Gorillas in the Fog- Question time with three of the silverbacks of OB

Talkin’ story with three of OB’s silverbacks

Pictures by JR.

Recently it takes a lot more effort to get myself in the water on the handful of yearly big OB days. The wild abandon of my 20s waned into a more seasoned approach in my 30s. Now well into my 40s, I find it takes a lot of mental and physical effort to get out there, but when I do the rush still feels the same and the fear never goes stale. A little fear is fun. It's the spice of life in surfing OB that we all love. But when you add the challenge of career, family, and physical fitness (the whole suite of baggage that comes with advancing age) the victory is a little sweeter.

Generally older surfers have a lot more on the line on these biggest days. Surfers like me have  people that depend on us, have deadlines that can't be missed and risk injury that can't be sustained without risking what you worked so hard to build. If you find yourself outside at DOH+ OB and most of the faces within view are decades younger, well, it's harder to fool yourself about what your priorities in life are, but still it feels pretty damn good!! When I begin to doubt my resolve, a guy with ten years or more on me and less foam under his chest makes his way through the inside. My mind’s made up now. It's become more inspiring for me to see that now than a bunch of pros tearing Noriega to shreds.

On those holy days when the the morning sun lights up the backs of the unworthy as they watch the show from the dunes, and the black dots way out to sea are few, you can bet that a couple of OB's grizzled silverbacks are out there. JR, Rocky and Jack are the three guys that initially come to mind when I think of the older guys still charging balls-out OB whenever the magic happens. You can bet they are suiting up, cracking jokes, and loving every second of the ritual of these days. It's what they live for - and I guess it's what their life has been built around. Surfers like these are my role models now, folks I look up to when I think about where I want my surfing to be. Sorting out age, responsibilities, health yet still getting it done on the solid days. My cutback is not getting any crisper these days, but these guys show me there are a lot of other things to work on.

So it's time to post some images of these surfers and hear some shit learned from experience.  They aren't the only ‘advanced in age’ guys to be charging big OB (...and it's not only guys either!) but these three are friends of Aqua - and regularly remind us that grom status is a relative thing.

JR dropping in and setting up. Picture by Bruce Topp of Norcal Surf Photos.

Aleks: Could you tell me your age when you started surfing?  How long have you surfed at OB?  

JR: I starting surfing in NJ in the mid-'70s. Came to SF in 1990. Started surfing OB shortly thereafter.

Rocky: I started surfing Bolinas in 1968 and moved up to surfing OB around 1971. Holy shit that makes me how old?

Jack: I started surfing when I was 32 and have now been surfing Ocean Beach for 31 Years.

Aleks: How about a little insight into your work/family lives and how you have engineered life so that you hardly miss a big day?  

JR: It is tough to find the live-work-surf balance. Something always suffers a little. The forecasting tools are better so I try to keep blocks of time free when the magic happens. It kills me when I miss a day with great conditions - but it happens.

Rocky: The early years of raising a family will impact your surfing no question about it. Having an understanding wife helps. My real estate profession has always allowed me flexibility to be in the water on the right days. Surf forecasting makes it a lot easier to adjust schedules these days.

Aleks: Does the inevitable deterioration of an aging body frustrate you, so that you find yourself training out of water to keep the performance level up? Or do you just adjust your performance level down and settle for making a drop or two without getting too worked. At some point you just have to make peace with the limits of age, right?  

JR: Age impacts the feeling of invincibility. You realize that OB can really mess you up if you go out on the wrong days.

Rocky: The deteriorating aging body is real, something you need to deal with and be smart about. A lot of us older guys are experiencing shoulder / arm problems. Body parts wear out over time and yours will too. Keeping healthy and staying uninjured is key to surviving the brutality of the beach. I eat healthy, know I can’t drink the night before & practice yoga twice a week to try to stay flexible. Yoga has definitely helped reduce injuries. You have to work harder just to stay par and in the game. We are grateful to still be out there but realize we are all probably one injury from being done. My surfing is not improving but I am surfing better because I am surfing smarter. My wave judgment has gotten much better.  

Jack: Yes, yes, and Yes- to the aging question. No and a big NO on bringing my performance level down- that just gets you into trouble out there. There are no bad waves just BAD DECISIONS!

Jack on a sweet one. Picture by Bruce Topp of Norcal Surf Photos.

Aleks: Does it have to be a universal truth that an aging surfer needs to compensate with more foam?  

JR: I love the more foam concept but I'm not sure I would attribute that to age. More foam helps you paddle against the currents, gets you into waves earlier and increases your wave count.  You only need a shorter board to do cutbacks - and who does cutbacks at Ocean Beach? Only people on their last wave of the day. The downside of more foam - you have to get the board to the outside. Not too easy.

Rocky: Well, I’m probably the poster boy for thick boards and ride bigger and thicker boards than most. 61 yrs old, weighing 200lbs, I want paddle power to get out of harms way on the big days. Can't take the hits like I use to, don’t want to get caught in in bad places (yeah right, this is OB). People always ask me ‘how do you paddle those big boards out there?’ Simple, you get good at knifing the board through waves and the ground you lose not being able to duck dive can easily be made up by paddle power as soon as you get a gap. Paddling a big beefy board out on large period swells is really not a problem. It’s those 14-second or less intervals that kick your ass. If I can’t make it out in 15-20 minutes, I go back to the beach and rest up for round 2.  If I don't get out after round 2, round 3 is breakfast.

Jack: I think that depends on how big your ego is. The advantage to a bigger board is getting in a lot earlier at a less critical point on the take off - and getting more waves. The real trick at OB is getting out…

Aleks: On any big day we can see that getting out is more an exercise of working smarter not harder, and experience counts for a lot out there.  Since you guys have a lot of experience, can you tell us the secret for getting out on days when we probably don't belong out?  

JR: No. :)
My tactics provide a high rate of success but often it is pretty random. This year, on different occasions, I had paddles of 60 and 90 minutes while I had friends get out in 10 minutes. Random.

Rocky: Be patient! Study the beach, study where guys are making it out, currents, rips, time the lulls, etc. I’ll stand waist deep in water and wait 10-20 minutes if I have to, waiting for a gap. Being conscious about conserving energy is key to us silverbacks. Oh yeah, it helps to be lucky and of course there is praying as needed.

Jack: Again, the real trick and accomplishment at OB is just Getting out….

Aleks: War stories. My buddy Jeff once went down hard on a drop of an outside Lawton 15' bomb in the mid 90s. He was pinned to the bottom and his wetsuit became unzipped and pulled inside-out all the way to the wrist on both hands, effectively hog-tying him. I myself have had multiple beatdowns. Please tell us the story of one of your nightmare Ocean Beach wipeouts.

JR: Years ago, I was surfing VF's on a huge, rising swell. A big set appears and I paddle as hard as possible for the horizon. Made it through three waves, but kept getting pushed back. I got caught in the impact zone and didn't know if I should paddle out or in. I ditch to swim under when the lip landed six feet in front of me. The impact of the lip lifted me out of the water and threw me through the air towards the shore. I skipped a couple times and then it felt as if a house landed on me.  Most violent hold down ever.  Happy to be pushed to shore and happier to be done for the day.

Rocky: The sandbars have really changed and relocated the waves over the years. In the 80s, VFW’s was the focal point for west swells creating insane top-to-bottom dredging bombs. I got stuck in the lip on a double overhead heavy offshore day and slammed so hard I thought I blew my eardrum out. After floating to the beach on my board, I was barely able crawl out of the water. So disoriented, I just laid on the beach trying to unscramble my brain. Unable to walk, immobilized and just f’in knocked silly. You never forget your worst wipeouts.

Rocky leaning into a nice right. Picture by Bruce Topp of Norcal Surf Photos.

Aleks: Are there days where you simply want no part of it? What thoughts are going through your head as you talk yourself out of it? Do you still feel like you have something to prove or do those feelings fade over time?

JR: Deciding not to go out are often days of regret. The regret increases the odds I'll go out the next time when it is the same size or bigger. I'm more likely to pass on a huge day in the fall because I'm not entirely prepared. It takes a while to work up to the mental fitness part of surfing OB. Hopefully it all comes together by mid-November when the real swells start to arrive.

Rocky: I’m still stoked and pick my battles carefully - way done going out on stupid days.  Eventually you come to terms with your ego. In 1994, the week Mark Foo died at Mavs, Dave Alexander and I paddled out in the biggest OB we had ever seen (all the stars were at Mavs). I was 40 years old, had a 3 year old son and I was asking myself some serious questions before jumping in the water. That day was a defining moment for me knowing I pushed as far as I wanted to go and paddled out for the right reasons. After that day, I never had the desire to be in waves that size again. Everyone has a different timetable and reasons for stepping back. Age may have nothing to do with it but certainly something to take into consideration. When you accept it is OK not to paddle out because you have nothing to prove, surfing becomes much more enjoyable and so does breakfast.

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Arthur August 14 2015

“On those holy days when the the morning sun lights up the backs of the unworthy as they watch the show from the dunes, and the black dots way out to sea are few, you can bet that a couple of OB’s grizzled silverbacks are out there.”

Loved that. Such a rad article.

scott krile March 16 2015

these guys pretty much sum it up. paddling out at OB is not for sissies. at any age.

Kit March 12 2015

Love to hear some of the older guys sharing wisdom. It is always nice seeing guys a decade (or two) older who are still doing it; this lets us 40-somethings know we still have years left in the tank which is very inspiring. Hopefully, the OB newbies learn to slow down, not hassle for waves, not paddle to the peak from the shoulder when someone is already in the spot. Slow down, take time, wave come. I hope these silverbacks get the respect they deserve. Thanks for sharing the knowledge Aqua.

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