Mountain Man's Global News Archive
the Last Good Wave
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
the Last Good Wave
I went to see Joe last weekend. Joe's not a real old friend, but a guy I met 8 years ago when I needed some electrical work done on the Foonpalace. Joe is a local electical contractor, a long time surfer who gets in the water as often as he can. For an old guy (53) he could really slide that old Hobie 9'6" around. In the last several years I guess I've shared waves with Joe about two dozen times. He was always very generous and good natured in the water, somewhat soulful and philisophical, and always eager to talk during lulls. Joe was the kind a guy you wanted to surf with every day.
Joe is dying. I found out through the usual grapevine of acquaintances he is suffering from advanced lymphoma and immediately called to find out what happened. I reached his wife Liz and she filled me in.
About 18 months ago just after the epic season of the Summer of 96, Joe was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He went through the rigorous regimen of treatments that pretty much ended his working, but he seemed to make a strong comeback. Sometime last October he was at home turning down the bedcovers one night, turned the wrong way and just shattered his hip. X-rays showed later his pelvis looked as porous as a sea sponge from the Chemo or Radiation. Since then Joe has been to the hospital and several rehabilitation facilities. He was also rediagnosed with lymphoma.
I asked Liz what I could do and with a slight catch in her voice she simply said, "Foon, if you could just get him out of the house for a few hours, it would be a great help to both of us." So Saturday, armed with a half dozen Surfer's Journals and a copy of "the Perfect Storm" I visited my friend Joe and tried not to react to the cadaveresque visage he had taken on.
Joe has a subtle and dry sense of humor. Not an educated man, he was a swabby in the Navy during Vietnam and became an electrician's mate. His jokes are very thought heavy and he tries to maintain a low profile. He lives in a little cottage of a house on one of the backbays and receives most of his medical treatment from the VA. When I walked in he was sitting in a little sunroom area he'd built and greeted me warmly though he didn't get up. He was quite candid about his condition and not afraid to admit his life clock was winding down. But the mental juices were still lively and we got a couple of good chuckles about mutual friends. I told him I was taking him out for a ride and he looked hesitant, but Liz quickly agreed he could handle it and got him his heavy Navy Pea Coat and a Black watch cap. Bundled up against the 38 degree temps, I helped him out to my truck and we took off mindful of Liz's warning that he tired very easily.
We toured many of the old haunts, checked out some jet skiers riding the standing wave formed by an outgoing tide at the inlet and watched some windsurfers skip along the backbay taking advantage of a brisk Northwest wind. Eventually, we stopped at Duffy's Tavern for lunch and sipped Irish Coffees to warm our bones (I'm not sure this was allowed under his treatment but I was damned if I was going to tell the man what he shouldn't do). Later in the afternoon I drove my truck out onto the dune path at my old homebreak (very illegal) to give Joe a 180 degree panoramic view of the place we shared many good time and many good waves. Within minutes a local police car showed up to shoo us off the path, but when the officer came up to the the window, he recognized Joe knowing of his condition and simply shook his hand and wished him well, then took off.
A weak Nor Easter had kicked up a good swell the day before, and the steady Northwest breeze had sculpted some pretty good but very cold and gray looking surf. I was tickled that some of our tough as nails locals had suited up to ride the break and give us something to comment on and critique. Joe seemed in a very good mood, exhilerated by being out in the fresh, cold air and stoked to see somebody getting some in the dead of January.
Inevitably our talked turned to epic days and classic sessions. I reminded Joe of the time Hurricane Hortense visited us in the Fall of '96 and the late afternoon session we shared. As I recall Hortense had been a classic offshore storm bringing all the good surf and none of the bad winds. An army of surfers had ripped the shit out of the conditions that day, Joe and I both waded in for 3 separate sessions that Sunday.
Just before Sundown with the tides just starting to change and the warm gentle offshores barely blowing, I'd come in to sit and watch the remaining riders get their last rides. Joe was slightly outside, as was his practice, willing to wait longer for the better set waves. On the horizon several noticeably large waves formed a long set that would prove to be one of the larger of the day. Joe paddled out farther to get a better line up, the early waves were snatched by the remaining few guys leaving Joe just about alone, bobbing, watching for the one he wanted. With fluid motion Joe swivled and two stroked into a long headhigh gem that just reeled off on the outside edge of the shallow sandbar. Though technically not a standup barrel, the wave began at it's peak to be just over Joe's head. Joe glided a subtle turn, angled up the face of the wave into the sweetspot and shuffled ever so slowly to about two thirds the distance to the nose of his old Hobie surfboard.
At that moment every eye of every surfer on the beach followed Joe like radar. The peeling wave lip just grazed the back of his shoulder. As Joe realized there was nothing needed of him to make this wave more perfect, he slowly clasped his hands behind his back and adopted a modest soul arch.....shoulders back, head raised, eyes riveted on the the breaking lip. He stood absolutely still for the whole ride. As the wave wound down and the taper of the swell made it smaller and smaller, Joe maintained his stance and the perfect trim that caused the slide of his big board to throw a perfect symetrical wake. At the very end,as the wave expired gently in the shallows, Joe simply stepped off his board in knee high water, picked it up and walked out to a chorus of hands-in-the-air hoots from every surfer on the beach (the surfer equivalent of a standing ovation) The entire ride had unfolded over the space of one city block, a long ride by anyone's measure. Joe walked up to me with a huge grin and said, "I guess I'm not going to do much better than that today Foon." I answered, "Nope, that's just about the best you will ever get out of this break Joe."
After reminiscing about this wave I looked over at Joe, he'd gotten very quiet.....he was crying quietly. God, what had I done? He choked back his sorrow and very calmly said, "You know Foon, that was the last good wave I ever rode. I am so thankful that it was one you remembered too." The air in the truck suddenly got very hot, my throat was seized up and I could barely breath. Like most men do when we get emotional, we just sat and watched, calming ourselves and breathing deeply. Finally I turned to Joe, he smiled and said, "Foon if there's only one thing you could remember me for, I'd like it to be that wave." "Fact is Joe," I smiled, "a lot of people at the beach that day remember you from that wave." "Thanks Foon." At that point, I lost it.
Later we sat in Joe's tiny livingroom next to a small, warm fire. Joe was exhausted, I sipped some whiskey Liz had brought me Joe had some tea in a mug. We both watched out the window as the first flakes of some light snow began to fall in the waning light of the day. Liz had looked at us very strangely as we walked in, sensing something unusual had happened. Joe and I sat and discussed the Surfers Journal and the Perfect Storm. Joe remembered he'd made alot of money doing electrical work after that massive Nor Easter on. He joked he was able to buy a new truck with all the money he'd earned. He was looking forward to reading the book.
Soon Joe nodded off and I sat quietly looking at my friend. I was both alternately sad and happy I'd made the visit, and promised I would do it again. As I quietly got up to leave thinking Joe was asleep I barely made it to the door when I heard him whisper to me, "Seeya buddy, thanks for the book and hey don't forget......ride every wave like it's your last." He laughed a little chuckle and winked at me. I smiled at Joe, nodded and fled the room incapible of holding back my tears.
When I called back later to see how he was Liz thanked me profusely for taking Joe out for what was one of his better days. When I asked her what Joe would really like to do with his remaining time she thought a second and said, "I just think he would like to sit and stare at the ocean each day, it seems to give him the most pleasure and peace of mind." I mentally swore to myself, if there is another Foonpalace and it happens to be oceanfront, Joe will always have a place where he can sit and look at the ocean for as long as he can or wants to. This I do solemnly swear. It's exactly what I would want to do.
Other Stories by Foon include the following: