The Conservative Route, Jack Ass, Julian Wilson, More Personal Notes
I was trying to explain to Chris on Wednesday why I never left my comfort zone like he did, like William Finnegan did, with plans on never returning to the states. Chris is the former editor of Surfer Magazine and placed third in the first pro event ever held at Tavarua. Unlike the rest of his highly educated family, he never went to college, but he’s clearly more literate than most. At 18, I didn’t trust myself enough yet not to get into some scrape I couldn’t recover from in a foreign country. I basically told Chris that I had academic dragons to slay, and still do.
But then, on the last day of competition, I was reminded of why a go-to-the-end-of-the-earth-world-tour wasn’t in my plans, and one of the many reasons I never joined a frat in college. I was in the car parking lot up the street from the contest site, checking the surf—checking to see if it would run, if I should surf. A couple walked up to look, followed by a pack of six guys. At any given time, around any known surf spot, you can almost always see a group of surfers milling about, seemingly aimlessly, especially at places like Hossegor, where 20-foot tide swings and fast-moving storms change conditions hour by hour. One of the six guys shouted out, “Hey, isn’t that Julian Wilson?” Julian Wilson is perennially in the chatter for a world title run, but somehow always falls a bit short. He is also known for his super modelish looks and for dating an actual super model. Julian turned around and said, barely audibly, and with an irritable smile, “Piss off, Eric.”
Without hesitation, two men in their forties went up to Julian and one said, “Hey, I love your surfing. You ever surf in Greece? That’s my country. We have a good wave there.” Julian took off his hood and graciously engaged the men, posing for photos with them while “Eric” and his friends headed for their car.
After watching a few set waves break and eavesdropping on Julian’s convo, I went to my car. The six guys in two cars had blocked the exit. The first car was in the road, so the other cars couldn’t get by. And the other car was now stuck halfway out of the lot. When the second car honked for them to move, to stop chatting with a friend in the first lot, the blond 20-year-old who called out Julian got out of the car, walked over to the driver of the second car, dropped his pants, and shoved his cock through the window while trying to grab the driver’s head, essentially to facefuck him. This was at two in the afternoon under dark, drizzly sky, and some blond surfer was pumping his red schlong around as if it were a show we had all signed up to see.
Once something is written down, it can look worse than it is. I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff in my time, but I was never into public displays of homoerocticism as acts of male dominance. If I had a friend like William Finnegan had to travel with, I may have wandered the world. But as it was, I wanted nothing to do with guys like “Eric.” I wanted to hang out with interested and interesting people, in the university or out on the road.
I also wanted freedom. The freedom I felt in the water. The freedom I felt reading Garcia Marquez at 17, before paddling out and then after, dozing on the beach. Every teenager in literature is lonely. But for me, none of the surfers I hung out with read, or at least talked openly about, books. Except for David Dekernian, aka DK. And he died, driving away from my 18th birthday party at my house to an after party. We asked him—begged him, almost—to ride in our car. He said he’d promised Damon Hughes a ride. David is now a ghost that surfs through some of my poems. The elder lady turning left onto Amalfi in front of him, his car (green Impala ship of a vehicle) swerving, the bumper wrapping around the street sign, David’s lungs wrapping around the steering wheel, the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” playing on the stereo.
I’ve never liked The Dead. Musically they were fine, but for kids in the late ’80s, they seemed like a conservative’s idea of rebellion, an excuse to do the drugs their parents did or might have done if they hadn’t been stumping for Nixon. At least the Beats and Timothy Leary and the surfers of that generation used the Romantics and the idea of transcendence as an excuse to drop acid. Deadheads just did the same drugs and passed around tapes of the same songs played slightly differently from show to show. They weren’t doing anything new. Just killing my friends.
Damon Hughes, I’m told, never recovered from the accident. I’m told he went on surf trips around the world, getting work however he could. I’m told he killed himself a few years ago, never having shaken his Deadhead addictions.
I wanted to be a professor because I wanted to read books and surf. At 21, academia looked like the freest place to be, and a warm, friendly community to be with. If I couldn’t have a surf-literature community, I’d at least have a literature community. From the outside, it looked like you might only teach, say, three classes a year, have winters and summers off, and a year off every three or four years. Time to surf, time to read and write, a job surrounded by young people wanting to learn. Time to travel, time to explore one’s curiosities, and a decent salary for life. A writer’s dream. A surfer’s dream.