Spirit Guides and a surf session made…


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I called my brother-in-law, Jerome, on Wednesday when I couldn’t make the memorial. Couldn’t. That’s a loaded word; the ceremony was in Illinois and I’m… I’m here. Part of the couldn’t has to be that I haven’t faced my sister Melissa’s passing. Passing. Couldn’t. Haven’t; not sure I will; face it. Eventually, I’m just not sure when. Our (Trisha’s and my) daughter, Drucilla, made the train trip down state from Chicago several times, as the prognosis worsened and my sister weakened.

Still, it all seemed too sudden. Way too soon. There hours before Melissa passed, Dru would return on Friday, representing Trish and me, supporting her uncle and her cousins Fergus and Emma.

Oh, I know it’s real, real like our (his eight children) father’s passing last December. I know they’re both gone, not sure where they’ve gone to. Once a person realizes (or accepts or believes) we each have a soul, something separate from the body, even from the “I think, therefore I am” consciousness, something more than just BEing; one can’t help but imagine that this very more-ness is, has to be, somehow, transcendent.

There was a full moon the night my sister passed. Is that relevant?

“You know,” Jerome said, “what your sister would have wanted is for you to go surfing.”

I tried. On Friday, with friends and relatives recounting stories two thousand miles away, I worked, crazy-hard, to finish another job while monitoring the buoys. There was a chance. As is so typical on the Strait, on that long summer evening, it was ‘almost’ something. Just not quite enough. Even so, I almost talked myself into paddling out into one foot chop. Almost.

Allow me to mention the story Jerome told about the hawks. The last painting my sister completed is of three Cooper’s hawks. During the last week, with my sister Mary Jane (Janey to me) helping out, and my sister Suellen en route, three Cooper’s Hawks landed in the trees behind Jerome and Melissa’s house, and stayed there. Every day.

Spirit Guides? I’m willing to believe so.

On Monday I met up with Mike “Squints” Cumiskey, headed out. The surf was just a bit better than ‘almost,’ probably in the ‘barely’ category. Other surfers were in the water. It’s been a long, mostly-flat summer. Bruce, the Mayor of Hobuck, according to Adam “Wipeout” James, checking it when we arrived, eventually talked himself into going out.

Maybe it’s because I persisted, a paddle providing a lot of the power on many of the waves; but, at some point, I was the only one out. It would be something if I said that, for about twenty minutes, the waves improved; not all time, but lined-up, a bit more power, and every time I paddled back out, another set was approaching.

It was something.

Though most of the other surfers had left the beach for the coast or home, I have witnesses: Mike, Bruce, Cole. They agreed it was, for this day, special. Please forgive me if I give my sister a bit of credit.

A NOTE about the drawing. I told Jerome I would write something about the surf experience, and I’d do a drawing; I just wanted it to be good enough. “Oh, so, like your sister, it has to be perfect.” It was almost a question. No, but it has to be good enough.

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.


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.


Surf Forecast: Culture is coming to Port Townsend, July 11th

surfeventsecondflyer 001Eventflyerwordless 001

I went back and added some more crosshatching to the drawing after, first, I saw the way it looked on the computer screen, second, Trish commented there was something wrong with the woman’s boobs, and third, this morning, when our daughter checked it out while turning on her work computer in Chicago and said, “Nice boobs. Wetsuits kind of push boobs down, so they must be, like double Ds.”

“Wait, Dru, I’ll put the newer version on the site. Whoops. Dru; check back later.”

The color gets sort of diluted from the original drawing, which I knew. I’m trying to allow room for the event director, Keith Darrock, to add the rest of the information through photoshop. The event will be be held upstairs at Port Townsend’s Carnegie Library on the evening (about 6ish) July 11th, will feature work by local artists, possibly some artistically-enhanced surfboards, several readings (so far this would be a brief reading by me, and, hopefully, a slide-and-chat by surf literature guru Drew Kampion), with the keynote reading, in conjunction with the Northwind Gallery, by Justin Hocking, author of “The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld.”

None of the above explains the woman’s breasts. I better check the drawing again. I’ll repost the flyer when I get it back from Keith. Meanwhile, if you’re in the area…

Excuse Me, Sir… uh, um… maybe you’re ‘MIND SURFING.’ Sorry. It’ll Wait. It’s Just, you know, Work


“If I were free, beyond this cubicle, beyond these fences and stoplights and freeways, out where the ocean constantly, steadily, erodes and decays the man-made manifestations of pride and ego and power-games; if I had never bought into the ethic, the code, set up by the captors, gotten onboard the ‘debt-work-debt’ escalator; if I could even see beyond the next meal; maybe some bonus thrown my way in hopes I might show some teeth, some gratitude (though many would settle for dodging a turd); if the nights weren’t spent mostly anticipating the days; if I were free…

“…I’d be dropping in behind the peak, skittering, falling, setting my fins, powering… I’d be catching a glimpse of a waterfall rainbow… watching the field of diamonds bend and curve, see the sun through a thin, reaching, slapping hand of a wave as I break free. Free. If I were free, beyond this cubicle…”

My daughter, Drucilla Dence, walked to the Lincoln Park Zoo the other day, from her apartment (walking distance to work in the Hancock Tower). She said the trip was notable because nothing happened, no scary encounters with crazies, no near-misses in the crosswalks, and the day was lovely. She sent me some photos and said I had to respond. Okay. Thanks, Dru (and, no, I’ll not add this to the piece where you compared me to your cat, Mister Pugsley). Love, Dad.

And, look; maybe a lot of us would rather be somewhere else than working; I break free every once in a while. Tomorrow, maybe. Meanwhile…

Speed Run, New Friends, Parking Lot Surfing, and The Beast


I convinced Keith Darrock to do a Straits speed run a few days before Christmas. Because my daughter, Dru, was home and our small town offers no excitement to compete with the dangers of Chicago, and despite her having gone to a casino with her mom the night before, she asked to go. Early

The tide wouldn’t be perfect, the swell was forecast to drop, but, supposedly, slowly. Archie had already expressed no interest in going early, gambling on my favorite spot, hurrying back. And, he had surfed my (and his) backup spot the day before, reported the swell ‘weak.’ He had, nevertheless, surfed his usual three hours. Archie did have some plans to show up there (the backup spot) on the high tide rather than risk getting skunked farther out and waiting. And I could call him with real conditions on my way back.

Sharing my usual pre-surf anxiety with Keith and Dru, I revealed my en route wish (and often, prayer) list. First, I request some kind of waves (preferably the rights that only show up at lower tides); then bigger, better waves, then glassiness; then lack of crowds.

Keith admitted he really doesn’t like sharing waves. “What about with me?” “I’m not afraid to take off in front of you.” “Really? You know I ran over Archie’s board?”

Accidently. Still, Keith had taken some pleasure in spreading my name around the small but rabid (and yet polite) Port Townsend surfing community when I ‘circled’ the lineup on a glassy but increasingly crowded afternoon. Yeah; well I already explained (and wrote about) that it was a sort of accidental wave hogging.

So, on this morning, the swell was, indeed, weak. The rights were weaker than the lefts. I did have a fear that I would (again) push someone to go and we’d find conditions where I could cruise around on the SUP, catch a few fin-draggers, and be pretty happy, but my ride-sharer might not be so thrilled.

But Keith was game, suited up quickly and paddled out.

As he did a minivan drove up, a guy got out. As often happens on the Straits, It turns out I’d run into him before; twice, in Port Townsend, checking out the conditions from the parking lot. In fact, he and I had dared each other into going out in a gale. While he caught a few, I got thrashed, putting the first ding in the SUP by going sideways over the falls.

Adam is in the seafood business on the Hood Canal, near the Hamma Hamma River, farther down Surf Route 101. To my chagrin, though he spoke of surfing the backup spot, he suited up, paddled out to join Keith, who had already tucked himself into a couple of occasional and small semi-barrels.

“This’ll be fun,” I told my daughter, she checking the rocks for a few nice ones.

“It’s still bigger than Sunset Beach,” she said. Another story, but she did bring me back some coarse Sunset Beach sand.

I went out, caught as many waves as I could, tried to share. Keith dropped in on me once, I dropped in on him once (different sections, really), and I called out Adam for taking off on a wave Keith could have ridden, and choking. Sort of nicely.

Adam didn’t last too long. He got out, drove off, still in his wetsuit. Dru accused me of chasing him off. “No. Not really. And, it turns out Keith knows his wife. So, we’re all, like, friends now. Yay.”

There were now three other vehicles (rigs in the local lingo) in the parking area. Many others had pulled in, checked it out, and continued further toward the coast. Or given up. A random set showed up and two guys who had been parked a while, kind of creeping-out my daughter, started suiting up. Headed back, we passed many rigs with boards headed for the Straits. “Good luck,” I said, “Glad we went early,” Keith said. “You were kind of a wave hog, Dad,” Dru said. “I’m here to surf,” I said.


My head may actually be that large, proportionately. Or we can call it a cartoon.

The next afternoon Keith texted me to report there were waves at a rare mysto spot near Port Townsend. I couldn’t go. A couple of local shortboarders, good surfers, Aaron and Nolan, both of whom know, first hand or by reputation, of my wave hogging ways, were heading out to hit the critical takeoffs. I’m determined to ride the spot. Not this day.

Later, my new friend, Adam (he had my number from the thrashing session), texted me (under the name Adam Wipeout) to ask me about waves at the above not mentioned spot. Possessing a Bluetooth but needing my hands for working, I called him back, kept painting.

It turns out Adam has a friend who took some long distance photos of the mysto spot, going off. “Yeah, so I hear.” Adam said, after doing some parking lot surfing the day before, he ended up surfing “really fun waves with, once the tide filled  in and the Seattle surfers left,” with some guy whose name he told me but I instantly forgot (if I saw him three or four times, I might bother). Adam’s new surf friend, he said, had checked out the spot we’d surfed earlier.

“He said he noticed ‘the beast’ was out,” Adam said.

“Wait. Me?” “Yeah, he meant you. I asked. ‘ You mean Erwin?’ He described you. It was you.”

“Wait. Why do I have to be the beast?”

“Maybe he meant your commitment level,” Adam said, unable to come up with a reasonable and/or flattering explanation.

“Okay. Hey, if you’re going some time; give me a call; maybe we could…”

“Oh. Okay. We’ll see.”

“Okay.” It might be my larger-than-the-average-(good) surfer size, my intensity in the water; doesn’t matter; I’ve decided to own it.

“They call me the Beast, and I’m here to surf.”

No, really; I’m nice… while parking lot surfing. 

Tom Decker and Jeff Parrish

                        TOM DECKER AND JEFF PARRISH

“You almost killed your buddy. You’re a kook and you shouldn’t be surfing here.”

Jeff Parrish is married to Ruth (formerly Hodgson) a schoolmate of my daughter, Dru, so, yeah, I’m about Jeff’s father’s age.

Jeff and I had a few (each memorable) sessions on the Straits, he coming from Seattle, a ferry and thirty miles before I had to leave home to rendezvous at Discorery Bay. Or, several times, usually around Christmas, he would be at his in-laws’ house.

Frustrated with trying to ride a thruster in typically small conditions, he purchased a long board on Craigslist. This day was probably his second or third time on that board.

Jeff was, he said, so desperate for surf that, when we met at McCleary, he agreed to do the driving. He wanted to try Point Grenville, one of the first places surfed in Washington, a place off limits to non-natives for years.

Because my son Sean had worked on his Masters in Public Administration degree at the Evergreen State College in Olympia along with those in a concurrent Tribal Program, I had checked out Point Grenville. Since nobody told me I couldn’t, while Sean was busy, I walked out onto the beach. I could see how it might be good, imagine hippie/surfers camping on the bluff.  

After Jeff and I made the hour drive from Aberdeen, we saw as much as we could from the bluff, then went to town to get a one day pass or something. With most of the folks on the Reservation busy with a funeral, the person on the other side of the glass at the police station said, “Just go. Just today, though. Huh?”

We drove across a couple of little creeks to the far end, a little hook of a bay. We could paddle across to a point with what looked like four footers breaking with some shape. I was for it. Instead, we drove an hour back to Aberdeen, twenty miles farther to Westport.

Days at Westhaven State Park can be divided into two categories: Days you can paddle out through the waves, and days when you must either paddle out along ‘the wall’ or jump off the jetty. This was a ‘wall’ day, six feet plus, with, maybe, five guys out. One of those guys, we would soon discover, was Tom Decker, long known as one of several local enforcers.

Another surfer was making the long walk from bluff to water at about the same time as Jeff and I. He was telling me about how he’d just ripped it up at the Groins on his new board; but now the tide was too high, and, oh, hadn’t he seen me before at Twin Rivers? Probably.

Paddling next to the jetty isn’t exactly easy, either. There’s still a version of the extra-deep Westport impact zone, bouncy chop, waves to duck under or crash through. Partway out I heard the unmistakable sound of a surfboard smacking full-on into a rock. The owner of the board was swimming. “My son’s out there. Tell him I’m going in.”

“Okay.” I never saw his son. Once I thought I’d made it out I was instantly confronted with an outside wave. I turned turtle, and, I swear, instead of being pushed back but clearing the wave, my big board me hanging onto the rails, was lifted, straight up, just like a submarine broaching way too fast. Or, think whale rider, upside down.

The waves offered two options: A quick left toward the jetty, or a longer right, followed by trying to fight back out. The longer the ride, the worse your chances. So, catch the soup in, battle the wall back out. And, seconds after getting back out again, there’s another outside wave. This is another Westport feature; a wave six inches higher can break fifty yards farther out.

On one particular outsider, the only other surfer who wasn’t Tom Decker, Jeff, the guy who ripped the Groins, or me, decides he should make a bottom turn as close to me as he can get without actually touching. And I get thrashed by the wave.

Three or four waves into the session, my ears already plugging up, I notice Jeff is hugging the jetty, the peak at least fifty yards away. I also notice Tom is sitting inside of me, I’m getting cleaned up, and he isn’t. I also notice Tom and the Groin Ripper are now engaged in some verbal fisticuffs.

Tom Decker was the first surfer I saw ripping across six foot lefts at Port Angeles Point, on the Lower Elwha Reservation. This was early 1979, before access there became restricted. Tom lived as close to the waves as he could, surfed as often as it broke. I borrowed a wetsuit from him a couple of times, negotiated for its purchase, didn’t end up buying it.

When I surfed in my second of the Ricky Young-run longboard contests in the late 80s, early 90’s, seeing Tom was to be in my heat, I told a local I’d heard Tom had moved to Bellingham or something, tried his hand at video production. “Maybe, but he’s been living here awhile.” Yeah, he won that heat, but didn’t win the next.

Still, it’s not like Tom would recognize me. I saw Tom on one of the trips I’d made to Westport with Sean while he was still attending Evergreen.  Each trip featured a late session, a stay at one of the several No-tell Motels, an early session the next morning, sand left in the shower. Mr. Decker was in a car at the pot-hole scarred parking lot overlooking Halfmoon Bay, inside the harbor. He had a dog and a short board inside.

One observation that is almost always true about a guy over fifty who rides a very short board is this: He knows how to surf.

I asked the guy if he knew Tom Decker. He looked me over for a moment before saying, “Yeah, I know him. (another moment) He’s an asshole.”

Back to the jetty session. Evidently the Groin Ripper had irritated Tom by trying for several waves and not catching them. Criminal. I told Jeff I was getting out. I could barely hear, and getting constantly caught inside was really pissing me off.

Jeff and I both went for the same peak, side by side. Jeff started to pearl, bailed to one side, his board jumping, sideways, toward me.

When I came up I was shouting. “Damn it! You do something like that in Hawaii, they’ll kill you.”

That’s what I’d heard, anyway. I caught the next wave. I beat the first section and was going so fast, busting over little choppy sections, farther and farther from the jetty. For some reason I was almost laughing. I caught some soup, proned into a reform, did a few turns. When I got to the beach, Groin Ripper was waiting, ready to report on the unwarranted verbal abuse an the walk back. “Who is that asshole, any way?” Well.

On the next wave, Jeff came in, practically sprinting past us.

By the time The Ripper and got to the bluff, Jeff was down the path and Tom Decker was the only guy out. I guess that would have made him happy.

Sometime after we’d changed out, loaded up, headed back, towards McCleary, after I apologized for snapping, Jeff asked if he’d almost killed me.

“No, not really.”

“Well, that’s what that guy said.”

“Oh.” It’s rude to take a nap if there are only two of you in a car. Somehow, and I’m pretty sure I told Jeff this, I felt kind of good. Tom Decker had pretty much called everyone around a kook. But, not me. Trying to clear my ears, I guess that made me kind of, I don’t know, happy.