Biting It

If you surf or are a fan of the sport then you’ve undoubtedly seen this:

If you don’t surf then let me explain. That encounter occurred while 3x ASP World Surf League champion Mick Fanning from Australia was waiting for a wave in the final heat of the competition at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. This is the closest a professional surfer has ever come to being eaten by a shark during a WSL event, in front of hundreds of live spectators and thousands watching televised coverage on TV or online. Fortunately for Mick and the sport of surfing, Mr. Shark was distracted from his mission to see what Auzzie surfer tastes like when he got caught in Mick’s leash (“leg rope” to Auzzies and South Africans). The thrashing you see in the video, including a good whack to Mick’s face, was the shark freaking out because it was trying to free itself from the leash. Mick handled the situation incredibly well and dealt the creature several blows on the back with his fist, leading surf legend Derek Hynd to compare him to the Flintstone’s Bamm Bamm.* It seems that the shark was as panicked as Mick and got the hell out of there. If the tangling and thrashing weren’t enough to scare him off, rescue boats quickly responding to the emergency very likely had him questioning who was in greater peril.

In the wake of the “attack,” there was a lot of talk about shark attacks and sharks in general in the media and among surfers. Social media was rife with stories of close calls and scary encounters with sharks. And those of us who spend a lot of time in the water felt compelled to share our own experiences concerning “the man in the grey suit.”

The reality is that if you spend time in the water, the likelihood that you’ll encounter one of these apex predators is considerable. And as a surfer originating in a place few surfers hail from, I’m often asked by family, friends, and acquaintances, “What about sharks?”

My reply, “If it is my destiny to be killed by a shark while doing something I love more than anything, then so be it. I would hope that you will be happy I died doing something I loved,” may come off sounding cavalier, but it’s sincere.

In my thirteen plus years of surfing and kitesurfing regularly, to date I’ve had three close encounters with sharks. I described the second one, which occurred while I was kitesurfing right out in front of my house in an earlier blog post. My first encounter was really just a sighting, but there were only two of us out at Nine Palms that evening and when the shark swam through the face of a wave, my buddy Fernando, son of a local rancher, caught the next wave in, leaving me to consider my fate. I was still a beginner and my lack of skills pressed me to praying to whatever deity might be listening that I would catch and ride the next wave in, rather than flail and fail. Plagued by a mental image of being up to my neck in the dark blue surrounding me, I nevertheless did catch a wave and made it to shore without incident. Neither of us saw the shark again after that initial glimpse of him cutting through the wave face.

My most recent encounter affected me a bit more profoundly than the other two. Like my second encounter, this time I was kiting. I’m at the stage in kite surfing where I’m still learning how to maintain control of my kite while I ride a wave. With the energy of the wave pressing you on, it’s easy to outrun the kite, which makes the lines go slack and the kite to fall out of the sky right into the impact zone of breaking waves. It’s tough, but not impossible, to relaunch a kite once it’s been smacked around by the white water on the inside and that’s exactly what happened on this particular day. My kite was lying in the water, the wind gently pulling it and me towards the beach while low tide exposed the sharp lines of rocks along the way.

I’m pretty stubborn. Often to my own detriment. There comes a time when you gotta say enough is enough and give up, but I usually push myself beyond those rational limits. This day was no different. In exchange for my persistence trying to get the kite relaunched, I got dragged across those rocks on the inside. This is when I lamented my choice of bikini over wetsuit. Had I been wearing my spring suit, my thighs would have been protected from the sharp rocks. Thanks to my vanity (I wanted to work on my tan), I instead got a long gash along my left upper thigh. The scar remains an indelible reminder of my bull-headedness and the following incident it likely precipitated.

I got back to the beach and inspected the wound. It was bleeding, but not heavily and the gash was not as deep as I thought it would be. I decided that if it stopped bleeding, I’d relaunch and try my luck at riding waves again. I’d caught that wave without reminding myself of the intricacies of wave-riding with a kite. All my hard-learned lessons came flooding back to me as I watched the kite fall out of the sky. I knew could do this!

I dragged my kite and board back up the beach to the take off spot, rinsed the blood from my wound and patted it dry. I reran the lines to the kite, making sure everything was in order, and reinspected the cut. The bleeding had stopped and I rationalized it was really just a scratch, nothing to worry about. Certainly nothing that would get the attention of a grey suit.

I had a relatively good session from there on out and managed to catch some waves without dropping the kite. An hour or so into the session, I checked in with my thigh muscles. They were fatigued, indicating t was time to start tacking North to the one sandy spot where I could get to the beach without crawling over rocks. It was just as I began to tack upwind when out of my peripheral vision I saw something grey leap partially out of the water. A small black grebe that seconds earlier paddled along the water’s surface had disappeared.

My heart clenched as adrenaline surged through my body and my head spun.

A walrus. It had to be a walrus, I thought fully entering denial.

And then another voice spoke up, an annoyingly intelligent voice. Walrus don’t eat grebes, Dawn. And there are no walruses here.

My mind buzzed like a pinball machine on full tilt and I drew a blank despite attempts to rationalize what I’d just seen as something else, anything but a shark. It turned next to the cut on my leg. I had to accept that it was possible that the small amount of blood I was likely leaving in the water had brought one in.

Just get in. Just focus on what you’re doing and get in. Don’t fall.

But of course I fell.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck!” I hurled the epithets as I grabbed my board and hurried to get back up and moving after blowing the turn back towards shore.

“Fuck!” I swore again when I got closer to shore and realized that it would take at least three tacks to get up wind enough to where the beach was sandy.

I gritted my teeth and managed to turn and head back out to deeper water without falling. I focused everything on the task at hand, working my way upwind and eventually making it back to shore. I breathed a sigh of relief as I prepared to step off my board onto sand and brought the kite high overhead to the neutral position. That’s when I discovered that the wind had turned offshore near the beach and by bringing the kite overhead it was met with the force of a wind that pushed it back out to sea. It arced and plummeted into the sea behind me where the opposing onshore wind pushed it gently back towards shore. The lines went slack and I was powerless to do anything as it slowly floated into an area full of rocks just South of where I stood. The next thing I heard was a loud “pop!” followed by the hiss of air escaping. The kite had run into the sharp edge of a rock, much like my leg had earlier, which cut through the leading edge, an air-filled tube-like bladder that gives it structure.

Maybe it was the stress of seeing a shark consume a helpless little bird right in front of me, the prospect of similar treatment or maybe it was just frustration with the vagaries of kiting, but I lost it at that point. I totally lost my shit and screamed (to no one in particular as there was no one there to hear me anyway), “I hate this fucking sport! This is the dumbest fucking sport ever!!! I’m over it!!”

And in that moment, I felt alone…terribly fucking alone and I came close to crying. I felt the tears knocking at the door and I very nearly let them come. I came damned close to walking away from that kite bobbing gently among the jagged rocks with it’s fucked up lines and torn leading edge too. Very very nearly.

But I took a deep breath.

Considered the options.

Then put my head down and carefully picked my way over those goddamned motherfucking rocks and pulled my kite off them without doing further damage to me or the kite. The lines were caught in the rocks and it was all I could do to keep from having a total melt down every time I pulled on one of them and realized I had to disconnect it from the kite before I could extricate the mess from the grip of those tenacious rugged rocks.

It was almost dark when I finally had the whole maddening mess packed up and was driving along the beach towards home on my ATV, jaw clenched in anger.

That was six months ago and I haven’t kited since. The kite is still in its bag, torn, sandy, and neglected. And after watching Mick’s experience with the shark, I asked myself whether that was a function of the hassle that is learning to kite surf or if it is more about the shark.

Compared to surfing, kiting is definitely a higher risk activity where sharks are concerned. You go into deeper waters where sharks like to travel and you have the considerable potential of breaking down out there. Even experienced kiters have kitemares and end up losing entire kites or boards out at sea. The boards are too small to paddle back in on and the kites are a serious liability once they are disabled. Once when my kite failed I had to swim a good half mile to get back into shore, dragging the kite as the leading edge took on water. Getting to shore was a Herculean effort accompanied by nerve-wracking thoughts of what could be lurking deep below me.

Despite these experiences my passion for surfing keeps me returning to the water. I wonder though, if I had a serious close encounter with a shark the likes of Mick Fanning’s, how soon would I get back in the water? Would I even be able to?

It’s a crossroads I hope never to confront.

******

*After Fanning’s run in, Hynd was the first person to paddle out to the empty line up to catch a few overhead waves, further proving accurate my assessment that he is the Nutty Professor of Surfing. When I questioned his sanity by internet chat, he suggested, knowing we share a similar level of passion for the pursuit, that I would have done the same. “No one out…swell was building.” ‘Nuf said.

A Matter of Size

ancient Hi surfingNo, that’s not what this blog is about. Get your mind out of the gutter.

I just got back from a surfing/kiting trip that took me North up the Baja peninsula to a special spot that is even more isolated than where I live. Not only is it considerably cooler there than here, it is also arguably one of the best places in the world to surf . But it turns out it is also a great place to kitesurf as favorable winds come up most afternoons. This combination of wind and waves is ideal. The learning curve was steep and a few kites were critically injured along the way, but I finally seem to have figured out how to surf along the face of a wave while connected to a kite without letting it overpower what I want to do on the wave or to fall out of the sky right into the impact zone where the waves get to eat it for lunch. It’s not called the “impact zone” for nothin’.

On this visit to Baja Special Spot #1, the waves were small enough to make most people pack up their gear and head elsewhere. We’re talking ankle slappers here, knee ticklers at best. However, I was fortunate to find myself in the company of master boat builder Dennis Choate. Dennis owns DenCho Marine and tackles difficult and high-tech projects such as the design and construction of large ocean-racing sailboats with gusto. He also loves shaping surfboards – big ones, little ones, single finned, tri-finned and quads. A look around his large three-bay garage and multiple storage rooms revealed that he has a particular penchant for making boards that you might call tankers. His quiver boasts several boards over 10 feet in length. The longest one measures 14 feet and is intended as a tandem board, but on our second day out, Dennis rode it solo all the way to the beach over and over again.

tandem_beach_boys

Tandem Surfing with Waikiki beachboys

After trying the 9’2” I’d ridden on my previous visit and having it stall out soon after I popped up, I realized I wasn’t going to get very far on that particular board in the tiny surf. One of Dennis’ friends was getting out of the water and asked me if I wanted to try the 12-foot board he’d been riding. It was a board that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the big surf at Makaha in the early 60s – gently pointed nose, pin tail, but wider around the middle than a more modern gun and with very subtle nose and tail rocker. To my delight and great pleasure that board glided me along the faces of the little waves where the shorter board had stalled. Gradually I figured out where to stand to get it to turn, how to stall so the faster section of the wave would catch up with me, and I took some walks towards the nose and back again. Standing there erect, feeling the energy of the wave push me and that massive board forward, the wind in my face, I recalled an image I’d seen of Hawaiians at the turn of the 20th century standing tall while riding their large wooden surfboards straight in to the beach at Waikiki. In that moment I imagined I shared the pure joy of gliding along those small waves with those original surfers across the ages.

My last wave that morning was a good one – a little larger than the rest (maybe thigh high) – and it took me all the way into the beach, a ride of some 400 odd meters. Dennis and his buddy commented later that they’d seen my ride from the restaurant on the beach. “Just like Waikiki, but without the crowds” said Dennis, making the stoke rise in me once again at the memory of that pure feeling.

The next day as Dennis and I sat and waited for a set to appear, he on the 14-foot tandem board and I on yet another board he’d shaped – this time a narrower wine red 12-footer with softer rails, and a blunter nose and tail – I remarked at how much fun it was to surf such tiny waves, and how much I appreciated the boards he’d shaped that made those rides possible.

Dennis smiled knowingly and replied, “Probably 90 percent of surfers have never experienced what you are talking about. They are too caught up with riding short boards and bigger waves. They look at surf like this and think it can’t be ridden, but that’s because they don’t have the right equipment.”

A wave that was barely a ripple on the water’s surface, probably under six inches in height, passed under us.

“You see, you could have caught that wave on the board you’re riding.”

I considered what he said and wondered at how many people missed out on the fun I was having. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up surrounded by surf culture and came to the sport so late in life, but I’m surprised that so many people would turn their noses up at small, but still very fun surf. Admittedly, an 12-foot board is not an inexpensive toy, nor an easy one to haul around. I could barely carry the boards I’d ridden, resorting to an awkward bear-hug technique to get the boards to and from the surf. I tried carrying one on my head, but it was so heavy I could feel my neck straining under the load. Then it occurred to me, what I really needed was a Waikiki beachboy. Joyful glide and muscle rippled beachboys! Super tanker surfboards are sounding better all the time!

Rabbit Kekai ca 1945

A ripped Rabbit Kekai, the quintessential Waikiki beachboy, circa 1945

How about you? What’s the longest board and smallest surf you’ve ever ridden?

The Condition My Condition Is In

For whatever reason, I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog. People read it, but they don’t feel the need to express their opinions afterwards. Maybe they’d like to tell me what they really think, but they’re being polite. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments made here and via email in response to my last post, in which I admitted to feeling the negative effects of my isolated lifestyle. Those words of thoughtful advice and encouragement reminded me that loneliness is a common ailment in our increasingly isolated and isolating societies. It became apparent there was a lot of empathy to my plight, a lot of “yeah, I’ve been there.”

The number of comments spoke of how many of us have felt this emotion, but while wandering around Facebook the day after publishing that blog, I stumbled across an article from Slate magazine called Loneliness is Deadly. The Universe tapping me directly on the shoulder? The melodramatic title did its attention-getting job. As I read it, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what the author described as the consequences of loneliness I knew, at least intuitively, to be true. I realized that for months, except for to a couple of close friends, I had avoided communicating how I felt because of the stigma associated with admitting we are lonely. The notion that we are capital “L” Losers if we admit to being lonely is sad, potentially disastrous, and just so much BS. If we avoid talking about it, we’ll never realize that there are a whole bunch of us walking around here not realizing that there are bunch of us out there feeling the same way. Comfort in numbers, my lonely friends!

A few days later I opened my email to be struck by the timeliness of Nathan Bransford’s latest post “Writing and Loneliness.” Then, just to make sure I really got the message, a week later the Daily Good newsletter I receive each day drove home the bottom line, the same message all those comments to my blog were sending: While we may be lonely, “We Have Never Been Alone.” Hannah Brencher distilled my feelings and pointed out an oft forgotten reality:

Loneliness is quite capable of swallowing us whole. And Loneliness will think to do a lot of things, but it will never think to spit us back up until we look around and realize that we have never been Alone.

Alone and Loneliness. They are two different things. One is thick, and the other is a myth. We have never been alone, not a day in our lives. What kind of devil hissed this lie in our ears? Yes, we have felt tender. Yes, we have felt defeated. But no, we have never been alone so much as we have refused to let the others in.

And so I began to examine where I might be keeping people out, whether I was the one who was isolating myself or had circumstances conspired to put me here in Isolationville?

I’d already taken matters into my own hands to actively remedy my situation.

Solution Number One was seeking and applying for jobs that will either give me the financial wherewithal to get out of Dodge more often, or necessitate leaving Dodge altogether.

Solution Number Two was to once again temporarily get out of Dodge. There’s nothing like a two week surf vacation away from your regular surfing life to give you a new lease on life!

The little town where I found myself was itself remote, but it turned out that I was not the only one looking to for a little surf-related R&R. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And that saying about a change being as good as a rest? Well, it’s a cliché for good reason.

A few days into my surf vacation, I realized I’d never actually taken a surf vacation. By that I mean, I’ve never taken a trip for the express purpose of surfing. Yes, I’ve surfed away from home, but rarely, and I’ve always had another reason for taking the trip. Surfing hasn’t been the primary focus. I’ve even flown all the way to Fiji and Hawaii and not so much as paddled.

I spent two weeks at this very special surf spot and, unlike when I am at home, had no trouble at all getting up well before sunrise to hit the water before the crowds. I was the first one out every morning with only one exception (and yes, the size of the surf probably had something to do with the fact that no one was really chomping at the bit to get out there). I was pleasantly surprised on the first morning to see my favorite winter constellations – Orion and Sirius – shining overhead as I loaded the truck with essentials (lots of drinking water and my buddy Friday). The water’s coolness washed away any lingering drowsiness as I dragged my feet through the shallows (to avoid getting stung by stingrays who might be lurking on the sandy bottom). Sirius blinked in the gradually brightening sky as I paddled out into the bay where two to three footers peeled right to left from the rocky point. I placed myself a few feet inside of where I knew the larger waves would break, hoping to be the recipient of one of the set waves that typically appear just before the sun breaks the horizon. It was pure joy catching that first wave each morning before anyone else was out. The sight of me erect and sailing across the face of a wave was usually enough to get the campers moving though and soon I’d be joined by two, then three or four others.

Friday, traveler extraordinaire.

Friday, tucked in next to the 6’8″ Roger Beal, which sadly didn’t get wet this trip.

Near the end of the first week, more campers appeared along the bluff overlooking the break in response to swell reports that promised better waves, waves that had yet to materialize. By the time the sun had risen there’d be six, sometimes eight of us in the water, chasing knee-high waves. The waves’ size made for a mellow crowd. We shared the little peelers and chatted between inconsistent two-wave sets. The vibe was sweet and it felt good to be part of something so positive. Even the boys from Orange County, used to surfing among the aggro crowd at Trestles, encouraged me to drop in on them, yelling, “Party wave!” more than a little often. My faith in So Cal surfers was renewed along with my conviction that being connected to the larger Human Race is our natural state, our salvation.

Beautiful, but about as close to flat as it gets.

*********************

And speaking of small waves, here’s a beautiful piece about riding the small stuff, Small Waves by Thorpe Moeckel.

The Greatest Surfing Story Ever Told: A Movie Review

Deeper Shade_200X295I often feel like I need to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming – my life is that good. And were it not just a metaphor, I’d have pinched myself black and blue last week when I was suddenly hopping a plane to L.A. to attend the premier of Jack McCoy’s 25th movie, A Deeper Shade of Blue, the most comprehensive movie on surf history, culture, and the evolution of surfboard design produced to date. The promotional materials cheekily assert that “this is not a surf movie.” However, it is that and yet so much more. It is an homage to the surfers who changed the way we surf, to the Hawaiian spirit of aloha, and to innovations in surfboard design that support the pursuit’s continued evolution.

hom·age |ˈ(h)ämij|
noun
special honor or respect shown publicly

The point is, however, that you don’t need to be a surfer to enjoy this movie. Watching it is the kind of experience during which you become part of the incredible vistas captured, giving even the most ocean-reticent land lubber a chance to experience what it feels like to be in, on, and under the water. Scenes like the massive waves at Teahupo’o breaking seemingly over the viewer’s head got my heart racing and made my breath catch in my throat. By combining cutting edge filming techniques with the skill of a true waterman, McCoy puts the viewer right there in the heart of the action.

McCoy is at heart an artist and this is his magnum opus. The soundtrack selections for each scene compliment the visuals so well that in several instances the melding of beauty pushed my emotional buttons to the point of eliciting serious eye misting. The underwater footage shot in crystal clear waters depicting surfboards slicing through waves rolling overhead, the reef below, and ocean life dancing in unseen currents was awe-inducing.

It contains little known historical facts, like that of the Hawaiian who dared defy the missionaries’ law forbidding surfing. I’m thinking you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn who induced Hawaiians territory-wide to return en mass to the waves. You’ll see mind-blowing footage of surfers doing what surfers do, but using radically different surfboards that seem the stuff of science fiction. Aussie Derek Hynd free-friction surfing to the sound of The BPA’s He’s Frank (featuring Iggy Pop) is inspiring, breath-catching stuff for sure. Yes, what would have happened in the evolution of surfing if the fin had never been invented? You may remember Derek from my blog post “Crossing Paths: Surf Legend Derek Hynd.”

The visuals, the story, and the way in which the director’s love for the subject matter and the community of surfers with whom he worked to produce this epic movie created an unparalleled surf movie experience for this viewer. It’s showing in theaters all over the U.S. this Thursday, March 28th for one night only. But don’t take my word for it. In one of those serendipitous events, much like those that brought me to the movie premier, Sir Paul McCartney was introduced to Jack’s work by a mutual acquaintance and the two ended up working on a video clip together called Blue Sway that includes additional footage taken for the movie and a previously unreleased song by Sir Paul. McCartney has said of Jack’s work:

I was blown away by the stunning spectacle of Jack’s work. Now that I’ve gotten to know him, I enjoy what he does even more and value greatly his contribution to the world of surfing.

 Watch A Deeper Shade of Blue right this instant by clicking on this link. How cool is that? (And in case you’re wondering, aside from the pleasure of knowing that I’m sharing a great experience with my fellow man, I stand to gain NOTHING from the sale of this movie).

Crossing Paths: Surf Legend Derek Hynd

photo by Dane Peterson

photo by Dane Peterson

Between holiday travel and the cold I inevitably pick up during said travel, I’m way behind on my writing. As promised I’m working on a story about a recent experience I had with peyote and a couple of Huichol Indians, but in the meantime, here’s a quickie about meeting a surf legend on my trip to Central California last November.

I returned to Hollister Ranch this past November with hopes of getting a little surf on this time around. My wonderful hostess Nancie, her brother Dana, and I headed down to a spot called Lefts and Rights to see if the surf was up and were treated to a vision of clean, solid four foot peelers. Considering the exclusive nature of the spot, I was surprised by the size of the crowd. Then I remembered it was a Saturday. Everyone and their dogs were at the beach.

I’d flown a nice quad surfboard to San Francisco from Maui en route to Baja, but decided to leave it in the Bay, wrapped in its protective coating of pipe insulation and cardboard. It had taken two of us enough duct tape to seal the joints in the Space Shuttle to wrap it up, and I’d never get it back together by myself for the trip to Mexico. Instead, from a collection of boards stacked in the shed attached to Nancie’s house, I borrowed an aged and dusty 6’10” egg that reminded me of my favorite Eclipse board waiting for me back in Mexico. Nancie pointed out that the board was shaped by Renny Yater’s son Lauren, another in her long list of surf industry friends.

At the break, I stood and studied the wave for several minutes before squeezing into my 4mm wet suit and heading out. The first thing I noticed was the amount of seaweed I had to cut through to get to the lineup. It tangled around my leash, creating enough drag to make me stop to pull it off in big long clumps. It reminded me of pulling long hair from around the drive shaft of a vacuum cleaner.

In the lineup, I took my time and watched as others caught one wave after another. The crowd was mostly friendly, but I sensed the tingle of territoriality hanging in the air. Wiry teenagers ripped on boards the size of potato chips, balding guys sporting spare tires around the midriff hung out on longboards waiting for their wave, and one woman, about my age, paddled by on a log. Despite the number of people in the water, it was easy to keep track of Dana in his bright blue wet suit, a thick yellow stripe running lengthwise down each side. He had an easy riding style and sat outside picking off the larger set waves on his longboard. I tried to stick fairly close without crowding him like a frightened child holding to her father’s shirt tails, despite feeling that way. Of course I wasn’t going to let anyone actually see that I was nervous. I knew I just needed to catch a few waves to stoke my confidence.

Every wave is different and every break offers the opportunity to learn something new about surfing. These waves break faster than the ones I am used to and I was glad I’d chosen the shorter Yater board over the longboards that were on offer. The wave, like a piece of music, dictates the rhythm of the dance one must employ to surf it. It took me several waves to begin to feel the beat.

Dana hollered, “Watch out!” good-naturedly as he took off on a wave I was paddling for, prompting a couple of chuckles by the men around me and a comment about the death of chivalry. The mood was improving and so were the waves.

Dana paddled back out followed by a curious-looking man with an Australian accent. He was skinny and had an odd look in his eyes. As he paddled past, we exchanged pleasantries and he commented on the conditions and how fortunate we all were. His expression of gratitude surprised me based on the general vibe in the water. I liked him instantly. He took off on one of the next waves and I looked on in amazement at what was the strangest surfing style I’d ever seen. He remained very low with his knees up by his chest, his feet lined up together like he was on a ski jump, not a wave. Nevertheless, he moved gracefully up and down the wave and even pulled a beautiful 360 that caught me completely by surprise.

Later, I watched from the beach briefly and wondered how he pulled off those spins, watched as he slid down the face sideways and did other strange maneuvers I can’t even begin to describe. When he came in, I noticed that the board he’d been riding was unlike anything I’d seen before. A series of channels ran along each side of the underside of the tail section where the fins ought to be. No fins? The tail was asymmetrical and made the board look, to this uninitiated kook, unrideable or at least like something an amateur had shaped. I was starting to think this guy might be the nutty professor of surfing when Dana introduced us.

The nutty surf professor and his ingenious finless board.

The nutty surf professor and his ingenious far field friction-free board.

“This is Derek Hynd,” he said gesturing towards the nutty professor.

Confession time. I’d heard of Derek Hynd, but didn’t know much about him, just that he was a big name in the industry and had surfed in the pro circuit long ago. I struck up a conversation with him and quickly got the sense that, like his board, his thinking was very non-linear. It was at times difficult to follow what he was saying, as it seemed completely out of context. I realized quickly that I was missing significant background information or perhaps even knowledge of the language being spoken. At one point he said something about the womb and feminist theory as it relates to surfing and I felt a sensation like whiplash jerk through my brain. To top it off, every time I tried to ask him anything about himself, he turned it around and asked me more about myself. I liked his vibe though and sensed I was the presence of a fully self-realized human being. I was hoping we’d be able to hang out with him for a while. Maybe try out that crazy surfboard myself (although I admit I probably wouldn’t do it any justice).

While we stood on the beach chatting, the surf built to well over six foot faces and everyone was saying how it would only get better as the day progressed. But Dana and Nancie had things to do and, as per the rules of The Ranch, I couldn’t surf without my host present. I reluctantly bid Derek and his friends adieu with the hope of one day getting to pick his interesting brain.

Back at home, I discovered that while there isn’t a Wikipedia entry for this enigmatic man, there are several articles written by and about him and plenty of video footage that provide a further glimpse into the mind of the legendary friction free surfer Derek Hynd.

Below I’ve shared some of the more interesting tidbits I found along with video footage of Derek on a board very similar to the one he rode that day. The waves we surfed were, shall we say, considerably smaller, but his style and approach to the wave are the same.

This video illustrates why Steve Pezman calls him the “best surfer in the recorded history of wave-riding.”

For more on Derek’s wild Far Field Friction Free ride, check out The Surfer’s Journal POV videos. In Part I he shapes the ride from an existing fish and in Part II he rides that same board.

Crossing Paths: Mickey and Me

A few weeks ago, I heard Mickey Muñoz was going to be at my local surf break for the filming of a documentary about East Coast Surfers. Even though it was the afternoon and I only surf at that time of day if it’s epic, I made a special effort to get my ass down there to talk to him because I hoped he’d agree to let me interview him as part of the project I’m so excited about. [What shall we call the project? Give me suggestions in the comments below will you? “the project I’m so excited about” will undo my already worn out keyboard.]

I was introduced to Mickey a month earlier by Wingnut Weaver, star of The Endless Summer II, and so, as I walked towards where Mickey and a couple of other people stood on the beach checking the surf, I banked on him remembering me. I don’t really think it mattered whether he remembered me or not – the words, “Mickey, we met about a month ago…” were barely out of my mouth and he was giving me a kiss on the cheek and putting his arm around me like we were best friends. Okay, I guess being a sun-kissed blond has its perks. Mickey proceeded to introduce me to the guy standing next to him – none other than Corky Carroll, the man credited with being the first professional surfer.

I listened as Mickey told one of his signature tales to a rapt audience. By the end of what turned out to be quite a yarn about the effect rain has on Baja journeys (turning them from 1 hour to a day or more), I was boiling hot. We were all standing in the hot September sun! I quickly mentioned that I hoped to interview him and then said, “It’s hot! I gotta get wet!” He agreed and said he’d meet me in the water.

Surfing with Mickey Muñoz turned out to be an uncommon pleasure. I was a little freaked out to discover there were a couple of guys with video cameras in the water with us and one on the beach, but Mickey was so relaxed that he quickly put me at ease. We talked and laughed between sets and I did my best to stay out of his way as he wielded his stand-up paddle board like a man half his age (he’s 75 years old!).

Mickey wielding a mean paddle.   Photo by John Charles Jopson

Near the end of our session together, we got onto the topic of localism – people who think they own their home break and who bring a shitty attitude into the water. He was surprised when I told him his is not the only break on the East Cape to suffer from this negative influence. He considered what I said, turned to me and said, smiling, “Those people have forgotten how lucky they are. Look at where we are! We’re in one of the most beautiful places on earth, sharing waves with just the two of us out. How many people can say that?” I will always remember the breadth of his smile as he spoke from the heart. Mickey Muñoz may be the most stoked surfer I’ve ever met. The title of his book No Bad Waves is a perfect reflection of his attitude.

The sun was approaching the horizon and the camera guys had long ago packed up and left, when Mickey turned to me and said, ”Been a pleasure surfing with you,” as he caught the next wave and surfed off. I sat out there and felt the trail of positive ions lingering in the air behind him flood over and into me. I felt blessed.

Several minutes passed and I looked towards the beach where Mickey remained, standing next to his road-weary Isuzu. I figured, like me, he was just soaking in the energy of the fading day, taking in the perfect little waves peeling off the point. As I sat squinting towards him, it occurred to me suddenly that maybe he was taking a leak! Thankfully he was backlit by the setting sun. I caught a few more waves before he left and, perhaps inspired by our talk and his stoke, I danced more than rode my board across their faces. He was gone the next time I looked over as I paddled back out to the take off spot.

The next day I emailed him to establish electronic communications. I expressed what a pleasure it had been to share the waves with him. His reply came quickly and to my delight began thusly, “I enjoyed our surf session also, you’re a good surfer.” Those last four words made me gush to overflowing with pride. I looked around and the only ones there to share the moment with were the dogs. No matter, I pointed at the screen and said, “Do you believe it? Mickey Muñoz, big wave rider and shaper extraordinaire said I’m a good surfer!” They lifted their heads lazily and looked at each other perplexed, as though they were saying “What is she going on about?” But they got into the spirit and thumped their tails against the floor in applause.

Below the text of his email was something even more special and I now knew what he’d been up to while he hung on the beach that evening. He’d been taking photographs of me riding the waves!! Thanks Mickey for making it look so good.

Photo by Mickey Muñoz

Book Review – Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation

By Paul Holmes
Published by Pintail Publishers, 192 pages
Topic Relative Score (Surf History, Surfboard Design): 5 out of 5 stars

When I arrived on the East Cape in 2002, following my dream to learn to surf, I was virtually clueless about surf culture and surfing history. I knew even less about the evolution of surfboard design. Growing up in Ontario, Canada meant that, unlike a California kid, I wasn’t exposed to anything related to surf, unless flip flops count. I knew who Guy Lafleur and Rocket Richard were, not the seminal figures in the history of surfing. 

So when I met my neighbor Bing Copeland, I had no idea that I was meeting such a man, one who exerted a huge influence on surfing and surfboard manufacturing and design. When he generously offered to take me surfing because my surf buddy refused to go out in conditions that were anything short of perfect, I was completely ignorant of the fact that I was making the drive down the coast and sharing the waves with a surfing legend.

Ten years later, I read Holmes’s book in amazement and received the education I so thoroughly lacked. Thanks Bing! 

Bing Copeland mid-1960s Waimea Bay. Photo by John Bass.

The first thing you’ll notice about Paul Holmes’s book “Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation” is the quality of its production. It comes packaged in a groovy reusable cardboard case that will protect it against sun damage and carelessly spilled coffee. Inside you’ll find a beautiful hardcover book in coffee-table format (9.5″ by 12.25″) that contains 192 pages of text and high-quality, historic and contemporary photographs, printed in their original black and white or full color format.

Holmes did a great job of chronicling the various aspects of Bing’s personal life, professional life and his role in the evolution of surfing and surfboard design with a narrative style that is easy to read and flows from one topic to the next and back again. But the book is more than a history lesson, it also contains a treasure trove of archival materials including handwritten pages out of order books and every Bing advertisement ever published, all meticulously preserved by Bing himself. Anecdotes by the guys working on the factory floor sprinkled throughout give the reader an insider’s view of what it might have been like to work for Bing and with the sometimes oddball cast of characters drawn to the surfboard shaping industry.

Bing was an innovative designer of surfboards, but he was also a natural graphic designer and marketer, making the middle third, where ads and archival materials are displayed, perhaps my favorite part of the book. The ads are a reflection of Bing himself, as Holmes puts it “creative, funny, informative and graphically compelling.”

Shapers will undoubtedly be stoked to find a complete review of all Bing Surfboards models and the contributions they made to surfboard design evolution, as well as three pages dedicated specifically to improvements in fin design. Beautiful detailed shots of over 60 classic Bing surfboards are provided along with each board’s serial number, dimensions and significant elements of design and construction.

Whether you’ve ever owned a Bing surfboard or not, if you are a surfer and especially if you are a shaper, you owe it to yourself to add this book to your quiver of surf literature.

Do you own a Bing? If so, tell us about it, or even better post a photo of you riding it here. And what about my Bing board? Well, my financial circumstances since moving to Baja (always broke) mean that I haven’t had the wherewithal to buy a Bing. In 2004, in his classic understated way, Bing handed me a single-fin longboard he was no longer riding and said, “Just make sure it gets ridden.” The fin alone on that board is worth a pretty penny. Up until that time, I’d focused on working towards riding shorter boards, so that board introduced me to the “other” side of surfing, one that is unquestionably more soulful. Riding that longboard on days when the smaller conditions would have normally kept me out of the water induced in me a greater playfulness and definitely improved my surfing. I’ve since begged and borrowed (never stolen) several other longboards, but the dream remains to one day own a performance Bing longboard and at least one of his shorter boards – the retro Karma single-fin or perhaps the fishy Dharma. And to that end, I must get back to work!

Bing in Baja on the board he ultimately gave me. Photo by Gary Swanson