At Sunset Beach last month, I watched a trio of grommets run up the beach from Kammieland, their smiles big and hearty, their blade-thin thrusters bedecked with sponsors’ logos. I was reminded of that scene in The Endless Summer when Robert August and Mike Hyson come running down the sand dunes en route to a holy grail of sorts, the gorgeous, peeling, eternal righthanders of Cape St. Francis in South Africa. Sunset was small and wonky, but the three grommets beamed stoke from their eyes and tanned faces. They couldn’t get in the water fast enough.
I was also reminded of my own grommethood, or in California parlance, gremmiehood. That first wave at Waikiki on a banana yellow soft top—the sapphire blue water streaking past, the spray tickling my ankles, that sense of dropping down a liquid slope that never ended. That first cutback at First Point Malibu—the hyper-awareness of shoulder and hand placement as learned from Larry Bertlemann and Dane Kealoha and Buttons, the heave-ho it took to muscle my 5’9” Town and Country twin fin back to the foam. That first tube that came not in real life but a dream, a dream that was the result of watching Gerry Lopez’s epic inside-the-tube footage from, what was it,Five Summer Stories (GoPro long before there was GoPro)? My tube was an emerald green and gold-dazzled right at Hammond’s Reef in Santa Barbara, a little watery womb that hit upon the same instincts that drew me to tree forts and crawl spaces and hiding under tables when I was a child. (It was so real and vivid that it completely overshadowed my first real tube, which I can’t remember at all.)
Looking back on those days, I can easily fall into horrible nostalgia traps: Were the waves better back then? Was the water cleaner? Did the VW vans and wing pintail single fins and Sea Suits beaver tails cast a distinctly ‘70s buzz over things? Certainly the lineups were a lot less crowded.
A seventy-one-year-old surfer friend of mine has a theory. He says that if you’ve been surfing for three decades or more, it’s almost impossible not to get down on the crowds and commercialism and swell forecasting that ensures that any day head-high or bigger will be crowded. But if you’re a 10th grader who grew up on John John Florence, you know nothing else. The packed lineups, the air reverses, the million dollar contracts, the Teahupo’os and Tavaruas and Lower Trestles look much like that Garden of Eden surf world did to Robert August and Mike Hynson when they went on their Endless Summer.
Which is to say that the pure stoke that courses through our bloodstreams, infuses them with salt water, and sends off on our lifelong surf odysseys remains much the same as it did to the longboarders of the ‘50s and ‘60s, to the Waikiki Beach Boys of the early 1900s, to the earliest wave sliders who, on their way back to shore from a day of fishing in a roughly-carved canoe, caught a wave and felt a whoosh in their bellies.