Holiday Greetings to Weekend Warriors

There were waves this week on the Straits. Not as good as it can get; but, as my friend Archie texted me after a Monday session, ‘surfable.’ On Thursday, with the buoys showing an adequate swell if at the proper angle (and it was at an angle usually almost guaranteeing- there’s no real guarantee on the Straits- just better odds), Keith called me en route, over the rocks, to a spot that sometimes provides a critical drop, and, some of the sometimes, a long wall, all when the wind is pushing those properly-angled ground swells into frothy unsurfableness. 

Keith was on his lunch hour and was supposed to call me if he was successful. Last I heard was, “Uh huh; there’s a wave. Uh huh.” “Hey, call me back and tell me what…” “Yeah; gotta go.”

I’ve had several phone conversations on the subject of going. “Can’t. Can’t. Gotta work. Next time I’ll… Next Monday… um… we’ll see.”

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One of my favorite winter surf runs- in the northern part of the northwest, that season would be between Labor Day and Memorial Day, is the late afternoon speed run, arriving an hour before sunset. This close to the winter solstice, that means being in the water by 3:30. Sometimes there’s a glassoff, or a shift in wind direction. An off-season (flip the above holidays) variation is the Sunday afternoon run to the coast. With it staying light until after ten close to that solstice, one could be headed out while most of the other surfers are headed back to the city.

It’s a conceit of mine that, since I’m self-employed, I can go surfing when it’s breaking; middle of the day; middle of the week; avoiding the weekend and the, yeah, you were ready for this, the weekend warriors.

This isn’t my only conceit, of course; just one that trips me up when the peak of a winter’s worth of swells falls on Sunday; when I just have to have to work, and, headed east in the morning, I pass multiple surf rigs headed northwest. On my way home, sometimes I pass the same vehicles, the driver no doubt blinking, passengers napping, each with a smile.

A joke I heard on a Saturday when the only ones on a project were the drywall contractor and me, the painting contractor. Though he has a crew, this was a small job that had to get done. “So,” he said, “if you’re self-employed, you only have to work half a day.” I waited patiently for the punch line. “And you can choose which twelve hours you work.”

These days, and for a while, we count ourselves lucky to have work. And if we do… have to work.

I won’t whine about the times I’ve worked close to waves I’d have rather have been riding.  No, I will. There was one afternoon, years ago, painting a house just above Stone Steps. It was perfect. So glassy. Surfers just off work were filling in the lineup. I was painting. It was after my regular job; a side job; and it had to be done. 

I’ve had discussions with Archie about how, mid-week, mid-winter, we know (at least recognize) most of the surfers at the several spots we prefer. Yet, each time the forecasts and the actual conditions give surfers a reasonable hope for something ‘surfable’, there are a few new faces in the parking areas. Hopeful expressions on people who called in sick, took a day, took a chance.

And, Archie (who worked long hours, every day, for months in Alaska) reported, in a cell phone discussion on how he wasn’t really interested in going with me on the only version of a trip I could make, a pre-dawn start and a quick return; on Tuesday, with very small waves he was going to pass on, four people went out.

I, no doubt, would have joined them. Let me extend my most sincere wishes that everyone can find a few waves to put that subtle smile on our faces. Warriors, whenever we can make it. 

Skip Frye Should Have Won

 

                      

“Skip should have won,” one person said. “He was just TOO smooth,” another said, “He made it look TOO easy.” “North County judges,” a third San Diegan added. Their boards already loaded, each of them, two guys, one girl, dressed in 1965’s appropriate après surf uniform of Levis, t shirt, windbreaker; they looked at me long enough for me to realize I was part of the North County surfing audience intended to hear the criticism. 

Really? No, I was a chunky just-turned-fourteen year old kook walking from the far end of Tamarack’s lower parking lot carrying my ridiculous, used, already-an-antique Velzy/Jacobs balsa wood board, wearing some sort of unfashionable and stretchy trunks that were, in reality, a compromise between the Hawaiian print jams I wanted and the Australian bunhuggers (like my Dad wore) that my mom had purchased for my trips to the beach two years earlier.

Sure, I’d have preferred to be carrying a newer board, wearing Kanvas by Katins trunks; those had surf integrity; or the colorful striped nylon trunks featured in “Surfer.” Jantzen, maybe. Nope.  Later, after appropriate whining, I’d get some jams. After catching several times on my knees, they ripped out.

While still not quite past the San Diego visitors, Skip Frye himself, dressed, carrying his board, walked close to the group. “You should have won, Skip.” “It wasn’t… fair.” The criticism and the support were shrugged/brushed off with a cool nod and a sort of awkward smile that said, “I’m not really a contest surfer.” (Actually, he was… then, and quite successfully so)

Still, to shrug off a near-win/loss was stylish.

Though he was featured in many a classic Ron Stoner photograph, arching or crouching in the tube at The Ranch, sliding across crystal waves at Blacks, and scored well for years in the annual “Surfer Poll,” Skip Frye wasn’t a flashy sprinter.

He was in it for the long run; super marathon; steadily, consistently sliding.

Skip Frye has been quietly ruling the waves between Pacific Beach Point and Crystal Pier, and, of course, beyond, for what is forever in the lives of most surfers. Already well known in the mid-sixties, he continues to surf with style somewhere beyond his mid sixties.

I’ve written about Mr. Frye before, how I, probably in my lucky Hang Ten trunks, walked past him at Tourmaline Canyon in the early seventies. I was carrying my brand new, pirated version of the Waterskate he had been working on for Gordon and Smith in conjunction with Tom Morey.

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It seems I’ve always had a connection with, not surf shops with snarky, judgmental, guaranteed-to-be-good-surfers-because-they-work-at-a-surf-shop sales people, but those back rooms where shapers shape and glassers glass. So it was, on some pretense or need, resin or cloth, I visited the G&S factory on the other side of I-5 (over by the dog pound) a few times. Skip Frye was the guy not to be bothered, not that I would be so bold. He was busy. “So, what was it you wanted?”

“Um, uh, some resin, maybe.”

Information, insight, some connection to the craft.

In a crowded Saturday morning lineup north of Crystal Pier in the early seventies, all of us scrapping on our short boards, Skip, on some almost-a-joke-at-the-time longboard, would paddle laterally, then ease toward shore, picking up some unseen wave-between-waves, stand, ease into a perfect little peak.

When my friend Archie Endo lived in P.B. in the eighties, while attending UCSD, Skip Frye was, he says, with proper respect, “The Emperor of Pacific Beach.” 

And, this many years after that, he still is.

 

Check the previous piece for apologies and disclaimers.

 

Running Over Archie Endo

Running Over Archie Endo

This is a photo of my friend, Archie, known along the Straits for his classic longboarding skills, his polite demeanor, his classic rides (as in vehicles- this being one of several).
This is a typical day on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, so, if you’ve heard there are sometimes waves, sometimes great waves there, no; rumor; don’t bother.
In many ways Archie is a throwback to a time when surfing was about the flow, the style; any aggression aimed at the waves rather than other surfers.
Archie learned to surf in his native Japan, and, though riding a nine foot plus board was out of fashion when he started, he never wanted to be a short boarder.
Archie, now long-but-selectively Americanized, is an expert on salmon production, specifically salmon eggs, and has been all over the world, always near a coast; usually spending the summer in Alaska, working long, long hours.
This gives him some freedom, when home, to look for waves along the points and rivermouths of the Olympic Peninsula.
He owns a classic Dewey Weber Performer and another ten foot board. That would be the one I ran over on our last session. Having been skunked the previous two trips (see, skunked?), we were delighted to find rideable waves, and, even rarer, some rights.
Paddling out, I watched Archie catch the first one… knee paddle takeoff, drop, turn, glide.
In my usual over-amped mode (knowing the waves could just stop coming), three waves later, a little too far up the reef, I thought for a second about going left, then right, then… there was Archie, evidently confident that I had some control.
Nope, already dropping, I ran straight over his board as he bailed. I heard a solid ‘thump,’ figured I’d ended my session with a broken fin.
Nope; but I did put a four inch cut into the nose of Archie’s board. Luckily, on this occasion, he was riding with me. Otherwise, and it might have been fitting and just, I’d have been be hitchhiking home.
Nope. Archie chuckled about it; told me how he’d fix it. “Sort of a memento,” I offered.
“Um,” he said, “may be.”

Sliding a Secret Straits Spot

Sliding a Secret Straits Spot

With a little time, I’ve gotten over (some of) the guilt I felt immediately after taking more than my share of the waves that, all so rarely, find their way deep into the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
In my defense, there was only one other surfer and a kayaker when I went out on my SUP.
AND I didn’t want to be intimidated by the kayaker.
AND the waves were pretty small when I did go out.
AND, I am 62 years old, eligible for Social Security, senior discounts…
AND I can’t help it that so many other eager surfers came out AND the waves came up…
AND, still, I was still ‘circling,’ taking off farther out and over, repeatedly taking off farther over and out, riding all the way to the shorebreak, where the choice of trying to pull out, pull through, do a ‘fall back,’ or sideslip onto the sand was dependent on whether the wave was still barrelling.
Many were.
I had my leash ripped off twice, my connecting tie to the board broken once, got thrashed several times, and actually pulled out a couple of times.
Very hard to do a standing island pullout on such a floaty board.
So, I did wave hog to the top end of my ability, I did take more than my share of waves.
I did probably irritate the local surfers.
I confess these sins, hope for forgiveness; and must admit that I have committed this same sin in the past.
AND I must add I may recommit.
Many thanks to my friend Archie Endo for taking this and other photos, some providing proof I gave a lot of room to Cody when he took off behind me.
I could say, as part of my ‘guilty with an explanation’ plea, that seeing a camera when I was already frothing, Archie and I having been skunked farther out the Straits on the same day, hearing numerous phone reports of epic conditions, and having several irritating delays thrown in, including a bear raiding our storage locker for bird feeding (old people activity) did add to my being over-enthusiastic.
I could. I’m still, with a focus always on the story, contemplating the rewards and pitfalls.
I did love the rewards.