Rat-a-tat-tat. I remember how you spoke like that and how you rode waves with a strange rhythm and grace. When you spoke it was of things that I don’t understand, but I think they’re important just the same. And I been thinkin’ of you more and more often these days, like those times at work when your mind drifts away.

Me and you, Ritchie, we grew up together. In a city of haves, we were two latchkey have-nots. But Ocean Beach wasn’t a bad place to be poor, without no supervision we surfed more and more. And, man, Ritchie, how you surfed like nothin’ I ever seen. A funky, unique standout in that funky Sunset Cliffs scene. I remember you once told me you don’t jack around with no tricks. You mimicked the dolphins, that was your fix. And your speed, man, the speed, like one of them photos in blur. But other times you’d surf subtle slow lines, delicate and pure. You said surfing is like sex with a lover, you see, beautiful and changing, moments of grace in which to be.

Thoughts about you began rainin’ down on me more and more, through every tedious afternoon of work bore. These thoughts nagged me, flustered me. I obsessed. Small thoughts that I now know as foreshadowing tests.

Remember back in ’83 when we bought that Buick wagon. We were 16. It was summer. We road tripped north to see if Jalama was happenin’. It was just after that sweet 4ft Tarantulas session, you on that old Frye twin teachin’ the neon lineup a lesson. Afterwards that famous old dude Brown introduced himself and complimented your skills then asked you to the Ranch to shoot some Cojo stills. But your reaction, man, was somethin’ I ain’t never seen before. You went off on that guy philosophical, like it was important, y’know. In an eloquent way you said fuck you and your privity. You said you sold surfing’s soul and bought us possession and exclusivity. That old dude was stunned but quiet and respectful. He shook your hand and left, sayin’ it was an honor to have met you.

Later that night you said sorry ’bout the scene, but it just kills you to see aloha turned into the obscene. You said a lot of good things worth believin’ been fucked up perverse – just look at religion and how love’s been thrown in reverse.

I think maybe your last postcard started my mind rollin’. It had been a long time since hearin’ from you and how things were goin’. The note said you was happy with a family and wife, livin’ on the West African coast, growin’ some hard to pronounce real special spice. But, man, what hit me was how for no reason you added, “Surfing can save us if you let it, you know. The ocean can ease the mind and cleanse the soul.”

I guess your postcard was of all I was thinkin’, as I drove home after another shitty day to another shitty evenin’. But maybe not, because that evenin’ was different, you see. Somethin’ was different and that somethin’ was me. I pulled off the freeway and hit LAX, left the car in short-term parking, thinkin’ … Hawaii or Mex? Called in sick from Waikiki the next day. The day after I didn’t bother to call, cause if they can’t take a joke then fuck ’em anyway.

First Oahu, then Kauai, then South Shore to North. Paddlin’ out to head-high Hanalei felt like my very first surf. But on the way out a fat white local blocked my route. He asked, ‘You local?’ I said, ‘No, just passin’ through.’ He said, ‘Then you should be leavin’ cause these waves ain’t for you.’ I considered what he said, and it struck me as true. Sick from the sacrilege, with the 50th State I was through.

The next day I jumped a long flight, then drove south in Brazil. Had a long friendly surf and was feelin’ more real. And I’m thinkin’ these days ’bout how religion turns ugly; Jesus, Mohammad, the local who bugged me. It seems once saved, man turns to hurt and divide. It’s tragic the forsaken scapegoat to man God provides. And some days it’s hard findin’ belief on my own, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world, or at least the world I had known.

Ritchie, I hope this letter somehow finds you and your family is well. I think of your rhythm and grace on each passing swell.


Johnny S