I started surfing when I was eleven years old. I remember the first wave I stood up on. It was at Buccaneer Beach in Oceanside. Surfers named the beach that because the Buccaneer Hotel was there, right on the corner of South Pacific and Myers Streets. The hotel is long gone but the name remains. Just about all the beaches anywhere that have names were named by surfers.
I remember the feeling I had when, after the expected attempts and failures, I managed to get to my feet and feel the borrowed board under me being propelled along by the wave. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life.
I was hooked. I begged my father for a surfboard. He was reluctant. Surfing, and surfers, were suspect in his mind. He, like so many parents, was in a tug of war with popular culture for the heart and mind of his child. All these years later I now know his pain, having been through it myself.
But back then, all I knew was I had to have a surfboard. Had to! I begged and pleaded relentlessly. I worked on Mom, too, of course, to get her on my side and thus put more pressure on Dad.
My father came up with a strange trade off. He said, OK, he would buy me a surfboard if I would join the Masons. I swear to god. I guess he had been talking to some friends of his who were Masons, whose kids were Masons, and I think he saw it as a contrary influence to the one he feared I was vulnerable to. He saw it as a bulwark against the oncoming tide of debauchery that was, in truth, as it turned out, soon to follow.
I agreed to the deal. My stint with the Masons is another story.
The point is, insofar as this story is concerned, I got the surfboard. It was a ten foot Gordon & Smith. We bought it up in Dana Point where the Gordon & Smith surf shop was.
Surfing became a thread through the rest of my time in California. When I was 16 I went with the Windansea Surf Team to Hawaii where I competed in the Makaha Championships. Again in 1967 when I was 17. I surfed Sunset, on the North Shore of Oahu, at 20 feet.
I was in the vanguard of the so-called short board revolution. Up until that time boards were pretty much the same length they’d been for quite awhile. The first surfboards were made of wood and were very long indeed, like 16 feet or so. When they began being made with lighter materials, they got shorter and shorter, until they leveled off at 9 or 10 feet. Over the years the shape & design changed while the length remained fairly constant.
The length of the board somewhat dictated the way one surfed. You couldn’t turn the board from just anywhere on it: you had to be toward the back. You would turn the board from the back end, set yourself up on the wave so that you were riding just so, and then you would walk, one foot over the next, toward the front. Great value was put on standing as far as possible toward the front, or nose, of the board. Surfers would actually curl their toes over the nose of the surfboard. If you could curl the toes of one foot over the nose, that was called hanging five. And if you could stand with both feet on the nose, with ten toes curled over, that was called hanging ten. That was the ultimate cool thing.
In December of 1967, while surfing at Honolua Bay in Maui, Hawaii, I recognized the famous Australian surfer Nat Young out in the water with the rest of us. But what was notable was not so much himself, but the board he was riding. None of us had ever seen anything like it. It was about five and a half feet long. It was shorter than he was tall. It had a wide, square, thick tail that tapered to a thin, pointy nose. It had a long, deep fin.
What he was doing with it was crazy. He wasn’t turning from the back of board. He wasn’t walking the nose. No no. His feet were set like a boxer’s as he dropped into a wave, skimmed down the face, coasted out into the flat water in front of the wave, drove hard into a sweeping bottom turn, sending up a wall of water, and then, instead of finding a line down the length of the wave, he drove straight back up to the top of the wave and smashed into the crest, his body nearly horizontal, defying gravity, and then he came back down with the falling lip, back out onto the flat water and on to the next dazzling maneuver.
I was transfixed. We all were.
When I got back to California, my first day out in the water on the south side of the Oceanside pier, I saw a kid surfing. I mean a little kid. Like, eight years old or something. He was on a board suited to his size. A little kid’s board. It was like 6 feet long. When he got to the beach, I went in, too. I approached him as he was heading for the soft sand.
“Hey kid,” I said. He looked at me. “Lemme see your board.” He handed it over. “Mind if I borrow it for awhile?” Eyes big, he shook his head no. “Thanks,” I said.
I left my board with him and walked into the water. When I got to mid-thigh depth I pushed off, stretched out on the board and started paddling. The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to motivate. While our regular, longer boards rode high on the water, this one, of course, was mostly underwater with me on it. On a long board you could paddle on your knees. Surfers commonly sported, with some pride, calcium deposits on their knees and insteps from the constant knee paddling, called surf knots.
No knee paddling on this one. It was a hard slog pushing through the breakers with just the nose pointing up out of the water, the rest of the board creating drag.
I finally made it outside into the lineup. I pushed myself up into a sitting position. Most of the board was under water. Just the nose pointed up and out at an angle. The water was up to just under my tits.
I was a source of great humor to the other surfers, all of whom were perched high on their big boards. Their whole decks were in the sun, from nose to tail. Everybody thought I was just fucking around, being a zany cutup. I laughed along, but I was quietly electrified with excitement and anticipation.
I was running replays in my mind of Nat Young. People come up with new moves in surfing, but, just as in music, only five percent is innovation while 95 percent is monkey see monkey do. You see someone do something cool, you think “I wanna do that,” you picture it in your mind, you envision yourself doing it, and you do it. You copy it. You do it.
Well, that’s what I firmly intended to do. I was gonna do just like what I saw Nat Young do. I was gonna take off on a wave, go straight down the face, out onto the flat water in front of it, drive a hard bottom turn and aim straight back up to the top of the wave, hit the top, and come back down with it. And that’s just what I did.
“Holy shit!” I heard a couple guys erupt. “Holy shit!” I thought. “Jesus fuckin’ christ this is unfuckinbelievable!”
“Jesus, man,” some guy paddling out next to me said. “The fuck was THAT!”
“I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”
I took off on about five more waves, surfed for maybe half an hour. I have to say I enjoyed the attention I was getting from the other surfers, but mostly I was enthralled with this totally new way of riding a wave. No walking! No nose riding! No hurrying to the back of the board to crank a turn, heave the board around this way or that, and hustle back to the nose again. All this running back and forth. No no. Instead of working the board, I was now working the WAVE. It was fuckin’ awesome.
Although, we didn’t say “awesome” in those days. What’d we say? Radical? Yeah, radical, I think. It was fuckin’ radical.
I gave the kid his board back. I was changed. My board was suddenly obsolete. I hated it. I could not WAIT to get a short board. I went straight to my friend who shaped boards and told him what I wanted.
Soon afterwards I was surfing on my new short board. And everyone else was surfing on theirs. The short board revolution, as it came to be known, spread throughout the surfing world like wildfire. It seemed like everyone was surfing short boards overnight. It really was something, how quick it happened. It was like razing a house and putting up a different one. You come upon it and go, “Huh? Wasn’t that...?” It changed surfing forever.
My surfing was interrupted by college. That lasted for a couple years. Then I dropped out. The summer of ’71 was my last time of steady surfing. I was working, too, as a laborer on a construction site, but after work and on weekends I was out there.
Then, in the fall of 1971, I left home, I left California, and I said goodbye to surfing. It was a deep sadness for me, one that I learned to suppress more and more as time went by, but the sadness never completely went away.
So why didn’t I surf in New England? People do. Well, it was just too involved. Back in Oceanside, the beach was right there. There were breaks everywhere. I could cruise from the Harbor to the Pier to Carlsbad to Leucadia to Encinitas and on down the coast. It was easy to find a decent wave. But in Cambridge, Massachusetts? You kiddin’? What was I gonna do, get up in the morning and drive up to New Hampshire somewhere or down to Cape Cod looking for waves? And there was no internet in those days, remember. No handy surf report online. I would have had to drive, and drive and drive, and still not know if there was anything decent to paddle out into until I got there.
Besides, there was no time for surfing. Jon Pousette-Dart and I were busy. No. No thanks. When I left California I said goodbye to surfing and that was that.
Once a year, maybe, I would visit my folks in Oceanside. I bought a used board. This one had a leash. That was a new thing I wasn’t sure I approved of. But once I tried it, I had to admit it was nice not having to swim to the beach to retrieve my board if I were to fall off. Still, I thought it spoiled the youngsters.
Surfing continued to evolve. I would occasionally purchase a surfing magazine back in Cambridge and marvel at what surfers were doing. They were leaving me behind. Space age board designs, multiple fins...surfers were actually flying off the wave and reentering it. They’re called aerials. They were doing flips & rolls & spins. Amazing.
And big wave surfing? Oh ho man. Back in my day, 20 feet was big. And it is big! But now, holy shit you can’t believe what they’re doing.
Like I was saying, back in my day, back in the 60s, about the biggest wave anyone ever rode was around 30 feet. There were bigger waves, but nobody could catch ‘em. They move too fast. Can’t catch ‘em. Crazy people tried. They couldn’t do it. It was regarded basically as something that would never be done, like the way people used to regard going to the moon.
Then the jet ski came along. Wasn’t long before someone had a “ding!” go off in his head, put a tow line behind the jet ski, and towed the already standing surfer into the wave. They call it tow-in surfing. So now you have guys surfing waves that are 30, 40, 50, even 60 feet high. Or even bigger. I tell you, it is unfuckinbelieveable what these guys are doing these days.
I watched all this from afar. When I went home to Oceanside, I paddled out with less and less frequency. My board didn’t float me anymore. I was too fat. Finally, it came to the point that I didn’t paddle out at all when I visited my folks. It was too depressing. I couldn’t do it.
Six years ago I moved back to Southern California. During my first summer here I paddled out with my older son Will. He’s a surfer now. He always drags my ass out into the water: “Come on, Dad!”
I have this 7’4” board. It doesn’t float me. Very hard to paddle. Very hard to get into a wave. Plus, my right big toe knuckle is frozen. It won’t bend back. There’s a name for it. Can’t remember what it is. Anyway, when I push from a prone position to a standing position on a surfboard, that knuckle comes into play. So every time I tried to stand up I felt a knife go through my foot.
So there I was in the water with my son, trying to have good time. I managed to catch a wave and ride it all the way in. I was walking my board back out in three feet of water, about to jump back on, when I felt something shift under my foot, and then a hammer blow to the inside of my left leg just above the ankle. Then, immediate, excruciating pain. My entire leg suddenly felt paralyzed up to the hip.
I knew I had been hit by a stingray. I quickly picked up my board, swiveled it around, pushed myself onto it with my right leg, and started paddling frantically to the beach. “I don’t have any health insurance! I don’t have any health insurance!” was my plaint.
My left foot was elevated as I paddled. Will, who was nearby and moving into an escort position, took a look at it and said “Holy shit!” Very comforting. He told me later that blood was squirting, pulsing out of the wound.
I didn’t know what to do for it but I did have an instinctive need to immerse the wound in hot water. As soon as I found some I did so. Instant relief. Afterward I looked it up and found that what you’re supposed to do is immerse the wound in hot water. Shit I knew that!
So, it was a stingray. No big deal in the grand theme. But it bothered me. Growing up in the surf in the 50s and 60s, I had never encountered stingrays. I was a lifeguard, a beach lifeguard, for two summers, and I never even HEARD of anyone getting stung by a stingray. And here, my first time in the water in I don’t know how long, pow. I was curious. Off to Google I went.
Turns out, stingrays are common around here. Huh? Yeah, common. Round rays are the ones they got here. They’re everywhere. Since when! I was indignant. I never HEARD of stingrays anywhere around here and now I come back home and they’re so common that there’s a way to wade called the “stingray shuffle” wherein you don’t pick up your feet, you slide them along the bottom so if your foot touches a ray it will move off, not sting you.
The Stingray Shuffle. Can you believe that shit? God it was depressing. The surf, the ocean, the water, had always been a haven for me since childhood. I had rolled in its waves since I was five years old. And now, in one instant, it had become a mine field. I looked at the water, once so inviting, with dread.
‘Cause you know why? It fuckin’ HURT, that’s why. I’m telling you, nature does not fuck around. Go ahead, Google an image of a round ray. I’ll wait.
Innocuous enough looking, ain’t it? No big deal. ‘Bout the size of a medium pizza. But brother, this little fucker packs a punch.
I asked around. “Oh yeah, I’ve been stung six times. I know a guy’s been stung like 20 times.” You fuckin’ kiddin’ me? No no no! I don’t want fuckin’ stingrays! What happened! Why oh why were there never ANY when I was growing up and now they’re so common there’s actually a stingray “season” around here! From June to September! Stingray season! Fuck!
So I researched some more. And I found out what happened. Turns out, due to pollution, loss of habitat, and overfishing, there are much fewer of the bigger fish that eat stingrays. So guess what. The stingray population has exploded. Same with jellyfish. A New York Times series on the phenomenon (NOT “phenomena”...like you hear so much these days...that’s plural) called it the “rise of the slime”.
Well, this really put the kibosh on my surfing ambitions, as if I had any left. Now I was afraid to walk out into the water. And when I did get out there on my little potato chip of a surfboard, I couldn’t get my fat ass into a wave, and if I did get into it I’d find myself hovering at the top and then enjoying an elevator ride to hell.
I don’t like sucking so I just didn’t paddle out anymore.
But then, here came my damn kid again. “Come on, Dad!” Well, I mean, I had to paddle out, didn’t I. Not much choice. But I only had to be miserable when he visited which isn’t all that often.
So now this summer along comes James, my autistic 15 year old: “Dad? Can we go surfing?” Oh Jesus.
So OK. I have a soft top, one of those surfboards you buy at Costco, for him, because he’s still learning, and I had my 7’4”, so I strapped ‘em onto my roof (I have a small SUV that comes with racks) and we went to Huntington Beach. James went out with the soft top & got to it. I paddled out my little stick.
I got outside, had a seat, and waited for my wave. Here came one, about four feet high, and I started paddling. It started to pick me up, my nose (that is, the board’s nose) started to angle down, and I felt fear. I abruptly sat up, stuck my feet in the water, and pulled back out of the wave. What? What was this anxiety? I was afraid to take off! Oh Lord.
I tried again. Same thing. I couldn’t take off. I sat for awhile. I paddled back to the beach. The Paddle of Shame.
Back at the car James was breathless. “How’d you do, Son?”
“Great, Dad! I stood up twice! How ‘bout you?”
The next day he went back to his mother’s. I was alone at home. I had a strange feeling. Something was pulling at me. I strapped my board on my car and drove back to Huntington Beach. I paddled out, and here’s the funny thing: I knew I was not going to take off. I knew it. I had no intention of taking off. I just wanted to sit in the water and think. I sat & thank. Satin tank.
The swells rolled under me, lifting me up, then down. I heard their muffled impact and roar behind me as they broke and continued to the beach. The pelicans went silently by, inches above the surface. Terns speared the water. I looked toward the south. There was a guy dropping in on a nice one. I felt the sun on my back. I did the Paddle of Shame.
As I was driving home, I called Denny, my cousin Yvette’s husband, a surfer with a buncha surfboards who has urged me to go surfing with him about a hundred times. “I want to surf!” I told him. “I’ve realized something, Denny. Surfing, for me, anyway, is not like riding a bike. I’ve lost my skills. I can’t surf. I have to start over. I want a big board.”
“Well, John, I have just the board for you. It’s a 9’4”, it’s steady as a log. We’ll go out at San Onofre which is a very friendly wave. If you can’t stand up there on this board, well, you’re truly a pathetic human being.”
“How about tomorrow?”
So the next day I drove down to San Clemente where I met Denny & Yvette. Then I followed them down to San Onofre State Beach. A winding paved and then dirt road leads down to the beach. I bumped slowly along behind Denny’s car. On my left now were steep bluffs rising up to I-5 while on my right were parked cars, the beach and surf beyond. Many surfers were out. The San Onofre nuclear power plant loomed to the south. We parked.
Denny went to work on a stack of boards on his car, pulled them down one by one, and handed one to me. It was a big old thing, 9’4” long. I planted its tail in the sand, held one rail (the “rail” is the lengthwise side edge of a surfboard...there are two of ‘em) and looked up at it. Gad, it was big. Feeling a little sheepish, I tried to keep any wryness out of my voice as I thanked Denny.
We wasted no time. In a few minutes we were paddling out. The first thing I noticed was how easy it was to paddle. The thing flew along. I was riding high in the water. No drag. I got outside, saw a small wave with an easy, forgiving slope to it, heaved my board around, and paddled for it. The wave picked me up. I got up, that is, I pushed quickly up from a prone to a standing position, and...I was surfing! I was standing and riding a wave! Whaddyaknow! I simply stood. I didn’t try anything. I just stood and rode the wave, smiling like an idiot.
Have you ever felt joy? It’s a physical feeling. It seemed to happen to me more when I was young. To me, it rises to the base of the throat. Almost like a rising gorge, but, obviously, it isn’t nausea. It’s this feeling that starts somewhere in the core and rises to the base of the throat. Joy. That’s what I felt.
The wave approached the shore. I leaned slightly on the inside rail (surfing diagonally across a wave, the inside rail is the one in the wave while the outside rail is the one facing the beach) and pulled out of the wave with control. The board was so steady that, as I glided down the back of the wave, I was able to get back down with control to a prone position. I started paddling back out.
And that’s how it went. I surfed for a couple hours. I loved paddling out, I loved sitting on my board waiting for my wave, I loved paddling for it, I loved getting up, and I loved loved LOVED standing up and riding a wave. On my last wave of the day I actually, ever so slightly, worked the board up and down the gently sloping three foot wave. Success!
For the next month I went surfing every chance I got, which was most days. I noticed that other projects and responsibilities languished, but I didn’t care. I was surfing again, I had the bug, and I was going to indulge. I felt fiercely that I deserved it. I reveled in it. And every day, little by little, ever so gradually, I felt my skills returning. I was taking off on bigger and bigger waves. The feeling of intimidation and anxiety was fading.
Another thing I noticed, an indication that I was seriously getting back into it, was that the joy was becoming tempered by annoyance and frank anger at the people I was out in the water with.
I was surfing at beaches where the waves were pretty easy. There are all kinds of waves, as you can imagine. And they break in a particular way depending on where they are. The most challenging waves in the world are famous, and they each break in their own particular way. Even a non-surfer, if exposed to enough film or photos of these breaks, will begin to recognize them. They are like fingerprints, signatures. Show any surfer a picture or clip of Jaws, Maverick’s, or any other famous spot, and he’ll tell you where it is. It’s as recognizable as someone’s face. You look at a picture with no caption of Tom Cruise, well, that’s Tom Cruise. You look at a picture of a wave at Teahupoo, well, that’s Teahupoo. Obviously. There’s no other wave in the world that breaks like that.
Here in Orange County, and Southern California, we got all kina waves. The waves at San Onofre, as I was saying, are pretty easy. They don’t jump up with a steep drop and a lip that throws itself out and down to hit with enough impact to break your back. No, these waves are slow with a gradual slope and a crumbly, easy break. They don’t present a very big challenge. They’re just friendly and fun. So, what kind of surfers do you think like to surf there? If you guessed “old ones”, then, my friend, you were right! It’s Geezerville!
My beloved first wife was, is, a woman of some means. For a few years, at Thanksgiving, we, she, would send shuttles out to solitary old people and bring them to our house where we would serve them Thanksgiving dinners. We got their addresses from the Pine Street Inn, or some such charitable organization. We’d drop off twenty turkeys at the Inn, and we’d also feed these people who lived alone and weren’t able to get out.
On this particular Thanksgiving the shuttles and livery cars were arriving while elderly folks were being helped up the walk and into the house. There were rented tables and chairs in the capacious living room which was now a dining room and which was gradually filling up.
I was going to and fro between the kitchen and the dining room, bringing out appetizers & drinks, and then dinner. Every time I went through the foyer, there was one man, well into his eighties, I’d say, who was walking up and down smoking a cigarette.
He was nattily dressed. Suit & tie. He was lean. He had a quick, nervous way about him. The guy was sharp. Curious, I stopped to converse with him and found that he was a retired musician! Whaddyaknow! He had been a jazz drummer for decades. And now here he was, bussed over from some low income housing development, standing in this foyer with me. He lit another cigarette. I returned to my duties.
A little while later, the main courses were coming out and all the remaining seats were being taken. Laden with plates of turkey and stuffing I came into the foyer and then through the French doors to the dining room. The old drummer was still there, pacing. When I came back into the foyer I stopped and said, “Sir, everyone is taking a seat. Would you like to go in and find a spot so I can serve you some dinner?”
He looked sharply through the French doors into the dining room. There were forks, held by palsied hands, wavering toward wet lips, there were people in slippers shuffling slowly across the floor, there were some pushing walkers with the little wheels in front and the jerry-rigged tennis balls in back. He glared bleakly at the assembly. “Look at ‘em,” he said. “Old people. I hate ‘em.”
The funny part, of course, is that here was a guy pushing ninety complaining about old people. But chronological age was the only thing he had in common with the rest of our guests. Other than that, he was his own cat. He was NUTHIN’ like those people.
Well, that’s exactly the way I began to feel surfing at San Onofre, and then Doheny, farther north, another forgiving break. The pink cloud, if I can borrow a term from Alcoholics Anonymous, and I think I can, was dissipating. My joy was being pushed aside by annoyance and then growing anger at all these old fuckers I was stuck out here with. Keep in mind that my skills were returning. I was starting to feel hints of my long forgotten mojo. But how can I feel sexy surrounded by all these fuckin’ coots? Everything about their surfing is stiff. They’re like your embarrassing uncle on the dance floor at some wedding reception. Oh, he’s dancing alright, but no, Pops, it ain’t workin’. You look like a spastic mannequin.
And 99 percent of ‘em ride a long board. Long boards everywhere. And these guys don’t have the agility or the energy to walk the nose anymore, if they ever did, which I seriously doubt, so they just take off and ride, standing there, same thing wave after wave. I’d rather watch paint dry.
But here’s the thing that really started pissing me off. There is such a thing as surfing etiquette. It has everything to do with who gets the wave. I’m sure you’ve seen a surfer on TV. Picture it in your mind: The wave is peeling, sort of like a wrapper being pulled off a sausage, and there, right in the peeling part, is the surfer, going along, doing whatever he’s doing, surfing. You don’t see two guys. Just the one. That’s because there’s only room for one. Oh, you might see a clip of a crowded wave, but that’s just what it is, a crowded wave. No, almost always, what you see is one guy surfing one wave.
There are some unspoken rules of etiquette in surfing. If no one tells you what they are, then, if you have, oh, about half a brain, you should be able to pick ‘em up. One of the main ones is, if a surfer is taking off on a wave, if he’s got the prime spot on the wave, don’t you take off, too. Don’t cut him off. Don’t drop in on him. It’s pretty much like pulling out in front of someone who’s coming down the street. You ever rolling down the road, up ahead some guy comes in from the side, takes a look at you, and then just pulls out, never mind you have to hit your brakes to keep from crashing into him? Same thing.
Ah, but let me tell you how some assholes take advantage of this rule, how they abuse it.
I surfed Denny’s huge board for a couple months until I was ready for something smaller, something with a little more ‘zazz. I wanted something smaller, but not too small. I wanted it to be thick enough to float me so I could catch waves without lumbering.
On 9 September, without planning to, I walked into Infinity Surfboards in Dana Point and told the kid what I was looking for. He considered for a moment, asked me to follow, and walked into the used board room at the back. On the right wall there were boards lined up, tails down on the floor, separated by dowels coming out the wall above. “Something like this?” He pulled one out.
Heavenly beams seemed to radiate from the thing leaning against his palm. Angelic voices seemed to fill the air. It was a white, 8’0” WindanSea surfboard, 23” wide and 3” thick. And it was a quad! That means it had two fins on each side, none in the middle. It was just beautiful. Now, three inches is thick. But the really cool thing is that it had turned down rails so it didn’t look that thick at all. A lot of these old farts have eight foot boards that are so thick it looks like they’re sitting on a big orthopedic shoe. Not attractive.
We were in the used board room, but the board looked brand new! I asked about that. The kid told me some rich guy had it custom made, took it out one time, and brought it back because it didn’t float him he was so fat. So it was new. But used. And since it was used, instead of it being $600, it was $400! Unbelievable! Perfect! So I bought it. I didn’t really have the money. I had to use a credit card. But I didn’t care. I had my own surfboard. A beautiful, brand new surfboard.
For the next ten days I surfed that board every day. It was a little squirrelly at first, but little by little I was starting to rip. It turned on a dime and had a nice slide to it.
In our last episode I ended by telling you how some people turn the rules of surfing etiquette to their advantage. I will take that up again now. I told you how, when someone is on a wave, surfing on it, that it is bad form to take off in front of him. Some guys take advantage of this by setting up farther out than everyone else on a really long board. With a long board you can take off on just about anything. You can catch a one foot wave. So some asshole sits out there and catches waves before anyone else can. He’s up and surfing by the time the wave gets to where anyone else can catch it, which they won’t now, because he’s got it.
There was one such guy at Doheny. He wore a full wet suit including a little, short billed cap (to guard against cancer) that made him look like a penis with flippers. He’d sit out there, farther out than anyone else, and grab the best wave of every set. The lull between sets gave him just enough time to paddle out and hog the next one. It was infuriating. But I didn’t say anything because I don’t paddle out on a beautiful day to get into it with some old dick. So I set up inside and picked off what smaller waves I could. I tried not to let it bother me.
But bother me it did on this fine Wednesday 19 September. I left the water and headed back to the parking lot, my exquisite surfboard under my arm, muttering to myself: “Goddamn motherfucker hogging every fuckin’ wave...”. I reached the passenger side of my car and put the lovely godsend surfboard up on the racks of my small SUV, still muttering... “Stupid oblivious cocksucker with his fuckin’ ridiculous cap...” I went to the rear where a lock box was hanging from the hitch. I opened it and retrieved my car key, grumbling... “Fuckin’ pain the ass asshole...” I then continued my partial circumnavigation of the car to the driver’s side, opened the door and got behind the wheel, keeping the conversation going... “How ‘bout you give someone else a fuckin’ break, Mr. Surf King? Oh King of Doheny?” I pulled out of the parking lot.
I was in a brown study as I headed up Pacific Coast Highway, heading north out of Dana Point. I stopped at Infinity Surfboards to look over their wet suits. The door was locked. Out to lunch or something. I walked back to my car and momentarily emerged from my funk to admire my sublime surfboard as it rested on my car. I continued to head north. I called Denny. He answered and I gave him the benefit of my feelings about the King of Doheny. I got to a red light at Selva Road where I got in the left turn lane. I intended to check the surf at Strands. As I ranted at Denny, I heard a horn honk behind me. I looked in my rear view mirror. There was a small, white pickup. I looked in my left mirror. There was a man getting out of the vehicle. “Denny, I’m gonna have to call you back. There’s a guy...” I hung up.
The guy came up to my window. “Your board flew off your car! You just about killed me!” I looked up through my moon roof. No board. I suddenly felt sick. I had forgotten to strap the board onto the car. I had put it up on the car, got my keys, and driven off. Didn’t secure it. Did not strap the board down.
The guy was shaking. I was horrified. “Oh, God, mister. I’m so sorry!” I got out of my car. I looked at his car. The windshield on the passenger side was caved in. The rest of the glass was thoroughly veined. I walked with him back to his car and looked into the cab. It was full of glass. The man was about my age. He was shaking, talking. “I thought I was dead! I can’t believe I maintained control! That thing coulda took my head off!”
“Where did it happen?”
“‘Bout a quarter mile back!”
“Oh God I’m just so sorry!”
Now, as shocked and horrified and sorry as I was, I wanted to hit a U-turn and get my beloved board. I shuddered to think what damage it had sustained. I was squirming to retrieve it. On the other hand, this poor bastard had just seen his life pass before his eyes, and I was loath to alarm him in any way. It seemed to me that crying “I’ve got to get my board! Follow me!” was not the thing to do right now. It seemed, rather, that now was the moment for contrition and soothing assurance. That was the line I chose.
For the next ten minutes I alternately apologized, sympathized, and assured. I gave him all my information. I let him take a picture of my driver’s license. He gradually calmed down.
“Are you OK to drive, Sir?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think I’m OK. I’m gonna have to take it straight to my body guy. I can’t drive it like this.”
“OK, well, you call me and tell me what you want to do. You have all my info. Don’t worry. It was completely and totally my fault. I’m not going to fight you about any of it. It was all my doing and I’m so, so very sorry, Sir. Please let me know what you want to do.”
We shook hands. We got in our vehicles. I hit a U-turn and raced back down PCH. After a ways I slowed down to a crawl as I scanned the road. Nothing. I drove back up the road again. And then back down. I parked at the surf shop where I knew my board had still been on the car. I walked up and down the whole stretch of road from the shop to Selva Road. No board. It was gone. Somebody had pulled over and grabbed it. My board was gone.
Something happened three weeks later. Something totally unrelated. But, in my mind, the two incidents combined, symbolically, to bring me right back down to basics.
To be continued...
REMEDIES AGAINST ALL ACCIDENTS
by Ellis Walker (1650 - 1700)
As in a voyage, when you at anchor ride,
You go on shore fresh water to provide;
And perhaps gather what you chance to find,
Shell-fish, or roots of palatable kind,
Yet still you ought to fix your greatest care
Upon your ship, upon your bus'ness there:
Still thoughtful, lest perhaps the master call;
Which if he do, then you must part with all
Those darling trifles, that retard your haste,
Left, bound like sheep, you by constraint are cast
Into the hold. Thus, in your course of life,
Suppose you a lovely son, or beauteous wife,
Instead of those less pleasing trinkets, find,
And bless your stars, and think your fortune kind;
Yet still be ready, if the master call,
To cast thy burthen down and part with all
Forsake the beauteous wife and lovely son,
Run to thy ship without reluctance run,
Nor look behind: but, if grown old and gray,
Keep always near thy ship, and never stay
To stoop for worthless lumber on the way.
Short is the time allow'd to make thy coast,
Which must not for such tasteless joy be lost,
Thy rev'rend play-things will but ill appear:
Besides, thou'lt find they'll cost thee very dear:
'Tis well if age can its own weakness bear,
Unmann'd with dotage; when thou'rt call'd upon
How wilt thou drag the tiresome luggage on?
With tears and sighs much folly thou'lt betray,
And crawl with pain undecently away.