Monday, October 24, 2011

A Girl, a Gorilla, and a Gift

My introduction to surfing was through the unlikely combination of a cartoon and a girl I had a crush on in sixth grade.  The cartoon wasn’t something cool or rebellious like Rick Griffin’s work.  Rather, it was Town & Country Surf.  They had some campaign that featured a gorilla that wore sunglasses, a cap, and ripped (naturally).  On top of that, they had the simple but stark yin and yang logo.  Anyway, there was a girl in my class who wore these T&C t-shirts to school and because I liked her and stared at her all day long, I was curious about what surfing was.  Plus, I had always liked to draw and thought the images on these t-shirts were pretty fun and humorous, two qualities I sought as a shy, overweight middle schooler.  As luck would have it, my family went to Hawaii that summer and got my sister and me a surfing lesson at Nancy Emerson’s Surf School on Maui.  I don’t think I ever stood up but I was hooked for sure. 

Once back home, I started buying Surfing magazine and would soak up every word in every article, photo caption and ad.  The magazines were filled with photos of Tom Curren, Joey Buran, David Eggers as well as Tom Carroll, Mark Occhilupo and Martin Potter, who rode T&C surfboards with his distinctive color patterns and “the Saint” logo.  He and Curren were far and away my favorite surfers.  I even wrote an essay about them in seventh grade and used so many metaphors that I suspect the passing  grade I got was more out of sympathy for my passion and effort than writing ability.  Anyway, I went back with a friend and his family the following summer and while there wandered into a surfshop in Waikiki.  There was only one T&C board in the used board racks and I was blinded by love.  I had no business owning it: it was a retired team rider’s board, short, light and with a really thin, sanded finish.  No matter, I had to have it.  I called home and begged my parents to buy it for me.  No way.  Surfing would have to be confined once again to magazines, posters and drawings.  At 15, I went back to Hawaii, this time with my dad, and he thankfully, THANKFULLY relented.  I still desperately wanted a T&C board and, in another surfshop in Waikiki, I found one.  This was the mid-80s when day glo ruled the world, whether it was Zinka, Astro deck, wetsuits, leashes or surfboards.  The T&C board I found and brought home was no exception: pink and yellow with baby blue side fins.  No matter.  It was a T&C board, the epitome of Hawaii and surfing and it was mine.  I had officially arrived!

The board is a 6’5” rounded pin thruster.  It’s 11¾” wide at the nose, 19½” at the center and 14½” at the tail.  This is a classic 80s shortboard: 2¾ ” thick, tucked under edge rails, combining the release of a hard rail and the holding power of a soft rail, rounded pin with kicked up nose rocker and a V-bottom tail.  It has a fin box for the center fin and it wasn’t until years later that I noticed the center fIn is noticeably smaller than the side fins.  I haven’t experimented with another center fin but should.  In addition to the l x w x h data, the board contains the following “GG 85 2604 TR” which I presume means it was shaped by Greg Griffin in 1985.  I’m guessing it was the 2604th board he shaped in ‘85 but I have no idea what the TR refers to (if you know, please let me know!).  Greg, who now shapes under his own brand Griffin Surfboards Hawaii, has been called the “guru of multiple fin designs.”  Greg started shaping in 1968 and learned his craft from Santa Cruz legend Doug Haut.  He moved to Hawaii and began shaping for Town & Country Surfboards during the 1980s.  He’s shaped for World Champions Sunny Garcia, Dino Miranda, Rusty Keaulana, and, wouldn’t you know it, Martin Potter among many others.  You can learn more here. 
This board was my only board for six years. I’ve surfed it in Nor Cal, So Cal and even brought it back to Hawaii years later once I learned to surf.  As my first board I asked a lot of it and rode it pretty hard.  I buckled the nose while impaling myself in some hollow beach break surf at El Porto (north end of Manhattan Beach).  A year or two earlier, while surfing it at a Nor Cal jetty, I wiped out and, while going through the rinse cycle, the leash stretched and stretched until the board snapped back – right at the instant I resurfaced.  The tail of the board hit me right in the mouth, cutting a hole in my lip, breaking one tooth in half, and knocking another completely out, root and all.  Once I started to expand my quiver, I stopped riding it until on a whim I took it out this last Spring, roughly 20 years later.  It brought back so many memories of those first few years of learning how to surf and finally starting to feel like a surfer.  While I never thought once of getting rid of it, I’m grateful I’ve held onto it for all these years.  A special board indeed.  And I owe it to my Dad, Heather Tawes and a cartoon gorilla.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.