Born on the Navy circuit, moving every 2 years. Home was an elusive concept at best. As life would have it we occasionally doubled back and that place was San Diego. Living there in the’ 60s and ’70s  was a magical experience. Simple, clean, fun, and just right for starting my love affair with the ocean. What better place to start surfing? To wake up every morning and head down to the beach and enjoy the surf. Out before dawn, quiet, the ocean like glass, nice swell, slight offshore breeze, just a few friends. Hooting as we took turns. Law Street, Diamond Street, PB Pier, this was my life. The smell of the surf in the air — salt & kelp — feeling the tides, the excitement when there was a swell, everyone smiling.  Totally in sync with the ocean. Got better, tackled Hairmos, Windansea, Big Rock, Blacks, Baja. Surf City. King of the world! I didn’t need anything else.

PB 1970
In PB, Fall of 1970 in my first wetsuit. I paid for it with my newspaper route. Photo: Gene Tissot.

But I didn’t know what was coming. Time to move. My heart ripped out. Move to the Bay area: Alameda. Where the hell was I? In hindsight this was exactly what I needed to do. Move on, get perspective. At the time it was a nightmare. I missed surfing, the intimacy with the ocean, my first surfer girlfriend, Melanie. For months, years, I wrote letters, drew surfing stories and wrote amazing adventures. Life moved on.

With (front from right) Sam George, Jeff Chamberlain and (back) Brad Chamberlin at Rockaway Beach, 1973. Self portrait.

The bay area in 1973 was alive, happening. Santana, Humble Pie, Grand Funk. I eventually met some great surfers, legends. Jeff Chamberlain, Sam George, Matt George. We pioneered Fort Point, surfed every spot between SF and Santa Cruz, up to Bodega Bay, down to Big Sur, and beyond. I reconnected but it wasn’t San Diego. Then another move. Ripped again from a new equilibrium to something else. East coast: Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City, Hatteras, Sebastian Inlet, one year to reconnect. Great times but no dice.

Alexandria Virginia, 1975. Photo: Gene Tissot.

Then on to college at Cal Poly. For awhile life was great, wonderful: Shell Beach, Hazards, Morro Bay, Moonstone Beach. Connected with marine biology, life was good. Six years of an amazing place but I had to move on, now driven. Graduate school: Laguna Beach, Corvallis, Newport. Marriage. Professor. Move to Hawaii, two kids, to Washington State, 20 wonderful years go by. Life is great, happy, but I am not home. Something is missing but I don’t know what it is. Life is good but I feel lost inside. At night I dream endlessly of those early days surfing PB. Out in the water before sunrise with just a few friends, flat calm, nice swell, offshore breeze. The sun comes up, pure joy.

Booth Hixon tissot Oregon Coast 1986
Boiler Bay, Oregon in 1988 with (from left) Dave Booth and Mark Hixon. Photo: unknown.

I go back. In the ’70s, ’80s,’ 90s, ’00s I return to San Diego, to PB, to Crystal Pier. Not the same. Not the place I knew. Something had changed but I was’t sure what. More crowded for sure but also . . . different. Even the surf had changed. Maybe it’s me. Alas, can’t go back. Time to move on. My mother defined home to me, always made us feel settled, wherever we were. She used to take my brother and I surfing in PB befores we could drive and sit in the car while we surfed, for hours, even though she worried endlessly about us. A true sacrifice because she knew we loved it. Without her during those early years I don’t know what I would have done. But then she passed and I had to find my own way forward.  In my mid-50s now. Feeling the tug of the last good decades. Kids getting older and leaving home.

Pajaro Dunes, 2003.

My wife and I look around for a new home. Lots of opportunities, many paths. Two years of chaos but I feel channeled and a tug of destiny. Then, at the last minute a job at Humboldt in northern California. A place I have thought of often but was always just passing through. Apply, interview, job offer, take it. Move. It felt like home. It was simple, clean, fun. The same waves that I remembered at PB but with a gorgeous coast, redwoods down to the water, majestic cliffs, and endless beaches. That same smell of the sea, feeling the tides, watching the rise and fall of the swells. Waves everywhere. Nice surf crowd, smiling faces, I felt welcomed. After a life of wandering I had returned. What a wonderful world! What a gift. I am home.

Trinidad 2013

13 responses to “Coming Home”

  1. […] And I wasn’t disappointed. Two months later I was a professor at the University of Hawaii in my dream job. Teaching a diverse and passionate group of students everything I know about the ocean, constantly learning something new to keep up with their questions, in the ocean almost every day, conducting research on coral reefs. If I had to do it all over I wouldn’t change a thing. Almost seven years later I ended up leaving for a new position at Washington State University to be closer to family. Not my dream job but a great one nevertheless. But hard work there paved the way to my next moment 15 years later when I left for a new position as Director of the Marine Lab at Humboldt State University. When I first started that position last summer, as I drove down the street in Trinidad to the lab looking at the gorgeous coastline, smelling the sea air, surfers passing by on the road, I had another one of those “Rudy” moments. But this time I was Coming Home. […]

  2. As you are a marine biologist, I assume you know what you are talking about. However, are abalone really snails? That is so gross. Friends used to bring us abalone and we loved it. Kept the big, beautiful shells.

  3. […] My own journey began in spring 1970 after I turned 13.  Although I had surfed “foamies” (foam boards) as early as 1966 in Pacific Beach (CA), my mother would not let me use a real surf board until I turned 13 for fear of “hitting my head on the board and drowning.”  So, when I finished 7th grade in 1970 I began my surfing career. Here are most of the boards I have owned in my life. [for a narrative to go with these pictures check out Coming Home]. […]

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