After my ‘almost sent to the loony bin’ motorcycle ride that never left the driveway, I awoke, back on solid ground, grounded and ready to begin again. I went back into my garage laboratory to fine-tune the magic fish board I had created. I went crazy with art on it, then put the shiny gloss coat on, and I was so stoked and proud! Growing up, I was good at every sport I tried–I was body surfing at a young age, monster Wedge on Ninth Pole days. The transition back then was bodysurfing, belly boarding and raft riding–then your goal was to get a surfboard and start stand up riding. All that did not go according to plan for me; I was good at everything except the stand up riding on a surfboard part. I had an old hand-me-down gun that was way too big for me to turn, but I made do. All my friends were growing, but I was staying the same size. I could barely carry my board down to the beach, my arms were too short. I dropped it and got laughed at too many times. I was as good or better than my friends once I made it to the water, but I wanted to be really good, and the transition for me was taking too long. After riding inside huge gaping barrels on my El Paipo, being able to duck under the sets like a seal with my Churchills on, no matter how big, then starting all over, learning to stand up in angry crowds in mushy waves or getting caught inside and pounded, losing my board. I felt like I had gone from the World Series back to Little League. I was riding on top of the wave rather than in it where I wanted to be— and soon all that would change.
I never forgot the day I was taking a beating and getting frustrated, getting caught inside, hopped and losing my board. I floated down to a spot where nobody was surfing to try my luck there. A big set came in and I went. I couldn’t make it over the ledge and was hung out to dry! I went over the falls head first with my board following like a guillotine. The lip exploded on the sand with me in it. I got my ass handed to me, head-over-heels, slammed with my board cracking me on the back of the head. I went to the beach dazed and confused and frustrated. I sat there licking my wounds and watching the sets, when I was woken up instantly by a guy dropping into a monster tube. He was riding an oversized Paipo— only he wasn’t riding it on his belly—he was on his knees and he was flying out of the barrels! I knew I could be that guy! I had seen surf movies and three people in them forever blew my mind: George Greenough, Larry Bertleman and Gerry Lopez.
Larry Bertleman by Roy Gonzalez
Buttons! by Roy Gonzalez
The almighty Surf Movie—a blast from the past of folklore legendary times. They’d come to play in town and always had the coolest poster you had ever seen! Like rock concert posters, I peeled off everyone from every event I’d ever been to and I proudly hung them on my wall. Standing in line waiting to get into the event, stink-eyeing the bullies that always hopped you, or shaking hands with friends from different beaches that you had a bonding surf session with–this was a nomadic waterman tribal gathering! A lost magical place in time that everyone (who was there) will always remember before the video. The lights go out and the sound of the beer bottles clinking all down the aisles, the smell of weed filling the room….and then boom! Lights on and there in slow motion is King Neptune’s liquid magic on the screen in all its omnipotent horrific beautiful glory, and capturing on film those who would put their hands in the cage! Surfing hoots from everyone up and down the coast would explode at that moment! When I saw “Five Summer Stories” in Laguna, knowing my friend’s sister played harmonica for Honk for the soundtrack track, I was finally by association inducted into surfing royalty! When I saw “Super Sessions” in Newport— there were my heroes, the Sting Boyz, Larry Bertleman, Buttons and the Godfather Ben Aipa sitting in the row in front of me. To me, back then it was like training in Kung Fu and watching “Enter the Dragon”, and Bruce Lee is sitting in front of you! I had to seize the moment. I did a cartoon sketch of all of them on the poster and asked them if they could please sign it. They were so humble and laughed, signed it and got a kick out of the cartoon. It was one of my earliest treasures of surf art I ever did, gone now, like so much other cool shit I had…but the treasured memories are still there forever. I had met my Hawaian heroes now– somehow, someway, and I needed to get to the motherland of the sport of the kings, where the art of wave riding first began.
It would take me a lifetime to ever be Gerry, the matador of Tube-riding Pipeline God of Cool, but George and Bert’s style was possible in my mind. I would never be as good but damn, I sure as hell would make them both proud trying! Their way of wave riding inspired me to shape my little fish and she became my first girlfriend. We were inseparable after that! I no longer cared who saw me on the side of the road thumbing—my little fish and I needed to get to the sea. Everything I do I always play out in my mind first, be it art or writing a story or song. People often have talked to me where I don’t even hear them, I’m just spacing out, staring into space, creating a new piece of art or universe. That trait pissed off many teachers (like I gave a fuck). I played out how I would ride this fish over in my mind and then made it a reality! Ride the barrel like Greenough, He never cared about anyone’s opinion, he would ride a raft on his belly or a spoon on his knees and do turns faster and ride the tube deeper then anyone at that time. Once out of the tube I wanted to go vert then do a big Bert on the face, then stand up on my fins and cruise on my little fish in Lopez style at the end, all the way to the beach. My concept of surfing was different because of them and instantly brought me from being a kook on the shoulder to getting as sick of barrels as anyone in the lineup.
Roy on his Magic Fish, 1974
My sister’s death had been hard on my parents as well. Especially beyond a not-even-worthy-of-thinking- about doubt, my Pops, who was one of the smoothest, coolests cats that ever lived (anyone that ever had the pleasure to have met him will tell you the same.) He felt the family’s pain, and out of nowhere he told us all, in his Dean Martin way, that he had invested in a timeshare in Maui and we were all getting the hell out of town for a vacation to relax in Hawaii! Are you kidding me?! I just went from the frying pan to paradise! There was no happier kid on the planet! My Dream of Dreams was a ticket away! My Pops was an incredible golfer and we had more of his trophies in our house than I could count. They had just built a new golf course resort called Kaanapali, so my Pops got a condo right there on the green. He came over to me with a big bear hug and said, “This will be good. I can golf all day and you can surf all day and the girls can go shop.
Wahini by Roy Gonzalez
I had tears of joy in my eyes on that hug that I will never forget! Alohaaaa! We took a family trip to Hawaii. I had died and gone to heaven. Just on the airplane going over I fell in love with every island dream girl stewardess. Then getting off the plane and getting a lei put over me and a kiss on the cheek by another island dream girl! Wowzy Wow! Hadn’t even been in the water yet and now I never wanted to go back to the mainland! When we arrived all eyes were on us! I had heard through the years that you better mind your Ps and Qs in Hawaii! Once again it was not about me—the Hawaiians were eyeing my beautiful sisters, tripping on my little Mama’s and Auntie’s Irish brogues, and my Pops, setting up his tee times with the boys. I was just the dumb kid in the middle of it all, but I let it roll—I was stoked just being there. So with our first check-in hotel introduction I was blessed to meet some of the heaviest Hawaiian roots family on the rock, locals who took me under their wings and made sure nobody messed with me: The Almighty Kasko Brothers, whom I will never forget and who became my lifelong friends.
Next things were BBQ’s at the family’s house for luaus and songs. My pops was golfing everyday with Willie and I was surfing perfect Honolua bay with his brother, the head local Randy, giving me set waves. My family got invited in (and it was because of my family, not me) but man, I was blessed to be a part of it. My trip was Wanting To Surf, so I was lucky to get the golden ticket with the boys who don’t let just anyone into their circle. This family was connected. They owned the ball and the ball park. Willy ripped at surfing and golf, Randy was a martial arts 5th degree black belt teacher and big wave rider, and the tree kept going. One brother was the head chef at the best hotel, the other the bartender, the other the mail man, the other a cop, and the other the drug dealer. All the bases were covered and thats not even counting cousins and friends. My job now was to prove myself in the water. My little fishboard I shaped was holding up on those big waves and all those years of tubetime in closeouts paid off. I now could see the opening and a light at the end tunnel and man, I came out of the most amazing barrels of my life. I took beatings as well, but the Hawaiians were stoked I was charging. Innocence is bliss, I was stoked, and if they said “GO!” I would GO, whatever the ending…cut up on dry reefs, it was all part of the show. I had been treated so good, it felt good to give them a couple horrific wipeouts to give them a good laugh. It was a dream. I felt reborn, surfing perfect Honolua Bay and hanging with the boyz, who took me to all their secret locals-only surf spots. One big day, there were my Hawaiian heroes Gerry Lopez and Michael Ho, in the lineup–ripping! That was beyond my coolest earliest surfing memory–only this time I wasn’t sitting in a movie theatre seat—I was in the water looking right down the liquid cylinder– live!
Jr. Boy by Roy Gonzalez
My surfing progressed in Hawaii tenfold. My days of diving in Laguna helped as well in being the low man on the totem pole in Hawaii. I would dive with the boys, being in charge of the bloody bag of the fish we had speared through tiger shark territory. One day, way out at sea, one of the boys had his spear stuck in a cave being held by a big octopus and in the cave next to it was a bigger moray eel that would come out and strike at him as he tried to get his spear out. The boat was nowhere in sight and it was just us alone, me with the bloody bag of fish and a pissed off Hawaiian. He wanted us to go back deep down to get it. That was his Papas wooden Hawaiian sling and there was no way he was going to lose it. My job was to keep the eel distracted when it came out and attacked, while he wrestled with the Kraken in the other cave. This did not sound fun, but being the young haole I had to show my heart…so down we went, not once not twice, but three times I had to face that eel. It was nuts! Devil-eyed muscle snake with gigantic fangs snapping at you! I was running out of air and my friend was still wrestling to get his spear, but he wanted the gigantic octopus as well! Sure as shit he got them both! But we needed air… bad! Seeing the light shining through the surface, we headed straight up through a school of something? Well, welcome to hell, boys (as if what we had just been through wasn’t enough) it was a school of Portuguese Man-o-war jellyfish, and we got annihilated. Screaming and crying, trying to still hold the octopus up, with our lungs suddenly collapsing in shock. The boat arrived back in beyond the nick of time. They grabbed us and threw us on the boat like bait, as we were screaming and our bodies contorting and twisting in pain. The boys had gone through at least a case of Budweiser, so they came to the rescue. They just laughed their asses off, as we were crying, peeing all over us to relieve our pain. No man wants to get peed on by a 250 lb Tongan or anyone else but at that moment that golden shower saved our lives!
That night we had one hell of a luau. We fried the fuck out of that big pulpo that almost got us killed along with everything else. All the families and crew were there, Ukuleles playing, dancing and drinking. I was the roast and toast of the party getting laughed at, but I didn’t care. It was good. You have to take your beatings to earn your stripes. I overheard one of the boys saying Bruno showed up while we were out there. “Bruno” was their nickname for the massive tiger shark that patrolled the reef we were diving as this little haole was swimming with the bloody bag full of fish! They gave me a nice nickname that night as well, all the boyz were calling me Shreddah, they said for how I shredded the waves. Wow what a compliment! Then one of the boys said also for all the beatings and shreddings you took! Now that was funny. Old friends, 40yrs later still bust that ol’ nickname and I get surprised and embarrassed but deep down I love it.
I got shit, but also got props and love for my surfing and heart. Biggest honor for a little haole ever! I made sure I did my thing as an artist and did cartoons of everyone for memories and to show my appreciation of my time with them. I now had a new family across the sea that I would always go back to visit, and they would come to the mainland and visit me. Thank you Pops and my Hawaiian brothers forever, for giving me the memories of a lifetime to forge my own path.