The Waterfront (Part III)
Tales of Not So Ordinary Madness
Lifeguarding was an integral part of Edis’ life and identity. He loved his work, was proud of being a lifeguard, staying in top shape, and being an all-around waterman, not just a surfer. This is an essential aspect of not only who he was but what it means to be a well-rounded North Shore Big Wave Rider and Lifeguard. When I first got here, the lifeguards reigned supreme (guys like Roger Erickson, Terry Ahue, Mark Dombrowski, and Darrick Doerner, etc.) and they reflected a distinguished, honored tradition — a legacy — that stretched back not only to Eddie Aikau and Butch Van Artsdalen (archetypes of two of the best surfers of all time and the first two lifeguards on the North Shore), all the way back to the Duke (Kahanamoku) himself. While the Duke wasn’t a lifeguard, per se (as far as I know); he saved plenty of lives in the surf and otherwise exemplified what it meant — and looked like — to be a Hawaiian Waterman.
Edis aspired to and fulfilled that lofty standard. He was a solid swimmer, paddler, diver, and surfer, always in good shape — “Olympic Condition” as Owl would say. We both were. But he was more of an all-around waterman than me. I wasn’t a lifeguard. I was simply a surfer, swam a lot (when I lost my board while surfing and during the summer every day from the Sunset Point to Rockies: I still do), ran the beach (and underwater with pohaku rock on the seafloor — my house is surrounded by those rocks I collected from Kammieland), lifted some weights, and rode my mountain bike.
We shared a friendly competition in such respects, always taking the measure of the other — what Hesiod called “the Good Eris” — striving to embody the ideal.1 Thus, because Edis took great pride in being a Sunset Beach surfer as well as his job as a lifeguard, he maintained his fitness at an elite level; and I know that he was respected and admired by those he worked with — many, if not most, of the best watermen on the North Shore, Westside, and in Town. Just ask Jimmy Blears, Rick Williams, Butch Ukauka, Johnny Angel, Guy Pere or anyone else who shared the tower with him. If those Towers could speak . . . 2
Above and beyond surfing, we were united in a deep bond that was primarily aesthetic and intellectual. While I’m no Libertine, I am deeply philosophical, love good books, music, and art. I’m an artist essentially. So was Edis. Our lives became our primary work of art. And he turned me on to a lot of intriguing, edifying things, paramount among which (or whom) is Charles Bukowski. He became the North Star by which we navigated our way through life in those days.
He became the voice (and face) for (and of) our angst, aspirations, and anger. The Buk informed and fleshed out a template for being a man and an artist. Where one’s life — how one lives, thinks, dresses, speaks, eats, sleeps, surfs, etc. — becomes a work of art. The distinctive feature of this organic link between art and life (and vice versa) is consummated when one achieves a certain isomorphism between one’s nature and the Archetype of an Ideal, an incarnation (embodiment) of thought, word, and deed as an intuitive expression and natural balance of one’s character, body, and instinct.3 Edis was one of the very few people I’ve known who both understood and lived this way. He was serious about it, truly committed; and very subtle.
to sit in a small room
and drink a can of beer
and roll a cigarette
while listening to Brahms
on a small red radio
(“a horse with greenblue eyes”) — Bukowski
To be sure, Edis “rolled the dice” (as the Buk taught us) . . . and Edis went “all the way.”
The principal reason why we attempted to transform our lives — a chaotic inner world of Will to Power mixed with subjective doubt and aspiration — into works of art, I suppose, is that we both recognized the existential possibility of being truly authentic to those values, ideals, goals, and aspirations we prized and admired in others. We stylized ourselves (like an Acid Splash) and this was the Ethos by which we lived — a necessary rooting of a philosophical truth in a unity of style of what a surfing life meant for us. Eric Haas, our close, mutual friend — our brother — was integral to this project.
— Bukowski (“the strongest of the strange”)
Bukowski also both represented and eloquently expressed our raw contempt. Edis and I were decided and determined to remain underground, at a time and place (the North Shore) that — it seemed to us at least — was selling out and becoming way too commercial, mainstream, gentrified, and lame. If he could only see it now! How right we were. And while Edis was unfailingly polite, rather sweet and kind, with most everyone (unlike me), Edis and I despised everything average, common, and “for sale” — especially pro surfing, contests, and everything (and most everyone) that went with it. We were pretty hardcore in such respects and we did our best to keep our distance — the “pathos of distance” — from that corrupted rabble scene — a “widening of distances within the soul itself.”4
The Average Man
The Average Woman
BEWARE Their Love
Their Love Is Average, Seeks
But There Is Genius In Their Hatred
There is Enough Genius In Their
Hatred To Kill You, To Kill
Not Wanting Solitude
Not Understanding Solitude
They Will Attempt To Destroy
From Their Own
Not Being Able
To Create Art
They Will Not
— Bukowski (“The Genius of the Crowd”)
True enough in my observation and experience. Human, all too human. The resentment-driven masses (the rabble) want (need?) to destroy — or at least pollute — what they can’t have and will never fathom, much less understand.
Life is a well of joy; but where the rabble drinks,
there all wells are poisoned. Of all that is clean I
am fond; but I do not like to see the grinning maws
and thirst of the unclean.
— Nietzsche (“Thus Spoke Zarathustra” II § 6)
Thus it was and shall always be. We agreed on that point. “Great and fine things can never be common property: pulchrum est paucorum hominum (beauty is for the few),”5 Nietzsche observed elsewhere: “all things rare for the rare.” Mais Oui — But of course. For it is in distancing (physically, psychologically, spiritually) oneself from the common and commonplace that the “free spirit” cultivates those pursuits, attitudes, and habits that mark one as distinctive — noble, not to put too fine a point on it — in favor of activities and higher tasks such as the formation of the mind, the development of physical strength and agility, as well as the strenuous mastery of arts. Surfing exemplified this process of creative self-actualization for us both, the hub of a wheel of existence.
Our Guru Owl told us more than a few times: “Your success is their failure!” At first, I didn’t quite understand. On reflection, I guess I did, although it took me a long time to figure it out. Edis understood. He helped me to learn that lesson also. We struggled through each of our own various trials and tribulations — with girls, work, places to live, antagonists, etc. It wasn’t all maudlin and discontent, however. Far from it. We had a lot of fun for the most part. Lots of laughs and good times. Owl shared his magic with us (“the magic dust” as Eric would say — no, not heroin or cocaine, if that’s what you’re thinking — think inspirational Pixie Dust) in ways that enriched and enhanced our lives tremendously.
He gave us some good advice and, more importantly, he made us the best boards that not only saved our lives but helped us achieve our wildest possible dreams.6 For that (and more) I — and I’m sure Edis and Eric also — remain eternally grateful despite all the water under the bridge. In retrospect, I see now that that period (mid 1990s – early 2000s) was probably the high-water mark for us all, both individually and as integral parts of this underground community, in terms of the highest range of possibilities available to the erstwhile Mentor-Tutor relationship we shared with Owl. Nothing lasts though. Time destroys everything . . . And exercise great caution when standing too close to your Idol, for he’s likely to fall over on top of you sooner or later . . .
You revere me; but what if your reverence tumbles one day?
Beware lest a statue slay you. — Nietzsche (“Thus Spoke Zarathustra”)
Although it wasn’t all dark, deep, and dangerous, that’s where it would inevitably end up, at least for Edis. Nevertheless, he was in many ways light, carefree, and easy to be around. He respected everyone. Treated everyone gracefully, polite, very well-mannered. He was never rude. Edis exemplified Dignity and Class, even towards those he didn’t like (most people to be honest) and those who mistreated him (including me). Even when we lived together (for a several months at my place at Kammieland), we never had a big argument or a falling out. Although I can be very hard to tolerate or understand, much less be around, Edis was exceedingly patient, tolerant, and generous with me throughout, even and especially when we disagreed, which, of course we did (about many things). Yet we were friends and remained so until the day he died.
To be continued . . .
Huelo Hale Paumalu 2021
Eris is the Greek Goddess of “strife” and “discord.” Her Roman equivalent is Discordia, which means the same. Eris's Greek opposite is Harmonia, whose Roman counterpart is Concordia. In Hesiod’s “Work & Days” §§ 11–24, two different goddesses named Eris are distinguished:
So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the Earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are wholly different in nature. For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: her no man loves; but perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honor due.
But the other is the elder daughter of dark Night (Nyx), and the son of Cronus [Zeus] who sits above and dwells in the Aether, set her in the roots of the Earth: and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbor vies with his neighbor as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men. And potter is angry with potter, and craftsman with craftsman and beggar is jealous of beggar, and minstrel of minstrel.
The “Good Eris,” then, is that which spurs a man to admire his peer, to struggle and become as strong, beautiful, and prosperous as him. This the spirit of “Agon” (contest / competition / struggle) that moved the Archaic Homeric Greeks to greatness; whereas the “Bad Eris” provokes envy, jealously, destruction and war.
Which, in a manner or “speaking,” they could if (and when) the inimitable Butch Ukauka releases or publishes the contents of his infamous “Black Books" — journals he kept for decades while working and sitting in Tower #25 (and elsewhere). There's too much for me to say (here) about this Hawaiian gentleman who taught by example, not words so much — but he's good with them too.
Butch Ukauka was a lifeguard, surfer, golfer (his father was Ben Hogan’s caddy), all around player, bon vivant, observer of life, a writer. And more: son, father, friend — and worthy adversary — to many. Still is. I don't pretend to know much and do not pretend to define him either; but I do know that this Kanaka orignally from Town Side (Kaimuki?) is the real deal. I learned a lot from hm; he helped me; grueled me (when I needed it); and I call him a friend. . . . . He sold me a board that he had commissioned from Owl in the mid 1990s.
If this board could talk it would tell some good stories. The mighty “Butch Ukauka Model,” Owl and I called it, one of the prototypes for the full semi-gun design that became a staple in my quiver; much admired, as well as reviled, although few have mastered it. This was my first 10’10”, acquired from Butch in 1997-98, the epic El Niño season. It’s a “falsa” (not balsa wood but an airbrush spray) three stringer single fin with a box. I rode a million (or more) waves on this thing everywhere for years. It was actually stolen on Christmas morning from my outside rack in 1999 when I still lived on the beach at Kammieland. I was in total shock (desperation actually — I drove frantically around Oahu searching surf shops and various backyards and garages)— long story short: I got it back (via a strange Mike Miller negotiation — he financed the founding of Quiksilver, among other ventures) by paying a ransom to - Butch himself! True story. I still have it.
SEE: Nietzsche: “I profit from a philosopher only insofar as he can be an example. That he is capable of drawing whole nations after him through this example is beyond doubt; the history of India, which is almost the history of Indian philosophy, proves it. But this example must be supplied by his outward life and not merely in his books — in the way, that is, in which the philosophers of Greece taught, through their bearing, what they wore and ate, and their morals, rather than by what they said, let alone what they wrote.” (“Untimely Meditations,” “Schopenhauer as Educator” § 3)
SEE: Nietzsche “Beyond Good & Evil” § 257.
“Twilight of the Idols” (“What Germans Lack”) § 5.