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Windsea is not always as inviting as it is here. According to Dale Velzy, "If it doesn't drown you, the locals might. Photo by Jeremy Bishop/Unsplash

Windansea: The story of the surf break and the characters who inhabit it

From the very first time I visited there in 1965, Windansea emoted a sense of joy and fear, in roughly equal parts. The joy came from the waves and the people who populated them. The fear had the exact same source.

There was anticipation and tension in the air, and I knew better than to try to befriend the guys beneath the shack. Chief among them were Butch Van Artsdalen and Pat Curren, legendary surfers who lived by a code that put in opposition to the biggest waves and toughest men in the area.

The waves were powerful, and the surfers who rode them treated me like a barely acknowledged ghost. I was invisible to them. But I had heard they were not welcoming to outsiders. Not wanting to push my luck, I caught two waves and got out of there.

I didn’t surf Windansea again until the summer of 1970. The surf was a solid 6-foot and perfect, with hot sticks Mike Hynson, Jon Close, David Rullo and Tom Ortner ruling the lineup. It was crowded with surfers, most of whom were better than me, so I paddled south to a friendly-looking little peak I later learned was called Big Rock.

Big Rock was empty, and I soon realized why. While perfect-looking from shore, up close the wave hit like a jackhammer peeling asphalt from the street, sucking all the water from the jagged reef while baring its muscle-encrusted teeth.

On my one and only wave, I fell from the sky and hit the bottom. I was bleeding from my hands and feet when I returned to shore. And I was completely happy. Only a surfer knows the feeling, right?

The only time I surfed Windansea on a big day was during the legendary southwest swell of ’75. By then Butch had moved to the Islands where he distinguished himself at the Banzai Pipeline, leaving Hynson alone to represent the old guard while new kids Close, Rullo and Ortner nipped at his heels.

The swell had not yet peaked that morning when Hynson took off in front of me and drove me to the rocks before offering a lesson in the latest maneuver of the time, sideslipping, which was done by sliding down the face of the wave. Two teenage girls, Debbie Melville and Sandy Ordille, were out, holding their own and better in the testosterone-infused peak.

Also, dominant that day were kids Brew Briggs and Chris O’Rourke. I inadvertently shoulder hopped O’Rourke and wished I hadn’t. When he yelled at me, I yelled back. He was small. I was much bigger. He was connected, a sort of “made man” in the gang.

I was an average surfer, only saved because I knew some of the surfers in the lineup. I had no way of knowing it then, but O’Rourke and I would one day be thrown together in a life-and-death struggle that would forever change me.

O’Rourke passed in 1981. Before then, I spent many long nights in his company hearing his stories of Windansea. I filed his stories away with others for decades, looking at them occasionally like one might an antique watch that has quit working.

Then I got a call from my friend Jeff Dowler, asking why I was no longer writing books on surfing. Over the course of subsequent conversations, he convinced me to write a book on Windansea, not just the surf break, but the amazing array of characters that inhabit this sacred space.

Thanks Jeff. I expect to have you a signed copy by early summer.

To help fund “Windansea. Life. Death. Resurrection,” please click here. Signed coffee table limited editions  will be sent in exchange for a donation of any amount.

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