NO SURF… No, there’s always surf…

…somewhere. Usually somewhere else. I’m, luckily, pretty busy painting, today being the only day lately where rain isn’t threatening or falling. Since there are no swell forecasts that predict anything close, and I don’t have time to go to the coast, I googled/yahooed ‘no surf,’ got this image.

Luscombs

The cove is, evidently, now called ‘No Surf Beach,’ along Sunset Cliffs. I actually have a couple of stories about the spot. The first involves Stephen Penn and I, both twenty years old, freshly married and living in San Diego. Steve, formerly of Marin County, and his wife, formerly Dru Urner, formerly of Fallbrook, were living in Ocean Beach; Trish and I in Pacific Beach. Our daughter, Drucilla (born on earth day, April 22, 1980, before it was Earth Day- and, oddly enough, as I edit this, it’s again Earth Day- Happy Birthday), is actually named after Dru, a promise Trish made to Drucilla Urner, evidently in typing class back in high school.

It was 1972, and Steve and I went looking for waves. I had surfed Sunset Cliffs before, but at Luscombs, the point in the distance, and once at New Break (with Bucky Davis and Phillip Harper, walking in back in 1967- we had no problems with locals). When Steve and I arrived at the little parking area in the foreground, there were four or five surfers at the little peak. The tide was lower and the peak was closer to the foreground point. I thought these other surfers were less a problem than Steve did. “They’ll leave,” I said. “Just start catching waves.”

Now, I don’t want to sound all aggro about this, though I may have been a little more exuberant while trying to convince Stephen to go out. It was either here or Ocean Beach jetty. Surfing mostly Crystal Pier, mostly after work and on weekends, with strangers, since Trish and I got married in November 1971 had pushed me toward a sort of ghetto mentality. It wasn’t surfing Swamis beachbreak with friends. This was city surfing. No eye contact.

Yeah, still dealing with my wave lust, bad manners. I wasn’t, I insist, pushy, merely persistent, going for position when possible, always ready for waves someone missed or fell on.

Three hours or so later, with three or four different surfers sharing the lineup, with the tide filling in and the waves ending on the mossy ledge beyond the pinnacle rock, Steve and I were climbing back up the cliff. With almost all of my surfing done between/before/after school/work/other-seemingly-or-actually important-stuff, forty-five minutes to an hour an a half, with me mentally breaking it into fifteen minute ‘heats,’ this was one of the longest sessions I had surfed. I was exhausted.

Maybe it was the competition. I couldn’t get out of the water before Steve; and the waves kept coming. I have more to say on the whole waves vs. life subject, but … Oh, gotta get to some actually important stuff. If I get some work done, and the waves… you know… I’ll be ready.

Later. WAIT! Since there’s no waves in the local forecast, and not mentioning how Adam Wipeout scored, Mike could have but didn’t, and that I ran into Darrin, who scored on the coast, at Wal-Mart, and because I’m planning on going down to my Dad’s house (now my brother’s house) in Chinook, Washington, here’s a shot I stole from a forecast site.

 

Phillip Harper, Ray Hicks, Phillip’s Sister, Bucky Davis, My Sister, My Mom, Bob Dylan, and The Endless Summer

“First of all,” I said, standing in the kitchen of Phillip Harper’s parent’s house, two bars of paraffin wax melting in a soup can on the stove, Phillip’s board floating between two chairs and across the dining room table, “the theater was in no way ‘underground.’ Disappointing.”

Phillip and Ray Hicks seem to be properly impressed I, more country kid than either of them, had gone into the city for some other reason than to ride the escalators at Sears with my many brothers and sisters while my parents shopped.

It was at about this moment that Phillip’s sister, Trish (not my Trish- hadn’t met her yet), came in from the pantry (no one ever seemed to use the formal front door). She appeared noticeably disappointed that her brother and at least one of his geeky friends were there. Trish was followed in by her boyfriend, Bucky Davis. He was, perhaps, a bit less disappointed; a nod for Phillip, smaller one for Ray, even smaller one for me (standard cool reaction to over-amped groms). Bucky took a moment to check out the wax on the stove.

“You have to be careful,” he said, both hands simulating an explosion. “A candle might be a better idea.” A single hand tipping an imaginary candle illustrated the point.

“Erwin went to see ‘The Endless Summer’ in San Diego,” Phillip said. “At an underground theater,” Ray added.

“The thing is,” I said, trying to be informative, “kind of disappointing; it wasn’t at all underground. Just a regular…”

Phillip and Ray appeared less impressed than the first time they heard this.

“On University Avenue?” Trish asked. I shrugged. I hadn’t driven. “I saw it at State.” She paused, possibly to see if she had to add ‘San Diego State.’

No, I knew she had been spending some time down there, preparing to attend ‘State’ in the fall of 1967. Bucky would not be attending.  He was planning on going to Palomar Junior College; he’d have to go somewhere to stay out of the draft.

“When I saw it,” she continued, “Bruce Brown narrated it… himself. He was behind this curtain and…” She stopped because Bucky seemed a bit surprised, I thought, though I’m sure I was mostly trying to hide being impressed. And out-cooled. Again. Always by her.

Bruce Brown… in person.

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After all, it had been impossible to be really, even passably cool, at the above-ground theater, hanging with my older sister, Suellen, AND my mother.

Still, hoping to in some way compete, I said, “Yeah, well; they had these previews for a movie with Bob Dylan, and…”

“’Don’t Look Back’,” Trish said.

“Huh?” Phillip and Bucky and Ray asked, pretty much at the same time.

“Uh huh,” I said; “and Bob Dylan’s, like… he’s holding up these…”

“Cue cards,” Trish said.

“I guess. Yeah. And my mom starts laughing.”

“Laughing?” Phillip and Trish and Bucky and Ray all asked.

“Yeah, laughing; and… I mean, not even Suellen’s laughing. No one’s laughing.”

“Because it’s Dylan,” Trish said, serious and indignant.

“Yeah, Bob Dylan; but, pretty soon, someone else starts laughing. And then more people are laughing; and then everyone’s laughing. And Bob Dy… Dylan, he just keeps dropping the cards. And…”

By this time, in the kitchen, I was also laughing. Phillip started to laugh. Ray, studying Bucky’s face, joined in the laughter. Then Bucky looked over at his girlfriend, maybe thought for a moment about how he didn’t see “The Endless Summer” at ‘State,’ with Bruce Brown personally narrating, and he laughed.

And then the wax exploded.

Marshall Dillon and ‘Fish’ Share a San Onofre Fire

 I WILL ALWAYS BELIEVE that James Arness seemed a little upset that I didn’t recognize him at the very moment that, looking way up, thinking about what deep wrinkles this man had, I did recognize him as Marshall Dillon, Mr. Gunsmoke.

Maybe it was because my expression changed from one of appreciation to one he recognized, one he came to San Onofre to get away from; the vapid fan-stare of image-induced bedazzlement.

“You can have the fire, kid,” he said, ducking to step into his 1967 model of a recreational vehicle; “hopefully your friends will be back soon.”

That’s the short version.

Yes, it’s another San Onofre story. But, first, I’d like to reiterate that I don’t believe my stories are better than yours. In fact, I think anyone who started surfing in his or her teens, begging someone for a ride to the beach; moving up to going with friends rather than parents, finding friends scatter after high school, finding new friends, surfing among strangers, all the while trying to figure out how to move from flailing to succeeding against and with waves, how to be a grownup. Sure, we all have stories.

These are just mine. You can’t help but compare them with yours.

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On this occasion I was riding with Mark Metzger and Billy McLean, younger brother to Don McLean, who is our age but didn’t stick with surfing for very long.  And Mark was trying to give me a new nickname. With a name like Erwin Dence, Jr., commonly called “Junior” at my house, it doesn’t take much. Erwinkle, Erweenie, Dense.

Oddly, none of my friends really had nicknames, not in the Windansea-gotta-have-one-to-be-cool sense.  We did call Ray Hicks ‘H-I-X’ for a while (another Mark Metzger idea), mostly because it bothered him, and Phillip Harper ‘Felipe,’ after noted big wave surfer Felipe Pomar, but, again, not for very long. Last names, as we were referred to by various high school coaches, that was about it.

There was older surfer Bucky Davis; I can’t be sure I ever heard his actual given name.

Still, Mark was determined that, since I seemed to stay in the water longer than anyone else, I should be renamed “Fish.” “No; don’t really like it.” “Fish doesn’t like his nickname, Billy. Too bad. Fish.”

I’m not sure I was actually asked if I wanted to get out of the water before my driver and shotgun rider took off onto Camp Pendleton proper, “The Base” in local offbase jargon. Billy and Don’s father was a civilian firefighter, a necessary workforce as brush fires have always been a sort of yearly event in the fall/Santana wind season.

Somewhere Fish got cold, hypothermic-short-john-wetsuit-in-winter-cold, and got out of the water. No friends, no car, no towel, no clothes.

I headed toward a small fire near the RV parked on the hard-packed dirt road.

Sharing of the beach fire was common. My sister Suellen was the firestarter/tender often in our Tamarack days, cold kids gathering there, talking surf and swearing occasionally, just learning to string several phrases together. Somewhat embarrassing to me, it was something Suellen seemed deaf to. Kids.

This fire seemed to be tended by a really big, really tall man. Not a talker, really; but I rattled off my situation. “Uh huh,” he said, moving things into his RV. And then he was gone, and I crouched down, shifting my focus between the fire, the waves, and the road.

Of course I acted as if I’d never been cold when Mark and Billy returned.

“Marshall f___ing Dillon of f____ing ‘Gunsmoke?’ Really, Fish?”

“Yeah; honest.”

About this time, my companions would have lit up, offered me a smoke. This was a common practice among any grouping of my surf friends; an offer I always declined until… okay, different story, though somewhat San Onofre-related; my first cigarette was, um, experienced in the backseat of a car headed up old 101 from an overnight stay on someone’s uncle’s boat in Oceanside Harbor (I think it was Dana Adler’s). Since I already had a splitting headache from the fumes (I had actually thought I would die in my sleep), a said, “Hell, yes.” “Really?”

Still, I couldn’t help but think my being offered a cigarette was yet another example of how sinners want to share in the sin. Thanks, buddies.

But, back at the beach on this trip, Mark couldn’t help but tell me how “You missed a great breakfast. Fish.” “And you missed Marshall f___ing Dillon, Metzger. Got a f____ing smoke?”

Oh, yeah; wild and sinful. “And don’t call me Fish; f___er.”

By this time I was warm enough to consider going back out.

  

San Onofre Tales & Phillip Harper and the Sailfish

San Onofre is surfing history.

Particularly for the early surfers who parked on the beach, camped out there, built a few palapas, rode the rollers. It seems, to those of us reading about it, checking a few photos, a friendly sort of place frequented by people who saw themselves as rebellious and wild, but, by today’s standards, quaintly so. 

Located (I know you know this) near the northwest point of the massive Camp Pendleton…wait. I should explain, just to be clear, that Camp Pendleton is roughly a triangle, with Oceanside at the lower point, San Clemente north, and, twenty miles inland (as the seagull flies) Fallbrook. That’s where I was raised, and, from my house, I always sort of believed, if I stood on the fence on the front edge of the property, and looked west, somewhere just over those coastal hills, that late afternoon glow was a reflection off the unseen water, just below our horizon, at San Onofre.

At some point the San Onofre Surf Club made a deal with the Marine Corps allowing club members access past the guard shack, down a winding little road along a riverbottom, and then past the railroad trestles (yeah, those Trestles), then near the Officers’ Club, the buildings a last remnant of a time when the entire area was part of a Spanish Land Grant. Nice location, in some trees in a usually sedate (wave-wise) cove right between Church and San Onofre.

Beach access was also given to Marines, and dependents. In Fallbrook, most of my friends’ dads, or moms, or both, worked on the base or were Marines. Kids of Marines came and went, on some three year cycle. My family was in Fallbrook because, once there, my mom didn’t want to move the increasingly large family elsewhere. Though my father remains a Marine (of the Corps, to the core), he went to work splicing telephone cables all over the base for the rest of his career.

Children of Civil Service workers didn’t have beach parking privileges, and any other surfers granted access on the base had to park in a lot* separated by those whispy trees particular to windy parts of California. I think, of all the times I went to San Onofre, mostly between 1966 and 1969, whoever I was with got to park on the beach.

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PHILLIP HARPER AND THE JUMPING SAILFISH- 1967

There were fishing boats offshore, seagulls circling them. The waves were glassing-off, decent sized, and it wasn’t even crowded for a Saturday afternoon. Phillip had talked my parents (my mom, mostly) into allowing me to go with him. My mom loved Phillip from all the times he went to the beach with her driving the big wagon, he almost like another one of her seven kids. She probably bought Phillip’s ‘otherwise I’ll have to surf alone’ argument.

“Just don’t go 101,” she, no doubt said. “Slaughter Alley? No, Mrs. Dence, we’ll go across the base.”

Phillip had a vehicle, probably the VW truck that he and I tried to sleep in on the cliff above Swamis. There’s a house there now, and, somewhere after midnight, we were rousted by the cops.

Wow; I got immediately off subject.

Okay, so we were 16. “We have our parents’ permission,” Phillip said, me backing him up with a “Yeah; we do.” “Well, kids; you don’t have ours.” “So, what do we do, Officers?”

We actually drove halfway home before Phillip pulled over, asked himself and me, “What would Bucky do?”**

“He wouldn’t go back home,” each of us said. “No way.”

Still, by the time we got back to Swamis, others were in the water. Three, five… others.

But, at San Onofre, that Saturday afternoon, between sets, a fish leapt out of the water. It was huge, with a spear-like nose, and mid-leap, mid arc, seemed frozen in the air. Both Phillip and I saw it, looked at each other. Maybe one or both of us screamed. Phillip broke (first) toward the beach. He paddled so fast he almost outran a wave, but didn’t (of course), and it broke right on his back and he had to swim.

I’d like to think I gave him a lift.

When Phillip and I got to the shallows we looked back out at the glassy afternoon waves, sparkles on the incoming lines, the fishing boats motoring back and forth offshore.

San Onofre, we told each other, and others (critics always mentioned ‘Old Man’s’), was a place where you could make the waves as difficult as you wanted. You could ride like an Old Man, or you could take off behind a peak. Indeed, there was at least one guy out, “Probably on the Hobie team” Phillip said, who was back-dooring the peaks, ripping across the faces.

“Why’d we paddle in?” One or both of us asked. I’m guessing we laughed, paddled back out, warily scanning the water around us, at least for a while.

*This will show up in a story of “Bill Birt, ‘Skip-rope,’ and the Stolen Racks.”

**Bucky Davis was a surfer, probably my second surfing hero, and dated Phillip’s sister Trish. He’ll show up again in a (not yet written) San Onofre story, “’Cowabunga!’ and ‘Everybody Must Get Stoned.’”

In fact, telling that story is the reason I started Real Surfers.

We’ll get there.

Thanks for coming along.

Ditching School on a Dare from Mark Metzger

The first time I went surfing with someone other than my own family, Phillip Harper’s mom, or (once) with Phillip’s sister’s boyfriend, Bucky Davis, involved my Mom dropping me and a board (and a towel, and probably a sack lunch) off at Mark Metzger’s house. Or Don McLean’s house. It was a house with a pool, at any rate, in the summer before my sophomore year; 1966.

These were my friends from Boy Scouts, though most had gone all through grade school with me. We had a history. My surf mate, Phillip Harper, was new in town, and had not been a Boy Scout. It took a bit of time, with Scouting being less a part of my life as surfing became more a part, before Phillip became a member of this group, aided by being a neighbor of Boy Scout and new surfer, Ray Hicks.

This rotating band of contemporaries, with some friends deciding surfing wasn’t their sport, new people wanting to give it a go, eventually became a fairly stable group of fairly unstable surfers.

Mark Metzger was possibly the least stable. He was one of those red-headed, hot-headed, usually barely under control kids, and, on my arrival at the house with the pool, he quizzed me. “Which way do you set a surfboard down?” “If it’s on grass, like here; top down so the wax doesn’t melt. Like I did.” “No, wax side up so you don’t take some of the kickup, or rocker, out of the board.” The other punks probably nodded along with Mark. I set my board with the others, on the lawn, under the tree, wax side down.

Then, the duty parent not ready yet, we took turns throwing our used boards, in various shades of yellow (no self-respecting parent would buy a new board for a kid until discovering if he or she was going to ‘stick with it’), into the pool, each of us then jumping on, riding across, trying to dismount still dry. I was not the best at this.

“Well, when we get to real waves, maybe Erwin’ll do better,” someone, maybe Gerry Moore, said. Definitely; I was a year ahead of these kooks.

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As Juniors, Mark and I ditched school one day, on his insistence. Between first and second period, Mark used the unassailable argument that a real surfer wouldn’t waste such a beautiful, Santa Ana day. Yeah, he dared me, and when I waffled, he used the “p-caw, p-caw” chicken imitation.

Wait. Is it “p-caw?” If it didn’t sound exactly like a chicken, the “What, you chicken?” got the point across.

And, it usually worked. For example, though I was happy enough riding Lupe’s Left Loopers, I was ‘p-cawed’ into being the guinea pig on a (theoretically) right in Mazatlan that showed outside but broke on a concrete slab-like shore. This was while Phillip and Ray watched, from the beach.   

Ditching being tougher once already at school, I told classmate (Eagle Scout but not a surfer) Wayne Raymond, that, if he was at all cool, he’d sign me into Chemistry class, just before lunch. No after-lunch teachers ever took attendance. Maybe he took it as a dare.  

In the school parking lot I switched my longboard onto Mark’s almost brand new (but his) 1968 VW Bug and we headed out (yes, this says something about his parents). On the straightaway on the far side of the largest hill between Fallbrook and Bonsall, Mark, who always told me he took his half of the road out of the middle, passed a car, yelling some rude remark they couldn’t hear comparing the speed old peoples drive with his estimation of their sexual, um, I guess, rate of speed.
Somewhere in the passing, the clamps on the Aloha racks that Mark’s Father had loosened to save the paint job loosened just enough. The boards took flight, wax side down, off, up, and, thankfully, over the just-passed car.

Maybe they did a flip. Don’t know. Just heard a ‘whissssssssssssss.’

The board/rack/weapon landed, still upright, boards still facing forward, on the side of the road.
I’m guessing the old couple, having not had simultaneous heart attacks, and maintaining their (safe) vehicle speed, probably exchanged a comment comparing a young man’s driving skills with, yeah, sexual competence.

Mark’s board had a new ding, mine had no new ones. Wordlessly, we each picked up a side, reattached the racks, tightened into the new paint, took off. Somewhere past the Bonsall Bridge and the Vista/Oceanside turn, we took a breath.

When we got to Oceanside, right at the bluff, we were confronted by one of those fifteen hundred foot high waves of fog that race in when the Santa Ana winds break down.

“Now what, Mark?” “I guess we go back to school.”

When I came into Chemistry class late, Wayne having done his part, proving his coolness, I got busted anyway, but not for truancy.  Not this time.

“Oh, and Mr. Dence,”  Mr. Douglas, the had-to-be-on-purpose stereotypical science teacher with the out of control eyebrows said, “I’ve become aware that, in addition to decorating the desks in my room with surfing pictures, the English teacher has discovered similar artwork.”

So, no surf, but no detention. I did get to clean all the desks every lunch time in both the English and Chemistry classrooms for a few weeks. Mark, as usual, had a clean getaway.

But, as a sort of bonus, I had several great conversations in the rotten egg-smelling classroom, the science nerds and me. If I hadn’t been a surfer… smart kids; they always laughed well before I got to the punchline.

Oh, and if you think they don’t make fun of the cool people…

“I’m just studying the ways of the self-proclaimed cool people,” I may have said. “I’m not really… Hey, that’s not the funny part.”

NOTE: Our mutual friend Ray Hicks, when Mark and some of his cronies didn’t show up for our fortieth class reunion, said the former idea man for many an unrecorded (here) event, may not want his family to realize he wasn’t always the calm citizen he tries to project himself as now. Well, good plan, Mark.

 

John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me (Chapter 5)

-Spring, 1970- Grandview-

With no time to actually surf, I was just checking Grandview out late morning. This was just a little detour between my early (academic-rather than art-related) classes at Palomar Junior College in San Marcos and my job at Buddy’s Sign Service in Oceanside. Seeing Bucky Davis on the beach, I made my way down.

I was, by now, accustomed to surfing without a crew. Phillip Harper and Ray Hicks were going to some JC somewhere farther north. My other friends were also scattered by jobs, or real colleges, or, for some, military service. And I had a busy schedule.

Though I had the reputation, well earned, during high school, that I’d go surfing with anyone willing to drive, or go with me, Ray and Phillip had long been my closest friends and best surfing partners. I wasn’t reaching out to others. No time.

There was work, and school, and church on Saturdays, and a girlfriend. Steady girlfriend. I had become pretty much a regular at the Oceanside’s south jetty, hitting it seven-thirtyish to eight forty-five (give or take, depending on wave quality) most work day mornings. Still, being known, knowing some others in the lineup; these weren’t friends; we didn’t talk.

Still, I was grateful Buddy, Florida Prison-trained sign painter, of Buddy’s Sign Service, didn’t even think about working before nine. If I just couldn’t talk myself into getting out of the water I could make it up by staying later.

If the waves south of Oceanside Pier, the ocean one block and some railroad tracks away, were just too glassy, too irresistible, and there wasn’t a lot for an apprentice sign painter slash shop nub to do;  Buddy could usually be convinced to let me go.

“So, you can come in on Sunday to make up for it. Right?”

Because Buddy tried to maintain a persona that included some amount of ex-con toughness, and, with his real name being Lacy, he had earned it; the answer to making up for time lost to waves and school and church and a girlfriend was always, “Sure.”

Other mornings I’d hit whatever piece of sandbar seemed best in the neighborhood. Sometimes, with some inkling of a larger swell, I’d take off earlier from home, starting as far south as Swamis, racing up 101, hoping to hit a few favorable stoplights once I got to Oceanside.

WHEN THE NOW-LEGENDARY SWELL OF DECEMBER, 1969 smashed against the shores, closing out almost everywhere else, I managed to surf Swamis every day of the five day event by skipping school and not telling/lying-to Buddy.

On the first and biggest day; totally undergunned, offshore winds spraying would-be shoulder-hoppers back, most waves would have someone on them, from sixty yards up the reef, locked-in and wailing. The entire bluff was filled each day with onlookers, a few less as the swell dropped enough for Swamis to offer more manageable peaks and walls later in the week.

I had nobody to share the story with other than my girlfriend, my Trish, Trish Scott. A year behind me, she was still in high school and working Friday nights and Saturdays at the Post Exchange on Camp Pendleton. I still told her how, on the second day of the swell, I got thrashed by a section at the inside peak, figured that was enough, swam in, couldn’t find my board, saw the entire cheering section atop the bluff pointing and yelling “It’s in the rip!” So I jumped back in, swam out, and, by the time I reached the board, I was almost in the lineup. So, I looked for an empty shoulder on an inside wave…

“No, no; I’m listening. Go on.”

Trish was more interested in how I’d sometimes see her old friend from when she lived in Oceanside, Barbie Barron, while surfing at the Oceanside South Jetty. “We were in the Oceanside Girls’ Surfing Club,” Trish would say, always adding that she had started board surfing before I had.

“Yeah, but I surf now.”

I WANTED TO TALK TO BUCKY. I knew his relationship with his Trish, Phillip’s sister had ended; she had moved on. Their romance was one my circle of friends seemed to have discussed enough that we created our own fairytale/groupthink/consensus version of their reality. But, I hadn’t heard any of this from Bucky. Or from his Trish.

Bucky had shown up once when Phillip and Ray and I were surfing Swamis Beachbreak, our Summer/small wave default spot. I was filming my friends with my Super 8 camera, trying to convince them to film me. He dropped his cool a bit, got all competitive, told us the problem with boards was they weren’t yet short enough. We had some fun.

I also knew Bucky’s brother had been killed, murdered in some stupid/tragic event. The sort of whispered and incomplete version I heard included some implication that his brother had stepped into some confrontation in defense of the intended target, Bucky.

It may have also been that I wanted to talk surfing.

My conversation with Bucky, him in trunks, me in my school/work outfit, looking sideways at the waves, was low key; what we were up to, how much life was slowing down our surfing, where we were in the draft, Bucky was, somehow, out. I was, with my birth date having received a ‘36’ in the first lottery, and the war predicted to go on forever, and those whose deferments ran out definitely going to Vietnam, considering dropping my student deferment and taking a chance on the next lottery.

“No, I’m really just a nub. Buddy won’t even let me wash out his sign brushes.”  I was waiting for a moment to tell him how sorry I was that…

John Amsterdam. Without either of us acknowledging the other, the previously unnoticed John came up from behind Bucky, put his arm over his friend’s shoulder, did, finally, acknowledge me with a dirty look. Actually, it was more like the same harshly judgmental expression.

“Hey, Bucky; let’s go on down the beach, get our heads on.”

And they did. I wasn’t invited. I watched them go around the curve of the bluff. Bucky looked back once, gave me a slight nod.  It was all right. I watched the surfers for a few more moments, checked my watch. I had sign boards to paint, and maybe, when it glasses off…

Phillip and I Surf Grandview With Bucky Davis

…”Grandview,” I said, as if it was a magic word.

-FIRST SESSION AT GRANDVIEW (1966) WITH BUCKY DAVIS-

We’ve arrived at a point in the John Amsterdam (may still hate me) story where it makes perfect sense to include a brief mention of the first time Phillip Harper and I got the opportunity to surf Grandview with my second surfing hero (after Hippie, overlord of Tamarack), Bucky Davis.

Phillip’s sister, Trish, a junior, was dating another upper classmen at Fallbrook Union High School; one who surfed. Because he surfed and was dating Phillip’s sister, Phillip and I begged him several times to take us surfing after school.

“There’s time,” I said. “It doesn’t get dark until six or so. We can have our boards at Phillip’s; it’s on the way, and, and we run out after class, jump in your…” By this point Bucky had walked away or Phillip, not wanting to make a scene, had pulled me away.

But, Trish was taking some after-school modeling classes in Encinitas. Yes, she was model pretty; tall, thin, blonde.  If she couldn’t be a model, Phillip told me, she could be an airline stewardess.

“Oh, sure,” I said; “that’d be something.”

It’s pretty apparent that Trish used her influence to allow Phillip and I to ride along in the VW station wagon, our boards on top, two freshmen in the back; me, at least, probably over-stoked and out of control.

I’m not apologizing.

If Phillip wanted to act cool, and if Bucky just was cool; my over-excitement was really the part that spilled out while trying to act as cool as I could.

So, Trish dropped off over by the A&W, Phillip moved up to shotgun, we arrived at the empty lot at the top of Grandview Street, the sandstone cliff eroded in the middle by water and beachgoers tromping up and back. We checked out the small and still-choppy afternoon surf, a few other surfers out.

“You going out, Bucky? Huh? Huh? I’m going out. Phil; you going out? Bucky? Oh; that wave… I’d be taking off; bottom turn; oh; I’d move up to the nose.” This is all illustrated with moves on the leading edge of the bluff, me walking, foot-over-foot, to the nose on some imaginary board.

When I looked around, several mind-surf rides later, Bucky is squatted down, looking over the edge into the access path, fully eight feet to the bottom. So Phillip squatted down, as if they would soon discuss some further secret of how to surf this heretofore mystical spot.

I squatted down. Bucky looked at Phillip, on one side, then back at me, on his other side.

I rolled when I hit the bottom, jumped to my feet, looked up at Phillip and Bucky.

Both were now standing, Bucky with a grip on my friend, Phillip pulling back. “I skateboard!” I yelled.

“Do you skateboard?” Bucky asked his girlfriend’s brother, releasing his grip.

Despite Bucky saying the waves weren’t good enough; as the afternoon glassoff continued, he did join us in the water.

Something about surfing with friends in fun waves brings out the competitive nature in many of us. And, as such, the perfect ‘watch this’ situation is when you’re taking off, your friend/competitor paddling out. If you can do a little head dip or jump up to the nose, anything special… even better.

Bucky couldn’t help but show up his lower classmen tagalongs. And he was, of course, better than we were; smoother, with better wave selection skills. He even, accidently, got excited, smiled, acted like a seventeen year old. “Yeah, watch this.”

 “How’d my brother do?”

It was fully dark when we picked up Trish. She took over driving. I observed the couple, looking for any overshow of affection. Maybe they touched hands when they passed in front of the car. Maybe there was a look.

“Oh, he did okay; but I was running up to the nose, think I even hung five on one…”

Bucky pushed me back into the seat. Phillip put an arm across me to keep me there.

“Phil did… good. Erwin (looking to Phillip for confirmation)… he kind of ‘jumped’ up to the nose. A real surfer goes foot-over-foot.”

After we got back to Phillip and Trisha’s place, Bucky had to give me a ride the rest of the way to my house. One might imagine he’d loosened up, acted a little friendlier. Not really. “This your house?” “Yeah. Debby Street. I skateboard down the driveways, do a few turns down here.”

“Uh huh,” he said. I took my board off his racks, restrapped his board.

We weren’t friends. I was his girlfriend’s brother’s friend. What he did say is that I should try not to brag it up at school that he’d taken us to Grandview. “I mean, like, my friends wouldn’t…”

“No, no; I get it. I’m cool.”

“Yeah, sure. Foot-over foot; huh?” I did a little on my board as he started up his engine, backed away.

Cool? No; never was. Still, when you’re around someone who is so caught up in being cool, so, in some ways, trapped in the coolness; there’s something about seeing that person forget his self image and other people’s perceptions for a moment, smile his ass off dropping into a glassy peak near dark.

Still, and again, for my lack of coolness; I’m not apologizing.

John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me (part two)

-SEPTEMBER, 1965, FALLBROOK UNION HIGH SCHOOL-

I didn’t know exactly why I felt so alienated. Part of it was connected to my neighbor, Bobby Turner, moving away. I had become, since meeting him when we were both four years old, playing army and the occasional fist fight, his sidekick. Bobby seemed to need a sidekick more than I needed a leader, and on some level, if we hadn’t been neighbors, we probably wouldn’t have been friends.

Now I was my own man, but in a much bigger pond. At that time, the geographical area that fed into the high school district spread east to the base of Palomar Mountain; north to Rainbow and Temecula, south to Bonsall, and included many of the housing areas on the sprawling triangle-shaped mass of Camp Pendleton.

“The Base” was eighteen miles, straight across, to San Onofre, eighteen miles, by road, to Oceanside.

I was now, in my mind, a surfer.

All summer I’d borrowed the nine-four stock Hobie my sister Suellen had purchased from John Amsterdam for so long that, when I got out of the water, it was frequently time to go home.

But I had improved. Older surfers had stopped telling me to surf somewhere else. I could knee paddle. I swore I had the beginnings of surf bumps.

Then, maybe barely-fourteen year olds are just supposed to feel alienated.

During non-class time I hung out on one of the big cement planters adjacent to the Senior Area, near the trailers where they sold cold lunches and snacks. This would be my spot for the next four years, checking things out on campus.

SOMEWHERE IN MY FIRST FRESHMAN DAYS I met up with Phillip Harper, new, from Orange County. Phillip started going surfing on Sundays with my family; just another kid with seven of us Dence kids, all in the 1959 Chevy station wagon, winged back fenders, boards on top, Hawaiian print curtains all around (made by my sister, Suellen, me helping secure the wires) and a gigantic “Surfer Magazine” Murphy decal on the driver’s side back window.

Surf wagon, almost always with a board or more on top.

Phillip never seemed to be embarrassed by being part of this swarm; my Mom barely in control at best. We always seemed to stop off on the way home at Masters Automotive, right on Highway 101, in Oceanside, my Dad’s second job. My Mom would hit up Dad for some cash. Dad would do a loop around the wagon, check out his passed-out or whiny kids, take a breath, be gone for a while, hitting-up Mac for another advance.

On one trip, waiting in the car, Phillip and I comparing notes on rides and turns and kickouts in the far-back seat, my sister Suellen spotted Sonny and Cher in the alley, furry vests and all. They were obviously waiting for some quick repair to their car. It was Suellen, of course, who recognized them, jumped out to go bug them. If my siblings pressed against the glass, Phillip and I were (hopefully) slightly less obvious.

SURFING ONCE A WEEK JUST WASN’T ENOUGH. There were older surfers in the school, with cars, and Phillip’s sister, Trish, was dating one of them; Bucky Davis. Bucky was friends with John Amsterdam. Though John Amsterdam could easily believe Phillip was becoming a surfer, he couldn’t seem to fathom that I, one of two freshmen (Wendy Wetzel the other) allowed to take Biology, a guy who sat in the front row and paid attention while he and his junior class jock cronies lounged in the back, chuckling off the seriousness of it all; no, I couldn’t really be a surfer.

Even if I now wore a cheaper version of the surfer uniform, the prescribed (by the one-day Dr. Harper) outfit of Levis, J.C. Penny’s t-shirt, colorful windbreaker (Phillip’s, he being incredibly skinny, was fleece-lined. Mine, me being not skinny and this being Southern California, unlined), several choices of footwear, I could not pass muster with John Amsterdam. Because his judgment seemed the harshest, and he therefore, the coolest, his opinion mattered. No amount of talking, begging, or cajoling, even with Phillip doing the talking/begging/cajoling, would convince any of the older surfers to let us ride with them to the beach after school.

And besides, I had to talk. I was way too chatty, too excited when talking about surfing Swamis or waves down by the new State Park, too animated in defending Tamarack as a surf spot. “Tamarack?” “Oh, then where do you surf?” No answer.

“Grandview,” Phillip whispered, after they walked away, another secret revealed.

“Grandview,” I said, as if it was a magic word.