Okay, they aren’t, but there are some bright spots if you look hard enough. I am trying really hard to be optimistic, difficult as that is. Balance. So, let’s say you’re a standup paddleboarder; you have already learned that staying upright and balanced sometimes requires not looking at your flailing arms and legs, but maintaining a focus on the horizon. Similarly, driving a car smoothly requires… no, this isn’t really helping. I have checked the Microsoft News dealie on my computer; Trump’s still hunkered in his bunker unless he’s golfing (I’m sure there’s a ‘where’s the Prez now’ phone app available) or strategizing on how to achieve world peace as just a bit more glitter on his legacy; and I’m actually dying to turn on the TV to get the latest fake news (having eliminated the fair and balanced type from my options, though we kept the ‘yule log’ channel); and I definitely am not tempted to check out the NFL channel or any other wildcard games, this to avoid any excuses for or explanations of the Seahawks loss yesterday; and I’m even avoiding checking the buoy readings from Tofino to Westport (again, or my usual 10-20 times per day- I do have buoys on my phone- not looking good Strait-wise); all of this in a pursuit of avoiding personal panic.
So, I was buoyed (no, I don’t consider this, like, really clever) when Stephen R. Davis, over on Fantasy Island, sent me a photo with the heading, “Storming the Capitol.” Since I have promised to try, to really try not to get all political and to concentrate of real surfers surfing (oh, and I am thankful that a very high percentage of surfers consider ourselves liberal), I let Steve know that I would put the photo on realsurfers.net
I have also made a self-commitment to complete my endless tweaking and polishing of my novel, “SWAMIS” sooner rather than later. I have invested a considerable amount of time and energy in this work. While I originally thought of “Swamis” as a one book thing, even the side stories I have cut, the verbal images I have cropped, the characters I have not fully rendered have convinced me there is more I want to say. Oh, there always is.
Horizons. We don’t need blinders, we need focus.
To blatantly steal something from Drew Kampion, “Life is a wave…” As Steve is doing, above, “Lean into it.”
UPDATE: I couldn’t do it. After a text from Keith and a call from Adam Wipeout, I had to check the buoys, and then, yeah got updated on football and politics. Sad. Politics, sadder. AND, then I got two new photos from my Hawaiian connection, Stephen R. Davis. SO, check back when you can, OH, and I do have to say something about Adam’s recent world class overthefalls wipeout, a non ride that has already taken up more conversation time than any ride ever… ever. And I’m evidently not done.
I’m still polishing the manuscript for my novel, “Swamis.” A lot of what I am doing is trying to cut out pages, lines, even words that don’t progress the story. The story.
THE STORY has changed considerably since I started the project. THE TRUTH is that this project, realsurfers, was an attempt to tell the larger story of surfing in a particular time, the late 1960s, Southern California; the draft, Vietnam, various revolutions in music, surfboard design, human rights; there’s a lot to cover. NOW I have a story and I’m trying to make all the parts, all the characters and plot twists seem REAL.
I don’t want to post pages that I cut because I rewrote them, improved upon what I am offering you. Rather, I will only post outtakes because they no longer fit in the trimmed-down, story driven manuscript. ACTUALLY, there are still sidetrips I will not be able to cut.
In rereading this passage, I do have to admit that it’s Joseph DeFreines channeling me. The fiction part is that his father was a cop, killed in a mystery among mysteries. SO:
Sure. Surfing is sexy, coolness illustrated; pirate/rebels washed clean.
Coolness, hipness; we adapt our lives, change our speech patterns, make different choices in clothing and music and attitude as we discover new, and, if not better, more modern things, newer new things; trends, fashions.
The very word, fashion, describes its temporary nature. Subtext. That fashion goes in and out is given to the user of the word for free.
We steal, borrow, incorporate. The strands are pretty obvious; like blues to jazz, blues to rock and roll, blues coopted by popular AM music. If you were born in the 1950s, you heard Sinatra and Chuck Berry on the same AM station; experienced the Beatles, then Dylan. No, you probably got Dylan through Dylan covers, Peter Paul and Mary, the Byrds; then Dylan, then… whatever was fashionable. Temporary.
THE REAL DYLAN
We, my Fallbrook contemporaries, suburban teenage males, isolated from the big cities, behind the times; we were Doors fans. Of course. My friends bought the albums. Garage bands played extended versions of ‘Light My Fire’ at sock hops and VFW dances. When tape players came out, some of my friends had them installed in the cars their parents handed down to them. Or bought for them. Four trac, then 8; Three Dog Night and Jimi Hendrix.
Somehow, I held on to the songs from the 78s my parents owned, surprisingly varied, with jazz, husband and wife duos, black torch singers, Nat King Cole. I remembered tunes from musicals in my mom’s LP stash, “Oklahoma” and “South Pacific.” They had LPs, 33 1/3rd, Johnny Mathis and The Everly Brothers. I didn’t want doo wop or bubblegum pop, I wanted to hear the real Dylan. Dylan was in the magazines, angry young man, voice of a generation; why wasn’t he on the radio?
Dylan was certainly not on KCPQ, the station my friends in Junior High went on about. KCPQ advertised pimple cream and played Beatle songs for portable radios, songs sung in the hallways by hormone-strained voices, guys suddenly affecting English accents. There were sanitized versions of Dylan; but no Dylan. I didn’t want more Chad and Jeremy, more Herman’s Hermits.
Someone dropped a clue, something heard by overhearing an older brother. There was a station from San Diego, KPRI, FM (for god’s sake), that played whole albums; radical, underground music. I could barely get it, but I tried, over in the corner of my bedroom, while I studied, wrote; edited and typed-up other people’s term papers (for a fee); another detached, isolated, suburban (almost rural, really) teenager.
KPRI, as close to tuned in as I could get it, still had that grainy, scratchy, ringing-in-the-ear background. I tried. I persisted. I listened. That it was difficult to tune into made it better. Way better. FM, for god’s sake.
Channel 9, from Santa Barbara, was a similar, hard-to-tune-in mystery. With Ray on the roof moving the antenna, Phillip at the window, and me at the TV set, we tried to get “Surf’s Up.” It was listed in the Fallbrook-specific TV Guide; and, at best, we almost saw, or barely saw, some footage of Trestles, a legendary break, peeling. The only audio we could hear was, “peeling like a washing machine.”
That barely-there-ness only added to the appropriateness. “Peeling like a washing machine” became, briefly, our phrase for a perfect wave on an imperfect day. Rare, peeling…
“We’re going,” the slow-speaking voice (opposite of am radio) of a possibly-stoned KPRI disc jockey would say, “to go in the back room and get our heads together (background chuckles); so, here’s Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding.” Sound of inhalation, extended version.
Appropriate. Black-and-white, scratchy-grainy TV, whispered songs with tinnitus backgrounds.
When I got my first tape player, 4 plus 4, capable of playing four and eight trac tapes; and stolen, as previously mentioned, traded for fifteen bucks and some homemade sandwiches (and a promise for more) in the school parking lot, installed (rather, wired) by a guy (can’t remember his name) who told me I, my dad being an asshole and a cop and all, should have known it was stolen. I bought some on-sale tapes at the Buy-and-Save market: Laura Nyro, Leonard Cohen, “Aerial Ballet” by Harry Nilsson.
“What’s that shit?” One of my friends would ask.
“Good music,” I would say.
Yeah, I had some Doors, Hendrix; often wondered if I really liked them more than the Moody Blues. When Led Zeppelin came out, I just avoided it. Or tried. Orgasmic rock. All these years later, KPRI is probably sports or talk or playing new age country/western, and there is no classic or hardrock station that can go an hour without playing something from Led Zep.
Orgasmic rock I called it. Hated Led Zeppelin, but I still know most of their songs.
Somewhere in those years, I lost my California coastal accent. Or, maybe I just thought I had. It comes back sometimes. “Oh, I see; you don’t like a-vo-caaa-do.”
This is, actually, the first drawing I’ve done in quite a while. I have been pretty much consumed with trying to, one, survive, two, keep chopping and cutting and shaping and sanding and polishing my manuscript for “Swamis” into what I will call, eventually, and with a sincere humility, a ‘classic surf-centric novel.’ Three, try to not get skunked totally when I go searching for waves.
It’s been almost a year since I got to ‘the end,’ the end of the unexpurgated version of “Swamis,” got all excited, handed out a few thumbdrives, e-mailed word documents to some other folks, waited for the praise.
There is no profit in giving or receiving unwarranted or undeserved praise. I believe honesty is… no, I’m okay with undeserved praise; and yet, because I knew “Swamis” wasn’t done, I started re-editing, reorganizing, and, most painfully, cutting out words, my words; dialogue, description well before I got the feedback, most of which centered around reorganizing, shaping the manuscript into something… readable, with less jumping around in time… with actual chapters and stuff; something more… MAINSTREAM.
I have taken all the feedback to heart, and have thanked those who read part or all (deserved praise to those who managed that feat), and I have worked my fool ass off on building (almost said creating) a book worth the time one would spend reading.
OKAY, let’s relate it to my connection to MIKE NORMAN. He’s a part of the ever-enlarging, ever-frustrated Port Townsend surf crew; he works at the boatyard on, I don’t really know, boats. Mike has been repairing boards for himself and others for awhile, the combination of big rocks and small waves on the Strait of Juan de Fuca causing more damage per board, more lost or broken fins, than bigger waves and friendlier shorelines would. Personal testimony here. AND Mike has been shaping and glassing complete boards; AND, because he has a background in foam and fiberglass, his boards are professional grade; HANDCRAFTED SURF VESSELS.
Without scrolling back, I believe I did write about how I ripped the glass off my first SUP, sawed off about a foot and a half of what I thought was a twelve foot board, discovering it was, nope, eleven feet; so my new scarred and partially waterlogged blank was now seven foot six and not as floaty as I had hoped. After trying to get some evenness in the rail-lines, put some lift in the nose, give the board some rocker, some down rails, somewhere in there I decided, with some input from surfers who hadn’t actually seen my progress but have seen how I thrash and don’t repair my equipment, I turned the project over to MIKE.
Part of the deal on my end is I give Mike a 5’9″ Bic fish I thought I might ride but haven’t, and providing a logo to put on my and other people’s boards. This is my second, or third, perhaps, attempt. No, not perfect; but if I go back, move this, change that, cut this, add that… then it would be… classic.
NOW, trying not to use my lack of board building skills as a metaphor, I do realize that, at some point, since I would prefer to have an actual publisher, “Swamis” will require an outside editor with an objective eye. I want the manuscript to be as tight as I can get it before that happens. YEAH, it’s scary. The book has to stand on its own merits. ALMOST THERE.
GOOD LUCK to all at this darkest time of the year; sometimes there are, I’ve heard, waves, breaking, just off shore. Waves are a gift (not necessarily worth sharing). I will be trying to sell “Swamis” soon. If you can help, I did check out my gmail account recently, one I rarely use. It works. email@example.com
Happy Merry Solstice Christmas Whatever; and I mean it.
Now that Stephen R. Davis is kind of settling into Big Island life, and has made progress toward, possibly, becoming what he referred to another surfer over there, a “Haole Local,” I speak with him less regularly than when he was over here on the crookedy corner of the contiguous states. I mean, like, really, what do I have to say, surfwise? King tides and southwest swells and skunkings and underwater gravel migration that cuts a wave-killing channel through my favorite reef? Mean-muggers and packs of high-fiving white guys on SUPs who, obviously, got their training chasing ferry boats? How the number of new surfers add to the Olympic Peninsula demographic of most frustrated surfers per hundred thousand?
Yeah, the usual stuff, plus, since it’s this time of year where every surf trip starts AND ends in the dark, and the political shenanigans continue, unabated, as does the virus, and the unavoidably (except by Congress) obvious toll the pandemic has taken on regular folks (for example- several Port Angeles restaurants in business the 42 years I’ve been here have for sale signs in front of them) continues to rise; and, oh yeah; it’s Christmas time, which, if I had my choice, would take place in August when I actually have some money for presents (my kids don’t call me the Christmas Dick because I seem particularly jolly)… so, again, just the usual stuff is going on in my life, making it extra pleasant to get a call from Stephen R. Davis.
Steve called me to say he’d gotten redemption at a sketchy break that features a dry-reef-takeoff, a couple of cruisy sections, and an opportunity to get barreled or pummeled. We did talk after an earlier session in which one of the non-Haole locals said something that Steve understood, but, with him using the pidgin pronunciation, left me with no clue as to what he was talking about, even when I made him repeat it. But, placing it in context, because, when he looked around, all the other surfers were heading for shore, I’m guessing the phrase probably meant something like, “The tide’s too low, Haole.”
Now I imagine Steve nodding, as if he understood the implications, but staying out for an uncontested wave of two.
As I said, this time, with some water on the reef, Steve, who says, with the opportunity to surf consistently, he is surfing better than he ever has, and he was already a very good surfer; this time… redemption.
WAIT! I was just watching some pipeline footage and suddenly reef that Steve said he was doing the outfit with the two hands in the wave face, meaning one hand behind him. “Wait,” I exclaimed ( or asked, perhaps- less dramatic), “you mean like Clay Matzo at Honolua Bay?” “Yes. ” “So, you Marzoed?” ” Guess so. ” “Okay.”
Steve sent me a few photos. This one is a little beefcake-ish and buttcrack-ey, and he says it isn’t him, though he claims he can’t remember the name of the guy and, although I just don’t know of that many people who have that much fucking hair (and I have seen some Stephen Davis wannabes).
It’s a bit interesting to me that I’m working on this while considering how much weight a 4/3 full wetsuit adds to a surfer, that with a one mil vest (with hood) and booties, all of which take in and hold a certain amount of saltwater and/or urine (no, not the hood, urine-wise); and that I have two baggies of assorted chocolates on a side table, and a selection of seasonal cookies easily available; and that working on finishing my novel “Swamis,” (self promotion here) and whatever else I’m doing from a chair that can recline if I’m too tired to sit upright is not exactly like burning calories.
I did mention the Christmas Dick thing.
Anyway, and not just because I have some free (as in no one is paying me for it) time, I will, soon, post some photos my friend and contemporary Tom Burns sent me illustrating a trip some of his friends took to the channel at Mavericks on that recent day, best in years, you are probably already familiar with. But, just because my sister Suellen sent me this, I may as well include a shot of our dad, Suellen, me, and my next sister down, Mary Jane, en route from Surf City, North Carolina to San Diego, December 1953.
Merry Christmas; try not to be a (not a sexist comment- I’m talking behaviorally) dick; in or out of the water; and, for godsake, Steve or non-Steve, tighten up those boardshorts!
My novel, “Swamis,” keeps growing, keeps reaching past ‘novel’ to ‘epic novel’ length. I keep editing it, deleting stuff, then, tightening and polishing and making sure all the little moves are clear; it just keeps rolling past the 120k word zone, that fictional border that keeps a fictional story at a readable length.
Yeah, and as much as it hurts me to cut chapters, with where I am, so close to an ending that keeps evading me in the rewriting and editing, I definitely need to cut a couple of thousand words. SO, I keep moving them to the backup, shadow story, labeled “Sideslipping” on my laptop. I have published some of these on realsurfers, and, if I can swing the computer moves, I will stick some ‘edits,’ don’t want to call them ‘deleted scenes,’ here. MAYBE ‘deleted scenes’ is acceptable.
The following is actually two big outtakes. Remember, though there is a lot of actual people and real events included in “Swamis,” this is fiction. I transplanted my best surfing friends Phillip and Ray into situations that never happened, stuck myself in there, too, mostly so readers don’t think I am Jody. I am not. And, yeah, it’s a lot of words to delete; still not enough:
SIDESLIPPING- OUTTAKES FROM “SWAMIS”
Here we go:
Someone I met much later, a former member of the La Jolla/Windansea group, ten years or so older than me; old enough to have dived for abalone and lobster; old enough to have ridden a new balsa wood board, said, of surfing in his era, “We just sort of plowed.”
When I switched from surf mats to boards, in 1965, diving for and selling abalone and ‘bugs’ (lobster) for cash was already over; being a ‘true waterman’ was no longer a priority. This only added to the mystique. There was a certain reverence, respect, held by surfers of the “Everybody goes surfing, surfing U.S.A.” era for the members of that post-war generation; beatnik/hotrod/rock n’ roll/pre-Gidget/rebellious/outsider/loner surfers plowing empty waves.
That is, for those (of us) who actually gave a shit.
Tamarack was obvious; one peak in front of the bathrooms on the bluff, a bit of a channel; a parking lot at beach level. Good place to learn; sit on the shoulder; wait, watch, study; move toward the peak; a bit closer with each session. Get yelled at; get threatened; learn.
Eventually, if you wanted to improve, you would have to challenge yourself to ride bigger waves, beachbreaks with no channel, tough paddle outs. You would have to learn to hold tightly to the board’s rails, your arms loose enough to move with the violence of a breaking wave. If you wanted to surf the best waves, the set waves, even at Tamarack, you would eventually have to challenge a better-than-you surfer for a wave.
Chapter Eight- Thursday, March 20, 1969
Phillip and Ray lead the discussion about the murder and the excitement. There was a bigger than usual crowd at the big concrete planter boxes, designed with seating all around, trees and bark inside them. The break was called ‘nutrition,’ between second and third periods, and there were two trailers set up where nutritious snacks like orange-sickles and twinkies could be purchased.
Mostly Ray was talking, with Phillip adding key points, and Erwin looking out for any nearby teachers. Mark and Dipshit Dave and three of the Billys were there. I was in my usual spot, standing in the planter, observing, listening. Some of the local toughs and the cooler non-surfers were, unusually, part of this day’s group; listening; more friends of friends of Ray and Phil.
Two of the Rich Kids came over from the Senior Area. Mike, who had been my best friend up until third grade, jumped up next to me on the planter. “Missed the excitement, huh Joey?”
“Guess so, Mikey.”
I had already heard the story. My mind was somewhere else.
“Um, hey; Joey; you know…” I knew what Mike wanted to say. “We’re still; you know, friends.” He tapped me on the chest, tapped his own. “It’s just… your dad. Sorry.”
I tapped Mike on his chest, three times, held up a flat palm between us, went back to being somewhere else.
In our freshman year, the most crowd-centric of several big concrete planters became the pre-school, break, and lunchtime hangout for the entire crew of Freshmen surfers (as far as we knew); Erwin and Phillip and me. With the administrative building behind it, the gymnasium/cafeteria downhill, most of the classrooms to the west, and a bit of shade provided by the trees, it was a good place for observing while still laying low, avoiding… avoiding the other students; the older students in particular; but also any awkward interactions with girls and rich kids and new kids who had gone to other Junior high schools, Pauma Valley (East, toward Palomar Mountain) and Camp Pendleton (West) and Bonsall (Southwest) and Rainbow and Temecula (Northeast).
Temecula. In my senior year, 1969, there were four or five kids from there; three were siblings; two Hanks sisters, one brother. These days, if people don’t know where Fallbrook is, they have heard of Temecula. Big city. “Yeah, sure, Temecula; out on The 15.”
Putting “The” in front of the name of highways came later, along with traffic helicopters and rush hour destination forecasts. Later.
I-15 was Highway 395 then, and Temecula was, often, twisted into Tim-meh-cu’-la; not for any good reason except, perhaps, it was more inland, farther East than Fallbrook, Fallbrook, a town that self-identified (with signage) as “The Friendly Village;” but was nicknamed, in a self-deprecating way, Frog-butt.
Again, the planter was a good place to observe the daily run of mostly manufactured dramas, crushes and romances and slights and breakups, from. High ground. The planter offered a good view of the slatted, backless wooden benches where the sociable girls, this clique and that one, sat (one or two sitting, two or three standing), in groupings established through some mysterious sort of class/status jockeying, some girls able to move from one group to another; some not.
The planter was adjacent to the Senior Area, a sort of skewed rectangle of grass and concrete with covered picnic tables. This chunk of real estate was off limits and jealously guarded, mostly by guys in red Warriors letterman jackets, against intruders; though any senior who made any effort to appear cool (particularly when talking with underclass girls) would feel obligated to say the exclusivity of the senior area was no big deal to him.
Girls. Yeah, the planter was a good place to observe girls, some I’d known since kindergarten. Changing. So quickly. Heartbeat by heartbeat. Girls. So mysterious.
It’s not that I didn’t try to understand how a (comparatively) poor girl with a great personality could be in with three rich girls, at least one of whom was totally bitchy (I mean ‘slightly difficult, quite mean, and unreasonably demanding,’ but I would have meant and said bitchy back then). I figured it was because they knew each other before we figured out whose parents had more money than whose (ours).
Phillip was new when we were freshmen. He had come from Orange County; but he had done some surfing and his older sister was going out with a guy who was definitely one of Fallbrook High’s four or five real surfers. Phillip and I shared a couple of classes. I’d known Erwin since kindergarten. He was a Seventh Day Adventist, which was, he explained, “Kind of like Christians following Jewish traditions.” “Oh, so that’s why you’re not supposed to surf on Saturdays?” “It’s the Sabbath. Holy. Sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.” “Too bad.” “Well; we have gone to, um, Doheny; somewhere we wouldn’t run into anyone from, you know, here.” “Oh?” “Yeah; hypocrisy and guilt. If surfing isn’t, you know, actually sinful…” “Oh, but you know it is.” “Sure is.”
Erwin was one of the only Adventists at our school, and he started board surfing right after junior high; about the same time I did; when his sister, Suellen, beguiled by “Gidget” movies and an episode of “Dr. Kildare,” probably (no doubt, actually); got herself a used surfboard and let her brother borrow it.
Sinful, yes; addictive, undoubtedly. I once, early September, just after school started, saw Erwin sitting on his sister’s board, toward the channel of the lineup. Sunday. Tamarack. It wasn’t big, really, maybe a little bigger than had been average over the summer.
“You’re in the channel, Erwin.” “So?” Closer to the peak meant closer to the crowd. We challenged each other, had to go. We both paddled, over and out; and sat, anxiously, outside of where the waves were breaking, watching other surfers, from the back, take all the waves. When a set wave showed up, we were (accidently) in position. We both; heads down, paddled for it; Erwin prone, me on my knees. We both caught the wave. I pearled, straight down, my board popping back up dangerously close to other surfers scrambling out. Erwin rode the wave. Probably quite ungracefully, but, if only between him and I, he had bragging rights.
Bragging rights, but only between Erwin and me. Being ignored for a mediocre ride was far better than being noticed, called-out as a kook, told by three surfers, only one of them older than I was, to go surf somewhere else, go practice my knee-paddling in the nearby Carlsbad Slough.
I never did. I persisted. I got better. I had significant surf bumps by the time I started riding boards that took knee-paddling out of the equation.
Sometimes I, or Phillip and I, would go (on a Sunday) with Erwin’s mom and his many siblings; sometimes Phillip (on a Saturday) or both of them (on a Sunday, after school, or on a holiday) would go with Freddy and me and my mom. Always to Tamarack. Lower parking lot. Freddy never surfed a board. Surf mat; the real kind, hard, nipple-ripping canvas. Sometimes Freddy and I would get dropped-off, try to fit into the crowd, ease close to someone else’s fire when our mom’s shopping took longer than the time we could manage to stay in the water.
Ray and some of the other guys our age didn’t start surfing until the summer before our sophomore year, so Phillip and Erwin and I were ahead of them, better than them. Many of our contemporaries at least tried it. Anyone newer to surfing than you were was a kook and/or gremmie. Surfing had its own dress code and, more importantly, a fairly strict behavioral standard. A code I thought, at the time. It was fine to get all jazzed up among other surfers, going to or from the beach, but not cool to kook out among non-surfers.
Even in the proper surf gear, Phillip and Ray, both blondes, looked more like what TV and movies said surfers should look like (unless you were foolish enough to believe Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon were anything even close to real- real surfers knew the extras, the background guys, Miki Dora especially, and Mickey Munoz, were the real surfers). Erwin and I, dark haired; even when dressed in the requisite surf garb of the time, weren’t immediately recognized as surfers, weren’t immediately given whatever prestige we thought surfers received.
Or we were, and the prestige wasn’t what we thought it might be.
By the time we were seniors, most of the other Fallbrook surfers our age had dropped off; surfing was less important than whatever they were doing; though they still looked like surfers and always asked when I’d gone last; always said we’d have to go, together, some time.
Some time. We still rarely hung out in the Senior Area. The planters.
We all seemed to have cars; hand-me-downs from parents or older siblings off somewhere new. We could go surfing alone. Phillip and Ray had girlfriends, on and off. Even Erwin had a girlfriend, Trish; not an Adventist. Separate lives. Separate adventures. Romances. Drama. Sometimes we’d still surf together; usually not.
The stories of those adventures connected us. Loosely, probably.
I studied, I surfed. But, at nutrition and at lunch, pretending not to notice the swirl of so many stories around me, this concrete planter box was my social scene.
The obvious reason that there are so many people who think of ourselves as surfers, real or otherwise (and I will write about the obvious advantages of being a HODAD, later), is that, kook to pro, riding a wave is (or should be, definitely can be) THRILLING.
Get that thrill of tapping into nature’s energy, dropping in, dancing across the wave face, one with the… yeah, yeah, next time you’ll do even better. Maybe. Not to sound cynical here, but sixty-some years after I had to be, allegedly, rescued from the waves at SURF CITY, North Carolina, I’m still chasing, and occasionally fully realizing the THRILL.
WAIT. So, we moved to California when I was four, so this incident in which I toddled from my dad’s oceanfront (bought it cheap, sold it cheap, all washed away in hurricane) house to glory in the surf. It must have been blissful before an Aunt had to save (?) me.
Sixty-six years, and, while I’m explaining stuff, some of the least fun I’ve had were sessions where, considering myself pretty durn good at surfing, back when I was 19, 20; which, objectively, was the height of my ability (if I don’t add the increasing number of asterisks that go with age – wave knowledge does increase as knees and ankles deteriorate), when I was more pissed than blessed because performance did not live up to my expectations.
EXPECTATIONS; this is another issue. In retrospect, I should have just realized that waves are a gift, and the ride in which everything goes perfectly is rare. If a surfer can get one memorable wave in a session, he or she should be satisfied. IF NOT, there’s always the possibility of a NEXT TIME; next time, yeah, less of a crowd, more of a wave, that next time.
MEANWHILE, do consider avoiding the disappointments and frustrations; switch to being a REALHODAD. There are so many benefits. “Yeah, I surfed, Baja; bitchin’ surf camp, dudes; stood up the first day. Really. Kinda cool.”
NEXT TIME I will go into how I’ll never get past the first step in curing SURF ADDICTION, with a story of how I got mediocre waves shared with five high-fiving SUPers, obviously ripper wannabes who honed their skills riding ferry wakes off of Alki Beach, and then got to hear, again, via texts, about how other surfers I know found proper peelers, and then, because I’m so extremely childish/kookish (and I did get a few fun rides), I got all snarky/grinchy on the return texts… and then I said, okay, I was wrong; I’m not going to even look at the buoy readings the next day, and then, close to a fickle surf spot, even more fickle than most, and without a board or wetsuit (because I wasn’t going to think about surfing), I checked the buoys. FUCK! Had to be breaking. And it was, sort of, with too many surfers for the spot and more in the closest parking area. SO, YEAH; I hodad-ed it up; handed out my excuses (two of which are mention above). NO, I would rather have been surfing. My name is Erwin, and I’m an addict.
SO, I GUESS, next time I’ll write about how foolish it is, if you can’t make an actual living at surfing, to give up too much in search of the THRILL.
COMMENTS- WordPress makes it kind of a pain to write comments anyway, but it seems, right now, and I have tried to correct this, if you hit ‘comment,’ it just goes kind of nowhere. I’m getting close to finishing “SWAMIS,” the novel, and I will put in a web address to which one can send feedback; honest if not flattering. Next time.
Swear to God I’m getting close to finishing the manuscript, keep saying, as I tighten up the writing on chapters, putting in little details I just can’t help adding (mostly things I think are sarcastically amusing), with the word count back up over 122,000, with over 65,000 words worth already moved to another spot (“Sideslipping”) that I will soon find large chunks I can eliminate.
Not happening. SO, here’s a chapter that doesn’t actually occur within the boundaries of the story. Yes, I set those edges. Anyway, here it is, pretty much a true story; that is, for me. No, Jody is not a fictional version of me; I just let him have some of my, um, experiences. Like this one:
MONDAY, DECEMBER 1, 1969
I had planned on ending “Swamis” on December first, 1969. That was the day of the first lottery draft, critical to the rest of my life, and the first day of the still famous swell that hit Hawaii and the west coast; waves big enough that almost everywhere was closed out.
In the San Diego County area, Cardiff Reef, Windansea, and Sunset Cliffs were, maybe, possible; with Boomer and The Cove at La Jolla turning from the usually washy nothing to a giant left-hand point break; the legendary Ricky Grigg among the few takers. Lots of watchers.
To make it all more spectacular, a Santana was blowing, straight offshore in the early morning, and hard enough that the waves were holding up several seconds longer. The typically more-straight-than-hollow walls were legitimate barrels, spitting from within, spraying back high into the air.
It is deceptively easy to get out at Swamis. Surfers who shouldn’t be out are out. There’s challenging oneself and there’s just being stupid. There’s the crowd to deal with, but the waves make the final judgement; and the ocean is always ready to humble… humble anyone.
I was out there, trying, along with too many others, to catch one from the shoulder; paddling into the sting of the spray, not catching the wave. Or, almost ready to drop in, at that moment of commitment, looking down at height of the wave, at the hollowness between me and the trough, looking back into the pit; some crazy surfer on it from fifty yards back, crazy speed, screaming past me as I backed-off.
“Cheer Critchlow,” someone in the pack yelled. “He’s been to Hawaii.”
The bluff was lined, shoulder to shoulder, with onlookers, two deep at the optimum spot. I caught five waves. On the second, a smaller one (for the day) that I caught by paddling for it, frantically, toward the point, while the rest of the pack was paddling desperately toward the channel or for the horizon as another set approached. It was catch the wave or take the pounding.
The wave was probably eight feet (California scale), and I made the drop, pulled an extended bottom turn and sped, full speed through the first section. I shifted my balance, mid face, moved higher on the wall. So high. Where there’d normally be a slow spot, there was another section, the wave heaving yards ahead of me, dropping out below me. Only my forward speed allowed me to almost control the board, sideslipping into full trim. I was, no doubt, screaming. I was locked in, tubed, crouched as tight as I could be. There was nowhere else to be. Maximum speed. “Fuuuuu-uuuck!”
Fuck. Almost to daylight, the foam shot me even faster. The lip hit me. I went sideways, flipping, hitting the flat. Rolled with the power; body surfing move. Not hurt. Done.
“That’s it,” I told myself. “Done.”
It wasn’t over. I sucked in foam when I hit what I thought was the surface. Foam is not air. I was coughing, trying to stay calm, trying to get enough air in before dropping under the next wave.
I was all right. I could swim in, get my board, hang on the beach long enough to settle down, then join all the others, watching. No shame. I had gone for it. I swam toward the point, away from the riptide; a succession of waves pushing me closer.
No board. I looked around before I looked up; sun behind the row of gawkers. I still claim I could hear a chorus of “It’s in the rip!” I definitely saw the hands, shadows, up in the glare, pointing out. In the rip.
“Fuck.” My board was in the channel, in the rip, halfway out to the lineup. No. To leave the board would be shameful. It wasn’t just that. I wanted another wave. One more; and this time I’d make that section. I rock-danced over toward the rip, swam out.
I skipped most of school and work for most of the week, managing to surf every day as the swell dropped to normal. Normal. Jumper and Ginny missed the first morning. Only.
Stuck inside because the winds that blew smoke from fires in California and Oregon out to sea has shifted. The smoke has moved up and come in full strength (thickness might be a better word) with the onshore flow, that push not enough to offer any real surf. There is enough stagnant air, probably about a pack and a half a day’s worth (not sure how to quantify this for vapers, those who inhale vapors, on purpose), that makes even the non-running-type work of painting seems hazardous.
Or maybe it’s an excuse to stay inside and write.
I worked on tightening several chapters of “Swamis,” and then wrote the following. This will most likely not make it to the completed manuscript, but, partially (mostly) because feedback pushed me toward more fully covering the death of Joseph DeFreines, Senior; which I have, mostly gotten out of the way, I have been forced to consider that “Swamis” is just too fucking much for one book.
The characters have been established, the storyline set in motion. In the original, unexpurgated version, there were more references to how the events from 1969 affect the future lives of Jody and Ginny and Baadal and Jumper and Portia, and others. If I cut the story off somewhere before the mystery of who killed Chulo is resolved, possibly, that could be the second part of a trilogy, a book centering on the (fully) adult characters could provide a wraparound that would… yeah, I could do this.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing. And, not to be too political, I feel compelled to add that… okay, I have a story, true life, featuring gun-toting, non-mask-wearing non-surfers and their interaction with a heavily-tattooed surfer outside a Port Angeles Safeway. OH, and, still, no surf on the Strait, no place to surf if there were waves. Not political. Here’s the excerpt:
CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE- SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2020
I am currently 198 (pages out of 291) through a full manuscript rewrite, this triggered by the feedback from bloated, confusing unexpurgated draft containing somewhere in excess of 123,000 words. With a hundred pages left to go, having deleted somewhere around 64,000 words, “Swamis,” right now, is back up to 121,725 words, and, with as much as I plan to cut out some of what remains in the story, I am increasingly aware that I can’t (partially as in, I am not willing to) eliminate enough.
The manuscript in which I actually got to ‘the end’ was saved, one copy printed, several copies sent out, somewhere before the pandemic, before the shutdowns and the election meddling and the rest, before the smoke from the way-worse-than-usual fires.
“Swamis,” the story, it too big. Trilogy? Maybe. I’m looking for a place to cut it off, a place to pull out. All I can give you is words, and as Ginny Cole said about a black and white photo of a sunset, a person’s mind fills in the colors.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG with something you have written, read it out loud. I figured I would start with that, only part of what happened at the “Art and Writings of Erwin Dence” Zoom event on the most recent Thursday night.
Keith Darrock, Port Townsend Librarian (he has a fancier title I can’t remember- just think librarian only more so, add in that he rips on any board in an ever-increasing quiver) and I got into the Zoom virtual space early, me on standby in my living room, he moving his laptop to an appropriate location in his home, books in the background.
Trish and our daughter, Dru, who had spent a lot of time making a slideshow from the illustrations (available for viewing on the previous post, non-slideshow) were joining-in from Dru’s place in Port Gamble.
I had spent part of the day preparing for what I hoped and imagined would happen at the Zoom event, having been way too distracted to get any significant work done the previous day because I was contacting and inviting (texting, mostly) folks I thought might be willing to participate.
WHEN I DID speak to someone, it turned into… well, I do like to talk. I should particularly mention that I spent some time on the cell phone with a local Port Townsend (professional- as in no other ‘real’ job) writer who was gracious/foolish enough to read the entire unexpergated version of “Swamis” and give me a lot of guidance. He said he’d probably be watching the last night of the Democratic National Convention, but, again, he was gracious/foolish enough to discuss what changes I had made to the manuscript since his review, and he did reveal why he had dedicated himself to writing. “I just couldn’t see myself doing anything else for a living.” “Road construction, retail sales?” “Good luck.”
BECAUSE I had never actually written a succinct description of “Swamis,” as in 25 words or less, and I wanted to sound more author-like if pressed, I endeavored to do so. Okay, it’s 376 words or so. AND, because, in my mind, the audience/Zoomers might include the folks who have attended library events in the past, I went through the manuscript and picked out three pages that I thought might appeal to that educated group of hip and literate PT word lovers. The subchapter is one of the more (I thought) semi-romantic parts of the story.
SO, 7pm Pacific Daylight Savings Time is 3pm on the Big Island of Hawaii where Stephen R. Davis, freshly freed from quarantine, is hanging out (and, yeah, I guess, working). He was one of the first to ZOOM in, from his phone, from a vehicle, riding with former PT resident, and, by all accounts, surf ripper, McKinna (probably didn’t get the name right- I’ve heard of him but may never have met him- son of a well-known surfer, actually learned to surf in Wa. state), heading out looking for surf.
“So crowded,” Steve said, “Lots of wahines in bikinis. Very little material. I can’t tell you how little material there is in these bikinis.”
Okay, pretty appropriate. By the time some other folks had joined, Steve and McKinna were going out at a surf spot with (we got to see this) some great looking waves. Other folks had joined in, a couple of library types, as in solid citizens, but mostly local surfers I could easily name; and, if I get them to sign some simple non-disclosure agreements, I might. Joke. Sort of. Permission.
If I had to summarize the evening, it was like what one would hear from a group of surfers in any beachside parking area, probably anywhere: Who snaked who, what happened after that one session at that one spot, where did all the hipsters and hodads come from, and what about that time when…
SOMEWHERE IN THERE, about the time when I had to cut my video because of limited bandwidth from my overstretched DSL line (not that I minded this, the slideshow was designed, mostly, so that folks didn’t have to look at me) I did read my description of “Swamis,” and, most-embarrassingly, I did read the three pages I had (erroneously) selected, trying to vary the voices for the four characters.
THERE ARE sections of the novel with actual surfing, brilliantly described, with less dialogue from fewer voices.
THIS WAS WHEN STEPHEN R. DAVIS returned, chased, he said, out of the water by a “pack of rippers. Kids. They’re everywhere over here. So many rippers.” SO, we (and we, by this time, included, among others, Dru’s friend, professional DJ, Trenton, and Trisha’s nephew, and, I guess, my nephew-in-law, or, maybe, just nephew, Dylan, La Jolla surfer and recent graduate from UCLA Law School) were treated to another virtual tour of the Big Island, commentary by Steve, with continuing banter from what constitutes most of the unofficial PT Surf crew, special dispensation for ADAM WIPEOUT and, sort of, me, both of us from the SURF ROUTE 101 division. Unofficial.
NEXT DAY REVIEW: Fun; some good stories shared. Trish told Dru I was nothing like Joey in my novel, told me I definitely need help in writing anything even close to romantic fiction. Steve added significantly to if he did not entirely save the event. Dylan, probably used to surfing in the crowded California city surf with it’s ghetto mentality, thought it was great that surfers actually could enjoy each other’s company, even virtually. Steve and McKinna scored some empty rights at sunset, Hawaii time.
Here’s my description of “Swamis:”
Joseph DeFreines, Jr. tells stories centered around the legendary Southern California surf spot, Swamis, focusing on 1969. It’s a world of hippies and burnouts and Jesus Freaks and protesters, a time when words like love and peace and war and revolution might all be used in a single sentence.
Joseph’s father, a detective with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, has just died in, of course, mysterious circumstances; Joe has just graduated from an inland high school and moved to the coast; he’s turning eighteen and facing the draft; and he’s falling in love with a surfer girl whose father definitely has a connection with the North County’s cash crop, the area’s open secret, marijuana.
The growing and processing and selling of marijuana is progressing, getting more sophisticated, more profitable, and more dangerous. The formerly cottage industry is evolving from the homegrown, with plants hidden in the avocado orchards and kids selling dime bags. There is money to be laundered, good citizens getting involved. There is, or could be, a wholesale market.
The unofficial line with the Sheriff’s Office, in a quote from Joseph, Senior, is “The world works on an acceptable level of corruption.”
When a man is burned to death just outside of the white walls of the religious compound that gives Swamis its name, that level has been breached.
While surfing has its too-obvious allure; too much freedom in too little clothing, its aura of rebellion and undeniable coolness, it also has, at least in Joseph’s mind, a certain set of high standards, a code of conduct. He’s wrong. He’s naïve. It’s a different world, existing con-currently with the world of commuters, the world of law enforcement, the world of pot… so many concurrent realities.
The characters in “Swamis” are complex: A detective’s son with possible epilepsy and a history of violent outbursts; a wounded returning Vietnam Vet; an ex-teen runaway-turned-evangelist; a Japanese war bride; a hired thug who becomes a respected detective; a black photojournalist; an East Indian who wanted to be a revolutionary and was banished from London; Mexican middlemen under immense pressure. If Swamis are seekers more than prophets, they are all Swamis. Still, none are perfect.
Maybe Virginia Cole. To Joey.
Maybe, among the chaos, there’s the occasional perfect moment, the perfect ride on a perfect wave.
Thursday, August 20, 7pm Pacific Daylight Savings Time. So, to Zoom in, and, frankly, I’m a bit worried about this, particularly since I can’t seem to figure out how to highlight stuff so it’s easy for you, but, okay, https://zoom.us/j/91279664230
Allright. No, not really, but, when the event starts, moderator/curator/librarian/ripper Keith Darrock is planning to show some of my illustrations. This is partially so Zoomers don’t have to see my face, and it was totally my idea. Yeah, Keith agreed. It seems like the easiest way to do this was to put a bunch on my site, let Keith scroll down. As such, I have attempted to move some from a thumb drive. We’ll see how that works. Stand by.