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

My Love Affair with Cortez

Ocean Wave by John Sweeney
We’re hovering at the peak of hurricane season here in Baja California Sur. By this point in the summer, we usually have had several tropical storms and hurricanes form somewhere south of the peninsula, generating waves, wind and occasionally rain showers. So far we’ve had three hurricanes produce some nice swell – Dora, Greg, and Eugene came and went with the only consequence being a few minor surf-related injuries and broken surfboards.
 
For the past two weeks, daily notices from the National Hurricane Center consistently reported that there was no chance of a storm forming. So when I awoke last Sunday morning to a sky blanketed in a layer of dark grey clouds, I was surprised. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, considering how, throughout the night, bright bursts of blazing white lightning woke me every hour followed by the rumbling of distant thunder.
 
That morning, looking North up the Sea of Cortez, the sky seemed to seep into the sea – air and water, both the same color of gun-metal steel, obscured any separation between them. Overhead and southward, patches of blue sky showed, but to the East and West large thunderheads grew and grumbled, threatening to envelope the East Cape. Grey vertical lines told me it was already raining out at sea and, I thought, probably inland closer to the mountains.
 
I checked the surf at my local break through the binoculars to confirm the surf report indicating the current swell was peaking. No one was out yet, but the sets were coming in consistently, breaking well outside the boil I use to get a clear idea of size from my mile-distant vantage point.
 
I hurried my preparations, applied a coat of sunscreen despite the overcast, loaded the ATV with a small cooler of water and fruit while I let the engine warm up. I stopped on my way up the driveway to rally my guest, a surfer who quickly loaded his board and jumped on the back of the moto with my most portable canine, Peanut.
 
There were three people out when we arrived at the break and by the time I paddled out there was one more, making us five in all. My friend opted to wait on the beach and chat with another surfer who’d just arrived. The paddle out was uneventful and once in the lineup and not noticing any large swell lines on the horizon, I decided to paddle a little inside to catch one of the smaller waves I’d seen breaking consistently from the beach.  As I paddled past the other surfers, they chatted seemingly oblivious to the perfect wave lining up with where I was headed. A couple more strokes and I was gliding down the face, cutting back to the curl and then carving up and down across the face of the glassy, head-high wave. I laughed at my luck, how the wave seemed to come right to me. I’d barely been in the water ten minutes.
 
Paddling back out I noticed the tell-tale sign of a dark bulge on the horizon – a set was headed our way. I paddled further out past the other surfers who stayed where they were. I was intent on determining which wave to go for, so I didn’t notice when Dave caught the first, smaller wave of the set. The third wave was the beauty and I turned and paddled hard. I was a bit late and the wave jacked up threatening to pitch me forward off the now vertical face. I jumped to my feet and somehow, by some miracle, managed to dig the rail of my board into the face of the wave just right and make the takeoff. It was easily four feet over my head as I carved along the smooth face, feeling the surge of power under my feet. I kicked out just as it closed out and saw Dave digging through the white water generated by my wave. Two perfect waves in a row – this was boding to be a good session.
 
Somehow as the morning progressed I managed to be in the right place more often than not. I surprised myself at how good I felt on each wave. I finally seemed to be in tune with my new-used 6’8” Roger Beal hybrid fish – was it was the blue lightning bolts painted on the deck? As I considered the possibility, the clouds pressed in from overhead and a clap of thunder announced the coming rain.
 
It started gradually – I felt the odd drop on my back and then saw the dark impressions they made on the water’s shiny grey surface. As the drops grew in size, their impact grew to flashes of dark and light, a large drop of water rebounding with each one and then disappearing in the embrace of sea water. The sensation of the droplets’ coolness against my skin was arousing and contrasted with the warmth of the seawater enveloping my legs.
 
The tide was rising and there was talk in the lineup that the quality of the waves was diminishing. A couple people went in and then another, until finally it was just me and one other surfer. That’s when my friend paddled out. As we sat there, surrounded by grey clouds and pock-marked grey water, he remarked that he’d never surfed in the rain in Baja. “I feel like I’m in Indo,” he said. Indonesia, I thought, one day I’ll know what it’s like to surf Indo.
 
Soon it was just the two of us and while my arms were starting to fatigue, the waves seemed to be getting better than they’d been just a half hour earlier when everyone else went in to the beach. I smiled at my handsome friend and the thought occurred to me that it was a shame there were people on the beach – the coolness of the rain and the warm sea water caressing my skin sent me into a reverie in which I pictured the two of us peeling off our suits and surfing Hawaiian-style.
 
There is a sensuality about surfing, about immersing yourself in a warm sea that I’ve never heard surfers discuss. It’s that sensuality that I believe made me fall in love with the water the first time I felt it against my skin: Half Moon Lake, Quebec may be thousands of miles away and radically different from the Sea of Cortez, but it’s all the same water, evaporating, condensing and morphing from mountain stream, into river, and cool ocean currents. For me, it’s been a life-long love affair that just keeps getting better.
 
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