Walking up the Swami’s stairs there’s a reminder of a friend, the appropriately named Joy, who surfed with us for a few seasons, helping make each session more enjoyable.
I don’t recall the date of her passing, but it was around the time another friend, Kenny “Tumbleweed” Mann drowned while night surfing the break he ruled in his prime.
On the pillar of the stairs is a more formal memorial, this one dedicated to David “Spyder” Anear.
The tiled wave is for another longtime Swami’s dominator, surf journalist Gary Taylor. Gary, as many of you will remember, wrote “The Surf Writer,” for this very newspaper. Gary probably lived closer than any other local, until Rob Machado moved across the street.
But until then, it was Gary alone who could be seen crossing the street, board in hand, jogging down the stairs followed by his dog named for the place he loved, before GT carved his initials on whatever sections he rode.
Near Gary’s memorial is a plaque to the brilliant scientist, inventor and kneeboarder Terry Hendricks. At the opposite end of the parking is a lone boulder dedicated to the passing of the youngest of those we have chosen to memorialize, the amazingly talented longboarder Syrus King.
Many of those I once surfed Swami’s with are gone now, and that may be one of the reasons I don’t visit there as often as I once did.
A few weeks ago, however, I decided to paddle out and was shocked to see a notice that my longtime friend “Quiet” Mike Romero was no longer among us. He was named “Quiet,” because he spoke in a whisper ever since a loose surfboard crushed his vocal cords.
I first met Mike and his brother, Ronnie, who worked as a chiropractor in Cardiff for years, about half a century ago. They both surfed well and regularly, and we would often find Mike in paint-stained overalls pulling into the Swami’s parking lot after a day plying his profession as a house painter.
Mike was never the best surfer in the lineup, but more than competent, often snagging one of the bigger sets, laughing shyly and quietly when paddling back out to sit before catching another wave. He was fun to surf with, good with a joke, afterward offering whatever snacks he had buried in that classic 1952 Chevy truck of his.
In the mid-’70s that truck belonged to me. That was until I blew the engine and sold it to the first person with 600 bucks. Mike paid me cash, removed the wooden camper I often slept in, rebuilt the engine himself, painted it from green to blue, and restored it to better than new condition.
Not long ago, Mike showed me a note saying that my old truck was valued at around $40,000. If it had been anyone else, I would have been jealous. But with Mike I was glad. He made me feel like it was still mine, that he was simply keeping it for me and maintaining it better than I, or anyone else, ever would.
That’s the way it was with Mike. Even when he scored a better wave than me, I felt glad, feeling that he deserved it, and that he was sharing something, his stoke for life with me and everyone in earshot of his sweet and quiet voice.
There is a paddle-out planned for Mike Romero at Swami’s at 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 9.