The guy was swimming toward the rocky shore of the Point Judith Lighthouse as the whitewater pounded and rumbled him forward. The swell was pumping well over head and there were 40 surfers out jockeying for position in the crowded lineup. This swell popped up very quickly and the word spread fast. The guy finally got to shore and began looking for his surfboard — it was wedged between some slick and slimy rocks. I couldn’t see it, either. I felt bad for this guy. The surfer started climbing up the steep bluff so he could locate his board. As he came walking toward me with a broken leash in his hand and scanning the rocks below, he said, “Hi Joe, this never happened, I couldn’t find my board.” “Dave? Is that you?” The guy’s name is Dave Levy who is a local surfer and board designer. Dave is my age and he still charges in big surf, as he’s done since I met him in 1966. He continued climbing down the bluff to retrieve his board — got the leash squared away — and then paddled back out to surf. It’s the way Dave Levy rolls.
We live in a youth-driven culture where the young, bold and beautiful work to pose for the perfect selfie, while marching forward on their collective journeys where they will — if they are lucky — eventually end up in the realm of we older folks, where they’ll still be able to do stuff but just need to adjust the pace, and be in shape. The name of the game is to put the camera down and keep moving forward. Then, they can all have a chance to be — in the 60s Surfing parlance — stoked. This word has a cool Californian vibe. There are other synonyms for this cool word, for example: jacked up, jazzed, mercurial, volcanic, groovy, and crazy — you get the idea.
In 1963 and ’64, my friend Tim and I would hitchhike from our neighborhood in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Second Beach in Newport so we could rent a surfboard — for one hour. We threw down lots of effort to just get to the beach and rent one board between us. Moreover, we would have just enough money to buy one Coke to share, and split one burger. Then we’d hitch back home. Our folks knew nothing of these adventures — they just thought we were caddying at a local country club. As far as surfing went, Tim and I had no idea what we were doing but we paddled out anyway. And we proceeded to get whupped, hydro-blown and sand blasted by sloppy and mushy shoulder high surf, which was created by a steady afternoon southwesterly breeze. We were so stoked to be doing this; the conditions were not of consequence — we were just happy to simply be out doing this sport. We were just a couple of young Pawtucket guys on a mission.
In ’64, what we learned about the sport of surfing was dished out on AM radio stations and in surfing magazines. We grew up riding home made skateboards with metal wheels from old roller-skates, and jamming concrete. We listened to songs of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and the Safari’s. We conjured up images of the cool California surf scene the best we could as we rode our skateboards, until we finally stuck out our thumbs and hit the far away beaches of Newport.
The first time we paddled out at Second Beach — after renting a board from Goldie’s truck — I’ll never forget seeing these local Newport guys knee-paddling out to the lineup. They had surf shorts with the words Bad Wolf Surf Team stitched on the back and it was very clear to us that these guys could surf — they ripped. There was also a smiling guy with flaming red hair and freckles who was tearing up the waves. His name was Billy “Redney” Bolender, and he stood out because of his wave judgement and style. Bolender was part of a very capable surf crew in Newport, was featured in magazines and did some heady surf travels — in Antigua on a 187-foot schooner — with some notable surf pros such as Chuck Dent, Dick Catri, Butch Van Artsdalen, and Joe Twombley. I still see Billy in the summertime when I’m on my sailboat — he owns a pump-out service. Billy Bolender is still surfing in the summertime, and is a very likable guy.
My little brother Pat is a young 62-year-old guy and he still surfs in the wintertime. I was telling him about Levy doing the rock dance and climbing up and down the bluffs — Pat is very impressed with Dave’s surfing. My little brother told me about how I pushed and shouted him into his first wave at Narragansett Pier back in ’67. Subsequently, Pat is still stoked for this sport and his hustle impresses his big brother. He chases the waves with some local old school guys. An old friend of ours named Paul Murry has some major stoke. In the 1960s Paul started riding a knee board, then he took up windsurfing, kite foil surfing and paddle boarding — with a foil. The guy is unstoppable, and stoked — still. And, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all.
On 21 January at 0500 at the ferry dock, I noted on Facebook: a super blood full moon, sea smoke, zero degrees, and a big south swell breaking at the lighthouse. At first light that day, Dave Levy’s son Greg, and another hard-core local surfer and offshore lobsterman named Capt. Jamie Risser, paddled out to surf overhead waves at the Point Judith Lighthouse. Jamie’s dad Mike was a formidable surfer, too. Greg and Jamie are like their dads — solid and gutsy. My hat is off to all of these stoked surfers.