Seal Beach, 1970. Bruce Matlack is portrayed in Sunset Magazine riding what seems to be an actual wave forming. How many can say they sported a sail number under 1000? He was, as coined in "Wind Legends: The History of Windsurfing," one of the first "Johnny Appleseeds" of our sport.
I met Bruce at a SoCal regatta, one of those family gatherings where people followed Bruce around the race course. Or was it at San Felipe, Mexico? A thick marine layer fogs the memory of the exact time and place. Huntington Lake? But what remains clear in scrapbook of my mind is Bruce and his gal Markie, the friendliest folk on the "tour" sharing stories in the shade of their VW van. Bruce, talking at a feverish pace, spewing his passion for the sport. Markie, calming his rants when they hit the tops of the thermometer. Me, a kid with big hair soaking it all up as if I was listening to Bear from Big Wednesday.
I recall asking Bruce why he was so fast, and was it just that he was so skinny. His flyweight yellow board, a reject snuck out the back of Hoyle's young factory by the workers for ten bucks, was perhaps a weapon. A flash of callous and flex of the sinew proved it was from a long marriage with the teak boom.
One of the first dealers of the Windsurfer (Bob Pefley, my boss in Santa Barbara Harbor was perhaps the first), Bruce set up shop in Seal Beach and sold gobs of the great white whales of death (Clay Feeter coined it). But this was years after the young Matlack toured the country seeking takers. Nobody took. Certainly I knew I was the first "redneck to step foot on one" – read the damn book, ya'll – when Dave Ullmann (famous sailor/sailmaker from Newport Beach) brought one with him to a 470 Regatta in Gulfport.
I had asked Hoyle for an interview for Wind Legends, but even though Matt was pleading with him to do it (and I had traveled quite far at the promise), Hoyle turned turtle when I told him I was from Georgia. He had forgotten who I was, the memory of my big hair mashed to pieces by lawyers and patent fights. The mere mention of Georgia set him off, as when he was traveling the country with long hair and this surfboard thang, some rednecks beat him up. Oh well, I didn't get the interview with him but I did get one from Bruce, who invited me to Florida to pore through magazines and old films he'd collected over the years. The guy was a walking talking encyclopedia, and had some two buck chuck to share as well.
Well, I'm rambling, so off I go. But before I do, I must remind you that Bruce Matlack has stood on a board for more years than any other human in history, and was the first champion of our sport. And to buy the damn book.
P.S. Bruce says, "no pumping." Ya'll do look like a bunch of air humpers. If you need to do that for exercise, go to the gym or get a room.
I had lived for the past year in Rio Vista, riding a Simmer Pure Slalom board and Enduro sail, doing some fast runs but also a lot of walks of shame (back upwind up current along the road). Honestly, I never really dug the brown bumpy water, it hurt the knees and was just a short quick run and back weaving through kiters. I’d say 20 years on Maui spoiled my ass. Then I got a job in Sacramento and thought, okay, time to just hang up the cleats. But I found this tiny spit of water where guys invited me to race Lasers and Thistles on the West side of the city. It was ugly industrial ship cargo on one side, but on the other, a clean sweep where the last of the Delta breeze could roll through in the late afternoon. I noticed a couple of guys out windsurfing, one on an old Mistral Equipe longboard (John Mathias) and Skip Goncalves on his Naish foil. There was a lady with a big smile out there as well, Barbara West. I thought, I haven’t been on a longboard since the ’79 Internationals. I’ll give it a shot. Surprisingly, it was a nice feeling, and easy on my rusting parts.
Fast forward a year later, and I saw this Windsurfer LT. I’m good friends with Bruce Matlack, so I ended up buying the first board out on the Left Coast. The rig was too small for my fat ass, so I rang Kai Katchedourian up and reminded him when he was still in diapers, I was a team rider, so he gave me the bro deal on a 7.8 Simmer Race XT, about the right size for the lake. The wind comes up here around 5 like clockwork, and blows 10-15, with some days blowing harder when a front comes through. There’s a bigger lake up the way, Lake Folsom, but I’d already spent 14 years there doing time so the sight of the place brought back bad train wrecks of thought.
We have races every Tuesday night throughout the Summer. I did okay in these for an old fart, and had some great battles with John. Skip went off to some stupid lake in Italy so there really wasn’t a whole lot of interest from people watching us sail around the course, but up to 15 were just coming out to play. Tried to start a Green fleet but they just were against going upwind to a weather mark. I guess triangle racing is too difficult. Maybe a different course for next year.
Skip teaches at Sac State and a windsurfing school, while John just donates his time at the club putting on rigging and beginner clinics. Skip helps out as well and Sam Studer does the same down at the Delta but what a horrible place to learn. I helped out at a couple of clinics for UC Davis Sailing Team and a large group of Boy Scouts. When I found an older Scout really into it, I gave him some personal coaching. He said he wanted to windsurf for the rest of his life. I’m like, do you have any career plans? Yeah, he’s already accepted to Stanford Engineering. Okay. So I wanted to tell him about my book but at the time I had some questionable material in it. I went back and took all that stuff out, or most of it.
We had one event, the Capitol Cup (Sacramento was once home to Arnold), and the bay area boys came up with their big sails and big skill and kicked our ass. But it was mid day and the wind was mediocre so only the big sail boys got planing in the Open Class, no excuses. It was the first fleet race for Windsurfer LTs. Skip Boman won Open Class and Bradley Wilson the LTs.
We also had a nice field trip rerouted from O'Neill Forebay to Rancho Seco (see nukes) because well, it was nuking at Rancho Seco.
That's Diane Barnhardt holding the flag. I think she's the youngest at the club and out there every day. Gerry (atric) is our resident triathlete, getting better every day, as is Derek. They're also at the club every single damn day.
Paul Hewitt, who used to work for Barry Spanier at Maui Sails, is one the foilers on the lake. He makes the F4 protos just a block away. I was fortunate to be hired by him to shoot his factory and studio shots for his website, www.rocketcomposites.com it’s quite an impressive operation. Noted, he also came out for our club regatta and sailed old school with a Windsurfer Comp without a harness, and almost took me down in one race. There was another guy came out and raced with a Slingshot foil. He’d pass me downwind but I figured if I gave him a good shadow as he did so, he’d come off the foil, and did. Not happy mixing foil racers with old school, but I’m a grump.
The past couple of weekends it’s been windy so the guys have been running speed challenges, timing on apps for top speed. I tried to out categorize them with length of board, weight and age of sailor, number of donuts eaten. I think Skip won the short boards with 31 something and I won my categories on the LT at 23.5. We had beer for trophies. They go good with donuts. That's my app recording, looks like a cosmopolitan drink. There's also a wind recording, you can see it's sort of gusty.
It looks like the sport is growing here year over year and it is largely due to the efforts of John Mathias. It takes people to drive a fleet. If you’re in the area, come join us. It’s only about 100 bucks a year to join, and even less to use all the club gear. We’re working on getting 5 together for the LT fleet deal but people are always slow to pull out their wallet, particularly when it comes to buying my book! Old school, new school, it’s a mix of mutts and really doesn’t matter as long as you get out on the water and go sailing.
Skip Goncalves setting speed record on Lake Washington.
Me tooling around on a typical Midsummers Eve.
Skip's drone footage of light wind regatta.
I missed this event visiting my folks in Atlanta, but viewed it on TV. Great event! Rhonda and Matt win again! From Rhonda's scrapbook featuring a Pipeline ad.
DT: From the moment I opened the book, the past leapt out of my old Maui Glory Days and shook me like a rag. You have produced a fantastic body of work about a galaxy of time filled with windsurfing stars!
JW: Dude, can I quote you on that?! Man, you are some writer. You should have written the book.
DT: Nope, you nailed that era. This is a prodigious work, a real testament to the incredible history of the sport so many of us, and me in particular, have and will always love.
JW: You had me at prodigious. I don't even know what that means.
DT: Colossal, amazing, beyond the imagination.
JW: I have an imagination, let's leave it at that.
DT: Imagination, but I know the events you spoke of were real. I was there for many, and your photography truly brings that world to life. But what do you mean in the book description by “Fictitious dialogue?”
JW: I meant, it’s a story unlike my first book, Impact Zone. That book was a bit more creative than your typical non-fiction book. But what I‘m alluding to is, you can’t accurately recall dialogue from decades past. That’s not saying that the conversations didn’t take place. I just can’t remember them word for word. Actually, some I do, like the conversation with Craig Maisonville, because his words were powerful and stuck. “You surprise me.” I never understood but can never forget something like that. I think he just thought I'd never amount to more than DweebMeat.
DT: Not surprising. The book is definitely for windsurfers and old school at that, but it seems to be the first ever to have a chance at crossing over to a general audience. To me, probably the best writing in the book is the RomCom (romantic comedy). Give me an example of something RomCom made up.
JW: Awe, man, you’re pressing me. Well, I didn’t ever really have a Kelby crush. I met her when she was quite young. I guess I was young too but she was much younger and Matt’s girl. Same with Rhonda Smith (Sanchez). She was Jesus Cort Superstar’s girl, so my mind never really went there, at least not until I saw that she was married to someone else and I missed that dreamboat. Believe it or not, I was more attracted to her sailing brevity and personality though the looks, okay, I’ll stop there.
DT: Any of the girls in the book, have they reached out to you?
JW: Well, Kelby did when Peter Boyd died, but I haven’t heard from her since I wrote the Prologue. In some things, I stretched the truth. I’m a storyteller by nature. But in other cases, I can’t begin to put into words the intensity of the moment. When Kelby looked at me in full freak mode, that was one of those indescribable moments. I rewrote that section a hundred times, and still barely scratched the surface. Kelby and I talked about it when she called, so I know it stuck with her as well, but she’d may not have wanted the world to know about it. And the God Squad stuff, touchy subject, but I tried to portray people as truthfully as I’m capable. I certainly held some stuff back about others, but it’s no secret about Kelby’s devotion. She’s actually quite the gospel musician and I love her voice.
DT: Held some stuff back. Give me some dirt. Come on, man.
JW: Sleeping dogs, let them lie.
DT: What about the local girl, “Lisa.” That must have been an intense moment, her parents about to take you to the cane field. "I thought you were a good boy, Jonathan!"
JW: Lisa. Yeah, ha. I saw her one day in the Wailuku Library. She had turned from Hawaiian Goddess into well, a bookworm. And the Eveready Bunny, she FB’d me out of the blue and was one of the first buyer’s of the eBook. She said what I wrote hurt, and that she didn’t know about what was happening at the time. So, I rewrote that part and took a lot of stuff out regarding the highest and lowest of times. I made up the North South dialogue, and it’s actually my favorite. Anyway, the Eveready Bunny asked me to recall “our” song. Sadly, I could not. It was “Every Breath You Take.” I thought that song was about three wave hold unders.
DT: What did your wife think about writing a story about all the girls you slept with before her?
JW: Well, I didn't really write about any sleeping. She’s a good sport but my harshest critic. She told me my writing was disjointed. I'm like, You're Russian, what do russians know about writing? Maybe it was more disjointed than Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, but the same paragraph she quoted as being poor writing has been highlighted in more than one book review quote and a few FB quote pulls as well.
DT: Which one was that?
JW: The first paragraph of the Intro. “I was fourteen. The first redneck to step foot on one.”
DT: You were born in Georgia, right? What happened to your accent?
JW: The waves knocked it out of me I guess.
DT: So, speaking of stepping onto one, you wrote about boards having "Mana," instilled with energy and spirit of the maker. Do you really believe in that?
JW: I know it sounds a bit crazy and I don't go in for much hu hu stuff, but in big surf I would rather ride an asymmetrical made by the hands of Craig Maisonville than the lightest production board from a factory. Though heavier, it sticks to the water in choppy conditions and carves, whereas my RR carbon board just skipped out and sent me for a trip on the rocks. I know that doesn't scale and I'm plenty happy riding my Windsurfer LT which of course is made in China, but back in the day, if you were lucky you rode boards with Mana.
DT: What about sails? Is there Mana in sails?
JW: Any object. I loved my Maui Sails made by the hands of the same guys I was on the water and friends with, same with my Simmers. Then I tried sails made by someone whose energy was not in sync with mine, and to this day I try them and can't get them to work for me. But I think it's more about the board. Larry Bertlemann gave me his world championship winning surfboard to convert, and I think that board had more Mana than anything I ever rode or even shaped myself. I wish I still had pictures of it and all the other boards I made at Town & Country, but they're gone with the wind.
DT: We share the same bad luck with photos being destroyed or stolen. What happened with yours?
JW: Most of them were tossed in the Makawao landfill by my ex-girlfriend's mother. The mold in Haiku was eating away at them so I stored large boxes in her dry attic. I also had a bunch of magazines I'd been published in, including French Photo and Playboy, so I guess she didn't like them competing with her daughter and threw them out. She said all the slides looked the same. You've seen one windsurfing off the lip you've seen them all. Luckily, I had one box in my bedroom which contained the slides you see on this site and in the book.
DT: At least you have those.
JW: Yes, be thankful for what we have. The ones I regret losing the most were stolen before that by my first local friend. There were boxes of slides I had packed inside of my surfboard box when I moved to Maui. Not the earliest Kailua days but 79-80 there was a lot happening and I had much of it documented. I have a few local friends I'd go to war with and I thought this guy was one of them, but he was ripping me blind. Gave me a ride to the airport and nabbed my board out of the baggage line. Not much security in those days.
DT: What is your biggest regret in your career?
JW: Hands down not going to the award ceremony for Sports Photo of the Year. I think I touched on that in the book, where I had already booked and paid for my travel to Boot Dusseldorf. My career had moved into filmmaking and that photo was a lucky shot. I thought I'd never look back but I am now. If I had gone I would have met some incredible connections. Bronwen Latimer, the photo editor for SI that submitted the photo, now is the same for the Washington Post. Maybe it wasn't in my cards but sometimes you deal your own deck, and that was taking the wrong fork in the road.
DT: What was the highlight of your career?
JW: Probably the same, winning that award. There were 36,000 entrants, and the incredible photographers and their photos I was competing against, it still boggles my mind. But sailing wise, aside from that giant day of slalom racing, any good day at Hookipa with friends out. Friends like you, Dave Terry.
I found it funny that World of windsurf grabbed this image from Joy Sassoon's (Mickey's ex) post that she grabbed from the book she grabbed off Amazon. To see more of Robby, grab onto this link to a page on this site.
Yep, these people ruined my life all right. Newman Darby or Chilvers or Bob the Ape may have invented the sport, but these two brought it to light. I was on my way to a Major League Baseball career, or winning the America's Cup... yeah right. Until I saw one of those things... and met Hoyle and Diane Schweitzer.
Who is this kid? Any potential? One of the all time greats with some of the all time greats. Photos by Da? Harvey Wallbanger? Police? Hellboy? Ansel Adams? Ruldolph Rednose? None by Edward or J Weston. Check the Glory Riders menu pulldown to find mine. Not many, due to angry Ma in law throwing boxes of photos out because "they all looked the same."
Look at these stud muffins! I guess the water is good in the DR. Paul Polar, Gary Eversole and Mike Gebhart (not sure how to spell as he always goes by Gebi). All three, gone to the dark side. Paul was one of the original Florida windsurfers, and Gary, yeah well, he was okay at freestyle. I think Gebi had something to do with the olympics. Paul now owns Skinz. I think they make bikinis and banana hammocks. Where's Mark (brainfart), Cort's friend? He wore that well. Gary just kites. Gebi breaks people in two and calls it massage. What a crew.
This photo already blew up the internet. Anyone who can't name these folks never witnessed the glory of day. But okay, l to r: Mike Waltze, Matt Schweitzer, Rhonda Smith (Sanchez), Cort Larned, Ken (smug mug) Winner. Ken, give them a hug. It's okay.