“BARNEY, go home!” The words stung. They cut me deep as I finished pulling up my wetsuit over my farmer-tan laden arms and legs (thanks to months of cycling). I now knew how Rick Kane from North Shore felt except, unlike Rick, I didn’t need the term to be defined. I knew that a Barney was “a haole to the max, a kook in and out of the water.” I said some unkind words under my breath and then laughed at the high school kids that hurled the insulting words at me as they road down the street. As they rode on I could hear them in the distance, hooting and hollering about their alleged dominance over us all. In the splendor of my laughter I realized I was laughing at myself just as much as I was laughing at them. I have been in their shoes…or sandals.
I don’t know when it happened. It was sometime before my pre-pubescent strait hair grew into a huge curly blond afro and after I got my first mach-five bogey board. I was addicted. The beach consumed my thoughts and surfing defined who I was and who I was going to be in the future. From twelve to eighteen most of my life revolved around the sport. My top priorities seemed to be surfing, reading about surfing (really, the only thing I read as an adolescent), fixing surfboards, watching surf videos and finding a ride to the beach. The walls and ceiling of my room were littered with surfers I wanted to be, places I wanted to travel and the reef girls that were found on the second page of every SURFER magazine (why my mom or dad didn’t rip them down I know not, but at the time I was thankful). The collage was a mere microcosm of the image I wished to portray. On Sunday, with a bag full of Jack in the Box tacos, I’d sit in church complete with a sopping head, dripping nose and sandy feet. Throughout the week, between surfing before and/or after school, my friends and I would draw epic waves or attempt to design the perfect shaped board while we should have been taking notes. At lunch, we debated over who was better. We fought over which took more skill, having style on a longboard or boosting an air on a wafer thin shortboard. We’d pretend our pens and pencils were surfboards, riding them with our fingers and using our binders as waves. Saturday meant surfing before work at the local wholesale tropical fish store and then, if it wasn’t windy, surfing again in the afternoon. If the surf was unbearable we would co “car surfing,” where black asphalt became our playground and my 1987 blue Ford Aerostar became our weapon of choice—admittedly, not the best choice of activities (I’ll write of when I dropped the transmission of said mini-van, while attempting to race it, at a later time). High school ended and, still having ambitious surfing dreams, I chose my college because of its proximity to the ocean. Needless to say, for a time, I was obsessed.
What happened? Where did that kid go? Where is the grom who found so much joy in spending countless hours at the beach, who dreamt about the ocean and couldn’t stand to be away from it for even a day at a time? You know the same guy that would heave hurtful verbal attacks at those who drove to the beach from East County or Arizona because they didn’t belong? The kid who, at 17, cussed out a father for pushing his son into a wave that he was already riding forcing him to kick out? Oh yeah, he and his friend just rode by and called me a Barney.
A few days ago I wrote that a birthday forces one to say, “remember when” and ask “what now.” Almost a week into being 29 years young, I am grateful for the memories I have reflected upon, but even more so for the perspective they have provided. After surfing that morning I had a beautiful conversation with two Australians and an older man visiting from Costa Rica. We spoke of the crowds, the oncoming wind and how things have changed. The whole time we talked there was an unspoken cloud of truth looming over us… We all knew it was there. I was not the committed traveling surfer, nor the beach bum home to surf the break he grew up on. I was the guy who had fallen away, the one who had burnt out and was now returning only to be frustrated by noodle arms and a robust belly. It’s as if there was a large neon sign over me that read, “Barney.” And it didn’t matter. They gave me hope for the man I once wanted to be.
Truth is, I know I am nowhere near the surfer I once was. But I am okay with that. I am okay being ordinary, okay with not having surfing on my mind every hour of the day and being picky as to when I will paddle out. I am even okay being screamed at by the local kids that should be in school. Hopefully, they too will grow up to laugh at their former self.