Truth, Loyalty, Roots & Roark: A Meandering Tale Of Barfights & Seashells
“TWO IF BY SEA”
These goods are shaped from accounts of Roark’s meandering travels, as told by an accidental companion caught in his wake. The pieces are images and thoughts collected along the way. Consider them artifacts of Roark’s story. It’s a return to adventurism. Enjoy.
During the 4th Indian Summer prior to “the movement,” Roark managed to get himself from San Francisco to Tijuana with only a crooked smile and extended thumb. I know, because I was there. I met Roark in the lower Haight about 6 months before I met my first wife.
In the 16 days I knew him I didn’t once ask what his full name was or where he was from. I guess I thought it’d be some place I’d never heard of anyway. We were both staying in the same hippy commune, which was this old Victorian owned by some burnout who called himself “the Journeyman”. He opened the door to anyone who needed to crash.
It was a summer of love and coincidentally both Roark and I loved surfing overhead ocean beach and living rent–free.
We got two clean, double–overhead days and three nights of parties before we learned the “burnout” didn’t actually own the victorian. According to the police, the real owner was on vacation in Vancouver and we were all trespassing.
On the way downtown Roark managed to talk the cops out of booking us and even got them to recommend a Mexican restaurant in the mission. It occurred to me over the best carne asada taco I’ve ever had that this Roark fellow was a good guy to have in my corner.
After our 3rd or 4th or 9th round of margaritas I went to the baño only to come back to Roark brawling with two giant Mexican dudes screaming, “this is not the nuclear age.” I vaguely remember hitting someone with a stool before hearing the un–mistakable sound of glass breaking over my head. That’s when the lights went out.
When the lights started to flicker back on, the sun was coming up and I was laying face down in the cargo area of a VW camper. Roark was sitting shotgun talking about some secret spot off pillar point. “30–foot a–frame” he said. “Half–mile paddle out”… as if it was a good thing. I’m not sure if it was the tequila or the glass stuck in my skull, but I’ve never had a headache like that in all my life. It took nearly 40 minutes before I realized the guy driving was one of the Mexican dudes Roark had been fighting the night before. Roark filled me in later. Apparently, he and the a guy named Hersk somehow got to talking between punches.
Turned out Hersk was heading south to Watsonville for some post–modern artichoke festival. So, Roark talked him into giving us a ride to Santa Cruz. funny thing, Roark just assumed I wanted to go. He was right. I had never been down highway 1 before. The fact that I’d even noticed the beauty given the state I was in, says enough. The road winds along the coast with the open sea to the west and nothing of interest to the east…
I’m not sure how long we drove before Roark demanded that Hersk pull over. I thought, “wow, Roark has to puke too”. But that wasn’t why we pulled over at all. Saying nothing, Roark jumped out of the bus and started trotting through some brush and wild flowers towards the sea. Hersk killed the engine and after multiple failed attempts opening the slider I hopped out the front door Roark had left ajar.
Roark had looked over the edge of the cliff and was already sprinting back up towards the bus by the time I could see what the fuss was all about. Head high perfect spitting barrels, no one out. The wave was a machine. 6–wave sets, the first one bouncing off a nearby rock shelf and create a side–wave each wave thereafter was a 90–degree wedge that would barrel for close to 20 years. As I ran back towards the bus I noticed there were four brand–new boards strapped to the roof. I had no idea where they came from and upon seeing the confusion on my face Roark smiled, winked and said, “tools of the trade.”
After scaling the cliff and carefully negotiating our way past a few hundred elephant seals we started to paddle out. The water must have been somewhere between 50 degrees and freezing, but after my first wave, it didn’t matter. After about 2 hours I was nervous Hersk was going to leave. I mentioned it to Roark and he responded, “who cares, look.” As an empty right barreled past us and spit. He was right. Again.
Luckily Hersk didn’t leave. He was perfectly content sitting on the cliff smoking cigarettes for 4 hours. It wasn’t till we were going back up the cliff that Roark told me he’d encountered a 18–foot great white at that very spot a few years prior. I appreciated that he didn’t mention it earlier. Hersk dropped Roark and I off at the first stoplight in Santa Cruz around midnight.
We each grabbed a board under each arm, walked about a mile and slept in the sand at Natural Bridges.
I didn’t realize it was a surf spot till the sun started to come up. By Roark’s reaction to the first set we saw, I don’t think he did either. Our suits were still soaking wet but that didn’t matter. As I had realized the day before empty barrels cure all. As we were waxing our boards Roark smile faded for a brief moment. He said something under his breath, almost too soft for me to hear. But I heard, “I miss Duke”. I didn’t know what it meant. But it wouldn’t be the last time he said it.
To talk about the waves we got in Santa Cruz would come off as bragging. Anyone who has been there during a south swell can understand. But I will say that in the 3 days we spent there we surfed 13 times, every session was better than the last and didn’t surf the same spot twice. You do the math.
The swell fizzled out on the 3rd day and we spend the evening in some pool hall called “The Corner Pocket”. The place smelled like a urinal and cigarettes but the beer was cold and cheap.
After a few cold ones Roark decided he wanted to get a table. But there wasn’t a single one open and the gentlemen who were occupying them didn’t seem like the types to share. Didn’t matter to Roark. He walked up to the biggest guy in the bar and said, “we got next”. The guy laughed and told him it doesn’t work that way.
He needed to win the table. Roark told him that if they were going to gamble he’d prefer the stakes be higher like… for his bike. After a few minutes of laughing he asked what was in it for him. Roark calmly said, “doesn’t matter, you aren’t going to win.”
That was enough. The guy called himself ’Ghost–Rider” and he was pretty good at pool. Unfortunately, not good enough.
I don’t know where Roark learned to play pool. But he almost played better than he surfed. And he was the best surfer I’d ever seen. After Roark ran the table till the last ball was gone he smiled and asked for the keys to Ghost–Rider’s bike only to receive a right hook to the chin. Roark’s head fell back and snapped right back up. He smiled and asked for the keys again.
Again Ghost–Rider took a swing, this one to Roark’s gut. Roark keeled over coughed and snapped right back up one more time. ’Keys” he said again, smiling. As ghost–rider went to grab Roark by the neck, Roark twisted away, grabbing ghost–riders pinky finger and snapping it like a baby carrot stick. The 6’5” 280 pound hard–ass fell to the ground in the fetal position.
Roark calmly unclipped the keys from ghost–riders belt loop, took the Triumph key off the ring and returned the remaining keys to his belt. Everyone in the bar stared silently as we paid our tab and left.
We went outside hopped on the bike and rode about 20–minutes to a barn made of corrugated aluminum. A light came on immediately outside and an old guy with long silver hair walked out carrying a shotgun wearing nothing but white briefs and black socks. Roark got off the bike, had a 30 second conversation with the guy and disappeared into the barn.
Sitting there it occurred to me for the first time that I had no idea who this guy really was. I was about 2 seconds away from running to the street and hitchhiking my way out of there when the barn door opened and Roark drove out in an old white pickup. On the side were lighting bolts and the words “thunder hawk.” Roark pulled up and said, “can’t do a surf trip on a bike, kook.” I hopped in, we went back to town to pick up our boards and we were off.
The next 10 days were a total surf–a–thon. We dawn patrolled chest–high moss landing on the way out of Santa Cruz. We got fullers and sand dollar on our way through big sur. we met up with some lensman named Chris Mcpherson who got us into the ranch one afternoon. We scored some fun little waves at Rincon at sunrise and Malibu at sunset. We checked a few spots I’d never heard of, some we scored, some we got skunked. We got a few little bowls at Brooks Street, and a few more at lowers. We stayed at swamis for 2 days without surfing once and got epic blacks.
You’d think I learned a lot about Roark spending that much time with him. But in the mornings all we really talked about was places we’d surfed or where we were going to surf. And in the evenings we were too tired to talk at all. Roark would play the guitar and I would write.
When we reached the Mexico boarder Roark told me that he was probably going to stay down there for a while and if I wanted to bail, he’d understand.
It’s funny, part of me never thought about what this whole adventure was leading up to. Something about cruising with Roark, it was never about what was next; Roark was always in the moment. I wish he had just assumed I wanted to go like before, because even though I got out of the truck, I did. Roark disappeared into the night with a small guitar, pocket knife, a backpack full of god knows what, and a crooked smile. I wouldn’t see him again for years.