Not Nearly Enough on Ray Hicks

Ray Hicks is my surfing contact with Southern California. He is, in fact, my oldest friend from there I still have regular (more like any) contact with. He has to be, in all the time since we first met in sixth grade, the coolest person I’ve known, in that I never saw him lose his cool, even when those around him totally lost ours.

He is also, and I’d love to have some sort of modifying disclaimer here, but, other than that I never thought I wasn’t a surfer, the main reason I got back into surfing at fifty years old plus.

Well, let’s say Ray getting back into surfing and my own petty jealousy.

I was always a better surfer than Ray (okay, there could be several disclaimers here, but I’m the one making the claim). After all, I’d stuck with surfing after high school, when he went to some inland junior college, moved to Barstow, then went into the Air Force (mostly stationed in Italy, cruising in a Porsche), then got out and managed the Radio Shack in Fallbrook (Radio Shack Ray).

But, in 2004, down for my father’s 80th birthday, Ray was a better surfer than me. Way better. It’s been about nine years of me trying to catch up, he and I exchanging e-mails on surf sessions, occasionally surfing together (never up here- yet), and I still haven’t caught up.

Not sure I will.

Image …………………………..

This is Ray and his Surfboards Hawaii Model A back in 1969 (or so).

Ray now lives and works in Carlsbad, pretty much surfs Pipes exclusively. The regulars there are mostly longboarders in our age category; some with boonie hats strapped on, sun screen (mostly too late) slathered on, forming a little pack at the main peak. It’s all very mellow and polite, but it’s not like everyone is invited to join the pack.

Even with the prevailing crowd/ghetto mentality of Southern California, longevity has some rewards. If Ray doesn’t know everyone’s names (or appropriate nicknames) and histories (as he would, say, on the Straits of Juan de Fuca), there is a mutual recognition.  And, sometimes,  consequences.

On one occasion, Ray wrote me, he paddled for an outside wave; someone farther in took off behind him. Because Ray felt he had priority, he didn’t give way. The other surfer took offense, may have bumped my friend on the inside.

So, the local peeksters held a little conference, a trial of sorts, and decided Ray was in the wrong.

“If I’d been there,” I wrote, “I’d have defended you. Next time, run over the inside guy.”

No, probably not. Still, in deference to his surf spot mates, the second time he and I surfed there in our current carnations, he allowed us to go to the main peak, as long as we sat to one side. Fine; always been an inside prowler.  But, somewhere in that session, shoulder-hopping and scrap-chasing, I saw a great wave, yelled “Outside!” and, when the pack responded, caught the wave.

It’s a trick you can get away with… once.

“Hopefully you didn’t hear about it” I wrote from the relative safety of the Northwest. “Oh, I think somebody said something. Don’t worry about it. It’s cool.”


O’side Memories and the End of (the Real) Grandview

                        Oceanside Memories and the End of (the real) Grandview

It seems, since I have written how Grandview, the Leucadia surf spot, had been the step up location, the place older and more experienced (supposedly) surfers went to, some passing-by and labelingImage Tamarack as a Kook beach, that I should write something about my last two sessions there, years apart.

By the spring of 1971, I had been surfing elsewhere for a while. There were no upper classmen I could impress by surfing there, my friends from Fallbrook were rarely around; and Oceanside was where I worked, and, mostly, surfed. I always felt, and still insist, the waves there broke a little bigger, a little harder, than anywhere else in the neighborhood, and, on some days…

There is much to be said for local knowledge, just being nearby to know what the conditions were, being able to take advantage of those shifts that create perfect moments. From the North Jetty (actually the South Jetty for Oceanside Harbor) to the smaller jetty by the parking lot, to this or that numbered street, the pier, numbered streets to the south; this was my surf zone.

It’s still easy to remember moments from a certain swell, a certain session. Maybe it’s the overhead lefts at the North Jetty on my Surfboards Hawaii twin fin; suddenly realizing I couldn’t trim, but had to drop down and power up to generate speed down the line.  Or the lefts seventy-five yards off the south side of the Pier; clean paddle-outs, drops with a back to the wall… and repeat. Or, for the benefit of my old high school friend, Dana Adler, dry and waiting on the smaller jetty, surf toward him, cranking the hardest cutback I’d made to that date.

Feel free to relive some of your best moments.

That’s one of the reason we try so hard, those memorable moments where we flow, where we glide, dance with the ocean.

Or just the way an early morning Santana wind could ruffle the horizon, clean the waves…

Okay. It was at one of the numbered streets north of the pier that I did the most radical move I’d made to that point. Out in the afternoon with Tommy Robeson, fifteen year old brother-in-law of my boss, Buddy (he was 35 or so, his wife, Sandy, 21) we were enjoying the head-high punchy peaks when a carload of after-school surfers drove up, decided, since there were two surfers out, it must be good. They started to unload.

As three of them approached the water, Tommy paddling out, I surfed toward an oncoming lip, but, instead of kicking-out, I whipped into an almost-straight-down cutback, then powered into an almost-straight-up bottom turn, blasting through the lip.

Yeah, it was surfing angry. If I surprised them, I surprised myself more.

Because I was usually on dawn patrol, I did often surf alone; always telling myself this was best. Still, when others were coming out, or there were others in the water, I surfed better. Still true; and if the competitors are friends… even better.

Grandview was gone.

It was always going to happen. ‘Eventually’ had arrived. The empty lot had become too valuable.  I drove up on an early morning to find the access blocked by a house. And a fence. There was, maybe, a sign that indicated the access was now several blocks north, in the area some called the Tomato Patch.

That wasn’t Grandview.

Halfway down the fence north of the new house, the woman from the older house came out, looked up at me walking the top of the fence, and said, “You have no right.”

No, I didn’t.

Fifteen minutes later she and a Sheriff’s Deputy watched me, sitting alone in the glassy water beyond the break.

I would like to remember that I waved, got a weak wave back. I’d like to remember the waves as being classic Grandview. Maybe I waited a while longer than I needed to before getting out of the water. Yes, I took the new access, walked back to Grandview Street.


Thirty-seven years later, I was down in San Diego, taking the train from Old Town to Encinitas, meeting up with Ray Hicks. Ray would provide his backup board and bring my shortjohn wetsuit, dry since the last time we’d gone surfing together, hitting the surf at his main spot, Pipes.

I’d been bugging him about Grandview, telling him how I’d checked out the new access with my daughter, Dru, a couple of visits before. Oh, there’s the new stairs, the new parking lot, all within the now-fully-residential former Tomato Fields. Or where they Strawberry Fields? Well, not any more; not forever.

So, there we were, unloading in the parking lot next to a box van with something about a surf school lettered on the side.

“You want to buy a surf school?” the man, younger than Ray and I, asked.

It sounded kind of good to me. I don’t think he was serious; just a little frazzled.

Now I’d like to say that, moving south a bit to be more at the real Grandview, the waves were classic. Maybe they were; classic high tide closeouts, indistinguishable from any other patch of surf within two miles in either direction, and too crowded to be fun

“So, Grandview…You need to go back some time?” Ray asked as we went for something to eat before he took me back to the station.

“Not really. Maybe… you know I surfed Swamis two years in a row on New Years’ Day. All the young guys were hung over. It might be nice to…”

Oh, I do plan on surfing there again; guess I won’t even imagine it could be the same as it was.   In fact, I’ve had so many dreams where, trying to get to those familiar fingers of rock splayed from the  point to the inside break, as I approached, gliding down the stairs,  it all, the rocks, the waves,  moved farther and farther away.

Just dreams.