The Ghost of Bill Birt

             

We have a framed photo on our living room wall, a photo that survived a fire that destroyed our first home in the Northwest, near Dabob Bay in Quilcene, Washington. The photo features Trish, at our wedding, going down the aisle with her father. The image has definitely ‘ambered’ and darkened since November of 1971, but, there in the background, in profile, with his signature thick, black-framed glasses, is Bill Birt.

Actually, the pair of glasses would be truly Bill Birt-characteristic if they featured finger- dirtied medical tape at the bridge.

Now, and for years, though he was one of the first of my friends to pass on (and I’m not totally pleased with using a softer version of ‘to die,’ which he did, and tragically), somehow, Bill Birt hangs around, sort of a ghost.

Bill might laugh, too loudly, at that dumb little joke.

I have too many Bill Birt stories to tell here. There’s “The Bill Birt Shirt,” “Bill Birt and the Magic Lougie,” “Bill Birt and the Stream of Urine,” “Bill Birt’s Stolen Surf Racks,” “Bill Birt and the San Onofre Octopi,” “Bill Birt Talks to Girls,” “Bill Birt Tries Out (too many) Boards from the Surfboard’s Hawaii shop,” “Bill Birt Follows up the Psychedelicizing of the Senior Area with Vandalism,” “Not-Quite Ditching Bill Birt,” “Bill Birt Goes a Hundred mph,” “Bill Birt and the Three Fingers.”

WHAT I should mention is that William Birt, Jr. was one of my friends since first grade or so, and that most of the stories reveal him to be someone who so desperately wanted to be cool; at least cooler, at least as cool as the cooler among his classmates. This proved almost impossible for a guy who was bigger than his contemporaries, who had hair on his chest in the sixth grade; enough, as my comment at the time went, to seem to want to choke him. He always seemed to have a little wad of white spittle in one or both corners of his mouth. 

WHAT (and this was somewhat surprising to me) I became aware of as I started writing about Bill as another one of the guys who started surfing a year or so after I did, is that I was (and am) a (possibly) just-slightly-cooler version of Bill Birt; so desirous of the same things he wanted; to be part of some group. 

WHAT most of these stories have in common is that Bill Birt rarely filtered things that came into his mind before he spoke. And, in speaking, when most of us wanted to be present but sort of unnoticed (because each of us is aware that any grouping of teenagers reveals the often-cruel struggle to develop and maintain some sort of hierarchy), Bill spoke out.

This was brave, and, often, I was the beneficiary of some new insight. When Bill told a girl in the line at the snack trailer at school (really, ice cream and candy) when we were, probably, Juniors, that he had heard she and her boyfriend were now having sex, and she, sort of shyly, looking at both of our faces (my expression no doubt not containing the shock at the question and the anticipation of the answer), nodded.

“And how is it?”

“Billlllll.”  Long pause, during which her shocked expression turned to a (slightly wicked) smile.

WHAT our so-soon-after-high school and now long-broken circle of friends didn’t really grasp, is that, away from us, in other groupings, Bill found a wonderful girlfriend, got married, and achieved real success. Bill Birt was the youngest registered lobbyist in the State of California. And then, on some rain-slicked highway… this story isn’t at all clear, he went off the road.

But, he’s still in the photo on my wall.

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                                                                   Bill Birt On Every Wave

Still angry about my ‘borrowing’ his wetsuit for Donn Franzich to use, Bill was talking about me at school. And I, of course, was defending myself.

“Yeah, well, his mom got on the phone after I admitted taking it…Bill said he wouldn’t get mad… and, you know, they were at church… besides… and his mom said, ‘Billy needed his wetsuit. He went surfing, and he got cold.’ So, Billy’s mom…”

“Yeah, well; next time, I’ll…besides, your mom… his mom got on the phone with my mom and said she was sorry her son is such a thieving dork.”

“I have to go.”

“So,” continuing the rant to Phillip and Ray, “next time we’re surfing, I’m going to take off in front of Erwin on every wave.”

“Every wave,” I heard from Phillip, and Ray, and probably Mark, Bill Buel, Billy McLain. “What’re YOU gonna do?”

“Every wave?”

The next time turned out to be the day after Ray, and Bill Buel and I stayed up way too late (for me) at Phillip’s house, smoking cigarettes, listening to the Doors, Buel acting all scary and weird. I rode to the beach in the back of Ray’s Ranchero, maybe trying to sleep under some blankets and boards. When we got to Grandview, it was stormy and overhead. 

Bill showed up a bit later, alone. Someone must have told him about the night before. Bill Buel, probably. “And Erwin was, like, freaking out.” Buel, no doubt, went into the same Jesus-on-the-cross (in this case, with a cigarette) pose. “‘This is the end… my only friend, the end…’ He was all scared and shit.”

Later, up on the bluff, one of our mutual friends asked him about his threat, supposedly (the way I heard it) after the wave on which I got briefly covered up, came out sitting down. “So, every wave?”

“Well. You know…”

“But you never even made it out.”

“Well. You know; Erwin probably did think I was at church. I mean, I was.”

“Uh huh.”

WHAT I’d like to say is I rode back home with Bill Birt, shotgun, comfortable in his parents’ super big car with the super big trunk with the big cardboard box (for wetsuits, trunks, damp towels) with big block blue letters that spelled out, ‘KOTEX,’ all caps.  No, I’m sure I rode back in the back of the Ranchero, under a blanket, under some boards, knowing (or merely wanting to believe) I was somewhat cooler than Bill Birt.

WELL. You know…”

Of all my old surfing friends, I see Bill most often.

NOTE: Wanting an illustration for this piece, I actually considered removing the photo from the professionally-sealed oval frame. Checking it more closely, beyond Bill is the woman who would become his wife. Very attractive. She didn’t come from Fallbrook. She supposedly asked Bill why, when they would run into old friends of his, they always seemed surprised.

I’m imagining Bill just shrugged.

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.

 

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.”

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.

Slow-Forward…

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.

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…

John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me (Part Four)

Spring 1968- Another Saturday- Grandview-

The surf was small and choppy. The rights weren’t working at all. I was the only one out on the lefts when John Amsterdam waded halfway out, staring at me as I surfed.

Staring, judging for himself.

Donn Franzich, on the beach, had already told John that I, the entire unofficial surf team from Fallbrook Union High School, had won my first heat at what may have been the first annual (San Diego radio station) KGB/Windansea Surf Club San Diego County High School Surfing Contest.

Yeah, it was a Saturday, but nobody from my local church would have gone down to La Jolla Shores to watch such sinfulness. I had talked Donn into driving me. He was a Fallbrook resident because his father worked in the bigger (than San Diego) city, L.A., and believed his kids should be raised in the country; avocado trees and a horse or two on a mini-ranch. Donn’s, and some other Dads, were home on weekends.

Two girls rounded out our group: Bill Buell’s sister, Margaret Brown (maybe half-sister, technically) and this blonde Officer’s daughter (name long forgotten- sorry) had talked their way into going along; not really like dates, not really girlfriends, but, sure, girls.

My heat had started at the very moment the city and nearby homeowners had allowed the contest organizers to crank up the public address system. The contestants were listed, including: “The pride of Ocean Beach, and a member of the Windansea Surf Club…” And others. And then, “From Fallbrook… I didn’t know they had surf in Fallbrook.”

The actual fifteen minutes was a blur; paddling, surfing, caught inside. I had taken a couple of lefts, ended up out, I’d feared, of the contest zone. Fifteen minutes after the end of the heat my parents showed up, grownups, in shopping/sinning/going-to-a-grownup movie clothes, lumbering across the sand.

I say ‘lumbering’ because, at that moment, I was a little embarrassed by the inland parents of the inland cowboy surfer.

“I don’t know,” I told them, standing, my contemporaries still seated on towels; “one guy in my heat was…they said… probably not good.”

Ten seconds into my parents’ walk back to the car my heat’s results were announced. They both stopped, then turned toward me. “And, in first, from Fallbrook…” It was probably the only time I ever saw my mother leap into the air.

No, I was no longer embarrassed.  My parents, who had taken me on several ‘practice’ trips, who had sat in the car in the almost empty parking lot at 15th Street in Del Mar near dark, were there and the coolest parents on the beach.

What I had won was the opportunity to compete again the next day. My parents would let me borrow the good car.

But now, at Grandview, it was sunny and small, and with Donn and the Officer’s daughter making out against the bluff, Bill’s sister asleep and adding to her sunburn, John Amsterdam was judging me. Harshly. Again.

-August 1968, Lupe’s Left Loopers- Mazatlan, Mexico-

It was never my idea. I never would have thought of it.

Phillip must have heard some discussion of surfing summer waves in Mexico in conversations between his sister’s boyfriend, Bucky, and his friends, friends like John Amsterdam. I was fine with the North County’s beaches.

The increased crowds of summer weren’t such a bother. Oh, maybe kooks and those rich guys from Texas who rented places on 101 by the month, who thought four foot was kind of big, and who went after all the local girls with a certain gusto; and a high rate of success.

Phillip’s stepfather, Vince Ross, was for the plan all the way. “A real learning experience,” he said.  My parents and Ray Hick’s mom had to be talked into the plan. With Ray’s father in Vietnam, Phillip and I went over to try to convince his mother that her son wouldn’t be hauled off by bandits or Federalies. Somewhere after we had changed her mind, I was told (not too subtly) to shut up before I talked her into not even allowing him to hang out with us.

Phil’s younger brother, Max, would even out the crew. We’d be taking Vince’s fairly-new Mustang. Each of us sported fresh haircuts (so we wouldn’t be mistaken for hippies). We had visas granted us, with Vince’s help, on our second trip to San Diego to get them.

Evidently, the first time the people at the Mexican Consulate thought I had been, somehow, sarcastic or disrespectful (really, they were closing and said we’d have to come back and I said we live fifty miles away and, wow, I did enjoy that elevator ride, and…). This time I smiled politely and kept my mouth shut.

My portion of the expenses was (and I forgot this for years) contributed mostly (if not totally) from my sister Suellen’s baby sitting money, borrowed by my parents, probably never paid back (in kind).

My Dad, reluctantly, and at my Mother’s urging, when Phillip came over to convince my parents, gave us some ‘manly’ advice. In the backyard, away from my Mom and annoying siblings, he told Phillip and me that we should avoid any people trying to sell their daughters to us for, “you know… you know.”

Oh, yeah; we knew. We giggled anyway.

“Just wait until you meet a nice girl,” he said, “have sex with her.”

Shocking. Phillip and I would laugh about it later.

So, two and a half days and twelve hundred miles from Fallbrook, there we were, watching choppy six foot waves peel off a jetty. Mexicans on old surfboards Gringos had left behind or sold cheap were out.  One of them fell, got caught in the rip, swimming hard but not moving. Eventually, another surfer gave him a rest on his board, let him off in the surf zone. Seconds later, he was back in the rip.

“Did we come all this way to watch someone drown?” Ray asked. About the time the boardless surfer made it into the shorebreak and onto the beach, we applauding, I turned. Several other surfers were a ways down the little brick wall we were draped over.

John Amsterdam.

He didn’t look happy; even with Phillip. He and the two guys he was with got into their vehicle and moved on, maybe toward some newly discovered Mexican Malibu. Or maybe to discover one.

John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me (continued)


-SOME TIME IN 1967, (THE ORIGINAL) GRANDVIEW, LEUCADIA-

Phillip and I were months ahead of our contemporaries in surfing experience when a revolving group of friends got into the sport, separately, at first, in the spring of 1966, and after. While many tried it a few times, a more hardcore-if-loosely connected group, some of them also friends of mine from Boy Scouts, was emerging.

Phillip and I had been surfing Grandview for a while. We had looked for the spot back in our freshman year, riding in the big wagon on an afternoon with the surf blown-out, impossible to see past the lines of breaking waves to open ocean.

“Grandview Street,” my Mom said, just coming into Leucadia on Highway 101; “you think it might be a clue?” The empty lot was just another viewpoint to unrideable chaos.

But now, some of our friends had drivers licenses, cars.  On this trip, hanging on the beach near a fire, Ray Hicks and maybe Mark Metzger added to our surf troop, we saw John Amsterdam coming down the water-and-feet-worn access between houses. This might have caused us to look down for a second, as if we had not earned the right- knowing, in John Amsterdam’s eyes, we hadn’t.

“New board,” someone in our group pointed out. “New board,” John Amsterdam told someone, close enough for us to hear. “Dewey Weber Performer. One hundred and seventy-five dollars.” “With the stripes.” “Yep.”

By this time I was riding a nine-nine Surfboards Hawaii noserider Wendy Brook’s father had found buried in the sand at Tamarack.  My neighbors, two doors down on Debby Street, had been there in the middle of the night for the running of the grunion. No one in their party evidently considered that someone was (stupidly) hiding it. Since no one claimed it before they left, Wendy’s Dad (Sergeant Brooks to me) strapped it onto their camper, figuring they could use it to float around over at the Salton Sea.

Wendy invited me over to check it out, she and her parents and her little sister all scattered around the back patio.

“Whoa! Surfboards Hawaii!” My covetousness of the coolest of the North County brands was quite obvious. “Salton Sea, huh?”  I purposefully tried to convince them using this valuable board for mere floating would be a shame.

No, not to them.

Some time later, Wendy’s Dad, a Marine ordinance man, came home from the hospital after an incident at Twenty-nine Palms, his arm sewn to his chest (so skin would grow back- or that’s what I was told). He was being retired and had decided to move back to wherever they had come from; maybe Texas (maybe worse). Sergeant Brooks offered me the board.

Wendy, remembering my assessment of its value, was not pleased.

I was. Phillip and I tried to disguise the board’s shady past by masking-off and applying a fancy pattern on the front fourth, officially designated as the nose, with *Slipcheck. Maybe we didn’t shake the can well enough or something; the result artistic but no-less-slippery.

THE LINEUP at Grandview must now be explained.

Even if there was an underlying rock reef, it remains my belief that the very gap between the houses that allowed access also allowed runoff, that helping to create a gap in the sandbars. If you took off on a right, you had varying length of shoulder before the inevitable closeout inside section. A not-as-good left lead into the same last section.

John Amsterdam took off on the first wave of a set. I took off on the second wave, probably made a few up-and-down moves, suddenly noticed someone swimming for his nearby brand new, pin-striped, one hundred and seventy-five dollar Dewey Weber Performer just inshore of the closeout section. I pushed hard to kickout, and, not have given the board quite enough push, left the board parallel to and hanging in the lip.

-THE NEXT SATURDAY- GRANDVIEW-

“Is that Erwin’s board?” John Amsterdam asked of Phillip and Ray.

Before either could explain that, yes, they had borrowed my board, undinged in the incident, and that I had to go to church on Saturdays and wasn’t, officially, supposed to engage in something as worldly and sensual as surfing, John asked, politely, if he could run over my Slip-checked Surfboards Hawaii noserider with his truck.

“Thanks for not letting him,” I said the next day, surfing somewhere else. “I tried to tell him I was sorry. I mean, I moved over to the lefts. What else could I do?”

*Aerosol invented by Morey-Pope.