In September 2002, six months into learning to surf Cremin announced, “I think it’s time for you to get your own surfboard. I’m ordering one for myself and I think you should get one custom made as well.” My heart leapt at the thought. Then my finances reared their head.
He seemed to read my mind when he said he could probably get me in on the “bro deal” with his shaper and that it would cost around $500. I’d just made $700 that week renting Kent’s casitas, so I let the promise of a custom surfboard carry me away.
Cremin discussed the design with the shaper and they agreed on the shape and length the board should be. I had no idea what kind of board to get, but I knew I was in good hands.
The day before he drove to town to pick up our boards, I passed Cremin on the road. “Tomorrow’s the big day! Come over around five to get your board,” he yelled through his open window. I walked on air the whole next day. At five o’clock sharp I pulled into his driveway in my pickup truck. I called to him as I disembarked and he whistled in reply. I heard the creak of the screen door, the whack as it closed and then the flip flop of his sandals as he made his way down the stairs. He had a twinkle in his eye, a gentle smile on his face and said nothing as he disappeared into the garage. With my right hand I squeezed the fingers on my left, shifted from one foot to the other and back again.
He returned with her in his outstretched arms. She was the whitest, shiniest board I’d ever seen. So new, so unblemished. I reached out and ran my hand down the length of her – smooth, slick and fragile. She was long and wide with a gradually pointed nose and a squared-off tail – eight feet six inches long by twenty two inches wide and two and a quarter inches thick. Cremin said it was a “fun shape,” not a longboard, yet too long to be a shortboard. He said it would allow me to transition from the tank I’d been riding gradually down to a shorter board.
I took her in my hands and marveled at how light she was compared to Cremin’s huge blue board. I turned her over to examine where three translucent green fins adorned her underside. The shaper’s brand name was scrawled in royal blue cursive on both sides a quarter way down from the nose – Downhome. Over the stringer near the tail T-BOY 2002 was penciled in capital letters.
T-Boy is the nickname of the shaper, Tom Gaglia, whom Cremin had come to know in the 60s during his days on Maui. When the surf in Hawaii got too crowded they ended up in southern Baja following a wave of big name surfers like Flippy Hoffman, Micky Muñoz, Pat Curren and Mike Doyle.
Over the course of the next couple of days several surfers from the village came by to see my new board. They shared my excitement and even offered to take me down to get her wet for the first time. Her baptism turned out to be in tiny two foot surf I’m almost reticent to waste ink on, but the following spring when the southern-hemisphere swells arrived, she made my surfing better by degrees.
Two years later I was ready for a shorter, narrower board and contacted T-Boy with my request. With the arrival of the new board, I tucked the 8’6” in the wall rack and all but forgot about her.
Today her glass is yellowed and brittle with age. When I run my hand over her underside, her once smooth surface is now riddled with pock-marks and scars. A line of bumpy white resin runs twelve inches long and one inch wide from her nose towards the tail, evidence of the first of several run ins with the rocks at low tide. I still remember the crack and hiss of the glass and fabric ripping, how my stomach lurched and my chest contracted at the sound. I jumped off to one side, but too late. As I bobbed in the water next to the huge barnacle-encrusted rock, I pulled her back to me and inspected the damage. It was like someone had taken a chisel to her and dragged it through her insides.
I run my hand along her squared tail and then reach up and feel along the right side of my scalp. There is it – the scar that she gave me in return.
It was first light and the sun was just cresting the horizon, deep fading to brighter orange. The water was dark grey flecked with liquid silver, shimmering in the pale light. The faces of the waves averaged six feet. I paddled her out and sat waiting in my usual spot, just outside the rock boil at the third peak.
The rising sun dazzled along the horizon making it difficult to see the waves in their march towards shore. Suddenly, I saw a perfect one rising and coming towards me, giving barely time to decide. At the last possible second, I took a few strokes forward to meet it, then spun the board around to go. I stroked hard twice and felt the wave begin to lift me, but I was too late for the take off and it pitched me over the falls. I didn’t sink down into the depths like usual, but popped up to the surface like a cork. Just then my board, thrown into the air right above me, ricocheted back out of the sky, one corner of the tail smashing onto the top of my head. The force of the impact crumpled my neck to the right with a disconcerting crunch, so that at first it was my neck I was most concerned about. I raised my head gingerly, moved it left and then right – everything seemed to be working. I breathed a sigh of relief and turned my attention to my head. I reached up to feel the spot where the board had connected and discovered a lump the size of a rather large plum. Looking at my hand, I wasn’t surprised to see a considerable amount of blood.
There were more waves coming. I was sitting in the impact zone and I had get out of there. I grabbed my board and paddled out through two more waves. Once the waves passed, I called my friend Mario over to take a look at my head. “How bad is it?” I asked him.
“I can’t tell. There’s too much blood. Wash it off in the water.”
I leaned forward and swished my head in the water, rubbing it gently with my right hand. That’s when I became aware of a throbbing sensation. I lifted my head and, where I had dunked it, the radius of a dark red opaque circle expanded before my eyes. Then several silvery and yellow-tinged fish came flying out of the depths, darting back and forth through the blood stain.
This made Mario laugh, “Wow! Look at that! You chummed the water with your blood!”
I didn’t find it amusing and moved closer to him so he could look at my scalp. “Enh, it’s not that bad,” he said.
“Do you think I need stitches?”
“Nah, but you better go in or you’ll attract sharks.”
At home I took a shower to clean the wound and get the blood out of my hair. It was incredibly painful and I felt my face getting hot as I rubbed gently all around the cut. After I towel-dried my hair ever so carefully, I decided to see if I could get a look at the cut. Leaning over the bathroom counter I turned this way and that until I could see the back right-hand side of my head in the mirror. My hair lay on top of the cut, so I tried to pull a section to one side, but when I heard a sucking sound that made my stomach lurch and my knees go weak I stopped. That sound was my scalp pulling away from my skull.
I drove to Cabo Pulmo where Doc Raley and his wife Nurse Carol stitched me up and gave me a place to rest until the dizziness wore off. Turns out I needed six stitches and had a mild concussion.
It occurred to me when I pulled the truck into the garage that evening that I hadn’t inspected my board for damage. I wondered which was harder – my head or the board’s glass job. On the right corner of the tail was a spider web of cracks with several strands of brown hair sticking out from the center.