2004-08-30 23:47:56 UTC
Borgeson twenty years ago this month
I met Will Borgeson in the summer of 1984 when I was an undergraduate
student at UC Berkeley doing Ralph Smith's excellent marine biology
field course at UC Davis' Bodega Bay Marine Lab in Sonoma County, CA.
Will was the tech guy who maintained the aquaria and supported all the
wet lab setups and aquaculture projects. I first saw him in the water
at day's end, surfing this little wave breaking where no surf had been
even half an hour before. I hooted. He waved. When he came in he
introduced himself and offered to loan me a board. I thanked him and
arranged to have a friend drive my board up from southern California
Will and I surfed together about a dozen times that unusually sunny
summer, mostly at Horseshoe Cove right in front of the lab. The spot
was so fickle and tide dependent, I called it "The Tease." A local
harbor seal had it dialed in. He'd hang around the lineup waiting for
just the right tide. When it all came together and the wave
materialized he'd fly like a shadowy torpedo through those fleeting
green walls, while we scrambled for boards and wetsuits. There were
two distinct sections. A wild, foamy outside takeoff would launch you
way out onto a rapidly fading shoulder. A definitive full rail cutback
would redirect you back towards the reforming hook as the wave wrapped
around into the cove where the onshore winds blew cross/offshore and
planed away the chop. Then you'd drop over the ledge into a lined up,
cleaned up inside racetrack section that on good days would zip off
into the sandy cove with shoulder high, hollow perfection. Awooo!
Then as now it was an election year and an Olympic year. That summer
Ronald Reagan, running for his second term as President, tried to
score points with the youth of America by claiming Bruce Springsteen's
anthem "Born in the USA" as his own theme song. The Boss told The
Chief to listen more closely to his lyrics and encouraged his fans to
register to vote.
That summer Penthouse magazine published nude pictures of Miss America
and they took away her crown. I guess we were all supposed to want
her, but not in that way. Cindi Lauper told us "Girls Just Want to
Have Fun" and waited for us "Time After Time." Everybody danced while
Huey Lewis sang "I Want a New Drug."
Nancy Reagan told us to "just say no to drugs" but no one listened to
her. Everyone from the CIA to the Muhajadeen to the Contras to John
Delorian was paying their bills with drug money, but only poor black
men were going to jail for it. Half a world away Iraqis and Iranians
were slaughtering each other and we were backing Saddam Hussein even
though his chemical weapons use embarrassed us. In Afghanistan, young
Osama bin Laden and his recruits were "freedom fighters," and our
operatives worked shoulder to shoulder with Muslim extremists and
heroin drug lords to fight "the evil empire." (= the USSR, not yet our
friends). It only made sense in The Great Communicator's famous
Back home The Gipper proclaimed it was "Morning in America" and the
Olympic Games unfolded with great pageantry in Los Angeles.
Windsurfing was introduced as a specialty event and competition took
place at the beach where I learned to surf. At days' end when The
Tease was flat we'd watch the Olympic athletes over burgers at a very
rural tavern with "the coldest beer in town!" just down the road from
It was an El Nino year, which was tough for local fishermen but
interesting for marine biology students. Southern fish, birds, and
plankton normally strangers to the coast of northern California were
turning up all around. I practiced playing guitar with fingerpicks and
wrote songs about water, sand, and women. I wisely avoided
entanglements with a devastatingly cute but alarmingly manipulative
classmate who looked just like my ex-girlfriend. I kept my head down,
worked hard, learned a lot about marine invertebrates, and earned an
A. I filled my sister's VW bug full of friends, drove them to bars
with live music every weekend, and surfed as much as I could that
One day, 20 years ago this month, I took pictures of the surf in the
cove. It was one of the better days of the season. Before I paddled
out I handed my camera to a classmate on the beach with instructions
to shoot the whole roll. He was not a surfer and missed plenty of
action shots, but he got a few good ones of the inside section. All
pictures were shot from the beach with a hand-held Olympus OM1, 50mm
lens, Kodachrome 64 film. Here are some of them.
The outside, starting to look worthwhile. Get out there before it
The inside, just before I paddled out.
One cute girl to avoid. Think Cathy Ames from Steinbeck's "East of
Me on my 6'1" Aipa-styled single-fin stinger. Huh? What thruster
A Hawaiian guy I only surfed with this once. I don't recall his name,
but he was light on his feet and stylish.
Will had been surfing this place for years and had it wired.
The best shot of the bunch. I know that I got the wave of the day and
that I got tubed. Will, who was very competitive in the water (and too
far inside to go), razzed me about it enviously at the time. Will and
my friend Dave later reviewed a 3"x5" print of this and agreed, "That
looks like a yellow board. Must be you, Bob." I wondered why it
didn't look quite as big or as hollow as I remembered. I figured my
rookie photographer must've missed the cover-up. I had that small
print on my wall for years.
When I scanned the slide at high resolution last year and took a
closer look I found it was definitely not me in the pocket, but Will.
That's me paddling wide above Will, grinning ear-to-ear on my way back
from the sweet, shoulder-high, cover-up shack I remembered. My rookie
photographer did miss it. This is the best picture I have of my friend
Will Borgeson doing what he loved best, in the late afternoon sunshine
at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab where he worked for 27 years.
The tide filled in a tad and the wave shut down, as it always did
eventually. Will and I went in. Dave stayed out for another 20 minutes
hoping against hope for another gem. I shot this picture of him
shortly before he accepted that it was 'Game Over' for another day.
Summer ended and I went back to Berkeley for fall semester.
Springsteen played 4 hours straight to a sold-out crowd at the Oakland
Arena and made me a fan. Reagan rolled Fritz Mondale in November. Will
encouraged me to come up and surf with him in the fall, but it was too
far for a student without a car. We lost touch. Twelve years later I
started reading alt.surfing and we renewed our friendship via Usenet
and p-mail. In his later years we shared some waves much bigger and
better than anything we surfed that Sonoma County summer. Eighteen
years later Will's earthly remains were found a stone's throw from
this beach. I still miss him and wonder just what he couldn't work
I'd like to think that harbor seals still surf that wave. Maybe
descendants of the one that used to show up every late afternoon when
I was there. Surfing was banned by the Director of the marine lab
years ago, so they have it all to themselves again. Don't tell them I
named their spot in this piece.
And so it was,