Surfing, a Metaphor for Life
Mon, 29 Dec 1997
For many the end to the year brings private self-assessment personally,
spiritually, professionally, socially and economically. Often these
assessments spawn traditional New Years resolutions, which just as
traditionally are forgotten before the fizz is out of the bottle. The
Foondoggy household had a good year despite losing the Foonpalace,
suffering two crippling injuries, and the worst seasonal surf drought in
Trips to Florida, North Carolina, Santa Cruz, Bodega Bay,
Trinidad/Tobego kept my interest in surfing alive and looking forward to
1998. I have much to be thankful for in spite of some personal and
professional storm clouds on the horizon (El Nina?).
My own introspection this year has me considering many things, not the
least of which are the comments on this nag about bodyboarding that seem
to be a perpetual topic to chew on. I find as I age (from a good wine
into vinegar) my wisdom and maturity harnesses my desire to rebuke the
harsh opinions that spice this group. My urge to add to the noise
challenging the dimwits who purport to know what is "true" surfing, has
lessened greatly with the knowledge that my skills of persuasion are
fairly weak, and there are much better advocates doing the job better
than I could (good job guys). In the long run what does it matter what I
think or Sandman thinks? You believe what you believe, sometimes in spite
of, or because of some enlightenment read here.
I for one have read some brilliant prose here that have changed my mind
about certain topics or at least given me a much better understanding of
why others believe what they do. I continue to learn volumes about this
sport from the ng, some friends, and my reading (Surfers Journal, a
thinking man's magazine.) Like all things, the sport and the people who
practice it, are in a continual evolutionary flux. What does remain
constant is that we are all out to do the same thing, ride waves. What
basic instinct, inherited from the primordial tidepool motivates some of
us and not others to do this, is still a mystery to me (I have
theories). All I know is one of my earliest memories is of being in the
ocean. I only pray that one of my last will be the same.
Surfing, a Metaphor for Life
I have alternately rejected and embraced this trite, literary twaddle at
different times of my life and find it equally annoying that it is also
the most frequently abused cliché' in surf writing. That could be due to
a few things....1) It's real easy to make this comparison.....2)It's
true.....for some more than others and it can vary from time to time in
a person's life. The fact is, there is something basic to all life which
the earth has in abundance...water. Coincidence? Mebbe.
I continue to drag my aching, ageing carcass into the water at almost any
reasonable opportunity to refuel what we all know as the eternal flame
of stoke. But I also have come to greatly enjoy observing the
practitioners of the sport at all skill levels, living somewhat
vicariously through their experiences. Critics would say, "Get off your
fat ass Foon, and do it!" And many of you have, frequently and with
passion. To them I would gently say I have spent my time in the ocean
for 35 years. I have permanent scars on my knees from paddling the big
boards of the 60s; I have stitches from taking the point of a shortboard
or fins in the head or legs when that was my ride of choice; I have,
according to my dermatologist, ruined a perfectly good skin due to the
ravages of surfing unprotected for years in the brutal sun. These are
physical legacies I carry with me, not as some Red Badge of Courage, but
merely as remembrances of an activity I have done for over 3/4 of my
total life. Not very well I might add, but I never claimed to be some
great surfer, only a very happy and satisfied one.
I find it very rewarding to watch the groms enter the sport and discover
the excitement and wonder of riding waves. Their leaning processes
closely parallel the beginnings of human life as babies discover the
world through their senses then sort this information to make a
connection through speech, movement and touch. Trial and error are as
much a part of our early lives as it is to a grom's first efforts trying
The adolescent phase also has it's similarities as kooks with a little
knowledge and a lot of attitude often imitate and pose themselves into
surfing culture the same way teenagers adopt the false behaviors of
adulthood by taking up drinking, smoking and fucking. As in real life,
maturity, wisdom and skill in the sport only come with experience,
practice and time. (There's that talent and aptitude thing too).
Early adulthood is often the time of peak performance and achievement in
life. Young, experienced surfers also seem to be our best performers.
Coincidence? Mebbe. The onset of middle-age brings responsibility and
distractions in life, often thwarting our desire to do and be what we
want. The obligations to make a living and raise a family have taken
many men away from our sport and with good reason. Those lucky enough
to find careers in the surfing industry still must submit to the demands
of job requirements and family needs.
I sometimes sit among older surfers in the line-up. Their conversation
are very different than those of the kids but the exquisite beauty of
this sport is when a set appears on the horizon and you know every brain
in the line-up, young or old, is thinking the same thing..."My Wave!"
Generational differences may be more pronounced on the beach, but in the
water we are all equal. Not in skill or vitality or physical prowess or
experience or knowledge, but in the essential reason for being where we
are...to surf, ride waves, in whatever way, shape, manner or form we get
the most reward from.
Surfing, a Metaphor for Life -Simultaneously bullshit and a
metaphysical truism in the same phrase. At times my surfing has been a
perfect metaphor for my life. My early introduction to the sport
parallels my High School and College education, sort of the primer or
building blocks for later. My hiatus from the sport to make a living and
raise a family marked a period of a profound sense of personal loss. My
re-acquaintance to the sport, the acquisition of a beach home and the
ability and inclination to travel a little in search of new places to
surf signaled a genuine renaissance in my feeling for the sport. The
ebb and flow of my participation in surfing is almost tidal in nature,
and the climb and drop of my excitement for surfing sort of like a hot
All along the way the personal and professionals obstacles I faced were
much like the physical ones I experience in the water. Sometimes I could
overcome them, sometimes I could not. At times I'd be riding along
feeling just great, only to be smacked down by an nasty closeout.
Personal problems seemed to hold me down in the deepest, blackest pits,
never letting me up for air and threatening to end my life. Yet with
time I would gently float to the surface to find another day of
sunshine, another wave, another obstacle to face, another challenge to
Changes in life can be compared to daily surfing conditions. Some days
are epic, some days are not worth paddling out for. Generally, we do the
best we can, getting as much out of the experience as is allowed. When
you think about the continuous effort and struggle of paddling to
experience those precious few moments of joy, life can be a striking
So here I sit still alternately chuckling and burning over the comments
of the cheap shot artists and self appointed funnymen of the ng. When
they send a barb my way I know it is only with the knowledge I have
given them through my own writing. After two and a half years on this
group I still find it has something to offer me. In spite of the endless
discussions on topics we've covered before, occasionally a new person
joins us to stir the pot and tweak the dialogue. The regulars can always
be counted on to do their thing and make it interesting.
So with all the kooks, posers, jerks, impostors, Mother Teresas,
wannabees, anarchists, netsurfers, surf nazis, capitalists, liars,
assholes, speedbumps, sea snakes, belly whompers, half-men and frauds we
have here (I believe I've been called most of those) we still have a
group I choose to come back to for my daily fix of fun.... and many of
you do too. Because as bad as it gets (real bad) compared to the Surfer
BB and various weak chatroom efforts, this is still the best forum I've
found for the unrestricted discussion of the sport. Be it un-monitored,
unregulated, uninhibited, incorrigible, profane, mean-spirited, funny,
angry, spiteful, immature and dishonest, the ng reminds me of some crazy
relative. One you hate, love, reject, accept, criticize, ridicule, make
fun of, honor and respect...but you can't take your eyes off it. For
all this I genuinely and sincerely thank all those who still make an
effort to keep the group lively, entertaining, informative and fun, and
who still understand the true essence of what this medium is (a Locker
I'll still paddle out as best I can until that day when life or the
ocean presents me with a set wave I cannot surmount. Whether I choose to
fight on, take the drop, bailout, play dead, curl up in ball and quit
the sport is no one's business but mine. I guess that decision will
come with the circumstances and they are as unpredictable as good waves
on the East Coast. When the sport ceases to be rewarding and fun, that
is when I'll stop. That's all I ever really wanted anyway - to have fun.
YOU, stay away from my Wife!
Tue, 30 Dec 1997
Mrs.Foon woke up this morning wide-eyed and laughing. "What's up?" I
She said, "I had the most weird and vivid dream last night. I dreamt a
bunch of men came to me and wanted to take me surfing on a surfboard.
They claimed they were performing a sort of 'intervention' saying you
had been a bad influence on me. When I resisted saying the water was too
cold, they said they would give me in a black rubber wetsuit. After they
had suited me up the last scene of the dream was them all picking me up
and carrying me into the water...that's when I woke up."
"hmmmmmmm" I mulled this over a few seconds. "Were the men naked?" "No"
"How long was the surfboard?" "Oh, it was a big one." She started to
get my drift.
"Was one of the men named Sandman?" She looked puzzled then said, "As a
matter of fact..."
"That does it!" I shouted "You are hereby forbidden from lurking on the
alt.surfing newsgroup and taking that trip to Seattle in June!"
"Oh Foonie, I don't get jealous when you have your Pamela Lee dreams."
She grinned coyly. I scowled and stared at her intensely, "That's
different. Those are sex dreams this is something more serious. This was
a surf dream."
"Oh come on now honey," she giggled, "sometimes a surfboard is just a
"Well thank you Mrs. Freud." I said mockingly, then smacked her in the
head with a pillow.
Bad Storm's a-brewin'
Jan 06 1998
The old surfer hobbled down to the beach casting a sundamaged eye toward
the roiling gray sky. His gaze moved down to the horizon where in the
distance he could see the peaks of angry waves moving North to South
making the line between ocean and sky look like the serrated edge of
some viscous commando knife. The ocean was a bubbling cauldron of cold,
green-grey snakeskin, pockmarked with startling white foam which burst
on the surface like some reptilian staff infection. The spray from the
tops of the breaking waves blew in swirling cyclones of steam, buffeted
by a wind that had no conscience and cared less where it should go.
The old surfer had seen these conditions before in his thirty-five
years, but most recently during Hurricanes Amschel, VMXLD and Cortical.
Those were mean spirited bags of wind which blew in violently, did their
damage and blew off to god knows where. Oh they could stir things up
all right, smashing and slicing their way through the threads of good
weather and karma. A few had staying power that transcended the seasonal
length of how long a storm should last. Mean fuckers....the one's you
can't predict. Just when you think they've gone all soft and cuddly,
they cutback and bite you where it hurts. Drove several of the locals to
leave the area for good. Goddamn we lost some good people to those
But these were a new breed of storm; Strong, well-defined, outspoken and
sure of themselves, obviously veterans of previous wars and clashes.
Would they come in all bluster and noise, take their best shot and
leave? Or would they stay for a sustained period time to wreak havoc and
destruction on us. No one could predict.(But everyone had an opinion)
The old surfer squatted down next to his small fire of seasoned oak and
slag wood taking a small dented flask from the pocket of his magic coat.
He took a small but long sip of the sour mash he'd become fond of and
peered up and down the beach for any sign of life. Suddenly the
cellphone in his pocket jingled merrily announcing a call from one of
only two people who had this number, his wife and an acquaintance.
He punched the connect button and spoke:
"Hey Foondoily, guess who?"
"Storm's abrewin Sandman."
"No shit Sherlock. El Nino ya think?"
"Yeah, well we seen these before, eh Foon?"
"Yeah, but these are no rookies and you're puttin yourself in the eye."
"No sweat, my pudgy doormat, I'm a big boy, I can take care of myself.
Besides Johnny Utah has my back."
"Yeah, well just the same, watch yourself. I don't know if I'm going to
enjoy watching this one as much as the one's from the past."
"That's right you fat coward, sit on the sidelines and watch the real
men duke it out in the pit, then come in and make fun of all the
"Well we go with what we do best, ya know?"
"Well if that's your best Foon, maybe you should look for another
newsgroup. How 'bout alt.pathetic.sponger?"
"Why thank you Sandman, I never expected anything less from you."
"No problem Foonwimpy, you deserve nothing less. Seeya punk."
With that the line went dead. The old surfer took one last drag of the
soggy Churchill Excelsior and buried the butt in the sand. "Yep," he
thought. "Bad storm a brewin. Need to lay in some more cigars and
whiskey. Gonna be a long winter."
Hair getting caught in wetsuit
Wed, 07 Jan 1998
Dyer Crouch wrote: Anybody find a good solution to keep
your ponytail from getting caught in the back of your wetsuit?
Hair? You have enough hair to get caught in a wetsuit?
Right Coast Winter Weirdness
Thu, 08 Jan 1998
This time of year I'm usually settled in for a long winter. Wood is cut
and stacked, shovels waxed and ready, plenty of sand and salt for
sidewalks and driveways, provisions are stored, travel agents on alert
for a good deal to take us away from the frozen madness.
Early longrange reports of mild winters make us all laugh. We heard it
before 10 years ago when 18 inches of snow fell on frickin WRIGHTSVILLE
BEACH NC!!! I was there and had to shovel Moms Foon out with a garden
hoe and a cafeteria tray. The governor called in the national guard cause
there's not a single snowplow in all of the Coastal Carolinas. So when
the weather prognosticators said, "Mild winter in the Mid Atlantic" I
hoisted my splitting axe and WHACKED another log muttering under my
breath, "El Nino? Bah!" (Damn!! That was close to my foot!)
Since the New Year we have had 7 days in the 60s, a record. The humidity
is so high, dew forms on the streets and side walks so thick it looks
like it has rained. This morning at 6 am the thermometer at Fooncentral
read 70 degrees!! Mrs.Foon actually turned off her heating blanket and
took off her foot warmers (This itself proves it's been a weird winter).
I haven't heard the heat pump go on in 3 days. Fog is a major road
hazard. Reports from the beach say they think it's good, but they can't
see it!! I haven't stoked a fire since the weekend after Christmas.
This is screwing with my winter mindset. My realtor called telling me
he's got a listing at one of the best breaks on the Delmarva, do I want
to see it? Shit, man, I'm ready to suit up and try it!! Yeah we were
bummed that the 1997 Hurricane season was a fake. But ask anyone except
skiers if they'll take 65 degrees days in January and you'll see people
going to the emergency room with whiplash from nodding their heads so
fast. There's something weird going on, and it's put me in a strange
Bad Ju-Ju Risin? The regional paper ran a column by a pair called, "the
Brews Brothers," entitled "Surfin for Suds in all the right Places". The
column graphic showed a couple of cans of beer, wearing Blue Bros.
porkpie hats, riding a surfboard on a wave of beer suds. The column went
on to describe how to find cool microbrew sites on the web. Those of you
who know me can imagine what my reaction to this was.
I looked way under the cellar steps storage area and pulled out the old
pellet pistol, which I haven't used in 25 years. Taking the column
outside in the back yard I tacked it to a pine tree and stepped off 25
paces. After a mental drum roll, I executed the sucker with 10 fairly
well grouped shots to the beer cans. The perforated paper was then
ceremoniously taken to the Foondoggy surfshrine and ignited by the
ritual sterno can, then dropped into the galvanized steel bucket I keep
for such special occasions. For some reason I felt strangely satisfied.
70 degrees and 85% humidity in the Winter will give you that special
mind mold you need to do things like that. I'm jonesin to get some
surf, staring at my pics from Trinidad has lost it's appeal. My Cuzin,
the Fabulous Raymoondo of Scott's Valley has a 50th birthday comin the
end of Feb, and we've been invited to attend a galla bash at the local
church hall. Ticket prices to the Left Coast are very low....hmmmmm come
end of Feb. I may be checkin water temps and conditions for SC. Weirder
things have happened.
Foondaggy Mun (My Trinidad handle)
Real Surfers are Donut Eaters!
Thu, 08 Jan 1998
Judging by the most recent traffic on the ng regarding the manly sport
and the therapies that assuage our psychic and physical boo-boos, it is
clear that there is a donut consuming faction in our midst, one I am
happy to be a member of.
After all, and lets be honest here, in the whole cosmos is there anything
more rewarding, before or after (or both) an excellent session than a
bag of Krispy Kreme donuts and a hot cup of your favorite beverage? I
DON'T THINK SO!!
(A chocolate glazed and a cup o mud = I'm in Heaven...or
Law & Order: Reno style
Fri, 09 Jan 1998
Dateline Washington DC: When asked if she had a good holiday, Attorney
General Janet Reno said she had a very good holiday. In fact, she
learned how to kayak out in the ocean off of Florida and even learned to
"surf the boat into shore." (This part is absolutely true!!)
On a deep background briefing, not for attribution, my sources at the
DOJ (Department of Justice) claim Reno's spin doctors are downplaying the
rumors that the Attorney General is fed up with rampant localism and
disrespect at the nation's surf breaks (Apparently someone named Slater
snaked her bad at Melbourne). They further deny the reports that the
Attorney General plans a comprehensive tour of both coastlines to see
firsthand just how bad the situation is, and then do what it takes to
clean it up.
By way of my sources I have submitted the names of Windensea, Malibu,
Oxnard, Steamers Lane, (she's already checked Sebastian Inlet) and
"Coastal Washington State" as suggestions for her to visit immediately.
So be on your best behavior men, the Attorney General's yak is bright
yellow I and understand she takes off deep, goes right, and does not
tolerate snaking (Slater is not taking calls at the hospital just yet).
Her security entourage of six are FBI sharpshooters and they accompany
her in all black yaks and helmets, but they're easily identified by the
HUGE "FBI" printed on the side of their boats. Their job is to "protect"
the Secretary, and if need be, clear the break if its mackin. Good luck
dudes, she outweighs all of you by 50 lbs and rides a yak that can scrap
a break clean like a squeegee. That's a powerful argument for respect :^)
Foondoggy (takin a break from dissing yakers for now)
The Last Good Wave
Tue, 20 Jan 1998
I went to see Joe last weekend. Joe's not a real old friend, but a guy I
met 8 years ago when I needed some electrical work done on the
Foonpalace. Joe is a local electrical contractor, a long time surfer who
gets in the water as often as he can. For an old guy (53) he could
really slide that old Hobie 9'6" around. In the last several years I
guess I've shared waves with Joe about two dozen times. He was always
very generous and good natured in the water, somewhat soulful and
philosophical, and always eager to talk during lulls. Joe was the kind a
guy you wanted to surf with every day.
Joe is dieing. I found out through the usual grapevine of acquaintances
he is suffering from advanced lymphoma and immediately called to find
out what happened. I reached his wife Liz and she filled me in.
About 18 months ago just after the epic season of the Summer of 96, Joe
was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He went through the rigorous regimen
of treatments that pretty much ended his working, but he seemed to make
a strong comeback. Sometime last October he was at home turning down the
bedcovers one night, turned the wrong way and just shattered his hip.
X-rays showed later his pelvis looked as porous as a sea sponge from the
Chemo or Radiation. Since then Joe has been to the hospital and several
rehabilitation facilities. He was also rediagnosed with lymphoma.
I asked Liz what I could do and with a slight catch in her voice she
simply said, "Foon, if you could just get him out of the house for a few
hours, it would be a great help to both of us." So Saturday, armed with
a half dozen Surfer's Journals and a copy of "the Perfect Storm" I
visited my friend Joe and tried not to react to the cadaveresque visage
he had taken on.
Joe has a subtle and dry sense of humor. Not an educated man, he was a
swabby in the Navy during Vietnam and became an electrician's mate. His
jokes are very thought heavy and he tries to maintain a low profile. He
lives in a little cottage of a house on one of the backbays and receives
most of his medical treatment from the VA. When I walked in he was
sitting in a little sunroom area he'd built and greeted me warmly though
he didn't get up. He was quite candid about his condition and not afraid
to admit his life clock was winding down. But the mental juices were
still lively and we got a couple of good chuckles about mutual friends.
I told him I was taking him out for a ride and he looked hesitant, but
Liz quickly agreed he could handle it and got him his heavy Navy Pea
Coat and a Black watch cap. Bundled up against the 38 degree temps, I
helped him out to my truck and we took off mindful of Liz's warning that
he tired very easily.
We toured many of the old haunts, checked out some jet skiers riding the
standing wave formed by an outgoing tide at the inlet and watched some
windsurfers skip along the backbay taking advantage of a brisk Northwest
wind. Eventually, we stopped at Duffy's Tavern for lunch and sipped
Irish Coffees to warm our bones (I'm not sure this was allowed under
his treatment but I was damned if I was going to tell the man what he
shouldn't do). Later in the afternoon I drove my truck out onto the dune
path at my old homebreak (very illegal) to give Joe a 180 degree
panoramic view of the place we shared many good time and many good
waves. Within minutes a local police car showed up to shoo us off the
path, but when the officer came up to the window, he recognized Joe
knowing of his condition and simply shook his hand and wished him well,
then took off.
A weak Nor Easter had kicked up a good swell the day before, and the
steady Northwest breeze had sculpted some pretty good but very cold and
grey looking surf. I was tickled that some of our tough as nails locals
had suited up to ride the break and give us something to comment on and
critique. Joe seemed in a very good mood, exhilarated by being out in
the fresh, cold air and stoked to see somebody getting some in the dead
Inevitably our talked turned to epic days and classic sessions. I
reminded Joe of the time Hurricane Hortense visited us in the Fall of
'96 and the late afternoon session we shared. As I recall Hortense had
been a classic offshore storm bringing all the good surf and none of the
bad winds. An army of surfers had ripped the shit out of the conditions
that day, Joe and I both waded in for 3 separate sessions that Sunday.
Just before Sundown with the tides just starting to change and the warm
gentle offshores barely blowing, I'd come in to sit and watch the
remaining riders get their last rides. Joe was slightly outside, as was
his practice, willing to wait longer for the better set waves. On the
horizon several noticeably large waves formed a long set that would
prove to be one of the larger of the day. Joe paddled out farther to get
a better line up, the early waves were snatched by the remaining few
guys leaving Joe just about alone, bobbing, watching for the one he
wanted. With fluid motion Joe swiveled and two stroked into a long
headhigh gem that just reeled off on the outside edge of the shallow
sandbar. Though technically not a stand-up barrel, the wave began at it's
peak to be just over Joe's head. Joe glided a subtle turn, angled up the
face of the wave into the sweetspot and shuffled ever so slowly to about
two thirds the distance to the nose of his old Hobie surfboard.
At that moment every eye of every surfer on the beach followed Joe like
radar. The peeling wave lip just grazed the back of his shoulder. As Joe
realized there was nothing needed of him to make this wave more perfect,
he slowly clasped his hands behind his back and adopted a modest soul
arch.....shoulders back, head raised, eyes riveted on the breaking
lip. He stood absolutely still for the whole ride. As the wave wound
down and the taper of the swell made it smaller and smaller, Joe
maintained his stance and the perfect trim that caused the slide of his
big board to throw a perfect symmetrical wake. At the very end, as the
wave expired gently in the shallows, Joe simply stepped off his board in
knee high water, picked it up and walked out to a chorus of
hands-in-the-air hoots from every surfer on the beach (the surfer
equivalent of a standing ovation) The entire ride had unfolded over the
space of one city block, a long ride by anyone's measure. Joe walked up
to me with a huge grin and said, "I guess I'm not going to do much
better than that today Foon." I answered, "Nope, that's just about the
best you will ever get out of this break Joe."
After reminiscing about this wave I looked over at Joe, he'd gotten very
quiet.....he was crying quietly. God, what had I done? He choked back
his sorrow and very calmly said, "You know Foon, that was the last good
wave I ever rode. I am so thankful that it was one you remembered too."
The air in the truck suddenly got very hot, my throat was seized up and
I could barely breath. Like most men do when we get emotional, we just
sat and watched, calming ourselves and breathing deeply. Finally I
turned to Joe, he smiled and said, "Foon if there's only one thing you
could remember me for, I'd like it to be that wave." "Fact is Joe," I
smiled, "a lot of people at the beach that day remember you from that
wave." "Thanks Foon." At that point, I lost it.
Later we sat in Joe's tiny living room next to a small, warm fire. Joe
was exhausted, I sipped some whiskey Liz had brought me Joe had some tea
in a mug. We both watched out the window as the first flakes of some
light snow began to fall in the waning light of the day. Liz had looked
at us very strangely as we walked in, sensing something unusual had
happened. Joe and I sat and discussed the Surfers Journal and the
Perfect Storm. Joe remembered he'd made a lot of money doing electrical
work after that massive Nor Easter on. He joked he was able to buy a new
truck with all the money he'd earned. He was looking forward to reading
Soon Joe nodded off and I sat quietly looking at my friend. I was both
alternately sad and happy I'd made the visit, and promised I would do it
again. As I quietly got up to leave thinking Joe was asleep I barely
made it to the door when I heard him whisper to me, "Seeya buddy, thanks
for the book and hey don't forget......ride every wave like it's your
last." He laughed a little chuckle and winked at me. I smiled at Joe,
nodded and fled the room incapable of holding back my tears.
When I called back later to see how he was Liz thanked me profusely for
taking Joe out for what was one of his better days. When I asked her
what Joe would really like to do with his remaining time she thought a
second and said, "I just think he would like to sit and stare at the
ocean each day, it seems to give him the most pleasure and peace of
mind." I mentally swore to myself, if there is another Foonpalace and
it happens to be oceanfront, Joe will always have a place where he can
sit and look at the ocean for as long as he can or wants to. This I do
solemnly swear. It's exactly what I would want to do.
Dr.John the surf tripper
Jan 24 1998
Weeks ago during the holidays I was out in the woods back of my house,
savoring a cigar and watching the thousands of Canadian Geese fly
overhead. Maryland is the center lane in the flyway for migratory geese
along the Right Coast and on a good day the sky is filled with humongous
flying wedges of these birds. This particular gray day I was standing
out in a snowshower, the kind where the flakes are huge splatty blobs
that melt when they land on you, but cover the ground with a white
uneven blanket. MrsFoon came out on the deck and said there was a phone
call for me. "Who is it?" I asked, not wanting to interrupt my cigar and
solitude for just anyone. "Dr.John," she said and flipped the portable
to me (which I promptly dropped, to her delight).
Dr.John, a name out of the past. An old surfing buddy (I actually taught
him to surf at Gilgo Beach on an old Keioki) with whom I shared many a
surfing adventures to Florida and the Carolinas and Southern California.
A little background on the man may give you some insight into him, and
why to this day I still admire the hell out of him.
John graduated from Brooklyn Polytech with a Doctorate in Chemical
Engineering. He immediately went to work for Shell Oil in some
incredibly polluted refinery in the armpit of New Jersey cracking crude
into all sorts of noxious products. After three years there he was
recruited, hired and was very well paid by Signal Oil in Long Beach, CA,
where he wound up living and surfing regularly in Huntington Beach.
After several years there he had an epiphany one day and he realized his
life's work was not making money and polluting the environment, but
making money and helping people.
Suddenly at age 36, with a wife and two small boys, John quit his job
and went to Med School. The average classmate of his was 10 years
younger. His wife supported them by working for a travel agent and John
just tore up the disciplines. He is such a brilliant man, it's hard to
believe he can be such a jerk sometimes. Nevertheless his biggest
decision was what specialty to practice. He mastered and excelled in
Emergency Medicine in San Diego (where he now lives). Then when he
burned out on that he conquered reconstructive and plastic surgery. He
quit that because it tore him up not to be able to make whole the many
child victims of crashes and accidents. Finally, responding to a gross
shortage of specialists John took up Anesthesiology and has been working
in a private surgical group ever since.(To put things in perspective,
John's insurance premium for his practice is about a half million a
After his med school gig, John convinced me to move to SoCal where I
lived in Huntington Beach, then a succession of beach towns on down
South to San Diego. John finally took up residence in one of those huge
peach and stucco mansions in La Jolla, up on the hill overlooking the
ocean. We traveled all over the Southland together trying places and
improving our skills. John is not a great athlete, but I know no one who
has a bigger zest for life. He will try almost anything, and many times
almost got me to do things I'm certain would have ended my days on this
earth. I was very curious about what he wanted this time.
"Hey John, What's up?"
"Foon, my man I'm calling to make you a holiday proposition"
"Uh oh, what do you want me to do this time."
"Well my son's and I are renting a villa in Aspen during January and
we've signed up for some backcountry helitours. Would you like to join
"I don't ski John, never have, never will."
"Pah!! Foon I could have you skiing deep chesthigh powder in about two
hours of lessons, and the boys ride snowboards, you can try those."
"Come on Foon, you'll love this, it's already paid for, just hop a plane
out to Aspen and we're off."
"Let me get this straight. You want me to fly to Aspen, go up in a
helicopter onto some mountain, with two hours of instruction and ski
deep powder for God knows how long. John, have you been snortin some of
that stuff you use on your patients. I'd kill myself, or worse just
shatter both my legs and be crippled the rest of my life."
"No you won't Foon, besides, I work with some of the best orthopedic
surgeons in California, if you break anything I guarantee you we'll fix
it, no charge - my treat!"
"You are nuts my friend."
"No Foon this is as easy as anesthetizing a patient. With all the new
and sophisticated equipment we have, a trained monkey could do what I
"You got that right."
"Nothing John. Look, no amount of equipment is going to make me able to ski back country powder, and that's it."
For a brilliant man sometimes Dr.John could be maddeningly simple
minded. He did not have a clue that what he was proposing was, for me,
the most illogical thing he could do. I hate cold, I hate snow and I
occupy a very brittle and inflexible body.
The thought of me plummeting down a mountain on some skis or a snowboard
was.......well just insane. Besides MrsFoon would kill me first before I
even got the chance. So I politely declined the offer and asked him
what else he was doing with himself?
"Well Foon, after the ski trip, the boys and I are going to Hawaii for
two weeks to catch some of the big surf contests. Then sometime after
that we're going on one of those 1000 mile bike trips. Then after that
the boys have to get back to school and I have about 50 hip and knee
replacement surgeries scheduled."
I contemplated all that this man packs into his life and got exhausted
just thinking about it. So I said, "John, do you ever take anytime to
just chill out and go surfing anymore?"
He thought about it for awhile and admitted, "No Foon, I really don't
get to go as much as I'd like, and damn it the beach is only blocks from
my home. I just never get the time."
"Next summer John, you take two weeks and bring your family to North
Carolina. We'll surf, you'll chill and I guarantee you'll have a good
time and I'll stay in one piece OK?"
"You're on Foon, we'll be there. Seeya pal."
I clicked off, looked up at the darkening sky to see another massive
flight of geese flying overhead, and got a cold wet glop of snow in my
eye too. Summer seemed so very far away.
Fri, 30 Jan 1998
A warm fire crackled in the living room of the Foonhouse. Outside
buckets of cold, wind-driven rain thundered against the side of the
house announcing the fury of one nasty Nor Easter that was pasting the
Right Coast's Mid Atlantic region, raising havoc and claiming a lot of
beach, not to mention a few beach houses in Sandbridge, VA.
Firmly belted into the Foonrecliner as was my custom, MrsFoon kept a
watchful eye on my right hand as it loosely grasped the tumbler that
held my nightly medicine of three fingers of Black Jack. She was ready
to reach over and rescue it from falling as I slipped into my post
dinner doze 'n drool coma, just as the evening news came on.
My eyelids automatically began to head South as the talking head on our
flickering TV uttered the anesthetically tinged name, Monica Lewinsky
and I mused in my half-sleep how the network censors had wrestled with
this evenings euphemism for the term "blow-job." The Clinton story was
all we'd heard in Washington for a week and as I finally dropped off (my
glass safely caught by you know who) I dreamt of bombs falling on Iraq,
if only to wipe the madness of Clinton's sex addiction off the air.
With the suddenness of a bucket of ice water down your pants, MrsFoon's
voice cut through my sleep. "Honey, surf's UP!!" My eyes flew open to
see monstrous waves breaking at what appeared to be Pipe and later
Waimea. The talking head was commenting that surfers on the North Shore
of Oahu had all they could handle as a record breaking swell was
pummeling the beaches. More footage of gutted beach houses was shown,
but curiously, no one riding the incredible waves. Talking head stated
that the surf measured 55 feet, though qualified it by stating Hawaiians
measure their waves from the back so it was really only 35 feet! (Oh
let's quibble about what's more accurate) I sat, dumbfounded by the
pictures and the facts, if they were true. Was this the largest swell to
reach Hawaii in more than 30 years?
A shiver went down my spine as another Gigantic closeout pitched forward
in slowmo leaving a building size curtain of spray in it's path.
Sometimes, for all my bitching and complaining about lack of surf, it
felt good just to be a spectator.
Still another story relating to the never-ending pussy crisis came on. My
head fell back, and my eyes closed, but the curtain in the theatre of my
mind rose to a whole new image-
North Shore....winter...swell of the Century - Now that's entertainment!
Giddy at the thought
Mon, 02 Feb 1998
Again last night, TV images of Ventura and Manhattan Piers. This time
waves breaking equal in height to the pier top. One long sequence of
some guy riding, racing to beat the section; forget about style, forget
about grace, forget about form - surfing for survival. The waves were
It brings to mind the few times my buddies and I ventured into what by
my measure was big surf, approx 2x overhead. Basically these experiments in
terror and cajones took place in treacherous beach breaks of Montauk NY
and again at Blacks. Each time as we launched ourselves into the fray I
could feel the tremor of fear tingle my whole body, and I fought the
sensation of my bowels going liquid. It was always reassuring to survive
the first thrashing, even if we got pushed all the way back in. At least
we were heading to safety. But credit good timing or strong arms or
determination and we would find ourselves racing out into open water
trying to judge by the dissipating foam where the last set went off,
gazing down the line to judge where other sets were breaking in relation
to where we were. Did we paddle outside far enough? Too far? What if we
get caught by the mother of all sets?
Giddy - a common word which attached itself to everyone who made it
outside. Associated with nervous smiles, stupid jokes and
uncontrollable laughter for no apparent reason except....we made it. Our
giddiness and joy could quickly turn into the "Oh SHIT, Please GOD!"
syndrome as we looked outside and judged by the monster set bearing down
on us that we were about 100 feet short of the outside and were sitting
approximately at ground zero in the impact zone. Tired arms would thrash
like paddlewheel boats on speed, and every eye and every instinct was
tuned to the question, "am I going to make it?"
When the waves were co-operating and a few of us would get good rides,
our giddiness would turn to delight, even bravado. We'd conquered the
ocean and by association, our fear. We would take off on anything that
seemed reasonable with some assurance, even if we didn't make it, we'd
be back outside for more. Those were heady times, full of high spirits
and full throated hoots for everyone. But there were just as many times
when we would collect on the shore, having spent an hour trying to get
out, staring down at the sand exhausted, heads hung low, when we all
knew the ocean had won this round. Those were some sobering moments.
So as I see the evening reports on high surf all along the CA coast I
sit and wonder. How long do you stand in the lot, on the cliff, on the
highway and watch before the magnet pull drags you out to test yourself
against what comes along so rarely. Will you measure up? If not, does it
really matter? You tried, you tested yourself and found the limit of
your ability, strength, experience, fear, bravery. There's a comfort in
knowing too what you can't do.
At this moment hundreds if not thousands of Left Coast riders are
contemplating these ideas as several storms line up to come ashore.
Reports of another fierce Nor Easter gathering strength to blast the
Right Coast probably have our brothers here doing the same thing. These
are extremely rare times when inhabitants of both Coasts can share the
Whenever I see one of us scrambling for the horizon to meet a wave, or
survive it, I can't help but wonder, "what are you thinking at this
moment?" I bet I know. It makes me Giddy at the thought.