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A sampling of some shots in "Windansea: Life. Death. Resurrection." Courtesy photo
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The many lives of ‘Windansea’

“I hate to write. I love having written.”

—Dorothy Parker? George R. R. Martin? Frank Norris? Robert Louis Stevenson? Cornelia Otis Skinner? Clive Barnes? Jack Klugman? Gloria Steinem? Hedley Donovan?

Nobody’s certain who wrote the above quote, but anyone who has ever attempted to rearrange the dictionary for a living understands it.

Writing is as boring as washing dishes, as lonely as solitary confinement and as frustrating as surfing Swami’s on the first north swell of the season. The months of labor involved in writing a book has often been compared to giving birth to a child. It’s difficult, uncomfortable, painful at times and finally gives way to great joy.

I realize now why people hibernate when writing. It’s not so much that they want to be alone but that they resemble a one-person spring break. I live in pajamas, get grumpy, pasty white and flabby, exercising nothing but my trigger fingers.

My current book in progress, “Windansea: Life. Death. Resurrection” actually began over 40 years ago, in 1979, when I worked with my dear friend, terminally diagnosed Chris O’Rourke, on the story of his amazing life.

After Chris’ death in 1981, I was emotionally unable to continue writing, and the project was stalled. It would take another 20-some years before I revisited my notes and wrote extensively on Windansea for the Surfer’s Journal.

I interviewed dozens of Windansea surfers, beginning with Woody Brown, the genius credited with riding there for the first time. Other interviews included Tom Ortner, Woody and Carl Ekstrom, Jon Foster, Don Okey, Dorian Paskowitz, Mike Hynson, Pat Curren, Brew Briggs, Richard Kenvin, Debbie Melville Beacham and Peter King.

The story, which ran over 30 pages, offered an over-the-rainbow view of one of the California’s most important surf spots and international cultural centers.

Figuring I had done all could on Windansea, I crossed the spot off and returned to surf breaks closer to home. As I began falling out of surfing, I started falling in with repentant gangsters. That’s when I launched the book, “God N Gangsters,” followed by the YouTube channel of the same name.

Stories of vicious killers and other hardcore criminals turning their lives around became a full-time obsession. Things moved along somewhat predictably until I received a call from my friend Jeff Dowler, who asked, “You’re a surfer; why are you writing about gangsters?” My reply was that I no longer had an interest in doing in-depth research on surfing. I still enjoyed riding waves and kept my writing to 500-word chunks, a la this column.

I contemplated Jeff’s words as I fell into pre-dream suspension, envisioning a book on surf culture in general and Windansea in particular. The next morning, I dusted off my notes and played my cassette tapes.

By that afternoon I was tingling with inspiration, tears and laughter while reliving stories like Woody Brown being towed off the Blacks cliff to launch his glider, Bill Decker writing “Tom Wolfe is a Dork” on the pumphouse after Wolfe made pumping station #21 famous, and Tiny Brain Thomas driving his friend’s car into the ocean to make an artificial surfing reef.

Other tales like the deaths of Bob Simmons, Ted Smith, Gary Keating and Chris O’Rourke were sad and sobering.

Once I got going, people began calling in to offer their stories and photos. Some were fun snapshots, while others were by professional lensmen like Jon Foster, Buzzy Sipes, Jeff Divine, Brian Munoz and Mark Keller.

Being a great wave and home to an elite fleet of surfers, Windansea is worthy of a full-color coffee table volume. Sadly, this requires more cash than most freelance writers have on hand.

If you are interested in helping me publish a book on Windansea, you can visit my GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/SupportChrisNewBook. Thanks all.

My last book on surfing is expected to drop in late summer of 2024.

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