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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PB Point Never Breaks

HEAD SONGS- It may have been an early Fleetwood Mac instrumental playing in my head. Whatever it was it was perfect for the afternoon, some mix of northwest swell and just the right tide creating fast lines from near Pacific Beach Point to the south end of the parking lot at Tourmaline Canyon. It was turn-and-tuck on each thin, fast, backlit wave, tuck until you are finally engulfed by the tube.

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SUMMER SOLSTICE: The longest days in San Diego seem to end by 8:15 or so. In the three years or so, starting in November of 1971, I lived in PB, just up the long steep drop to the parking lot, I always checked PB Point. It seemed like there should be great, Swamis-like waves there; there just weren’t. No, not ever. On one summer day, unlike the first story (and probably with a different tune moving as a different wave in my head), the waves were peaky, with the best peak halfway to the actual point. I went out after work and stayed long enough to walk back up the hill in the dark, across the street to the La Jolla Bella, long since, I’m sure, condo-ed out and priced out of reach for a newly-married couple, even if both work.

ANOTHER SUMMER DAY, not working on workday, I was out on a little peak just off the actual point. Starting out shoulder-hopping, I was soon mid-peak, then back-dooring the wave, most likely on my Surfboards Hawaii twinfin, the going-right fin moved as far forward in the box as it would go, the going-left fin back because, if I must explain, I surfed differently going backside; more forward-trim going right. I also had my first leash/kookstrap on the board, already shortened by breakage because they were then made out of something like surgical tubing, effected negatively by saltwater corrosion. So, mid-peak, I took a hit, the board slid out from under me, the leash dragged me, kicking and clawing, across the reef. I came up with green stuff under my fingernails. Perfect. Go again.

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WINTER SOLSTICE: On the shortest days of the year, it seems, as I remember, to get dark in San Diego somewhere between 4:30 and 5pm. I mention this because, in the Northwest, way farther north, but also farther west, the longest days go close to 10pm, but the shortest days turn dark before 4:35. Interesting. Not really, but, on one of those winter afternoons, PB Point was working. It was, and I don’t exaggerate on wave size, six feet. I must admit I’m daunted by larger waves (less daunting, more excitement on a point break compared to a beachbreak), but I found myself comfortable. And the waves just got bigger, until, just before dark, it was, by my standard, eight feet and I was still more excited than concerned. The darkness closed in so quickly, exhausted, looking way down the beach toward the lights, that I decided to go up the cliff. I climbed a fence or two, went through some rich person’s yard, and walked back down the road toward home.

PBPoint

ONE MORE STORY: My friend from Fallbrook, my first surfing accomplice, Phillip (long since Doctor) Harper, and his first wife, Pam, because they had to work weekends, would often come down to San Diego, or we’d meet at Swamis or somewhere, on a Wednesday or Thursday. On one of these visits, Phillip and I were surfing quite small and pretty crappy beachbreak at Tourmaline. I wiped-out on a wave, my even-shorter leash wrapped around the back of my board, and, when I came up, the board hit me right in the eye. What was interesting was, because I thrashed (and still thrash) boards, and rarely patched them (or patch them), a week or so later the glass on the nose of the board was broken away. It would have been a different result, Jack.

OKAY, TWO STORIES: That board was getting so thrashed that I would frequently go home with several new cuts on my legs from the board. On one winter afternoon, the tide very high, most of the surfers not catching any waves, I was taking off, kicking-out close to the shore riprap, close to the parking lot. When I got out, a tourist, an older woman probably escaping snow or something, said, “You look like you were having the most fun out there.” “Probably was,” I said, some new line of blood running down my leg.

THESE DAYS, because I need new gloves, I seem to get a new wound on my hands from each session, though, donning my old (properly thrashed) suit for a second session, recently, I noticed, later, that I had new scratches on my knee where the wetsuit was ripped. Should repair that.

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.

Why Surfers Quit, Why I Won’t, and Why Ray Hicks (and others) Can’t

It’s not that I haven’t felt (perhaps properly and rightly) old while surfing, it’s just that I haven’t felt that way lately.

Just started and I have to clarify. I may not feel my age (not quite 64) ‘while surfing,’ but aches and pains (nothing serious) and fatigue (of the very best kind) generally follow a session. Then again, my average time in the water is now somewhere over two hours, and I don’t bob and wait, meditate and chat (maybe a little chatting, just to seem friendly, between sets); I shark the lineup, with the goal of surfing until I can barely drag my board back up the beach.

This is usually my goal; to surf (as long as the waves are good), as long as I can, to surf to the best of my ability, and to possibly, maybe, improve my surfing a bit. Oh, and to have fun.

This is so different than sessions when I was younger; an hour or less at Oceanside Pier or the south jetty before work; forty-five minutes (on my half hour lunch break) in the water at Lower Trestles when I worked up the hill painting Marine Corps housing; hitting Swamis between classes at Palomar and work at Buddy’s Sign Service; even a couple of runs over the hill to Sunset Cliffs with Raphael Reda when we were working on submarines at Point Loma. Yeah, it’s a bit of name-dropping, even bragging. Those were all years ago.

The one time I do remember surfing three hours straight was at a little reef at Sunset Cliffs (just north of Luscombs) with Stephen Penn. I was twenty years old, surfed all the time, and I was totally exhausted.

SO, in my last surf session, earlier this week, after wasting too much energy punching through and trying to find a shoulder, kicking-out or straightening out on closeouts (wouldn’t say I sucked, considering), I drove elsewhere (in my wetsuit) took another hike to a grinding rivermouth/pointbreak. The only other surfer out was pulling in early, sliding down the line. I couldn’t get in early enough on my smaller (smaller than his, way smaller than the one I usually ride) board, couldn’t really handle the drop/turn, though I did get a nice but quick view of several tubes. Basically I sucked, took a thrashing, and couldn’t help but think, feeling every rock on the walk back through my booties, “Maybe I am too old for real waves.”

NOPE. By the time I reached my car, the negativity had changed to, “Next time I’ll go here first. I’ll have the right mindset. Maybe I’ll finish glassing that fish I cut down from my old nine-four. It’ll paddle better. Next time…” Scheming, planning, getting my mind ready to up the rhythm, up my game, drop the casualness, take off on an angle and streak.

I did a selfie, planning of calling it

I did a selfie, planning of calling it “Portrait of a Nineteen Year Old Surfer forty-five years later,” but, one, was horrified when I saw it, and, two, well, refer back to one.

HERE’S how most surfing careers end: You don’t go for a while, and there are a million reasons not to go, only a couple to go (“I WANT TO” and “I HAVE TO”); and when you do go, your surfing is not up to where you think it should be. So, you’re less eager to go next time. So you don’t. Hey, work is important. For most of us, work is necessary. Still evil, mostly. I wish it wasn’t, necessary, but my career was my main excuse for years.

NOW, I’ve already given credit for my old friend Ray Hicks for getting me motivated to get back into surfing, something I hadn’t thought I’d given up, just hadn’t gone in a while; until he and I went surfing and I truly, totally, in-arguably sucked. Not so bad if Ray hadn’t just glided into waves, turned and wailed. BUT, if that competition, based somewhat, I have to admit, on my thinking, “I was always better than Ray, and now….(both self-assessments)”  was an impetus to get back into more regular surfing over ten years ago now, my new motto rather quickly became, “If not now, when?”

The main impediment to my surfing more has become the unwillingness of waves to come down the Straits of Juan de Fuca and my unwillingness to drive to the coast; meaning, when the forecast starts looking good, I start the frothing/ scheming/planning/imaging process. If it looks like it might be good for three days, I HOPE to go twice. At least once. “I have to go, want to go, really need to go.” If I haven’t gone for a while, my wife, Trish, to whom surfing has always been the other woman, will ask, “When are the waves coming? You HAVE to go.”

RAY HICKS has not been surfing nearly enough lately. Yeah, he’s been busy; yeah, yeah, San Diego’s North County waves are crowded or crappy, or both; yeah, yeah, yeah…no. Ray HAS to go. I’m totally kicking his butt; on wave count if not on style points; and one of these days, I will go down south.  Ray and his wife, Carol, are going to Hawaii in June, so he says maybe he better get to surfing. Practicing. UM… YEAH. And I want some Hawaii action photos, if possible.

TIM NOLAN, of “Tim Nolan and the Wave of the Day” fame (google it), is a few years older than I am. He needs to keep surfing. Like, forever; as does the guy with the white beard whose name Adam Wipeout actually knows, and who, Adam claims ‘has Hobuck on lockdown’ (or some similar phrase,though I’ve never seen the guy really standout at the northwest version of Waikiki or San Onofre). I need surfers around who are older than I am, just to remind me I can keep going. I’ve got at least four years or so after Tim quits, and he shows no signs of quitting.

I KNOW I’LL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS I WAS WHEN I WAS NINETEEN. If you’re nineteen and cocky, and want to remember yourself as a great surfer, QUIT NOW! Really. Otherwise…