Sum-mer-time… Skunked on the Strait, 66 degrees at Swamis, 1967…

The surf report and forecast for the Northwest portion of the contiguous U-nited States of A-merica (dashes added to more closely reflect prideful way we pro-nounce stuff) is pretty bleak. You’d have to believe the Pacific Ocean could churn up something more than a two foot swell.

Hey, it’s summertime. Painting season. Hydrosexual Stephen Davis and I, both of us drinking coffee, were each sitting in doorways of our vans, paint gear spread around. I asked him about water temperatures in Baja (last fall) and Hawaii (this last winter). “Oh,” he said, “Baja was right between trunking-it and wetsuit temperature; probably 66 degrees or so.”

“Oh,” I said. Pause, both of us nodding our heads. “You know, back when I was a teenager…” Now Steve was trying to avoid rolling his eyes. “…when the water temperature got up to 58 degrees, somewhere around Easter; if you were still wearing a wetsuit… and bear in mind we only had shortjohn wetsuits… you were a pussy.”

“Uh huh. Pussy.” “Really. And you couldn’t put one on until it got back down to 58, somewhere around December; before Christmas, anyway.” “Uh huh.”

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What I didn’t bother to tell him, but probably drifted off into remembering, was an early summer morning when Phillip Harper, Ray Hicks, possibly Mark Metzger and Billy McLain, and I; no doubt in two cars from Fallbrook, all hit Swamis at about the same time.  I was first down the stairs.

I surfed Swamis enough from 1965 to see the basic reef, sort of fanned, overlapping shelves, hold up while the shoreline would change more dramatically; erosion, refill. Seasonal. The wave conditions went from one high tide peak too close to the bigger rocks; to mid-tide and two distinct peaks; to ultra low tide, one running crazy and almost hollow wave; from the December ’69 swell; through dawn patrol, after school, between classes-at- Palomar and work-in-Oceanside sessions (pre-1971); to the times I lived in Encinitas (’74-’76) and could sneak in a few; to New Years day ventures while working in San Diego because I didn’t have work in the Northwest (1991,’92); everything from Santa Ana mornings to south wind chop, onshore, glassy; overhead to flat; overcrowded to almost empty; with so many memories… they’re all memories now; haven’t surfed there in twenty-five years.

On the particular morning I was remembering while talking with Steve, shadows of the bluff extending into the water, there was a chalk board on the still-empty lifeguard station. “Surf 2-3, water temp- 66.” Whoa! Warming up! We would probably end up surfing what we referred to as Swamis Beachbreak, the quarter mile or so between Swamis proper, and Pipes, pretending there was a better lineup off this rock than off that. “Hey, I WAS on the nose!” “Hey, did you see that rollercoaster?” “Hey!”

I hit the water straight out in front of the stairs, caught a left just as my friends hit the sand. “Hey!”

Not that Stephen would be all that impressed. “Uh huh. Do you have any more coffee?”

self realization

“Uh. Um. Yeah.” I’m certain many of us will look back on the times we went searching for waves on the Strait. Sometimes it can be… “Waves?” “Waves? No, I got skunked.” “Then why are you smiling?”

 

 

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.

 

Chasing the Diamonds; Quilted, Kenetic, Allusive

My sister, Melissa Lynch, the real artist in the family, scolded me for being in any way apologetic for my drawings. Yeah, well; I would like to be honest. If I could capture the building blocks of always-moving water, figure out how to weave a seamless shadowed/reflective/glimmering/black/white/multi-hued image I would.

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If I could.

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Since I can’t; yet; I’ll keep trying.

Meanwhile, I’m still in the thinking-it-through phase of a piece I must write under the working title of: “Are All Surfers Sociopaths; or Just the Good Ones?”

Three Acts: ACT ONE- several highschool surfing buddies and I surf Swamis after school. The only other surfers out are three (also high school age) members of the Surfboards Hawaii Surf Team. On the drive home, my friends complain they couldn’t catch any (or enough) waves. I hadn’t noticed, being busy catching waves and watching incredible longboard surfing. ONE, PART 2- One of my friends (Ray Hicks, most likely) points out (I think this was the day I ripped out my pants and had to borrow a pair of Levis from Billy McLean) that, when encountering other surfers of about our age, I seem to puff out my chest. “Maybe you’re intimidated.” “Yeah; probably.” “It’s, uh, like a gorilla.” “You mean, like, primal?” “Yeah, probably.”

ACT TWO- During the last week of my job up the hill from Trestles, taking an hour and a half break during my half hour official lunchtime, some surfer (I’ve always believed he was a Marine Officer) burned me and everyone else (I still got some, but not as many as usual waves). When I checked back at my half hour afternoon (supposed to be ten minutes) break, the guy was still out, still burning surfers mercilessly. I didn’t hate him; maybe he was going somewhere sucky, where a rifle was mandatory, for a while.

ACT THREE- My friend Stephen Davis, last time I spoke with him on the phone, mostly about his upcoming trip to the Oregon Coast and the chance I might meet him somewhere (probably won’t happen); had to, (had to) mention how I fell out of favor with many members of the Port Townsend surfing crew (very unofficial) because, over-amped, I (accidentally, I swear)wave-hogged on a day almost two years ago. Two years ago. Jeez. When I mentioned this on the phone this morning with Keith Darrock, and that I’m no more a sociopath than he is, and I do have empathy, whatever that is, he had to (had to) mention his observation that I’m kind of loud and possibly abrasive (see how he was tactful about this?) in the water, and, also, incidentally, I do seem to “kind of strut in the parking lot.” “WHAT? ME? No, it’s just being friendly.” (I am laughing at this point, but, also, thinking. Is he right?) “Like a rooster. And, oh,” he adds, has to add, “You kind of stick out your chest. And…and it seems like you want to dominate (I’m adding ‘even in’) the parking lot.”

There is no ACT FOUR where I try to change my ways, get all friendly and nice; empathize with those who won’t (before hand) or didn’t get enough waves. Empathize. I did tell Keith I’d rather attempt to empathize than be one of those who didn’t get enough waves. Maybe they’ll get points toward sainthood. No true contrition. Sorry. At least not so far. But, I am thinking; and since I can’t afford professional help, I’ll have to self-diagnose.

STEP ONE-“Yes, it’s all true.” See you in the parking lot.

In Case You Missed the Surf Culture Event

Here’s the piece I read, with minimal ad-libbing, at the recent Surf Culture On the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea Event. I plan on adding some more photos, but it’ll probably be in another post. A pretty successful event- no one drowned, though I did hear some coughing.

CONJURING UP SOME MAGIC

ONE- I knew the two young guys, one on a soft top, the other on a yellow-but-at-one-time-white board were from Gold Bar, a town somewhere between I-5 and the Cascade Mountains. Because I asked them. Nicely. But I always ask surfers I haven’t seen before. This time, we were at a spot that, legend has it, sometimes features rights, off the island. That’s a clue. I’ve only experienced this lowtide phenomenon once; closeouts across the small bay many times.

Archie and I had gotten skunked at the place we had wanted to surf. At this spot there was a sandbar, there was a makeable right. There were several other surfers out, including a guy on the longest longboard ever, paddling with way too much nose out of the water (sure sign of a beginner/kook), but waiting in the perfect spot, catching the best waves (as in, the ones I wanted), jumping up, clumsily riding, arms flailing, and, somehow, making waves.

“Hey,” I said, nicely, “you don’t need that much nose out of the water.” “Hey,” he said, kind of snottily, looking at me kneepaddling a stand up paddleboard; “aren’t you supposed to be standing up on that thing?” “Oh,” I said, “yeah, I think so.” Eventually, whether or not he appreciated it, the surfer from… I didn’t ask where he came from… he got a rare treat; really great waves. Archie and I enjoyed them for another forty-five minutes after Long Longboard Guy left. Then the waves left.

But, the Gold Bar Boys. On this day it was a very high tide and the waves were wrapping around what in normally beach rather than sandbar. The best waves ended up in the creek. Another clue. “Um, maybe, if you want to actually catch waves, you might move over here,” I offered. “Thank you, sir.”

So, several waves later; and this was a few years ago, and I was on a non-SUP… just so you know… I took off and did what old fat guys who have ripped or torn, or merely worn out, tendons and ligaments on each knee, do on very small-but-peeling waves; I rode them on my knees. That made the wave, like, chest high. One of the Goldies was on the shoulder, doing the head down paddle-like-you-mean-it, and… and I know every gremmie practices this, the jump up to spiderman move, on the carpet of his mom’s house, out in the schoolyard to impress inland girls, wherever, and, whether they’ve actually caught the wave or not, the beginner is likely to leap up.

This time Goldie did catch the wave, jumped up, arms pumping, and actually was trimming down the line, on the shoulder, totally unaware I was behind him. Kneeboarding. It’s a long wave, as I intimated, and, though my fin was almost dragging, I kept going, into the creek. The wave sort of died in the deeper water, I did a smooth pullout while he just sort of stepped off the side of his board. He didn’t appear shocked he had ridden a party wave with a guy who isn’t fond of party waves, turned to me and said,

“That was EPIC!”

“Um; yeah, it was.”

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TWO

Up until a certain point in my board surfing… career, life, experience… I truly believed, and frequently stated, that I could remember every wave I’d ever ridden. And, further, I believed that there was something magical about catching, riding, or even watching a wave from the first line on the horizon, to the last wash up the beach.

I still believe in the magic, and, though I have trouble remembering individual rides, even from my most recent session, my mental harddrive is crammed with images from 50 years of board surfing, with mat surfing, surfie surfing, body surfing before that, and, possibly, I like to believe, even some foggy recollection from my first three years of life, on the beach in Surf City, North Carolina, toddling down a bit of an incline, somewhat ahead of my mother, toward the waves.

Waves. The early morning light on the east coast is like evening on the west; the view from the water reverses the colors, dawn to dusk. In winter, on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the sun hugging the mountains, it’s dawn all day. And then it’s dark.

The images are all so clear; things I’ve seen- storm surf with sideways-ripped waves, lines of broken soup to the horizon, indicator sets in the kelp beds with the greenest color on the wall as each wave lifts, toward the peak angle on a surfer hard against the wall, a whale in the darker corner of a cove blowing a geyser, the view of waves between the houses and along the low sections of old Highway 101, Oceanside to La Jolla, nineteen fifty-something.

And more. I can conjure up the photo of Rincon from the hill, from a mid-sixties “Surfer” magazine, a guy on the hill at dawn, witnessing lines to the horizon, and… and maybe you know the photo.

So, my beginning hypothesis was: If we store a mental slideshow, and add to it over time, then, if a surfer wants to do some mind surfing, at any given time, those images can be brought forth, and that would be magic. And I want surfing to be magic.

The problem is, all our memories are fiction. There’s some Master Record of All Truth, and then there’s our version. “Overhead and glassy at an afternoon session at Cardiff Reef in 1967, the time Phillip Harper had to get rescued?” Maybe.

And that photo. I looked for it online. No, it was afternoon, the same lines at Rincon to the horizon, and published in “Surfer” in 1973. 1973? What? Can’t be. I wasn’t studying surfing magazines in 1973; maybe a glance at the grocery store.

If I’m wrong about that, what about the image of the competitor freesurfing before the Oceanside Invitational in 1965? My slideshow has the guy taking off, dropping with the wave, an attempt at a headdip turning into a vicious lip-to-the-head, pile-driving wipeout. Wrong. I was the kook, paddling out because I was too embarrassed by my sister, Suellen, running around the beach, collecting autographs from surfers like Mike Doyle, even chatting with Doyle’s mother, that kind of thing. The real truth might be that the surfer possibly could have made the wave if some gremmie hadn’t been directly in his way.

Still, I like my fiction better.

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THREE

It was still an hour and a half before dawn when three Peter Pans met at Fat Smitty’s, quickly moving boards onto and gear into the vehicle owned by the oldest of the three Pans. Heading west/northwest, coffee and expectations bouncing around inside, there would be adventure and excitement on this, as with most expeditions. Stories would be created: The drunk/or/sleepy driver; traffic tickets; a ripped-loose leash and a lost board saved by Big Dave; waves cresting near the pilings; the guy with the Shamrock on his board shoving Brett’s board back as he attempted to even a score for undue set wave hogging, and the follow-up screaming match in the lineup.

But, each of the Peters ended up with his fictional(-ized, maybe just slightly) account to save; each of us caught enough waves, got enough good rides. Other things, like real life, could be discussed on the way back home.

A few days after the above session, Jeff, a guy I occasionally sought waves with before his wife, my daughter’s old school friend, Ruth, got into surfing and they became what I call a ‘surfing power couple’, and who I didn’t realize was on the beach on that day, sent me a video of me ripping three bottom turns and totally in position on three sections before making a smooth kickout.

So, I was right. I do rip.

stevebisselRincon

FOUR

So, here’s the go pro my daughter bought me. Thanks, Dru. GoPro selfies always, and it doesn’t matter if the surfer is on a small wave or huge, just look like someone doing calisthetics. But, a shot down the line… better.

If you could access your mental slideshow, bring up a just-glassed-off afternoon session. Now, a wave approaches. You paddle over to get near the peak. You wait, wait, then turn, throw your weight down, then use that rebound to start your paddle. One stroke, two; you’re dropping. You lean a bit more toward the peak, allowing the board’s dropping ease your leap to your feet, with, in the same motion, a smooth turn off the bottom. You spot a place high on the shoulder and down the line… When you hit it, you’re so close to the top, ribs of feathering wave in front of you. There’s a real question as to whether you can make the wave. You shift your weight forward, allowing the back inside edge of your board to release.

There’s one moment, the briefest of moments here for you to tuck, drive…

All right, so you made the wave. Great. Or you wiped out. That happens. No big deal, unless you had put yourself in that one moment; then it’s memorable. Click.

Now you’re looking up the barrel at me in a similar moment. I’m standing tall, allowing the lip to move my hand back and down as my board freefalls a bit. At that questionable moment of making it or not, I just can’t help but channel some ancient surfing magic, and lean back, arch, and I may be screaming some one-syllable non-word. “Owwwwww!” which really means, “hey, look at this.”

I want you to add this image to your harddrive, and, later, when you bring it back up, and bearing in mind you just got a great ride, you can only respond by saying, “That was EPIC!”

May all your sessions be epic. May all your magic be real. Thanks

Singing and Surfing and Remembering and Not Remembering, In Reverse Order

The Second Occasional Surf Culture On the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea Event is coming up in Port Townsend on July 11. I’ve been working on several things for it. One item is music. For the first event, Archie Endo, now stuck in Thailand, working, some surfing, brought a little amp, played surf music. Great idea (his), and really added to the evening. This time, Pete Raab is putting together a sort of mixed tape from his huge music collection, with classic surf instrumentals and some island-themed ‘ambient’ music. Thanks, Pete.

My evil scheme was to have Pete (and he was willing) sneak two of my original surf songs without informing event curator Keith Darrock. That’s the evil part.  I originally recorded the only two strictly surf-related songs I’ve written at a former Theater in Quilcene (right on Surf Route 101) with the help of longtime professional sound engineer Tom Brown of HearHere, with me playing harmonica and singing. Pete was doing a surf music show on the Port Townsend radio station, 91.9, KPTZ, along with his old friend, and former music store owner, Ron McElroy, and graciously incorporated one of my tunes, “I Just Wanna Go Surfin’.” The other song is “Surf Route 101.” Naturally.

But, here’s the failure: Pete couldn’t find his copy, I couldn’t find mine (and searched frantically), and Tom Brown, after checking, determined the digital recording is somewhere on a dead computer.

Oh, and although I’m willing to read the piece I’ve been doing more thinking about that working on, concerning the images and memories we save, I won’t perform music live at this event. A sigh of relief might be appropriate here. Not that I’m embarrassed by my harp playing or the lyrics…

But, thinking about music, and singing, I wrote to my old friend Ray. You have to read it bottom to top. I do think it was him with the Monkees tape.

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NO way, I never owned a Monkeys tape, you must have me confused with somebody else I swear.

From: ERWIN
Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 9:28 AM
To: Ray Hicks

Ray, have a good time on vacation. I checked back before leaving; glad to see a response. I’ll be working until dark anyway (9ish). I do remember you once telling me that the best song ever done was the Cream song…. wait, was it ‘white room with white curtains at the station,’ or, no, I think that was it.  Otherwise, “driving in my car, smoking my cigar, the only time I’m happy’s when I play my guitar.” Join in anytime. Now I better go. And, hey, that was probably enough gas to get home, to school, wherever… See you, Erwin
I am pressed for time, so I might use this on my site, not mentioning that you had a Monkees tape, or that I liked some of their songs also.

From: “Ray Hicks”
To: ERWIN
Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 9:14:06 AM

HI Erwin,

Not in Hawaii yet. Today is my last day before starting vacation but we don’t leave until Thursday. I’ve never been much on lyrics, to this day I hear the voice as another instrument rather than a method of delivering poetry or storytelling.  My loss according to Carol. I do remember the ‘fruit of the vine’ song though. The music that brings back surf memories to me is Cream. When I hear some of those songs I am taken back to driving down the coast highway cruising by the camp grounds in South Carlsbad with an eight track player under the dash. I listen to the Sirius radio classic stations now and hear that music all of the time. Occasionally I’m driving down the coast highway when I’m So Glad comes on the radio and it really takes me back. I also hear the Doors often and still love it. Other than classic rock I listen to the blues. I just love the B B King channel on Sirius Radio.

I remember one occasion of us surfing at Swami’s  then coming up starving and thirsty, buying something to eat at the liquor store in the middle of Encinitas then buying gas for your Morris Minor in Carlsbad with the left over change. Maybe 26 or 27 cents worth.

The only music I associate with Phillip is Jethro Tull because he introduced me to them, still one of my favorites.

Ray

From: ERWIN
Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 8:08 AM
To: Ray Hicks
Ray,
not sure if you’re in Hawaii right now. I almost called you yesterday. I’m working on a thing for the surf culture event on surfing images we keep in our memory banks. The idea is, if we think of surfing as something magical, and we can conjure these (I was originally thinking only visual) images, allowing us to ‘mind surf’ when we can’t actually surf; this is kind of magical.
That got me thinking that my memories of my high school surfing adventures include fewer actual surfing images (maybe because I seem to concentrate on my own surfing rather than noticing that of others) than images of you and Phillip and the other assorted characters going to or from the beach, hanging out around various fires. Mostly pleasant memories, maybe with five of us in the back of a CHP cruiser less pleasant, but, overall, good images. Jeez, we were going to, at, or coming home from surfing.
So, as I was driving an hour to a job, I started thinking about songs we used to sing cruising around town or going surfing. Maybe we were in cars (like mine) that didn’t have radios; maybe we had only AM radios with the pop stations the best we could get.  This line of thinking might have been helped along because the local Port Townsend radio station played the Doors cover of the song with the lyrics, “Show me the way to the next whiskey bar; oh, don’t ask why…” followed by something about “Whiskey, let me go home.” A theme, evidently; and I was trying to remember the song that seemed to be one of Phillip’s favorites, without much luck. A few miles later I pulled (from the brain archives) out a few lines. “Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine; when you gonna let me get sober? Leave me alone, let me go home, let me go home and start over.” It took a few more miles before I remembered, “Pain in my head, there’s bugs in my bed, my pants are so old that they shine; out on the street, I tell the people I meet, to buy me a bottle of wine.”
I’m not even sure if those lyrics are fit together correctly. Perhaps you remember. Oh, and my singing hasn’t improved a bit. If we were going surfing together and I started singing, I’m sure you’d still reach for the radio control knob, whether the radio works or not.
The other, and real point of the thing I’m working on is that if we keep trying to remember, we keep the connections straighter, and if we keep surfing, we’re always refreshing our image files. More to conjure.
Writing this actually helps in writing the real piece, keeps me away from a couple of peripherals.
I’m in the usual summer position of too much work, not enough time, and no rain in sight. Luckily, perhaps, the waves are really small. Hopefully you’ve managed to slide a few. See you, Erwin

album-monkeesthe_doors_-_waiting_for_the_sun_acreamMI0001564294.jpg-partner=allrovi

Tom Paxton wrote the “Bottle of Wine” song, but we probably heard the version by the Kingston Trio. White people. Oh, but, when we sang it, it was  sort of another contest, who could sing it with the most soul, raspiest voice… you know, another thing to compete in. Guess who usually won? And that’s why someone (else) always reached for the radio control knob. Oh, and maybe it was someone else with the Monkees tape. hey, hey!

ADRIFT, PART THREE- What I Thought I would Say

The point I thought I’d be making when I started writing about the sort of existential trip (though so much of what really happens is internal, despite a change of scenery) my friend Stephen Davis was taking was that, though he seemed adrift, taking off across the country with sketchy plans and even sketchier funding, was that, maybe, even probably, all of us are adrift.

Well.

Steve’s currently in Chicago, working for his friend, Cosmo, a landscape engineer who once was a (another) neighbor in Port Townsend. They’re busy reinstalling winter-removed pumps from rich people’s water features, among other things. Stephen is surfing, couch surfing.  His plan to take a train to Colorado, since that project is on extended hold/possibly dead, has been replaced with a ticket to take the train all the way to Seattle en route back home.

He’ll arrive at about the same time as our mutual friend Archie Endo returns from an extended (new) business trip to Asia. More on that in a moment.

I might as well include the remainder of “And So Am I,” a song I wrote more than ten years ago; possibly referencing the times I’ve traveled to make some money. Mostly, and happily, in my case, to San Diego, where I did some painting for Trisha’s brother, Jim Scott (and do some surfing- in the water variety). The lyrics seemed to go with Stephen’s trip.

“…Clouds are spread out like a blanket, to the sea; like a quilted, patchwork blanket to the sea. And it’s all downhill from here, I guess that’s my greatest fear; waves of clouds are breaking, crashing over me; and they’re spread out like a blanket to the sea.

“Rain keeps falling just like teardrops from the sky; tears keep falling just like raindrops from my eyes; with the windshield wipers on, I’ll drive on into the dawn; where the morning sun ignites the clouds on high; clouds are skidding down the highway, and so am I.”

So, I updated Stephen’s and Archie’s progress to another mutual friend, another surfer, Keith Darrock; adding that I was really having some basic problems in trying to establish some connection between those of us who hold desperately to any piece of something that looks like security and those who boldly take off across the country or around the world with some vague romantic notions of…

“Adrift,” Keith said; “we’d all like to think we could be that… adrift.”

And that’s true. Surfing magazines seem to praise surfers who turned their backs on Corporate, lit off for exotic destinations. Miki Dora is legendary for surfing/living off his wits, even if it was, as portrayed, often at the expense of someone who invested, unwisely, in his quest.

Adrift? We all are, really. Stephen has met up with friends established through just being the kind of guy who makes friends with an honest ease (enough so that my client on one of three projects Steve helped me on, calling to see if I’d ever get it done, asked about him and how it was all going. “He seemed to be having a rough time.”). Archie has  also (finally) taken advantage of relationships established through years of toiling all around the world as a roe (salmon eggs) expert. He is taking a job as (again, finally) a middleman, securing and buying and selling seafood from all over the world, and will still, mostly, be able to work from home on the Olympic Peninsula, seeking some ‘surf-able’ waves on the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

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Archie spent some time in Phuket, surfed two two hour sessions in some Andaman Sea shorebreak on a rented board, said it released some of the tension; as did, perhaps, the nightlife he described as (I’ll have to check this) something signifying crazy. “Next surf at home.”

Okay, here’s a surf story: It was one of the first times I surfed Cardiff Reef, racing over after (high) school, and we were probably surfing there because the waves were kind of big; my friend Phillip Harper lost his board. Cardiff has kind of an outside, a middle section, and an inside; all a little nebulous, and, at that size, it breaks farther out than the breaks we were more familiar with (Tamarack, Grandview, Swamis). Maybe Phillip was looking for me to help him. I wasn’t aware of his situation. We’d like to think we have to be responsible to get in when adrift. Sometimes friends help. In this case, it was a stranger who ferried Phillip through the middle section.

ADDED/EDITED: First, I told the above story because I couldn’t think of a story of being rescued in the surf other than when I was eight or so and went over the falls at Oceanside Pier on a styrofoam surfie (kind of like a kneeboard, about three and a half feet long) broke it on the bottom, the back end against my belly. Gary and Roger’s mother, Arthella, had to save me. Really, I was just kind of- yeah, I may have needed saving.  What I’ve realized since I wrote the original piece is, because I get almost all of my work through referrals, I have been rescued innumerable times, a phone call about a job coming along at just the right time.

Second, I did get a comment that, compared to the realities of war and famine and global warming, my subject matter was kind of, well, superficial, perhaps. This came from someone who had a site pushing something “Better than Botox.”

So, adrift? Yes. No. Sure; just in various degrees and at various times; not drowning, just swimming.

 

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My family, usually with my friend Phillip Harper along, explored several surf spots other than Tamarack in my first years of surfing (1965- ?). I paddled, head-down, ruining unknown numbers of rides for real surfers at Swamis, quickly discerned Moonlight Beach was really not a surfing beach, decided Oceanside Pier was just too rough, and had too many Marines, many new to ocean swimming, getting in the way. Or I was actually afraid I’d get in their way.
Several times we moved on down 101, past Swamis, to where the future San Elijo State Park was under construction. Pipes was named for the then-new (now considerably shorter, rusted) drainage pipes hanging out of the side of the cliff. There were several sets of stairs, and we seemed to start at about the middle of the stretch that ends, to the south, at Cardiff Reef. It all seemed about the same, wave-wise, to me, at that time.
What I do remember is how clear the water seemed to be, protected by offshore kelp, onshore winds reduced by the cliffs, and with a mostly stable rock-infused bottom contour. I swear that, wading out, floating my board beside me, I was once hit by a wave that was just so thin and transparent that…
No, okay; you don’t have to believe me.
So, here’s another memory: My mom built a fire on the beach, sort of standard surf stuff, from the plentiful supply of driftwood. Out in the water; Phillip points to the uniformed ranger sort of marching down the beach.
So, you have the image of the Smokey Bear-hat wearing ranger; add in the sort-of-chunky mother of seven, undoubtedly wearing a dress, and there’s the face-to-face, then the Ranger kicking sand on the fire meant to warm her children… and my mom’s back in his face;  and we’re imagining that she’s saying “The park’s not even open yet,” and “this is what we’ve always done,” and the Ranger’s threatening some sort of action, and…
…And he left, eventually; and my mom restarted the fire, we got warm, and she didn’t bring us back there.
But I did go back. I went back after the park opened, but day-surfers had to rotate onto a small ledge and sneak around the fence to get to the most consistent peak, Pipes Proper, or to what my high school surfing friends and I referred to as Swamis beachbreak.

When Trish and I lived in Encinitas in the mid-70s, Pipes was the main place I surfed in the area, always with an eye toward Swamis; occasionally braving the crowd there.
For the past twelve years or so, Pipes Proper has been the designated ‘home break’ for my friend Ray Hicks. He parks on the highway, passing the crew of surfers, most around our age, who, possibly retired (Ray’s still working), have purchased the yearly park pass, and watch the surf from the parking lot inside the fence, at the bluff.  Ray, already in trunks or wetsuit, cruises down the ramp/access, drops off his sandals at the rip-rack rocks, paddles out, usually to the main peak.

It all seems kind of casual to me, sort of friendly.  Sure, Ray has had two pairs of sandals stolen, replaced with cheaper models, and now he just wears the cheaper models himself; and, yes, it does get crowded when it’s good, even when it’s not, but once in a while Ray writes me about memorable rides and memorable sessions, the water so clean, the waves so thin and transparent that…

 

SAN ONOFRE TALES

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San Onofre is surfing history.

Early surfers parked on the beach, camped out there, built a few palapas, rode the rollers. It seems, to those of us reading the occasional story about this history in “The Surfer’s Journal,” checking the 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 at San Onofre.

At some point the San Onofre Surfing Club made a deal with the Marine Corps allowing club members access past the guard shack, down a winding little road along a river (well, creek) bottom, 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 granted 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 (or weren’t supposed to 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.

*On one of the only times I went with someone who didn’t have beach parking privileges, Bill Birt, whose father sold insurance in Fallbrook, Bill’s surf racks were stolen. That story, when this all gets organized, will follow this entry.

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.