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Waterspot: Friends past and present

Photo by Chris Ahrens

I had heard of Mike Doyle long before I ever met him.

And when I finally did meet him, he wasn’t very impressed with me. It was in the early ‘60s, and he had followed the tradition of those before him like Velzy and Noll in becoming an L.A. Lifeguard.

I was out at Manhattan Pier to enjoy a few waves with none but the friends I came with when a voice boomed from a hand-held bullhorn demanding we return to the beach.

I was perplexed as the guard questioned, “How long have you been surfing?”

Not realizing he was referring to my combined surfing experience, I replied, “About five minutes.” He directed my attention to the yellow flag with the black dot in the middle, and said, “Do you know what that means?” “No.”

“It means no surfing.” I didn’t care — I had a close-encounter with perhaps the greatest waterman of the time.

From then on I would see Doyle in surf magazines and films, and even one of Warren Miller’s ski movies where he distinguished himself by heliskiing in the Alaskan wilderness on what would have been the first snowboard had the bindings been adjusted to fit a surf stance.    

By the time Doyle and I became friends, he had moved to Cabo to surf and paint, inviting me down from time to time to share his warm water playground. Thinking there was time, I procrastinated. Then I woke to the news that the invincible Mike Doyle was being memorialized in a paddle out attended by his many friends and followers in his beloved Cabo San Lucas.

Another surfer I was stoked to call a friend was less known, but equally talented. Tom Ortner drew lines on a wave that, try as they might, nobody has ever duplicated. He was a tall, handsome sinewy man consistently displaying grace under pressure. Ortner was a softspoken hero in a lineup known for being rowdy. His best turns looked effortless, never drawing as much attention while they were happening then afterward when you were left to contemplate their power and elegance. Tom recently succumbed to a long ailment.

Among the living is another surfer I have had the pleasure of knowing. Once called “Sand Crab,” Carlsbad’s most celebrated son fought for every inch of the fame he achieved. In time he accomplished every dream, including his winning the world’s most prestigious surf contest, The Pipe Masters. From there, Joey Buran continued a professional competitive streak that culminated with his taking seventh in the world.

Along the way, Buran experienced familiar loneliness at the top. He describes it this way. “I had just won the Pipe Masters, received a check for $ 5,000 along with a borrowed trophy that was taken back after a small awards ceremony on the beach. Everyone had left the sand when it began raining, and I felt empty.”

This experience, along with subsequent ones, sent Buran searching for something more meaningful than what legendary Australian surfer Wayne Lynch once called “Gaudy Metal and Ego Trips.” In Buran’s case, the quest led to Christian conversion and a pastorate with Calvary Chapel.

Just yesterday, I heard the man now known as Pastor Joey speak over the radio on integrity while I drove to the beach. His speech served as a eulogy for our dearly departed and left me to reflect upon the nobility of two great fallen members of our tribe. They will be remembered long after the waves have evaporated into the sand.

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