Wild fluctuations, more ups than downs, gradually trending toward a major crash at some point…
The sun has come up and I am sitting by a beach that is foggy with the breath of a life gone by. I’m a sight this morning: an Independent Surf Co. wetsuit pulled down to my waist, an old cable knit Etro sweater that I’m dreading to take off. It still amazes me that I haven’t been warm since George W. Bush was president. I wonder if this is how it is for everyone my age.
A Mayhem Short Round 5’9” 20” x 2.38 carrying some 30.71 liters rests at my feet.
My life? It isn’t easy to explain.
It has not been the rip-roaring spectacular I fancied it would be, but neither have I burrowed around with the sand crabs. I suppose it has most resembled a brand new off the rack Tomo: wild fluctuations, more ups than downs, and gradually trending toward a major crash at some point sooner than later. A risky buy, a potentially disastrous buy, and I’ve learned that not everyone can say this about his life. But I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.
The romantics would call this a love story, the cynics would call it a tragedy. In my mind it’s a little bit of both, and no matter how you choose to view it in the end, it does not change the fact that it involves a great deal of my life and the path I’ve chosen to follow. I have no complaints about my path and the places it has taken me; enough complaints to fill a circus tent about other things, maybe, but the path I’ve chosen has always been the right one, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I was ten when the emotion climbed through my window and made a birdhouse in my soul. Sleeping on the floor in my cousin’s San Diego home wrapped tight in a blanket, the morning light had started to shine and fell upon a rocket ship propped in the corner.
A rainbow thruster with the words Hawaiian Island Creations written in a bubbly font down the centre. Two fins on the bottom. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was magnificent.
I have no complaints about my path and the places it has taken me; enough complaints to fill a circus tent about other things, maybe, but the path I’ve chosen has always been the right one, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Later that day we went to the beach and Hawaiian Island Creations came with us, its round rail bumping my shoulder when we went around corners. My cousin asked if I wanted to try it and I did very much. I picked it up gently and carried it toward the whitewash. I can’t recall much about the actual surf experience but I remember carrying the board with all clarity. It made me someone and I would need one for the rest of my life.
Since I lived in coastal Oregon, I realised the odds, and science, were against me. There was so surf shop in my hometown. No surfer that I was aware of. But science is not the total answer; this I know, this I have learned in my lifetime. And that leaves me with the belief that miracles, no matter how inexplicable or unbelievable, are real and can occur without regard to the natural order of things.
My cousin gave me Hawaiian Island Creation when we left because it was my birthday and I couldn’t not believe it. The greatest gift of my entire life. I was a surfer but more importantly I had a surfboard.
I cherished it for three years, carefully taking the wax off with some citrus scented spray and reapplying in slow circles until I started to read surf magazines as well and recognised that my Hawaiian Island Creation came from the early 1980s and it was now the early 1990s. Kelly Slater and his Momentum crew were the happening thing and their rocket ships looked different than mine. Pure white, as thin as a razor and with enough rocker to make them appear like Oriental shoes.
At night I would dream of nothing else and then my birthday found me, once again, in San Diego and I was gifted a 6’4″, 17” pure white Nev with a nose pointed toward the sun and a tail that did too. I wanted to hug it except pressure dings were a real and present danger so I wrapped it in a blanket for the ride back to coastal Oregon and made sure my aggressively clumsy older sister and vicious younger brother not so much as looked at it. It was exactly perfect. It gave my heart momentum and while utterly impractical for the freezing cold, dumpy coastal Oregon surf I did not care. How could I care? Is love ever practical? No. Never. That is one of its true beauties and so I would bob in the freezing cold dumps on my potato chip and waste precious time not learning to surf well so I could feel inspired.
Time yellows all things and I moved from Nev to some retro single fin, quite by accident, to college in Southern California and a custom shaped, epoxy Rockin Fig from Huntington Beach, California.
Is love ever practical? No. Never. That is one of its true beauties and so I would bob in the freezing cold dumps on my potato chip and waste precious time not learning to surf well so I could feel inspired.
There I stood in the office explaining to the shaper what I wanted, which was again very thin and very pointy. A thruster because quads were not a thing yet. With epoxy because it could be even thinner and pointer that way. I wanted it as thin and pointy and light as possible and I’m sure the shaper looked at me confused but I was paying for it, full price, and I am certain he could tell that subtle mistakes would not be noticed.
I waited patiently for a month, two even. Counting the hours. Counting the minutes. Until one day my phone rang and the words carried me straight to Mount Olympus.
Begging a ride down to Huntington Beach, I strode breathless into the shop and there it was. Waiting. Made by the hand of God for me and me alone. With me in mind. My specifications. There was none like it on the face of the earth and the handpicked Rockin Fig logo, an angry pirate skull with crossed sabres underneath and mine alone. I picked it up. It was as thin as a Pringle and as light as canned air.
Oh how I thrilled and surfed every moment that I could, cutting class, coming back late, going at the crack of dawn. Me n Rockin Fig together forever. Oh sure the board hampered my learning even more than Nev had but what did I care? Epoxy was the future and I was riding it like a carpet. Or at least riding it like a carpet when I could muscle the canned air over the falls and into a wave.
It was a beautiful board. A work of art and I would have it to this day except I don’t. It became a relic somewhere along the way and I began traveling the world. Not for surf but for adventure. First a semester in Egypt, then a return trip which was supposed to take me and two wonderful friends from Egypt to Jordan to Syria to Jordan to Israel to Jordan to Egypt since crossing into Israel from any country other than Jordan was not possible in those days.
Except I fell ill in Aqaba, Jordan, the town taken from the rear by the great Lawrence of Arabia, and spent the week hooked up to an IV in a very white hospital. White like Nev and like Rockin Fig and I began to lust for surf once again.
Soon after graduation the twin towers in New York City fell it was time to put everything together. My friends and I devised a plan to surf where no one had ever surfed before. Yemen. Where Osama Bin Laden had devised a plan to fall the twin towers in New York City. We planned and planned and a few noble souls even stepped up in order to provide tools for our trip, among them the great John Carper. He gifted each of us two boards and I couldn’t begin to believe it. I was sponsored! A sponsored surfer!
We went to his Costa Mesa warehouse and I picked my two off the rack. One flatter, wider and shorter than anything I had ever ridden. The other traditionally me. 6’2” 18.5” x 2.35”. I spent the night before we left carefully affixing a giant Che Guevara sticker near its nose.
And we traversed every inch of Yemen over three long months. The boards were, of course, admired everywhere we went. No white people had ever dawned certain of the country’s most remote corners much less surfboards and the fishermen ooh’d and ahh’d at their potential.
The trip changed my life and now I am a professional surf journalist and now I have many surfboards but walking into a warehouse with blanks stacked up to the sky and getting to pull and new board off a rack has never lost its charm. I am foolish, an old man in love, a dreamer who dreams of nothing but holding surfboards whenever I can. I am a sinner with many faults and a man who believes in magic, but I am too old to change and too old to care.