I am at Bill Stewart’s San Clemente “Fun House,” aka “the man cave,” aka the happiest place on earth. We are gathered here for an informal reunion of sorts.
Guests on hand include longtime friends, Hawaiian-based Mike Malsie, ocean artist Wade Koniakowsky, longboard gurus Don Craig and mysto-man “Whitey,” surfer/musician Mark Freeman, and my brother and my first surfing partner, Dave.
The room is thick with stories of great rides, mean wipeouts and friends remembered from now and then. Then being the time when we were in our primes; now, this, the time of life when we are prone to verbal memoirs. We eat street tacos and lift our glasses a few times in appreciation of life, having embraced the best of it and endured the worst of it, enjoying this, the season to be jolly.
Walls and ceiling are decorated with all things Stewart: The great surfboards he has built and ridden over the years, and various innovations like an early, experimental snowboard. The pool table is available for anyone wanting to play. The ping pong table is folded up, something I am glad for since Stewart, as he is in many things, is a master, with a serve I have no answer for.
There are oceans of memories proving Stewart and his team of riders’ rule in the progressive division. Some broken boards, most of them attributed to Jeff Kramer, who snapped over 50 of those given him over the course of his illustrious career. Photos of Bill’s famous friends like Jimmy Buffett and acquaintances like Elvira, for whom he made and sprayed a surfboard.
There are two surf shots of Bill Stewart himself on a double overhead wave, leaning into a big bottom turn before hitting the lip with authority, proving that the board maker knows what to do with his equipment. I saw him do those turns at a contest at Seaside Reef with some of the biggest waves I have ever seen there.
It seems impossible to believe that those shots were taken a quarter-century ago. Our dear friend time, as will soon be illustrated by my host, is fleeting.
All is right with the world until Stewart pulls me aside for what seems like a random pop quiz. “What is the lifespan of the average American male?” he asks.
“About 76 years,” I reply somewhat hesitantly, knowing full well I am falling into a trap.
“How old are you?”
With that Stewart takes a measuring tape from the shelf, stopping it at 76. Pointing to the previous number he says, “Here’s how long you’ve lived; here’s how much longer you have to go.”
Stunned in the belief that I have lived 75/76ths of my entire life, I quietly absorb the dark joke. As if attempting to bring a patient back from an anesthetic, Stewart slaps me on the shoulder, and says, “You’ve lived most of your life, so have fun with the rest of it.”
I understand his logic and even his conclusion. But how can anyone have fun realizing that the party is about to end in a house fire? The illustration is brilliant. The conclusion is not.
I guess that’s one of the benefits of believing in eternal life as I do. I realize that the physical body comes with an expiration date, but that the spirt is eternal. World without end. Amen.