The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: heartbreak

“I was Just a General Prick.” Barbarian Days Author William Finnegan on Surfing, Relationships and the Decisions We Make.

Ed’s note: This is the final entry in a four-part interview with Barbarian Days author William Finnegan. You’ll find links to all the interviews at the end of this one.

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“But everything felt different without Caryn: harsher, more jagged.”
William Finnegan, with Caryn Davidson, 1971. Photo courtesy: William Finnegan. 

CD: There’s something that struck me in reading Barbarian Days, and in my own life as a 48-year-old who’s now married with kids. First. I’m glad I had kids late, and second, I still feel really, really bad, sometimes terrible, about the way I’ve treated some of the women in my life. And that’s in part because of surfing. I wonder if you feel the same way. Just judging by the relationships you describe in the book. I mean, you were almost a father at 18. I’m wondering if you ever consider that alternate reality. What if you had become a parent young, and was surfing so much of a relationship killer? Were you a selfish sonofabitch? I was. I just wonder how you look back at the relationships you describe in the book, and what surfing did to those relationships.

BF: The short answer is I feel the same way you do. Both about when to have kids – also late, in my case – and what kind of boyfriend or partner I was when I was younger. I include in the book a conversation I had with a guy named André, a big-wave surfer. We met in Madeira. He was from Oregon, and he was really young, so I was surprised to hear that he was divorced. He started telling me about it, and it was a stark little story. Surfing broke up his marriage. You know, “These women gotta know what they’re getting into,” that sort of thing. He was actually hilarious. He said, “It’s like if you or I hooked up with a fanatical shopper. You’d have to accept that your entire life would be traveling around to malls. Or, really, more like waiting for malls to open.” He wasn’t trying to be funny. He was just thinking it through, from the other side, and I thought, Wow, great analogy. While we were talking, we were driving around looking for waves, and it wasn’t good, the tide was too high, so we ended up sleeping in the car by a surf spot — just a couple of shoppers waiting for the mall to open.

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Madeira, 1998. Relationship killer. Photo courtesy: William Finnegan. 

But I never really experienced that kind of stark conflict with girlfriends over surfing. “What do you mean you’re going surfing?!” For one thing, my life was rarely that settled or domestic when I was young. More often, with a girlfriend, we’d be traveling. So I might be dragging her to Maui or Sri Lanka or wherever. The girlfriends I’m thinking of, as I say this were people with more smarts and education than I had, people who really wanted to do something in the world, but who just weren’t sure what that was yet. Which left them open to my agenda, which almost always involved looking for waves. I usually had a portable project—I was usually working on a novel—so I was okay with living in a hut in the jungle near the coast in Sri Lanka. And maybe my girlfriend had a project to work on, which would be good, but maybe she didn’t. The whole enterprise was driven by my surf mania.

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Holy Hell. This is Why Giant Waves are the Greatest Show on Earth.

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That’s gonna hurt. In fact it might just kill you. A frozen moment of carnage at Jaws.
All frame grabs courtesy: World Surf League. 

Yesterday I had the honor of reporting on the the inaugural Big Wave World Tour Pe’ahi Invitational for Surfline.com. Holy hell. The. Most. Insane. Surf. Contest. Ever. Watching it live in my living room on, and wondering if Greg Long, Billy Kemper, Carlos Burle, Shane Dorian and a slew of other madmen were going to even survive this cerulean gladiator pit was a wild, stomach clenching ride – even from the safety of the couch.

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Shane Dorian. Will he make it? Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

At the end of the line, feel free to give my Surfline story a click, and comment on whether you agree with my prognostications, or whether I’m missing something altogether. — CD

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A view from the contest HQ. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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Maui Local Albee Layer. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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Helicopter Pilot Don Shearer gets his cameraman a drone’s eye view. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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The ski would end up a casualty of the wildest surf contest in history. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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Greg Long. Maybe the biggest wave ever paddled into at Pe’ahi. At least Jaws guru Dave Kalama thought so. Frame grab courtesy: World Surf League. 

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“It was the Best Thing I’ve Ever Done.” Back in Salt: Living to Surf Again, Thanks to Big-Wave Surfer Darryl “Flea” Virostko and FleaHab.

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Photo courtesy of Henry Skipp.

Henry Skipp was the brightest, most interesting and articulate mind I encountered during my collegiate years. He was also my best friend.

We were both pursuing higher education with some degree of reluctance. I had left my dream job where I was preparing to take over a successful charter fishing business out of Long Island Sound, and Henry had turned down an invitation to join a surf team based out of Miami, Florida. These were, perhaps, wise decisions in the long run, but at the time we shared the agony of being trapped in academia after rejecting more aquatic career paths.

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Photo courtesy of Henry Skipp.

Instead, as our gills began to dry, we were forced to endure “society” parties, as they were called at our school, all awash with bad music, frat boys, and worse still, bad beer. We found solace in commiserating.

I was just finding my way in the world of surfing, and Henry was all too happy to show me the ropes. There weren’t too many other people interested in surfing at our tiny liberal arts school in East Los Angeles. We were obliviously optimistic in thinking we might tailor our schooling to 45-minute surf trips to Newport Beach, with no car. But no one shared our lust for the sea. Anyone who does, generally would have the common sense not to go to school in East LA.

We lived in the same dormitory, but Henry was crammed in with two obnoxious baseball players whose lives seemed to revolve around their shot glasses and Carmen Elektra posters. I took pity on my new companion and offered to have him move into my spacious single room.

When we weren’t in class, Henry would talk Thomas Campbell and Dave Rastovich, or peel through Surfer’s Journal magazines with big, glossy double page spreads of photographs by Tom Servais; I’d ramble on about fly fishing for striped bass and missing the bluefin tuna run each fall. We’d also talk literature–mostly Hemingway, about whom his grandfather had taught an entire course for something like two decades at Duke University.

Occasionally we’d scrounge a ride to the beach, where Henry would try, and mostly fail, to enlighten me with the finer points of surfing.

Time passed and we tore our way, fighting tooth and nail, through academia, dreaming of a life outside, and the surf trips we’d take to Nicaragua and Panama after graduation – trips which, I’m grateful to report, are still being considered.

Then I went off to Portugal, where less class and better public transportation meant I could make it to the beach almost every day after school.

Henry stayed behind in LA. He continued to struggle with some inner demons, and somewhere along the way, he went dark. I stopped hearing from him, mostly. When he did call, his voice was flat and dull. His responses to my suggestions of far-flung surf adventures were curt and bleak.

Our lines of communication shut down, and we all but lost contact.

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Photo courtesy of Henry Skipp.

More recently, on my way to New Zealand, I gave him a ring, recalling that he’d mentioned having moved to Santa Cruz several months before. I asked him to meet me in San Francisco for the weekend. We could catch up, and I could break up my long flight from New York.

“Sure,” he said to my surprise. He didn’t have a car yet, but agreed to bus up on Friday night and meet me.

Meeting him on Lombard Street in my old neighborhood, I could have just as soon passed him by – not that he’d visibly aged, but because his head was high, his eyes were bright and he wore a genuine, bonafide smile I’d not seen in years.

“Where have you been?” I asked after the pleasantries.

“FleaHab,” he replied.

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The Last Dive Into Devil’s Hole.

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James Houtz came into this world nearly 80 years ago during a raging snowstorm. He lived the first three years of his life in a tiny Colorado outpost called Allen’s Park, but at the age of four, he and his older sister moved to Catalina Island after their mother was offered a job running a popular Girl Scout camp. When the Houtz’s weren’t on the island, they lived in an equally remote cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains above Los Angeles. Jim was rarely indoors, spending his early years hiking playing and hunting in the hills or diving and spearfishing in Catalina’s crystalline waters. Eventually he also took up surfing, growing particularly fond of the long pointbreak rollers around Santa Barbara.

A fanatical obsession with diving eventually led Houtz to enlist in the U.S. Navy’s submarine forces on an underwater demolition team – the precursor unit to the SEALS. He dove to recover spent torpedoes and Regulus II missiles (the first nukes ever to be launched from submarines) and led in acoustical experiments aimed at helping ships and subs run silent through the water.

Houtz was honorably discharged in 1960. He became a diving instructor and fell in with a team of experimental mermen who were working determine what sorts of exotic cocktail of oxygen, nitrogen, helium and other inert gasses might prevent the deadly state of deep dive drunkenness known as nitrogen narcosis.

By the early mid 1960’s, Houtz began a well-publicized mapping exploration of the deepest depths of a gigantic, tidally influenced western aquifer whose sole connection to the earth’s surface is a tiny volcanic fissure near Death Valley – a scar called Devils’ Hole. The hole is home to a critically endangered species, the Devil’s Hole Pupfish, and is steeped in lore. Native Americans held that a beast hid in its depths that would leap from the water and pull careless humans to their deaths. The Reverend Ethan Allen believed it a gateway to Hell, while Charles Manson thought his Family could hide safely in its depths during the coming chaos of Helter Skelter, and find a lost city of gold.

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Merl Dobry and Jim Houtz inch their way through a narrow passage on the way to Brown’s Room. The photograph illuminated a world of utter darkness darkness at 92 feet. Photo courtesy, Jim Houtz.

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A Special Message in a Bottle and One Man’s Afterlife Voyage

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Gordon’s ashes found in Key Colony, Florida. Image from Anna Pepe’s Facebook page

Here at the Scuttlefish, we definitely do not condone putting any kind of plastic or trash into the sea but the sentiment behind this story was too sweet not to share.

Back in 2012, a widow put the ashes of her husband of more than 70 years, Gordon, into a plastic bottle. Inside she included a note to call her and a dollar to do so. She released the bottle in Big Pine Key, Florida as a way to memorialize Gordon because he loved to travel.

Gordon first made it to Islamorada, where someone added another dollar and note and sent him on his way. Next stop was last week, according to the Facebook link in the caption above. A hotel worker in Key Colony, Florida found the bottle; called Gordon’s wife in Tennessee, who was delighted to receive the news and hear of his travels thus far. They also added a note and dollar but moved his ashes to a rum glass bottle. After a short memorial on the beach, he was pushed back into currents to carry him away. Perhaps on this next leg, Gordon will make it out of Florida and if so I hope we continue to hear about it.

Lessons to take from this – ashes can travel the world without being in a bottle and every time you are at the beach pick up litter whenever you can. Who knows, maybe you will find a treasure too. – CS

The Scuttlefish Travels to England. Welcome Aboard the Ship that Launched D-Day and Rendered Big Naval Gunships (Like Herself) Obsolete: HMS Belfast.

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The HMS Belfast – a massive incongruity, floating on the muddy Thames right across from the Tower of London. Her history – from literally firing the opening shots on the D-Day invasion, to the sinking of one Germany’s most fearsome ships – is both heroic and tragic. Photo: Chris Dixon

Editor’s Note:
My family and I spent much of June trekking through England. We passed a week in London and the rest of a working vacation navigating a little camper through the verdant midlands and breathtaking coastline of my distant ancestral motherland. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll share a little of what we found on this island most fair.

Today, the incredible HMS Belfast, the last surviving heavy gunship in Her Majesty’s fleet.


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Amazing Grace in a Holy City. An Unforgettable Mourning in Charleston.

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Meeting Street – Living up to its name early Friday morning. Photo: Chris Dixon

Not two weeks ago, during a vacation to England, my wife and I watched in horror and disbelief as a deranged young racist thrust our hometown onto the center of the world stage after mercilessly gunning down nine black parisioners whose only crime was to invite him into their church for a Bible study.

 

Watching events in Charleston unfold from overseas – and the subsequent reaction of Charleston was a painful, surreal and eventually, a wondrous thing to behold. The cradle of the Confederacy has, plenty of times in its storied past, come to symbolize the very worst in humanity, but over the last ten days, Charleston has revealed some of the most admirable human behavior I’ve ever seen. The stunning act of forgiveness by the victims’ families during the killer’s hearing, the crowds at Mother Emmanuel church and a long line of Charlestonians joining hands across our iconic Ravenel Bridge represented something magical – a sea change in a port city riddled with 400-year-old racial fault lines. Sitting in a camper watching the BBC on the beautiful British coast, I reckon I’ve never been so homesick for a place or a people in all my life.

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The Ravenel Bridge, Sunday a Week Ago. Photo: Mathew Fortner, The Post and Courier. 

On Friday morning, not ten hours after my plane landed, I decided to pay my respects by attending a memorial service for the 41-year-old leader of Charleston’s “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a state senator, pastor, husband and father of two young girls named Clemente Pinckney. I rose early and rode my bike along Charleston’s oddly quiet three-hundred-year old waterfront before turning towards the intersection of Meeting and Calhoun streets. It wasn’t even 7AM. Surely, I reckoned, I would land a spot in the 5,000-plus seat arena where Pinckney and eight others would be eulogized by President Obama. How wrong I was.

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The line on Meeting Street. Before 7AM. Photo: Chris Dixon

Reaching the intersection, I just stood there sort of agog. The rest of the city was oddly quiet because, it seemed, the entire city was converging here. A vast, deep, noisy line of every sort of person who calls The Holy City home stretched far, far up the now most aptly named Meeting Street. It was already smotheringly hot, but the throng stood smiling and resolute, sweating and fanning themselves in church finery. They banged drums, sang gospel hymns, held up signs and handed out water bottles. Way up the street, I eventually found the end of the line – and worrisomely, it seemed 5000 might already in front of me. But even this wasn’t the end of the line for long. Thousands more would line up behind me. I don’t think downtown Charleston has ever seen anything quite like what was happening.

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Stop. Watch This Now. This is What Happened in Santa Barbara and Will Happen to Your Coast if Proposed Offshore Oil and Gas Proceeds

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Reeve Woolpert carries an oil-covered Brown Pelican from Refugio State Beach. Photo from Ventura County Star via Audubon.

On May 19, 2015, more than 100,000 gallons of thick, crude oil poured out of a ruptured pipeline in Santa Barbara County. The pipeline is owned by Plains All American, one of the worst violators of safety and maintenance regulations in the industry, according to a list by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration.

The local community, some arguably still scarred from the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, watched in despair as a pool of oil spread and began to wash up onshore over a 10-mile stretch of coast and continues to wash up today.

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A day after the pipeline rupture, the oil sheen—and oil-soaked kelp—makes its way toward the shore. Photo by Brian van der Brug/LA Times/Getty via Audubon.

Ironically, members of the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) were in Alaska, attending a conference about the effects of oil on wildlife, when the real thing happened. OWCN Director Mike Ziccardi, who has experienced more than 50 spills in California and abroad, booked a red-eye flight from Anchorage to Santa Barbara.

“California is the best region in the world for oiled wildlife response,” Ziccardi said in the UC Davis Today article. “Through the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network, we have over 35 organizations we work with regularly. We train, do drills and exercises; we’ve built 12 facilities throughout the state for oiled wildlife.”

Regardless of the group’s preparedness, no community is truly prepared to witness the devastation a spill can wreak on their beaches and wildlife. The following video shows the impact of the spill’s aftermath to wildlife.

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‘Typically, the number of birds far outweighs the number of marine mammals brought into the wildlife care facilities. With the Santa Barbara spill, the ratio is much less distinct.’ said marine biologist Kyra Mills-Parker with OWCN.

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