I knew Robert Wald before I ever met him in the mid ‘80s. Well, not really knew him, but knew about him — mostly from that stunning photo of his, where his friend, the now deceased Stan Lewis, is seen rowing out against the ocean. If you’ve ever visited the old Fish House West or other restaurants in town prior to the 1990s you’ve seen the shot, and no doubt wondered about it.
That photo was taken in Cardiff in 1972, and, like much of Wald’s work, documents a time past, when North County was changing from a smudge on a San Diego map, into a big, complex community and international destination. Stan Lewis, who is the subject of Wald’s famous photo, and his son, Tommy Lewis, who was one of the last dory men on this coast, cared nothing for what our town would become — they were too busy milking all that the sea and the old world had to offer.
Wald grew up in view of the Pacific Ocean, near Santa Monica, where he found fishing and surfing and began photographing the things he loves. He learned more each day by sticking his head out his window than he ever would in a classroom, although he did take some time off work and play to attend San Diego State, where he mastered his celebrated photographic techniques.
“I would go to the beach and see Tommy coming in through the surf with his skiff loaded down with fish, and he would have the rest of the day to surf. That’s when I said, I want to do that,” said Wald, with a laugh, in a recent conversation. This led to his years as a lobster fisherman, building, setting and pulling traps with his friends like Stan and Tommy Lewis, Dick Dolman and Gene Merlot. It was a life filled with adventure, struggle and great rewards and it was a time that would define Wald.
Initially based primarily on the classic stories from times and characters past, Wald began Ocean Magazine seven years ago in Rick Milner’s upholstery and wetsuit repair shop in Cardiff. With assistance and encouragement from family and friends like local surfer and fine artist Fred Ashley, Wald put out the first of his issues. The response was as instant as it was enthusiastic as locals remembered and those who had recently moved to North County realized what a rich history they had inherited. Since then, Ocean Magazine has published in good times and challenging ones, a one-man band written, laid out and photographed by one of our cities most talented citizens.
But Robert Wald is not yesterday’s man. He researches the latest technology to gain insights into keeping his operation afloat. Still, the core and charm of Ocean Magazine is the stories told from those who have made their lives in or near the sea. Those stories are as endless as the changing tides that control the lives of anyone addicted to the saltwater wine that pulses in our veins and moves in and out of our world several times a day.
Robert Wald’s photos of the ocean have been honored by everyone from The Los Angeles Times to Bob Dylan. Those interested may purchase prints of Wald’s work by visiting theoceanmag.com.
A selection of Wald’s photos titled: “Lost Heritage, The Dorymen of Cardiff,” is currently on display at the Encinitas Library.
Filed Under: Sea Notes