Chasing the Diamonds; Quilted, Kenetic, Allusive

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

realsurfersquilted 001

If I could.

realsurfersquiltcolor 001

Since I can’t; yet; I’ll keep trying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Talking About a Non-Secret Surf Spot

“You don’t even know,” Stephen said. “You wouldn’t believe how… good… double-overheaddddd…”

The cell phone connection, these being cosmic and pure, only made scratchy and difficult by the devices, modern versions of the tin can and string, wasn’t good*. I was in my work van, cruising south on Surf Route 101. I had made three phone calls to Stephen, left one message, left the other two before I would have had to. “Missed” calls.  Steve was, evidently, on a break, just outside of the kitchen at a restaurant at Fort Warden.

I should have pulled over, but it was dark. I just wanted a report. I had heard he and his friend Stig, over in Washington State from the Aloha State, big wave charger, had surfed a legendary spot on the northern coast. **

“Wait,” I said. What?” I asked. “I mean, what did you say?”

“I said you can never go there with me. Look, Erwin; I have to go. My life’s… it was; just take my word for it. I can’t even… Soooo unbelievable.”

“Wait, Steve, Stephen… you mean you surfed there and survived, but… I mean, I’d drown?”

“I just can’t be responsible. I’ll… I’ll send you some photos.”


Okay, it was either a challenge or a statement (I’ll say ‘statement’ rather than ‘put-down’)  that I was not up to the task. That may be true. Setting aside my age, I haven’t taken a lot of time to explore the wild coastline, take the logging roads, walk paths along bluffs and cliffs, but I do know there are several (there just have to be) spots where, on some particular swells, under some conditions, waves follow the rugged points, peel into log-jammed beaches.

And, Stephen had sent me some photos from an earlier trip; a shot of a random, unnamed and probably-never-surfed slab, which I posted on this site, and a photo of the spot he and Stig had so recently ridden, taken from a high cliff; spooky, congested inshore on a rocky ledge, and scary-if-enticing lines peeling to a certain closeout section. I didn’t post it, on Stephen’s quite-adamant insistence. He and the surfer with him on that quest, and others they met on site, also declined the opportunity.

Stephen did send photos from this session, when he and Stig got there before the south Devil wind came up, chop blowing into the wash-throughs, the sneaker sets hitting unknown outside reefs. From the beach, from the photos, it looked, to me… possible.

But, you won’t see those photos here.

Oh, the photo above is of somewhere, somewhere else, borrowed from nwframeofmind. *Someone told me the cosmic string theory. I just said, “Uh huh.” **I actually saw super 8 movies of this very spot over thirty years ago. When I said, “It looks like Swamis,” I was booed, corrected, and, most tellingly, not invited to the next private surf movie night.

Probably my second thought on hearing the challenge/realistic assessment from my friend, was that it would make a great short story; old(er) guy takes on surf spot, does or doesn’t get a few great rides, does or doesn’t drown. Really, my biggest fear is getting back up those cliffs after, after what? Meanwhile, Stephen is working on his own surf-centric story that he will, he says, allow me to publish to the pure dark cosmic internet.

If you pull the string really really tight…




realsurfersBro-dad 001The word HODAD, back a ways in surf jargon, was used to identify people who had all the proper items necessary to look like surfers, you just never actually saw them surf. It should be mentioned that no surfer believes another person surfs if that person hasn’t been observed by that first person, surfing. And, even then, if the possible Hodad isn’t seen actually catching waves, the possible-poser might be merely relabeled as a KOOK. Even having multiple surfboards, wearing the proper semi-authorized surf garb, having appropriately cool stickers on your appropriate surf vehicle, and having a working knowledge of surf spots from Mainland Mexico to Alaska, and having the ability to drop names of surf legends/stars, and some local heroes, from Bob Simmons to Robert Kelly Slater, and having conversational/storytelling skills that would hold up in parking areas from Swamis to Velzyland, and… wait a minute; I’m sort of describing myself.

No, no; it can’t be.

I’m not nearly friendly enough to be a BRODAD. And besides, most of my beachside surf wear comes from Goodwill, my wetsuit is ragged, patched with cutouts from old wetsuits, my surf rig smells like mildew and, again, old wetsuits; my boards are dinged, yellowed, the wax dirty.

Oh, yeah; I know how to look like a REALSURFER, BRO. Except, BRAH (and I never really use either of these terms in real life), I do get in the water.

To surf.

Jeff Officer and I Attempt Overhead La Jolla Cove

Some how, by the time I became a senior at Fallbrook Union High School, I had become the guy younger surfers would beg for a ride to the beach. Much to the annoyance of some of my contemporaries (Mark Metzger mentioned how uncool it was; I replied by asking when he’d last gone surfing), I gave in several times.

Actually, Scott Sutton and Jeff Officer became the only other members of the (unofficial) Fallbrook surf team in 1969, competing in the (radio station) KGB/WindanSea High School Surf Contest. In 1968 I was the entire (unofficial) team. Another story.

But, staying with this one, Scott and Jeff and my girlfriend, Trisha Scott, and our gear, all went about fifty miles down to Pacific Beach stuffed into my Morris Minor, boards on top. Forty-five miles an hour. Neither of my teammates advanced out of the first round, though I did, and, after dropping Jeff and Scott off in secluded hilltop locations, and dropping Trish off, the Morris Minor’s clutch burnt completely out at the bottom of Debby Street.

The next day, my Dad again disappointed by my latest car-damaging,  I got to take my mom’s new car down, without Scott and Jeff. I let Trish drive it just a bit in PB, and she smushed the right fender against a curb. “It’s okay; I’ll say I did it,” I said, nobly; “they’ll believe that.”  “Okay. Yeah.” “Really? You’ll let me take the blame?” “So sweet.”

I got second in my heat on Sunday, didn’t advance. I blamed it on the pink jersey looking white over my wetsuit, surfing too close to the pier, and, anyway…

Anyway, for some reason, Jeff and I decided one day to ditch school to go surfing. It seems like Jeff and Scott both had parents who were, maybe, a bit more ‘protective’ than mine. They were definitely older. On one occasion I had to drive Jeff to his house, way out of town (seems like it was almost Escondido), to get his stuff and see if he could go surfing with me. “It’s kind of late,” his Dad said, looking me over, then asking,“don’t you agree?” “Probably is, Sir.”

“It wouldn’t have been if we’d just gone,” I said, privately, to Jeff; irritated because it was now too late for me to go. I almost drove off his mountain on the way out, fishtailing around the corners on the dirt road.


Caption- Somewhere between 1969 and now; not a sin to just watch.

So, we ditched. We met in the parking lot before school. The problem was, when we got to the coast, the surf was huge, stormy, out of control. Even Swamis and Cardiff Reef were too big; though I’m still trying to remember how we checked them out and kept on driving south.  South wind, maybe.

La Jolla Cove, the protected swimming beach around the corner from the swell, was now the mid section of an extended left point break starting at Boomers and headed toward the usually flat end of La Jolla Shores. No one was out, or even watching. With the south(ish) wind blowing nearly offshore, it still looked insane.

Actually, the waves looked clean, rideable; makeable; just not by me. Though I’d never ‘haired-out’ because of wave size (by itself), I wasn’t in any way ready for this. This wasn’t a spot I’d surfed before. Maybe no one had. And, with no one out, it was difficult to even estimate the size. But BIG. Way overhead.

Jeff was more than ready; he was excited, ready to go for it. I wanted to check it out longer; figure out where to paddle out, where the rips might be, even where to park so we didn’t get caught by the possibly-just-rumored-to-exist Truency Officers.

Somewhere between the car and the Cove (almost to the Cove) two lifeguards in a jeep did stop us. “Are you saying we can’t surf?” Jeff asked. “Don’t argue, Jeff,” I said, allowing myself to breathe out.

Was I relieved? Oh, yeah. Was Jeff disappointed? Probably. In me? I may have cared at the time. Would his father be relieved if he knew? Not something I even considered (at the time).

Later in that same year, 1969, an even bigger swell hit Hawaii and the west coast. I surfed (with some success) at Swamis every day of the run, and Ricky Grigg got his photo in “Surfer” magazine riding a half mile on an eighteen foot wave that wrapped around and past La Jolla Cove.

So, um; Jeff; sorry.

I have seen video of more recent sessions at the Cove, a lot of surfers going for it. Jeff?



Lawrence Bachus-                                                                                                   

Balled-up, compressed, I feel my feet touch the familiar, algae and eel grass-covered rock ledges. Just freed from the turbulence, the swirling, the rolling; I push up, burst through the already-thinning layer of foam, half my body sprung into the air.  I’m laughing, even before I take a breath.  My trusty nine-nine noserider is floating, dirty wax-side-up, only a few feet away.  Walking toward it, I think, for a second, how the water is alive; velvety, silky-warm, like the last south swells of August, but without that deteriorating dead seaweed, day-old-gumbo-on-the-stove-feel.

Still, when I exhale, blow out, it’s a half-liquid half-cough, with a sort of bad-sinuses kind of taste.  It’s like when I used to smoke.  And then- I breathe in, out- it’s gone.  I crawl onto my board.

Mid-afternoon, it’s almost a maximum low tide. Only a few clouds, spread and distant, are visible; clouds that will help form the night-and-morning-overcast typical of the local coast in summer.  The waves here have always been faster, hollower at low tide.  Only about one in three, in these conditions, connect from the outside break to… to here, close to what would be, in bigger surf, the channel on the far side of the inside break.

The flow toward high tide will match the flow toward sunset, and will give more push to an increasing swell.  At least that’s surfer-theory.  The waves are my idea of perfect, three feet on the shoulder, five at the peak.  It doesn’t seem crowded, though, and as I paddle over each swell, I can see clumps of surfers, bobbing, waiting for a set wave.

It’s obviously that lull, the onshores slacking, but the water not yet glassy.  The surface is rippled, or, maybe, dappled, dappled like the Depression glass Janet collects, with tiny little concaves, translucent mini-waves; but here, this surface is moving.  I watch the waves peeling toward me from my right. The surge of energy that is a wave moves through the indentations, lifting, evening them .Another line, a mound, rises, leans forward until the light breaks through the smooth thin top, like crystal, millions of shades on near-white, curling, spilling forward.

Oh, god; listen to me.  Concentrate, Lawrence. 

All the little surf kids, all the high school surf jocks, are still in school.  The after-work crewmembers are looking at their watches, anxious to fit in a few waves between deadlines, and due dates, and scheduled meetings; oh, and families.  But me- I’m sort of stupidly/blissfully paddling out toward my favorite old lineup spot.

I look toward the beach.  “Jan! Janet! Jan-net!” Of course she can’t hear me.  She’s walking away, almost to the stairs.  She sets something down- blue, glass, reflective- on the second step, picks up a towel she’d left there, wraps it around her waist.  She’s wearing a sweater.  Odd.  She turns toward the water for a second.  I sit, turn the board toward shore.  I wave, wave with both hands.  She turns back toward the stairs.  Glare.  She couldn’t see me for the glare.

I’d forgotten how the ocean, when the waves are worth mentioning, sounds.  It’s not that roar-lull-roar, counting the seconds between, like the clock with the surfing picture Jan gave me, the one in my inner office.  It’s a steady sound; more like the sound of tires, not-fully-inflated, on gravel. At least that’s the sound I sort of mentally recorded the last time I was up on the bluff, looking over at this place, my favorite-of-all-time spot.  That was…trying to remember… a while ago.  The wind, and there wasn’t much, coming up the cliff… I had had to squint, my eyes had watered-up so. 

It’s not really an inner office.  It’s just a, you know, office.

There is a ‘crack’ sort of sound, occasionally, when the first wave of a set breaks.  Breaks. I never realized how much imagery there is in that word.  The wave breaks, shatters as the energy slams into, submits to the rock ledges… breaks.  I’m paddling again, along the edges, the shoulders of the waves, effortlessly- left, right, pull, balanced on the board, already at the inside peak.  It’s usually almost as big as the outside break, and, when the outside waves section off, close out, it’s a good place to… shoulder hop.

I was always a shoulder-hopper.

Someone is knee-paddling behind, then beside, then next to me; faster, easier, though I seem to be doing fine.  I had watched him on his last ride.  When two surfers took off in front of him, he…it was pretty amazing, actually.  He turned off the bottom, went almost straight up, floated, side-slipped, right on past the two clueless kooks with their butts out and their arms posed like frozen crossbars. “Surfin’!”

I had looked right at him as he rode toward me.  My chest off the deck, both hands on the rails, ready to turn turtle if…  I probably looked a little too jazzed to be cool.  Well, his expression suggested I had gotten a little too… exuberant.  He turned way too close to me, sprayed me with the rooster-tail (once a clever metaphor, now standard surf jargon), and laughed as he rode on.

Now he’s looking over at me as both of us paddle.  It’s like when someone in another lane, in heavy freeway traffic, going the same speed, looks a split second too long, maybe gives an empathetic shrug; then looks back, resets a serious, late-for-something face.  He’s on a long board, too; not so unusual for an old guy like me, but he is… probably about eighteen, nineteen; looks, and I thought this even the first time I saw him, exactly like Peter… Peter Holden, my old friend from high school. Actually, acquaintance is more like it; he was in the hot surfer crowd.

Peter had,,, of the people I knew; Peter was the first to…die. Dead. This kid…

“Didn’t you see me?” I ask the Kid, instantly realizing why I never became cool.  He just nods, paddles quickly beyond me, toward the outside break. He stops paddling, throws both legs out, sits down on the back half of his board, looks at me, spins the front of his board to the left.  Using the backward thrust and the bounce-back, on his stomach now, the Kid glides toward the smaller group of surfers in the lineup for the inside break.

Balanced on his knees again, but not moving, he watches me as I approach.

The inside break.  Still, at this tide, the palm tree, not much taller, roots dug into the cliff, and the telephone pole at the far end of the parking lot are lined-up; and so am I.

Janet Gilmore Bachus-

            I have to stop here.  A second.  Got to… catch… my breath.  I used to be able to, to climb the whole way, even… run it.  That was the old stairs; same formation, though; four steps, landing; twenty-four, this landing.  There used to be a sign carved into a railing board, here, that said, “Old farts stop here.” The old stairs.  From here…breathe… from here you can look straight out at the surf.  Lawrence was always, once I recognized his surfing style, easy to spot, even in a crowd. His legs were spread and bent, like springs.  He called it a ‘fight or flight’ stance, like he was ready for whatever the wave did. I thought he was like a matador; ready. Then, sometimes, he’d just be standing, stretched out, one hand in the wave.

 Kind of cocky I thought. Way cooler than he was out of the water. 

It’s twenty-six more, slight landing; thirty more to the very top.  The top.

Okay.  I’m going.  It seems like, when we lived here, I used to always recognize someone in the parking lot.  Even on crappy days, with storm surf or no surf at all, one or more of those people like… breathe… lift your leg… people like Lawrence.  Always here, people who just can’t keep from looking at the ocean, can’t help imagining being out there.  Someone like that was always there, just watching, mind surfing. 

            Didn’t think it’d be this tough.  Not just the stairs, the whole ordeal.  Oh. Susan.  “Susan, you came down.  I…I did it, but, here, take this.  It’s not… empty; not quite. Susan. Susan; I couldn’t.” I look up the remaining stairs.  “Where’s your brother?”

            “Waiting, in the car,” my daughter says. 

            Sure.  Of course.  “Give me a… minute.  I’m…ah… breathing.”  I laugh. Susan doesn’t.   “A minute.”

            “Sam wants to go,” she says. “He says we can go wherever you want to eat.”

            “Sure.” Susan follows my hand, looks out into the water.  “Your father used to stay out… hours,” I say; “never seemed to get cold.”

            “Uh huh,” Susan says.

Lawrence- “I used to be a local,” I say to the guy sitting closest to me in the lineup, the guy in the wetsuit with the blown-out knee.  Torn Wetsuit Guy, he’s sitting near Goatee Guy and, um, Sunburn Guy. He doesn’t respond.  Hell, these guys have to know each other, and they’re not even talking among themselves. It’s that ghetto/gang mentality, like human contact in the water will…The Kid… I’ll call him Peter; might as well; Peter emits a fake cough, obviously intended to sound like a fake cough, then chuckles, nods at me when I look over. 

            “Local, huh? Sure. That would have been… when?” Before I can answer, Peter says, “I did see you.” He pauses for a little longer than would seem appropriate. “On that last ride.  Wasn’t sure you saw me.”

            The three Guys, each aware of an outside set at the same time, quickly drop to their bellies and paddle out and to the right.  Peter stays put.  He’s gauging the first wave.  He turns, watches Sunburn Guy, too far out, too far over, arms flailing, miss catching it. Peter spins his board, ready to take off, looks over at me, throws both hands out and toward me.  “It’s yours,” the gesture says.

“Mine? Shit!” I’m paddling furiously, almost afraid to look back.  The shadow, the lift.  Paddle, fool!

There’s a moment, at the top of a wave, when a simple leaning forward, maybe putting some weight on the hand you’ll push up with, makes the difference between taking-off, missing the wave, or going over-the-falls.  Your board starts dropping, the wave dropping out below you.  The current phrase is ‘throwing yourself over the edge,’ or ‘the ledge,’  or, more simply, ‘committing.’ 

It’s really just a simple shift in balance at the right moment.  This over-examining, expanding on one moment, is a little, um, ‘precious.’  That’s what my old boss would have said.  “Precious.”

I’ll ponder this tendency to give too much weight to trivial events later.  I’m not thinking now. Joyfully so; relying on muscle memory… something.  I take off, but late.  The drop is too steep, too quick. I belly-board, leaning into the wave, side-slipping, probably yelling because… because I’m on it; in it, riding, full tilt, leaning in, pulling in, twenty-nine colors of clear, blue-green crystal spinning over my head; speed and sound and color.  I may be screaming.  “Surfin’!”

 Definitely screaming.  I don’t stand up until I clear the first section, and then, clumsy, labored, slow, I rise, catch my balance, careful, careful, well back of the middle of the board.  Trying, cautiously, to set up for a pitching section, crouching, I catch a rail and, again, I’m tumbled, inside the wave and under the water, tucked into a fetal position, hands over my head in a move both instinctive and practiced.

Sunburn Guy is on the next wave, pumping his short board furiously, making three moves when one smooth one would be enough.  He doesn’t see me, standing in thigh-deep water, my board resting on the green, exposed reef farther in.

“Hey!” I dive to the right at the last second.

On the next wave, Torn Wetsuit Guy, too far over, falls, top-to-bottom, on the takeoff.  Peter spins and takes off from the shoulder, fades left, bank-turns off the advancing lip, stalls at the bottom, sets up, walks to the nose as his board climbs the wall.  I don’t know how a wave can be so green at its core, so transparent at the curl, so Laguna-Beach-school-of-art.  Yet, Peter is a shadow in the glow, casual, barely moving, his back foot changing the pressure slightly, subtly.  It’s glide to side-slip, step back, a turn off the bottom, all still well forward of the middle of the board, head-dipping into that last little closeout section.  His board pops out.  I grab it.

Peter stands, spins water out of his hair, blinks water out of his eyes. “Late 60’s?”

“What?  Yeah.  Sorry.  I’m just surprised you’re…”

“Talking to you?”

“Yeah.  Great ride.  Sorry.  I mean, um, like, good ride.  I moved away in the seventies… work; but I came back in…”

“Ninety, ninety-one; a few times after that.  Visiting, I’d guess.”

“Yeah. Wait. What?”

He’s paddling away. I turn, sink the tail, pull forward. When Peter slides to his knees, I follow suit, surprised at how easy it is, painless; how my legs and arms move…together. 

I’m almost yelling, “Yeah.  Ninety-five was the last time, but I did do some surfing in… we took a vacation to… Hawaii; I went to, you know, some tourist beaches.  Rented board.”

I almost run into him when he moves from a kneeling to a sitting position.

“It’s funny,” I’m thinking, or saying, not sure, “when someone reminds you of someone, you automatically…” I drop to a prone position, my hands deeper in the water. Yes, I am speaking. “You automatically think that person will respond like the…”

“Always wanted to surf Hawaii,” he says, “Went through there once.”  

Janet- We haven’t cleared the parking lot and I’m already looking back. “Look, Sam,” I say, “there used to be a restaurant your Dad and I’d go to.  It’s close.  I… I know we, we have to get back before…”

            “Your flight,” Sam says.

            “Plenty of time, Mom.”  That’s Susan, with me in the back seat. She’s holding a little too tightly to my arm.  And I’ m holding too-tightly to hers.

            “Maybe we’ll just go to the 7-Eleven over by the freeway,” my son says, “Isn’t that what Dad used to treat you to?”

            “Shutup, Sam.”

            “Sometimes we’d go to the A&W.  They had car-hops.  Car-hops; they were… nevermind. Long time ago.”

Lawrence- Torn Wetsuit Guy has gone in.  Goatee Guy is looking for a last wave.  The clouds have advanced, filled-in, closed ranks.  Kids on shortboards, toys, really, and people off-work, and folks who think of surfing as not much more than a workout are scattered from the outside break to- turning to look- as far down the beachbreaks, as far down the bluffs, golden, glowing, as I can see.  More people are, finally, going in than are coming out.   The sky at the horizon is… it’s colorless.  The color hits in the final half hour before and the first half hour after sunset.  The deepest parts, the cores of the advancing waves, are already black, the upper reaches almost purple.  A painting of this would look unreal.  Not like, “unreal, man!”  Unreal as in not real, not true to our memories.

In between rides, and I am doing better by the wave, Peter had… we talked. His voice was… who can remember a voice?  “The water,” he just asked, “Does it feel cold to you?”

            “No, it feels warm.”  I look down.  “Seems pretty clear.”          

“The red tide, though; it’s coming in.  On the tide.  It’s… See, to you, it’s like a dream.  You don’t feel the Santa Ana’s about to kick in.  You know the tide’s rising, but you don’t feel the upwelling.  It’ll cloud the water… it’s plankton, and… stuff.  After dark, the soup, the breaking waves, even, they’ll glow.”

            “That’s bio… bioluminescence.  It’s science.”

            “Ewww, science.”

            “Yeah.  Um.  I’m, uh, sorry; you seem so familiar.  I mean, sorry; I’ve been staring, probably. It’s rude, but… you remind me… a friend in high school who… oh, he was a good surfer. I was… I was trying to be.”

            Peter looks outside, scans the horizon.  The others are sitting on their boards, waiting in the almost glassy water.  He looks back, moves his feet, his board rotating until he’s close, facing me.  “We weren’t really friends, though; were we, Lawrence?” There’s a pause. He’s waiting and I’m… I’m not processing. What? Think. What? He waits until I close my mouth, and smiles.  “Lunchbox.  Your nickname. Lawrence ‘Lunchbox’, um, a second… Bachus.” He laughs. “Oh, I get it. Lunchbachus.”

            I’m not laughing.

Janet- Susan is looking inside the decanter.  It’s glass, brilliant blue- dark, on the purple side- her father’s favorite color.  “It’s depression glass,” I say.  “Your father’s favorite color.” I add, “Mine, too.”

            “Mom,” Susan says, then hands the decanter, but keeping a hold on the stopper, to her brother.  We’re at a traffic light.  He looks inside, shakes his head, gives out one of those “Sheesh” sounding things, hits the accelerator.

            “You know,” he says, “Decanters are for wine… usually.”

            “It was a joke between your father and me; the…”

            “So, this all was what he wanted. And you…” Sam’s slows his words, “…came back here… to…”

            “I couldn’t.  I told you, I couldn’t.”   I couldn’t.  “Not everything. Not all of it. Why do you even care?”

Lawrence- “You’re not the…first to see me,” Peter says, scanning the other surfers now jockeying for position near us. “Them. They’re…” He makes sure I’m looking at him, as if some expression of his might clear my confusion. “They’re, like, on a different… zone; a, um, different… time; yeah; time is different for them.”

“But,” I say, four or five surfers in my peripheral vision, “you said others have…”

“Yeah. Well; the others would stay awhile. They’ve… all gone…on, somewhere.         

“You’re a… ghost?”

Peter seems a little disappointed. He looks away. I’m thinking; trying to think.  “Boo!”

            I can barely respond.  Things are clicking. No, not yet.

“Maybe,” Peter says, “Maybe I am a ghost.  I can’t think about it too much.”

            “But you,” I say, “You were…Peter… I remember that you, you joined the Marines because you were older, going to get drafted.  What do you remember?”

            “Running,” He looks around, then back. “Running; not away from something.  Charging.  Screaming.  I was out of ammo but I kept pulling the trigger.  Running.  I told you, Lawrence, I… I can’t remember more.  Or won’t.  Those who do…”

            There’s a wave. Empty. I take it, get a short ride. I’m straining to remember how I got here as I paddle back out to where Peter is sitting, looking toward the cliff.

“Maybe this is, for me, heaven,” he says.  “I don’t know.  My mother… she knows where I am .I see her sometimes, on the cliff, on the stairs. She’s alive, if you…  She’ll only go so far down.  And I, I never go too far up.  The parking lot.  The edge, near the cliff. That’s it; nowhere I can’t see from the water.”

            “You say, ‘others,’ like you,” I say, more a question. “And other people have seen you?”         

“See that old guy over there on the yellow board?”       

“The guy with the scar?  Yeah.  Is he…like you?  Is he a…?”

            “Ghost? No.” Peter can’t seem to help laughing.  “But he is an asshole.   Brian Hanson.  He was a grade behind you.  Cheated on his wife.  Nancy. ‘Nice Nancy.’  He used to meet up with some chick here.  He…” 

            “Brian Hanson,” I say, loud enough to carry. Louder, “Brian Hanson.”

            Brian Hanson, of course, doesn’t respond.  Asshole that he is, he wouldn’t even if he did hear his name called out.

            “Lawrence,” Peter says, looking sideways at another approaching wave, Brian Hanson and two others stroking hard to catch it, “What do you remember?”

JANET-   Susan got into the front seat with her brother when I got out. I hurried to the guardrail at the edge of the bluff.  I’m just frozen here, looking out.  There never was the brilliant sunset that I’d promised them; just a line at the horizon, white almost, burnt orange, maybe, at the ends.  The water is silver, though, shimmering, moving.  A few surfers are still out, bobbing in the, um, shimmer.   

“Lawrence,” I say to the shimmer, “Sam says I have to… closure, he says, your request, he says; and, oh; and I…” I can’t help but laugh. “You’d laugh, Lawrence; your silly wife left your favorite decanter in Sam’s car.”    

I look around. My children are arguing. Sam, Sam won’t even turn off the engine.

“Your son,” I say to the thin line of clouds at the horizon.

Lawrence- I have too many questions.  Yeah, I remember some things.  I try to remember my own pain.  Can’t.  I look at my left hand, move my arm.  Peter swirls his hand in the water, lifts it, lets water drip out of it. 

“What about after dark?” I ask.  Where do you, I mean… what about dark?”

            “I can see fine.  Can’t you?”  I can.  He looks up at the cliff.  High tide has passed by now.  The swell is just strong enough to allow the waves to continue to break.  We’re lined up closer to the rocks, closer to the beach.  I can see the palm tree, but not the telephone pole; silhouettes against the unseen street lights in the parking lot. 

“You married Janet, Janet Gilmore… Janet from another planet.  Right?”

            “Um, yeah.  Janet.  Peter.  Coach Walters used to love to call your name.  ‘Holden, Peter.  Holden Peter.’  Remember?”  As he did then, Peter doesn’t respond.  At all.  Or maybe a slight head shake; disappointment.  I follow his eyes, where they’re looking; up.  There she is, leaning over the guard rail that didn’t used to be there. Ja JaJnet, Janet from another planet.  She’s looking right at us.  I turn back, look for a wave.  I need a wave.  Yes.  I take off, ride it until I hit the beach.  I drag my board up to the high sand.

            Peter takes off on the next wave, rides it straight in, leaves his board in the water.  He says something, words louder as I run toward the stairs.  “I have questions, Lawrence.  If you don’t…  Do you know what happened to…”  His voice is lost in the general noise; the grating and grinding and a wave breaking outside, a jet high overhead, a seagull, cars pulling out of the parking lot, people in their houses.  My feet on the stairs are silent, though.  I take two at a time.

Janet- “I did what you wanted, Lawrence.”  Again, I feel like laughing.  Not because I’m silly. I’m rarely silly.  I never did quite do what he wanted.  Not all of what he wanted.  Ever.  “I had to hold on to some… keep part of you… with me.  Lawrence?

Lawrence-I know.”  I’m so close to her, but I can’t… feel her hand.  She shudders, but not from the touch.  

She’s real.  She’s here. Beyond her, outside Sam’s car, Susan is saying something, trying to grab Sam.  He runs toward his mother, pouring something out of my favorite wine decanter into his hand.  Some of it leaks out, onto the pavement.  He throws the rest.  Straight at me.  Janet turns.  Too late.  The decanter hits her arm. I try to catch it; reflex. It drops, shatters.  Janet looks at the blue, broken glass, at Sam.  Susan, even with her brother now, is looking at me, her mouth open as if about to shriek.

Jeez; I’m about to shriek. 

Janet follows our son’s eyes, turns around. Sam is looking at me, saying, “What? What?”

Janet- The lighter ashes are…caught in the air, hanging, suspended, forming… W  What? I gasp, inhale; cough. I see Lawrence, only younger. Only, just for a briefest moment. “Lawrence,’ I say to the now-empty space. I hear a cracking sound.  In the water.  There’s this glow… a breaking wave, with a… a… someone is on it; has to be.  All I can see is the trail, the broken wave.  “It’s glowing.”  I say this to Sam and Susan, each staring at the other. “Lawrence,” I say this to the glow.

Lawrence- “Bioluminescence. It’s science,” I say. “I’m here.”  The red tide has come in.  The Santa Ana’s are moving the trees seaward, the clouds back.  My son scoops up the last of the broken glass, puts it in the cardboard serving tray from the place that replaced the A&W his mother and I used to go to.  The bottom of the decanter, like a rough-edged ashtray- that shouldn’t be funny- is intact.  Sam looks at his mother, his eyes filled with tears.  I wasn’t a good father.  I know that’s what he thinks- always gone, always working.  Like him, now.   He runs for the stairs and down. 

Time passes at just exactly the same speed as always.

            I touch Janet’s cheek, at that little bit of gray ash between her lips and nose. The tear continues down her face. I stand beside my wife and daughter.  Somewhere in this time I tell my wife how much I hope, hope I hadn’t… disappointed her. “All I ever wanted…” I start to say more, but… don’t.   I watch her, circle around her, wonder if she feels me there.

Sam returns, winded, with sand from my favorite beach in the bottom of the broken decanter.  He puts that into the cardboard tray with the broken glass and the tiniest bit of ashes his sister had regathered.  “Not ashes,” Sam says. “Just sand.”  Susan holds the tray, a memento, her other hand on her mother.  

More time passes; slower, maybe. The street lights hold back a darker dark. Stars, muted by the thickness of an empty coastal sky, start to shine like…like… usual.

They have to go. Susan lives elsewhere. We…Janet doesn’t live here anymore.

“The ocean was always the other woman,” Janet says to our children at Sam’s car, the engine still running. They get in.

They all look right at me, afraid to take one step farther from the railing, as Sam takes one last turn around a parking lot empty except for the one or two folks who always seem to be around here.

After they leave, after they’re gone, I look over the cliff, over the ledge, and, feeling how the coolness of the slight updraft meets the offshore breeze, I let go.     


Wally Blodgett and the Spinning Glass


I first noticed Wally Blodgett in 1968, sharing that same route along the bluffs (Grandview, Beacons, Stone Steps, Swamis) I took, dawn patrol in an older car filled with teenage surfers, always quite a few boards on top.


Wally was like the Dad, the duty driver. But, since most of his passengers were old enough to drive their own cars (as I did), and seemed perfectly unembarrassed by riding with Mr. Blodgett, and since San Dieguito* kids seemed to learn to be cool in grade school, anyone would have to assume Wally Blodgett was cool.   


Unlike most of our dads, off working during surfing hours, Wally went out surfing Always one of the older surfers in the water, he rode a belly board. My lasting image is of him prowling the inside lineup at Swamis, waiting for an empty wave. Or maybe he just wanted that on-the-shoulder water angle for watching and cheering on his son, Buzz, and their mutual friends. Extra coolness points.


As I surfed more frequently without my friends, I would have loved to have been included in that crew.


Someone eventually told me, “Wally Blodgett, he throws pots for a living.” “Throws pots?” “Vases and stuff.” “Oh.” “He gets up super early, throws pots or fires them. When he gets enough, he takes them up to L.A., sells all of them, wholesale.” “Cool. You know, I’m an artist, too.” “Uh huh.”


While the members of the Blodgett Crew did the standard teenager thing (enhanced by being surfers, perhaps) of ignoring anyone else they might be competing for a wave with, Wally was always nice to me in the water and the various parking areas. I was riding boards I’d made myself at the time, usually shaping and glassing blanks gathered from stripped-down longer boards.


“It looks like you make these boards with an ax,” he said one morning, after what was, I thought, a great session at Swamis; “but you seem to ride them pretty well.”




Some time in 1969, at Mira Costa Junior College (Oceanside/Carlsbad) for a surf movie, and glad the circuit had a venue closer than Hoover High School in San Diego, I pointed out a yawning Mr. Blodgett and his Crew, coming in together and fashionably late, to my girlfriend, Trish. Wally was giving the crowd a proper and discerning look-over.


“He throws pots for a living.” “Oh, nice.” “Vases, stuff like that.” “I know.”


My art classes at Palomar were afternoon events; three hours every day except Friday. This gave us allegedly-creative types time to work and hang out and pose all artsy-like. And one could wander from one studio to another, checking-out and ruthlessly critiquing what others were doing


As with surfers, artists judge each other harshly. I confess to having felt a little more artist-like than those Hippie/posers. I had, after all won best Sophomore, Junior, and Senior Boy artist at Fallbrook, though they awarded a scholarship (actual money) to my main male competition, Chester Meck.


And I did most of my art homework at Buddy’s Sign Service, where I was a signpainter’s apprentice, with real brushes and bright enamels, and easels capable of handling four foot by eight foot signs at my disposal.


The former home and printing facility for the Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper was a space quite dingy enough to be much closer to a true artist’s studio than someone’s Mom’s kitchen counter. There was a huge skylight over an equal-sized hole in the concrete floor, the former home of the printing press.


The building, at First and Tremont, was a block from the Oceanside bus station, suitably dangerous; and a block of train tracks from the beach; perfectly city-surf set. I was working, developing my semi-artistic skills one block from the city version of US 101, where the efforts of hawkers of cheap jewelry, electronics, and available women periodically caused the Command people at nearby Camp Pendleton to declare the area off limits to Marines.    


Just to further set the scene at Palomar Junior College: “Trout Fishing in America” was a must read. Protest signs and posters were everywhere on the campus. One read, “Remember My Lai” (1968 Vietnam massacre). Another read, “If God didn’t exist it would be necessary for man to invent him” While student-made anti-war banners were hung and removed regularly, those two were in the office windows of obviously-tenured professors.


And, freed from dress codes and more direct parental supervision, kids from my high school I knew as dorky suddenly had long hair and other affectations of perceived coolness, and were suddenly aware of social injustice and corporate corruption.

Great. Still, I was busy, just wanted, somewhat desperately, to learn. In art classes, anyway, trying to slide through the academics. Richard Brautigan, in the book I did eventually read, spoke of all that was going on in those hyper-crazy-aware times, the universe screaming at us all, then wrote, “I just wanted to go fishing.”


I could relate**.  



ImageThe poster in the Art Department area I remember most (placed on an approved bulletin board) was of a studio converted from a working barn, all wood and rope, sepia-toned, with a naked model casually leaning against a post, not-really-posing, almost blending into the scene. To me, that was art.


But, there in one of the classroom/work areas, was Wally Blodgett, spinning and blowing glass; heat, spin, blow, heat, spin. “Hey, Kid. You go here, too? Check this out!”


Wally was excited, totally immersed in learning the craft, the art. Not unrelated to the potter’s wheel, this spinning of molten glass must have seemed like a natural progression. And both required fire; clay to a finished vase, sand to glass; so balanced, such a naturally perfect symmetry.


No; few things in nature are perfectly symmetrical. But Wally’s work could approach that. So new, so exciting.


Thirty-five years later (and this was a few years ago now) I googled “Wally Blodgett.” What I discovered is that his son, Buzz, has carried on the glass art tradition, and has carried it way beyond those first steps taken at Palomar J.C.


There is an obvious ocean influence on the works Buzz creates. Handed down, passed on; this is the Wally Blodgett legacy. More likely, it’s part of his legacy.   


Since there was a site,, I e-mailed Buzz. He wrote back. He didn’t remember me; listed some names of a few Fallbrook surfers he had known, none of which I recognized. Different crews. That’s all right. I mentioned what his father had said about my handmade boards. “That sounds just like him.”


Well, um, yeah; because it was him.


*San Dieguito includes the beach towns of San Diego’s North County; not Fallbrook

**Allegedly frustrated by the lack of success of later books, Richard Brautigan eventually took his own life, something I note here because I noted his passing at the time. Fashions change. He may have forgotten he is separate from his words.

Bob Townsend- Same World, Different Era



It isn’t really even ironic, now that I’m so deeply involved in my ‘real surfers’ project, wherever it’s leading, that I should unexpectedly run into real surfers in odd places. There was the mailman delivering to a paint store Bremerton who, seeing the surf decals on my work/surf van, had to tell me about his surfing days. There have been several others approaching me with surf stories at several different gas stations.

Each ex surfer would get a sudden mad glint in his eye when giving some brief career resume, with an emphasis on some high spot; some session on some magical waves.

There was a homeowner, several years ago, in Port Ludlow, sort of the La Jolla of Jefferson County, Washington state, who told me, back in his Southern California days, he briefly had an employee who founded some sort of surfboarding magazine.

“John Severson?”

“Yeah; that was him. Nice kid.”

I probably- okay, definitely- do bring surfing into most conversations. So, checking out a possible painting job in the same Port Ludlow, a house on a beautifully landscaped bluff falling away and down to a lovely lagoon, some twisty finger of the ocean, it shouldn’t be surprising that, when the homeowner said he wanted to go back to San Diego, after I asked “Why? It’s summer;” after he said he has a house in Rancho Santa Fe, after I said, “If you ask people in La Jolla where the rich people live, they’ll say Rancho Santa Fe;” after he said, “Well, that’s not us;” and after I asked, sort of off the cuff, “Do any surfing down there?” he turned and said… “Used to.”

Okay, so Bob Townsend graduated from San Diego High in 1050, a year before I was born. He started surfing on a paddleboard in the late 1940s, “With a cork on the front so you could let the water out once in a while.” He went to college in Santa Cruz, but, other than that, never surfed north of San Onofre, never wore a wetsuit.  His last board, ridden somewhere around 1959, was a redwood/balsa combo.

Whoa! I was impressed.

Asked where he surfed, he listed Sunset Cliffs, Blacks, Windansea, Swamis, and San Onofre. He knew where Pipes is located, but never, apparently, bothered with Tamarack, any of the North County beachbreaks; and didn’t even consider heading north to, say, Malibu.

“Why would I?”

“Well,” I’m thinking, “Because you could.”

What I did say was, “When I was a kid, going down 101, through the little towns; it was magical. You could still see the ocean past the houses. When we’d go through Del Mar, my father or mother would always say, “Desi Arnaz lives here.”

“Nice guy,” Mr. Townsend said, chuckling a bit; “I sold him a car once.”

Hanging around for over an hour to give a five minute estimate, I had to ask Bob if he remembered there having once been a pier at Cardiff Reef, across from Don Hansen’s original surf shop.

“Yeah, and there was another one in Del Mar.” “Really? Where?” “Over by that restaurant.” “Like, 15th street?” “Guess so.”

I’m not sure if the former car dealership owner (Townsend Lincoln/Mercury, Mission Valley- he sold in in 2006) was just tired of our northwest winters or missed his family enough to miss out on our northwest summers. We agreed San Diego is so much more crowded than back when I was a kid and he was surfing point breaks and deep reefs. 

“I remember hearing, late 50s, I guess,” I said, using an example I often use, “that there were 100,000 people in San Diego proper, another 100,000 in the rest of the county. If I thought it was crowded back in the late sixties…”

“This all brings back great memories,” Bob said. “You know, it was a life style. We used to head out, camp on the beach. Great.”

Later, when I absolutely had to get to another project, Bob told his wife that the painter is from San Diego, actually lived in Mission Hills, Fort Stockton Drive, same street they’d once lived on. She was busy preparing for their drive south, their house over the lagoon on the market. “And he surfs. Up here.”

Last question: “Do you think there’s kind of a code of, I don’t know, honor, in being a real surfer?”       


“Yeah. Me, too. I’ve tried to, anyway. I mean, real surfers don’t…”

I didn’t have to fill in any details. We both nodded. I wrote up a quick quote, said his real estate agent could check out my work, let him know if he should send a check.

“Just call me,” he said, handing me two business cards. “Use this number.”

Still trying to visualize someone riding a heavy board at Sunset Cliffs, I had to ask; “Maybe it was New Break.”

He hadn’t recognized that name. “Over by the college. It’s supposedly super localized.” “The college wasn’t there then.”  

No, I guess not. But there were those magical.waves on mystical reefs; waves that only get bigger, glassier, more forgiving with time.

UPDATE: Bob Townsend called me on the cell phone the other day; introduced himself as “Your old surfin’ buddy.” No, I hadn’t primed and painted the section of railing. It had been raining, a heat spell on the way. He and his wife had made it to San Diego. Yes, I’ll get it; if not the next day, the day after that. Yes, I had mentioned my brother-in-law, Jim Scott, is the real estate broker with the longest business presence in the Mission Hills area. Did he need a real estate agent? He did. 

I had a couple of new questions to ask Bob, partially because I’d been talking to Keith Durrock about his father. Keith’s dad is somewhere in age between me and Bob. He surfed, had been a lifeguard in the Pacific Beach area, and, according to Keith; “It was a whole life style thing. Besides surfing, he and his friends dived for lobster and abalone…it was a different era.”     

So, “Did you do any of that?”

“We all had crowbars with us at all times.”


“For prying the abalone off the rocks.”

So, in my constantly evolving creating and storing mind pictures, I’m adding wetsuitless divers in the kelp, crowbar at the ready.

And the water’s so…your picture might be a bit different.

Blink, back to now.


Speech 101 With Cheer Critchlow

                        SPEECH CLASS 101 WITH CHEER CRITCHLOW

There probably should be some time stamp here. Along with the peak of the Baby Boomer wave, I graduated from Fallbrook Union High School in 1969. “Sixty-nine, Man!”

Before I went to Palomar Junior College, the closest I’d come to hanging with anything that could be called “the North County Surf Community” was when I was on the Fallbrook wrestling team, going against San Dieguito. That school district included Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff, maybe even Del Mar; and excluded Carlsbad and Oceanside- separate tribes, separate Junior College. But Fallbrook was included in the Palomar district. Sure, Escondido and Vista were also included. But, what going to Palomar meant…

…it meant a lot to me. Now I knew other surfers ‘from school.’ I could nod to them, maybe, on campus, or, better, at the top of the Swamis stairs; maybe even hang for a while, comparing notes on the surf, they drinking homemade smoothies, some talking about Jesus; me with my chocolate milk, and, having already used a few swear words to describe the crowds, unable to testify, to say I also had a deep love for our living Savior from before it was cool.

I knew who Charles ‘Cheer’ Critchlow was before he showed up in Speech 101, one of the night classes I took to allow more time for work/surf/girlfriend/church, Speech. It was him image, tucked into a little tube, that was on the sign for Hansen Surfboards, A photograph had been in “Surfer” Magazine, tucked into another tube at a contest in Santa Cruz.  I’d seen Cheer and Margo Godfrey casually walking out to surf the outside peak at Swamis on a big choppy afternoon when Scotty Sutton and Jeff Officer and I kept to the inside peak.

Mr. Critchlow had actually, though he was also still in high school, been a judge at a North County high school surfing contest at Moonlight Beach. Jeff and Scott and I, though we’d ripped in the warm up, were harshly eliminated in our first round heats. We were gone so quickly that several girls from my school showed up after we’d taken off.  Maybe I’d lied about even being in it.

No, Jeff’s Dad took us to 15th Street in Del Mar, near where they had a beach house- and we ripped it up again. No points.

Cheer Critchlow was one of the surfers I viewed, from the shoulder, wailing from fifty yards deeper in the pit during the first day of the swell of 1969. “They (the surfers who were successful) must have some Hawaii experience,” I said at the time.

When I gave a speech on our trip to Mazatlan in my nervous-as-shit, rapid-fire delivery, Cheer Critchlow spoke clearly and calmly, and with some humor, about his first time surfing big Sunset Beach with Mike Doyle.

“So, Mike just told me, ‘If you don’t just go, you’ll never go.’ And I went.”

When I brought in a surfboard I’d shaped and painted as a visual aid, Cheer brought in templates he’d used with and borrowed from, again, Mike Doyle.

When I gave a speech on my future plans, writer, artist; Cheer’s speech revealed school was part of his backup plan. He’d tried very hard to be a professional surfer, and it wasn’t working. Maybe someday, he said, a surfer could make a living from surfing. Very convincing, moving, successful speech.

Still, he could have given me, maybe, a few more points at Moonlight.

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

                        Oceanside Memories and the End of (the real) Grandview

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

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

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

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

Feel free to relive some of your best moments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandview was gone.

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

That wasn’t Grandview.

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

No, I didn’t.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just dreams.

John Amsterdam- Final? Chapter

scratchboard wave

scratchboard wave

-Sometime in 1975, Swamis parking lot, Encinitas-

This was before our first child was born. We had finally achieved my longtime goal of living in Encinitas. We had arrived by way of our first and second apartments in Pacific Beach, P.B.: then a condo in University City; sold for a profit of $1,500.00 and a used VW; and now a two bedroom tract home east of I-5.

So, not the full dream. In real life, Trish was working thirty miles south in downtown San Diego, I was working thirty miles north, repainting the interiors of houses on Camp Pendleton, the trailer we worked out of just up the hill from, and with a million dollar view of… wait for it… Trestles.

And, though I wasn’t supposed to be able to, I did park on the beach, with immediate access to Lowers; an hour and a half a day on a half hour lunch break. Sometimes, after work, I’d get in an afternoon session, maybe at Church when the northwest winds blew.

Those ten months that job lasted were, this far removed, dreamlike, surf-wise; and sort of made up for rarely getting to surf Swamis. Still, Trish and I could go to the La Paloma, she could shop at local boutiques- we were, despite living east of I-5,  locals. For a former inland cowboy, this was great.

Several times a week Trish and I would meet up after work, get some takeout food, go to the parking lot at Swamis to check the surf and the sunset. Even if the surf was marginal, there were always people hanging out; tourists, surfers, posers; something else to watch while eating.

On one such evening, a tall, thin, and already-wasted guy in Hollywood surf attire was chatting to people near the railing, leaning into car windows, talking surf stories. “Oh, and then there was the classic swell of December, 1969.”

“I know,” Trish said, “You were there.” After a bite. “Go tell him.”

“No. It’s just… yeah; I was (pointing at the water) there.”

At this time, with the second set of formal stairs in use, the cooler thing to do after surfing was to scale the bluff. I did it a few times. Sure, you’d be arrested or stoned (more like lectured) by a mob in the parking lot if you even tried it nowadays. Someone would surely sacrifice an environmentally friendly and reusable smoothy container to knock you back down.

On this evening, in the grainy light of dusk, Trish and I partway through some Mexican food, and directly in front of our partially-steamed windshield, two surfers popped up from the cliff and into sight.

John Amsterdam, wetsuit peeled down, was one of them. I can’t say for certain that he recognized me, but I’ll always swear he gave me the harshest look.

This was the last time, to my knowledge, that I saw Mr. Amsterdam.

I always feel that, maybe some day out at some semi-secret spot on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, I’ll see him again. Judging me; harshly; maybe almost as harshly as I judge myself.

John Amsterdam may always hate me.