Sea Notes

Looking back on fallen friends

I first met Pat Flecky at a house I shared in Encinitas with him and Texas transplant turned Sunset Superman, Ken Bradshaw. Flecky and I became close right away, building surfboards in our garage while our roommates gagged on the fumes and, eventually made us quit spattering resin everywhere. Once the resin had dried, it was off to D Street, to run and fall down the dusty trail, until we were faced with A-framed peaks that peeled down the beach. Pat was always the first in and the last out, stoked and joking in the lineup before carving his snappy turns all over the face.

Swimmer, surfer, waterman Bob Hoff's life brought the best out in all of us. Courtesy photo
Flecky continued shaping boards until he became a master of his craft and went to the head of the class as a top shaper at Sunset Surfboards, which is now a bicycle shop in downtown Encinitas. There, Flecky’s boards became renown locally as the most progressive of their kind, being the first in innovation with smaller, faster boards that were decades ahead of their time.

Pat moved away decades ago, but I stayed mostly close to home as North County grew from a dusty outpost to a small town, into a larger town, into whatever it is now. Somewhere during my adult years, I met a surfer named Bob Hoff. Bob was a lean fast surfer and a swimming coach whose agile, quick surfing caught my attention at Cardiff Reef.

Bob and I became friends in the surf where we started our conversations, before finishing them on the sand. In time he became my favorite debate opponent and no subject was off limits as we tackled everything from surfboard design to Intelligent Design. When I got the news that he was sick, our debates continued in his backyard where we unraveled every backyard philosophy we could think of.

He seemed to be improving when I saw him walk down the Swami’s stairs with a foam board to paddle out and, “Get the feeling of the ocean beneath me again.” That was the last time Bob spoke to me. The next time I saw him I was gathered with his family at Scripps Hospital as they comforted him in his last hours on this earth and I read Revelation 21: 1-4 from Bob’s bedside.

Just one day before Bob’s passing I heard we had lost Pat. (Having lost touch with him and his family, I have none of the details.)

I will never quit missing them, but I have chosen to celebrate my time with them, rather then grieve their passing. When a loved one moves on, I like to take one of their best traits and incorporate it to myself as a sort of living memorial. From Pat I have taken a joyful attitude that I try to spread through whatever surf break I am riding. From Bob, I have learned to see the best in everyone and help to bring it out. I will think of him each time I teach a kid about the joy of water.

At Bob Hoff’s paddle out at Swami’s on Sunday July 8, competitive swimming champion Judy Montague recalled how Bob had helped her lose her fear of swimming through the surf. Swami’s Surfing Association president Bruce King’s comment rang through the crowd. “He made watermen,” shouted Bruce. Those on hand understood exactly what Bruce meant by that and cheered wildly as our friend was returned to the sea.