Like herpes, my midlife crisis will lie dormant for months at a time, then flare up uncontrollably without warning. This video, Dawes covering Blake Mills’s ‘Hey Lover’ (a song that, like herpes again, seems permanently etched into my inner radio), fills me with joy, elation, and the sense that I’ve gotten it all wrong. If I could do it all over again I’d happily trade my 6’3″ Channel Islands thruster for an acoustic guitar and a band. Watch, and you’ll see what I mean –
1984. I was a senior in high school, a two-time WSA West Coast Champ, and a lover of all things Australia. I was sponsored by Rip Curl and Quiksilver, listened obsessively to Midnight Oil, Men At Work, and the Sunny Boys, and very unpatriotically rooted for Cheyne, Bugs, Kong, and Chappy (as opposed to Lambresi, Barr, Buran, and Benavidez.) In confrontational moments with long finger-nailed girls who’d make my heart race, I’d revert to Aussie speak. I used words like “root,” “bushie,” “gangie,” and “kombie.” I sublimated Zuma Beach with an imagined Bondi.
My porthole into this mythical never-never land of Australian surfing was Surfing World magazine, and it was through the stories of Derek Hynd that I would learn about Occy’s violent gouges, Crammy’s screaming cutbacks, and Barton Lynch’s surgical lip pierces. I read about mythical outer reefs in WA, hitchhiking trips between NSW and “the Goldy,” and outlandish, perverse acts at Newport Plus Boardriders Club victory parties. I can still see his clever byline: a cycloptic eye with the words “Hyndsight” beneath it, a multi-layered pun that flew over my head at the time.
I first met him in ’86 when I joined the ASP tour. He was coaching Occy, Gary Green, Wayne Jaggard, Mitch Thorson and a handful of other Billabong-sponsored riders at the time, as well as writing his much-anticipated Top 30 assessments with trademark conviction. He was anti-drug, but had a bent for getting drunk and dancing spasmodically to old punk, namely Joy Division and The Clash. Through Derek’s unforgettable dispatches I would learn the meaning of words like “journeyman” and “bastard desire,” and come to understand that in the game of professional surfing, an unsettled beef with a cruel stepfather or a nasty rivalry with a tourmate can be fuel, i.e., nice, wholesome guys rarely finish first.
In ’88 Rip Curl hired him to coach the team, of which I was a member. I was as excited about a glimpse into his inner workings as I was improving my lackluster results. He kept obsessive, blow-by-blow contest diaries, which he wrote in tiny print. He recorded rides with the visceral animation of an avid finger boarder. A Tom Curren ride would look as follows: TC: 4 ft. left, vert, vert, big vert, float, cutback, snap, closeout float. A rail bog or mistimed turned was simply an “error.” He didn’t score waves with numbers but rather P (poor), A (average), G (good), and VG (very good), with added plus- and minus-signs like they do on school report cards. Occys, Currens, and Potters occasionally scored XLs.
Our one-to-ones at water’s edge before heats were unforgettable, and recall Slugworth in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seconds after each kid found his golden ticket.
April 22, 2011
My brothers and I were like a trio of puppies, forever kicking, clawing, and fighting over the last strawberry Pop-Tart. Born a year apart, we rarely had a moment alone. In my mélange of early memories, there’s the three of us in the bathtub, enacting maritime disasters with rubber sharks and plastic boats; the three of us curled up in front of the TV, enthralled by H.R. Pufnstuf; the three of us in the back seat of mom’s bone white Falcon station wagon, singing along to “Top of the World” by the Carpenters, jabbing elbows and pulling hair.
We lived in a mustard yellow one-story house at the top of Encino Hills and went to Lanai Road Elementary, a school teeming with the offspring of doctors, lawyers, and entertainment industry types. Though our family was decidedly middle class, we were surrounded by wealth and fame. Up Mulholland Drive was Lakers superstar “Wilt the Stilt” Chamberlain’s soaring redwood mansion. Perched atop a tree-covered ridge, it resembled a giant’s lair, albeit with walls of glass and sports cars in the driveway. Down the street was O.J. Simpson’s slick house. On Halloween we rang his doorbell and shouted “Trick or treat!” Instead of candy he handed out autographed pictures. My dad coached tee-ball, and one of his team members was Michael Landon Jr., whose father, “Little Joe” from Bonanza, we watched each week on TV.
I sat next to Janet Jackson in kindergarten, whose brothers, the Jackson 5, were the biggest thing in pop music. Their home, hidden behind black wrought iron gates, was to Encino what Boo Radley’s was to Maycomb. Rumor on the playground was that their in-house studio operated as a kind of child labor sweatshop. The Jackson kids played music around the clock. They rarely went outside. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses and thus neither Santa nor the Easter Bunny paid them visits. They didn’t even celebrate birthdays!
In 1984 I had Stiff Little Fingers songs swirling in my head, star-spangled Quiksilver boardshorts dangling from my hips, a shelf full of trophies, a head full of ASP pro tour ambitions, a galloping crush on a wiry blond who reduced me to stutters, recently divorced parents, a mild Pong addiction, a black Peugeot roadbike that felt winged, and the “pride and confidence” of the Western Surfing Association resting on my shoulders –