Soup-Riding, Soft-Topping Youtubers are…

…wasting too much of my time. Shit, I’m not even that stoked on watching really good surfers; but, trying to watch some of the action from contests I missed because I just can’t stay up all night AND go to work, or, honestly, looking for a little surf porn, real surfers ripping on real waves, I have been tricked into watching some punk-ass kooks claiming and celebrating surf school quality rides. Yes, I’ve been severely You-tubed.

Yes, I am a consenting adult, but…

“Another bitchin’ ride… And The Crowd Goes… Wild!!!”

Yes, I should know better; but… really… I mean, if there’s, say, a video selection promising super good waves at a North County point break. “Oh, must be Swamis or Trestles.” Hit. No, it’s some kook cruising Encinitas on his one speed bike, some chatter about how cool he is to be living where he does and doing what he does. I have learned how to put my finger on the red line and fast-forward past some of the probably-sponsored hype. “I always get a pre-surf smoothie here.” Okay, surfing. Yeah, he’s in the inside-ist inside section, awkwardly soft-topping into ankle snappers like he came in number three at the surf school contest.

Scroll down and search. Oh, some other Metuber is rating San Diego County surf spots. Terramar, Tourmaline; must be up to the T’s. His commentary, disappointing. The surf action? Ummm.

Okay, I will watch Nathan Florence videos. He’s personable… and he rips. I might watch, finger on the red line, something by Jamie O’Brien. I did, this morning, watch the top 5 from Margaret River and the condensed version of the men’s and women’s finals.

But I also got partway through a video promising some Northwest surfing. Westport, as it turned out, kook riding the soup, making faces, sticking his tongue out, shooting gang signs (I assume). And then there’s the inevitable ‘subscribe’ dealie.

Nope.

Then again, I don’t have to. The cloud gods know what I’ve been looking at. Next time I hit Youtube, I will, undoubtedly, get, along with some political stuff, some art stuff, more kooks with cameras stuff.

WAIT. YES, I do realize I might seem hypocritical. Yes, it would be great if I could make any kind of money writing about surfing. Yes, I do frequently ride small waves (not soup), and yes, I do pimp the shit out of realsurfers to anyone I talk with for more than two minutes. “Yes, I did find everything… all right. Thank you. Slide or tap? Tap. Okay. You know, speaking of tapping, I have this website and…”

Time’s up. Gotta go.

Partying Down with the Hipsters, Surfsters, and the Grumpsters

My friend Steve was giving me a hand finishing up the staining of a cabin in the woods. The temporary renter of the cabin was a young woman who works in the wide world of psychoanalyzing and psycho-advising and psycho-counseling. She had just revealed that her partner… surfs. Not around here. “Venice.” Oh. “California.” Oh. I didn’t think Venice is particularly known for surfing. “Well.” Okay, so, he’s a hodad? “What’s a hodad?” Steve explained the term. “So,” she said, “during the pandemic, a lot of people started surfing, or were able to surf more.” Oh, yeah; for sure. “So…”

It still didn’t answer the question about hodad-ness.

So, then I told her what the pandemic did for folks out here on the fringe. For folks who only need a signal from the cosmic cloud to work remotely, remoteness was, and still is, up for grabs. Or for sale. “So?” So, more surfers. “And does that, in some way, annoy you?”

Yes. You see, I said, I seem to differentiate between surfing, and surfers who have a certain… connection… and those who do it for the… social aspects. Surfing is cool and I, um… uh… I don’t really go for cool by association.

Somewhere in here the woman made, I believe, a psycho-judgment that I was, not a sociopath and narcissist that I claimed to be, and possibly took some pride in being, but a grumpy old surfer unable to realize and/or accept that surfing is really just another excuse for healthy social interaction in a beachside setting.

Man, I hope someone else shows up who appreciates my bitchin’ trailer and my state-of-the-art board. San Onofre, 1950.

Wait. I am just another grumpy old surfer unable to appreciate the reality or share the joy? Oh, the guilt I feel. I was being accused of being self-aware and in denial of being self-aware; no, not true.

Well, maybe. I don’t know. Allow me to self-examine. I have developed some appreciation of the cultural circus aspects of surfing. Some. You know, like going to Westport mid-summer, once every other year. Festive.

When I started, just after junior high, none of my contemporaries surfed. Surfing was cool, even then. If you lived twenty miles from the nearest breaking waves, but surfed, you had an automatic plus in the cool category. Many tried it, some stuck with it. No one dropped the surfer checkmark next to his name (not sexist, didn’t seem to have any female surfers at Fallbrook High- would have been fine with it, probably). I was part of some sort of informal crew, one that broke up almost immediately after high school.

Then I wasn’t. I was a lone surfer. Sounds cooler than it is. I worked in Oceanside, then moved to Pacific Beach, University City, Encinitas, Mission Hills. I occasionally went surfing with someone I worked with or for. I recognized surfers at spots I frequented, but surfing was something one did before or after (or during- Trestles period) school, or work; forty minutes or so in the water, on average. This is where and when I developed my ‘ghetto mentality.’ Keep your head down, don’t look other surfers in the eye. These are not your friends; these are your competition. This is my often-used excuse for poor wave etiquette. I should apologize. Probably. I may have changed. Possibly.

Wait, they had, like, cool surf rigs back in 1963? Wow! San Onofre is a happening! And scaffolding. Brilliant!

San Diego, Ocean Beach, 1978: We were moving to the Northwest. I was unaware of any surf possibilities on the Olympic Peninsula. I checked out from my job before lunch. Trish was still working. It was fall, but the day was hot, and the water was still warm. I was walking out toward the pier. There was a crowd sort of hanging on the wall and in the parking lot. I don’t really remember if the surf was good or not. What I remember is the gallery, hanging out, sharing and utterly convinced of their individual and group coolness. Believing I was giving up surfing, my thought was, “Yeah; I’m too old for this shit.”

It might actually be that the older surfers are always being pushed out of the way, accused of not getting it by another next generation of surfsters, if not hipsters. It might also be true that it is difficult to maintain a certain level of involvement in a place where the waves are fickle. I have difficulty imagining what it might be like in a place where the waves are more consistent, and, undoubtedly, more consistently crowded. When I sneak away and go to some possible surf location, I do, almost always, know someone, or many someones who are also there, looking for a few waves.

There are multiple identifiable-if-unofficial groups of surfers in the spread-out neighborhood of the Strait/Islands/Northwest Coast, each with revolving memberships, that one could, loosely, describe as ‘crews.’ Or, maybe, ‘pods.’ Some surfers are actually accepted in multiple informal groupings. Some surfers are not accepted in any. Sad.

True of everywhere, no doubt.

I am actually very happy that I do have friends who surf. I’m actually fine with chatting it up on the beach. For a while. Party? Party wave?

Hmmm. Best things I can say about my therapy session is that it confirms what the self aware me already realizes, and that didn’t have to pay for it.

Is Seaweed Actually Magical? And…

…and another “SWAMIS” cutback. FIRST, here on the Olympic Peninsula, buoys, designed to help ships not sink or crash, somewhat helpful for surfers trying to determine if some portion of some swell might find its way into the Strait, have been ripped from their anchors, set adrift, lost, found, or, we don’t really know, put out of service. Putin? One theory. None of the downed or drowned bouys have been put back into service.

SO, surfers in, say, Seattle, have been relying on surf forecast sites before making a decision as to whether to invest the increasing amount of gas money, wait in line at ferries, face traffic slowdowns if ‘driving around.’ NOW, it must be mentioned that there are always waves of some sort or shape or size on the actual PACIFIC COAST. Almost always. AND the most characteristic condition on the Strait is flat. Flat with east wind, flat with north wind, flat with south wind, flat and somehow blown out with west wind.

STILL, surfers get desperate. So, trying my best to glean something positive from whatever sources I could, I went up Surf Route 101, looking. I wasn’t alone. More to not get skunked than to satisfy my surf lust, I ventured into calf-high curlers, my fin popping across rocks. PERHAPS BECAUSE I had paddled out, three more adventurers joined me. PERHAPS BECAUSE they had believed some forecast site, I passed many surf rigs on my way back down Surf Route 101. NOT ONLY THAT, but a friend of mine texted me, asking if I had scored bombs. AFTER ALL, Magic Seaweed was saying…

NOW, maybe it got awesome. Somewhere, for some brief period. MAYBE. YES, I did look at various forecasts. Not looking good for the Strait. Depressing. I must now upgrade my most recent session to “Pretty good. Didn’t break a fin.” Again, there are always waves on the actual ocean.

The rocks at Swamis, someone dropping in on someone. Taken from some hotel brochure.

MEANWHILE, I am trying to find some time to continue cutting my manuscript for “Swamis” down to a reasonable and, hopefully, saleable length. Tightening it up. I am up to the days after Chulo is beaten and set alight next to the wall of the SRF compound. This is a (copyrighted) version from the second completed draft. I might mention that, if you have any experience surfing on the west coast, you know (a snippet of a quote from Miki Dora about Malibu) “The south wind blows no good.”

CHAPTER 14- SATURDAY, MARCH 22, 1969

Three full days after Chulo’s murder, the burn-scarred section of the wall was back to white, visibly white even in the minimal pre-dawn light. I wasn’t sure if I had actually slept. I got out of bed at four, got to Swamis early enough to park the Falcon in the choicest location; front row, ten spots from the stairs; the optimal view of the lineup.

The Falcon was the same car in which my dad had taught my mom to drive, the station wagon, three-speed manual transmission. This was the car she used to drive her two boys to swimming lessons, and church, and to my appointments with a string of different doctors; and to the beach; surf mats and Styrofoam surfies and whining Freddy, maybe an annoying friend of his. The factory installed (optional upgrade) roof racks were now pretty much rusted in place.

The difference was the Falcon was now my car. A surfer’s surf wagon. Hawaiian print curtains hung on wires, a “Surfer Magazine” decal on the back driver’s side window, a persistent smell of mildew. Beach smell. With my boards now shorter, I usually kept them inside, non-hodad-like, but, for several of the reasons a hodad would do it, I kept the nine-six pintail on the roof for a while longer. “Just in case the waves are really small,” might have been one excuse.   

A predicted swell, this gleaned from other surfers and pressure charts in the Marine Weather section of the newspaper, hadn’t materialized, and a south wind was blowing. Cars with surfboards were passing each other up and down 101. Surfers were hanging out in parking lots and on bluffs and beaches, talking surf, watching the few surfers out at any spot bobbing in the side chop. Maybe it would clean up, maybe it would actually get bigger. And better.

I would wait. Waiting is as important a part of surfing as trying to be the first one out or paddling out before the best conditions hit.  Just before. My shift at my weekend-only, for-now, job didn’t start until ten-thirty; about the time the onshores typically get going. Different with a south wind. Sometimes it would clean up as some weak front moved inland or simply fizzled. Sometimes.

If I went out at nine, I could get a good forty-five minutes of surfing; maybe ten waves or more. I had my notebook, college-ruled; I had the four and eight track tape player under the passenger’s side of the seat; a collection of bargain tapes purchased at the Fallbrook Buy and Save; and I could do what I always did, study. My father’s billy clubs sized flashlight, four new d batteries, provided the lighting.

Read, recite, memorize, reread. That was my system. Less important details fall off with each attempt to memorize. The facts and details best remembered, by my logic, would most likely be the ones on the tests. Any quirky anecdotes, something that amused me; yes, I remembered those, too.  I had another system for multiple choice tests and standardized tests. Two of the four choices were obviously incorrect, fifty-fifty chance on the others. Best guest. The system worked surprisingly well, well enough that California’s supposed Ivy League university accepted me.

My father hadn’t understood why I couldn’t go there.

I was a faker, kid with a system; it never would have worked; not in that bigger pond, every student top of some class somewhere. 

No studying on this morning. I had to sneak over to the crime scene, the wall that surrounds the Self-Realization Fellowship compound. There was (and is) a wrought-iron gate in the higher, arched (former) entrance, around the corner, facing 101. As with the other breakpoints in the wall, that section is topped with the huge gold sculptures, each one representing a blooming flower. Lotus blossom. They could as easily represent a flame, not dissimilar to the one on the statue of liberty, not dissimilar to the burn marks on the wall my friends had described.  

The SRF compound is a place where people, on their own, go seeking enlightenment, a realization of the true self.  Seekers, seeking.

At about seven-fifteen I did walk over. Had to. I expected more. I expected some instant and obvious explanation.  There was a man by the wall, wheel-barrowing soil from a pile near the highway to the wall, raking it in. I had seen him before. Dark skinned. East Indian, I presumed. He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, white, with faded blue workman’s pants, rubber boots, and heavy leather gloves. Most of his face (and I knew he had a beard) was covered in what appeared to be an overlarge (plain cloth) bandana, a standard bandana (red) around his nose and mouth, and a tropical straw hat (quite different from the cowboy style Mexican farmers and landscape workers preferred). He dropped the new soil around newly planted but full-sized plants.

There was no evidence that something horrific had occurred. The new paint blended perfectly.  The plants looked… it all looked exactly the same as it always had; as it did even in the late 1950s, before I surfed, when my father took us there just so my mother could see the gardens.

If I blinked, I thought, it might be like taking a picture. I might remember details. I might remember better. Image. Catalog. File.

Blink.

“Swamis,” Portia Backstory

My novel, “Swamis,” would be complete and possibly readable by now if I wasn’t so (I have to say) involved in the backstory for each of the main characters (and, I guess, if there weren’t so damn many of them). I wouldn’t have been so involved in the details if it wasn’t so important to me to know and show how distinctive each character is. And realistic, authentic.

It hasn’t aided my task that character development and the crashing of characters against each other is so much fun for me. Writer fun, not like reader fun.

A reader wants FOCUS. I am trying. My third page one rewrite has narrowed the timeline, tightened the storyline, dropped out a few characters.

Here is an exchange that won’t be in the novel. I have already eliminated this scene at the San Diego Sheriff’s Office Vista Substation:

We’d been in the office too long. We were all a bit more… relaxed.

Dickson closed the door with a kick of the knee when he reentered the office with two more cups of coffee. He handed one to Jumper, said he put a little coffee in with the sugar. Wendall took the other cup, said Frederick Thompson had not been drunk or under the influence of drugs as far as the medical examiners could tell. “Just crazy.”

“Helicopter pilot,” Jumper said, as if this explained something.  It seemed to. Maybe not enough. “He flew evac in Korea, got out, surfed, went back in for Vietnam. Gunships. Different thing. Fucked him up.” Jumper paused. “So, yeah; crazy.” 

Wendall lit up another cigarette.  “And… all of this… craziness, Langdon is claiming, and he has the ear of the politicians, is because of the Sheriff’s Office laissez-faire” (he pronounced it la-zy-fair) “policy toward pot growers and dealers in our county.”

“Miss Ransom and the ‘Free Press’ assholes got that part right,” Dickson said. “La-zy-fair for sure.”

Wendall leaned over the desk as far as he could. “It wasn’t your father, Jody; Gunny thought he had it under control. It’s just… grown… too fast, too many new, um, participants. We knew about Chulo; that he was collecting money from the hippie dealers. Chulo and…?”

Jumper and I both said “Portia” at the same time.

Oceanside 1974. The proximity to Camp Pendleton
and a steady stream of vulnerable Marines had made the downtown a pretty tough place in the Vietnam era. I worked at Buddy’s Sign Service in this area June, 1969 to September, 1971. Yeah, too much exposition.

“Oh yeah,” Wendall said, “Portia. She’s actually Patricia Sue Langley. Patty Langley, runaway from, um, Many Wives, Utah; busted for petty theft…ha ha… back in ’65.  No, um, end of ’64.  She was a minor, so… So… and… oh, then she got… sexual. Oceanside. Marines, mostly; easy pickin’s.”

Dickson interjected. “Not our, as you know, jurisdiction.”

“Oh, but then Patty got herself down to Leucadia…” Wendall said, “across 101 and down from where you live now, Jody; one of those motels.”

Dickson pointed toward Jumper. “Second one past your place.”

“When I was a kid,” Jumper said, “Chulo and I’d go around, pick up coke bottles at the Log Cabin Inn, other motels; turn them in for the, the deposit. Good money for a kid.”

I felt compelled to join in. I spoke quickly to make up for the obvious lack of interest by the others. “A neighbor kid, Roger; he and I went to this ball game down by Live Oak Park. Fallbrook. Roger’s brother was playing. We picked up bottles; took them to the guy at the little… the stand. The guy said they were his bottles, wouldn’t give us the deposit money.”

“You tell him who your dad was?”

“No.” I looked at Wendall, Dickson, Jumper. They were waiting. “Roger did.”

Wendall cleared his throat. Loudly. “So. Jody’s dad… Gunny… Joe; he always liked to point out how most all the motels were on the south-bound side; like that showed nobody’s coming up from San Diego looking for a place; it’s all from the north.  L.A.”

“Anyway,” Dickson said, “guess she… Patty, um, slash Portia, got tired of… servicing… Jarheads; fresh-outa-boot-camp Ji-rines; they’d probably want to go two or three times.” He did a subtle hip thrust motion, adding, “First time ought to be free. Ha! Probably wouldn’t even make it out of his skivvies.”

Wendall took over. “It was my call. Disturbance. The proprietor actually called it in; but Gunny and…” Wendall pointed over his shoulder. “Gunny and Big Imagination here show up. I’m standing outside a room with some fat business type from Covina… West Covina. So… fat. He claimed he hadn’t gotten his money’s worth.”

It was a brief pause, but Dickson took the story. “So, Joe goes, ‘money’s worth of what?’ The guy… hey; it’s your story, Wendall. Did you take a bribe on that one?”

“Well.” Wendall looked around to make sure everyone was watching. “Sort of. Gunny, he goes up to the guy, looks down at his…you know, package. The guy was in… he’d put on his business jacket. Seersucker; some sort of sales guy green. Sears or Pennys; one of those. No shirt, and, you know, tidy whities; size, um, enormous. For his butt. No big bulge; not that I would notice. Black socks, the kind you hold up with garters. Garters. This Chipper, Mortenson, shows up and the… West Covina guy is acting like we’re supposed to be… like we’re on his side. Mortenson, you remember him, huh; tough bastard, loved to pull over kids.”

“And beaners,” Dickson said, looking directly at Jumper before giving Wendall a sweeping ‘take-it-away’ gesture.

Wendall was leaning forward, both elbows on my dad’s old desk. “So, Gunny, he’s got Mr. West Covina’s wallet in his hand and, I guess, repeats, ‘Money’s worth of what, Mr. um, Redwick?’ Red… wick.” 

We all may have chuckled. Wendall continued. 

“So, Patty’s standing there, wrapped up in a blanket. Not because it’s cold… and the motel owner, older woman who thought she’d be renting places for artists; like, you know, like Leucadia’s Newport Beach or something; she’s got an arm around Patty, and Patty’s got a bottle of orange soda up against one eye, and Gunny’s just waiting for Humpty Redwick to answer. And I say, ‘Maybe he was getting some, um, advice on, um, clothing choices.’ Morty… Mortenson, this cracks him up. But Gunny’s all business; serious. I mean, Morty’s seen some shit. He’s a vet, too. Korea, at least. Army. Chosin Reservoir. Bad shit. And he’d been cruising up and down 101, ‘Slaughter Alley’ for years. He was still, those days, still on a motorcycle. So, yeah; blood… tough guy, and he’s just… laughing.”

Wendall put a cigarette in his mouth, pulled out his Sheriff’s Office Zippo from his shirt pocket, snapped the lighter open with a jerk of the wrist, hit the wheel with a snap of the finger. More theatrics. “So, now Morty sees your dad’s serious. I mean, Morty was big, but Gunny was looking… you know how he could… that look; fierce, fierce-like; and Gunny he… he opens up Redwick’s wallet, then holds every photo of the guy’s wife and kids up to his face; whole, you know, string of them; and then shows them to me. And the owner. And Patty. Gunny takes out all the cash. He asks the proprietor if the motel fee has been paid. She says, ‘Diner’s Club,’ and Gunny holds a twenty and a couple of singles up in Redwick’s face, puts that cash back in the wallet, sticks the rest out toward Patty, sticks the wallet back into Humpty’s inside coat pocket. 

“Gunny’s still holding, probably, two hundred bucks. She, Patty, she shakes her head. And I say, ‘Oh, the advice,’ and she, no one would take her for dumb; Patty says, ‘Maybe Mr. Redwick should switch to some, um, boxers… maybe some, uh, dark color; that might be a choice.’ She takes the money. Now Gunny’s smiling. We’re, all of us, laughing. Not Redwick. He does look a little relieved, maybe.”

Wendall stopped, inhaled, blew the smoke out kind of forcefully. We all watched the cloud get sucked into the fan, some of it actually going out the window.

“Wait. Wait. So, Morty gets a call; three car pile-up by the Carlsbad Slough. He gets on his bike, starts it up, peels out. Lights and sirens.”

Jumper filled in with, “Not your jurisdiction.”

“Right. Then, two doors down, this other guy tries slipping out of a room. Gunny’s watching Patty. She must of looked over. The motel owner, she seems, um, concerned. Gunny gives me a look. The other guy, he tries to duck back into the room. I run down… yeah; I can run… I push open the door, grab this guy. He must have thought it was all over when Morty left.”

Wendall did a sort of relaxed pose, casually inhaled, slowly blew out smoke.

“And?” Jumper and I both asked.  

“And…” Wendall looked pleased. “And there’s another, definitely underaged girl inside; not beat up, but… I mean, it was obvious. So, short story long, it all went official. Other than the money.”  

Any excerpts from “Swamis” are protected under copyright laws, Erwin A. Dence, Junior, author.

Tim Nolan- Part X-60, Episode 2

Obviously, I just made up some numbers for episodes is Tim Nolan’s surfing life. We each have our stories of searches and epic sessions and terrible wipeouts and friends and crowds and empty perfect waves, of being caught inside, or outside, of gliding as part of a seamless band of energy and being pitched by a chunky section- Tim, perhaps, has more of these stories. If I am repeating myself, I must state that, in talking to Tim Nolan about the ocean, one cannot miss the connection he has.

It is a connection any real surfer has or wants. Sometimes a playground, sometimes a church.

Anyway…

“Four more photos. Three at Alpert’s Reef on my balsa 8’6” and one at Abalone Cove’s “Far Beach” on my first foam board, a pintail with a 3/4″ redwood stringer, built by Jim Lyman, who was a friend of Jeff Hackman’s dad. I ended up making a couple dozen laminated ash and mahogany wood fins for him. When I delivered the last seven, he didn’t have any money, so I told him to pay me when he can. He still owes me $21.00.”

This is one of the four photos, all from the Palos Verdes area, circa 1960. Not sure if it’s Abalone Cove or not.

Tim Nolan (part x-60)

Tim Nolan is, unquestionably, a legendary boat designer. Architect might be the correct term. He is also one of the first people I met out on the Strait, when I got back into surfing, at somewhere over fifty, after a complete absence from the water for somewhere between eight and ten years. And I sucked. I should say he was one of the first people I met who was older than me.

“Hey,” I said, “isn’t there an age limit on this sport?” Tim said something like… I don’t really remember, not nearly as snarky or as profane as I might have. Nice, actually; but I was still, mostly because I did still suck, kind of polite. “Is there a life for a surfer, like, my age?” “You will find that your best years are still ahead.”

Tim was pretty much right. Sort of. There is nothing I would trade for my time learning to surf, switching from a mat to a board (1965), going on surf adventures, alone and with friends in my teens, surfing comparatively uncrowded Southern California spots in the 70s, coping with the San Diego surf ghetto mentality up until I moved here at the end of 1978. I didn’t expect to have any kind of surfing life in the northwest. I have. In fact, even if I don’t include my early years of surfing less and less frequently, I have now been surfing longer up here than I did in California. Not as often, to be sure.

There is some unknown number of people who call themselves surfers. It is remarkable how the origin stories can be similar. Tim and I both started young, stuck with it for years; surfed less and less as career and family responsibilities or other distractions took control of our surfing time; and then we tried to get back into it when those forces lessened (somewhat).

Okay, I can’t really relate to those who learned to surf at a camp or a wave pool or tried to learn in their forties or something like that. Great. I guess. It’s fun, huh? Surfing, surfing well, takes a certain level of persistence, commitment. If I make a distinction between real surfers and surf enthusiasts, and I do, Tim Nolan is a real surfer.

He will always be older than me; three or four years; and as long as he stays with it, I have hope.

One of the photos, not that Tim isn’t ripping in each of them

Hi Erwin,
Here are some historic images grabbed from an 8 mm movie my father took of me surfing below our house at Abalone Cove in the summer of 1960. My board is balsa, a gift from my brother who bought it from his friend Dave Gregerson for $3.50 after it had been stripped of glass and surfed finless at Haggerty’s and thrown off the cliff as a sacrifice. The board was waterlogged and ends were split and embedded with rocks and pebbles. I dug  out the rocks and trimmed and bondo-ed the nose, but the tail was toast. I cut out the last 12” in a V shape with my Dad’s saw and glued up some pieces of balsa salvaged from life jackets that had failed the rip test used by the Coast Guard in those days to see if the canvas was rotten. My employers at that time, operators of the Marineland of the Pacific excursion boats noticed that the Coast Guard inspector was gentler during the lifejacket tests if they drank a coffee cup of whisky first.
So, I sawed the rubber off the salvaged life vest  sections, glued them together and made a new tail. I got resin, catalyst, fiberglass and pigment from the Maritime Supply store in San Pedro and went to town. I forgot to add catalyst while I was doing a yellow and green abstract pigment job on the deck, so I put in twice the amount for the gloss coat, which sort of worked. The deck got waxed and was supposed to be sticky anyway. The board was heavy, especially for a 12-year-old to carry down a cliff and then another half mile walking on rocks. But the board surfed well. It caught waves, coasted through sections, and was unstoppable once I got it to the water. In the movie, I am catching the most and best waves and getting the longest rides, same as I try to do now. (forgivable at the time because my Dad was watching, less so now because I’m not sure he still is..) The  quality is pretty fuzzy, having been copied from aged 8mm celluloid movie reel to VHS, then to DVD, and then to JPEG via Screen Capture, but it captures, for me, the moment and thrills of my first summer surfing as if it were yesterday.
We had consistent 1 to 3 ft waves at “Alpert’s Reef” (named by my neighbor, friend, and surfing mentor Jeff Alpert) all that summer, and then it never broke again for the remaining 5 years I lived there.

It only takes a few moments of talking with Tim Nolan to realize his love for the ocean is real, it is deep, deeper than merely sliding a boat or a board across the water. He is a waterman. I can’t do justice to his or anyone else’s feelings about, really, anything. I will give Tim a chance to share his relationship with surfing in the future. I already have a few more photos. Thanks, Tim.

Meanwhile, there are a few other real surfers I would like to feature in the future. We’ll see.

Between the Skunk and the Squall

I thought I had a few minutes to write something. I do. A few minutes. I have five semi-scheduled appointments I didn’t schedule late enough to cover my writing addiction. There were a couple of subjects I’ve been thinking about. One of them is not “Blowing up the spot” by posting photos of not-secret-surf-spots on the Gram, along with commentary on just how perfect your life is. Good for you.

Another topic is inviting all your out-of-town friends for a longshot chance at something breaking on the always fickle Strait. Whether you or your friends get waves is, even if the forecasters forecast waves, largely a matter of timing. The window in which any particular spot might have rideable waves is almost always quite small.

Here is very recent example: A local surfer was taking the path back after surfing. He runs into a dude heading toward the water. “Is it HAPPENIN’?!!” Pretty much on repeat. “Um… I don’t know you. I…” “Oh, I’m a friend of so-and-so’s. Came up from Portland.” “Oh, so-and-so.” Whether the surf was happenin’ or not is incidental. It just so happened that the local surfer knew so-and-so, kind of. Nevertheless, the response could have been, and probably was a nicer version of, “Get fucked and go back to fucking Portland!”

Sounds harsh. It’s a variation on the classic 60s Malibu line, “Get fucked and go back to the valley.”

I selected this photo while googling “Surfers in parking lots.” First one up. (Surfers changing into their wetsuits in the parking lot of Chesterman’s Beach. (Photo by Christopher Morris/Corbis via Getty Images). I had to use it. The car is a much nicer version of my surf rig. So, then I had to google Chesterman’s Beach. Tofino. Three surfers ready to rip. It is obviously happenin!. Now, I am not trying to blow up a spot I have never been to, but, wherever these obvious rippers came from, I am sure they were welcomed in the lineup.

I am not trying to relitigate or even discuss local/non-local stuff. Pick a spot, move in as close as you can get, never go anywhere else. Anyway, on my most recent surf adventure, not feeling too guilty because I have a job very close to several potential surf locations, I sort of disregarded my years of accumulated historical, anecdotal data on what tide and angle and wind direction and all might work and went. It wasn’t working when I arrived. Typical. Almost happening. There were two other vehicles in the parking area. One was a guy who came over from the Methow Valley, Eastern Washington. He had lived for a while in Port Townsend, worked for a guy I have painted for, not that any of this makes up for him driving, like, forever, to get to this spot. He was actually ready and waiting for Hobuck to open up. Evidently (blowing up the spot here) Hobuck may have.

The other guy, who never came out of his rig, was from Wenatchee. Also East of the mountains. I didn’t take the time to discuss his surf history.

The next rig that arrived had a guy from Westport and a guy from Gig Harbor. The Gig Harbor guy knew some surfers I also know, had a few stories I hadn’t heard about several of our mutual acquaintances.

How do I know this stuff? I ask.

Not almost enough for those two, they headed elsewhere, continuing their search. I went out. I got lucky. Pretty decent before the wind came up and the swell dropped off. I surfed, went to my job as other surfers went out, others arrived, checking it out. As I was leaving, another guy cruised in. He knew some surfers I know.

The next day, one of my friends told me the spot I surfed got good later in the afternoon. “And who did you hear that from?” He heard it from the guy (he told me his name, I just forgot it) who, obviously, stuck around through the tide and the squalls and the drop in swell. So, kind of the fir cone wireless, the little social networks we all seem to develop. Still, better than, “Yeah, he posted it on Instagram.” “Hope he didn’t call it the ‘Best ever!’ It wasn’t.”

I have learned not to name spots on my little site; even those that are not secret. It is not so much the spot as the window, and besides, do we need more surfers in the lineup?

Time’s up. I have to go; don’t even have time to check to see if I know anyone up Tofino way. FIR CONE WIRELESS, kind of happy with that little variation, in case it’s remote, on the COCONUT WIRELESS.

No offense to Portland.

Original E Hits North Shore Ha-waii-eeee!

Hawaii. No, it’s not the first time one of my t-shirts has hit the 50th state in the Union. Stephen R. Davis rocked (I don’t usually use this expression- fits with Steve) one or two of my designs, and, if I remember correctly, shared one with Cap. Not sure. Anyway, the Erwin Original shirts have been there before Chris Eardley, ripper on the North Shore of the contiguous US, showed up there.

Chris was nice enough to send me a photo. Here’s how the text exchange went:

Whoa! Is this, like the Volcom House? Florence residence? JOB’s pad? Wait, is that wave even rideable?

Chris: “Got my lucky shirt here at Pipe. Got some good waves at Sunset Point this morning before it got huge. The shirt keeps its lucky streak!”

Erwin: “Holy fuck, Chris, you hangin’ wit’ day (sp. I meant ‘da’) boys AND resenting (meant ‘representing’) OWWW! And I don’t use !!!!s without cause. Hopefully the slab work here helped you conquer. I have watched so many north shore videos I feel like I know the crew. Good luck!!!! Yeah, more of those, writer shakas.”

Yes, that is exactly how I wrote it; not that I actually talk like that.

More Erwin: “If you would send shot to __________ (email address, not really secret- we do get lots of unsolicited stuff). I would be proud and stoked to put it on my site. It’s just another north shore.”

Chris (next day): “I just got back, scored some great surf. Lots of positive comments on your shirt and, as usual, it brought good luck. It’s usually my shirt of choice when I hit the Strait because I’m on a streak with it!”

OKAY, so Chris followed local etiquette by not telling me about surfing in Hawaii until it was too late for me to show up. Good.

Erwin (while about to change lanes on freeway en route to job in Gig Harbor: “Great” (third attempt at completing this particular verbal text- no period or explanation point- or … I hate it when it shows up as something like- “. dot dot” or “Great” comma).

Because I wasn’t sure Chris would send the photo to my e-mail address, and because I wanted to share the shot with the few (seriously, few) surfers I have phone numbers for, I sent the photo to Stephen R. Davis with a request to send it back to me. I have a problem transferring photos from my phone to the e-mail. It could, possibly, be remedied if I allowed some sort of hookup that might mean every email would ping on my phone. Steve did send it, but Chris also came through.

Chris (via e-mail, and there may be a slight amount of redundancy, not that it bothers me): “Here’s a shot of me at Pipeline sporting an E. Dence original. I got quite a few compliments on the shirt in Hawaii, stayed up on the (other) north shore and scored some great surf. Did NOT surf pipeline, of course, but as you can see, had a pretty good view from the safety of the deck. Aaron’s coaching at some local slabs paid off as I pulled into some challenging ones elsewhere, though. For my next Erwin shirt, I think I’ll seek a lighter color as black got a little toasty in the Hawaiian sun.”

Chris Eardly is a guy who runs for fun, travels to the East Coast for Hurricane Season, hits the slopes and… yeah, he qualifies as a real surfer (skateboarding and snow stuff are optional, perhaps- but helpful). He is part of the PT Crew if there is such a thing, and, if there is, it would be so loosely connected and… really, how would I know? As far as scoring on the Strait- yeah, I thought that was pretty funny. Chris’s reference to Aaron might be the elusive and well-traveled “Short Board Aaron.” Slabs? It’s a matter of definition and proportion. And location; as in, somewhere else. So much for the disclaimer.

As far as Original Erwin t-shirts- If you have one, hang on to it, don’t spill paint on it. I haven’t made any in several years. I have no stockpile of them. I have done some drawings that could be shirts, I do plan on getting some more printed up, but… right now… collector’s items. Am I trying to hype up the value? Yes.

Not available… yet
For light colored t-shirt, perfect for tropical climes… coming soon.

Give Me Some Good News…

I have written some lyrics for songs over the years. It is surprising to me how many years ago some of them were developed as I drove from here to there or wherever. Or back home from wherever. Songs, not poetry. Not that I have that much disdain for poetry; it just seems a bit more pretentious than… okay, I have purposefully written a few poems.

Since I have been playing harmonica (harp to hipsters and such folks) long enough (since 1969 or so when Buddy, of Buddy’s Sign Service, gave me a Hohner full-sized slide chromonica- current replacement cost- $224.88 at Guitar Center) that I have enough Blues Bands and Special 20s, as well as the cheapie versions by Hohner and other manufacturers, with blown reeds to, someday, get them all together (or as many as I can find) with some resin and create some sort of assemblage. So Artsy. In my mind, it would be the kind of thing where any observer would have to ask, “Do you know what harmonicas cost nowadays?” More than they did when you bought one, just to try it out.

It is not accidental that many of my lyrics fit into a blues format. My older son, James, is a musician, mostly a guitar player. James started out with Heavy Metal, studied Classical Guitar at the Lionel Hampton School of Music, did some sessions at Port Townsend’s Centrum Blues Festival (not that he attended classes. He claimed that going to the week-long retreat, paid for by his grandfather, gave him access to “The Bad-asses,” he and some of them jamming on the porches of the old buildings at Fort Warden), moved on to blues-jazz fusion with his own bands, while playing lead guitar with The Fabulous Kingpins, a long-time cover tune band.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned James before. Sorry; I got started, kept going.

SO… blues, harmonicas, lyrics; the harmonica is an instrument one can play while driving. Legally, I believe, if one isn’t distracted. One hand. While I can play a range of songs… note of caution- wailing out the last verse of “All Along the Watchtower” will blow out the reeds with notes you only meant to bend- I do use my alone/driving time to write/play/sing loud enough to almost overcome the noise from the blown-out muffler on my surf rig.

I do have a working radio on my work van, with pre-sets to one NPR station, one hip Seattle station, one cool station from Everett, and one local one from Port Townsend. But… when the news is redundant and or horrific, when the folks are begging for funding, when the music is shitty or the talking heads are discussing topics I don’t actually care about, I can hit an alternate list. Classical FM, an AM station I’ve never bothered to tune out. Or I can play harmonica and sing a variety of songs I know some or all of the words to. “In the Early Morning Rain,” “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” are two examples.

It might not be surprising that a collection of songs I put together and got a copywrite for (I would have to look for the actual date- it has been a while) is entitled, “Love Songs for Cynics.” Not that I’m all that cynical. I do have some, you know, like, love songs in the mix. Here are a couple of the titles: “Ain’t Got No Problems with Lolita,” “Honey Days,” “I Just Wanna go Surfin’,” “And So am I,” “You Made me what I Am.” Oh, that one is a bit cynical.

The NEWS. A problem with watching dire weather forecasts, looking at confusing and not-necessarily-epic surf forecasts, reports from Seattle about homeless camps and people stealing catalytic converters and drilling holes in gas tanks to steal ever-more-costly fuel, network news about Ukraine and Putin and tanks and shelling and evacuations and refugees is… it is just too much.

I WAS THINKING, specifically, about this song. I tried to remember all the lyrics. No, it’s not about peace; it’s really kind of whining, poet-like. However, with a little tweaking…

“Give me some good news, please, no more bad; You know I’m crazy, but I’m not mad; Guess disappointed’s the word I’d choose; Come on, can’t you give me some good news? Something that might shake away these blues.

Something that might shake away, something that might take away, you know we can break away from these blues; If only you could give me… some… good… news.”

There is also, along with the other two verses I can’t totally remember at the moment (on a thumb drive somewhere, a printed copy somewhere else), an outro with this:

“…You know and I know and we know and they know, the world has blown a fuse; And God ain’t grantin’ no more interviews; so, come on, can’t you give me… some… good (big finish here) NEWS.”

James and me a few years back, bending notes, breaking strings, blowing out reeds.

OKAY, I’m going to check that surf forecast again. Not to dissuade anyone, but it looks a little… sketchy.

“SWAMIS” UPDATE: I’m four chapters in on the total rewrite and I’m condensing and tightening what I wrote in the outline I wrote to condense and tighten the over-expansive two earlier versions. It’s actually going pretty well. I just did more on Portia and Baadal Singh, set up Chulo and Gingerbread Fred for the chapter after the next one, and I’m thinking… can I just eliminate that one, move on to Chulo’s murder?

Thinking. It’s what I do when I’m not playing harmonica.

“Is the Water Cold, Erwin?”

I had just ‘accidentally’ burned my friend, Stephen R. Davis. “I’ll block for you,” I had said, though there were only four of us out and neither of the other two surfers would even dare take off in front of someone that deep on the wave. I still maintain that I hadn’t meant to catch the wave, and I did pull out as soon as I could, and Steve did ride it another sixty yards or so. BUT, yeah, I did burn him.

The other two surfers in the water were Darrick and Nam, both of whom play into the story. I was telling Trish the tale from a slightly different angle the other night because we had run into Nam at the Home Depot. Trish and I were looking at (not purchasing) appliances and flooring and Nam had been looking for waves on the Strait, and, as it often happens, chose riding tiny ones over being skunked.

The story was from the first time (probably four years ago now) I had been aware of being in the water with Nam, well before his persistence and hours surfing, or at the skate park, or on the slopes had turned into a competent wave rider. Steve, paddling back out, yelled the line at me. “Is the water cold, Erwin?”

Derrick was halfway out. He paddled past Nam and said, “I don’t know who you are, but you’ll get a wave before Erwin gets another one.”

“Accident,” I said, knowing Derrick is kind of a stickler for proper surf etiquette. Like Steve, Derrick also kite surfs. Even if he didn’t pop up thirty feet in the air on occasion, he seems to hang on to a certain non-kookiness and coolness I’ve given up on long ago. “I’ll give Steve ten bucks for screwing up his ride.”

A few minutes later, Steve and Derrick and I trading waves and pretty much ignoring Nam, I was going for a set wave. Derrick, a bit down the line, took it. On his way back out he said, “Guess I owe you ten bucks now.” I explained I was too far in for it. No charge (except, of course, Derrick charging the wave).

SO, the cryptic quote. Yesterday, Steve, not yet free of the effects of horrific drug reactions was in Seattle getting a second round of Chemo. I was trying to finish up a project for a condo association, trying to be positive and upbeat while tightening the work up as close to perfect as I could get it. ALLRIGHT, here’s what I say about perfection: “It’s difficult to attain and impossible to maintain,” to which the representative for the condo board I was dealing with, who always wore his “Let’s go, Brandon” hat, said, “Yeah, perfect really gets in the way of good.”

Good. So, Steve, using Sierra’s phone, says, “You know, Erwin, all those folks who ask, like, ‘Is the water cold?’… They all live in Port Townsend now.”

Steve’s latest paintings.

I really wanted to get to this: Steve started these before the diagnosis and the treatment, and the bad drug reaction and the chemo. He did some more on them the other day when his eyes, which were, at the worst point in this, at risk of having cornea meltdown, were working enough to continue. He has been working with another Stephen, over at the Printery in Port Townsend with the goal of turning some of his work into prints.

Steve has really had a tough few months. I told him I would rerun the GoFundMe page Sierra put together for him. Next time, for sure. It’s Stephen R. Davis. You can find it, AND, if you can blow up the image (above) on your device, do it. Totally worth it.

JUST to finish up on Nam, it was Trisha’s idea for me to do an illustration from the photo Nam’s girlfriend took of him. Trish, incidentally, thought Nam was polite (he might be Canadian), and a totally cutie pie.

Nam and I are still in contention whenever we are in the water. It’s official. So far, 2-1, my favor, best out of one million and one.