25 October 2014

RIP Seal Bite

Three days ago, a 67-year-old surfer died at my favorite reef break, apparently of natural causes. I've been surfing there a lot over the past couple of months, and wondered if I'd ever seen him. The photos accompanying news reports were either too distant or obscured his features, leaving me in the dark.
This morning I paddled out at 7, the same time he'd arrived on Wednesday. Since the tide was rising fast to a high high, I hurried past the impromptu memorial of flowers, photos and notes on the north side of Calumet Park.

There were a handful of surfers at Hairmos and a couple heading to Sewers, but no one at Hennemans, so you know which spot I chose. The enticing scent of tortillas baking in one of the clifftop mansions floated on the slightest offshore breeze. Solitude didn't last beyond a couple of waves, but the several near-dawn patrollers who joined me were friendly and talkative.
The waves were small and shifty yet fun, and I remembered to smile so I'd surf better. (Really! Read about that here.) I rode my last left nearly to shore, crossed the cobbles, and started up the cliff path. Ever since I slipped soon after I started surfing this break, I've half-run up the steepest park to the top, using momentum to keep me going, and that's worked every time - except today.

Two months ago, I wrote this in my blog:
The dirt trail to the top of the bluff is also a bit tricky. Not only is it steep, but there's a constant trickle of water dribbling down that turns the footing to slippery mud. (Which is odd, because we're in the middle of the drought, and other than a couple of freak thunderstorms a while ago, we haven't had rain in a long time.) Near the top, one of my feet lost purchase and I barely stopped the slide with my free hand. 
"Want to give me your hand?" said a voice from above, and I looked up to see a longboarder offering his. I raised my muddy paw and he hoisted me up the last few steps. The nice dude told me the trail's always been wet, since he was a kid, due to a natural spring. Perhaps that also explains the brownness of the water there. But hey, I'll take muddy reef break over closed-out beach break any day of the week!
This morning I tipped forward into the dirt and came to an abrupt stop. My feet scrambled for an upward toehold but I found none at first on the slippery slope. I glanced up, half hoping to see an extended hand; there was only sky. I tried once more and got a grip, then scurried the last few steps to the top. Back in the park, I took a look at the photos of Stephen Saburo Fujii, nicknamed "Seal Bite" because one nipped him years ago. I can't be certain, but I think he's the guy I met on the trail in August.
RIP, Seal Bite. I hope your last wave was a great one.

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