Surfin’ USA

A pretty day like this, oh boy.  I can’t stay home.  Let’s go to the beach.

Everybody’s gone surfing.  It seems like I’m missing something in my life these days.  There was a time when I tried to plan my nights just so that I could be near the beach when the sun came up.

Waiting for the sun to rise and grape surfboard wax for breakfast,  kinda chewy, great flavor but it sure was yucky going down.

Oh to be the first one in the water every morning.  Kinda scary at first, thinking about sharks and what ever mysteries lie beneath the cold dark waters.  Seeing the sun break over the horizon chased my fears away as I turned to look for my brother, not far behind.

Safety in numbers is what they say.  At least it made you feel more at ease to see some one else just as foolish as you are, out there taking big chances just for a cheap thrill.

Heck, it was no big deal if you didn’t catch that first wave, there will be another along any minute.  Just watch the sets, coming in groups of three or more.  The larger swells catching my attention, watching the wind hold them up for a second as they broke into a large crest.

The onlookers would gather on the beach, filling in the vacant spots as they lined there cars up facing the surf.  Time to put on a show.  The glassy waves, like a marching band kept coming one row after another.  Tiny droplets of salt water, turning to mist on the fringe of the breaking waves.

This was the life.  My first board was an eight foot, 10 inch Glory.  It wasn’t long before I bought a 7 foot Silver Bullet.  When the twin fins came out, I got a five foot, 10 inch Hobie.  I bought my brother a five foot Califano.

The North Jetties and Jacksonville Beach didn’t always have the best breaking waves.  We heard that you had to go down to Cocoa Beach to be part of the real beach action.  Seeing our acquaintances from the North Jetties didn’t benefit us much, they acted as if they were ashamed to be seen with us.  We stopped at Ron Jon’s Surf Shop for a T shirt, a couple bars of  board wax and a window stickers for souvenirs.  That was all we could afford.

The Pier, the pier.  Everyone said you had to shoot the pier at Cocoa Beach.  They didn’t say anything about the hundreds of local surfers with attitudes there ahead of you or the barnacles growing on the multiple pilings holding up the pier.  Our first attempts were amateurish at best, but after watching the locals time their approach with the incoming waves, we got the hang of it.  How cool was this.

A hundred miles might seem like a long ways off just to go catch a wave. No step for a stepper.  Then we heard on the radio about the Red Tide they were having Tampa.  Red Tide?  We lived near the ocean our whole life.  We ain’t never seen no red tide before.  It sounded like fun and adventure, we were off.  Drove all night so we could be the first ones on the beach.

When we got there, we found out that the red tide was algae floating in the water killing the fish.  We never saw a single wave.  So much for surfing the west coast of Florida.

Dad had an old Corvair van that he let us use to go to the beach.  It was our first surfing buggy.  You could sleep inside, out of the cold.  Never did figure out just how all those sand gnats found their way inside.  We carried an old tire or two with us for a bonfire.  Set ablaze, they were good to chase off the screaming mee-mees.

The guys in the other groups didn’t really hang out with us much.  The ones with the high dollar boards,  wet suits, name brand swim suits and mom and daddy’s credit card.  We would flatter ourselves and tell each other that we were just as good.  Some times if they needed something like helping them push their van out of the sand, they would let us hang out around the bon fire.  That’s how we heard about Cape Hatteras, in North Carolina.

Soon we were drooling at the mouth every time some one mentioned the Outer Banks.  Visions of glassy six foot waves crashing near the beach filled our heads.  It wasn’t long after we heard  guys from the other surfer groups talking about a hurricane hundreds of miles off in the Atlantic, that we started making plans to go join them.

My brother and I mowed yards, collected drink bottles, dug fishing worms for sale and even done some babysitting, just so we could raise the money for an epic surfing trip.  It wasn’t long before we were ready and set off on our trip.  I took the money my granny gave me for my class ring.

Dad believed our story about needing the van to go camping for a few days.  We got a Rand McNally, loaded up some blankets and a sack of apples, then we took off for our wet and wild adventure.

We arrived in Cape Hatteras about midnight.  I can remember listening to the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean on the eight track all the way there.  We were pumped up.  Driving across the causeway to the Outer Banks we thought we recognized a couple sporty looking vans from Jax. that belonged to some of our so called friends.

Their vans were parked in front of a condo, facing the ocean.  We were so excited just to be there, that we couldn’t decide what to do first, cruise the beach and check out the waves or go knock on some doors to find our friends.

Our decision was made for us when we saw a couple of familiar faces in the parking lot near the condos.  They soon let us know that there wasn’t any room for us to stay with them.  At first we were welcomed with open arms.  When we told them we didn’t have any pot, they said they were over crowded.  That didn’t make us or break us.  We were there to surf and that’s what we did.

Local yokels didn’t create much of a problem, they were nice and friendly.  No, the worst thing we faced that day was the strong undertow.  It seemed that most of the license plates we saw, were like us, from out of state.  We just parked as close as we could to where all the other vehicles were gathered, in front of the waves breaking the best.

Wide eyed, we were scared at the size of the waves at first, they were at least 6 feet.  We just shrugged our shoulders, deciding that we didn’t come all this way just to watch.  It wasn’t long before we were right in there in the middle them.  The other guys made way for us, reluctantly at first but we caught our share of waves and wipe outs creating our own space.  As the morning wore on we tired, getting hungry, thinking about that bag of apples back in the van.

The other vehicles that had parked near the van had vanished. Our old yellow and green van sticking out from the landscape like a sore thumb.  There was nothing surrounding the old Corvair but a few small sand dunes.  Approaching from the rear we noticed that the back door was ajar.

I didn’t bother to lock the van.  We didn’t have much to steal and the van was in plain sight of the ocean.  If only we had been smart enough to keep an eye on it.  Looking inside the van I saw three dudes sprawled out asleep. Apple cores laying everywhere.  Two of the guys were our friends from Jacksonville.  They had taken my 8 track out of the dash and found our stash of Acapulco Gold.  It wasn’t much, we were saving it to smoke at the August Jam in Charlotte on the way home.

Jimmy Powell was a runt. A little guy.  He could stand on a surfboard floating in flat water.  He was passed out.  His two companions were in about the same condition.  It looked like they were gonna steal my tape deck and found the pot.  They must have smoked the joint we had rolled up, ate most of our apples and passed out.  Jimmy awoke with a start, trying to flee but we stopped him.  I was ready to clean his clock but he was so much smaller than me that I couldn’t hit him.  I had a handful of ponytail twisted in my grip and wasn’t letting go.

He said, “Hey, you guys wanna take a shower? C’mon let’s go to my place and you can shower up there.”  Aw, we weren’t mad, just tired. I still had my tape player and most of the pot.  A shower right now would sure hit the spot.  It was kinda like beating up your best friend’s little brother, no joy in that.

After a long overdue shower and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Gary and I got back in our van and started cruising up and down the beach looking for beach bunnies.

We had made it to Hatteras, surfed with the best, caught plenty of waves.  We decided that we didn’t need those guys after all.  We had two tickets to the August Jam the next day, a half a bucket of fried chicken, a couple of fresh apples and about a dime sack of Acapulco Gold.

It’s been 40 years since I surfed. Yeah, I miss the action, the thrill of catching an enormous wave and riding it out.  There are worse things than having tanned skin and sun bleached hair.  The things I don’t miss though are my surfing buddies, the sand gnats, getting stuck in the sand and eating a bar of grape wax for breakfast.  If any one runs into Jimmy Powell, tell him I still owe him.

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