One by one we arrived in the parking lot, each giddy with dreams of walking in OMG Wes Laine’s footsteps. The 1989 Association of Surfing Professionals East Coast Tour was kicking off the next day in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Ten of us piled inside the WRV van comandeered by OMG himself. We had no clue where we were staying when we got there, but trivial details didn’t matter. We were pro surfers* heading into battle.
The trip went something like this:
Wes: “Gimme your gas money.”
One of us: “I gotta pee.”
Wes: “We don’t stop.”
One of us: “I’m hungry.”
Wes: “We eat at the Georgia Pig.”
One of us: “But that’s three states away.”
Wes: “Sit back and shut up.”
Twelve hours later, we pulled up at the home of the Rip Curl sales rep in Smyrna. “I’m staying here,” OMG announced. “I don’t know where you guys are staying.” In half a day, he’d gone from being our hero to Sergeant Dick**.
He got out and grabbed his bag, and we all looked at each other and considered our options. We could sleep in the van, which would be a sardine tin sauna full of sausage and no-see-ums, or… The van emptied in a flash and we stood behind Sarge like a pitiful gang of orphans from a Dickens novel. Luckily, the guy who opened the door, Larry Glenn, happened to be the nicest guy in the world. Maybe he couldn’t see all of us hiding behind Sarge, but he said, “Come on in,” a line he’d later regret.
The waves were knee high at best, and the Floridians were in their element. They looked like an army of crispy gymnasts with sun-bleached mops, skipping and snapping across the ankle biters. We were pale and doughy after a winter stuffed inside thick wetsuits. We felt like Katniss Everdeen showing up for training in The Capitol and being thrown into heats with “Careers” like Kechele, Rudolph, Kuhn, and McCranels. Oh, and a kid named Slater. We hid behind Sergeant Dick.
Needless to say, other than Sarge, we got slaughtered. None of us survived the first day of competition. The only thing I remember was an incident during the morning freesurf. I knew Kelly from Easterns and a trip to California with the ESA All-Stars. Anyway, I caught a tiny right, and Kelly thought it’d be funny to belly ride in front of me. I thought it’d be funny to jump on his back, feet first.
Yeah, umm, not that funny. He came up screaming and clutching his back in agony. He limped up the beach and I thought, Great, I’ve killed Kelly. Turns out he was fine and would’ve won the contest if not for an interference call in the quarterfinals.
That night, our whole crew went to a Mexican joint in town, Clancy’s Cantina. After several pitchers, we yanked sombreros and guitars off the walls and formed our own impromptu mariachi band. When the bill came, we each tossed a wad of ones on the table, leaving the saintly Larry Glenn to cover the deficit.
Pulling up to Larry’s house afterwards, we found there was nowhere to park. Cars were everywhere, reminding us that we’d been telling people all day at the beach, “Party at Larry Glenn’s tonight.” We’d forgotten, and we’d forgotten to tell Larry. People were inside the house, outside the house, in the hot tub, and hanging from chandeliers. Even kid Kelly was there, not so much to party but to crash on the sofa. Larry should have kicked our asses to the curb, but I think he liked the excitement.
We all felt like crap the next day, partly from drinking and partly for how we’d treated Larry. We sat in the van the entire day to avoid the sun and to wait for Sargeant Dick to lose, which he finally did just prior to the final. We pulled off the sand and onto I-95 for another 12-hour drive.
On the way home, one of our gang, Jeff Hunter, had to pee, and since Sarge wasn’t stopping, Jeff hung it out the vent window at 80 mph. A carload of girls riding alongside us got a heckuva show. To top it off, we later stopped at Stuckey’s for a treat (Wes claimed, “See, I’m not a dick anymore”) and those same girls were sitting inside eating ice cream. To Jeff’s credit, he proudly waved to them and took his place in line.
That was the start of a string of weekend dashes down I-95, each with similar results. We’d lose and sit around waiting for Wes to follow. For some reason, we never stayed at Larry’s again.
*Technically I was a pro. My total earnings: $36 from a local contest, $11 if you deduct the $25 entry fee.
**In Wes’ defense, he’d just fallen off the world tour after a stellar career, relegated from planes to Australia for the Bells Easter Classic to a fart-filled van to Florida for the inaugural Platts Spring Surfari. It’s easy to see why the tall guy was short on patience. I still respected his surfing, especially his unmatched Hatteras tuberiding, but he’d fallen hard off his pedestal. He eventually mellowed out, and now we get along great. That might change when he reads this.