Our dad and “Mike the Stone Skipper” decided to go fishing for rock cod one chilly Spring morning in Santa Cruz. Most mornings in Santa Cruz are chilly, it could be July and everyone at the coffee shop is wearing hoodies.
Dad decided to bring me along because: A. I love fishing and idolized Mike because he was the only adult I know who had successfully dodged growing up. B. Taking “the boy” fishing usually gets the green light from the missus and lets you escape the weekend Honey-Do list, and I know how to keep my mouth shut. Later they would be very glad they brought me.
We headed to the beach to launch Mike’s Folbot. Never seen a Folbot? It’s an old-school collapsible kayak that fits in the trunk of a car or, in this case, in the back of a pickup truck. We arrived at the beach and stood there assessing the shore break.
To set the stage, picture early 80’s in Northern California. Both my dad and Mike were sipping “coffee” from those weird, wide bottomed coffee mugs they sold before cup holders in cars were a thing. They wore the short shorts that guys wore just before “Jams” saved us and evolved into board shorts. Mike had a mullet and a vest with a mountain lion on it. My dad had a real job and an 80’s ‘stache. I was rocking a sweet bowl cut courtesy of my mom, some horrible but indestructible polyester kids’ pants from Mervyn’s, and a 49ers shiny track jacket. The three of us were squeezed together in a blue Nissan pickup looking up at the waves.
“We could drive to the yacht harbor and put in there,” dad offered.
“Nah, they make you pay to park there…besides, we got this.” Mike said. My hero at work. Mike had a pretty casual relationship with mortality.
I watched as the men built the boat and filled it with fishing tackle and a cooler. The cooler was full of lunch and beer, and doubled as my seat in the two person craft. They finished their coffee, locked up the truck and carried the boat to the end of the beach.
“Ok, all aboard” my dad said as we all clambered into the Folbot and prepared to launch.
We sat in the boat, rocking in the white water looking at the breakers coming in. It was all closeouts. For those of you who don’t surf a “closeout” is a wave that just flops over all at once, there is no where to go, it’s just a wall of water that stands up and crashes. They are useless for surfing, and actually can be quite dangerous, especially in shallow water because they have a nasty trick where they pick you up and take you along for the flop and you smash into the bottom, hopefully not headfirst. Dad and Mike both surfed, so they had a pretty good idea what we were up against.
“It’s all about timing!” Mike yelled into the air and spray. He looked back at my dad, grinning. I was in the middle hanging onto the sides of the boat grimacing, the icy Pacific already sapping the color from my hands…or it may just have been my death grip. It was like every movie D-Day landing except no one was shooting at us and we were trying to get out to sea.
“One…. two…. THREE!” My dad and Mike yelled together and began paddling like mad men straight at the horizon trying to beat the next wave. Lets just say we came awful close to cresting that last one. Mike looked back at me with the look Robert Shaw gave Richard Dreyfus in Jaws when the shark starts eating the boat. We were screwed and he knew it, he had surfed enough to have a good idea of what was about to happen. I heard curse words coming from my dad behind me as our doomed craft rose up and sideways in the wave. The two so-called grown-ups, knowing what was about to happen, jumped clear to avoid crashing in a closeout with a boat and a bunch of fishing tackle.
I just white knuckled the sides because I didn’t know any better and kids tend to freeze. I went for the ride. Let me describe it for you.
Water, sky, white foam, more water, say hi to the bemused surf perch watching me, sky, a lot more foamy water, then sky and that was it. Every time I went upside down I felt the cooler trying to escape, but my death grip held us both in. The cooler was smarter than me.
“you crazy fool, you’ll drown us both” The cooler snarled as we saw daylight again.
I coasted to a stop on the beach, still in the Folbot, soaking wet, freezing cold but right side up.
“Whew, that was a close one, you got lucky kid” The cooler whispered. Then it stopped talking forever. (I probably watched too many cartoons as a kid)
I saw my dad pop up in the surf doing the frantic look around for “the boy.” Coming home one kid short is never ok with any mom…step or otherwise. He saw me sitting on the boat, wide eyed and white knuckled but none the worse for wear. I’m sure he gave a sigh of relief. He swam then trudged out of the cold brine and walked over to where I was. He assayed the situation, then he turned to Mike who was emerging from the water as well, dragging kelp like some kind of vest sporting Leviathan.
“Great news!” Dad shouted, “Whiskey hung on so tight that he saved the cooler; we don’t have to go get more beer!” No father hoisting a little league champion was ever more proud. I may have never brought home a trophy, but I won the day. Beers were opened despite the shivering, and thanks to my heroic deed, I was spared the task of swimming around in the surf collecting fishing tackle. Normally this would be a perfect use for “the boy”.
Later after getting dry clothes on, (who has a backup down vest with a cougar on it?) we went to the yacht harbor and paid for parking. We then paddled out successfully onto the kelp beds for a day of fishing. The ocean gods must have felt we paid our dues because we actually caught enough for dinner and even made it back OK despite a gang of surly harbor seals that took a run at our stringer of rock fish.
We downplayed the peril and up-sold the fishing as always when mom asked how it went.