The Foon-Ditch Project
Thu, 21 Oct 1999
"In extreme youth, in our most humiliating sorrow, we think we
are alone. When we are older we find that others have suffered too."
Tom Callahan picked up the ringing phone and walked out on the
lanai of his Costa Rican cottage overlooking the secluded and remote point break. He
settled himself in the rope hammock that swung easily between the dark wooden columns that held up
the loosely thatched roof of the lanai,
and toggled on the receiver to find out who had called him. He
didn't get many visitors and even fewer phone calls.
"Hello, you fuck." The peculiar greeting instantly revealed who
it was. It was used exclusively among a few guys he used to surf with and even after thirty years
it was the standard opening of any phone call from a surf bro.
"Howzit goin' Foon?Long time, eh brah?"
"Yeah Tomas, you still gettin' some?
"Everyday amigo, and when the waves are good, that too." Tom
chuckled at his small joke but wondered why after at least 5 years Foon was finally hooking up.
"What're you up to Foon? When you comin' down to get some Costa
There was a long silence as the caller paused before speaking,
mulling over the real purpose of his call.
"Not real soon Tomas. Work, family, problems.........life. It's
all pulling me in widely different
directions. I don't feel like I'm in control of half my time.
It's good to see one of us chucked it all
and got away. Thank you for the invite though. Someday I'll just
show up on your door step.
How're you doin'.... good?"
"Yeah Foon, I'm good. Working small carpenter jobs down here six
months a year and bumming
around Florida doing odd jobs for rich retirees the other six. I
can't complain. Anyway, I'll always
get more waves than you and Robere."
Robere was the other character in the trio. Real name...Robert
Bowden, but always known as
Robere to the original four who'd hung out and surfed together.
He'd graduated college in ‘71 with
Tomas and Foon and gone on to a life in Law Enforcement. He
worked his way up to the rank of
Captain as a New Jersey State Trooper. Currently he was waiting
to retire but wouldn't until his
twin girls had finished college. His dream was to run a charter
boat out of Cape Hatteras and spend
his golden years at sea, away from New Jersey and his life as a
Tomas felt the awkward silence through the phone. Not knowing
what to say, but sensing Foon was
going to broach the subject, he felt pity on the guy and started
the ball rolling.
"It'll be thirty years in October Foon."
"Yeah......I know. I think about him every day Tomas, I.......I
can't help it, I........"
"I do too Foon, he was a good friend, more like a brother to all
of us. It was a tragic and terrible loss."
"I want to do something Tomas. I'm working on a project, an idea
for a gathering and I want you
and Robere to be part of it. I feel as though we didn't tie up
the loose ends. We never grieved his
loss properly. I feel a real void about letting him just go like
that. Jesus, there wasn't even a funeral,
just a memorial service. We never even had a paddle out. I
wanna do one in October, on the anniversary.
Will you come?"
Tomas had thought about the episode from years past many, many
times. He knew they all had
unresolved feelings about the loss of their best friend Dennis.
The drowning of their surf brah,
companion, teacher and water brother in October 1969, had scarred
them all deeply. They needed
to get together and lay his memory to rest.
"I'll be there Foon. You call it. When and where?"
"The East Deck. October 30th. We'll paddle out on the 31st.
I'll contact Robere."
Tomas hung up without further conversation, lost in the mental
preparation of making arrangements
to leave Costa Rica and travel up to Montauk, New York, to go
surfing one more time at Ditch Plains.
It would be the first time the three of them would ride the rocky
reef of Eastern Long Island together
since the Fall of 1969. He both looked forward to and dreaded
this occasion. Damn you Dennis.......why?
Tomas started dialing the airline.
"Everyone believes in his youth that the world really began
with him, and that all merely exists for his sake."
It had been a great Fall season on Long Island in 1969. The
four of them, Foon, Tomas, Robere and Dennis had all
scheduled afternoon classes at Long Island University's
South Hampton College. All the better to spend hours every
morning in the pursuit of waves from West Hampton Beach all
the way out to Montauk Point.
They had all reached the maximum number of class cuts
allowed for many of their courses by spending too many days
surfing the hell out of what seemed like an endless number
of quality swells to hit the Southern beaches of the
island. Even though they were all taking the classes
pass/fail, too many cuts could be shaving that fail option
too close. They had to be careful about which swells
deserved ruining a good "education" for.
The dawn patrol drill, which originated among them all in
high school, was always the same. Dennis would call everyone
a half hour before dawn on any given day the conditions
seemed good and simply say, "Hello, you fuck. Seeya in
ten." Then hang up. He was always there, and always stoked
to the max anytime the winds were North. Tomas usually rode
shotgun. Robere and Foon would sleepily sit in the back seat
of the 1963 gray and red primer covered Volkswagen Van,
complaining about everything. They were tired, they were
cold, they were sore, the bench seat was too hard, they were
unhappy with the music, the coffee, the donuts, the early
hour, the fact they were gonna get skunked, you name it.
They were not morning people.
Dennis on the other hand was out of the blocks each morning
like the crack of a starter's gun. He fairly leapt out of
bed a bundle of raw energy and stoke. Of the four he was the
largest in stature and weight, standing almost 6'4" and
weighing over 220 lbs. His days as a star lineman on the
Walt Whitman High School football team had given him a well
layered muscular physique, which he kept rock hard by
surfing, running wind sprints and spending hours in the
weight room. Of all of them he was the bull elephant seal. A
water animal of magnificent proportion, strength and grace.
Because of his size he had not evolved to shorter boards in
the late 60s like the others had. He stuck with his longer
boards which he had custom shaped to resemble the tapered
gun-like designs he admired and needed to ride the kind of
surf he liked. Big waves. His hero was Greg Noll, and his
favorite board was a red striped Greg Noll semi-gun.
In October of 1969 the confluence of two big low pressure
systems over the Mid-Atlantic made for a huge storm system
whose fetch started well below Bermuda and which aimed an
endless army of swells at the Southern shores of Long Island
and New England. Disorganized at first, and subject to gusty
onshores, the swell pelted the beaches of Long Island for
almost a week as the massive storm idled off the coast of
the Carolinas. Though not authentically a hurricane, the
long fetch and near hurricane winds of the storm produced
swells equal to that of a Category 3 storm.
On the 30th of October a cold front, the first really cool
high pressure system to invade the warmth of Long Island's
Indian Summer, moved quickly through the North East on a
succession of violent thunderstorms, unusual that late in
the season. Dennis knew immediately the call would be the
many breaks of Montauk Point, for the biggest waves and best
conditions. He warned the others the night before to be
ready to spend the whole day exploring the East End in
search of the big stuff. They all humored him saying,
"yeah, yeah, we'll be ready, you make sure the coffee is hot
and the donuts are fresh; and when are you gonna get that
heater fixed, it's either too hot or too cold, and where did
you hide the new Santana cassette, and........." It never
ended with those guys.
With military precision Dennis picked them all up at the
appointed hour and aimed the little van eastward. He was
determined to reach Ditch Plains in an hour which meant
breaking every speed limit along Route 27 the whole way. It
was very fortuitous that Robere knew every cop from West
Hampton Beach to Amagansett, having met them all through his
Dad who was a New York State Trooper. As the little van
hummed through the pitch dark of the Eastern End, everyone
knew Ditch was the call since the wide rock reef was,
except for Montauk Point itself, the most likely place to
hold the size of this swell. On the cheesy Blaupunkt
cassette player Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young warbled,
"Four dead in OH HIGH OH!!"
In the grim gray light just before dawn Dennis pulled the
van up to the East Deck Motel and parked peering out into
the gloom of the break, waiting for that tell tale sound.
The sound of a cannon exploding in the distance. It did not
come. He looked in the rear view so see Foon and Robere
nodding sleepily, waiting for him to hop out and do the
surfcheck, then to summon them with the results. Tomas was
looking out the window but did not seem willing to get out
of the warm van just yet. Dennis hopped out and walked
briskly toward the beach, noting with great satisfaction
that the cool 10 knot Northwest wind was constant, not
Squatting down to wait and using a stick to write crude
phrases in the sand, Dennis continued to search the horizon.
It took ten minutes but he finally saw a set of dark shadows
moving shoreward. He stood up erect trying to see over the
smaller inside breaking waves to gauge the height. The
first two broke every bit of 10 feet with a loud and solid
whump. The next two were nearly as big but closed out
thunderously over the reef. Finally, the biggest of the set
welled up out of the gray ocean like a monstrous A-Framed
building, shimmering in the early morning air, just as the
first rays of sun peeked above the clouds in the East. This
mother went off like a bomb, spewing a giant plume of
whitewater upon impact and unleashing a huge veil of spray
back out toward the ocean on the offshore breeze.
Dennis turned and bolted for the van already taking off his
heavy Pendleton shirt. The others could see him stripping as
he jogged back and they immediately began throwing the
gearbags out the windows of the van. The frantic activity
looked like a damn chinese fire drill with clothes,
sneakers, coffee containers, boardshorts and shorty wetsuits
flying every which way. Dennis kept muttering, "this is it,
this is it........15 feet at least." Foon kept thinking,
"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh...."
In 10 minutes flat they had all suited up and unstraped
their boards. With chill bumps on all their exposed limbs
due to the cool air and nervous tension, they all dropped
their boards on the damp sand to begin waxing up. Then after
attaching the crude surgical cord leashes to their ankles
they stood and looked out at the ocean ...... all except
Dennis. Greg Noll never used a leash, and neither did
Dennis. He was already scanning the break for the best
Finally with shouts of nervous excitement on their lips they
ran toward the shorebreak launching themselves into dark
green waters of Ditch Plains. Dennis, on his 9'8" red
striped semi-gun led the way, paddling powerfully and
smiling a calm and tranquil grin, confident in the feeling
this would be the best day of his young surfing life.
"Whom the gods love, die young, no matter how long they live."
- Elbert Hubbard
Aided by the superior floatation of his board and his powerful arms,
Dennis plowed straight out into the break, punching through three 10
foot waves and avoiding the long paddle around the reef. By time the
others had negotiate the trip out, Dennis had already dropped into a
stand-up barrel and ridden it over 200 yards into the slight cove
where he pulled out with a giant arcing kickout.
The morning haze was beginning to disappear, burning off slowly in the
warmth of the rising sun, and blowing out to sea on the stiffening
breeze. Tomas was amazed at the size and quality of the waves. It was
by far the biggest most visually impressive surf they had all ridden.
Large green walls would lumber out of the deeper green ocean and
slowly reach up to a vertical apex, lingering for what seemed like
ever as the offshores blew a final whispering breath at the feathering
peak. The plume of spray tailing off the top of the wave would reach
half again it's height as the mountains of water fell slowly forward
like a collapsing brick building. The sound was deafening if you
happened to be near or under the breaking walls.
Though all were proficient surfers, Tomas, Robere and Foon seemed
tentative on their shorter boards. The takeoffs seemed just a tad
skiddish and kamikaze-like, and on two out of five waves the offshores
would hold them up in the face too long to make the drop.....standing
Dennis sat slightly outside the rest. Using the better paddling of the
long board he would get into the bigger waves sooner, take the drop
then notch into whatever the wave offered up. Wave after wave Dennis
was nailing it, getting the longest and most critical rides. Often
from outside the others would see him drop in, then what seemed like
minutes later, see him come screaming out and over the shoulder, some
200 yards down the line, a huge grin on his face and his fist raised
in the air. All morning the break was punctuated by stunning waves
and hoots of appreciation.
As the tide began to flow out leaving less water on the reef, the
shortboarders began to notice that the waves were not only getting
bigger, but the critical faces were even hollower. Their only chance
was speed, and losing the race with the lip could get.......uhhhh....
painful. After some ugly wipeouts the three became much more selective
about the waves they took and in fact, began shoulder hopping to avoid
the big dangerous peaks that were now pouring over the reef with
Foon, the least fit and clumsiest of the four, made a big mistake and
got caught racing a wall that was a blue ribbon closeout the whole
way. Instead of diving off or trying to punch out through the back of
the wave, he tried to straighten out. Half way through his backside
turn and in a half crouch that was supposed to end in a prone out, the
lip of the 10 foot wave caught him squarely across the shoulders,
driving him instantly headfirst into the shallow water. Instinctively
he raised his arms in front of his head taking the brunt of the
piledriver dive into the reef on his forearms, then flipping over and
over like a tumbling gymnast in a full layout position. The makeshift
leash was torn from his ankle and seawater was forced up his nose,
into his sinuses and down his throat toward his lungs.
The others had seen this frightening scene from outside and waited
anxiously for Foon to pop up. And pop up he did. Like a Polaris
missile Foon, in full panic mode, pushed off the reef with his legs
and exploded out of the water almost up to his waist, gasping and
spewing water then yelling and puking his unhappiness for all to hear.
Three more waves piled in on top of Foon. The others could see he was
done for the day, as he slowly dog-paddle and sidestroked his way in.
Both Tomas and Robere were starting to feel uneasy about the
conditions. Both were looking to catch their last waves and call it a
morning. The waves were easily double overhead now and the fun and
excitement of the morning surf had turned to nervous apprehension
whenever a set appeared. Robere opted to take a smaller wave which
broke nearer to the reef and therefore sucked out like a Hoover vacuum
cleaner, leaving him nothing but air to ride on. The wipeout was
swift and brutal. Robere gathered his board and began his paddle in.
Tomas knew he didn't want to be caught by a big set, so when the very
next group of waves came in he picked one he thought he could handle.
The peak had lined up almost where he thought it would. In two strokes
he was into the steep drop rising to his feet in one fluid motion and
already clinging to the face of the wave burying his arm up to the
elbow in water. Ahead the wall began to well up in a fast but
makeable section. Tomas hit his board's accelerator by shifting his
weight forward to his front foot. His little 6'8" rounded pintail
shape took off, finding a precise notch high in the face of the
tumbling wall and gaining enough speed to easily make the section.
Tomas was so relieved to make the initial wall he forgot that the
inside had turned into a sucking hellpit. In a fraction of a second
Tom felt himself catapulting off the front of his board trying
desperately to find enough water to land in. He did, but unfortunately
his board didn't. Twelve inches of the nose of his board came up
missing. Small price to pay Tomas figured, he was happy to be going
With the three others waiting and watching on the beach Dennis was
finally in his glory. The Ditch was finally his alone. He had always
fantasized about having it to himself on an epic day. He had dreamed
of these conditions and knew deep down, if he could handle big Ditch,
he was ready to move on to other large breaks in California and maybe
Ditch had always had some mystical hold on him. It was the place he
first got a taste of bigger surf. He had practiced his skills on the
large hurricane spawned swells for the last three years, since he'd
taken up the sport in High School. He wondered what it would be like
living out on the Eastern End, being able to surf Ditch and the Point
all the time. He hadn't really planned to do so, but just now it all
seemed like he never wanted to surf anywhere else. It was as if this
is what he was born to do forever.
Abruptly Dennis' set radar went off. The one that was approaching was
much bigger than the others, and far too big for him to be sitting
where he was. Instantly his arms began pumping, his board fairly
flying through the water out toward the horizon to meet the incoming
giants. Dennis' limited experience with really large waves drove him
with the fear that he would get caught inside. He just made it over
the first two but he could see that the next wave was the set wave of
the day. By his reckoning, easily 20 feet. He knew if he could make
the drop, the speed he'd have would carry him way out on the shoulder
before the reef would closeout the rest of the wave. All he had to do
was make the drop. Piece ‘O Cake for Greg, Dennis was determined to
make this look easy.
Dennis stopped where he thought it would be safe and waited. He
realized a little late that he was just slightly too far inside, but
reasoned it would be easier to catch the wave with fewer strokes. He
wheeled the big board around and began slowly to paddle toward shore
looking back as the huge swell began to obscure the horizon.
The three others were standing and watching on the beach, dumbstruck
by what they were witnessing. It was like being at Waimea Bay, only
Ditch Plains was a left. They collectively held their breath when they
saw Dennis was about to take the drop on the largest wave he'd ever
ridden. He had decided to go on the biggest of what had appeared to be
a rogue set that was breaking dozens of yards outside the reef. They
watched as this little speck paddled, stood and began the long, steep
drop on the cleanest, prettiest and most thrilling wave they'd ever
seen at Ditch.
They were all about to unleash an explosive, tension relieving shout
of joy as Dennis appeared to easily take the drop, when suddenly they
saw him look up at the wave face. He stood up a little straighter and
raised his arm, as if pointing at the huge wall of green water, doing
nothing more to navigate his board away from the crashing ledge that
was coming down on him. A scream of horror exploded from the three
when it looked like the entire wave came down on Dennis, who was still
standing and pointing when he was buried by the falling mountain.
They waited for what seemed like hours to see Dennis pop up. They all
knew he would. He always survived a pounding no matter what the
conditions. Tomas grabbed his crippled board and ran for the water.
His worst fear was that Dennis was unconscious. The whitewater from
another big wave was just reaching the shore as Tomas threw himself
against it. It tossed him back like a twig, throwing him flat on his
back in the swash. They all stared searching the break for some sign.
There was none. Robere ran for the motel to call for help. It would be
15 minutes before a local cop would show up. In that entire time the
thoughts of the three remaining men were already too dark to
comprehend. They sat in stunned silence, inwardly screaming the name
of their lost friend.
Dennis's body was never recovered. After 2 days of searching, only
half of his red striped Greg Noll surfboard showed up at a beach about
a half mile away. The three remaining friends spent the rest of their
young adult lives trying to make sense of this tragic accident. None
of them could. It wasn't until years later that they would finally get
an answer to their questions.
"Sorrow makes us all children again."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Tomas stepped off the Long Island Railroad's East End
line at Montauk just before 4:00 p.m. Friday, the 30th of
October. It being the end of the line and the off season,
there were no other passengers debarking the last train
of the day. A slight chill was in the air as dying breezes off
the ocean made their way inland, and the fiery remnants
of an epic Fall sunset barely warmed his back as he waited for his ride.
He'd traveled swiftly and light, leaving Costa Rica the
previous day on the last flight and carrying only a small
bag with a few things in it. He sensed he would not need a
lot for this occasion. He knew Robere would be picking him
up soon and would provide him with a board suitable for this
trip. Robere was one of those guys who still owned every
board he ever bought. Soon a huge dark blue Ford Bronco
with two boards lashed to the roof made its way across
the crunchy gravel of the train station's small parking lot. A
brief blip of the high beams confirmed it was Robere. Tom
could see the reflective aviator glasses that Robere
always wore when driving, and in the passenger seat he could see
the white ball cap on Foon. Some things never changed.
Foon and hats.......it was like a fetish.
Warm greetings, handshakes and manly embraces were shared
all around, but soon they were in the truck for the short
ride to the East Deck Motel. There in the largest room they
could rent, the trio would finally put the demon of their
discontent to rest by honoring the loss of their best friend
and brother, Dennis Talbot.
Foon had set up a video camera to record the proceedings.
Awkwardly they all began to speak of their love for Dennis
and what he'd meant to them and each in their own way
started the grieving process. Foon began slowly and
clearly speaking of how much Dennis had taught him about
surfing, and life, and friendship, and wound up in a puddle
of his own tears, sobbing his sorrow to the camera.
Robere was stoic at first. The struggle with his emotions
betrayed by the slight quivering of his jaw muscles as he spoke. Soon
he too was looking very sad eyed and weepy.
Tomas was possibly the closest to Dennis of them all.
They had been childhood buddies, growing up next door to
each other. Tomas' pain was a deep gash of raw and powerful
feeling. There were long moments of him just staring
down at the floor, breathing deeply to capture just a shred of
composure. The glassy pools of liquid in his eyes as he
poured out his sadness were deep enough to drown in.
The pain in his voice cut like a razor.
A few beers each had loosened their tongues and the self
consciousness men feel when their throats seize up with
emotion. But soon the stories began to flow, one after
another. Epic trips, stupid stunts, dangerous behavior,
pranks, jokes, you name it.
There was the time they all went to Cocoa Beach in February
during semester break, expecting warm temps and hot waves.
It was damn COLD, below freezing at night. They'd planned to
camp out under the stars at a secret spot, but due to the
frost warnings the first night they all crammed into the
van. Big mistake. Robere and Foon had bad gas that night
from eating a two pound can of Heinz pork and beans. Dennis
threatened to end all their lives by lighting a match.
Tomas came from a big family, he could sleep like the dead.
Nothing bothered him.
The next day, knowing they were not going to be able to
camp, they made friends with some kook and his girlfriend on
the beach, convincing them to let the four sleep in their
apartment in exchange for a big spaghetti dinner. While
Foon, Robere and Tomas cooked the dinner and entertained the
kook with great stories of surfing Long Island, Dennis was
boning the kook's girlfriend in the next room. He never
would have found out either except the next morning the girl
blurted out her new found love for Dennis and confessed her
betrayal. The guy went berserk but in the face of four
bulky surfers who all outweighed him, he succeeded only in
shooing us all out of his apartment with a butcher knife.
The girl begged to come along and Dennis figured it was the
least he could do, but left her stranded later when she
asked for a pit stop. He had a strict, "No chicks on surf
There was the time they had "all you could eat" fried
chicken at the Long Beach Hojos on the Boardwalk and
bolted sticking Foon with the check, figuring he's eaten the
most anyway. Only he couldn't pay it and wound up cleaning
up all night in the alley out back. Meanwhile out front, the other
three were mooning the customers in the restaurant
pressing those rosy bare cheeks against the plate glass window
for that "pressed hams" effect, and hoping to create enough
diversion so Foon could escape. The manager called the cops.
Three patron asked for their money back claiming they'd lost
Then there was the time Dennis picked up a stripper at the
Missile Lounge in Cocoa Beach the same night Foon sat in for
the house drummer (playing a sizzling version of Black Magic
Woman) Dennis took her upstairs only to find out later to
his horror she was the "in-town girlfriend" for several big
shot news broadcasters from New York, when they were in Cape
Kennedy for the Apollo launchings. She gave Dennis a dose he
couldn't shake for month. He had all sorts of excuses for
his girlfriend when she got suspicious. The guys just loved
to tell that story and laughed so hard they almost puked
whenever those news hot shots came on talking about
"docking" and "successful probe insertions."
Having given themselves over totally to their sadness and
the joy of remembering the great times they'd had, the three
finally turned in for the night knowing another large swell
from a huge Atlantic Storm was looming just steps away from
the motel. Each struggled to sleep haunted with his own
thoughts, punctuated by the sound of thundering waves. Each
was aware that the final tribute, a paddle out for Dennis,
would take place in conditions similar to those in which he
was lost. The plan was to say a few words in memoriam of
their lost friend, then they would all paddle out and surf
their waves for Dennis. The video camera would be setup on a
tripod on the beach to capture the moment.
"Don't brood on what's past, but never forget it either."
- Thomas H. Raddall
Detective Dan Morgan, age 40, sat in his county car at the
head of the parking lot at the East Deck Motel. It was a
cold, blustery afternoon just two days before the dawn of
the new millennium. A weak sun tried to burn through the
ocean haze and substitute for the car's faulty heater. It
wasn't working. Dan was cold, tired and cranked on his fifth
cup of coffee that afternoon.
On the seat next to him was a box of case folders he was
reviewing. The squad Captain of his Eastern Suffolk County
police station in Riverhead Long Island had asked all the
detectives to try and tie up the loose ends on as many cases
as possible before the end of the year. He wanted his
"solved stats" to be especially high this year, hoping the
county would reward him with an end of the year raise if not
Dan was reading a very puzzling case of the disappearance of
three men here at Ditch Plains beach on October 31st. His
interest was above average since it not only involved the
disappearance of a fellow officer, a New Jersey State
Trooper named Robert Bowden, but it just so happens Bowden
had attended the same High School 10 years before Dan had.
During the course of his investigation Dan had asked the
records database operator to search for and identify similar
cases of missing persons in the area. He had with him the
folder in one particular case of a missing boy, presumed
drowned, named Dennis Talbot. What was curious was that
Dennis had been friends with the three men who had
disappeared. Dennis had disappeared 30 years ago, to the
day, at the very same beach. Dan thought this was more than
just an erie coincidence. It was in fact, kind of creepy.
Dan actually remembered the men remotely when he obtained a
copy of their 1967 High School yearbook. In the book were
pictures of the four startlingly young looking teens, with
sun bleached and longish (for the times) hair and sunburned
or peeling noses and cheeks. These boys represented the very
beginnings of the surfing clique that had started at Whitman
in the early 60s and which numbered almost 30 young men when
Dan went to high school years later.
Under each student's picture it was customary to print their
nickname (if any), their likes and dislikes, interests,
clubs or organizations, and favorite sayings. The four boys
revealed quite a lot about themselves with this information:
My 9'6" Bunger Noserider
Going over the Falls, backwards
Future Surf Bums of America
Noseriding (or picking)
Being late for dinner
Playing the drums
Junior Fiction Writers Club
"Are you gonna finish that donut?"
West Gilgo - 6 foot and peeling
Getting snaked, anytime.
ROTC, Student Government Association, Disciplinary Council
"MY WAVE, punk!!"
As big as it can get
Surfing Legends Hall of Fame, future inductee
"Hello, you ____!"
Dennis Talbot's favorite saying rang a small bell of
recognition with Dan and he leafed through the case file of
the missing men to find the connection. The scene
photographs taken at the time of their disappearance had
shown a tripod with a video camera. Near the tripod almost
obscured by the many footprints of searchers were the words,
"Hello, you fuck," scratched in the wet sand. Dan examined
the pictures again noting the things found on the beach
during the search and reading the list of items kept in the
property locker back at the police station. He decided he
needed to take a look at the video that was recovered from
the camera that day. Something told him he would start
piecing together the puzzle of the case after seeing it.
"Until the day of his death, no man can be sure of his courage."
As luck would have it Detective Dan Morgan had drawn duty
with a several others on New Year's Eve. He and a
Criminology major, student/intern had decided they would
review the tape of the missing men that night before
midnight when rumor around the coffee urn had it, all hell
would break loose. Late into the evening they gathered all
the evidence and records into one of the interview rooms,
along with a video machine and monitor.
About 10:00 p.m. they sat down to review the tape. It opened
with the man called Foon in one of the rooms of the East
Deck Motel talking directly into the camera. He could barely
contain his emotions as he spoke:
"Dennis........bro. We've come here tonight to do what we
should have done 30 years ago. We all miss you so
bad.......it hurts. It hurts like losing the closest member
of a family, because.........we did. You were our leader,
our friend, our brother. We can hardly say what.........."
Here there was a long pause as Foon fought to compose
"We were all there, man......We saw you riding those mackers
like we've never seen you do before. Every one of us knew
you were finally where you always wanted to be. Your rides
were the biggest, longest and best of your life. Even though
we were shittin', we knew you were hittin' it, cruizin' down
the line on that big Noll, eatin' it up like no one we've
ever seen. Man you were gettin' housed on almost every
ride. This tape is the congrats we wanted to give you that
day. It's your memorial and a thank you for being our friend
and brother." At this point the tape stopped as Foon's face
dissolved into wracking sobs.
The tape started again with both Robere and Tomas taking
their turns heaping praises and breaking their own hearts,
but also telling jokes and stories about the many trips the
four had taken. Many were so hilarious both Dan and the
intern burst out laughing. These guys were as tight as a
group of friends could be, making the tragedy of Dennis
Talbot's loss that much sadder.
After a half hour of the emotional testimonials and tears
the three men hoisted some beers and toasted the memory of
their friend. The picture ended, but picked up again,
obviously the next day just at dawn on the beach out in
front of the motel. The tape continued with a long sweeping
panoramic shot of the whole beach. In the distance, through
the dim light of dawn, powerful and magnificent waves could
be seen shimmering and breaking a few hundred yards
offshore. The water was deep green and the slight offshore
winds whisked plumes of transparent spray off the top of the
Someone set the camera on the tripod and aimed it out at the
ocean. The three men came around into view and gathered in
front of it to talk again. Robere, looking directly into
the camera said quietly, "This will be the paddle out you
should have gotten Dennis. Every wave we ride will be for
you, bro......and every one is our way of saying how much we
would love to surf with you again. We still love you
Robere picked up a large, 9 foot solid blue board while
Tomas carried a smallish looking pointy green board of about
6.5 feet. Inexplicably, Foon carried a pair of fins and a
black boogie board, like the kids use. Wearing short
wetsuits, they all headed out into the surf.
The camera clock showed on the tape it was 7:25 a.m. but it
was really 6:25 a.m. just after sunrise. Dan could tell the
camera's clock had not been adjusted to accommodate the
switch to Daylight Savings time that had occurred the night
before. It took about 10 minutes for them to paddle out
through the towering waves and gather outside the break
line. There they joined hands in a triangle and seemed to
share a short period of prayerful silence. A set of waves
appeared on the horizon and each of the men broke away to
pick out the one they would ride.
Robere easily paddled into a wave that loomed a few feet
over his head. Taking the drop and turning his board out
onto the dark green wall of the unbroken face, he walked up
toward the front third, squatting down and extending his
right foot out toward the tip. The big board planed
smoothly, it's full length visible as the cascading lip
poured over Robere's head. As he rode down the wall of the
wave, Robere could be seen smiling broadly. After riding at
least 75 yards in this position he gracefully stood up and
moved to the back of his board turning out the top of the
wave with a shout that could be detected by the little
microphone of the video camera over the noise of the surf.
On the very next wave Tomas took off on a bigger and
hollower version of Robere's wave. He chose to attack the
wave on his shortboard, climbing to the top of the lip then
slashing an abrupt turn sending a hail of spray at least 10
feet above the wave. He performed this and other deep
carving turns at the bottom of the wave several times before
he too sent his board flying up in the air over the top of
Two waves later Foon paddled and flapped his way into
another 10 foot wave on his little boogie board. Turning
high in the wave, he stalled his board by sideslipping on
the face, waiting for the crashing lip to catch up and
eventually cover him. In a burst of spray and whitewater,
he fairly exploded out of the wave pocket then angled up the
face. At the very top of the wave he smacked the breaking
lip and flipped his board upside down and over as he fell in
mid air down the full height of the wave. Landing with a
splash at the bottom of the trough he turned the little
board hard and with the sheer power of determination fought
his way back out onto the shoulder, raising his fist
straight in the air in an act of both fierce defiance and
The men gathered again near the shore yelling and hooting
each other's rides. They seemed to decide to paddle out
again for another assault on the big surf, which seemed to
be getting bigger with each passing minute. Spread out
about 10 feet apart they started to paddle out again during
a short lull in the waves.
They had almost gotten out to the place where they caught
their first waves when a large dark shadow appeared in the
distance. Dan and the intern sensed this wave was of
unusually large proportion. Dan asked the intern to slow the
tape machine down. As the tape inched along in miniscular
intervals Dan could see all the men scrambling to get
farther out so they would not get caught. But the relentless
wall of water was already upon them, rising up out of the
ocean like the side of a building.
Suddenly, Foon stopped paddling completely, raised himself
up on his board and pointed toward the wave looking as
though he was shouting something to the others. The other
two also stopped, looking and gesturing at the looming
mountain of water as it took aim at them. In the next
instant the wave came crashing over right on top of the
helpless trio. The whitewater exploded in the air, spray
jetting in all directions. A 10 foot ledge of tumbling
whitewater raced for the beach. As it dissipated Dan looked
intently at the picture. The men were no where to be seen,
as though they had just.........disappeared. Dan had never
seen anything like it in his life. His instincts told him
there was something more to this event than the tape was
showing. He needed to look at it more to find the answer.
"There is a magnet in your heart that will attract true
friends. That magnet is unselfishness, thinking of others
first,.....when you learn to live for others, they will live
The end of the 20th Century was quickly coming to an
There was another mass suicide by a cult in Colorado; a
run on camping gear, bottled water, cash from ATMs, and
ammunition; Jerry Falwell had barricaded himself with
500 followers in some mountain bunker in West Virginia
declaring he would not come out until he was certain the
government could maintain law and order; someone shot and
seriously wounded Ricky Martin at a concert, right in the middle of
his signature song "Livin' La Vida Loca." A man
declaring himself the second coming of Christ was
precariously on the upper deck of the Verrazano Narrows
Bridge in a terry cloth robe and clutching a bottle of
Mid-Night Express wine. The bridge had to be closed
until some one captured this nut.
Dan Morgan and the intern were painfully aware that at
the stroke of midnight, every drunken whack job in Suffolk
County would be calling their local police station to report
some Y2K catastrophe - like they couldn't find their car
keys ("Did you look in your pocket Sir?"), or worse.....the
TV remote wouldn't work ("Did you check the batteries
Dan had watched the tape of the three men disappearing
in the surf at Ditch Plains several more times. What was
Foon pointing at? Even in super slow motion it just looked like
some huge wave breaking right on top of them. Why did
they stop? What did they see? Why didn't they try to save
Dan asked the intern if all the items found on the beach
and in the motel had been brought to the room?
"All except the broken surfboard." He replied.
Dan had read in the crime scene report that half a
surfboard had been found at the beach that day and he asked the
intern to go to the property room and bring it in.
A few minutes later the intern returned with half a board
that had red stripes on the top and bottom. Dan quickly
said to the intern, "That's not it, none of those men were riding
a red striped board." The intern looked quizzically at the
property tag and replied, "This is it Detective, this is the
one found at the scene on Oct 31st, 1999."
A low buzzing sound began in Dan Bowden's ears and
the hair on his neck and forearms began to rise with static
electricity. At the same time his skin felt cold, clammy
and wet. He jumped for the Dennis Talbot case file and
began rifling through the evidence pictures. He yanked out a
black and white picture of the half a surfboard found days after
his disappearance. Dan's eyes went blurry as he realized
the board in the room was the other half of Dennis Talbot's
Greg Noll surfboard.
Hands shaking Dan sat down heavily in his chair and
gulped the remains of his strong but cold coffee. He checked his
watch which showed about five minutes to midnight.
Quickly he turned to the video machine and rewound the tape
He stopped it at the point where Foon was pointing at the
wave face and the others were looking there too. WHAT
WAS IT?? WHAT DID THEY SEE??? Again and again he rewound and looked at the tape.
At the stroke of midnight, ending the year 1999, the
lights in the police station flickered and sparked. Computers all
over the building belched a chorus of beeping sounds as
they switched over to their surge protectors and alternate
power, but the video machine was on an unprotected outlet.
Dan starred at the video as the picture began to flicker and
jump on the monitor. The color of the huge wave began to
drain out of the screen pixilizing and posterizing the
image into a black and white picture. Dan could see on the
face of the wave white foam tracks from the previous broken
waves. These tracks had arranged themselves in mostly
long vertical lines and shapes from the top to the bottom of the wave.
As the room lights began to die the picture on the
monitor started to fade and disappear. The face of the wave
turned pure black, except for the white foam tracks which Dan
could see sort of formed letters spelling three words, "HELLO,
YOU......" He could not make out the last word, but he
already knew what it was.
As the room went completely dark Dan Bowden looked
one last time at the now gray faded image on the video monitor.
He thought to himself, ".....Happy Eternity Gentlemen."
"Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods."