Eighty-six Two-eight

Instead of White Fang, maybe Adrian should have read a book on parenting in the 21st Century.

Instead of White Fang, maybe Adrian should have read a book on parenting in the 21st Century.


“I’m ready!” My kindergartener roared and charged into the living room. He jumped onto a chair and flexed all of his 52 pounds. He’d gotten dressed for school and chosen the shirt that turns him superhuman. It isn’t screened with a likeness of Superman or The Hulk, or any other comic book hero. He’d donned his favorite top, a purple jersey with the number 28 in big block letters. Across the back the name Peterson.

“Umm,” I searched for words. I wasn’t going to tell him to put it back. “Are you sure you want to wear that today?” We’d had ‘the talk’ over the weekend, the one where I tell him that his hero, our hero, has been arrested. That the two-hundred-twenty pound stack of muscles had hurt his four-year-old son. “Two-Eight (that’s what he’s called around our house) did a bad thing, so he isn’t going to be playing football for a while.” I asked my son several times if he wanted to talk about it, but each question was met with silence. Now, the thought that the good guys might not be the good guys was hitting home. He hopped down from the chair and ran back to his room.

I’m not going to ascend any soapbox (mainly because I have no idea what a soapbox is). Doing so would be hipocritical. I’ve spanked my children. Not regularly, and not with a tree branch, and nowhere near the point of breaking the skin, but I’ve done it. I don’t see anything wrong with an ocassional slap on the bottom and a bit of soreness to get a point across.

Apparently, I’m not alone. Nineteen states still allow corporal punishment in public schools, and most parents feel it is an acceptable and effective means of disciplining a child. The Adrian Peterson case is not about whether it’s okay to spank kids. This case is about a beast of a man who whipped a young child’s bare skin as many as 15 times woth a switch and caused injuries that were severe enough a week later to spur action. It is about child abuse.

Here is the problem. If administering the act is okay, but administering too much of it is a crime, punishable by loss of job, money, freedom, and kids wearing your jersey, where is the line? Who gets to decide? I imagine a twisted Seinfeld episode where the gang spends half-an-hour debating whether an act is abusive or not. The line, in this case, is clear. In fact, if you’ve seen the pictures of Peterson’s son, all 15 of the lines are clear.

I’ve been a Vikings fan for more than twenty years, another habit I learned from my brother. My earliest dream was to be an NFL running back (and had I been bigger, faster, and more talented, that dream might’ve come true). Ever since my team drafted the best back on earth in 2007, I’ve been a huge Peterson fan.

I was in Minneapolis with my dad and brother for 2-8’s lone playoff win, a 2010 drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys, by far the highlight of a lifetime as a sports fan. Standing inside the dome amid a writhing sea of purple and feeling the vibrations of 64,000 kindred souls was intoxicating. The following Sunday, when the Vikes came within a whisker of getting to the Super Bowl before choking, was the lowlight. Until this past weekend.

The hollow feeling in my gut as the news registered remained into Monday morning, when I walked in my classroom and was greeted by the Peterson “Read” poster that has hung on my wall for years. Another decision.

My father-in-law had texted me that morning with: “U r afforded a teaching moment with ur class. Speak out. Who knows. Maybe u have a kid suffering abuse or has a mom that is a victim of spousal abuse. A kid may come forward if not with u perhaps with some other authority.” I went straight to the poster and ripped it down. As each class entered that day, the first thing I did was explain that it is not okay for a parent to injure a child in the name of discipline. These kids don’t have much interest in learning about the Constitution, but they heard every word about how I can no longer cheer for 2-8.

I can’t say if I’ll one day cheer for Peterson again. It depends, I suppose, on what he does from here on out. I’m far from satisfied with his apology, and I don’t want to see him on the field anytime soon. He’s getting his $14 million salary regardless, so he can start by donating a chunk of that to shelters for abused women and children.

As for my son, he returned from his room moments later wearing a Batman shirt. Now there’s a hero, not a guy running up and down a field before adoring fans for big bucks, but a guy running in the shadows at night to rid his city of evil and keep the citizens safe for nothing in return. With two-eight out of football for a while, let’s send him out in a batsuit. Let him beat on some guys who deserve it.

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Interview with the wave

Happy wave.

Happy wave.


September has surprised exactly nobody. August falls off the calendar, and pleasant breezes replace stifling heat and humidity. Tropical rowdiness forces away summer doldrums. Raucous noreasters blow flattening offshores out of town. None of which means diddly, but taken together they lead to one inevitable result.

Waves.

They’ve been coming. They are coming. They will keep coming. With my self-imposed restraining order forbidding physical contact, I just want to talk to them. I have some questions for waves. If one of you will please forward these along the next time you meet, I’d really appreciate it.

When you roll into town as swell energy, after days of travel, do you get excited about breaking? Do you realize you’re here to die? Or that your final act won’t be some crazy as fuck explosion like if you’d landed at Pipeline, or Teahupoo, or The Wedge? It’s beyond your control; you’re a slave to the ocean floor, a victim of bland sand formations. Are you okay with rising a little, crumbling feebly, and belly flopping all at once onto the sand? Is your final thought, I should have done more with my life?

Doesn't say anything about surfing.

Doesn’t say anything about surfing.


Do you enjoy company? Many of you seem to want to be left alone, and refuse to pick up passengers. Have you grown accustomed to flying solo and don’t know how to be sociable? I can’t imagine you’re selfish. Who wants to die alone? If you have the opportunity to lift up a human, literally and figuratively, wouldn’t you take it?

I’ve seen surfers get mad at you, slap you, flip you the bird and scream, Fuck you! Some people horribly misjudge either you or their own ability and try to ride you on equipment that is not up to the task, like swinging a putter off the teebox. They manage to hijack their way onto you, then stomp like maniacal hillbillies at a hoedown in a fruitless effort to generate speed. Does that hurt? Do you hate these people as much as I do?

Do you prefer surfers who ride with you rather than those who try to impose their will upon you? You appear to favor longboarders, around here at least, but that theory is disproven when a gifted shortboarder paddles out and performs a graceful ballet. Would you rather ferry a skilled surfer or an unskilled one? Do you care if you’re just another in a long line of waves for a vet? Would you rather share the wealth and be that magical first ride for a newbie?

Can a wave feel regret? This one wishes it had picked up the other passenger.

Can a wave feel regret? This one wishes it had picked up the other passenger.


If you are capable of any of these thoughts, have you noticed my absence this year? Do you expect me to be there awaiting your arrival as I have for so many of your brethren? Are you wondering where I am? Can you see me pining away on the shore? Does it upset you that I secretly hope you stay away this year, or more, that you were never born? Do you miss me half as much as I miss you? Do you give a shit about any of this?

Most importantly, will you put in a good word for me?

"It's more glorious than I ever imagined," said a wave here never.

“It’s more glorious than I ever imagined,” said a wave here never.

Write good, you be trippin’

One cannot write about an event at Jeffreys Bay without spending lots of time getting to know Jeffreys Bay.

One cannot write about an event at Jeffreys Bay without spending lots of time getting to know Jeffreys Bay.


As easy as it is to be a professional surfer (enter a pro contest, wait for chicks to flock), becoming a surf journalist is easier. Trust me.

When I was a grom in Virginia Beach, getting my hands on a new magazine was as exciting as getting a new board. I remember several instances where a group of us frothed over a fresh issue, one kid doing the flipping and the rest of us elbowing each other for viewing position. We intravenously slurped up the stoke that oozed off each page. My buddies were happy gawking at the pictures, but I pored over every word of every issue. Repeatedly. That’s what you do with your bible.

I hated reading, but I loved reading surf mags. Matt Warshaw was the professional, Derek Hynd the instigator, and Dave Parmenter the god. Anything by these wordsmiths got reread so many times that their phrases were seered into my eyeballs.

As a fledgling pro in 1993, after scoring epic Hatteras barrels courtesy of Hurricane Emily, I was told that a shot of me was under consideration for the cover of Surfer. I happened to be in California, so I dropped by the hallowed Surfer offices to sneak a peek. “You’re who? From where?” I never made it past the lobby and sulked back to my rental car. And I didn’t get the cover.

A few years later, after hacking up a rundown of a local surf contest using my parents’ word processor, Surfer invited me inside the fortress as the new East Coast Editor. Under the bony yet nurturing wing of Tony’s big brother Steve Hawk, I became part of the family. I found myself sitting in editorial meetings with Warshaw and Hynd, hobnobbing at the Surfer Poll Awards, and like The Talking Heads I had to ask, Well, how did I get here?

"Daddy's in Africa working right now. He'll be home next week."

“Daddy’s in Africa working right now. He’ll be home next week.”


When Dot Com boomed at the turn of the millennium, Hawk assembled a dream team at Swell.com and asked me to join them. I had just started teaching, but when he said he could top my teacher salary by 50%, I could work from home constructing an online encyclopedia (surf a-z), and travel to the best surf spots on earth to cover world tour events, I flew out my classroom door faster than a kid on the last day of school. Um, like, where did Mr. Borte go?

My typical day: Wake up. Surf. Enter my dungeon. Scan list I’d compiled of a few hundred people, places, and events that, together, comprised the history of surfing. Pick a couple to write that day and email Warshaw with a request. He had every surf mag ever printed, and he’d fax me everything on those topics. Peruse the info, make some phone calls from a rolodex of surfing’s royalty, and cobble together the entries. “Gotta put you on hold, Laird. Curren’s buzzing in. Oh, forget it. That’s Lopez on the land line. No, not Shea, you knucklehead. Gerry! I’ll call you back.” And Parmenter was regularly sending me pieces about surfboards, for me to edit and post. Another miserable day at the office.

Over the next few years, my passport gathered more stamps than my kindergartner’s school folder. Cuba for exploration with legendary lensman Art Brewer, Tahiti for death-defying barrels, France and Portugal for beachbreaks and old world culture, Fiji for Cloudbreak perfection, Hawaii for world title showdowns in the mecca of the sport, and South Africa for the regularfooter’s dream come true at Jeffreys Bay – and I don’t have to pay for anything? Wait, you’re gonna pay me? Are you out of your freaking mind? I mean, yeah, sure, I’m okay with that.


Anything that sounds too good to be true usually is. The writing had been on the wall for a while as Swell had blown through megamillions without turning a profit. The editorial staff had been steadily shrinking. As I was about to put my son to bed one evening, I got the call from the boss, Sean Collins. He’d become one of the most powerful people in surfing thanks to his revolutionary surf forecasting and web cams. It was the only time he ever called me, so I knew that after two-and-a-half years my time had come.

Sean seemed genuinely bummed about letting me go, so much so I almost felt bad for him. When he mentioned a severence package, I did feel bad for him. He’d been paying me to do what I loved, and now he was going to pay me while I did absolutely nothing, at least for a few months.

I thanked Sean and went to read some Dr. Seuss to my son. “Right this minute our future looks muddy, but we’re gonna get to play together a lot more, buddy.” I needed a job. Little did I know that Harper Collins was in negotiations for a book on the world’s best surfer. All they needed was a writer.

’97 was a year

My man Deutschendorf.

My man Deutschendorf.

“He was born in the summer of his 27th year, coming home to a place he’d never been before.” – John Denver

1970 – Henry Deutschendorf, aka John Denver, age 27, found his “home” when he experienced the mountains of Colorado, inspiring the above words; I was born. 1997 – 27 years after “coming home,” Denver piloted his plane into the Pacific and died; I reached my 27th year and found my “home.” I’m not a big John Denver fan (although the haircut is pretty sick), but I’ve been partial to “Rocky Mountain High” since discovering the commonalities in our timelines.

Success or failure in pro surfing was easily defined in my day. You qualified for the world tour…or not. I didn’t. I was half in college, half in contests, and never maximized my potential in either. By 1997, I’d come to a crossroads.

My “career” as a pro had been a creeping rise through my small pond with ocassional forays into national competition. I’d outlasted my homies or was too dumb to find real success like them, outside of a contest jersey. Either way, I had nothing to show for my efforts, and with another season of the Association of Surfing Professionals East Coast tour about to kick off in Florida, I had no plans to be there.

My grandparents lived not far from Boynton Beach and dropped by to check out the event.

My grandparents lived not far from Boynton Beach and dropped by to check out the event, March 1997.

I was about to finish my Master’s in Education at Old Dominion University, but going to work in a classroom appealed to me as much as a rash on my nuts. Desperate for alternatives, I’d sent resumes to Surfing and Surfer magazines. Surfing contacted me and asked if I’d like to cover the ASP East season. I preferred the depth of Surfer over the teeny-boppiness of Surfing, but I would’ve written for Kook’s Digest if such a thing existed.

The Thursday evening before the first event, I was hemming and hawing about a $300 flight and how high I’d need to finish to break even. Even with a couple hundred bucks from Surfing, I’d have to make the quarterfinals just to recoup my investment. With kid #1 on the way, the bulk of my dollars were going to burp cloths and butt-wipe warmers. Gambling on a surf contest made as much sense as buying a bunch of lottery tickets.

K and I had started dating in high school, and in the decade since then she hadn’t uttered anything profound. Maybe it was the wacky hormones from the baby growing inside her, but all of a sudden she was Confucious. She looked at me and said, “Just win it.” Hmm, I honesty hadn’t considered that as an option. With that directive, there was no alternative; you don’t cross a pregnant woman. I bought the ticket, and that Sunday down in Boynton Beach, I won the contest.

Graduation day.

Graduation day, May 1997.

I found myself in a bunch of finals through the year, and on the eve of the last event of the season, I started doing some math. While figgurin’ ain’t my strong suit, I was able to ascertain that even if I went out a first round clown, nobody could catch me in the ratings. I called Craig Colburn, the tour director, to see if I was correct. He hadn’t thought about it, but after some figgurin’ of his own he confirmed that I was the ASP East champ, the first non-Floridian to win.

At any moment, the ceiling would open, and a blizzard of confetti would stream over me. ESPN would fly a reporter to my house and interrupt a Laker game to air a live interview. Paparazzi would trample one another as I hoisted the championship trophy for the cover of Sports Illustrated. I was a god.

I walked back into the living room where K was holding our baby boy. “I won,” I announced. “Good job honey,” she replied. “Now grab a diaper.” And we went back to watching Seinfeld.

The tour folded one event into the following year, effectively ending my “career” as a surfer. I was the champion of a thing that didn’t exist. Life was telling me to grow up and earn an honest living. I responded, “Not so fast, Life. I’ll just write for surf magazines and teach people how to surf.” I started my own surf camp that summer and moved over to Surfer after editor Steve Hawk got around to reading the letter I’d sent six months earlier.

The ones who call me Dad.

My loinfruits.

1997 was the most eventful year of my life, including my peak achievement and the establishment of how I still earn my living today. None of those things, interestingly, was the highlight of my year. None of them, however exciting they seemed at the time, changed me or had much impact on me at all.

The titles of champ, writer, and instructor pale compared with the other I received that year, a title I treasure although I did nothing to earn it, a title I’ll spend the rest of my life striving to live up to, and the reason I am what I am and do what I do, the title of “Dad.” That’s the one that matters. Yeah, it was a big year.

How to escape prison and do great stuff

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“These are the times that try men’s souls.” When activist Thomas Paine saw the hungry, tattered, and all-around pitiful state of the continental army in 1776, he penned these famous words to rally the disheartened troops, dudes who were merely committing treason and sacrificing life and limb in an unwinnable war against the most powerful empire on earth. Imagine what T Paine would’ve said about a challenge as monumental as intentionally not surfing during hurricane season.

My personal struggle is entering its ninth month, and my soul is in for some serious trials. The tropics are on fire. Cristobal just lit up the coast, and more waves are coming. If we could string together a year full of Septembers and Octobers, Va Beach might deserve consideration as a halfway decent surf spot. Like the continental army, I’m in for the fight of my life.

My little odyssey is nothing compared to what ‘muricans undertook in 1776. I’m hardly deserving of recognition from anyone, other than maybe my family and the guys at First Street who each caught a few extra waves in my absence. Still, it’s tough. People tell me all the time, “I can’t believe you’re not surfing, that’s crazy!” I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the toughest challenge I’ve ever faced.

Two hours away but it may as well be a gazillion miles. Photo: Surfline.

Two hours away but it may as well be a gazillion miles. Photo: Surfline.


That realization popped up and bitch-slapped me like it was an unpaid pimp. The toughest task I’ve ever undertaken is trying to avoid riding a wave for a year. My hardest part is still ahead, and there’s a solid chance I won’t make it. How sad is that? When I think of all the tough shit that people do, I feel like a total douche.

Assuming I was the wimpiest sumbitch I know, I asked around. No one I spoke to has done much to challenge themselves either. Some have struggled through school or with a workout regimen, but that’s about it. As it turns out, the comfort zone sucks all of us in, and it doesn’t let us out.

Surfing was my comfort zone, and once I learned how to stand up, nothing I did in the water seemed like a challenge. Paine went on the add, “Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right ‘to bind us in all cases whatsoever,’ and if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth.” Now go back and replace “Britain” with “the ocean” and tell me it doesn’t ring true.

Why are we so attached, as a species, to what comes easily? You’d think, given our ability to outthink other animals, we’d recognize the importance of stepping outside our little boxes.

Naw.

We love our instant gratification, which is a nice way of saying we’re a bunch of lazy fucks. We sleepwalk through the day, plop down after work and don’t budge until the next morning, when we do it all over again. We’re slaves to comfort, and our servitude keeps us from doing anything great.
zone
I cannot say that I’d ever really stepped out of my comfort zone prior to this year. As frightening as it was to become a landlubber, I believe the results have been worthwhile. The only habit I’ve picked up is writing, something I’d given up on. By documenting real life for the first time, I’m hooked. Staying dry has led me to dredge up my past and to admit things to myself and whoever stumbles on my blog that I never would have said otherwise. And by doing so, think how much money I’ve saved by not paying a therapist.

While I’m still in control of surfing rather than the other way around, I want to urge YOU to step out of your comfort zone. Embrace uncomfortableness and see what happens. Don’t quit surfing; that’s just stupid. But step out. Do SOMETHING.

Don’t take it from me. Another famous American, Teddy Roosevelt, said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.” Teddy was a sickly kid whose courage led him to greatness. He was a badass with a big stick, so listen to him.

I’m a realist. I know that the number of people who’ve been inspired to action by a blog post is precisely zero. You’ll get to this point, flush the toilet, and wash your hands of the whole idea. And you’ll live, at least a while. And dying in your bed, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back and tell our enemies that they can take our lives but they can never take our freedom!

You quoted my film without written consent?!

You quoted my film without written consent?!

When it is acceptable to cry at a surf contest

A more comfortable chair than it looks.

A more comfortable chair than it looks.

I’ve never cried while watching a surf contest. I’ve been thrilled a few times, angry lots of times, and I’ve been bored more times than I’d like to admit. But I’ve never had a tear well up in my eye in the process of viewing people in colored singlets attempting to outsurf one another. Hadn’t, at least, until today.

After competing in hundreds of amateur and pro events, covering dozens of others on the world tour, and watching as a fan forever, suddenly, today, tears. Do you want to know when someone cries at a surf contest?

When you see a six-year-old kid learning to surf at The Jetty with his dad, getting pushed into whitewaters as you ride into the shorebreak.

When that kid is 14 and he comes to your Sunday morning surf training, and you give him a few tips but can’t tell him the one thing holding him back, that’s he’s a scrawny kid and just needs time to fill out.

When the kid is 18 and starts traveling all over creation and immersing himself with good surfers and good waves and slogging his way through the trials and tribulations of international competition, a many year process, during which he may as well be in witness protection because he’s buried so deep in the ranks.

When he is 20 and you watch random events online, where the kid is surfing crazy fast but is still scrawny and unconfident, not unconfident in his ability, but unconfident in whether it is okay for him to knock off the best surfers in the world, even though he’s surfing better than they are.

When he is 24 and you tune in online and see that this year is different because the scrawny kid is filling out and gets pissed when he loses to the best surfers in the world, because he should be beating them and he knows it.

The man slips into a nice little day at The Jetty.

A nice little day at The Jetty.

When the kid comes home to the event that hasn’t been won by a kid from The Jetty since 1981, the year before you started surfing, and you’ve surfed this event countless times, made the finals a handful of times, once even came in and were told you won and were chaired up the beach on the shoulders of the guy who won back in ’81, but you ended up in second and had to watch another guy from Florida, or California, or Brazil, or New Jersey somehow finish on top and you feel like you let people down and you wonder if a local surfer will ever break through.

When you pedal to the beach to watch the kid’s first heat yesterday, and you track him down before he paddles out to assure him, You got this.

When you catch the rest of his heats online, heats in which he is fast, but also cool, radical, powerful, and dominant.

When he knocks out last year’s champ on the way to the final.

When he’s losing the final until the waning minutes and he scorches another jetty right that eliminates all doubt.

When the final horn blows and the kid enjoys a victory lap with his arms raised in elation.

When his friends don’t wait for him to hit the sand but rush into the water and hoist him onto their shoulders.

When that ’81 champ carries the kid’s board behind them and the entire procession has stoke shooting from their pores like fireworks.

When the beach screams with something it hasn’t been able to scream with in forever, something like pride.

When you feel that pride coursing through your veins and it causes the skin on your arms to erupt into little bumps and the hairs to stand at attention.

When the look on that kid’s face is the greatest look ever invented, that of pure joy.

When that stuff happens, your eyes get a little moist. Tears aren’t running down your cheeks, not like when you watch Rudy, but you can feel the moistness. You know that you had a little something to do with what is unfolding, just a tiny bit, because that kid once looked at you and said, It can be done. And he went out and did it.

Selfie with the man.

Selfie with the man.

And you know what you do then? You do something you haven’t done in years. You go down to a bar on the strip at almost midnight, even though you have to start school early the next morning, and you walk into that bar and see a mass of people toward the back. It isn’t the normal mass of people, downing drinks to try to forget that some out-of-towner swooped in and looted the top prize. This mass of people is celebrating.

You make you way into the middle of the mass because the kid is in there somewhere. You find the kid and he’s still coherent. His eyes light up. He’s honored that you made this effort. You’re honored that he’s honored. You lean in towards the kid and you say, You’re the man. And you step back to let everyone else tell him. And you walk out of that bar with your faith restored because it only took you 30 years to prove that good things can come from surf competition.

Get a real job

Representation obligation leads to subjugation by corporation.

Do representation obligations equal subjugation by corporation?

One constant through my decades of surfing was a desire to be Tom Curren. In addition to aping his style in every way, I shared his notion that working in the surf industry was like a polyp. “Can I live with the polyp?” he asked in an interview with Matt Warshaw. A second constant was a rendering of a mountain and wave at the nose of all my boards. Nothing more than a mylar decal, meaningless to most of humanity, it was my polyp. My blessing was my curse.

By my mid-twenties, my work experience was scant. I’d delivered Coca-Cola with Mo “Daddy” Sanford a couple summers, then delivered Chinese food for a few years. Neither got in the way of surfing, nor were they what you’d call serious jobs. With Mo, most of what I did was laugh. Getting a few bucks afterward was a bonus.

Riding waves was bringing in a few hundred dollars a month, but as a married man with bills to pay I needed something more substantial. Besides, my car reeked of chow mein. Quiksilver, where I’d been a team rider for nearly a decade, already had a world beater from the East Coast. What they didn’t have was someone to stick around and do their dirty work, aka promotions.

When the boys in the OC doubled my monthly retainer to a cool grand, my only questions were, “Where do I sign?” and “Will I start acting different now that I’m filthy rich?”

The logo gets me over the ledge in Mexico. Photo: Mez

The logo gets me over the ledge in Mexico. Photo: Mez

The euphoria lasted all of a few hours as there was important tasks to be done. My first directive was to cut half of the surf team, which had swelled beyond control thanks to an ill-advised local tryout. No problem, I was friends with these kids, I’d just dial them up and let ’em down easy.

“Whaaaaaat?! Nooooooo, you can’t do this!” The first call, to a grom in Sandbridge, didn’t go well. The poor country boy was distraught, certain we’d made a mistake. He’d been surfing every day behind his house and was expecting a ticket to join Slater on tour when the axe fell.

I weathered his breakdown and assured him the sun would rise tomorrow, but that wasn’t the end of it. I got a call from his mom, then his dad, both insisting their child was on the verge of greatness. By the end of my first day, my hair had turned mostly gray and I wished I hadn’t deposited my check.

My job description, aside from overseeing the surf team, was to promote the brand, to make people think that Quiksilver was the coolest thing since the Harlem Globetrotters. “This is a dream job,” Lord Business told me, before making me learn and sing the ‘Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team’ song that would later be popularized in The Lego Movie.

Lulu, queen of the sticker hungry Mexigroms circa 1991.

Lulu, queen of the sticker hungry Mexigroms circa 1991.

The job had perks, most notably the summer runs up the coast with Matt Kechele. I used to doodle surfboards in my notebooks with the Matt Kechele Airlines logo from Quiet Flight. He was a pioneer of aerial surfing, a charger at Pipe, Kelly’s first mentor, and a world tour competitor. His legend status was cemented by the fact that older guys in VB seemed to hate him although they didn’t know him. I didn’t know Matt either, beyond getting schooled by him in heats from the moment I turned pro.

Keck is the quintessential ageless grom, a middle-aged Tom Sawyer, always ready with a joke (This guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office wearing nothing but cellophane panties. The doctor looks at him and goes, “Bud, I can clearly see you’re nuts”) and always in search of adventure. I was lucky enough to join him as he surfed for eight hours straight in Costa Rica, hunted giant rats in Cuba, scored epic unridden surf off the Indies Trader in the Caribbean, and taught thousands of kids to surf in between.

I learned to run camps from Matt, and I’ll never forget the first one we did in Ocean City, New Jersey. There was a deaf kid in the group, but Matt didn’t know it. Keck was giving his introductory speech on safety, and the deaf kid wasn’t looking at him. “Hey kid, pay attention.” I tried signaling for Matt to cool it, but he didn’t get the message. “Hey kid, over here. Quit staring off into space.” Finally, the boy’s friends piped up, “He’s deaf,” and Keck melted into the sand.

Huckleberry Finn and Matt Kechele, birds of a feather.

Huckleberry Finn and Matt Kechele, birds of a feather separated by a century.

Aside from many memorable shenanigans with Matt, my work experience with Quik was utterly forgettable. The bloated marketing department was filled with guys who carried the task of “making Quik seem cool” into every facet of their being. I was a round peg doing everything in my power to avoid being squeezed into a mountain-and-wave-shaped hole.

All I wanted was to keep surfing and avoid getting a “real” job. Somehow, I held on to the position from 1994-2006, through a one-year stint as a teacher, two years as a full-time editor for Swell.com, another year writing Kelly’s book, and finally as a full-time Quik employee with benefits and stock options, even a company car for a time.

Handing out stickers was hardly my mission in life, but it paid a helluva lot of bills.

In the end, after more than 20 years with the company, during which (despite my inability to take the job seriously) I’d say I was worth what they paid me, the money tree finally ceased yielding fruit. They said I could stay to run surf camps. My golden parachute was the privilege to continue promoting the mountain and wave, only doing it for free. I respectfully (cough, cough) declined. Peeling those stickers off the nose of my boards, while bills were stacking in my mailbox, was strangely liberating.

2004 OBX Pro, trying my darndest to violate my contractual duty to let my team riders win.

2004 OBX Pro, trying my darndest to violate my contractual duty to let my team riders win.

Even if I’d been a good company man, best case scenario I might’ve held out a few more years. Once the economy tanked, they canned even their most corporate of yes men. It feels good to have gotten out with at least a shred of my soul intact.

What kills me is something I heard from one of the marketing gurus after I surfed to the finals of the ECSC pro division in my mid-thirties, eliminating a few young Quik athletes along the way. Rather than being stoked for me, he reprimanded me. “Come on, dude,” he said, “you’re not supposed to beat your teamriders.” I was never very good at faking it.