Zack’s Right
by Tim Utterback

(nonfiction section)

Zack was of medium height and wiry thin build with short brown hair, a dark thin beard, and radiating blue eyes. Zack’s stare could be mistaken for disapproval, but business was his true expression. He seemed much older than I, but the difference in our ages was only half as long as the 19 years I had been alive.

Zack had a gift which will be explained as the story progresses. He tried to pass this gift to me, and I was too young to comprehend it. Zack’s secondary gift was mentoring, and his lessons could be lengthy. I was glad Zack mentored me because I was terribly shy and reluctant to strike up a conversation. I came from a small town near Bodega Bay called Occidental where people were either excessively loud or excessively quiet. I fell on the quiet side of Occidental’s two-frequency spectrum. Zack reached out to me as a friend and I will forever be thankful to him for that.

As long as Zack’s lessons were, I knew procurement was a necessary skill for someone hoping to find satisfaction from a coastline blessed with beauty that is not commonly associated with riding surf. The Sonoma coast is mostly rugged and gray with rocky beaches, persistent fog, a rough surface, and cold murky green water. From a surfer’s perspective, Sonoma waves are disorienting, unyielding and riddled with obstacles (jagged boulders), swirling boils and rock protrusions that turn a seemingly healthy ocean into famine, most of the time. However, some of the time the Sonoma coast can yield good surf, and on rare occasions, excellent. Finding those rare occasions was Zack’s gift.

The Sonoma coast has never been a destination for traveling surfers seeking a “perfect wave”: something smooth and warm and turquoise blue that transforms into gentle white bubbling foam lapping on the edge of a sunny white beach with trees waving in a soft breeze. Only a delusional fool would travel to Sonoma county searching for this ideal when there are thousands of destinations regularly producing something closer to it. I’ve long ago turned my back on seeking this ideal and contending with the rat race it spawns, not to mention the carbon it consumes on earth.

Sonoma can never produce a “perfect wave” because the ocean temperature ranges from 48 degrees in May to 55 degrees in late October and is biting cold to the touch. Persons swept from the Sonoma shore typically expire after only 20 minutes of rapid heat loss and abuse. Cold waves surge up steep gravel beaches, tackle their prey and drag them into the collapsing jaws of pitiless followers. This tragedy usually ends only after more loved ones are claimed in failed rescue attempts.

Those of us who intentionally entered the Sonoma surf started on summer days when the waves were embarrassingly small and relatively safe, but rough for their size. A smelly thick black neoprene wetsuit was an unquestionable necessity. Surfboards were gaudy decorations or makeshift furniture in Sonoma unless accompanied by a stout wetsuit. The boards were thicker, longer and heavier than common surfboards in order to accommodate shoulder fatigue from the wetsuit. Sonoma wave procurement tools were complete with a 1960’s era Volkswagen. Zack’s VW bug was white, his friend Bruno had an orange bug and my bug was an oxidized shade of red. The now famous daily Dale had a blue Karmann Ghia and the Shadow of great infamy had a fastback.

During the summer of 1982, Zack’s mentoring advice began at seven AM and lasted until he found the best surf of the day, or until he concluded the waves were too foul to ride, which they often were in summer. Zack spoke to me through the perpetual cool Bodega fog while his head moved up and down or sideways to tune his perspective of the ocean. It looked like the same span of premenstrual water to me, but Zack would find some aspect of swell, tide or wind to admonish me on.

After assessing the ocean, but before entering it, Zack looked through his binoculars to check for signs of fish. Not the kind that fit in a dish, but the rhythmic motion of big fish. Zack was rightfully fearful of sharks, and great whites are a disturbing reality of Sonoma coastal waters. His fear was understandable considering how he was visited by one of these large primeval ocean dwellers. One foggy day a shark evaluated Zack’s nutritional value by pitching him up and sending him shouting and paddling speedily to shore. The shark exited without making a purchase. Zack either did not agree with its culinary preference, or possibly Zack out-paddled the shark. I was comfortably 50 yards to the north when Zack’s shout went out. At that distance it was good fun.

Attack records indicate sharks are discerning. Most attacks are nothing more than a gentle nibble. If no arteries are severed the person usually survives.

The Truth According to Zack:

The truth about surfing as Zack taught and I believed is that waves are free. Waves were not created for profit to be stored in a miser’s account or to pay down credit card debt, but they give themselves freely to anyone willing to appreciate their beauty. This free beauty is addictive but its grip can be broken by material concerns. Zack was almost completely free and only dabbled in materialism on occasions when he mistook his bug for a sports car.

For surfers attempting to avoid corrupt materialism, the point where their world and the material world collide is at coastal access entrances. This story is about some of those collisions.

Doran Beach Park: (fiction to emphasize fact)

After a full summer of training in surf appreciation, it was time to apply the lessons Zack taught. He started my first application at a well-known beach located south of Bodega Bay named Doran Park. This County owned park had a toll booth located at the base of a hill about one eighth of a mile from the nearest free parking. Surfing areas were located between a few feet beyond the toll booth to about another half mile further in. Surfers could park their cars at the top of the hill and walk in for free carrying the extra heavy board and suit round trip, or they could figure out other ways.

I pulled into the free lot on a cool fogy early October morning after spotting Zack sitting in his bug. He told me that Doran Park was the place to surf that day because a lumpy early season swell was generating poor conditions at the other spots. He had given the surf appreciation lessons enough that I knew to park in the hilltop lot and grab my board, wetsuit and towel. Zack hadn’t grabbed his stuff yet and was picking at a ding on his board when he told me to go ahead, that he would catch up. I started walking into the fog expecting him to come behind me, and he sort of did. About fifteen minutes after I departed, when my right shoulder was aching from the weight of the board and my left arm was straining from holding an old waterlogged wetsuit out of the dirty asphalt and sand, he came down the hill in his bug with board resting on the roof rack and wetsuit comfortably resting in the back seat. Instead of stopping to pick me up he smiled, waved and kept going. He was polite, but politeness didn’t make the walk easier. He slowed down at the toll booth but didn’t stop. There was no one inside.

When I arrived at the location where Zack’s bug was parked, he was gone. I climbed over the dune grass to check the surf. Zack dropped into a mist-obscured wave, and his silhouette scooted along to shore. There was nothing to do but suit up and paddle out. The sand and dirt that accumulated inside my suit legs and sleeves eventually washed out as we satisfied ourselves with the cold offerings of the day. My arms were soon tired from paddling, and I went in to dry off before Zack was done. I wanted him to get out of the water and drive me to the free lot, but I decided to start walking after he paddled back out for more surf about the tenth time.

The walk back was worse than the walk in. I was tired from carrying my gear, tired from paddling, covered with salt water residue and sand in irritable places, and becoming annoyed with Zack for leaving me to walk. But it wasn’t all bad because the ranger was waiting in the toll booth to collect from Zack. I took a break and watched from beyond the toll booth until I heard Zack’s bug rumbling down the park road. I wanted to see Zack pay.

Zack slowed down as he rolled up to the toll booth and then gave the ranger a bright smile, a friendly wave and no toll. Zack then drove past me without making eye contact and disappeared into the fog. The ranger stuck his head out of the booth and looked down the road for about 20 seconds and then stuck his head back in the booth and shut the window. I waited for the ranger to come running out and get in his truck to chase Zack, but nothing happened. End of lesson?

The lesson wasn’t quite over because the next morning Zack recounted the story to his friend Bruno. They seemed to enjoy the story as much as children with sand castles and tide pools. Zack grabbed his board and wetsuit to give an impersonation of me walking down the road. He stumbled along Highway 1 tripping over his wetsuit and swinging his board around like he was delirious. Zack staggered and moaned into the fog while Bruno laughed and mocked my pain. I tried to think of a shark pitching Zack and Bruno into the air.


Then Zack’s nemesis came. Not a shark, but a recreational vehicle. Zack hated RVs almost as much as he feared sharks. The root of Zack’s hatred for RVs was derived from their reliable propensity to appear on Highway 1 as soon as Zack had determined where the best surf was about occur. Immediately before he would leave for his destination, some lumbering RV reliably showed up on Highway 1 heading in that direction.

(fiction to emphasize fact continued)

The RV came up Highway 1 and screeched its brakes for several seconds until it stopped in front of Zack who was blocking the road with his impersonation. Zack straightened up and stared into the eyes of the driver and passenger with his most stern stare and said, “At the Surf Motel, surfers check in but they don’t check out.” An obese female passenger leaned out the RV window and asked Bruno if the man blocking the road was OK.

Bruno told her, “He was released yesterday and is readjusting to the outside.”

Zack took a step toward the RV, and the RV made a clanking noise and jolted back. Zack then stepped to the side of the road and politely asked the passengers, “Are you fans of the performing arts?” The male driver looked threatened and uncomfortable with Zack. He made the engine roar, and the RV lurched forward. The woman fanned her face and laughed as the RV rolled away. A Good Sam sticker on the back of the RV looked at us with a goofy cross-eyed smile as it disappeared down Highway 1.

I was starting to suspect there might be something askew with Zack’s lessons in surf appreciation, but the fog was lifting and the waves off Salmon Creek beach were looking surfable. We suited up and paddled out for our reward at the free end of Salmon.

Rust (nonfiction)

Zack tried to teach me about rust. The paint on my red ‘69 bug was oxidized and rust was developing at locations where my board dripped saltwater on the roof. It started with a slight bulging under the paint and gradually grew into an automotive dermal infection that exfoliated layers of iron flakes. Zack told me to remove the rust with sandpaper and lay fiberglass over the affected areas like patching a ding on a surfboard. I was too lazy to take his advice, and I liked picking the flakes. This irritated Zack because he had done a beautiful job of cleaning and re-painting his white bug. I remember him saying he painted his bug with a paint brush. Anyone who knows anything about auto body knows that a paint brush is out of the question. Auto body paint is applied with precise spray guns and multiple coats. I think Zack said the paint brush job on his bug was only one coat. The odd thing about it was the finish looked really smooth and shiny. I tried to do the same with a car 20 years later and it became such a hideous catastrophe that I had my kids dip their feet and hands in various colored paints and walk on it and slap it to make it into an art-car.

My bug wasn’t the only rust that irritated Zack. At that time almost all surfboards had one fin and only a few had two fins. A new kind of board with three fins was recently invented and the people who ride “perfect waves” were causing a stir with their “vertical” maneuvers. The 3 fin board was initially called a “thruster” but was later called a tri-fin and is now a surfboard. As far as Zack was concerned, the only good board was a 7’6” single fin with a “round pin” tail. Zack predicted that thrusters were a fad and he called them “rusters”. Prophesy might not be one of Zack’s gifts. Yet, I have seen a resurgence of single finned boards lately.

I wanted one of those three-finned boards so much that I took my brother’s old 7’6” single fin, chopped the tail off, stripped the fiberglass, glued my own hand-carved plywood fins on it, and glassed it over with 12 ounce fiberglass from a hardware store. Now if you know anything about surfboard construction, the monster I created was so hideous that it could nauseate zombies.

I showed up at Salmon Creek beach with my new creation on top of my bug that now had holes in the body where the rust bulges began. Zack saw three rebel fins protruding from a board on my roof rack and broke out laughing. He asked me to take it down so he could look at it and called Bruno and a couple guys over. When I handed the board over, Zack held it in the air and said, “You’ve heard of surfboards called “elephant guns” for riding big waves, well this is an elephant turd!” Except he didn’t use the word turd. They fell down laughing, partly at what Zack said but mostly at the hideous monster Zack was holding. I wasn’t too young to understand Zack this time. I surfed the board anyway. It only went straight. A friend of mine made a comic strip about the board while killing time in high school study hall, but instead of butchering an old surfboard the comic had me gluing three fins on a cookie sheet.

Salmon Creek State Beach (semi-fiction)

The south end of Salmon Creek beach does not have free coastal access. The State of California operates a campground and day use area that crosses a span of hilly dune grass located between Highway 1 and the southern half of the beach. The toll booth is near the highway and the beach parking lot is about a half mile down the park road. Hiking in from Highway 1 is not an option. There are no places to park along this stretch of highway. It is possible to hike over the dunes from Bodega Bay. There is a shorter stretch of dunes between the bay and the south end of Salmon, but the dunes are taller, there is no established trail and the dune habitat is not something to disturb by dragging surf gear to the beach. However, Zack had a way of getting in.

This lesson began on a sunny morning in late October during a momentary Indian summer transformation that visited the Sonoma coast. The recalcitrant fog had disappeared, the coastal wind was abated and blowing lightly from land toward sea (offshore), the air temperature was certain to exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit that day, and the surf at Salmon Creek beach looked wonderful.

I was anxious to get into the surf, but this combination of conditions appeared to have a different effect on Zack. He was half sitting on the rounded front fender of his bug with his arms crossed and barking loudly, “Tricks are for kids!” For a moment I wondered if he skipped breakfast. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I asked him. Without saying anything he slowly pointed out to the ocean as someone in a bright yellow wetsuit dropped into a wave, carved a hard bottom turn and rode straight up the wave hitting the crest with sufficient force to send spray 20 feet into the air. The yellow man rode back down with the falling crest and turned up the wave face, only to do the same thing five more times before the wave bowed its final collapse to his athletic performance.

At the sight of that, I let out a large hoot, grabbed my wetsuit and started tugging it on thinking I was going to do the same thing. While I struggled in excitement to pull my suit on, Bruno drove up in his bug and had a seemingly wordless conversation with Zack. I was pulling my zipper to close my suit when Bruno walked up and said, “We’re going to surf the south end and you’re driving.” I protested, but Bruno had turned around and was walking back to his bug without responding. To their credit they had their gear loaded on my bug in about two minutes. Before we left, Zack pointed at the license plate frame on a sweet silver BMW in the parking lot. It said “Newport BMW Mercedes”.

We arrived at the state park toll booth before the ranger, but that didn’t appear to help us get in for free because the park gate was closed and locked fifty feet beyond the booth. Zack said, “Back up.” I hesitated for a moment because I was irritated and hot from sitting in a stinky humid wetsuit and taking orders from two guys who made me drive away from the best surf I‘d ever seen. Both of them yelled, “BACK UP!” So I threw it in reverse, stepped on the gas and made the bug lurch backward. Zack turned to me and said, “Please don’t be rude.” I could hear a wheezing/chuckling sound from the back seat. I hit the brakes in frustration and skidded to a stop. Zack said, “Perfect”, and pointed out the passenger side window.

Off to the right was a narrow sand path heading into the dunes. The path disappeared around a small hill of dune grass on the left. Zack said, “Now do the same thing in forward and stay off the dune grass.”

I asked, “What if I get stuck?” Zack replied, “Please go, we haven‘t much time.” I realized he was right because it was almost eight in the morning and that’s when rangers arrive.

Driving through the sand was like catching a wave. If you commit, it usually works out. If you halfway commit, then everything goes wrong and your sinuses (or bug in this case) get packed with salt water (or sand). Fortunately I was in the mood for commitment. It probably had something to do with the possibility of getting stuck in the sand, having a wetsuit on and having to ask the ranger for a tow.

I hit the gas and drove off road. My bug floated through the sand and into the corner around the dune grass hill. As we rounded the corner the bug started to drift and Bruno quipped, “Stay off the dune grass, man.” The bug continued its drift until it skidded sideways onto the park road. We ended up facing the back side of the gate, so I had to complete a three point U turn to get us in the direction of the beach. Zack and Bruno were pleased and began chattering as we headed down the park road.

When we arrived I took advantage of the fact that my suit was already on and grabbed my board and ran for the surf. When I came over the last row of dune grass I was pleasantly surprised to find that the south end surf was looking better than the north end. I paddled out as fast as I could.

A beautiful wave came and I paddled into it as Zack and Bruno arrived on the beach. Down the wave I went like yellow man, then deep into a carving bottom turn and straight up the face into the crest. As my board hit the crest a spray went up, but not like yellow man’s spray because the board went with it. My legs went up too, but the rest of me went down. The crest grabbed me and drove my body to the trough of the wave like a Raiders lineman sacking an undersized quarterback.

Fortunately water is more forgiving than turf. After the mauling of a lifetime, I resurfaced and gasped for air. That was when the next wave brought my board down onto my head. It didn’t do any serious damage but my head left a nice oval shape on the bottom of my board for memory’s sake. I pulled the board under my body to lay on it and was still regaining my breath when Zack and Bruno paddled past me and simultaneously quipped, “You gotta pay your dues.” They had a thing about paying dues.

I don’t think Zack was completely against performance surfing, he had simply matured beyond it. Something was wrong with his leg. I never asked the details, and I don’t know whether it happened in Vietnam combat or stateside. I only know that he didn’t do anything fancy because of his leg.

Before breaking out the violin and tissue, the reader should know that Zack’s leg was a blessing. It was because Zack did not “trip the lights fandango” on a board that he was able to find something different in surfing that many of us are blind to. Zack’s leg opened his eyes to appreciating the waves for their own beauty. Yellow man will go through life robbed by what he does to a wave and never learn to appreciate what it does.

The waves were beautiful that day and all of us appreciated them in our own way. We surfed ourselves into a stupor. Zack scooted down the line appreciating the fine details of each wave he rode, Bruno flowed and ducked for barrels, and I made sure to stay away from plunging crests.

When we went in, I was quick to get my wetsuit off because that was enough wetsuit for one day. We loaded up my bug with our gear and headed back down the park road toward the toll booth. Bruno reminded me about the dune grass. When we approached the gate, which was now open, I smoothly steered the bug off the road and into the sand. The bug floated and drifted around the little dune grass hill. This time I corrected the steering and kept the bug from spinning out. As we exited I noticed that no one was in the toll booth and we could have taken the road. I decided that I would peek around the dune grass hill next time.

At the north parking lot yellow man and his silver BMW were gone. The Indian summer conditions were still bringing luster to the waves, but my perspective had changed some that day. As Zack and Bruno transferred their gear to their bugs, I noticed that the tide was starting to come up, the southwest swell declined since morning and a northwest swell was on the rise.

Secret Spot (nonfiction)

My next lesson was not as carefree as the preceding ones. It involved a lesser known and more coveted location on the Sonoma coast. In those years the location of this surf spot was a secret. Nowadays most Santa Cruz children can tell you its exact name and location.

The secret spot Zack introduced me to was a left handed break. A left is a wave that breaks from left to right as you view it from the beach, or cliff in this case. It’s called a left because the surfer proceeds to his/her left as he/she rides the wave. At that time there were no she surfers in Sonoma County, besides Dale’s wife.

Fortunately there was good parking and easy access to the secret left. A pleasant walk along a meadow trail, a short scramble down the bluff, and you’re on a rocky beach. No fee.

A remarkable feature of this wave, as well as most Sonoma secret spots, is that only one person can comfortably fit in the takeoff zone (the location where waves can be caught) at a time. If a surfer attempts to catch the wave a few feet to the left, he ends up on a rock that sticks out of the water. A few feet to the right puts him on the shoulder where the wave hasn’t crested enough to be caught.

It makes sense that surfers would take turns at a spot where only one person can comfortably catch a wave at a time. This has almost never been the case. Surfers catch waves according to a natural selection process we now call “surf etiquette”. Back then it was accurately called “wave possession”, and it works like this: Only one surfer is allowed on a wave at a time. The surfer that catches a wave nearest the crest or furthest behind the crest possesses the wave. Thus, the surfer with the most skill and/or paddling speed gets the wave (it’s mostly paddling speed). This rule is superseded by the unspoken rule: The meanest surfer gets whatever wave he wants because he will punch you in the face if you paddle near him. The term “Surf etiquette” is much like the names politicians give their policies. It sounds good until you look at what’s really going on and realize it’s only designed to benefit those who already have more than their portion. Thus, the strong and evil gorge themselves while the weak wait for scraps to fall from the table. It’s a system that embodies all of the beauty that natural selection has to offer.

When Zack and I surfed the secret left, Bruno and an electrician named Tim joined us. Then there were four of us trying to fit into a one-man take off zone. Thankfully, no one in this group practiced the unspoken rule of “surf etiquette“. It was mostly ability-based wave possession with Bruno and Tim taking the alpha portion. Zack procured less waves, but the ones he selected were often the best.

With a keen eye on the horizon Zack would prompt Bruno and Tim into gluttony by hooting at waves that were only mediocre, yelling “go Bruno” or “go Tim”. When it worked, Zack and I were in the takeoff zone for a small window of opportunity before they paddled back out to gulp down the next two waves. Zack used the same trick on me, and I was in no position to complain. Any wave at the secret left was a good wave for me. I was as clueless as a rank beginner could be and scared to death of the overhead surf that broke only a few feet from rocks that stood out of the water.

Suddenly it was Zack’s turn. He paddled his board with matching speed into the exact position for takeoff, pushed up off his board just as the wave crested and threw the board directly under his feet for a seemingly perfect take off. Then his leg gave out and Zack was driven into the trough, dragged back over the crest, and pounded mercilessly in the whitewater like a rag doll in the mouth of a pit bull. The secret left was not Zack’s favorite place. But this story isn’t about the secret left; it’s about a secret right that Zack loved very much.

Zack’s Right (nonfiction)

The few people that know about this place call it by another name, but as far as I’m concerned it is Zack’s right. Zack was its keeper. He studied every oceanic condition that affected his wave and knew it with the precision of an experienced professional tradesman. Everything about this wave agreed with Zack. It was a right, it only worked within a reasonable size range, it wasn’t too fast or too slow, it wasn’t mushy but it didn’t throw too fast for him to get to his feet, and it was hidden from Highway 1.

Zack’s right only had good waves in the late fall and early winter. Throughout the summer and half of fall Zack never told me about his right, although he had been waiting for it since the previous winter. I believe he ditched me for it in November. I was a puppy that followed him, and he began disappearing.

It was a matter of odd fate that I caught him. I was checking Salmon Creek beach when Zack came along Highway 1. He waved and kept going like I was the ranger at the toll booth. I misinterpreted his gesture and thought he wanted me to follow him. I caught up to Zack several miles down the road. He was parked at the top of a cliff and looking intently at the ocean with binoculars. I walked up to his window and asked him where the best surf was. Zack didn’t appear to know I was there because he startled and let go of his binoculars. They slammed against his door and were caught by their strap from falling to the ground. For a moment Zack had a guilty expression on his face, but he quickly started analyzing the ocean for me.

Zack explained how the tide, wind, swell direction and period were ideal for Salmon Creek. I agreed except that the swell was a little larger than the chest-high surf we typically rode at Salmon Creek. He tried to convince me that I should go back to Salmon Creek, but I stood there confused. Zack had pity and told me to follow him.

Several miles along Highway 1, Zack stopped at a cow pasture overlooking the ocean. We climbed over a fence and across the pasture to a narrow creek outfall that provided access to a cove surrounded by cliffs. This spot had menacing rocks, but it had Zack’s right. We walked excitedly back and climbed over the fence, and Zack explained there was a catch to the fence. It was a small box placed on the fence requiring a two dollar fee for permission to cross the pasture. Two dollars isn’t much, and it wasn’t much 33 years ago, but there was a seemingly insurmountable wall between our wallets and the paper envelopes in the fence box. We surmounted the $2 wall that day and Zack surfed some decent waves, but it wasn’t exactly the right conditions. A touch too small as I remember, and much closer to the rocks than I was comfortable with. I think I caught 3 waves at most. Zack cleaned up everything in sight.

There were more journeys to Zack’s right. I never grew comfortable surfing there. The rocks pointed toward the surf, seemingly like arrow heads. Zack and Bruno asked why I was so reluctant to catch waves there. I explained that although the waves were not large, the rocks were uncomfortably close and oriented in a threatening direction. This started a conversation of shish kabobs, hors d'oeuvres, and a shark cafe. None of that worked for me. I simply gave up and watched Zack, Bruno, and Tim the electrician catch wave after wave. Although I caught essentially nothing, I watched. Without thinking about it then, I now think that is when I began to comprehend Zack’s gift. While Zack’s leg was a problem, his eye wasn’t. When Zack caught a wave he moved with it, not on it. People talk about “soul surfers” but that was not Zack. A “soul surfer” is a different form of yellow man; an arched back and smooth moves are still all about the surfer and not the wave. Zack’s surfing made him invisible while in plain view. He somehow knew where to be at any given moment such that the wave was undisturbed, almost holy.

I’m not saying that surfing is a spiritual experience. Zack’s seemingly holy communication with the waves is a good metaphor for a spiritual experience. As a Christian, I believe spiritual experience comes from committing to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior much like committing to a wave. When I committed to Jesus Christ, wonderful spiritual experiences happened. I can’t make them happen, but when I realize a spiritual experience has happened, I am humbled by the unquestionable proof that God is real. It brings both fear and joy beyond words, much like riding a powerful wave: but it’s not my performance, and I can, at best, allow it to bless me.

You may wonder how I had so much time to surf in those days, or sit in the water and watch Zack surf. I was taking a few easy classes at the community college, working a part time evening job, and sponging off my parents; but the parents were getting wise. I don’t know how Zack and Bruno managed to surf so much and I didn’t ask. Tim was a sole electrician in a rural area. When the surf was up, the circuits stayed down.

During those days the wall between our wallets and the pay box grew. The land owner took notice of our aberrant behavior. In fact, he seemed to show up immediately after us. We avoided him from the water and managed to leave when he lost patience and left; but that didn’t last forever. A conflict occurred on a day I wasn’t present, and the local police were involved.

Not long after the “two buck” police raid, THE day for Zack’s right came. Zack, Bruno, Tim the electrician and I converged at the cow pasture when the ocean was exceptionally smooth, the tide was correct, and the swell was slightly increasing. This was a day on the Sonoma coast that was not “most of the time”. Many waves were ridden. I managed to catch a few. I caught one in particular while Zack and Bruno were paddling out. They said it was a “classic”. I enjoyed it but it made me want 100 more.

As the outing progressed, the surf increased until I became uncomfortable and went to shore. From the beach I watched Bruno and Tim continue to catch waves, but Zack wasn’t getting any more. Eventually Bruno and Tim rode in, and the three of us watched Zack as the surf grew larger and the wave quality deteriorated. The three of us became anxious when we saw the ocean horizon lift due to a group of incoming waves that were clearly too large for this cove. Zack saw what was coming and should have paddled toward the center of the cove and in to shore, but didn’t. As the group of waves entered the cove, the first wave peaked in the take-off zone, and Zack was there for it. His paddling execution was flawless, but getting to his feet wasn’t. When he pushed the board under his feet they landed together, almost like they were tied to each other. This foot positioning was not good because the wave was more than twice as large as should be ridden at this spot and more than twice as tall as Zack. His board slammed the wave face when he stood up, and it jumped and pointed up the wave to slam again. The force of the second slam threw the board back down for another slam and two more. Somehow the thrashing of the board parted Zack’s feet and they landed in a sturdy stance that brought the board under immediate control. Zack masterfully rode that wave all the way to the middle of the cove. As Zack came in on the broken wave, the following wave broke in a single massive collapse filling the cove with churning whitewater, as did the waves that followed.

We were relieved that Zack did both the impossible and got away from imminent danger without a moment to spare. I have no idea how Zack remained standing while his board thrashed in opposing directions and his feet were together. Throughout the unexplainable wildness of his ride, Zack maintained an exacting position on the wave. I honestly don’t think anyone else could have remained standing given the precarious foot positioning. I’ve seen many spectacular rides on much larger waves, but Zack’s ride was the most spectacular I’ve seen in my life.

There was no sign of the land owner that day, and it was the last time I rode Zack’s right.

The free ride was over for me. In January I started a full load of calculus, physics, chemistry and other courses that were transferable to a 4-year institution. I attempted to surf Zack’s right during a winter break in coursework, and the surf conditions were correct that day, but when I arrived the human conditions were not. Zack was backed against the fence with the land owner and police giving him his own lesson. After the commotion, I tried to go in for a surf, but the owner was fed up and not allowing anyone across his land. According to Bruno, access to Zack’s right remains closed to this day. I think Zack, Bruno, Tim the electrician, and I all realize that we should have payed the two dollars. Waves may not carry a monetary cost, but access to them does, whether taxes or fees. However, I’ll still lug my gear a long distance to avoid a fee and not break the law.

I long ago moved away from Sonoma County and raised my family in an affordable suburb east of San Francisco, far from the ocean. I occasionally return to visit my dad and catch some Sonoma waves. During a recent visit, I caught up with Bruno and he told me Zack’s heart was failing. I told Bruno I had started this story, and he encouraged me to finish it before Zack passes.

Zack, thank you for being a friend to a clueless kid who was too lazy to take proper care of his bug and too young to comprehend all those things about swell direction, swell period, tide, and wind. I can say I use those insights now to squeeze in surf trips to OB while juggling parental, work, and church responsibilities. Zack, if you haven’t already accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, I hope you do as soon as possible. I want to surf with you in heaven. Believers have told me we get a new body that has no flaws. They also said there’s no sea in heaven so I better get my fill of waves while I’m here. But just because there is no Sea of Galilee, that doesn’t mean there is no ocean in heaven and a cove with a right that is forever perfect. Best of all, there is no access fee to heaven because Jesus already paid it for us.

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