It looks like Cardiff is suffering sympathy pains for the Gulf oil spill, red tide coloring the lineup a muddy red until nighttime when the waves glow like a southern, aquatic version of the northern lights. Or maybe it’s not sympathy pains but tears, sad at the passing of one of the last true surfers who never wore a leash, rode a pop out or felt the need to dress like a surfer.
I first met Kevin Haley on Maui in 1969, when I picked him up hitchhiking to Honolua Bay where, still in his early teens, he and Jackie Dunn, who went on to be a star at Pipeline, were among the new gremmies in town. Kevin had the talent but not the disposition to be a star. He was too subtle for notoriety and attempted to hold onto the life that Southern California had offered prior to it being chopped up and sold to the highest bidder.
He often spoke to me about the ruin of his home breaks in Playa Del Rey, now Marina Del Rey, and his love of single-finned hulls shaped by Malibu’s Greg Liddle. When he rode those boards you could see how they worked, beneath the feet of a stylish master, a quick and nimble goofyfoot, who surfed without excess of movement or posing, in and around the pocket.
In the mid-1970s, Kevin and I attempted to move up to Santa Cruz in my 1952 Chevy, sometimes living in the camper shell with his dog and constant companion, Heidi. It was during another recession, and Santa Cruz had nothing to offer in the way of work. And so we starved and went nightly to Safeway to take handfuls of nuts and raisins from the bins. Ironically not too proud for our petty thefts, but too proud for welfare or food stamps, we survived on the few odd jobs that came our
way and the kindness of strangers.
It was a difficult time and
yet I recall it fondly, riding waves at Steamer Lane, Natural Bridges, Stockton Avenue and a hollow left point we rode alone, returning to the Haut shop to tell Mark Angel about it, him laughing and warning
us it was a great white shark breeding ground. We went back there, regardless, until getting chased out by a big fin one cold day.
With no work and fewer prospects, we moved back to Cardiff where I found employment in a surf shop and he hired on as a carpenter. We met up many evenings after work, to get wet and complain about kooks and crowds.
I didn’t see Kevin much after that as he had moved to Baja to work as a rancher, go fishing and surfing and raise his family. He loved the hard honesty of Mexico. In the last few years he spoke to me less about surfing and old times and more about the daughters he was so proud of. He was known as a kind father and a loyal friend.
Recently I received the sad news from filmmaker and mutual friend Steve Soderberg that Kevin Haley had passed away. I didn’t have the heart to ask the details, but knew it had to do with a heart broken by a frantic world that didn’t understand heart, soul and subtlety.
Kevin Haley is survived by his daughters Kaitlin and Kellin Haley. His last paddle out was June 5 at Tyson Street in Oceanside.