The Secret to Success Is in the Waves

Courthouse News reporter Pat Pemberton riding his longboard in the California surf. (Pat Pemberton/CNS)

A few years ago, I started to write a story about the Doobie Brothers when I hit a wall.

Staring at the blank monitor with the brain waves of a bobble-head doll, I finally threw up my arms in frustration and declared, “I’m going surfing!”

Not out loud, of course. Because even as we prepare to celebrate the first California Surfing Day on Sept. 20, it’s probably not a good idea to let the bosses know you’re taking a long lunch to catch waves. But as I sat on my longboard, my head cleared of all that ailed me, something amazing happened in the saltwater.

My Doobie Brothers intro came to me.

Later, after repeating that paragraph in my head about 30 times so I wouldn’t forget it – it’s pretty hard to take notes in the ocean – my keyboard was on fire as I reflected on how surfing has made me a better journalist.

And I don’t just say that to justify surfing while on the clock (which I think, technically, qualifies me as a pro surfer). But any time I surf during a work day – be it before work, over lunch or after – I feel a cat-that-ate-the-canary satisfaction that puts me in a Good Place. A place that not only provided a greater appreciation of nature, but also peace of mind that makes work a whole lot easier.

The Legislature may have considered that when it declared Sept. 20 a day to honor the sport and protect the environment that makes it possible. And if it helps tourism a little bit as well, so be it – we’re happy to watch Kansans flail in the water as long as they spend the night or two in a local hotel and enjoy our California cuisine.

I’m not sure if any of the Doobie Brothers surf, but I do know plenty of other celebs do. And they agree with me – surfing helps your work.

“Surfing, if anything, helps me be relaxed enough so I can want to go back and write,” rockabilly crooner Chris Isaak once told me. “It just keeps you kind of mellow and balanced.”

I can’t argue with that. Have you ever heard his album “Baja Sessions”? Inspired by a surf trip, it will put you in a trance.

In the 70s, Stacy Peralta was the first major skateboarding celebrity – the highest-ranked professional, who helped the industry explode. But the future filmmaker’s celebrity happened only because he took up skating as a way to ride out sloppy surf.

“We all wanted to be professional surfers – that’s what we were shooting for,” he told me, his sunglasses reflecting the small waves at his adopted hometown of Cayucos. “We didn’t realize that the skateboard under our feet was going to be the vehicle that was going to take us all around the world.”

A skateboard legend who actually preferred to surf? I’d just reported a bombshell!

As a surfing entertainment writer, I always enjoyed discovering celebs who were surfers – like the time Bruce Springsteen’s saxophonist Clarence Clemons told me the band used to catch Jersey waves in between rehearsals and gigs. Or when ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons told me he had been surfing since he was 13.

“The waves are rather inviting,” he said from his hotel in Pismo Beach, and I wondered how much saltwater that beard of his could absorb.

His friend Dale Velzy, a surf brand icon, made him some wooden longboards that look like art pieces.

“We didn’t want to get them too dinged up,” said Gibbons, whose song “Tube Snake Boogie” is about a surfboard. “We’d go out on the medium days. If it was getting too fierce, we didn’t want to wind up on the rocks.”

Not all surfing celebs grew up with the sport.

Courthouse News reporter Pat Pemberton taking a surfing selfie. (Pat Pemberton/CNS)

While making his most famous film “The Buddy Holly Story,” actor Gary Busey also acted in “Big Wednesday,” a surf movie co-written by “Apocalypse Now” author and longtime surfer John Milius. Busey played football in college, but had never surfed until Milius taught him.

Yet before shooting was over, he was paddling into 15-foot surf – with a helpful tip about wiping out from former surf champ Gerry Lopez.

“He said, ‘Just be like a dish rag in a dryer,'” Busey recalled. “Relax completely because there’s nothing you can do to come out of that wave.”

Big wave pioneer Greg Noll gave me similar advice once.

Okay, now I’m just shamelessly name-dropping, which probably means it’s time for me to take a break.

If you wanna know how this piece ends, catch me out in the water.

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