Surfing Vancouver Island  

Foondroppings 21  

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."
-Suzanne Moarny

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 Rican gold.?" 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, 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 cop.

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."
- Goethe

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 gusty.

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 lineup.

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 up.

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 deadly impact.

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 in.

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 Hawaii.

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 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 trips" policy.

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 their appetites.

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 a promotion.

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:

Thomas Callahan
My 9'6" Bunger Noserider
Going over the Falls, backwards
Future Surf Bums of America

Warren Overton
Noseriding (or picking)
Being late for dinner
Playing the drums
Junior Fiction Writers Club
"Are you gonna finish that donut?"

Robert Bowden
West Gilgo - 6 foot and peeling
Getting snaked, anytime.
ROTC, Student Government Association, Disciplinary Council
"MY WAVE, punk!!"

Dennis Talbot
As big as it can get
Tiny waves
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."
-Jean Anouilh

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 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 himself.

"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 breaking waves.

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 Dennis."

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 the wave.

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 exploding joy.

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 for you."

-Paramahansa Yogananda

The end of the 20th Century was quickly coming to an end. 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 staggering 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 Sir?")

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 themselves?

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 again. 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."
- Aristotle


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