Is Seaweed Actually Magical? And…

…and another “SWAMIS” cutback. FIRST, here on the Olympic Peninsula, buoys, designed to help ships not sink or crash, somewhat helpful for surfers trying to determine if some portion of some swell might find its way into the Strait, have been ripped from their anchors, set adrift, lost, found, or, we don’t really know, put out of service. Putin? One theory. None of the downed or drowned bouys have been put back into service.

SO, surfers in, say, Seattle, have been relying on surf forecast sites before making a decision as to whether to invest the increasing amount of gas money, wait in line at ferries, face traffic slowdowns if ‘driving around.’ NOW, it must be mentioned that there are always waves of some sort or shape or size on the actual PACIFIC COAST. Almost always. AND the most characteristic condition on the Strait is flat. Flat with east wind, flat with north wind, flat with south wind, flat and somehow blown out with west wind.

STILL, surfers get desperate. So, trying my best to glean something positive from whatever sources I could, I went up Surf Route 101, looking. I wasn’t alone. More to not get skunked than to satisfy my surf lust, I ventured into calf-high curlers, my fin popping across rocks. PERHAPS BECAUSE I had paddled out, three more adventurers joined me. PERHAPS BECAUSE they had believed some forecast site, I passed many surf rigs on my way back down Surf Route 101. NOT ONLY THAT, but a friend of mine texted me, asking if I had scored bombs. AFTER ALL, Magic Seaweed was saying…

NOW, maybe it got awesome. Somewhere, for some brief period. MAYBE. YES, I did look at various forecasts. Not looking good for the Strait. Depressing. I must now upgrade my most recent session to “Pretty good. Didn’t break a fin.” Again, there are always waves on the actual ocean.

The rocks at Swamis, someone dropping in on someone. Taken from some hotel brochure.

MEANWHILE, I am trying to find some time to continue cutting my manuscript for “Swamis” down to a reasonable and, hopefully, saleable length. Tightening it up. I am up to the days after Chulo is beaten and set alight next to the wall of the SRF compound. This is a (copyrighted) version from the second completed draft. I might mention that, if you have any experience surfing on the west coast, you know (a snippet of a quote from Miki Dora about Malibu) “The south wind blows no good.”


Three full days after Chulo’s murder, the burn-scarred section of the wall was back to white, visibly white even in the minimal pre-dawn light. I wasn’t sure if I had actually slept. I got out of bed at four, got to Swamis early enough to park the Falcon in the choicest location; front row, ten spots from the stairs; the optimal view of the lineup.

The Falcon was the same car in which my dad had taught my mom to drive, the station wagon, three-speed manual transmission. This was the car she used to drive her two boys to swimming lessons, and church, and to my appointments with a string of different doctors; and to the beach; surf mats and Styrofoam surfies and whining Freddy, maybe an annoying friend of his. The factory installed (optional upgrade) roof racks were now pretty much rusted in place.

The difference was the Falcon was now my car. A surfer’s surf wagon. Hawaiian print curtains hung on wires, a “Surfer Magazine” decal on the back driver’s side window, a persistent smell of mildew. Beach smell. With my boards now shorter, I usually kept them inside, non-hodad-like, but, for several of the reasons a hodad would do it, I kept the nine-six pintail on the roof for a while longer. “Just in case the waves are really small,” might have been one excuse.   

A predicted swell, this gleaned from other surfers and pressure charts in the Marine Weather section of the newspaper, hadn’t materialized, and a south wind was blowing. Cars with surfboards were passing each other up and down 101. Surfers were hanging out in parking lots and on bluffs and beaches, talking surf, watching the few surfers out at any spot bobbing in the side chop. Maybe it would clean up, maybe it would actually get bigger. And better.

I would wait. Waiting is as important a part of surfing as trying to be the first one out or paddling out before the best conditions hit.  Just before. My shift at my weekend-only, for-now, job didn’t start until ten-thirty; about the time the onshores typically get going. Different with a south wind. Sometimes it would clean up as some weak front moved inland or simply fizzled. Sometimes.

If I went out at nine, I could get a good forty-five minutes of surfing; maybe ten waves or more. I had my notebook, college-ruled; I had the four and eight track tape player under the passenger’s side of the seat; a collection of bargain tapes purchased at the Fallbrook Buy and Save; and I could do what I always did, study. My father’s billy clubs sized flashlight, four new d batteries, provided the lighting.

Read, recite, memorize, reread. That was my system. Less important details fall off with each attempt to memorize. The facts and details best remembered, by my logic, would most likely be the ones on the tests. Any quirky anecdotes, something that amused me; yes, I remembered those, too.  I had another system for multiple choice tests and standardized tests. Two of the four choices were obviously incorrect, fifty-fifty chance on the others. Best guest. The system worked surprisingly well, well enough that California’s supposed Ivy League university accepted me.

My father hadn’t understood why I couldn’t go there.

I was a faker, kid with a system; it never would have worked; not in that bigger pond, every student top of some class somewhere. 

No studying on this morning. I had to sneak over to the crime scene, the wall that surrounds the Self-Realization Fellowship compound. There was (and is) a wrought-iron gate in the higher, arched (former) entrance, around the corner, facing 101. As with the other breakpoints in the wall, that section is topped with the huge gold sculptures, each one representing a blooming flower. Lotus blossom. They could as easily represent a flame, not dissimilar to the one on the statue of liberty, not dissimilar to the burn marks on the wall my friends had described.  

The SRF compound is a place where people, on their own, go seeking enlightenment, a realization of the true self.  Seekers, seeking.

At about seven-fifteen I did walk over. Had to. I expected more. I expected some instant and obvious explanation.  There was a man by the wall, wheel-barrowing soil from a pile near the highway to the wall, raking it in. I had seen him before. Dark skinned. East Indian, I presumed. He was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, white, with faded blue workman’s pants, rubber boots, and heavy leather gloves. Most of his face (and I knew he had a beard) was covered in what appeared to be an overlarge (plain cloth) bandana, a standard bandana (red) around his nose and mouth, and a tropical straw hat (quite different from the cowboy style Mexican farmers and landscape workers preferred). He dropped the new soil around newly planted but full-sized plants.

There was no evidence that something horrific had occurred. The new paint blended perfectly.  The plants looked… it all looked exactly the same as it always had; as it did even in the late 1950s, before I surfed, when my father took us there just so my mother could see the gardens.

If I blinked, I thought, it might be like taking a picture. I might remember details. I might remember better. Image. Catalog. File.


Frank Crippen and North by Northwest Surf Shop

Something About Surf Shop Owners

You already know that anyone who works in a surf shop is automatically a good surfer, one, and automatically cool, two. Too. What’s apparent to me is they’re sort of automatically, and sometimes cruelly, honest.

Really, is being honest cruel?

I’ve been going into Frank Crippen’s Port Angeles store, North by Northwest Surf Shop since I got back more fervently into surfing nine or ten years ago. Yes, he automatically thought I was a Kook. And he was right. My skills hadn’t instantly come back after years of neglect. My wave knowledge was still there, but muscle memory…

Of course, I did drop a few local PA names. “Hey, you know Darryl Wood?”

“Of course. He came in here this morning on his way to…”

“His way where?”

I think Frank actually rolled his eyes. He wasn’t going to tell me, fifty-something formerly (and only self-professed) real surfer.

Fine. “Cold water wax.”

“Only kind I carry. Sex?”


Sexwax. Oh, yeah. Now, what I do appreciate about Frank is his website,

I can access the available cameras (nothing on the Straits), get a forecast, get the actual buoy readings. I check it at least daily, sometimes multiple times.

By cruising through his shop occasionally through these years, my surfing progressing so very slowly, and by seeing him on several surf checks in the area, and by always giving him a report on where I surfed and how much better it could have been, and complaining about all those Seattle surfers who read the same forecasts… somewhere Frank has gotten a little friendlier.

Oh, not discernibly friendlier. I have, being honest myself in my assessments, said Frank lacks people skills.

This doesn’t mean he can’t make a sale. I witnessed him sell about three hundred bucks worth of wetsuit and gear, some for skiing in the nearby Olympics, in about one minute. The brother of the guy trying on the wetsuit broke out his card. Maybe it’s all because he seems difficult to impress.

“And a beanie?”



So, okay, here’s the Frank Crippen Quote:

No, first, I have to say that I told Frank that Al Perlee, owner of The Surf Shop in Westport, when I told him I wanted a smaller (than my 9’4” piggie model) board, had told me, “No; you won’t be happy. You’re too old, too fat, and you don’t surf enough.”


Okay, now Frank’s Line: “It’s easier to get a bigger board than to get in shape.”

So, even you Seattle surfers: check out and support your local Straits surf shop. Maybe you can impress Frank; I’m still working on it.

Mostly I want him to link to nxnwsurf

Archie took this photo after I bought some new gloves. Yeah, the ones in the photo. “They’re thinner, but they keep you warmer.” “How long do they last?” “No gloves last forever.” We were on our way back from surfing at… somewhere on the Straits. Ask Frank; let me know if he tells you. Let me know if he rolls his eyes.

Hey, I forgot to ‘tag’ Al Perlee. When you’re down in Westport, tell him I have mentioned him several times on Now, Al is actually about my age; not sure how big a board he rides. And, he was right; I’ve gone bigger; it was either go big or go home.