Sunday, December 23, 2012

Twas the Night Before a Hawaiian Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the hale
Not a creature was stirring, not even Ray Kane.
The stockings were hung inside our beach shack with care,
In hopes that Uncle Nick soon would be there.

The keikis were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of kalua pig danced in their heads.
And mommi in her mumu, and I in my trunks,
Had just settled in to sleep in our bunk.

When out on the beach there arose such a clattah,
I sprang from my bed and said, “eh who dat, bruddah?”
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
I tore open the shutters and almost knocked over my stash.

As the moon brightened the black volcanic sand
I knew right away there was magic at hand
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
Shoots! It was a big red sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer!

With a little old driver, all nimble and quick,
I knew right away, “eh, dat’s Uncle Nick!
All wikiwiki his reindeers they came,
Santa hooted all loud and called ‘em by name!

"Now Buff! now, Rabbit! now, Jose and Kimo!
On, Gerry! On, Buttons! on, Clyde and Reno!
To da top of da hut! to da top of da wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

Like palm leaves in the trade winds, eh watch ‘em fly,
They swirl round and round in the clear North Shore sky.
So up to the roof the reindeer they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys, and Santa Claus too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The shuffling of each big wave chargers hooves.
As I pulled in my head, and spun right around,
Down the chimney Uncle Nick came with a bound.

He was sporting black slippahs and a colorful aloha shirt,
But his clothes were covered with sand and red dirt.
A sack of goodies was slung on his back,
And he looked kinda like a beach bum, living out of his pack.

Oh but his eyes, man did they twinkle! And his dimples they were so merry!
His cheeks were like roses and his nose as red as Rudy’s!
His smile was brighter than a rainbow,
And his beard as white as haleakala snow.

He loved cherry shave ice, you could tell by his teeth,
For when he smiled at me, his gums were as red as a beet
He had a broad face and a serious beer belly,
That shook when he laughed, like, well, a belly full of beer!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old dude,
And I laughed when I saw him, and offered him some food.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon told me he was looking for a beer instead.

I handed him a Primo and he went straight to his work,
He filled all the stockings, then shot me a smirk.
He threw me a shaka and pointed to the tree
As he rose up the chimney I saw what he’d left for me

He sprang to his sleigh while I gave my new board a hug
And his reindeer took off with just a simple tug.
But I heard him shout, as he flew outta sight,
"Mele Kalikimaka to all, and to all, a-lo-HA!"

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and may all your waves be head high and glassy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

North Shore Chronicled

How fitting that I would find a copy of Bruce Jenkins’ North Shore Chronicles in a used book store the day before the start of the Vans Triple Crown. Bruce is a local sports writer here in the Bay Area and while he usually writes about more mainstream sports, I have always enjoyed reading his columns on surfing. I had heard about this book for years and knew he was a big fan of surfing so buying the book was a no-brainer.
A word about surfing books. It’s difficult to capture the thrill, danger, and essence of surfing with the printed word. It makes sense though if you think about it. After all, if Hollywood can’t do it with lots of cameras and big budgets (see my recent blog on Chasing Mavericks), how can we expect writers to do it? This task is even harder when writing about big waves simply because it’s hard to visualize a 40 foot wave and how it seems small when compared to a 60 foot wave. It’s even harder when waves are measured Hawaiian style (Hawaiian wave height references the swell height or back of the wave, as opposed to the face of a wave, so a 30 foot wave by Hawaiian standards is closer to 50-60 feet on the face).

That said, the strength in surfing books is usually in the portrayal of the characters riding the waves more than the waves themselves. Not surprisingly, there are lots of characters on the North Shore and Jenkins does a great job introducing them to readers and highlighting their achievements. In fact, each of the book’s chapters focuses on a highly regarded surfer. At the time North Shore Chronicles was published (in 1990) Jenkins had been making an annual trek to the North Shore for almost 15 years. In that time, he had been able to identify, study and really get to know a number of big wave chargers during the 70s and 80s. Not surprisingly, there are some familiar names in the book like Ken Bradshaw, Darrick Doerner, Mark Cunningham, and Mike Stewart but also some other surfers I had never heard of like Trevor Sifton and Tom Nellis. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about all of these surfers.

I found it a little spooky reading about Mark Foo. How was Jenkins to know that just four years after his book was published, Foo would drown on a relatively benign wave at Maverick’s? Foo’s personality was as big as the waves he rode and it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, especially in a surfing community that prefers to let surfing do the talking. But I get it. It takes a special breed to want to ride big waves and, more importantly, ride them well.

When you paddle out there, you look at guys’ faces, into their eyes, and you can tell who really loves it. It’s just a select few that have that look, and the discipline to stay put when it really gets heavy. I mean, the horizon just blacks out. You’ll see the outer reefs go off outside Logs or Alligators, and it just goes black. It’s coming. And you know exactly where. Guys are running and hiding, scrambling all around. If you really want it, you just stay right on that boil.

But things aren’t always what they seem. Despite Foo’s bravado, he wasn’t a daredevil, which creates an interesting paradox or intriguing psychological look into an action sports star.

For me, the more adverse the situation, the more peaceful I am. That’s when I become truly centered. It’s really funny. Basically I’m kind of high-strung and nervous. I’m scared of speed, I’m scared of heights, I don’t gamble. I’m not really into athletics. Surfing big waves is the combination of all these things that are against my nature. That’s why I feel there’s a bigger purpose to it.

Another development since Jenkins’ book was published was the rise of women’s surfing. In the late 80s, Jenkins had observed that the women’s movement had stalled, the professional circuit had been left for dead since 1983, there were no women charging big Hawaiian surf and bodyboarding was likely to be the saving grace for ocean-loving women in Hawaii. Thankfully, women’s surfing is stronger today than ever before. Longboarding reemerged with Daize Shayne Goodwin and Kassia Meador. High performance and professional surfing is loaded with talent, including Coco Ho, Stephanie Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons, and many, many more. And big wave surfing, Jenkins’ biggest concern, is proudly represented by Keala Kennelly, Maya Gabeira, and Sarah Gerhardt charging hell waves like Jaws, Teahupoo, and Mavericks. In a nutshell, women’s surfing today is healthy and here to stay.

Other highlights of the book are the chapters on Ken Bradshaw and Darrick Doerner. Laird Hamilton has gotten the lion’s share of press and limelight when it comes to Hawaiian big wave surfing but it’s important to see that there are other legends out there who are just as deserving of recognition and admiration. In addition, Jenkins’ review of Eddie Aikau and the contest at Waimea Bay that bears his name makes for great reading. The 1990 event is featured as, according to chief judge Jack Shipley, featured some of the cleanest conditions in the event’s history. The competitors also noted how unique this contest was.

Mark Foo described the day [January 21, 1990] as “all time epic.” Richard Schmidt put it in his “top three” over the last 10 years. Darric Doerner said it reminded him of a day when he surfed 15-18-foot Laniakea with Wayne Lynch in howling offshores, “tubes so big you could build a house in both directions,” and a level of excitement so great, he was hoarse from yelling. Personally, I felt a sense of privilege to be on the beach.

The 29-year-old [Richard] Schmidt had been smoking-hot all winter, winning the Hawaiian pro contest at 15-foot Sunset and finishing third in the Triple Crown’s Hard Rock event. “When I saw that set feathering on the horizon, I started talking myself into doing it,” he said. “Usually I’m 100 percent positive, but this wave was at least 25 feet, and at that size, your survival instinct tells you to paddle over it. Maybe you don’t want this. But with the contest on, and the crowd and all that, I figured I’d just go for it.

As soon as Schmidt got to his feet, the wave sucked out underneath him and he was pitched into the air. He dropped a good 10 feet through open space. “On a glassy day, my board would have just dropped away,” he said. “But the wind kept it right underneath me. I felt like I was just floating – and then I landed.”

In a spectacular display of balance and positive thinking, Schmidt was still in the wave. He got to the bottom, turned and rode it out. “I was so ecstatic,” he said. “That was probably the heaviest wave of my life. It was the epitome of big-wave riding – putting yourself at the most critical point, on the biggest wave, and coming out unscathed. I was just shaking with adrenalin.”

Again, surfing books struggle to capture the essence of surfing, particularly big wave surfing. Jenkins’ book does not have this problem. I recommend it highly.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Monday, November 19, 2012


With all the terrible things going on in the world, we should be thankful every freaking day for the things we have. We are incredibly fortunate when you compare our lives to the lives of others around the world. Yet we manage to find lots of reasons as to why our lives are so unfair. It's not until we get lucky, really lucky (think negative pregnancy tests) or until we hit the third week of November - the week in which we celebrate Thanksgiving - do we stop and reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for. Four seconds later, we're stuffing our faces and watching a crappy football game on TV.

So in the spirit of once-a-year gratitude, here is my second annual top 10 list of things I, as a surfer, am grateful for:

10. Live streaming of ASP events from around the world so I can watch incredible surfing and listen to cracker jack commentary from the comfort of my cube.

9. The Surfer's Journal and Surfer Magazine for their thoughtful essays and articles that reinforce that surfing is so much more than just smacking the lip and saying "sick" in every sentence.

8. craigslist and eBay for providing the opportunity to find a gem every once in awhile to add to my quiver. As the old saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure.

7. Jack O'Neill for inventing the wetsuit, an innovation that allows me to surf in NorCal year round. Without it, I'd be playing golf or video games in my free time.

6. The Surfing Heritage Foundation for their efforts to preserve surfing's rich heritage and their attitude that surfing is as important as any other aspect of our nation's cultural history.

5. Scott Bass for consistently putting on a tremendous annual event that celebrates the beauty of the surfboard and the skills and passion its craftsmen apply to shaping the boards that not only delight and inspire us but also provide an escape from reality and a connection with nature.

4. The vanilla flavored scented trees I can hang on my car's rear view mirror. They smell like surf wax even when I can't go surfing but don't melt all over my seat, dash, or floor boards.

3. Randy Rarick for putting on a great Tripe Crown every year, for being a true ambassador to the sport and for his beautiful surfboard restoration work. There isn't one guy in surfing I'd rather spend more time with than Randy.

2. The variety of shapes and fin set ups that will never make surfing stagnant. While no two waves are alike, surfing the same board wave after wave would get old.

1. The variety of breaks I and most surfers have access to that again ensure that surfing will never get boring. Points, beachies, rivermouths, swell direction, tides, and winds make every experience different and also very special.

Lets not forget how lucky we are. Not after Thanksgiving, not after Christmas or New Years. Not ever.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy. If they aren't, be thankful you got to go surfing anyway.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chasing Jay

Surfing movies aren't very good. They just aren't. There are a few exceptions: The Endless Summer, Riding Giants, Surfing Hollow Days, and maybe even Step Into Liquid. But these are documentaries. Fictional surfing movies it would seem are almost required by law to be bad. They're hopelessly cliche and tend to do more harm than good to surfing's image. While "only a surfer knows the feeling" is also cliche, when it comes to translating the magic and mystique of surfing onto the big screen, the mantra definitely applies.

 I saw tonight the premiere of Chasing Mavericks, the story of Jay Moriarity. This was a highly anticipated movie given a big Hollywood budget, Gerard Butler in a starring role, and the latest camera technology to capture huge surf at Maverick's, a break known around the world by surfers and non-surfers alike. That said, there was, at least on my part, some apprehension with how good (read: true to surfing) it was going to be. Mind you, my expectations were low as, once again, surfing movies aren't very good. In fact, they're down right terrible. Blue Crush, Ride the Wild Surf, and the grand daddy of them all, Point Break. Point Break is so bad that I think the primary objective of any fictional movie about surfing should be that it MUST be better than Point Break. Big Wednesday, North Shore, and, yes, Chasing Mavericks are better than Point Break. 

Don't get me wrong, Chasing Mavericks was over the top and pretty predictable. I'm not just saying that because the Jay Moriarty story is pretty well known in the surfing community, even more so up here in Nor Cal. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the movie was actually less about Jay and more about Frosty Hesson, his mentor and father figure. Both Frosty and Jay have their fair share of inner demons but their mutual respect and admiration for one another and surfing the big waves at Maverick's make them better (and more interesting) people. In all, the story line and acting were fine but the writing, while cheesy at times, was tolerable. On the other hand, the cinematography and surfing footage were exceptional. This was a particular treat given all the years I've spent surfing and hanging out in Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. It was great seeing Boat Docks, Montara, Scott's Creek, the Hook, the Lane and several other local spots on the big screen. And the aerial shots of Frosty's van cruising up and down Cabrillo Highway along the San Mateo County coast made me so grateful  that I get to live in such a beautiful area.

Would Jay have approved of the movie? My guess is yes. I think he would have liked seeing a lot of his friends, some big names in the Maverick's community, contribute to the making of the movie. Peter Mel, Greg Long, and Grant Washburn were just a few that I recognized. That said, I was surprised to see no sign of or even a reference to Jeff Clark (beyond a couple cameo shots of his blue 4x4). Jeff of course is the man who surfed Maverick's by himself for 15 years, introduced it to the surfing and action sports world, and is basically synonymous with the break. Without Jeff Clark there would be no Jay Moriarity story.

In all, Chasing Mavericks is a good movie about a very special surfer, his dedication to ride the giant waves at Maverick's and his relationship with a complex but compassionate man. If Jay hadn't died so prematurely this movie would likely have never been made. But the impact he had on the surfing community in the short time he was alive made the movie inevitable. I'm glad it was made and the producers, directors, actors, and everyone else involved with the film did an admirable job. 

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Boards Aplenty in Del Mar

Hard to believe a week has already passed since the International Surfboard Show in Del Mar last weekend.  It was a great event, following up last year's Sacred Craft edition. There is so much to see at these events and, although I had two days to take it all in this year, I sit back now and think of so many things I wished I had done while I was there. Next year.

What I did see were lots and lots of beautiful surfboards. Some being shaped, some for wall hanging, and some (lots, in fact) for surfing. The show is all expo but features work primarily from artists and shapers (these craftsmen of course create their own form of art). Regardless of whether form or function is your thing, there was eye candy everywhere you looked. 

You heard it here first: Paipo boards
will be the next hand planes

I want to be in that surfboard

This one too.

Leopard skinned Asym -- sweet!

Best of Show by Meyerhoffer

Pat Rawson and Mark Richards in the shaping booth
For shapers and fans of surfboard design, this year's shaper honoree was Mark Richards, the 4x world champion from New South Wales, Australia. Richards is unique in that he is only one of two world champions to have shaped his own equipment. This feat and his world championship run of 1979-1982 were both unprecedented. As a result, six shapers ranging from Taz Yassine, a 16 year old from the Canary Islands to world famous Pat Rawson from Hawaii came out to pay their respects by shaping an MR classic from the famous Free Ride era: a winged, swallow tail twin fin. Watching a shaper transform a raw blank into a finely crafted surfboard with a variety of hand tools, power tools, and abrasives is a sight to be seen. They only have 90 minutes which, given how highly engineered these boards are, isn't a lot of time. Nevertheless, their work is a lesson in craftsmanship. 

A special treat was the surfboards on display from the Longboard Collector's Club. As you can imagine, these guys are passionate about surfboards and preserving their unique history. I had a great time talking with some of them and learning about their approach to restoration, which will help me with the surfboards I'm restoring.

Check out that curved stringer.
Looks like Bing was channeling
Frank Lloyd Wright on this gem.
A Da Cat and a signed Velzy Jacobs - both cherry.

I also enjoyed bringing my own surfboard this year and logged some serious water time, including a session at a little known spot the locals call "San-O" or San Onofre. I don't understand why it isn't better known, particularly as it's next to the biggest set of boobs in the the world. 

Mahalo Uncle Greg for the State Park pass!

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dewey Redux

On my way down to The International Surfboard Show in Del Mar, I stopped off in San Clemente at the Surfing Heritage Foundation, the closest thing we surfers have to the Smithsonian Institute. I had wanted to visit for quite sometime, however, with the recent opening of their Dewey Weber exhibit, the timing was perfect and I couldn't pass it up. I met some nice folks there, particularly Linda Michael and Bolton Colburn, and definitely got a sense for their passion in what they do, which is basically to preserve and celebrate surfing's rich heritage. This made it even easier for me to donate some Dewey artifacts I had held onto for several years, namely a program from his memorial paddle out and the original L.A. Times obituary.

I'm by no means an expert on Dewey and I look forward to reading Gerald Derloshon's biography "Little Man on Wheels" so I went into the exhibit expecting to learn something new. I wasn't disappointed. I knew Dewey was revered in the surfboard industry, both by amateur surfers (a.k.a. the consumers that made the Weber Performer the most successful selling longboard of all time) and manufacturers, but there's a lot more to his story.

Nat Young's Weber (that's him carving on this
very  board in the picture to the left)
A Performer, Team jacket, and Hermosa
nose ride - all Vintage Dewey

I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of an impact he had on his team riders. Dewey worked with some of the best: Nat Young, Mike Tabeling, Gary Propper, David Nuuhiwa and Randy Rarick to name just a few. It was clear he was both a coach, a sounding board and a mentor. The latter is all the more impressive when you consider the individual accomplishments of his riders but reflects just how influential he was. 

Can't wait to see this in larger than life size!
I was also happy to learn that he was a strong family man which couldn't have been easy given the daunting constraints of being a coach, business owner, and surfing ambassador. But as much of a mentor he was to his riders, he must have been equally so to his kids. His sons Shea and Corey in fact have kept the Dewey Weber legacy and business alive. Even the city of Hermosa Beach has taken notice and will capture in bronze a famous Leroy Grannis photo of Dewey. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Dewey's demise was tragic and premature. It's a shame he isn't still around to enjoy these celebrations of his contributions. Regardless, I look forward to reading the biography and I look forward to seeing the legacy of this great surfer and his accomplishments, both in the water and out, continue to attract the recognition they deserve. 

Thanks to my new friends at the Surfing Heritage Foundation and keep up the great work. Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.
Fins so famous, they made them into trophies
Decorative Weber Performers

Lineup of Webers

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Vera Wang is No Match for Bob Pearson

There was a period of time years ago when all I wanted to do was longboard. I was really digging what Joel Tudor was doing and couldn’t get enough of Bruce Brown’s movies. Longboard surfing, to me, seemed so much more stylish and elegant. This was at the time when short boarding became less about carving big, hard turns and more about smacking the lip and launching airs. I don’t doubt for a second that that stuff is hard but, for me, it gets old. Call me old fashioned but I’d rather look at a wave as a canvas and not a launch ramp. As a result, I thought cross stepping, cheater fives and drop knee turns were WAY more interesting and fun. Longboard surfing seemed to connect more closely with the essence of surfing: hanging out and cruising; no hurry, no worry.

When I returned to Northern California I brought this chill mentality with me but was missing a proper longboard. I had loaned my only longboard to a friend who was going through a rough patch in life and needed the board more than I did. But within a very short period of time I realized if I wasn’t longboarding, I wasn’t surfing at all. And that’s not a good thing. One day, after months of frustration, I had had enough. I bit the bullet. I walked into the Arrow Surf Shop on the West Side of Santa Cruz and left with a beautiful, brand new longboard. To this day it remains the only new surfboard I have ever purchased. This was a pretty big deal at the time. I was engaged to be married, was on a fixed income, and a longboard was not in the budget. But as the saying goes, you can’t put a price tag on happiness. Or sanity for that matter. So I plopped down almost a grand for a board, skeg, leash, and bag. I didn’t see this as frivolous spending but rather as an investment in my happiness and, again, sanity. And I was prepared to make the same argument with my fiancée.

As luck would have it, I came home and was greeted by my fiancée who had informed that she had just made a similar, big ticket purchase: her wedding dress (no, it wasn't a Vera Wang but I don't know any other wedding dress designers and neither do you). She knew how important surfing was too me and had seen the impact of the withdrawals I’d been experiencing so she was cool with it.

Machine shaped and finished off by Bob Pearson of Arrow Surfboards, the board is a 9’6” triple stringer with an accompanying t-band on a square tail. It combines modern lines with a classic style. While not a noserider in the traditional sense (wide, concave nose) here’s enough rocker in the nose so that it can nose ride and it doesn’t pearl on steeper waves. The foil is definitely more modern – in addition to the kick in the nose and the tail, there’s plenty of volume in the center, allowing for good float and knee paddling. In keeping with the classic tradition, it’s got full 50/50 rails, allowing the water to wrap around the curve of the rail and hold the board in the wave for enhanced trimming and noseriding.

Twelve years later, my wife’s wedding dress sits in a box in our basement. On the other hand, my longboard has seen considerably more use. I stopped riding shortboards for over ten years in favor of this versatile board. I’ve ridden it countless times on waves of all sizes and quality up and down the coast. While it’s showing its age it’s still a special board. It got shelved over a year ago when I got another longboard (read about it here) until I needed it in a pinch. I took it out on a small, knee- to waist-high day and fell in love with it all over again. I caught tons of waves and was reminded of how responsive it is. I’ve had similar experiences with it since. So while fall is in the air and I’m looking forward to surfing shorter boards on bigger waves, I have the constant reminder of how much fun longboarding is, particularly when you have an amazing board.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Givin' Dewey His Due

This weekend the Surfing Heritage Museum begins an exhibition celebrating the life of Dewey Weber, a surfing legend, to coincide with release of Little Man on Wheels, a biography of Weber penned by Gerald B. Derloshon.

A South Bay institution, Dewey was a force to be reckoned with in the water and the surfboard industry. His low center of gravity (Dewey was only 5’3”) and wrestling physique served him well at a time when surfboards were transitioning from redwood to balsa to fiberglass. His skills and these boards ushered in a new era of surfing, namely hotdogging, and Dewey was on the front line of that movement. He parlayed his hotdogging skills in this budding environment to create the Weber Performer, the most successful selling longboard of all time.

I had gone to college in Malibu where Miki Dora, Johnny Fain, and Lance Carson had surfed with style and mad skills. In the South Bay, from Palos Verdes to El Segundo, Dewey set the tone. I soaked this all up while living in Manhattan Beach after college in the early 90s. Studying Bruce Brown films and learning how to ride a longboard in El Porto between Manhattan Beach and El Segundo, I was a student of longboard surfing and again, Dewey Weber was the style master.

I’d driven by his shop countless times but had never gone in, assuming he had retired or died long ago. One day, on a whim, I decided to check it out, if just to see some more pictures of Dewey surfing in the area. There was a young, friendly guy wandering around the shop who was very engaging and, while I couldn’t tell if he was an employee or just a big Dewey fan, it was clear he revered Dewey much more than I did. We got to talking and he informed me that not only was Dewey alive but he was in the shop. He motioned to the back of the store and I followed the wave of his hand, expecting to see an older version of the stud I’d seen so many pictures of, ripping up local waves. In fact, I was horrified by what I saw. Dewey looked like shit, like he’d been homeless half his life. I was actually afraid to approach him and introduce myself. Clearly, years of alcohol abuse had taken its toll.

Program for Dewey Weber Memorial
Not long after that, Dewey passed away. While not surprised, I was nevertheless sad to hear the news. In his honor, there was a big paddle out at Avenue C in Redondo Beach and I wanted to be a part of it. It was a classic surfer’s memorial: friends and family talking story, exchanging tears and hugs, followed by a paddle out, the spreading of ashes, and polished off with a free surf. 

I remember one story in particular (I don’t remember all of the specific details but surfers tend to exaggerate anyway so who cares). A friend of Dewey’s or perhaps a former team rider was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Not wanting to let go of the identity he left behind, he put a Surfboards by Dewey Weber sticker on the fridge at the NCO canteen. He endeared himself to other members of his unit throughout his tour by recounting his adventures of surfing with/for Dewey. Of course, when his tour ended, he went home and lost touch with many of the guys he served with. When one of those guys read of Dewey’s passing, he recalled the name but had forgotten it was because of a sticker on a beer fridge door. Nevertheless, he declared, “Dewey Weber died? Shit, I served with that guy in Vietnam!”

I was really surprised by the number of people who turned out for Dewey’s memorial and I’ll never forget seeing Greg Noll talking with Mickey Munoz after the free surf. I was grateful these two legends, among many others I’m sure, came to pay their respects.

My favorite Dewey Weber story speaks to the essence of the surfing lifestyle we all enjoy and admire but also quite eerily to Dewey’s ultimate demise. In Dewey’s own words: "The first day I surfed Malibu I was 11 years old. Billy Meng loaded me up in his '34 Ford pickup and took me.  We surfed, and then he got me a poor boy sandwich and said, 'You call this a poor boy.'  And he handed me a bottle of Coors and said, 'That's a surfer's beer, and you may have half that beer.'  And, Christ, that really lit my life on fire." 

2011 Weber Performer
The Weber name is alive and well in surfing today, carried on by Dewey’s son Shea who now runs the business. The Weber Perfomer, hatchet fin, team jackets and trunks -- all the things that made Dewey famous -- are all still there. The team in fact shaped a commemorative Performer for last year’s Sacred Craft exhibition that was auctioned off for charity (my review of the event can be found here). With the strength of the name, the board, and now the biography, I think it’s safe to say that the legend of Dewey Weber will continue to flourish for many many years to come.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Surfing, Lake Style

It’s been weeks since I’ve been in the water. Well, that’s not entirely true. I bathe (most) days so I have technically been in water, just not salt water, i.e. the ocean. Last week however I spent the week in Lake Tahoe and not only spent a lot of time in the water but was introduced to an activity that resembled surfing.

My first introduction to wake surfing was years ago, watching Phil Edwards do it casually and elegantly in one of Bruce Brown’s movies. I hadn’t really seen it since but as you can imagine, wake surfing (just like surfing) has progressed considerably since the 60’s. It’s no longer done on a longboard using a long tow rope, moving in and out of the wake like traditional water skiing. Today, ski boats (I assume) have adjustable ballast tanks so that one side of a boat will sag on one side and therefore generate a stronger wake or wave on that side. For example, if you surf front side, the boat’s aft (rear) can be adjusted using ballast tanks to sit farther down on the port (left) side, creating a bigger “wave” that you can surf. Don’t worry, the video will help demonstrate what I’m trying to describe.

Liquid Force Custom
Anyway, while the wave is modified, so is the board. I rode a 4’10” polyurethane surfboard specifically designed for wake surfing. It was shaped by Jimmy Redmon of Liquid Force. It was 20.5” wide and couldn’t have been thicker than 1”. It looked essentially like a thick, fiberglassed skimboard with traction pads. Other features: very low rocker; sharp rails; single, concave hull finished off with a bolt on carbon graphite single fin which resembled more of a semi-circle than traditional raked fin.

Getting pulled out of the water was interesting as you’re much closer to the boat than on a traditional water ski tow rope and the board is horizontal to the boat rather than in-line (again, think water skiing). So when you’re up, you essentially swing the nose around so you’re in-line with the boat. It takes less force to pull you out of the water because I assume you have more surface area to stand on.

Once you’re out of the wake and in the pocket, it’s a series of carves and cutbacks. In other words, woo hoo! I got winded pretty easily given the higher altitude and the fact that I normally don’t surf on a single wave for 5-10 minutes. This video gives you an idea of what wake surfing is like:

I had a lot of fun wake surfing and while it was close to surfing and I’d enjoy doing it again, it will never replace the feeling of surfing on a wave generated by Mother Nature.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fun Club

Me and the fam clan spent a nice afternoon today in Pacifica courtesy of the Pedro Point Surf Club for their annual BBQ/picnic.  Established in 1987, the PPSC is a good group of guys and gals that, at first impression, love surfing, love their families, and love having  a good time.  Thus, my kind of people. It got me thinking about surf clubs in general and what they have to offer.  Here’s my top 10 list of reasons to join a surf club:

10. Join a tradition that dates back to the mid-1930s with the Palos Verde Surf Club

9. Surf trips, aka surfing surfaris

8. A sense of camaraderie to feed our inherent need to belong

7. Learn about different boards and designs and even try before you buy

6. Network to find a new job or business opportunity

5. Get live surf reports from a trusted source

4. Improve your surfing

3. Raise awareness for an important cause like beach cleanups, clean water, at risk kids, etc.

2. Have another excuse to go surfing

1. Club meetings (always, coincidentally, at a place that serves beer)

If surf clubs are anything like THIS, count me in.

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Orange Sunshine, Rainbow Bridge

The link between surfing and spiritual enlightenment is cliché and cause for ridicule.  Nevermind that it’s true; there are only a few pursuits that allow you to harness the power of nature or experience its wrath.  Either way surfing can induce awe in nature and its link to a higher power.  It’s no surprise therefore that during the cultural revolution of the late 1960s many people were drawn to surfing as it represented a pure and beautiful form of expression that allowed a closer connection to God and enlightenment. 

Too deep?  Yeah, probably.  But you can see how hippies would totally eat this stuff up, can’t you?  To mix things up a bit, imagine a twist to all this peace and love and expression.  How about some organized crime?  How about some international drug trafficking, money laundering, narcotics manufacturing and distribution, identity theft and fraud?  And what if surfers made up many of the central figures of this twisted tale?  Throw in some Hendrix and Hawaii and now you’ve really got something.

As implausible as this may seem, it really happened.  I just finished a fascinating book by Nicholas Schou titled Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World.  Nicknamed the “hippie mafia” by Rolling Stone magazine, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love started out as a bunch of surfers, hoodlums and petty crooks who experimented with LSD in the canyons and beaches in and around Laguna Beach.  They fell in love with the spiritual effects of the drug and sought to turn as many people onto it as they possibly could.  Turning people on cost money though and so in order to fund their mission, the Brotherhood leveraged and expanded their pot smuggling skills to build an international network.  As many members of the Brotherhood were already successful pot smugglers, the challenge of smuggling hash from Afghanistan became an exciting pursuit that challenged their creativity. 

A few weeks later, [Brotherhood member Dave] Hall borrowed a surfboard from Mike Hynson that had been hollowed out so Hynson could carry pot with him when he flew to Hawaii or Mexico in search of the perfect wave.  Hall took the board to the airport, flew to Portugal, and then from there to New Delhi.  After a few days in India, he flew home with a board full of hash.  A curious customs inspector at the airport started to give Hall a hard time about his surfboard, not knowing what it was, but Hall had brought along a copy of Surfer magazine for just the occasion.  He helpfully pointed at the photographs to explain his bizarre baggage.  Hynson now says he regrets telling smugglers like Hall how easy it was to hid hash inside a surfboard.  ‘People started doing that too much—using the same boards over and over,’ he says.  ‘It was just stupid.’  In any case, Hall returned to California safe and sound and eager to share his wares.  ‘I sold ten pounds in one day,’ Hall says.  ‘I made ten thousand dollars in one hour.  Nobody could get enough of that stuff.  Everyone loved it.  And soon guys were coming and going like gangbusters.  It was literally the Wild West hashish trail.

David Nuuhiwa, John Gale, and a whole lot of hookah and cosmic art; Laguna Canyon, 1971

While drug dealing and drug smuggling would soon become a multi-billion dollar business defined by greed, bling, gang violence and turf wars, it’s virtually inconceivable to imagine the Brotherhood were genuinely in it to build and support a way of life that celebrated spiritual enlightenment and communal living.  The Brotherhood subscribed to friend Timothy Leary’s call to action: tune in, turn on, and drop out and their very own topical island seemed like the ideal place to start a commune.  While purchasing an island never materialized, many did lay down roots on Maui.  And staying true to their cause, they introduced acid and hash to the island residents and Maui Wowie to the mainland. 

Honolua Bay, the Crown Jewel

But they also surfed.  Honolua Bay in particular.  This was a special wave and surfing it well when it was really on became a rite of passage for many in the Brotherhood.  This idyllic setting of surfing, nature, narcotics and transcendental meditation attracted members of the Brotherhood but also others outside their growing circle who were curious, adventurous or hip.  This included a movie director named Chuck Wein and a talent manager named Michael Jeffery, who had managed to hitch his cart to another 60s icon: Jimi Hendrix.  Their collaboration with the Brotherhood led to the 1972 film “Rainbow Bridge” which was less a Hendrix concert film and more a “psychedelic mishmash of New Age philosophy, surfing, vegetarianism, astrology, and belief in extraterrestrials.”

Rainbow Bridge Promo Poster, 1972

While Hendrix’s music had clearly turned on the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood were eager to return the favor and turn Hendrix on to their art form, namely surfing.   Hendrix was eager and willing however Jeffery talked him out of it, fearing for the international rock star’s safety (in hindsight, a very wise move).

Inevitably, the mouse can only outsmart the cat for so long and the heat from the police and their efforts to shut down the Brotherhood’s international drug smuggling ring became too much.  Cooperation among different law enforcement agencies, better intelligence (aided by a disenchanted member who turned state’s evidence and became an informant) and a series of successful sting operations brought an end to the operation and ultimately broke up the Brotherhood.  Many were arrested, went independent and began dealing cocaine or heroin, or walked away and went surfing.  Ironically, it was surfing that led to the Brotherhood’s eventual downfall:

While busting dealers, [Laguna Beach Police Officer] Romaine often had found in their wallets business cards for Rainbow Surfboards, a company formed in 1969 by Johnny Gale [a particularly notorious member of the Brotherhood], who in 1970 coached the U.S. national surfing team, and Mike Hynson, who shaped the boards, which featured psychedelic airbrush patterns designed by Bill Ogden and Ted Shields, one of which was shown being cracked open by Hynson in Rainbow Bridge.  When the film opened in Laguna Beach in 1972, Hynson gave Gale all the tickets as a birthday present.  Half of the audience was rumored to be narcs.  ‘The room smoked up so much you couldn’t see the stage,’ Hynson says.  ‘We had all these Rainbow Surfboards up on the stage, and when the movie showed the board being opened up, it got the police crazy.  They were constantly on our ass.  Anybody who had a Rainbow Surfboard in their car got pulled over.’  Indeed, by that time, customs inspectors at the airport in Honolulu had seized several of Gale’s hash-filled boards.  ‘It started to become a real pattern,’ Romaine recalls.  ‘We started to realize that everything we were seeing had to do with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.  We just knew there was something bigger than anyone realized going on, that they were getting all this marijuana from Mexico and that the hash was coming in from Kabul.’

Orange Sunshine is a fascinating tale of an eclectic group of surfers, hoods, and hippies who in their own age of enlightenment turned countless people onto LSD (as well as hash and premium grass) for years, right under the noses of law enforcement.  Like Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, you can’t help but route for the outlaws.  It’s a real page turner of a story and I recommend the book highly. 

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Here and Now: the Best Place to Be

I had the pleasure last night of seeing Here and Now, the latest film from director Nathan Myers.  In this age of social media where ordinary people are producing content, Nathan has done something similar but still unique.  With help from producer Taylor Steele, Nathan reached out to several filmmaker friends and asked them to film their friends go surfing for one day, May 2, 2012.

More than 25 filmmakers in all were used to film surfers from sun up to sun down all over the world.  Dave Rastovich, Alex Knost, Kelly Slater, Alex Gray, Rob Machado, Ozzie Wright, Steph Gilmore, Ezekial Lau and many others were featured, some in amazing surf, others in slop.  But this was more than a surf film.  It was a collage of the day in the life of a surfer.  Where they sleep and eat, how they get to the beach, what and where they ride, who they surf with and how much fun they have with their friends.  Highlights include Ozzy Wright and the Doons of Goom “personalizing” their camping tents with graffiti, Rob Machado shaping his “board eat board” specifically for this session, and Kelly Slater, Dane Gaduskas and Alex Gray scoring beautiful surf.  In addition, many of the surfers themselves wrote and produced the music for the film.  In fact, many of them recorded their music in the same Byron Bay, Australia home in which Nathan was editing the film, while he was editing the film.  This was definitely a community affair.  The product was a slick and professional but still very personal.

A bonus was a Q&A session with Nathan Myers and one of the subjects of the film: Pete Devries.  I have to confess, Pete is not only one of the most interesting surfers in the film but is one of the most interesting surfers in surfing today.  He may not think he’s all that special but he is.  Compared to Pete, we have it easy.  When we want to surf, we get in our car, drive to a beach close by, get in, surf, and go home.  Surfing for us is just a few hours out of our day.  Not so for Pete.  For starters, Pete lives on the west coast of British Columbia where the water temp varies between really cold and really really cold; according to Pete, that’s about the mid-40s right about now.  Plus given the topography of British Columbia, Pete doesn’t have a lot of sandy beaches at arm’s reach to choose from.  There’s lots of hiking and camping involved.  In grizzly bear country.  Pete will often drive several hours just to get to a specific boat ramp or harbor, then motor for a couple more hours through intricate waterways to an otherwise inaccessible cove or bay.  The spot he surfed in the movie was just such a spot.  But he totally scored.  Beautiful stand up barrels all to himself.  But there’s no guarantee, especially when he was given just one day, May 2nd.  Regardless, it takes major commitment to do what Pete does and he’s special guy because of it.

The evening was hosted by Clif Bar at their Emeryville offices and featured an insightful presentation from Surfers for Cetaceans.  Great facility, great beer and food, and a great night.

Me and el Hombre: Peter Devries

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Importance of a Good Quiver, the purveyors of digital stoke, is asking its readers to submit photos of their quivers.  Not surprisingly, many of the submissions are eclectic to say the least.  Just like you wouldn’t bring just one CD on a road trip or play a round of golf with just a putter, having a surfboard for the many unique conditions the ocean throws at surfers just makes plain sense.  Shortboard, longboard, gun, fish, asym, alaia, mat, boogie, kite, sail, hand plane and SUP (gasp!).  Pin, square, diamond, swallow, bat, and moon tails.  Channels, wings, parabolic stringers, PU core, EPS core, chambered core, fin configurations, rocker, foil, and rail variations.  The possibilities go on and on.  It’s important (and, of course, fun) to have this variety to be prepared for what the conditions may call for or to mix it up, experiment, and keep things fresh.

My quiver is by no means extensive but I’ve got a variety of tools in the shed that almost guarantee surfing will be fun and exciting (good waves always help too).  I’ve got an old longboard with pretty flat rocker that’s great for slow, mushy waves.  Another more modern long board that’s lighter and narrower and, while it doesn’t have as much rocker as I’d expect, it’s got a pintail that makes it more responsive.  Shortboards include vintage 70s, 80s, and 90s designs which are most easily differentiated in their evolution in foil, fin configurations, width and rails.  In a nutshell, boards underwent a period of hyper-innovation: shorter, lighter, and narrower with an evolution in fin set ups to boot: twins, thrusters, quads; hyper-innovation to the core.

There’s an even more practical reason to having a good quiver and I was reminded of that yesterday when I reached for my current, go-to long board: a 9’2” John Peck Penetrator.  As I pulled it off the racks, I noticed a ding in the rail down at the tail.  I don’t know how it got there or when it got there but it was there.  Rather than reach for the duct tape, I opted to take out another board: a 9’6” Pearson Arrow.  It’s a single fin, triple stringer with a square tail and decent rocker for longer nose rides and fewer pearls.  It’s the only surfboard I’ve ever bought new and it’s held up well considering it was my every day board for almost 10 years.  I had however recently started building out my quiver and surfing, dare I say, was becoming a little stale.  But surfing the same board for all those years had become a bit stale.  So I began building out my quiver and expanding my horizons.  As a result, it had been at least a year since I last rode it.  The coat of wax was old and dirty and missing in some spots but because it would have to do.  At the beach, a mixture of SW and NW swell was producing pretty small surf with set waves peaking at no more than 4’.  As I paddled out, my expectations were limited as I figured I’d be spending most of my time re-acclimating to the board, searching for the sweet spot for paddling, front & back foot placement, pivot points for the quickest, most efficient turns.

Well, wouldn’t you know the waves were glassy, uncrowded and well shaped.  As for me, I summarily surfed my brains out on that board.  I caught more waves, had longer rides, better turns, and so much freaking fun; an unbelievable day.  Would I have had as good of a day with the board I originally intended to use?  Maybe, maybe not.  But that's not the point.  The point is having a variety of boards to choose from allows for a different experience every time.  Now the big question is: do I take make this my next favorite, go-to board or do I take out an entirely different board tomorrow?  Decisions, decisions. 

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Sounds of Silence

“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”  Whether or not Yogi Berra actually said it, this quote is attributed to him and like most of Yogi-isms, it’s a paradox that makes you think and then smile.  Lately I’ve taken the same philosophy with surf spots.  Part of the frustration stems from age, meaning an accumulation of a job, family and obligations have prevented me and many others from getting into the water as frequently as we used to.  When I do get out, it’s usually to a spot that’s typically really crowded.  As a result, I catch fewer waves and I take less chances on the waves I do catch.  I also start to hate people, surfers in particular, as I’m forced to hear all of their stupid conversations.  Everyone’s a bad ass, everyone rips, everyone scores with the ladies and everyone’s smarter than someone else.  With all this brilliance in the water, you’d think I’d be inspired to be totally cool just like them.  Um, no.  In fact, when I get out of the water, I want to throw my board in a trash can and find another way to spend my time and energy.

You see, although we’d never admit it, surfers have a pack mentality.  Most of them ride similar boards, wear similar wetsuits, listen to similar music, wear similar clothes and, unfortunately, surf the same few spots that everyone else does.  I’ve been guilty of this pack mentality for years, paddling out to a crowded spot with the logic that, “if it’s crowded, it must be good.”  We have the same attitude when we commute to work.  Even though the highway has bumper-to-bumper traffic, we travel the same route because it will eventually get us there and that’s how everyone else gets to where they’re going.  There are however alternate routes.  Finding and using them may take some trial and error and it may not be the most direct route but at least you’re driving and that beats sitting and getting frustrated every day of the week in my book.  Less traffic, different (and probably better) scenery, and some new discoveries and perspective are all to be gained.  

Should it be any different with surfing?  No it shouldn’t.  So I’ve started looking for an alternate route.  A road less traveled.  Greener pastures.  A spot less surfed.  With this new philosophy, my last two surfs have been so special because they’ve been so personal.  Last weekend I had a peak all to myself even though the water was clogged with surfers.  I paddled out to the spot farthest from the parking lot, requiring the longest walk.  The peak didn’t break as consistently and the wave face wasn’t as smooth as the other peaks but the drops were bigger and the rides were more challenging, thus more fun in my opinion.  This morning was different but no less fulfilling.  A mix of meager swells created small, unimpressive conditions.  In the past, I wouldn't have even bothered to paddle out.  I would’ve opted for a crowded spot, assuming it was the only spot working or I would’ve gone home and pissed and moaned all day about there not being any surf.  Well, with my new outlook, there’s always surf and even the small days are fun.  I surfed a spot today for example that I hadn’t surfed in years; the old me always reasoned that if there was surf there, it was probably better (and more crowded) somewhere else.  It wasn’t the best day ever but I had lots of waves to myself.  In fact I took off on waves I’d normally pass on.  I thought about fundamentals like duck diving and proper stroke technique.  I studied the waves a little more closely, like where they were breaking and how many waves were to a set.  And I took more chances.  I took off later and deeper.  I made turns in spots on the wave I’d normally draw a line and trim.  I also fell a lot more but like anything in life you won’t improve if you don’t take chances.  

I can’t do these things nearly as easily when it’s crowded.  When it’s crowded, every wave counts more because there are fewer of them.  Also, I typically surf more conservatively, not wanting to fall unnecessarily.  I’m more likely to hurt someone and I don’t need other surfers to write me off as a kook and never give me another wave.  So I’d rather have small, junky waves all to myself than larger, well-shaped waves with 30-50 people all over a single peak. From the car, this spot didn’t look like much.  Again, in the past, I would've driven right past it.  From the water, It was 3-4 feet and fun.  I noticed and enjoyed how clear the water was, how amazing the rocks looked up close, and how beautiful of a day it turned out to be.  Hallelujah. 

Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.  Or at least less crowded than somewhere else.