Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sea Creatures On Fire

Watching Joel Tudor and his nine-year-old son Tosh surf Swami’s 20th Annual Return to the Reef Club Invitational, caused me to reflect on the past. Yes, it really has been nearly a quarter of a century since I first met Joel and directed him and Wingnut in a little surf video called On Safari to Stay.
          It began as my stories always do, with me being broke and trying to figure out how to pay rent. It was then I approached my lifelong friend Steve Cleveland on the idea of doing a surf film about the longboard revival that was starting to hit its stride. The idea was that two young longboarders, played by Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, and Joel Tudor, whom I gave the nickname “Clash” to because of his purple and green surfboard and orange trunks, were off in search of the mythical ‘60s. I contacted Bruce Brown, who helped patch the movie together by giving us a few minutes of his priceless footage, Herbie Fletcher, who did the same, and ‘60s stars, Donald Takayama and Skip Frye, who agreed to play mentors to the new kids. Cleveland found the necessary cash, and we hired surf filmmaker Greg Weaver.
After borrowing a classic Volkswagen van from my friend Johnny and painting it up ‘60s style, we were off. With Joel, Steve and Wingnut in the vehicle we headed out to ride waves at San Onofre with Skip and Donald and a cast of other longboarder characters, anxious to appear in the film.
          We were racing down the freeway at a whopping 50 miles per hour when I heard Joel shout from the back seat, words I never wanted to hear. “We’re on fire!” Turning onto Las Pulas Road, we removed the boards from the vehicle just in time to watch it burn all the way down to the tires.
          Just then Donald (Takayama’s) nephew Michael showed up and offered us a ride to San-o. I hadn’t seen Michael since that day, and had nearly forgotten how he helped us. It wasn’t until reading his name on a heat sheet at the aforementioned Swami’s contest, that my memory was ignited.
          San Onofre offered fun surf that day and after surfing, Donald, as he so often did, made food for everyone on hand, including the legendary Phil Edwards.
          Before a sand lot football game quarterbacked by Bill Dice and another of Donald’s nephews, Guy Takayama left our cast sidelined; we called the game and hit the surf again.
          From San Onofre we went to Malibu, Cardiff and Cabo, where we encountered another Volkswagen on fire, and filmed Joel and Wingnut warming their hands on the flames.
          Since that film premiered in 1991 longboarding has exploded worldwide. Steve Cleveland has gone on to make numerous other surf films, Joel and Wingnut have become surf royalty. After surfing and shaping for over 60 years, Donald Takayama passed away recently, and was mourned by the entire surfing community. Skip Frye continues to surf daily and build some of the world’s most coveted surfboards. And I write about such things.
          Many surfers from my youth are still surfing, and it does my heart good to see kids celebrating classic longboarding in much the same way we all did more than half a century ago. To that we owe the vision of ageless gremmies like Joel and Wingnut. Without their passion, traditional longboarding may have never caught fire. Ride on!


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

And Still Champion Sea Creatures

Surfing is one of the most difficult sports one will ever attempt.  You can be fit and coordinated and excel in every other sport, and still never master the subtle timing required to ride a wave well. And, anyone who’s ever tried it soon realizes that switching stance on a surfboard is among the most difficult of all maneuvers. Sixties-plus year old Dale Dobson switches so effortlessly that I have never known if he was goofy foot (right foot forward) or regular foot (left foot forward.) Dobson, who grew up in and around La Jolla apparently learned to switch from legendary La Jollan and first king of the Pipeline, Butch Van Artsdalen. Proving it a great rarity to master switching stance, I can only think of one other surfer, Hawaiian born Jock Sutherland, who was ever as proficient at that move as Butch and Dale.

 I first became aware of Dobson through surf magazines where he was regularly featured in living color.  But it wasn’t until the mid 1970s, while surfing the La Jolla reefs that I started to understand what a wave genius he really was. From Pacific Beach to Windansea and beyond, Dobson dominated whatever break he happened to ride.

Unlike many surf stars at the time, Dale had easily made the mid ’60s transition from longboards to shortboards. Still, by the mid ‘80s it seemed that even his fame had finally run its course. He was approaching his 40s by then and while still brilliant in the water, the surf media was naturally focused on new blood. Then something occurred that gave Dale and other stars of his era another shot at stardom. Termed the Longboard Renaissance, ‘60s style longboards again roared back into the lineup with Dobson as one of its leaders as he reached a second peak, this time on nine-foot-plus boards that took him to the winner’s circle in every surf contest he entered.
          I can still recall the day I paddled out to Cardiff and watched him do things I had never seen on a nine-six. It was around that time, in the early ‘90s when I found myself working as the announcer for many of the local surf contests while at the helm of the longboard magazine, Longboarder. Because of my work and my love for surfing I was regularly in the lineup with Dobson, to witness his mastery firsthand. Few could touch him in those days and it would be a while until kids like Kevin Connely and Joel Tudor would eventually catch and surpass him. By then Dale Dobson had been hovering around the top of the surfing world for nearly four decades.
          It was somewhere around the 1980s when collecting old longboards became popular and restoration of them turned into a business. Requiring steady hands, great attention to detail and a vast knowledge of the era and the materials needed, Dobson showed himself the master of his craft as he patched, glossed and polished these fine and long forgotten craft until they again looked showroom new.

          A few years ago somebody gave me an old and battered Dale Dobson Surfboard. It had some unpatched dings and the fin was loose, and so it hung out in the rafters of my garage collecting dust until I gave it to Dobson. A few months later Dale appeared at my door to reveal the restored surfboard. It was beautiful. It soon occurred to me that it took a great deal of work before that surfboard could once again take its place at the head of most any lineup. Not many boards get that chance. Neither do their riders.

Next time Take the Train

Vicky Tuten was a good girl. Ambitious, curious, fun loving. A seventeen-year old surfer from Belmont Shores, she would carry her board to the jetty and paddle to Ray Bay, that stingray-infested river mouth where she met friends like U.S. Surfing Champion Jack Haley. Noting her intelligence and honesty, Haley gave the girl a job, and she was soon managing the champ’s surf shop in Seal Beach. When Haley and his team took surf trips, it was usually by car. Only once did they decide on a different mode of transportation.

Originally published in Kelea’s Gift

It was a hot summer day with a clean south swell running when Captain Jack decided to make a Trestle run. This would require enough stealth to beat the Marines at their own game. Jack, along with fellow surfers Eddie Brenner, “Wallpaper,” Ernie Morgan, “Toes,” and one of Long Beach Surf Club’s founders, Vicky Tuten made their way through the Cotton’s Estate, past the barbed wire, past the Point and Uppers, to Lower Trestles, just in time to watch solid six-foot lines turn to onshore mush as he afternoon wind began to howl.
          Moving onward required a long and risky walk through enemy territory, laying low to avoid capture. On their way out they noticed that the train engine was stopped on the tracks and empty. The engineer must have been in the bushes, pissing. Also doing what came naturally, Haley climbed aboard and fiddled with the controls. Surfers and boards were loaded, and team Haley figured out how to make the big machine move forward, destination a mere half-mile away, at San Onofre. When they saw the wind had blown out Old Man’s they continued further to Mile Zero. Why not Oceanside?
          And so the little engine began picking up steam, Haley at the helm chugging through Oceanside, Carlsbad and Del Mar where residents expressed shock to be mooned by the engineer and his five unruly conductors. Might as well check out Mexico. Like most surfers they knew how to start things and not stop them, and the train rattled and hummed until it ran out of fuel, on the far side of the border.

Vicky Tuton continues to be an adventurous traveler, but usually drives cars to her destinations.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Synopsis of Behold What Is Greater Than Thyself On Sale February 1, 2016

For everyone that finds Baja hell on earth, someone else considers it the world’s last paradise. For surfers it’s a great place to find lonely and perfect waves. For sinners it’s a good place to become a s­aint. For saints, it’s a convenient place to become a sinner.   While the unlucky can lose their wallets, their health and their sanity in 24 hours or less, the chosen ones part only with things not worth keeping.  Baja is a bad place for some, a good place for others and the only place for a young surfer in big trouble.          

When 15-year old surfer Tommy Stern retaliates against his alcoholic father’s violent attack, he thinks he has killed the man. In response  to his crime the boy grabs his surfboard and hitchhikes south, all the way into Baja. Once there he is adopted by a family of commercial fishermen. There he surfs perfect, empty waves while learning the ways of a caring family and the art of fishing.  After five years his conscience disturbs him and he smuggles himself back into the U.S. where he expects to face murder charges. What he finds upon his return, however, alters his life forever.

Friday, January 8, 2016

These Friends

The swells will pass, the great rides, the drops, the turns, the wipeouts, will all be gone. Less than a memory, almost a forgotten dream. You won’t know they really happened at all. But you’ll never forget the friends you did it all with. Maybe they were the best you’ll ever have. When it’s all said and done perhaps the central experience in surfing is friendship.
¾Director, John Milius

It seems that the plaster on the monument to Gary Taylor that overlooks Swami’s had barely dried before we heard more sad news of our friends at Swami’s. Young Syrus King passed tragically much as legends Surf Eddy and Doug Erickson before him. Wally Blodgett, my ultimate surf hero, is gone and, although he was a kneeboarder, stands tall among those who have left skin and memories on the reef. 
            There had not been any paddle outs for quite a while when, last month, we were stunned to learn that one of Swami’s finest, Kenny Mann had passed while night surfing Swami’s. As memories flooded like tears, I was reminded of the times in the ‘70s when Kenny, Peter “Pinline” St Pierre and I Along with a few others would meet in the Swami’s parking lot around midnight to ride a few midnight waves together. Kenny was our friend— certainly gifted and seemingly immortal.  He was everyone’s friend, really.  A never aging eternal gremmie whose job and mission it was to sand surfboards since he was a teenager in the mid 1970s, and glide fast and smooth over Swami’s clean walls.  He rode inside Swami’s better and with more stoke than anyone.
While Kenny had been a local at Swami’ since the early ‘70s, Joy Froding didn’t show up there until decades later. Joy, who didn’t start surfing until late in life was introduced to wave riding and to Swami’s by the brilliant surfer, her boyfriend, Mark Donnellan. Mark, who is among the best surfers ever to ride Swami’s, worked at Moonlight Glassing with Kenny Mann for decades.
            Joy was all love, and she found the best in all of us while translating that emotion into her artwork and surfing.  While she will not be remembered among the best surfers to ride Swami’s, she will never be forgotten for the way she spread the fruit of the spirit she was named for to everyone in and out of the water. 
            Her gift of kindness was noteworthy to the end, as she called many of us to offer her condolences on the passing of our mutual friend, Kenny. I have the recording on my phone where she offers words of comfort before saying that she was going surfing. How would I know that would be the last day she would ride a wave, or drew a breath on earth.
            At a recent candlelight vigil for Joy, another Swami’s fixture, Chris Hill, approached me with tears in his eyes to inform me that his brother and my close friend, Dave Hill, had recently passed on. The well of my grief went all the way to the bottom as those of us who remained stood above the break we love, to celebrate the lives of our friends. Looking around I was reminded that this ride does have an end, and that one by one we will each face the ocean for the final time as our ashes become part of the Pacific.

            Seeing friends gather, I was also reminded that Swami’s is not holy because of the temple that stands on the cliff, but because of the love that forever binds us all together.