Skip Frye Should Have Won

 

                      

“Skip should have won,” one person said. “He was just TOO smooth,” another said, “He made it look TOO easy.” “North County judges,” a third San Diegan added. Their boards already loaded, each of them, two guys, one girl, dressed in 1965’s appropriate après surf uniform of Levis, t shirt, windbreaker; they looked at me long enough for me to realize I was part of the North County surfing audience intended to hear the criticism. 

Really? No, I was a chunky just-turned-fourteen year old kook walking from the far end of Tamarack’s lower parking lot carrying my ridiculous, used, already-an-antique Velzy/Jacobs balsa wood board, wearing some sort of unfashionable and stretchy trunks that were, in reality, a compromise between the Hawaiian print jams I wanted and the Australian bunhuggers (like my Dad wore) that my mom had purchased for my trips to the beach two years earlier.

Sure, I’d have preferred to be carrying a newer board, wearing Kanvas by Katins trunks; those had surf integrity; or the colorful striped nylon trunks featured in “Surfer.” Jantzen, maybe. Nope.  Later, after appropriate whining, I’d get some jams. After catching several times on my knees, they ripped out.

While still not quite past the San Diego visitors, Skip Frye himself, dressed, carrying his board, walked close to the group. “You should have won, Skip.” “It wasn’t… fair.” The criticism and the support were shrugged/brushed off with a cool nod and a sort of awkward smile that said, “I’m not really a contest surfer.” (Actually, he was… then, and quite successfully so)

Still, to shrug off a near-win/loss was stylish.

Though he was featured in many a classic Ron Stoner photograph, arching or crouching in the tube at The Ranch, sliding across crystal waves at Blacks, and scored well for years in the annual “Surfer Poll,” Skip Frye wasn’t a flashy sprinter.

He was in it for the long run; super marathon; steadily, consistently sliding.

Skip Frye has been quietly ruling the waves between Pacific Beach Point and Crystal Pier, and, of course, beyond, for what is forever in the lives of most surfers. Already well known in the mid-sixties, he continues to surf with style somewhere beyond his mid sixties.

I’ve written about Mr. Frye before, how I, probably in my lucky Hang Ten trunks, walked past him at Tourmaline Canyon in the early seventies. I was carrying my brand new, pirated version of the Waterskate he had been working on for Gordon and Smith in conjunction with Tom Morey.

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It seems I’ve always had a connection with, not surf shops with snarky, judgmental, guaranteed-to-be-good-surfers-because-they-work-at-a-surf-shop sales people, but those back rooms where shapers shape and glassers glass. So it was, on some pretense or need, resin or cloth, I visited the G&S factory on the other side of I-5 (over by the dog pound) a few times. Skip Frye was the guy not to be bothered, not that I would be so bold. He was busy. “So, what was it you wanted?”

“Um, uh, some resin, maybe.”

Information, insight, some connection to the craft.

In a crowded Saturday morning lineup north of Crystal Pier in the early seventies, all of us scrapping on our short boards, Skip, on some almost-a-joke-at-the-time longboard, would paddle laterally, then ease toward shore, picking up some unseen wave-between-waves, stand, ease into a perfect little peak.

When my friend Archie Endo lived in P.B. in the eighties, while attending UCSD, Skip Frye was, he says, with proper respect, “The Emperor of Pacific Beach.” 

And, this many years after that, he still is.

 

Check the previous piece for apologies and disclaimers.

 

John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me (part two)

-SEPTEMBER, 1965, FALLBROOK UNION HIGH SCHOOL-

I didn’t know exactly why I felt so alienated. Part of it was connected to my neighbor, Bobby Turner, moving away. I had become, since meeting him when we were both four years old, playing army and the occasional fist fight, his sidekick. Bobby seemed to need a sidekick more than I needed a leader, and on some level, if we hadn’t been neighbors, we probably wouldn’t have been friends.

Now I was my own man, but in a much bigger pond. At that time, the geographical area that fed into the high school district spread east to the base of Palomar Mountain; north to Rainbow and Temecula, south to Bonsall, and included many of the housing areas on the sprawling triangle-shaped mass of Camp Pendleton.

“The Base” was eighteen miles, straight across, to San Onofre, eighteen miles, by road, to Oceanside.

I was now, in my mind, a surfer.

All summer I’d borrowed the nine-four stock Hobie my sister Suellen had purchased from John Amsterdam for so long that, when I got out of the water, it was frequently time to go home.

But I had improved. Older surfers had stopped telling me to surf somewhere else. I could knee paddle. I swore I had the beginnings of surf bumps.

Then, maybe barely-fourteen year olds are just supposed to feel alienated.

During non-class time I hung out on one of the big cement planters adjacent to the Senior Area, near the trailers where they sold cold lunches and snacks. This would be my spot for the next four years, checking things out on campus.

SOMEWHERE IN MY FIRST FRESHMAN DAYS I met up with Phillip Harper, new, from Orange County. Phillip started going surfing on Sundays with my family; just another kid with seven of us Dence kids, all in the 1959 Chevy station wagon, winged back fenders, boards on top, Hawaiian print curtains all around (made by my sister, Suellen, me helping secure the wires) and a gigantic “Surfer Magazine” Murphy decal on the driver’s side back window.

Surf wagon, almost always with a board or more on top.

Phillip never seemed to be embarrassed by being part of this swarm; my Mom barely in control at best. We always seemed to stop off on the way home at Masters Automotive, right on Highway 101, in Oceanside, my Dad’s second job. My Mom would hit up Dad for some cash. Dad would do a loop around the wagon, check out his passed-out or whiny kids, take a breath, be gone for a while, hitting-up Mac for another advance.

On one trip, waiting in the car, Phillip and I comparing notes on rides and turns and kickouts in the far-back seat, my sister Suellen spotted Sonny and Cher in the alley, furry vests and all. They were obviously waiting for some quick repair to their car. It was Suellen, of course, who recognized them, jumped out to go bug them. If my siblings pressed against the glass, Phillip and I were (hopefully) slightly less obvious.

SURFING ONCE A WEEK JUST WASN’T ENOUGH. There were older surfers in the school, with cars, and Phillip’s sister, Trish, was dating one of them; Bucky Davis. Bucky was friends with John Amsterdam. Though John Amsterdam could easily believe Phillip was becoming a surfer, he couldn’t seem to fathom that I, one of two freshmen (Wendy Wetzel the other) allowed to take Biology, a guy who sat in the front row and paid attention while he and his junior class jock cronies lounged in the back, chuckling off the seriousness of it all; no, I couldn’t really be a surfer.

Even if I now wore a cheaper version of the surfer uniform, the prescribed (by the one-day Dr. Harper) outfit of Levis, J.C. Penny’s t-shirt, colorful windbreaker (Phillip’s, he being incredibly skinny, was fleece-lined. Mine, me being not skinny and this being Southern California, unlined), several choices of footwear, I could not pass muster with John Amsterdam. Because his judgment seemed the harshest, and he therefore, the coolest, his opinion mattered. No amount of talking, begging, or cajoling, even with Phillip doing the talking/begging/cajoling, would convince any of the older surfers to let us ride with them to the beach after school.

And besides, I had to talk. I was way too chatty, too excited when talking about surfing Swamis or waves down by the new State Park, too animated in defending Tamarack as a surf spot. “Tamarack?” “Oh, then where do you surf?” No answer.

“Grandview,” Phillip whispered, after they walked away, another secret revealed.

“Grandview,” I said, as if it was a magic word.

Hippie, Blueballs, Glueballs, and Me (AKA- Asshole)

  HIPPIE, BLUEBALLS, GLUEBALLS, AND ME (AKA- ASSHOLE)

The first person I identified as being the dominant surfer at a particular spot was nicknamed “Hippie.” This was before Hippie Hippies. The story was he got the name early because of the relative size of his butt.  I did once know his real name. What I knew was he wasn’t someone to take off in front of. Undoubtedly influenced by the wave positioning and smooth transitions between a regular (pivot foot back) to a parallel stance of surfers like Phil Edwards and Miki Dora, Hippie would takeoff on an angle, use an in-line bottom turn to move high on the wave and forward of the middle of the board. His right hand acted as a baton as he rhythmically dropped and moved higher across a wave face, smoothly backpedalling to pullout on the shoulder.

Tamarack was a perfect spot for Hippie’s style of surfing. There was, back in 1965 (and I assume is), a peak that forms straight out from the bathrooms on the bluff. The left varies in shape and makeability, but the right, though not offering a long ride, is almost always makeable; even bigger waves have an out.

The problem with this is there’s really a small takeoff zone, and it can seem crowded without much of a crowd.  Still, when I was learning, I headed for the main peak, and, head down, blind to the wave behind me, stroked like I meant it.

We hung out at Tamarack enough to start getting familiar with some of the others who surfed there on this or other Sundays. Suellen would make a fire while I was using her board. Cold surfers, strangers or not, would stand around it.

There was the guy with striped blue and white trunks who someone called, my sister thought, “Glueballs,” though it may have been “Blueballs.” So we called him that. Not to his face. Others were identified by their boards, “Yellow Nose,” “Popout,” or whatever vehicle they arrived in. If I said, “Woody,” you’d know I’m making some of these up. I am, though Glueballs is real.

Because I abused the borrowing of my sister’s board, and seemed so serious about being a surfer, my parents, without my being there, or my input, visited the old Hanson Surf Shop across the street from Cardiff Reef. I’m sure budget was a factor, but I would never have approved the board they bought for me.

But, there I was, paddling out to the main peak on a Velzy/Jacobs balsa surfboard from, probably, 1957- too narrow, no real rocker. I did know enough to be embarrassed. Since I had been making advances in my knee paddling on Suellen’s 9’4” Hobie, I tried it on this board. Quite shaky. Fall. Try again.

Now, there was another guy who always seemed to be out when we were there. I never really got a name to go with him, but his nickname for me seemed to be “Asshole,” such as, “Hey, Asshole; my wave!”  This time it was, “Hey, look; asshole got himself a really screwed up old balsa board. Where’d you find that, Asshole?”

Actually, the main peak at Tamarack might have been a friendlier place for groms and kooks if real surfers just surfed somewhere else. We groms and kooks would actually hoot each other into waves, watch, root for other groms and kooks. “Haul A!” I remember one kid saying as we all watched as the kid hauled A into the shorebreak.

This was not my tormentor’s method. “Hey, Asshole; maybe you should practice knee paddling over in the slough, come back when you know how,” he’d say, perfectly balanced on his knees and motionless. Then I’d fall. Then I’d get back on the board, back on my knees, shakily.

Maybe to practice, I paddled farther out, taking a break from the peak and the ridicule. Of course an outside peak formed. I spun around, head down, paddling; moved to my knees, stroke. The entire rest of the group was inside, eyes on me, each surfer scratching to get over the wave I was about to… stroke… I felt the lift, I was on it, dropping, straight… straight down. My Velzy/Jacobs pearled, totally, I went ‘over the handlebars.’ Everyone paddling out turned-turtle or bailed. The balsa wood weapon popped straight back up, tail first.

No one had to call me Asshole. I paddled in, prone, banished to the crappy waves in front of the lower parking lot.

A year or so later, I was now riding a popout my Dad had purchased ‘on base’ from an auction of boards taken by Marine Military Police from surfers attempting to surf Trestles. One attempting such a beach assault would not take his best board. This particular bargain popout also featured a huge delaminated spot on the nose.

Okay, I’d fix that. Phillip and I made a cut, ripped off the de-lam and some surrounding glass, reglassed it. Then, coming in from surfing Swamis, waiting for my turn to stack my board on the roof of the car, I dropped it mere inches onto the grass. Snap!

Okay, so now we got some dowels, stuck it back together, put a fiberglass bandage around it. As a bonus, it now it had even more kick up, more rocker.

This was the board I was riding, my surf bumps now visible (even to others), on one after school afternoon at Tamarack; an afternoon a little crowded with kooks and grems and groms and Hippie. It was, perhaps, out of frustration that I did not give way, paddled stroke for stroke, took off even with but in front of Hippie. I gave him room, drove across the peak, kicked my board out hard.

My board was spinning, straight up, next to me. Beside and just behind it was Hippie’s board, twins in the spinning.

“I’m sorry” I said, the first words I’d ever spoken to Hippie.

“No you’re not,” he said; both of us climbing onto our boards.

“Okay then, I’m not.”

Perhaps I saw this as a rite of passage. Perhaps it was. No, still not sorry.