Thoughts on Surfing

Recently, some good friends from Texas, Al and Rhonda Brown, came down to visit us here in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Like they always do, they showed up with some nice gifts for my wife Allene and me and one was a t-shirt for me that said on the back “I Surfed in the ‘60s … Still Surfing in My 60’s.” My first reaction was a hearty laugh along with high five hand slaps with Al and Rhonda. My second reaction was more introspective as I thought, “Wow, have I really been surfing that long? Yep, it’s true.

On July 4th weekend of 1962, the Almeda Divers Association, of which my father Mack Blaker was a founding member, sponsored a spearfishing tournament that took place in Galveston. The staging and weigh-in area was right next to the south jetty, where the Houston Ship Channel enters from the Gulf. Several canopies and tarps were staked out in the sand for shade, and under the biggest tarp a P.A. system had been set up and was crankin’ out the tunes, while right next to that sat a huge barbecue pit on a trailer, where some folks were getting serious, smoking a bunch of briskets, ribs, chicken and sausage. Texas style!

There were a lot of spectators and family members of the divers hanging out, waiting for the boats to come in for the big weigh-in. I was hoping my dad would come in with a big fish. All of the kids, including me, were running wild, like we always did at the beach, our skin already a pale shade of pink that would look more like the color of a well-done lobster by the end of the day. This was before sunscreen was invented.

At one point, a friend of my dad’s, named Randy Woodum, grabbed me and said, “Hey, Clay, you want to go out and try my new surfboard?” Surfing was in its infancy on the coast at that time and my dad and a few others had recently taken it up. I was eager to give it a go. It just so happened the waves that day, although not very big, were absolutely perfect. The wind was non-existent and swells were coming in, in long beautiful glassy lines. It couldn’t have been any better for my first day.

We waded out to the third sandbar and Randy instructed me to lie down on the board and he would push me into the wave. He said when I felt the momentum, I should pop up on the board and ride it. By some miracle, that’s exactly what happened. When I felt the board glide into the wave, I jumped straight to my feet and with me being right-handed, my dominant leg naturally put me in a regular-footed stance. I rode that wave all the way until the fin started dragging in the sand. I still to this day can’t logically explain it, but immediately I knew while riding that first wave that I was hopelessly hooked and for the rest of my time on this earth, I would be a surfer. That day totally changed my life.

On the drive home that night, I was telling my dad about the waves I had ridden and I could tell by his reaction that he was as excited for me as I was. The next words that came out of his mouth were the magical words I was hoping to hear, “Alright, boy, the next time we go surfing, you’re going with us.”

That night, when my head hit the pillow, I drifted off into the deepest, most peaceful and sound sleep I think I’d ever had, all the while having sweet dreams of sliding across those endless blue-green swells. It wasn’t long after having those dreams though that I had a real nightmare.

Two or three days after my first day of surfing, while we were closing up our family business called “Blaker’s Water Sports,” my dad looked around at me and a couple of the guys who worked at the shop and said, “Hey, y’all want to go surfing?”

In my mind, I was thinking, “What? It’s gonna be dark in an hour and it’s a long drive to the beach.” But I didn’t care. I was too excited to even think about backing out.
So we loaded up four boards and headed down to Surfside Beach. After crossing the big bridge over the intercoastal canal, my dad turned left on the beach and drove down to the Surfside pier. The pier had lights for night fishing and my dad said, “Okay boys, we should be able to see good enough to catch a few waves.”

As we were hitting the water, my dad hollered at us over the sound of the waves, “Hey, you guys, shuffle your feet when you’re walking out. There are a lot stingrays around these piers. And there’ll probably be some current so don’t let it take you into the pilings. The barnacles’ll cut you up like razor blades.”

“Oh great,” I was thinking, “and besides that, those lights on the pier are there to attract bait and the fish that eat them, so there have to be a few sharks hanging around as well. But hey, let’s do this!”

We waded out with our boards to the third sandbar and turned them around to face the shore, then waited for a big breaker. When one would break behind us, we’d push off in the whitewater, jump on the board on our stomachs and try to stand up. Of course, we were going straight off, because none of us knew how to turn yet. Also, at that time we didn’t know that it’s way more difficult to surf in the whitewater. If you take off on a wave and get to your feet on the smooth water before it breaks, then you have more control over the board to be able to ride in the whitewater after the wave breaks. Basically, we were all getting knocked around pretty good. Especially me, being only 12 years old and small for my age, I felt like I was taking a total beating. At one point, when I was walking my board through the cut between the second and third sandbars, I stepped on a blue crab and it pinched the hell out of my little toe. I was screaming and everyone thought a shark had bitten me but at that moment the crab let go and I hollered, “It was a crab and I’m okay!” I did reach down and make sure I still had that toe.

A little later I was getting pretty tired when a wave smacked me and I lost my board. As the waves were pushing it towards shore, the current was pulling it towards the pier. By the time I got to it, it was inside the pilings so I carefully went in after it and somehow barely brushed one of the pilings with my right leg. I didn’t feel any pain so I just forgot about it and headed back out. Finally, a while later, my dad hollered, “Alright boys, let’s get one more and go in. We’ve got to head on back.”

When we were putting the boards in the back of the van, the interior light was on and my dad said, “Hey, Slick, what happened to your leg?”

I looked down and I was bleeding like a stuck hog. I said, “I guess you were right about those barnacles.”

On the drive home, I was trying to make some sense of it all. My session had been a total nightmare. My toe was purple and swollen, my lower leg looked like raw hamburger, I was sore all over, totally exhausted, and on top of all that, I never stood up on one wave. But at the same time, I also had a grin from ear to ear, my spirit was soaring, and I felt like the king of the world.

That’s the irony in surfing. After having what I know now as the worst surfing session of my life, I thought it was the most glorious day ever. Or should I say night. Nowadays, the saying goes, “Any day that includes a go-out is a great day.”

In learning any new endeavor, no matter what it is, you will always reach a few game changing moments, or turning points. After night-surfing two or three nights a week for a couple of months, we got word from some other surfers that the waves were better the farther south you headed down the coast. One of the main reasons for that is the further away you get from the Mississippi River basin and all the big rivers on the upper Texas coast, the continental shelf is much narrower and drops off into deeper water much faster. So when the waves come out of deep water and don’t have the drag of a slow-sloping large continental shelf, by the time they hit shallow enough water to break, they are bigger, steeper and better formed than their upper coastal counterparts.

So we decided to head for Port Isabel at South Padre Island. In those days South Padre Island was barely populated. Next to the jetties were campgrounds, a big pavilion, and the Jetties Restaurant. On the road that went north for a short ways up the island, there were a few small beach homes, a couple of bait stands, a grocery and tackle shop, some small motels, and the Palmetto Inn. You wouldn’t recognize the place now. The skyline of South Padre Island now resembles Miami Beach, with condos and high-rises everywhere.

But when we arrived there on our first surfing trip, to us it was a pristine paradise, very tropical and different from the upper Texas coast. Of course the first thing we did was drive straight to the beach by the jetty to check the surf. To our utter dismay, it was totally flat. So, being tired from the seven-hour-long drive, and being bummed about no surf, we set forth up the island searching for a clean, cheap motel. After driving a mile or so and checking out a few places, we found one that suited our needs and after putting our stuff in the room, we walked across the dunes to get a look at the beach.

To our shock, there were 4-foot beautiful waves breaking on the third sandbar. We ran back to the room, put on our trunks, grabbed the boards out of the back of the van and hit the water. We walked the boards out and as soon as we passed the first sandbar, the water was over my head and the current was pulling strongly to the north. My dad said we had to get on the boards and paddle. But we’d never hardly paddled before because up until then we’d just been pushing ourselves off in the whitewater. We finally got out to the third bar where we could stand up and we started pushing off again in the whitewater but it was a complete failure. When the wave would break behind us, we would push the board ahead of the foam, hop on to our bellies, but before we even tried to stand up, we’d be in the deep water between the bars. The waves at that point would totally flatten out and we would stall out and lose all momentum.

After 45 minutes or so of frustration, my dad hollered, “Hey Slick, let’s go in. I’ve noticed something about these waves and we need to sit and watch them for a while.”

After watching the waves for a few minutes in silence, my dad finally spoke. “I’ve figured out why there weren’t any waves at the jetty. Look at the angle the waves are hitting the sandbar. The swell is coming from an extremely southern direction so it’s being blocked right there by the jetty but the swells that are passing the end of the jetty are hitting way north up the beach. Now watch what the wave does when it breaks. See how the curl is peeling off to the right all the way down the sandbar? What we should do is paddle the boards out past where the waves are breaking and try to paddle into them before they break. Then if we catch one, stay on your stomach and lean on the board to the right and it should turn and stay ahead of the curl as it peels down the sandbar.”

Well, it sounded like a plan to me. So we did paddle out past the break. Needless to say, our paddling strength was pretty weak, but finally my dad was into one and rode it pretty far down the bar. The first couple I caught, the nose of the board pearl-dived, and I was flipped right off. But I finally caught a good one and leaned over on that right rail and sure enough, the board swung around and I was flying down the sandbar just ahead of the curl. After I paddled back out, my dad said, “Okay, now we just have to stand up and do the same thing.”

After several failed attempts, both of us finally did it. And there it was. Our first eureka moment. That big turning point. Once again, I had felt that same sensation of flying as I did that first day I was pushed into those waves at Galveston. From here it was all uphill and every game-changing moment that happened later was another step towards becoming a better surfer.

It didn’t take us long after that trip to figure out that the first thing that had to happen to be a better surfer is that you had to become a good paddler. Surfing’s not like snow-skiing where the lift takes you up the mountain and gravity takes you back down. No, in surfing you have to paddle out to the break and in Texas, if the surf has any size, that can be brutal. Because of that slow-sloping continental shelf I mentioned earlier, on a big day the waves will be breaking a half mile out or even further during hurricane surf. Then once you get outside you have to be able to paddle fast enough to catch a wave to get back in.

To become a good paddler and to keep your paddling muscles in shape, you have to paddle on a regular basis. Swimming helps, push-ups and pull-ups help. But there are muscles you use in paddling that don’t come into play with those other exercises. So there’s no getting around it. You have to paddle. But that’s great because if you’re paddling, you’re surfing.
For anyone who is just learning how to surf, once you become a good paddler your surfing will improve by leaps and bounds. Immediately. Trust me on that. It’s the key to the highway.

Back in those days, there weren’t many surfers. There were only a few places in the world where people surfed. The boards were long, average length 9’6”. There were no leashes … they hadn’t been invented yet. Some people say leashes ruined surfing. That they gave people of limited swimming and surfing ability false confidence to venture out into the waves with a board strapped to their leg. That statement is true but leashes didn’t ruin surfing. Personally, I love leashes: more time spent riding waves instead of time lost swimming in after your board after wipeouts. Leashes do break on a regular basis though, so you absolutely still need to be a good oceanic swimmer.

To me, the major problem affecting surfing is the same one causing many other problems in the world. Overpopulation. I won’t get into that because that’s a whole other story, so I’ll just speak here of how it applies to surfing. But just to give you a clue, in 1960, there were 3 billion people in the world and now there are 7.6 billion. As you can see, the population has more than doubled in that timespan. To put it plain and simple, there are just too many surfers for the amount of surf spots there are. Yeah, for sure you can still find out-of-the-way places to surf if you have the time and money to travel and search for them. But it’s getting harder and harder.

Clay Blaker, 14 years old, on first surfing trip to Mexico

In 1968, six of us from Texas took a trip to Hawaii and on Maui we camped out for a week at Honolua Bay (ranked by Surfer Magazine as one of the five best waves in the world) and had it all to ourselves.  Man, that was a dream come true for us.  But when my whole family moved to Maui two years later, Honolua by then had a core group of 15 to 25 regulars who surfed it on every swell. At that time, we already thought it was too crowded because those guys hogged almost every wave. I surfed it about 6 or 7 years ago when Allene and I were visiting our family and I counted over 300 people in the water. I was out for three hours and only got two waves and had people riding in front of me and behind me on both waves. I drove out to Honolua last year when we were there and from the cliff overlooking the break I estimated there were around 700 surfers in the water. And no, I did not go out.

But Honolua Bay is not the exception. Crowded conditions have become the norm almost everywhere people surf. People now surf in virtually every country on earth that has a coastline and believe it or not, that includes the Great Lakes in the U.S. The modern wetsuit is so state-of-the-art that it’s allowed large surfing communities to develop in places like Canada, Alaska, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Scotland and there are even some Russians starting to surf in Siberia.

To the young surfers of today, crowded conditions are all they’ve ever known and they seem to deal with it fine. When I watch young surfers at a crowded break, I can’t seem to tell if it’s a free-for-all or some kind of organized chaos. Either way, it ain’t my thing.

I’ll admit I was struggling with this situation before we found Bocas del Toro. When we moved here in 2003, there were maybe 15 locals who surfed and also a handful of expats. For the first few years, none of the spots were ever crowded. At that time, this place had never been featured in any surf magazines and nothing had gotten out on the internet. But sadly, at least from my point of view, that has all changed. It’s definitely on the map now. Several of the known spots have gotten very crowded. However, there are so many nooks and crannies here in the archipelago that you can always find a place to surf alone if you have a boat and know your way around. Hell, I’ve been here going on 15 years and there are still spots I know of that I haven’t surfed yet. Plus, as a backup, we have our little spot right out in front of our house.

Clay surfing at Carenero, Bocas del Toro, Panama

I prefer to surf alone, but don’t mind surfing with a friend or two. Surfing alone is really not recommended but I do it anyway. Like scuba diving you should use the buddy system and watch out for each other. Surfing does have risks, especially when the waves are large. The waves here in Bocas are very powerful and mostly break over shallow reefs. Leaving hide on the reef is a common occurrence, especially if you’re taking off on the heavier waves. I’ve made a few visits to the local hospital myself to get stitched up. The first time it happened, I was surfing alone at a spot I won’t name here. It was a couple of feet overhead and the conditions were perfect. The wave at this spot is a right-hander that has a hollow section right on the takeoff and then a steep wall that lines up all the way down the reef. To me, it’s very similar to a spot on Maui called Little Makaha, or Laniakea, on the north shore of Oahu. This is a high-performance wave that will make you think you’re Kelly Slater if your game is on. Anyway, early in the session, I had a pretty gnarly wipeout and my board banged my elbow as I was tumbling underwater. I thought nothing of it and it didn’t hurt at all, and anyway getting hit by your board is a normal occurrence in a wipeout. I paddled back out and caught a few more good waves and then there was a lull in the action as I sat waiting for a set. At some point I glanced down and my trunks and the water around me was full of blood. It scared the crap out of me as I started frantically searching my body for an injury. Then I remembered the elbow bang and pulled my arm up to look and I had a gash all the way across the point of the elbow, with the white tip of the bone exposed. Right then a nice wave came and I spun around and went on it. I ended up surfing another 45 minutes because the waves were just too good to stop. The whole time though, I was thinking about sharks and finally my imagination got the best of me. I headed for the boat.  When I got back to the dock, I showered with my gallon jug of water, got dressed and drove to the hospital.

Now here’s the coolest part of the whole story. The doctor who attended me in the emergency room was a very nice-looking young female Panamanian who told me she had gone to medical school in Cuba. Allene and I had recently been to Cuba ourselves so the whole time the doctor was treating me, we talked of our experiences in that wonderful country.

First she scrubbed the wound thoroughly with betadine, then with a syringe deadened around the whole area. Next she told me to lay my arm out straight so she could stitch it up and I bent my arm instead and asked if she would stitch it in that position. She looked at me funny and asked, “Why?”

I told her it was because I didn’t want to pop the stitches when I was paddling the next day.

She said, “Oh no, you can’t surf for at least a week.”

I just smiled and said, “Stitch it the way I want it, please.”

So she did, and then cleaned the area again, put antiseptic cream on it bandaged it up nicely, put an elastic bandage over that and asked if I’d had a tetanus shot recently. I said no so she left the room for a few minutes and returned with another syringe and gave me a tetanus shot. She also handed me a package of antibiotic pills that I had to take three times a day for five days and also a couple of pain pills. I thanked her and she shook my hand and told me to go to the cashier to pay.

The cashier was an elderly lady who totaled everything up and said that I owed $9.00. I was a little shocked so I said, “What? That can’t be right.”

She looked confused, added everything up again and said “Yes, that is correct. If you think it’s too much, tell me your age and maybe I can give you the senior discount.”

I replied, “No, no, no! It’s not too much … I was thinking it was way too little.”

She smiled and said, “Well, that’s what we charge.”

I paid her the $9.00, thanked her and told her to have a nice day.

I walked out feeling like I’d won the lottery. (Oh, and I did go surfing the next day and the rest of the week. The waves were just too good.) A few months later I was back in there getting stitched up again and they only charged me $6.00 because I didn’t need the tetanus shot. You gotta love this place.

Clay surfing at Tiger Tail, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Clay surfing at Tiger Tail, Bocas del Toro, Panama

My wife Allene loves to surf. We both also loved to snow ski so a couple of times a season we would go to New Mexico or Colorado to look for fresh powder. One year when Allene was 25 or 26 we were skiing at Ski Apache in Ruidoso, New Mexico, when a big wet warm front hit during our morning session and of all things it started raining at the top of the mountain. We skied down to the lodge to wait it out and finally after lunch it stopped and we headed back up the mountain. When we got off the lift at the top and started back down, we soon realized that we’d made a big mistake. The rain had turned the runs into solid sheets of ice. We should have quit immediately and walked down but of course, we didn’t. We were both taking some bad spills and on one fall, Allene hit the ice hard on her left hip. I could tell she was in serious pain and I took off my skis and walked over to see if she was okay. She finally was able to get up and we made the call to quit for the day. She was in more pain that night so I went to a convenience store and got her some ibuprofen. The next morning was our last day of the trip and she said she wanted to ski so she took some more ibuprofen and we headed up the mountain. The snow had been groomed overnight so was no longer icy. Allene had a hard time but skied very gingerly and toughed it out the whole day. When we returned home she nursed it along for three or four weeks and it seemingly got well. We thought.

A few years later she started having some pain in that same hip that gradually got worse and worse so she finally went to get an x-ray.  The doctor found a scar from a hairline fracture on her femoral head, which was almost twice its normal size and covered with bone spurs. He said sometimes a fracture like that can cause arthritis to settle in the joint and that was what was causing her pain. He also said a hip replacement was inevitable in her future but to hold off as long as possible as new and improved prostheses were being invented all the time. He gave her a prescription for inflammation and pain and told her just to take it easy but keep exercising.

She held off for fifteen more years but finally the arthritis was eating away her hip joint so she had the operation in 2001, receiving a new femoral head made of titanium. For her surgeon, Allene chose Dr. Jon Manjarris, who was a good surfer and good friend we knew when we were growing up in Texas. John went to medical school and became a top-notch orthopedic surgeon and by the way, still surfs to this day. Because he was a surfer himself, it gave us confidence that he would do what was needed so that Allene would be able to surf again. The day after the surgery, a nurse came into the hospital room with a walker and had Allene walking up and down the corridor. That afternoon, when Jon was finished with his rounds, he came up to the room with some surf videos and a bottle wine and oh, boy,  I was happy about that, although Allene was still on a morphine drip and couldn’t have any. We watched movies and spent some time reminiscing about old surfing days. He hung out with us the next night as well and the next morning checked her out of the hospital. If you ever need a good orthopedic surgeon in Texas, look this guy up. Jon Manjarris … a helluva good guy, a helluva good surgeon and a helluva good surfer.

Jon told Allene right as we were wheeling her out the door that if she followed his instructions to the letter, she could be back surfing in three years, but not earlier. So she did. And now she’s back and she’s ripping. She surfs an 8’6” soft-top that goes easier on the new hip and also rides waves on her 12-foot stand-up paddleboard, which is also a soft-top.

Another thing Jon told Allene, once he found out she was a regular-foot, was that she would have to switch to being a goofy-foot. Going from a prone position to a regular stance would put too much of an angle on her left hip. So she was going to have to learn to put her right leg forward instead and keep her left foot on the back. “And one other thing,” he said, “you will have to keep your leash on that forward right ankle, not your left. It’s going to look funny but you don’t want that leash pulling your femur out of the hip socket in a wipeout.” Changing your stance is not an easy thing to do but once she was able to get back in the water, she practiced and practiced and now is a seasoned goofy-footer.

Not long after we arrived in Bocas we realized that the town beach had a perfect longboard wave that was very similar to San Onofre in California or Waikiki in Hawaii. The locals call that stretch of sand Las Cabanas beach, but we renamed it Waikiki. Whenever Waikiki is breaking, Allene is on it. They say the best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun and no one has more fun than Allene. Except maybe our good friend Kurt Fargo, AKA Cortez. We were surfing with Cortez over 40 years ago in southern California and he moved here to Bocas a few months after we did. He is Allene’s surfing and paddleboarding partner and boy do they have some serious adventures together. If they aren’t surfing on their longboards or paddleboards, they might take their snorkeling or fishing gear with them on the paddleboards and spend hours on and in the water. Kurtis is like a brother to us and we are so thankful to have him here.

Bocas del Toro has been a dream come true for Allene and me. In our wildest imagination we never thought how incredible it would turn out to be. And we owe it all to surfing. If we hadn’t come here on that first surfing trip in 1998, I shudder to think of what our life might be like now. Probably still slugging it out in the honky-tonks trying to fan the dying embers of a fading music career. I won’t try to speak for Allene, but from my perspective, surfing has always been just as important in my life as music. I guess at this point it’s taken on even more importance.

There’s no doubt that surfing has made me a better human being over the years. Traveling to exotic locations to surf has exposed me to many different cultures, which in turn led me to experience different customs, foods, languages, religions and ideas. While our differences make us unique, I’ve found that deep down inside, were basically all the same. We are all from the same tribe.
The things I’ve learned from surfing and the ocean are things that I apply to my life on a daily basis when I’m on dry land. Things like patience. You have to be patient in surfing because you‘re always waiting on something. Waiting for the surf to come up, waiting for the tide to change, waiting for the wind to turn offshore, waiting for the next good wave.

You also learn to be a good listener. You always have to pay attention to what the ocean is telling you at all times or you can get in a bind quickly. And you need to listen to what your brain is telling you and what your instincts are telling you, especially in large surf, because it could save your life.

Surfing has taught me to be kinder to other people. When I was younger and surfing in crowds I would be hassling with the others for waves and if someone cut me off I would get really pissed. I gradually learned that’s not the right way to be. Nowadays, when I surf with others, I show respect to everyone and give waves to them. Almost always they give it right back. In surfing, you are always interacting with nature and through nature you begin to see how everything on earth is connected. And that we all live here together on this big beautiful planet and we need to take care of it and each other. Surfing to me is not a sport. It’s a way of life. Sure, it’s big fun, but it has a spiritual side to it as well. When I’m sitting out in the water waiting for a wave and looking at all the beautiful scenery and ocean surrounding me there’s no doubt in my mind that there is a power greater than me. In these special moments, I feel a deep sense of holiness come over me. It brings me much peace and happiness.

There have been times in my life when I talked about these things in front of people who have never surfed and I could tell by the looks on their faces that they felt what I was saying was a bunch of B.S. That, maybe in their minds, surfing was a frivolous endeavor, a big waste of time and that people who surfed were lazy beach bums and not productive members of society. I’ll be the first to admit that there is an element of truth in that stereotype. But for me, when I come out of the water after a good session I feel like I’m in love with the world and being in that frame of mind makes me want to do better in living my life in a more positive manner for everyone around me. Maybe that’s not being productive in a material way, but still, it’s powerful. Think what the world could be like if everyone lived that way. There’s always hope.

So now, at 67 years of age, I find myself in the best physical shape of my life. These beautiful waves of consequence here have forced me into that, albeit willingly. I still ride a short board and on most days still surf better than I have in my whole life. There are a couple of reasons for that. One, the equipment we surf on these days is far superior to what we rode in the old days and you can do so much more on a wave. Two, I get to surf every day on world-class waves. Of course, I don’t mean every, every day. Some days you might just have too many other things to do and sometimes, like everywhere else, the surf does go flat. Luckily, here near the equator, all year long we have pretty close to 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. So theoretically, you could work a full time job of 8 hours a day and still get out there and get in a 2- or 3-hour surf session before dark. My record here for most days surfing in a row is 58. During that period, the surf was never below head-high, with most days being overhead, some days double-overhead, and a couple of days pushing triple-overhead. I had to finally take a day off, not because the surf went flat but because I was too beat up and needed a day of rest. I got back out there the next day and started another streak.

And I still have those game-changing moments occasionally. A few months ago I was surfing at that same unnamed spot where I lacerated my elbow and I accidentally did something I’d never done before in my life. Sometimes at that spot, when the tide is low, there’s a shallow spot in the reef that makes the tail-end section throw over right in front of you. If I see it’s gonna happen, I like to crank a huge bottom turn and go straight up and hit that section of the lip and snap a big turn back down with the whitewater and hopefully land it and shoot out into the flats of the small channel.

The day I’m speaking of, I was flying down the wall of one of the bigger waves that came through, linking my turns together and saw that the tail-end section was gonna throw over, so I dropped to the bottom to crank my big turn up into the lip and I bobbled it. That threw my timing off so instead of snapping a turn back down off of the lip, I ejected right off of the wave and was airborne. Miraculously, the board stuck to my feet and I landed on top of the whitewater, did a floater down to the bottom, turned out into the flats and kicked out.  Paddling back out I thought to myself, “Did that really happen?” I’d just done my first aerial ever. I had to laugh, because of course I was surfing alone so there were no witnesses. About two or three weeks later there I was again. Same spot, no one else out. Again that same situation presented itself and this time I knew just what to do. When that last section came over I hit it like a skateboard ramp and launched air. I landed it perfectly. Even though it is the simplest aerial maneuver there is, and I probably didn’t come but a foot or so out of the water, I can say I’ve now done one. Twice. But aerials aren’t really my thing because I’m old-school (and old) plus it’s easy to get hurt trying them. I’ve found at my age it takes longer and longer to recover from injuries and I just don’t want to miss any surfing time. For now, my goal is simply to keep surfing at a good level for as long as possible. Most days I can do that, but I have noticed more frequently that I have days where I feel like the biggest kook in the water. I know for sure that it’s downhill from here, but I’ll try to stave it off as long as I can. I know one day there’ll come a time when I’m back on a longboard surfing at Waikiki with Allene and Kurtis and I guarantee I’ll still be enjoying it as much as ever. In fact, the three of us have a new mantra: Never stop surfing. I even got it tattooed on my arm recently.

Clay surfing at unnamed spot, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Sometimes when Allene and I are surfing out in front of our house and the waves are good, we can see our beach, and up on the hill, our beautiful home and property, and we’ll turn and look at each other and just burst out laughing, thinking,” Can you believe this?” Other times we’ll look at each other and tears of joy will roll out of our eyes because we are so thankful for all we have and for this amazing life.  We feel very blessed and never for one minute do we take any of it for granted.

For as long we’ve been together, Allene and I have always lived exactly right in the moment. We’ve always believed that all we have is the present and that we need to make every second count. We don’t dwell much on the past because it’s already gone. We have, however, tried to learn from our mistakes. And we don’t worry much about the future either, because we’ve always thought if we take care of the here and now, the future will take care of itself.

So that’s how we’ll keep living our life, with the understanding that at our age it could all come crashing down in a moment’s notice. If not in a moment, it will someday. We’ll just let our new mantra guide us until it’s time to catch that biggest of all waves… the one that walls up all the way down the line, forever and ever.

There you have it.

Never stop surfing.