owen score two tens in five minutes. The final, yesterday, got his 20 point heat on the recap.

Meanwhile…

Flyer and Update (and more updates) on Surf Culture on the Strait Event

P1060887First, here’s a shot of Port Townsend librarian, and curator of the upcoming Surf Culture Event, Keith Darrock taken by Tim Nolan on an above-average (average being flat) day at a not-unknown spot on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. “Chest high” we’re saying. You’ll notice Keith measuring.

PaulStrauchFiveFor comparison, here’s a shot of Paul Strauch, Executive Director of the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente, in a classic photo at Haleiwa, performing the same maneuver, formerly called “The Paul Strauch Stretch” or “Paul Strauch Five.” No comment on the wave size.

Keith will be on the local Port Townsend radio station, KPTZ, 91.9, on Friday, June 19, sometime between 4 and 6 pm, on the FreeSpin program, hosted by Ron McElroy; the program also featuring surf music in honor of International Surf Day, June 20. KPTZ is online if you’re out of range.

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All right; here’s the flyer. The graphics were done by Cindy Whacker. There will be more updates to come as other artists and exhibitors are signing on. So, check back.

Silvana Lima, Sally Fitzgibbons, Substantial-ness: Surf Blogging/Riffing/Ranting

I do spend some amount of time corresponding about surf sessions, mostly with longterm friend Ray Hicks, down in San Diego’s North County, and with surfing’s preeminent literary guru, Drew Kampion, now residing near the last reaches of Northwest swells. In both of these cases, partially because I can type very quickly, I blather on, words (it’s the same when I’m speaking, actually) often ahead of my brain, these missives (see how I try to sound sorta literate?) often eliciting a very terse and very clever response.

Okay, so there’s one thing. Another thing is that people keep referring to my ‘site’ as a ‘blog.’ Nooooo! Not what I intended.

Okay, sometimes, maybe, it is a blog. The following is something I wrote to Drew, also trying to get him committed to coming across the ferry to participate in the “Second Annual Surf Culture on the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea” in Port Townsend on July 11. He asked, in his response if I was going to put it, or a version of it, on my… yeah… blog. So, with a few additions (and, yes, I did come up with the title for the upcoming event, pretty proud of the ‘occasional’ part), here’s a BLOG POSTING:

I got home yesterday (worked more like a day shift, this time, so I could get help, closed down one of two stairwells- hey, there’s also an elevator) just after the last semi-final heat in Fiji. With Trish shopping in Sequim, I did get to see the final, though I was, at the same time, catching up on the latest DVRed “Penny Dreadful,” which Trish hates, and got to talk on the phone with our daughter Drucilla, walking home from work in downtown Chicago, for most of the heat. So, perfect, no sound on either screen. But, with the show over and me off the phone for the last five minutes or so, I was able to concentrate on the drama in Fiji (Sally Fitzgibbons, with a perforated eardrum, vs. Bianca Buitendag).

from WSL

from WSL

Maybe I pay too much attention to these contests and buy into the drama too much (some of it, no doubt, more hype than reality), but, after seeing Sally breaking down in the rental car with both her parents at Honolua Bay last year, I had to root for her.
AND, watching the last part of the DVRed TV version of the Rio contest (kind of a surf-related evening), I caught the little thing on Silvana Lima (which I’d missed in watching the event live- as I could), selling her apartment and car to support her contest habit/dream, and, because I buy into any sports related drama, from any sport, I’m hoping, with the enthusiasm for surfing in Brazil, that some sponsor steps in.

from pinterest

from pinterest


AND, My daughter, Dru, has moved up enough at the ad agency she works for that she currently has an intern. The big boss offered a seat in the luxury box for a game of the Stanley Cup (or the preliminaries, I’m not sure) to the intern who writes the best paragraph by the end of the day on why he or she should attend. After offering a few phrases (brutal ballet, ultra-padded gladiators), I just spent half an hour writhing (I mean writing. Maybe) a paragraph. Hopeful.
AND… I ran into a guy at a Poulsbo paint store who used to surf, so naturally…had to talk surfing. At some point he (he being tall, skinny, nearly seventy) mentioned localism, regular surfers vs. longboarders. I said I haven’t had any real problems. “Probably not,” he said, kind of giving me that look skinny people reserve for the rest of us. “What do you mean by that?” “Well,” he said, “you’re kind of… substantial.”
Okay; so now I may run the photo of me looking, not old and fat (as I thought, and continue to think); just substantial.
FIJI for men starting soon. Still rooting for Kelly, now representing… brief brain freeze with image of Felipe Toledo giving Gabriel Medina a bit of a shove… yeah, the drama, real and imagined, starts later today. If I quit writing and take off for work now… maybe I can catch more than the highlights.

originally saved under 'fatErwinripping,' now captioned 'substantialErwin(still)ripping.' Photo by Jeffrey Vaughan.

originally saved under ‘fatErwinripping,’ now captioned ‘substantialErwin(still)ripping.’ Photo by Jeffrey Vaughan.

Correspondence- Unnamed Wife at Unnamed and Secret Oregon Spot

Please read the correspondence (below) from bottom to top. The guy thrashing on the guitar in our hotmail ‘image’ shot is our son, James, or, guitar wailer name, Jaymz. Drew Kampion is the guy who wrote back to Keith. We’re both trying to convince Mr. Kampion, legendary surf writer, and headliner at the first (highly successful) event, to participate in “The Second Occasional Surf Culture on the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea Event,” curated by Port Townsend Associate Librarian Keith Darrock.  The name may be shortened. More details will be forthcoming: It’s scheduled for Saturday, July 11th, so, so it’s like a longrange forecast. I’ll be doing some posters, so you know I’ll be adding more information as we get closer to the (gosh, I keep saying) event. Oh, it will be (an event).
Oregon Coast
To: Erwin and or Trisha Dence
Yeah, go for it. That’s actually my buddy’s wife! She’s quite the ripper. He didn’t say, I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure that’s a semi legendary mysto reef/creek mouth near where I grew up. It’s pretty fickle and dependent on how the sand sets up over the winter. Its been dormant in recent years. Good sign for one of the better waves on the coast. 

Drew wrote back already. He said “Will crunch thi in the ol’ reality machine & see what comes out, Keith!!  Thanks for thinking of me … drew”
To: Erwin and Or Trisha Dence
Click for Options
Hey Erwin,
Here’s a recent shot taken by a friend at a reef break near where I grew up on the Central Oregon Coast. It’s way off the beaten track. They’re getting all the swell this year.
Keith
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And here’s the shot, only larger. Thanks, Keith.

A Few Secret Straits Spots Revealed- Sorry If You Missed It

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THESE are a few photos taken on the Straits of Juan de Fuca by Jeffrey Vaughan; and, actually, I have more. The problem is, it’s not cool to publish photos where the location is obvious, even if the spot is nowhere near secret (oh, it might be somewhere near a secret spot). So, I surf these spots, too; and don’t really need anyone suddenly thinking this might be a destination other than, say, Westport. NOOOOOO! Even rideable waves are soooooo rare.

Besides, it’s not like thousands of wave-starved surf enthusiasts are going to catch a ferry and head many miles west northwest just because they saw something on my site.

SOOOOOOO, I’m going to do a flash posting, Saturday, 9pm Pacific Daylight Savings Time, featuring some very pretty photos at a spot easily recognizable to those who have been skunked at the very beach. I’ll delete the photos around 11:35, since anyone up will probably be seeing if Saturday Night Live is new, a rerun, or any way funny.

ORRRR, maybe a few city crews, spurred on by the images and hoping the forecasts and the buoy readings are wrong, might just be loading up for that first ferry.

UPDATE: I did post the other photos. They were great. And, like the fickle waves we seek, they’re gone.