My friend David and I were 11 and 10 when we made skim boards. We rode them after the rains in the flooded ditch in front of my house until our moms couldn’t put up with all the cuts and scrapes anymore and my mom started taking us to the beach.
We spent hours and hours skim boarding at low tide until we eventually were ready to take it to the next level. That Christmas we got old beat up boards. His was a Patrillo and mine was a 5-foot, 8-inch Dale Dobson. They were yellow and dinged up and the most beautiful things we’d ever seen.
We’d set them on the bed and stand like we were riding while we waited for it to get warm enough to go to the beach.
That next summer we spent a big part of each day in chest deep water and pushing into whitewater until we could stand up in the whitewater and ride straight.
The next year, I started at a new school and met Kevin, Jack and Steve, who had foam boards, bikes, and were already surfing. The four of us lived in the same area and started riding to the beach whenever there were waves. We got wetsuits with beaver tails and were hooked.
We’d ride the “mountain trail” at Fort Crocket (now the San Luis Hotel) in the coldest conditions, lock our bikes up at 53rd Street, surf till we couldn’t feel our feet, and barely make it back to our houses and hot showers.
We widened our net of surfers, but in those years there weren’t too many. In high school, all the surfers pretty much knew each other. Some stayed, some got into other sports and other scenes. We lost some to girlfriends, others to drugs and some to sports like football that were all consuming. But somewhere in there it became more about the ocean and the sport of surfing than about hanging out with friends.
I found surfing alone had its own rewards you couldn’t find in groups. Teen problems, a messy parental divorce, family money issues, and everything else melted away when you were surfing glassy waves alone at sunset. More and more I found myself in the water with or without friends before school, at lunch or between school and work. When I was finally old enough I joined the beach patrol and started training in Lifesaving Sport in addition to surfing.
When I left for college in San Antonio, then worked in Africa, went to grad school in California and took a job in New York, I missed the Gulf physically. I couldn’t wait to guard in the summer and spend my free time in the salt.
And even after surfing for 41 years and guarding for 35, every morning when I swim or paddle out into the Gulf, I feel that same magic I did when my friend David and I waded out into the water with those beat up boards all those decades ago.