The year was 1984. George Orwell had predicted a lot for that year. Astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart completed the first untethered space walk in human history. Virgin Atlantic conducted their inaugural flight. Iconic movies like Footloose, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters, and countless others debuted on the cinematic screen. Prince released "When Doves Cry". The first Apple Macintosh computer was sold. But for this five year old boy living in the boonies, a Powell Peralta Bones Brigade Mike McGill Skull and Snake pro model was under the Christmas tree, which was obviously far more important than anything listed above.
Despite receiving a skateboard, I - like many others of that time - was tethered to the surf culture. Television and magazines were the only sources of inspiration beyond our culture locked walls in a time before the omnipresent internet. As well, the local grocer didn’t think much of skateboarders so I sufficed with reading Surfing Magazine while loitering the aisles during grocery shopping with mother. I don’t recall the articles but do remember the vivid imagery of larger than life waves curling over surfers standing up straight with their arms extended high above the head… it was like nothing I had ever seen and I was instantaneously engrossed by the essence represented in those images.
Once apt at skateboarding straight lines, the goal was to find the tallest hill in the neighborhood and rocket down it tucked in aerodynamic perfection. This later developed into hand drags on the gravel-pocked road surface, then elongated high-speed carves, and eventually with enough practice (a.k.a. crashes), three hundred sixty degree power slides. I had a head filled with jazz and I just wanted to play music with the concrete. I imagined hollowed out, crystal clear tubes of ocean water surrounding me like a green room while the roar of my urethane wheels simulated the churning of thousands of pounds of water crashing down around me. I was a surfer before learning to paddle for my first wave.
In high school, I didn’t particularly like most classes except science and mathematics courses where I excelled. An adjunct teacher from the local college was putting in his due diligence at our high school during this time. Mr. Tolls had completed his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics but also happened to be an avid surfer who spent his summers traveling Central America chasing waves. Over the year, he shared many tales of his surf travels while constantly inspiring me to chase my dreams. On the last day of my sophomore year, I was stoked to wish him well on his summer surf travels but he never showed up. Another teacher walked up and handed me an envelope then walked away. Inside, I discovered a yellow Post-it note with a small stick figure drawn buried deep inside the tube of a wave with these words scribed on the side, “Wish you were here?”
It has been over thirty years since I received my first skateboard. I spent several years street skating and eventually shifted to vert. I now regularly skateboard empty swimming pools seeking the perfect concrete wave while nearing the age of forty with no signs of slowing down yet. It has been over twenty years since Mr. Tolls left that inspirational note in an envelope that led to many surf travels of my own spanning Central and North America. The inspiration remains just as strong today as it was back then. I finally found my calling as a coach bestowing upon others the absolute stoke that a lifetime of surfing has brought me and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to be a part of that in the lives of so many people. It is my sincere hope after spending time on the boat wakesurfing with us, everyone leaves with a keen desire to share their passion for this sport.
And Mr. Tolls, wherever you are, thank you.