It was 1987. I was in Junior High and my buddy’s brother had a Surfer magazine. He was cool. He wore a coca-cola rugby shirt
and dated all the cute girls in High School. Of course I looked up to him, I was a scrawny 8th grader who only aspired to the lofty heights of coca-cola shirts and hot dates. His coolness soaked the Polo cologne scented air he took everywhere he went. He was cool and the Surfer magazine only added to his sizable mystique. I wanted to be cool. It was my destiny.
Before I looked through that Surfer magazine I had never had a thought about surfing. Actually It makes sense since I’d never seen the ocean. In fact, the most exotic place I had been was Walla-Walla , Washington. Walla Walla was the location of the annual Thurber family reunion. Sounds exotic, no? Imagine a rainy campground with red wooden cabins, an unheated swimming pool and a mess hall where we’d have family dances to 80’s pop music. Anyways, when our family wasn’t at the reunion I spent my summers and at home scrounging for food or loose change to buy Charleston chew candies at 7-11. Charleson Chews were good!
Surfing was cool. That’s a fact. And I soaked up the pages of that magazine like a soldier reading letters from home. I didn’t know how or when I’d ever get on a surfboard but it was a touchstone that I established firmly in my mind. Someday I’ll surf.
When I turned 15 another buddy told me stories of his family trip to the ocean in Oregon. Funny, I never considered that the ocean was in Oregon too. It was in California, for sure, but Oregon? Who would have ever thought of that? His stories captivated my imagination. He told me about rain forests, driftwood logs and watching waves crash on his little brother. I was convinced that a family trip to the Oregon coast was the next logical step in my life.
My parents agreed. We went to the Oregon coast in our yellow Dodge van. There were 8 kids in the family. The back seats in the van folded down to make a bed so most of us slept in the back of the van through the heat of August 1988.
My Dad drove and my Mother guarded our beloved cooler of snacks. Our favorite treat was a Ritz cracker with our initial spelled on it with easy cheese. My least favorite was the stick of celery with peanut butter filling.
When any one of us would wake up from a nap we’d sit up and bark out “what’d we eat?” When there’s eight kids eating is competitive.
My parents rented a cabin in Lincoln City only a couple of blocks from the beach. We made it with only minor catastrophes. We pulled up to a parking lot next to the ocean and a small sand dune blocked our view. When the van door swung open we could hear the crashing surf and smelled something new. The kids scrambled up the sand to see the ocean. My sister Charity cried. I looked along the lines of waves trying to find a good place for me to “surf”.
My brother, Jake was my surfin’ buddy. He didn’t have the same firmly embedded desire to ride waves that I did but he was a faithful companion. The water in Oregon is cold; 50 degrees cold. We didn’t possess anything but short swimming suits for protection but it didn’t stop us from spending hours in the ocean. We found a couple pieces of scrap plywood and those were our boards. We endured cold water, waterlogged plywood and thrashing surf for hours each day. Jake is a fair skinned guy and his body would turn brilliant purple in the cold. Our time in the ocean was spent mostly underwater. The plywood wouldn’t hold us up but it was all we had so we stuck with it. The last day of our vacation Jake didn’t want to go surfing. I told him that it was our last chance to go. We’d never, ever, ever be able to go surfing ever again. He agreed to go. Within 5 minutes of going he “lost” his board in the surf. I knew he was done and he let it disappear into the ocean. It was raining and cloudy. His loyalty had met its limits.
Years later I was standing on the bluff overlooking Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara with my Rolleiflex and I took this photo. I named the photo the lone surfer. It reminds me of Jakes purple body walking back to the cabin while I bobbed in the water on a ratty piece of plywood in Oregon in 1988.