I got five copies of the original drawing, just so I could, maybe, take a few risks on the colors. This is the first attempt. MEANWHILE, I keep working on the story.
HEY, REALSURFERS, my site is a mess. I’m aware of this. I decided it might be easier to just do a monthly thing, adding new stuff when it comes up; probably not a good idea, but… hey, here’s something I came across in my many-times-daily search for whatever information I can find to determine when I can best avoid getting skunked. IS IT A GHOST SURFER, or someone who went out in storm surf, found a corner of a wave in the corner of the bay, and got on camera? I don’t know; couldn’t help but share it.
OKAY, and, incidentally, it’s also Barrel-roll Stephen Davis’s birthday; and he’s lucky to have made it to this one. Read on; there’s other new stuff.
…ADAM WIPEOUT wades into the crowds in Southern California; ARCHIE ENDO heads back to Thailand; the (UNOFFICIAL) PORT TOWNSEND CREW (with HamaHama backup/alternate) hike (to a non-secret-but-unnamed spot) in, separately and together, and score; MANY SURFERS travel and get skunked; ANOTHER BEACH ACCESS IS SHUT DOWN, another ACCESS IS THREATENED; I sneak in a few sliders before THE WESTPHALIANS show up; and other news that doesn’t include revealing any secret spots on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Steve at one of his day jobs, pre-roll.
But first… Headed up a Big Island highway at six in the morning on Friday the 13th, en route to his job (one of his jobs) as a crew member (and guy who swims with dolphins AND tourists) on a catamaran built and owned by legendary surfer Woody Brown; Hydrosexual STEPHEN DAVIS, in his words, “Nearly met my maker.”
“Oh,” I said, Saturday afternoon, Steve having called me back while I was on a slippery roof trying to finish a paint job; “But you’re okay. Right.” “Kind of. I’ll send you some photos.” “Okay. I mean, but you’re okay.”
“Mostly. The first thing I did when I got out of the car was say, ‘Mother-fucker!'”
We both laughed. Since he was okay, I was imagining Steve’s impression of me in boss mode, crouching-down, hands splayed-out, saying, “What the fuck?” Yeah, it’s pretty accurate; at work; never in the water- very chill, not as chill as Steve.
I didn’t look at the photos until a couple hours later. Steve’s quick reactions, no doubt, saved his life. A DISTRACTED DRIVER was in Steve’s lane, head-on. Steve swerved, the other car hit him in more of a glancing blow.
WAIT! WHAT! Yeah, a glancing blow that…WHAT! I had to text Stephen. It went like this:
“Did your rig flip?” “Several flips and spins. It was upside down when it came to rest. Had to kick the door open all laying on my head.” “Geez, man, just had a chance to look at the photos. thank you Jesus. Trish and I are en route to Mass.” “Ya. Super grateful.(emojis) Will you thank God for me please?” “Sure, already working on it, and trish has a bit more clout, and I’m sure your appreciation is noted. You were definitely barreled.” “Gracias. (more emojis).” A bit later; “Okay, mentioned your accident to the Priest. You’re all set. Be strong. No, you are strong.” “Mahalo (emojis).”
Now, please don’t think I’m like, super religious; but I am a believer in something mysterious and beyond our understanding. I think Stephen ‘Barrel-roll’ Davis is, too. I was ready to drop the ‘hydrosexual’ part of Steve’s nickname anyway; getting too many spam attacks from porno promoters.
OKAY, I have to go. I’ll get back to the other alluded-to news; but, ARCHIE seems to be stronger than when he arrived in the northwest after over 90 days in the hospital after a stroke in Thailand. Part of this has to be due to the above-mentioned Stephen Davis taking him to the pool in Sequim. “He lit up like Christmas,” Steve said. AND Archie is talking about getting back in the surf. Better. He better.
ADAM JAMES, on a surf-and-oyster-sales-related trip, surfed Pipes, twice at Swamis, another time at San Onofre (that I know of), tried to teach northwest-style surf etiquette to my old surfing grounds.
WAIT, here’s an UPDATE (October 16)- Now Adam has added MALIBU, VENTURA POINT, AND COUNTY LINE to his list of Southern California conquests. Nice business trip.
County Line from the rental van.
SO, parking in someone’s yard to access a rivermouth break west of Port Angeles, which has been shut down before, is shut down again. Plans for a Land Trust parking area are stalled, on hold, or just not happening, and the alternative is a long walk. When some surfers from Port Townsend hiked in from one direction recently, they found other surfers from Town who hiked in from the other direction.
AND, AGAIN, people who camp out overnight in a parking area/access to another rivermouth spot are SERIOUSLY RISKING the closure of this area. IT IS PRIVATE PROPERTY. Park somewhere else. Please. Thanks. As far as surf etiquette is concerned; it takes some nerves to tell a local at any break that, “Hey, that was my wave.” And, I think Adam is planning on hitting Malibu before he comes back home. “Excuse me, but; you know; I’ve been waiting, and…”
The surf report and forecast for the Northwest portion of the contiguous U-nited States of A-merica (dashes added to more closely reflect prideful way we pro-nounce stuff) is pretty bleak. You’d have to believe the Pacific Ocean could churn up something more than a two foot swell.
Hey, it’s summertime. Painting season. Hydrosexual Stephen Davis and I, both of us drinking coffee, were each sitting in doorways of our vans, paint gear spread around. I asked him about water temperatures in Baja (last fall) and Hawaii (this last winter). “Oh,” he said, “Baja was right between trunking-it and wetsuit temperature; probably 66 degrees or so.”
“Oh,” I said. Pause, both of us nodding our heads. “You know, back when I was a teenager…” Now Steve was trying to avoid rolling his eyes. “…when the water temperature got up to 58 degrees, somewhere around Easter; if you were still wearing a wetsuit… and bear in mind we only had shortjohn wetsuits… you were a pussy.”
“Uh huh. Pussy.” “Really. And you couldn’t put one on until it got back down to 58, somewhere around December; before Christmas, anyway.” “Uh huh.”
What I didn’t bother to tell him, but probably drifted off into remembering, was an early summer morning when Phillip Harper, Ray Hicks, possibly Mark Metzger and Billy McLain, and I; no doubt in two cars from Fallbrook, all hit Swamis at about the same time. I was first down the stairs.
I surfed Swamis enough from 1965 to see the basic reef, sort of fanned, overlapping shelves, hold up while the shoreline would change more dramatically; erosion, refill. Seasonal. The wave conditions went from one high tide peak too close to the bigger rocks; to mid-tide and two distinct peaks; to ultra low tide, one running crazy and almost hollow wave; from the December ’69 swell; through dawn patrol, after school, between classes-at- Palomar and work-in-Oceanside sessions (pre-1971); to the times I lived in Encinitas (’74-’76) and could sneak in a few; to New Years day ventures while working in San Diego because I didn’t have work in the Northwest (1991,’92); everything from Santa Ana mornings to south wind chop, onshore, glassy; overhead to flat; overcrowded to almost empty; with so many memories… they’re all memories now; haven’t surfed there in twenty-five years.
On the particular morning I was remembering while talking with Steve, shadows of the bluff extending into the water, there was a chalk board on the still-empty lifeguard station. “Surf 2-3, water temp- 66.” Whoa! Warming up! We would probably end up surfing what we referred to as Swamis Beachbreak, the quarter mile or so between Swamis proper, and Pipes, pretending there was a better lineup off this rock than off that. “Hey, I WAS on the nose!” “Hey, did you see that rollercoaster?” “Hey!”
I hit the water straight out in front of the stairs, caught a left just as my friends hit the sand. “Hey!”
Not that Stephen would be all that impressed. “Uh huh. Do you have any more coffee?”
“Uh. Um. Yeah.” I’m certain many of us will look back on the times we went searching for waves on the Strait. Sometimes it can be… “Waves?” “Waves? No, I got skunked.” “Then why are you smiling?”
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.
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.
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.
This piece insn’t necessarily surf-centric. I wrote it for my blog, “Stuff That Goes On,” at the ptleader.com. I’ve been featuring some of my cartoons, after they’ve been rejected by “The New Yorker.” Here’s the one that goes with, kind of, the story:
One of my favorite surfing spots is Swamis, Encinitas, California. It is so named because of the gold tulips adorning the high white walls around the adjacent compound. Founded by followers of Swami… sorry, I really don’t want to get into more of the history than that which impacted me. Again, sorry. The compound was a sort of mysterious place for surfers, and what was known back in the middle 60s, when I started (board) surfing [at least three stairways ago, when the parking lot was smaller, the bathroom was of the pit variety], was that people inside spent a lot of time on their gardens. And meditating.
Trancendental meditation. Groovy. Maybe it played into the rapidly changing surfer self image as the end of the 60s brought more of a drug culture; bearing in mind drug use was ‘mind expanding’ and ‘experimental’ at the same time. Not that I participated. I didn’t. Some surfers also, by the end of the 60s, switched gears into the Jesus ‘Freak’ mode. That was more my speed, though they had a zealousness that my (short, to be sure, I turned 18 in 1969) lifetime of attending church didn’t seem to give me.
In 1975 Trish and I had moved to a house we bought in Encinitas. Swamis was still my favorite spot, and in the time we had lived in San Diego, the secluded beach around the point and directly below a meditation garden inside the compound had become a nude beach. I discovered this, not by word of mouth, but by… hey, I was just trying to go surfing.
The nudity caused a problem with the people inside the compound. It’s evidently difficult to fully get trancendental-ized when naked people are cavorting (didn’t look it up- sure it’s accurate) below you. It eventually made the paper, it made the TV news. Meetings were called. Dennis Weaver, Chester on “Gunsmoke,” was at one, livid, leaning into the cameras to make sure the point was made that this distraction was not acceptable.
I don’t think his appearance helped, but, before Chester and the spreading of the news throughout the San Diego County area, and about a week after I discovered the nudity, I actually went to work for local (Cardiff) painting contractor “Two Coat” Charlie Barnett, on a project to paint the exterior stucco surfaces at the enclave. We had to be quiet, I was told. Okay, but first break time, two of the helpers on the crew said we should all go up to the meditation garden and ‘watch the nudies.’ “What, you know about this?” “Hey, man; everyone knows.”
One thing that struck me was that, during what was evidently a women’s retreat, meals were taken in silence. That’s fine. I mean, there was the sound, no doubt, of chewing, maybe some loud swallowing. After the meal, partially-filled and enlightened participants went back to their stucco cabins for private meditation.
Now, everything around the compound, the gardens, the paths, the concrete, was supposed to be spotless. All the attendees were dressed in white. Although Charlie had hired the aforementioned helpers to insure cleanliness, he was having trouble getting his final payment until all spots of paint were cleaned up. So, Charlie and I were crawling around the sidewalks with wire brushes and lacquer thinner, cleaning. Oh, Charlie and I were also dressed in white, as is traditional, but with spots of colors, more so on my clothes than Charlie’s.
I was just trying to get the job done, but couldn’t help but hear, around pretty much every guest cabin, the unmistakable sound of someone passing gas.
Amazing. No doubt related to trancendentalizing. On a related note, Trish claims her father, always the ideal image of propriety, would often pass gas while under the headphones, listening to phonograph records. And then there’s the almost absolute need, possibly because of the altitude, while riding in a plane… hey, this isn’t a secret. As far as whether there’s still a nude beach at Swamis; haven’t a clue.
Here’s another rejected cartoon: It’s Nietzche. I explained it in another blog post at ptleader.com Go to “Blog” at the top of the home page, click on “Stuff That Goes On.”
As far as my fear of meditation… another time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m going to insert this into the piece, but, since I have enough folks who get a message, psychic or over the mysterious intranet, when I post something new, I’m putting it here first. I’ve got a secret (okay, letting you in on it) plan to get this to the WSL, which I love (and was watching earlier, before the Seahawks game started. Wouldn’t it be great if they did a little skit where…
…Hey, if you have some contacts… that’d be great. Greater. Also, I wouldn’t have finished the drawing if the surf had just cooperated and followed the forecast.
My sister, Melissa Lynch, the real artist in the family, scolded me for being in any way apologetic for my drawings. Yeah, well; I would like to be honest. If I could capture the building blocks of always-moving water, figure out how to weave a seamless shadowed/reflective/glimmering/black/white/multi-hued image I would.
If I could.
Since I can’t; yet; I’ll keep trying.
Meanwhile, I’m still in the thinking-it-through phase of a piece I must write under the working title of: “Are All Surfers Sociopaths; or Just the Good Ones?”
Three Acts: ACT ONE- several highschool surfing buddies and I surf Swamis after school. The only other surfers out are three (also high school age) members of the Surfboards Hawaii Surf Team. On the drive home, my friends complain they couldn’t catch any (or enough) waves. I hadn’t noticed, being busy catching waves and watching incredible longboard surfing. ONE, PART 2- One of my friends (Ray Hicks, most likely) points out (I think this was the day I ripped out my pants and had to borrow a pair of Levis from Billy McLean) that, when encountering other surfers of about our age, I seem to puff out my chest. “Maybe you’re intimidated.” “Yeah; probably.” “It’s, uh, like a gorilla.” “You mean, like, primal?” “Yeah, probably.”
ACT TWO- During the last week of my job up the hill from Trestles, taking an hour and a half break during my half hour official lunchtime, some surfer (I’ve always believed he was a Marine Officer) burned me and everyone else (I still got some, but not as many as usual waves). When I checked back at my half hour afternoon (supposed to be ten minutes) break, the guy was still out, still burning surfers mercilessly. I didn’t hate him; maybe he was going somewhere sucky, where a rifle was mandatory, for a while.
ACT THREE- My friend Stephen Davis, last time I spoke with him on the phone, mostly about his upcoming trip to the Oregon Coast and the chance I might meet him somewhere (probably won’t happen); had to, (had to) mention how I fell out of favor with many members of the Port Townsend surfing crew (very unofficial) because, over-amped, I (accidentally, I swear)wave-hogged on a day almost two years ago. Two years ago. Jeez. When I mentioned this on the phone this morning with Keith Darrock, and that I’m no more a sociopath than he is, and I do have empathy, whatever that is, he had to (had to) mention his observation that I’m kind of loud and possibly abrasive (see how he was tactful about this?) in the water, and, also, incidentally, I do seem to “kind of strut in the parking lot.” “WHAT? ME? No, it’s just being friendly.” (I am laughing at this point, but, also, thinking. Is he right?) “Like a rooster. And, oh,” he adds, has to add, “You kind of stick out your chest. And…and it seems like you want to dominate (I’m adding ‘even in’) the parking lot.”
There is no ACT FOUR where I try to change my ways, get all friendly and nice; empathize with those who won’t (before hand) or didn’t get enough waves. Empathize. I did tell Keith I’d rather attempt to empathize than be one of those who didn’t get enough waves. Maybe they’ll get points toward sainthood. No true contrition. Sorry. At least not so far. But, I am thinking; and since I can’t afford professional help, I’ll have to self-diagnose.
STEP ONE-“Yes, it’s all true.” See you in the parking lot.
“You don’t even know,” Stephen said. “You wouldn’t believe how… good… double-overheaddddd…”
The cell phone connection, these being cosmic and pure, only made scratchy and difficult by the devices, modern versions of the tin can and string, wasn’t good*. I was in my work van, cruising south on Surf Route 101. I had made three phone calls to Stephen, left one message, left the other two before I would have had to. “Missed” calls. Steve was, evidently, on a break, just outside of the kitchen at a restaurant at Fort Warden.
I should have pulled over, but it was dark. I just wanted a report. I had heard he and his friend Stig, over in Washington State from the Aloha State, big wave charger, had surfed a legendary spot on the northern coast. **
“Wait,” I said. What?” I asked. “I mean, what did you say?”
“I said you can never go there with me. Look, Erwin; I have to go. My life’s… it was; just take my word for it. I can’t even… Soooo unbelievable.”
“Wait, Steve, Stephen… you mean you surfed there and survived, but… I mean, I’d drown?”
“I just can’t be responsible. I’ll… I’ll send you some photos.”
Okay, it was either a challenge or a statement (I’ll say ‘statement’ rather than ‘put-down’) that I was not up to the task. That may be true. Setting aside my age, I haven’t taken a lot of time to explore the wild coastline, take the logging roads, walk paths along bluffs and cliffs, but I do know there are several (there just have to be) spots where, on some particular swells, under some conditions, waves follow the rugged points, peel into log-jammed beaches.
And, Stephen had sent me some photos from an earlier trip; a shot of a random, unnamed and probably-never-surfed slab, which I posted on this site, and a photo of the spot he and Stig had so recently ridden, taken from a high cliff; spooky, congested inshore on a rocky ledge, and scary-if-enticing lines peeling to a certain closeout section. I didn’t post it, on Stephen’s quite-adamant insistence. He and the surfer with him on that quest, and others they met on site, also declined the opportunity.
Stephen did send photos from this session, when he and Stig got there before the south Devil wind came up, chop blowing into the wash-throughs, the sneaker sets hitting unknown outside reefs. From the beach, from the photos, it looked, to me… possible.
But, you won’t see those photos here.
Oh, the photo above is of somewhere, somewhere else, borrowed from nwframeofmind. *Someone told me the cosmic string theory. I just said, “Uh huh.” **I actually saw super 8 movies of this very spot over thirty years ago. When I said, “It looks like Swamis,” I was booed, corrected, and, most tellingly, not invited to the next private surf movie night.
Probably my second thought on hearing the challenge/realistic assessment from my friend, was that it would make a great short story; old(er) guy takes on surf spot, does or doesn’t get a few great rides, does or doesn’t drown. Really, my biggest fear is getting back up those cliffs after, after what? Meanwhile, Stephen is working on his own surf-centric story that he will, he says, allow me to publish to the pure dark cosmic internet.
If you pull the string really really tight…
12/28/14- FORMERLY SEMI-SECRET SPOT- STRAITS OF JUAN DE FUCA.
It would be half an hour before the winter sun would rise, and even then it would be blocked for hours by the Olympic Mountains, then the nearer tree lines. In fact, at this time of year, on the north shore of the west coast, the sun merely hugs the mountains like an all-day dawn. At 7:30 am, what could be seen was grainy, almost colorless; headlights in the parking area, semi-clear sky, the water was the color of drowning, of death at sea.
And I was in it trying to swim, side-stroke, one hand on my paddle; and I hadn’t even caught a wave yet.
Yeah, it’s over-dramatic; but I was the one caught in it, swimming because I had tried to cut across the usually waveless channel, the deep spot between two reefs; so confident; thinking I could snag an inside left on my way out to a lineup in which the first members of the dawn patrollers were trying to find the perfect place to take off in a crazy sea.
Sure, I’d seen, even in the dim light, the sets breaking on the outlside indicators, the roll-throughs, the waves that closed out the channel and the ones that could provide those storied rides that start on the outside reef and end up past the parking area, past the fence.
“I ended up way past the fence, man.” “Whoa.” Meaningful.
But this is my favorite spot on the Straits of Juan de Fuca; I’ve surfed here (first time, 1979, next time 2005, if this means anything) in every condition, from low tide rights you couldn’t catch with a regular board, fin clicking across rocks; to those just-mentioned left peelers; to bouncy just-after-a-storm surf, waves blown by winds from sideshore squalls, rain or sleet, cold offshores from fresh mountain snow; fun, user-friendly conditions- but I’ve also surfed days with these outside roll-throughs, almost out of control, where the hard part was not panicking, holding my position, waiting for the reef to catch the bottom of the swell, to shape it properly.
Big Dave had been on the wave, dealing with an inside close out, almost directly in front of me; the wave that ripped the leash that, evidently, hadn’t had enough Velcro ‘bite.’ It wasn’t a big pull; my board was just gone.
Oh, I could see it, tantalizingly close, just out of reach; then, another wave, and it popped up again, farther away.
I was only yards from the beach, but I knew the waves wouldn’t help push me to shore. The tide was too high, washing up on the river-rock bank; pushing up and rolling rocks and foam uphill. Then there were clackity-thunk sounds as the energy tumbled back down, crashing into the next surge. I knew there would be no bottom to put my feet on to take a last leap forward.
still, not panicking.
DECEMBER OF 1969- SWAMI’S-
It was the second day of the famous swell. I had survived the first, seriously undergunned with my regular short board (probably around 6’6”) in well-overhead waves with an unusually strong Santa Ana offshore. Yes, I was one of those guys hanging on the shoulder. In my memory bank’s version (probably in a Super 8 format- still), I was out very early and the tide was at that height where there is no inside and outside; merely a long wall that required a crazy-late takeoff, offered a crazy-long barrel past the shoulder-hoppers, and rewarded the best surfers with the best rides Swami’s could possibly offer.
I know I didn’t do a ‘paddle (in) of shame,’ but I couldn’t say I caught anything but a few insiders.
But, on the second day, the waves only a bit smaller, on a different, longer (still round-nosed- hate a pointy nose) board, the weather was stormier, the tide lower, the waves more broken up, and I was attacking the inside lineup, lined up on the palm tree on the cliff, that below the solid line of onlookers at the edge of the parking lot; scratching into waves that ‘went wide’ and peaked on the inside lineup or had closed out on the guy riding from the outside peak.
Still, I was looking for the smaller waves. I caught a few, but it was rough. I did keep getting caught inside, part of the crowd the riders had to navigate. The thrashing-to-riding ratio wasn’t really going my way, and too many waves I wanted went to others. “One more wave” I told myself.
And I caught it. If you know Swami’s, particularly the inside section, you know there’s a drop and a wall, then an area to cut back, cruise back and forth, and then, over the grassy finger slabs inside, often there’s another little section. Maybe I was too far outside. I made the drop and was totally in position for the wall. Too far back.
It wasn’t like the worst wipeout/holddown of my career, another wave at Swamis where I fell from the top (of note: On a turn, not dropping-in), to the trough, had the wind knocked out of me, came up seriously out of breath, sucked in part of twelve inches of foam. This was more a whacking, a full-body punch, the energy as much out as down.
I wasn’t panicking. I was swimming. “Fine,” I thought,” I’m done for the day.”
STRAITS- After a couple of shorepound knockdowns I found footing, slogged up the steep beach, my paddle in my hand; breathing in deeply, coughing out. The water, probably 45 degrees or so at the nearest buoy, is so much colder when you’re between two streams coming off fresh mountain snow; and seems even colder when you’re swimming.
My board was not on shore, however. It had drifted down past the fence and was headed out. I hurried down the beach until I was even with it. In that time it had moved farther out, headed toward the other reef. Tim Nolan, who, for once, I had beaten to the beach, was ready to paddle out. I was too far away to yell at him to help me and a bit too shaken up to swim, my board now a hundred yards out. I threw the paddle up onto the higher beach and thought, “Maybe it’s just not my day.”
FATE AND KARMA- Each of these seems to be about things in life kind of evening-out. My own philosophy is somewhere in there.
Maybe it was because I had thought it amusing when I saw someone in a car with a longboard getting a ticket over by Discovery Bay when I was on my way home from working in Port Townsend that, earlier this very morning, I had gotten a speeding ticket near Port Angeles. Maybe it was fitting that several of the folks in the rigs in the parking area had passed by us (Stephen Davis, Keith Darrock also in my car) in front of the car with the flashing lights, maybe it was only right other surfers should mention it, chuckling as they did.
Maybe there’s some wicked form of Fate/Karma in that, cruising up Surf Route 101, we chanced to be behind someone either sleepy or drunk, weaving across the center line, then across the fog line; and Steve called 911, and we gave them the license number; and I had Steve tell them the car would be behind a white car with several boards on top; and, when the officer returned with our tickets (Keith got one for no seatbelt- also, really my fault), the drunk-or-sleepy guy drove right past.
“I hope he gets home all right,” the State Patrolman said.
That karma’s on him. Maybe. Oh, and maybe it’s this: The last time I was out in similar conditions in the Straits, the first (and only) guy out that morning tried desperately to catch an inside wave, caught the third he tried for, came in, ran up the beach, and, wide-eyed, asked, “Is it always like this?” “It’s never like this.” Another surfer and I, both on longboards, started paddling out, he a bit closer to the reef. A wave closed out immediately in front of us. I turned turtle. When I came up, he had lost his board. I kept paddling.
At least he was close to the reef.
another retro shot; I’d be further to the left.
IN 1969, not finding my board on the rocks or beach, members of collective crowd on the bluff were pointing and yelling, “It’s in the rip!” It was. I looked up, looked out, swam almost to the inside lineup, climbed on my board, caught one more wave. A good one according to my Super 8 file; and went in, did better the next day.
THE OTHER DAY I almost thought I’d lost my board forever, thought I’d be watching Keith and Stephen deal with the Dawn Patrol Syndrome, watching the waves get more and more crowded. But, Big Dave left the lineup, paddled over, grabbed a hold of my board, started paddling it in. Push, paddle, push. When he got close to the inside waves, I swam out. I still had a bit of trouble getting it and me in. When I did, I dragged it (by the leash) up the beach, took a break, reclaimed some (not quite all) of my usual confidence. Four hours after Keith was the first one in the water, the day now sunny, the tide more normal, the waves more in control, way too many people in the water, we all agreed it had been, ON BALANCE, a great session. Each of us had a few good ones, a few ‘past the fence.’
Maybe not for everyone (there were some words exchanged among others, at volume, in the water), but for each of us.
THANKS, Big Dave; I owe you (another) one.