It’s like when they cut those big pine trees, and it slowly dawns on you that something is missing from Swami’s. In this case, it’s not something planted in the ground, but a casual presence that was a force in the lineup since the early 1960s when young Steve Clark was rising in the ranks as one of the top juniors on the California coast.
I first met him at Swami’s in the fall of 1970. His surfing was not flashy, but stylish, powerful and under control regardless of the size or shape of the wave, he was riding. He never failed to impress me as a surfer, but it would be a few years before I realized what a skilled board maker he was. I don’t recall the year that he shaped me a 6’10 — a clear, logoless pintail that fit Swami’s like a custom wetsuit on a teenager. By the early ‘90s, he had made me half a dozen boards, each more refined than the last.
Most every Swami’s surfer has gone to Clark for a surfboard at one time or another. That’s because he has a reputation for building elegant boards that reflect the clean lines he draws on the water.
I have no idea how many times I surfed Swami’s with Steve, but I am confident it’s in the hundreds. Surfers came and went in the lineup, but he was always among the best, forever graceful and in the right spot, fingers together hands still, racing in the pocket. When on a longboard, he could often be seen walking casually to the nose to hang 10 in a manner few others have ever managed. In my recollection, the surf rarely got too big for him, yet upon hearing of a big north swell, he could be MIA. While some might have thought he missed the waves, he had instead packed up his family into his mid-century camper to chase waves deep into Baja. The stories and photos from those ventures make me jealous, just thinking about them.
Aside from his interests in all things aquatic, Steve was an excellent painter, musician, and historian — my go-to guy whenever I needed to know anything about the local tribes, Paramahansa Yogananda or the beautiful wave named for him.
Steve lives like he surfs — with quiet purpose, timing each entry, and exit, perfectly. And so it should be no surprise that he left town without much fanfare, filling his tank and drifting up toward Oregon with his wife, Melissa. I am sure that was not an easy move since both sides of the family have been North County residents since the mid-1940s, decades before the I-5 Freeway cut the region in half, hearkening back to a time when Encinitas was a sleepy, dusty town, perfumed with the flowers that made it famous.
I can envision Steve carefully packing up his favorite boards, templates and power tools before heading north with visions of waves and the boards he would make for them drifting through his mind as he drove.
I am not sure where the Clarks’ new home is or even if they have landed there yet. I only know that they will be a plus in whatever community they settle into, and the residents will benefit as much as we did from the wisdom of the Clark family and the boards Steve will humbly build for a population that didn’t know how much they needed him.