Tributes to Will Borgeson by the
Posting to surfermag.com
by acqua.marina, who sent news to Will's death to AS' Close Encounters:
Hola amigos y amigas of Will Borgeson.
(Surfer, father, husband, & friend and a well known and respected marine
biologist at the Bodega Marine Lab here in Northern California. Also an
activist and fierce protector of Our Mother Ocean.)
Will and his wife were good friends of
mine and my husband - as couples we used to have dinners and barbeques
at each other’s houses, with our combined collective of 6 kids in tow.
As our kids grew up we all got busier and sort of drifted apart.
Even though we spent less time together
socially, Will was always in touch with my husband and his partners at
Hog Island Oyster Company on Tomales Bay (near Bodega Bay). Will was an
activist in marine ecology, and known as an authority on our local marine
environment. He could be thorny - would call it like it was, sometimes
pretty loudly through the media. He brought a few politicians and other
“community minded folks” to their knees over letters and articles he had
Will brought marine life inland when he
created a gigantic salt water aquarium at the Coddingtown Mall in Santa
Rosa. I remember him telling me that besides it being a good gig, his real
goal was to bring an awareness of the fragile beauty of the ocean’s creatures
to people who would otherwise never get the notion or the opportunity to
get any closer to the ocean. One day a serious leak began to quickly drain
the tank, putting all the fish at risk of dying. The mall shopping came
to a stand-still and a water bucket brigade was quickly started by customers
and shopkeepers, keeping the fish alive until help from the Marine Lab
and a plumber arrived. People were so distraught about the fish being endangered
by the accident. It was unreal how well loved those fish had become to
all those landlubbers. I’m sure even Will was surprised! The story made
the front page of the Press Democrat, the daily paper up here.
A little over a year ago I ran into Will
while surfing at Salmon Creek (without our spouses present). It was a beautiful,
rare warm day up here, and Will and I had a real heart to heart talk while
we warmed up in the sun. Will and I were both married to non-surfing spouses,
and we talked about how living with a surfer could be a source of irritation
for the non-surfer. After this chance meeting we began a short flurry of
emails where we revealed more to each other about what we were going through
in our lives. We tried to help each other understand our relationships
with our spouses and others... sharing the different viewpoints of being
male and female, and always sharing the stoke of surfing. I
was very blessed to have gotten to know
Will better this way.
As you may know by now, Will took his own
life on Thursday, February 7th, 2002. I am so sorry and
saddened that this man who so loved life
and all the world’s creatures would extinguish his own precious life. I
heard that there will be a memorial for him on his birthday, Valentine’s
Day. I don’t have any details yet. I’m leaving for Oahu tomorrow, and would
like to plan a paddle out for March or April when I get back... but not
sure if someone else is also planning this. I know he has many, many friends
in Northern and Southern California. I have already found out that some
of you on this BB
knew Will and have surfed and traveled
with him. (He has family in Central CA and attended UCSB for his degree).
As I find out more, I will post details.
I have reread his beautiful letters and
will attempt to post some excerpts later when I can figure out what is
appropriate to share. I have some classic stuff that he wrote about Rincon,
Caprpenteria, Makaha, the North Shore, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz as well
as the whole scene north of the Golden Gate. He was a really exceptional
person, really smart and a very core surfer. If you do a search on
the internet for Will Borgeson you will find out more about the marine
and surf adventures of a really interesting
guy. RIP, Will. You will be missed.
Peace and love to you all - my computer
and i took a much needed break from the internet, (forced on me when my
computer bit the dust)! After my trip to Oahu, I'll try to get back here
more often. Live everyday as well as you can, take care of each other.
Ric (#9) con't.
Man... I am numbed. Of all the guys I have
conversed with in alt.surfing Will is the last person I thought would check
out this way. The guy had so much going on, a full life, you know.
Will and I talked quite a bit about cars
instead of surfing... his dad, Griff Borgeson, worked for a lot of the
car magazines all thru the fifties and sixties... Hot Rod, Rod & Custom,
Sports Cars Illustrated, Road & Track. They moved from SF to LA when
Will was 5 so his dad could take a job at Motor Trend. He did road tests
for all these mags, so Will grew up learning to drive on a wide variety
exoticars. Griff also knew Ed "Big Daddy"
Roth, Von Dutch, Robert Williams and that gang. His photos are in books
like "Kustom Kulture." We especially enjoyed talking about Roth and
the wierd art his dad got from him... such as one semi-abstract oil painting,
about which Roth said that "Most of what a woman has to say is in her eyes
and between her legs." As you might expect the painting consisted of eyes,
pussies etc... kind of Picasso-esque along with the Roth look. Not the
thing his step-mom would want around the
house I'm sure... in fact, when Will looked for it later, it was gone.
Even with surfing as a primary activity
and diving as a second, Will still had a heavy car jones (fleet of BMW's,
including a 535 IS and a fully tricked out, sleeper "1600"... really a
bored out 2002 with dual sidedraft Webers, etc.; raced Formula Ford
for a couple seasons until he realized surfing was cheaper, cleaner and
more fun. But he still loved nailing Hwy 1 in that white "1600", which
his wife refered to as the Albino Bullet. He went thru a deal with a local
shaper whom he blew off on hwy 1, in a friendly way of course, involving
him making semi-serious death threats... like he was endangering him!)
When Will was 11 & 12 he used to race
karts down that at the Go-Kart track in Azusa. There was also a good track
right near him, in Agoura. Thought his back was still geeked out from childhood
excursions going off the track there.
Up until about '97 his dad still wrote
about cars, did sexy coffee-table books about the great marques, Ferrari,
Alfa, Bugatti etc. Lived in southern France; Will never visited him there
to explore Provence and the Bay of Biscay
one day, mostly a surf, wine and food trip is how it was shaping up. Griff
Borgeson passed away in about June '97. Will did make the trip, but to
handle the estate with his step-mom.
Will said UC had a dandy retirement plan,
that if he hung there for another 8 years or so he'd be set up. At the
time his hot interests were triathlon (did his first event in September
'99; and boats - was
picking up a little Laser sailboat, and
his job seemed to involve ever more ocean navigation, marine operations
etc. He hope to retire to the Santa Barbara area (condo in Carpinteria,
5 minutes from Rincon maybe), and have something that would make it out
to the Channel Islands, either under power or sail or both. An Erickson
30 would be sweet, he said.
We also talked a lot about guitar playing.
If you search rec.music.makers.guitar.acoustic you will find a lot of cool
stuff Will was into. His daughter Bonnie, 18, is doing really well with
it, and especially with her singing voice, which he said was awesome. And
that if she plays her cards right and has some luck, He thought she could
make a career of music. Me thinks Will's departure will surely enhance
the depth of the music she makes.
Anyways, Will was a cool guy, never gave
me any shit. I had hoped to meet him one day... we would have had a lot
to talk about. I am coming off one of our bodysurfing brothers ending his
own life... these things cannot be understood. I will miss talking with
Will... and his signature smiley --> ;=> which I like to use occasionally.
Peace water brother.
- no 9 (Rick Ciccacio)
Subject: Will Borgeson as I knew
Date: 2002-02-14 15:09:54 PST
Dear AS crew,
It's been several days since Tim Maddux
called me with the bad and scarcely believable news: Will Borgeson took
his own life. I'm shocked, disappointed and profoundly sad.
My initial disbelief was along the lines
of, "But he would never. Could there have been foul play?" Then I
was angry with him. "Jeezus Will. What were you thinking of? How could
you do this to us? You needed support? You had but to ask!" Then I started
arguing with him for his life: "Didn't the glorious, offshore winter California
warm spell weather of that last fateful week make you glad to be alive?
Your triathlon-honed body wasn't giving out just yet, was it? Sure you'd
experienced some heavy changes recently, but wasn't this the beginning
of a new era for you? You were looking to the future, right? Right?" Now
I'm somewhere between depression and acceptance. It's hard to believe I'll
never see him again. But Will doesn't live here any more. I for one am
terribly sad that my good friend chose to opt out of a future that included
plans to relocate to my stretch of the beach and spend more time with me.
But he touched many lives deeply and the personal loss is widespread. If
nothing else, his death can help us all focus more clearly on why life
is dear and what we'll do with the days that remain to each of us. We've
lost one of our best and all that remains of him now is what we each take
forward with us.
I've had more personal contact with Will
than most of you all on AS, so I thought I'd paint a portrait of our man
from northern California as I knew him. I won't repeat the details already
posted by no9, though I can confirm many of them. And I'll include details
of his final year, during which I saw him twice and corresponded with him
I met Will in the summer of '84 when I
was an undergraduate student doing a great marine bio field course at UC
Davis' Bodega Bay Marine Lab in Sonoma County, CA. I recall seeing a diagram
of the supervisory hierarchy on the wall somewhere and in those days Will
was right at the bottom of it, 9 years into his eventual 27 year career
there. I think he was low man on the totem pole in that academic institution
largely due to his lack of an advanced degree, but he did good work. His
gig was maintaining the aquaria and providing support to a number of aquaculture
projects and wet lab setups. He had (I believe) a BS in Marine Biology.
He looked then almost exactly like he looked last
year: shortish, lean but solid and fit,
long brown hair, brown eyes and a full beard covering a hint of acne scarring
on his cheeks. Deep voice. The years only deepened the smile and squint
lines around his eyes. My own hair should last half as long. His car was
a weatherbeaten but well tuned BMW with surfracks and a "skateboarding
is not a crime" bumper sticker. Somewhere in the late '80's he stopped
skating, possibly as the result of a bad fall. Years later he said his
bones just weren't up to it any more. His office had tall bookshelves of
scientific journals, papers, and textbooks, and a view to the bluffs and
the sea. He showed me pictures of other local spots in other seasons. Pictures
of people and places in Hawaii. A picture of his daughter (probably Erin-
not sure today).
We surfed together about a dozen times
that unusually sunny summer, mostly at Horseshoe Cove right in front of
the lab. The spot was so fickle and tide dependent, I called it "The Tease."
A wild, foamy outside takeoff would launch you way out onto a rapidly fading
shoulder. A definitive full rail cutback would redirect you back towards
the reforming hook as the wave wrapped around and the onshore winds began
to blow cross/offshore and plane away the chop. Then we'd drop over the
ledge into a lined up, cleaned up inside racetrack section that on good
days would stand up and zip off down the sand into the cove with shoulder
high, hollow perfection. Awooo! I got the wave of the day once and he razzed
me about it, envious. Will had a big competitive streak when in the water.
The only thing his detractors ever really knew or cared about him as far
as I could tell was that he got a lot of waves when they surfed with him.
I think that said a lot more about them than about him. He always treated
me and my friends with gracious generosity, respect and integrity. I liked
and admired him immediately.
Back in the '80's he was running afoul
of some local surfers who resented his privileged access to the surf spots
on the lab I was fortunately privy to that summer. He brought people in
to surf as much as he could, but rules were rules and it was his job to
uphold them. Some of those guys made such a stink that eventually
the Director banned all surfing at the lab. Will had to surf offsite spots
more then and it took years to make a truce with certain guys. Will took
to riding longer boards partly to outpaddle folks who would try and attack
him in the lineup. Threats were bandied and sometimes carried through on.
Will was a peaceful enough guy, but he took no shit from anyone and he
really rankled when folks engaged him in ego-fencing of any kind. He sure
as hell wasn't going to let anyone tell him he couldn't surf where he wanted
Longtime AS readers will remember Will's
peaceful but forceful words about turning the other cheek to avoid cycles
of escalating violence in personal vendettas. Something like (I paraphrase),
"You push me, so I hit you. Then your friends jump me, so I vandalize your
car. Then you break into my garage, so I burn down your house. And where
does that lead us? We don't want that kind of a world." I think these kinds
of threats and some of those actions took place in those years. I saw a
STOP sign at Salmon Creek that summer amended by some local miscreant to
read "STOP Will the Kook." He eventually earned grudging respect for his
surfing and his character, but I think he had a way of polarizing public
opinion about him. Mostly it stemmed from having a stubborn ego of his
own and from his being something of a wave hog. In his own words, "...I'll
be, as usual, walking the line between being aggro and trashing my board
in collisions, and not getting what I feel to be my fair share of what's
Fast forward to 1995: I started reading
AS and quickly recognized my old friend Will. We renewed our friendship
via Usenet and p-mail. During one of his annual pilgrimages to Rincon
I spotted him in the lineup, paddled up and greeted him in person for the
first time in 11 years. He looked me over for about one second and calmly
greeted me by name without missing a beat. It was head high to half again
overhead and really classic. It was crowded and I was getting starved for
waves, but he got his share by any means necessary, as usual. He was riding
a thick 8'-something hybrid stick. I'm sure I heard someone grumble about
him dropping in, but it was that kind of a day. He was super stoked just
to be there.
Will ego was tempered with a big dose of
genuine humility and he had a really good traveler's attitude. He told
me about going to Cabo San Lucas on business and surfing good waves there.
I asked him if Mexican localism was a problem and he said, "No esta una
problema, si hablando espanol." He told me about growing up in Thousand
Oaks and freaking out his white friends by going down to Oxnard on occasional
Friday nights to play pool in Mexican bars on the other side of the tracks.
He said the white guys were so afraid to go down there, but the Mexican
guys were really friendly to anyone who spoke some Spanish and showed a
little respect for their culture. Will was down with that program. I tried
unsuccessfully for a few years to set up a Baja surf trip out of several
busy schedules because he was just the kind of guy you'd want to have along
Will knew a lot about sharks and was a
longtime advocate of their protection. He seldom missed an opportunity
to educate folks on AS about them. We discussed surfing a notoriously sharky
and excellent spot at the mouth of Tomales Bay once where he disregarded
a confirmed shark attack out there as, "A statistical anomaly." He respected
the toothy "men in the gray suits", but he surfed most of his life in the
"crimson triangle" and never feared them.
He never backed down from trouble, but
he had a certain way of evoking a more aggressive response from some folks
than might have been warranted. The last time we surfed together (in the
Cove at Rincon) he suddenly sat up, stared at the beach and muttered, "Hey!
That guy's f**king with my towel. I gotta deal with this." He went straight
in and had a pretty heated conversation with a guy he later characterized
as, "A major league a**hole who was intent on teaching his son how to be
one too." I didn't see what happened but was left with the distinct impression
that a truly mellow guy would have let the whole thing slide.
Will was certainly a family man through
and through. He left 4 children behind, ages 19? to 33?. Three daughters
and a son. One grandkid. I think they all turned out pretty cool. As the
arrival date of my first child neared, Will and I would chat about kids.
To some extent I looked to him for advice on fatherhood. Shortly before
my daughter was born Will wrote something like, "Don't worry. Kids
are a gas and you'll be a great daddy..." That reassured me quite a bit
at the time.
Will was proud of his kids. He was especially
close to his eldest, Erin. I met his daughter Bonnie on two occasions,
and played 'Wild Horses' on guitar while she sang once. Will was her biggest
and most enthusiastic booster. But it wasn't all fatherly pride; she does
have a very nice voice. Will made a lot of effort in his last few years
to connect her to useful people who could help further her career as a
Once Will realized I was a musician too,
our conversations and e-mails began to feature regular lengthy discussions
of music, especially what some have called 'insurgent country' music. He
was an avid collector of vinyl records right to the end. Will became a
student of guitar fairly late in his life. He found a lot of stuff to play
on OLGA (the online guitar archives). The last time we got together in
person, last March, we didn't really have the time to break out the guitars
and pick some. We deferred that, "until next time." If we're going to play
together now, I'll have to channel him. And that would never be his style.
I hope his beautiful old guitar and record collection go to someone who
can appreciate them.
He would stay at the Carpinteria State
Campground annually for a Rincon pilgrimage and in pre-cellphone days was
hard to get in touch with if he didn't call me. Once we went down there
looking for his campsite only to find an empty parking space between a
big row of campers. He had already moved on. One year he just had too many
other people to visit to make time for me. I got phone message after phone
message from Will at the homes of various old friends scattered from LA
to Santa Barbara Counties. My wife was beginning to tease me about my "imaginary
friend Will" when there was a knock at the door and in he walked. Once
he had met my wife and daughter, he inquired after them often and wished
them kind regards at the close of every e-mail. Talk about "family
values?" This man had 'em.
Will loved women of all kinds. He raised
3 girls with all the love he could muster and only in recent years would
he at times gripe mildly about the effort required to nurture two teenaged
daughters at the same time. He stood by his wife through many long
and sometimes very trying years. When I first met him he and Sue had not
been together for long. Will seemed to have embraced monogamy fully, but
not without plenty of wistful glances back to his carefree days. And near
the end, when his marriage was falling apart he was still making heroic
plans for one last effort to save it. But he constantly indulged in Jimmy
Carter-style "infidelity in (his) heart" kind of fantasies. Pictures of
old girlfriends shared space with pictures of his wife on his desk.
Parts of his home were filled with romantic, old art nouveau drawings of
women in sheer flowing fabrics. Of them, he said, "No, it's not Maxfield
Parrish, though it looks similar. His stuff was never so cheesecakey as
this. But I like cheesecake..." And he liked more than most men to talk
about his libido. I came to see it as obnoxiously endearing after a while,
but it was almost inevitable that at some point in a long conversation,
Will would volunteer unsolicited details about what was up with his dick.
I'd be like, "Um, thanks for sharing Will…"
Ric Harwood and I camped in my surfbus
in Will's driveway once. Will took us to a premier Mendocino County spot
on one of the biggest days I've ever been in the water. He showed real
cojones, making some steep and windy drops on a seriously consequential
day. One reason Will loved that spot is that it's a world class wave- with
a really good restaurant immediately onshore. We ate great food there and
Will smoked me out like I haven't been smoked out since my college years.
He always did like his herb. I posted a 3-part account of that trip to
AS a few years back.
All AS readers know that Will was very
fond of good food and drink and would enthusiastically discuss minutiae
of the subject at great length given the slightest encouragement. He'd
give me detailed descriptions of exactly what I should order in exactly
which little Mexican dive in King City, CA, exactly what the carnitas tasted
like and why their salsa bar wasn't quite up to snuff. We even discussed
our respective restaurant dreams in p-mail:
Will: "...I have recurrent
dreams about mythical, impossible-to-find ethnic eateries..."
Surfer Bob: "Really? I've
had a few myself. Mostly Chinese places. For some years I had a series
of Chinese restaurant dreams that left me wondering, "Man! What's up with
this?" Never threatening, just exotic, distinctive, and persistent..."
Will: "Yeah, the way mine
tend to go is, "I think it's right around this corner. No, maybe
the next corner." Ad infinitum. Usually the spot's never actually
found, or if it's found food's never actually ordered or consumed.
Usually it's Mex, but sometimes other exotica. It's basically a search
for the Holy Grail that never quite pans out."
Surfer Bob: " Maybe it's
too hard to dream of eating actual divine food because the feeling is too
visceral to imagine... When I'm thirsty I sometimes dream of drinking water.
But the water is like ghost water that does not refresh..."
Will: "Oh, I dunno...I've
had some pretty refreshing wet dreams. ;=> "
I for one intend to honor Will's memory
by cooking the green rice recipe in 'The Coyote Café' cookbook by
famous CA cuisine chef Mark Miller. Will highly recommended it and it's
one of the few recipes in that book of over-the-top entrees that doesn't
call for impossible ingredients like mesquite-smoked wild boar meat.
The last time I surfed with Will was at
Rincon in March, 2001. Shoulder to head high waves, clean, manageable
crowd, and super fun. I watched Will decompress, relax and fill with stoke
before my eyes as we took turns riding deep into the Cove. My last wave
was a glorious low tide, hollow green glide almost to the stairs. Will
was on the next wave, 20% bigger and longer. It was still head high as
he passed the Callbox. I could see him grinning from 50 yards away. Then
he did something I couldn't fathom: he started hopping before he fell in
the final dumpy section. I called, "OK you win. Your wave was bigger and
better and you rode it further. But, dude, it was tacky of you to bunny
hop like that! What- you couldn't keep your trip gliding on that dream
wave? Maybe you need a longer board, old man." I smiled. It was a lighthearted
moment. He looked at me without any detectable trace of irony and said,
"That was the best wave I've surfed all winter. I was so stoked I was jumping
After that surf we drove into Carpinteria
and got burritos at The Spot. We hung out in his bitchin' old BMW surfmobile
barefoot in the afternoon sunshine, ate, listened to Gram Parsons tapes,
and just chilled. At the time it occurred to me that I hadn't done much
of that kind of hanging out with a male friend just listening to old music
and talking about it like it really mattered since I was in High School.
It was so pleasant and comfortable and relatively purposeless. Writing
my dissertation has made it really hard to take the time to hang out like
that. Will told me about messing around with Gram's girlfriend back when
Gram was a hugely influential rock star recording 'Sweethearts of the Rodeo'
with the Byrds and Will was a just kid eager for an older woman to show
him the way. Another dick tale.
You know, Will was really there for most
of the stuff we all just read about today from the Golden Age of Surfing.
He was surfing Malibu in '62 and got personally snaked and snarled at by
Miki Dora. The rest of us have formed opinions about the guy second hand,
but Will was there. He didn't like Dora because Dora routinely tried
to run him over with his big heavy longboard and treated him with snarling
contempt at a very impressionable time in his life. If Will says Dora treated
a lot of other people the same way, day in and day out, I believe him.
Will was a straight shooter and I was in diapers at the time. Where were
you in '62? Will was in the lineup at the center of the surfing
universe, taking notes.
Will's sister moved to Kauai a few years
back and Will started vacationing over there. He met Margo Oberg surfing
Acid Drops. With his good character, good surfing and "humble but take
no shit" attitude, he was accepted in some famously exclusive Kauai lineups
by Titus Kinimaka and other seriously Hawaiian locals who have turned plenty
of hopeful haole surfers away at the gates to the kingdom. That's
some testament to how real he was. Plenty of folks cop personas and play
characters on AS (and that's totally cool for those that want to), but
Will's act was the real Will. He had no use for role playing. He
only knew how to be himself, take it or leave it. He told me about
how he went on a road trip with a friend who revealed himself to be quite
a prick when the rubber met the road and how when they got home Will fired
him. He just said, "You're fired as my friend. I won't spend time with
you any more because you are not worth my time. Don't come around here
any more. Goodbye." It wasn't a game or a ploy-just a simple statement
of fact from a guy who knew that life was too short to spend time with
people who aren't worth it. I admired him for that.
I have not been reading AS much recently,
so it came as a surprise to me that he stopped posting a year ago. He and
I traded about 30 p-mail after he dropped off AS. He gave me good advice
about solving some aquarium problems I was having. We discussed lots of
musical ideas. He mixed and mailed me a cassette of Gram Parsons tunes.
He urged me to check out Allison Krause's new album and also a new bluegrass
outfit called Nickel Creek. As the next stage of my life started coming
together, his started coming apart. He told me quite a bit about some very
heavy revelations and family matters going back 20 years that I feel
not at liberty to discuss here. He hinted at even more things that he wouldn't
discuss in e-mail. He told me he and his wife had separated, but he didn't
want to move out of the house he financed with his family inheritance.
He took an extended vacation to Kauai to get away from it all and seek
other options for living. He explored options for a move to Carpinteria.
He scored some really good surf and sent me some surf reports from Kauai.
He responded to my accounts from Rincon. Excerpts from several of his last
p-mails to me follow:
Thu, 18 Oct 2001
This too (breakup of marriage) shall pass,
but it is major. It may sound a little paradoxical, but I haven't
felt this happy since the night Bonnie and Sue survived Bonnie's 2 month
premature birth, almost 19 years ago. For most of those years I've
been troubled... That's all over and it's an immense relief. I will never
give up hope that Sue and I will find each other again, but if it should
happen, it's a long ways off... I'll be busy with many, many other interests,
and I'm totally stoked about that! Take care, Will
Fri, 19 Oct 2001
(discussion of Will's potential next career
moves). "...In any case the world's my oyster, and if there's anything
I know how to do, it's how to open, slurp and savor an oyster."
Sun, 4 Nov 2001
"I bought a killer hi-per short-long the
other day...8'0" thruster, perfect nose with lots of rocker, trick tail
with subtle tunnel through the fins - one of those magic boards.
Got an amazing deal on it... Oh well the tide's dropping, time to get wet!
See you, Will
Date: Fri, 9 Nov 2001
"The music here is unreal. So many
hot guitar players. Bonnie has played 2 gigs at the Princeville Hotel,
which... makes the Monterey Plaza... look like Motel 6. ... She was sitting
in with my friend Mark who's one of the best guitarists on the planet,
and, sequentially, his two vocalists, both of whom are awesome in every
way and both of whom think Bonnie's great. She is already building
a solid network of friends and protectors here..."
"In ways, things couldn't be much stranger.
I've had good contact with my sister, but she is up to her ears in various
alligators here and I hope to get her off the island when I leave Sunday...can't
really go into detail now, but suffice to say everyone involved is going
through major changes."
"Yesterday the surf ratcheted up a big
notch. Hanalei was solid 10-12' faces. Not crowded. My
8' mini-tanker was just about at its limit, but I did catch about 6 smaller,
~8' face waves before getting caught inside and demoralized. It was
stone glass, very fast-moving humps of walled-up slick water pitching out
radically... Very impressive, and thus far the major go-out of the trip.
I plan to go up the west side later today and check out Polihale, which
reminds me a bit of Jalama, with a little Pipeline thrown in. The
N swells have to wrap a bit to get in there, with hopefully a little energy
scrubbed off into the head-hi range - it's going to mack again today at
Hanalei and something just a little tamer'd be nice."
Sat, 10 Nov 2001
Surfer Bob: "...We just bought a house
on Poli in Ventura..."
Will: "Right, I lived on Poli for 100 days,
actually 80 with time off for good behavior. ;=>
Surfer Bob: "Sounds like there's a story
here you can tell me in person some time (since he was talking about doing
time in the county jail). I gather you weren't there on a research project.
Will: "'Zackly.. We're staying for
another week (on Kauai)!"
Mon, 12 Nov
"Hey, Robert. Well, here's one I
don't really want to send but...the nice new board ate shit today at Hanalei.
...it was a perfect and magic board and now it's ...well you can probably
imagine how I'm
"...One thing that's a little weird here
is an occasional sense of racial prejudice - white folks sometimes get
dissed in subtle ways. I still really dig it here, but like everywhere
else, it has its little downsides. Hasta, Will"
The last e-mail I received from Will was
just after Thanksgiving, 2001. He was back in Sonoma County. At the time,
I took it to be pretty heavy, but filled with a sense of forward looking
optimism. In any case, I was confident that Will would ride out his current
troubles because he had such a robust and well-centered sense of himself
and an optimistic world view. And it was almost time to meet him at Rincon
again! In retrospect, it seems to me there was more darkness there than
I dared read into it at the time. I can now imagine that he had already
decided to end his life when he wrote this. Likely we'll never know for
sure. It follows, x-rated dick tale heavily edited for discretion:
"Hey, Robert. Whoa, things would
have trouble being more different for me now if they tried really hard.
While on Kauai, a little bird told me that a certain woman here has had
the hots for me for many years, knew that Sue and I were newly separated,
and might welcome a call from me upon my return. She got that call
... This is not love (whatever that might actually be) - it is fabulous
sex and excellent companionship with a gorgeous, smart gal who thinks the
world of me on every level. Perhaps needless to say, my spirits are
"Bonnie's doing great on Kauai; her birthday
is New Years Eve and not coincidentally I arrive on the island that very
day for a 10-day visit. Can hardly wait. Xmas will be awkward here,
to say the least; BML (Bodega Marine Lab) is a mess in many ways; some
shit has gone wrong lately (water damage to house) but even that has an
up-side with respect to selling the place in 8 months or so - Bonnie's
former room will be fully re-done on insurance $; I will camp there for
a while. We are also about to remodel the adjoining bathroom.
So I will have a nice little suite to cruise..."
"Haven't bothered to surf since my return
- hasn't been that great - I'm now really thinking of Kauai as home, and
that I'm basically phasing out of NorCal. I feel that I'm riding
a set wave of life - carving a high line and looking ahead to be sure I
don't wipe out. Hope all goes extremely well for you & the family
as your own lives go through very exciting changes. I still may relocate
to Carpinteria for a couple of years while working at some job at UCSB
to stay in the retirement system and yet still escape Sonoma Co.; this
would likely happen next fall or so (in time for the Rincon season).
If this works out, I do of course look forward to many surf, jam, and rap
sessions with you. Take care, Robert, and best of the holidays to
you & yours! -Will"
Some 9 years ago SURFER magazine published
a letter I wrote in which I recounted the suicide of a despondent young
non-surfer. I opined that surfers don't go out like that because surfing
provides a very basic, excellent and enduring reason to stick around and
look forward to every tomorrow morning. "Surfers don't off themselves (I
wrote) because if they did they would miss the next wave. And there's always
a next wave." And now one of the brightest stars in my pantheon of minor
heroes and role models has gone and done just that. Shit. One of my basic
tenants of hope has been shattered. Now that I've finally gotten to where
Will was when we met (good scientist job, homeowner, familyman, all happening
on the coast in a good surf zone so I can surf for life) I wanted to show
him my new scene. I was so proud of the praise he gave my little family
on his last visit and what he said about the love he saw there. I was looking
forward to him retiring to my area and boating to offshore surf spots together.
I'll have to learn how to pilot those boats on my own now if I'm going
to get there and find other surf buds to accompany me on those adventures.
His tales about one particular offshore reef make me sure that I'll find
his spirit lurking there when I do finally arrive.
Will didn't seem like a very spiritual
kind of guy. I never heard him speak of any religious convictions. I doubt
he believed in a life after this one. He had a biologist's appreciation
of his place in the natural world. I trust his ashes will be returned to
the sea he loved for recycling. He was definitely a loving and appreciative
son of Mother Ocean, and a lifelong member of Tom Blake's "Church of the
Open Sky." About a year ago we exchanged some p-mail about what turned
out to be his second-to-last trip to Rincon:
Will: "...It was fun, but pretty small.
Too short a trip!"
Surfer Bob: "You know, not to go all maudlin
on you or anything, but that sounds kind of like an allegory for life.
I'm sure that will be one of the thoughts that crosses my mind in my very
last moments on Earth ("It was fun but pretty small.. Too short a trip!").
OTOH surfing seems like the most worthwhile and rewarding way to spend
a short life. If your whole life really does flash before your eyes before
you check out, I'm going to get a replay of a whole big bunch of really
fun waves that all will remind me how well I'd spent my time."
Will: "Many (non-surfers of course) would
say that surfing is a wank activity repetitious and pointless. To
quote my wife (in one of her more piqued moments), "All you care about
is a good wave and a good f**k." To which I said, "What's your point,
dear?" I do care about other things of course, such as career accomplishments,
but good surfing, good sex, good camaraderie, good music, good food and
drink and smoke, a good book or movie, a challenging bike ride through
beautiful terrain - these are the kinds of things that matter to
In retrospect it sums up what Will thought
he was all about. He was a lifelong surfer, stylish and brave. He was a
good marine biologist and a good husband and father and friend for all
the right reasons. He understood that life was for the living and he knew
how to live well. Last year when we were talking about Will retiring
near Rincon I told him about a really old guy who used to ride way out
on the shoulder in the Cove, cheered on by all who saw him. He surfed into
his '80's I think. Will said, "I want to be that guy." I'm so sorry he
changed his mind about that. I guess it's up to us now.
Will doesn't live here any more. But he
does in my heart. Bye Will. I'll never forget you.
With great love and respect,
Church of the Open Sky
with Will Borgeson in '84, words and pictures
An atmospheric sketch (with pictures!)
of a surf session with Will Borgeson twenty years ago this month
I met Will Borgeson in the summer of 1984
when I was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley doing Ralph Smith's
excellent marine biology field course at UC Davis' Bodega Bay Marine Lab
in Sonoma County, CA. Will was the tech guy who maintained the aquaria
and supported all the wet lab setups and aquaculture projects. I first
saw him in the water
at day's end, surfing this little wave
breaking where no surf had been even half an hour before. I hooted. He
waved. When he came in he introduced himself and offered to loan me a board.
I thanked him and arranged to have a friend drive my board up from southern
California that weekend.
Will and I surfed together about a dozen
times that unusually sunny summer, mostly at Horseshoe Cove right in front
of the lab. The spot was so fickle and tide dependent, I called it "The
Tease." A local harbor seal had it dialed in. He'd hang around the lineup
just the right tide. When it all came
together and the wave materialized he'd fly like a shadowy torpedo through
those fleeting green walls, while we scrambled for boards and wetsuits.
There were two distinct sections. A wild, foamy outside takeoff would launch
way out onto a rapidly fading shoulder.
A definitive full rail cutback would redirect you back towards the reforming
hook as the wave wrapped around into the cove where the onshore winds blew
cross/offshore and planed away the chop. Then you'd drop over the ledge
into a lined up, cleaned up inside racetrack section that on good days
would zip off into the sandy cove with shoulder high, hollow perfection.
Then as now it was an election year and
an Olympic year. That summer Ronald Reagan, running for his second term
as President, tried to score points with the youth of America by claiming
Bruce Springsteen's anthem "Born in the USA" as his own theme song. The
Boss told The Chief to listen more closely to his lyrics and encouraged
his fans to register to vote.
That summer Penthouse magazine published
nude pictures of Miss America and they took away her crown. I guess we
were all supposed to want her, but not in that way. Cindi Lauper told us
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and waited for us "Time After Time." Everybody
danced while Huey Lewis sang "I Want a New Drug."
Nancy Reagan told us to "just say no to
drugs" but no one listened to her. Everyone from the CIA to the Muhajadeen
to the Contras to John Delorian was paying their bills with drug money,
but only poor black men were going to jail for it. Half a world away Iraqis
and Iranians were slaughtering each other and we were backing Saddam Hussein
though his chemical weapons use embarrassed
us. In Afghanistan, young Osama bin Laden and his recruits were "freedom
fighters," and our operatives worked shoulder to shoulder with Muslim extremists
and heroin drug lords to fight "the evil empire." (= the USSR, not yet
our friends). It only made sense in The Great Communicator's famous
Back home The Gipper proclaimed it was
"Morning in America" and the Olympic Games unfolded with great pageantry
in Los Angeles. Windsurfing was introduced as a specialty event and competition
took place at the beach where I learned to surf. At days' end when The
Tease was flat we'd watch the Olympic athletes over burgers at a very rural
tavern with "the coldest beer in town!" just down the road from Will's
It was an El Nino year, which was tough
for local fishermen but interesting for marine biology students. Southern
fish, birds, and plankton normally strangers to the coast of northern California
were turning up all around. I practiced playing guitar with fingerpicks
wrote songs about water, sand, and women.
I wisely avoided entanglements with a devastatingly cute but alarmingly
manipulative classmate who looked just like my ex-girlfriend. I kept my
head down, worked hard, learned a lot about marine invertebrates, and earned
an A. I filled my sister's VW bug full of friends, drove them to bars with
live music every weekend, and surfed as much as I could that glorious summer.
One day, 20 years ago this month, I took
pictures of the surf in the cove. It was one of the better days of the
season. Before I paddled out I handed my camera to a classmate on the beach
with instructions to shoot the whole roll. He was not a surfer and missed
action shots, but he got a few good ones
of the inside section. All pictures were shot from the beach with a hand-held
Olympus OM1, 50mm lens, Kodachrome 64 film. Here are some of them.
The outside, starting to look worthwhile.
Get out there before it shuts down!
The inside, just before I paddled out.
One cute girl to avoid. Think Cathy Ames
from Steinbeck's "East of Eden."
Me on my 6'1" Aipa-styled single-fin stinger.
Huh? What thruster revolution?
A Hawaiian guy I only surfed with this
once. I don't recall his name, but he was light on his feet and stylish.
Will had been surfing this place for years
and had it wired.
The best shot of the bunch. I know that
I got the wave of the day and that I got tubed. Will, who was very competitive
in the water (and too far inside to go), razzed me about it enviously at
the time. Will and my friend Dave later reviewed a 3"x5" print of this
and agreed, "That looks like a yellow board. Must be you, Bob." I
wondered why it didn't look quite as big or as hollow as I remembered.
I figured my rookie photographer must've missed the cover-up. I had that
small print on my wall for years.
When I scanned the slide at high resolution
last year and took a closer look I found it was definitely not me in the
pocket, but Will. That's me paddling wide above Will, grinning ear-to-ear
on my way back from the sweet, shoulder-high, cover-up shack I remembered.
My rookie photographer did miss it. This is the best picture I have of
my friend Will Borgeson doing what he loved best, in the late afternoon
sunshine at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab where he worked for 27 years. http://homepage.mac.com/tbmaddux/rtwillsurfpics/will3b.jpg
The tide filled in a tad and the wave shut
down, as it always did eventually. Will and I went in. Dave stayed out
for another 20 minutes hoping against hope for another gem. I shot this
picture of him shortly before he accepted that it was 'Game Over' for another
Summer ended and I went back to Berkeley
for fall semester. Springsteen played 4 hours straight to a sold-out crowd
at the Oakland Arena and made me a fan. Reagan rolled Fritz Mondale in
November. Will encouraged me to come up and surf with him in the fall,
but it was too far for a student without a car. We lost touch. Twelve years
later I started reading alt.surfing and we renewed our friendship via Usenet
and p-mail. In his later years we shared some waves much bigger and better
than anything we surfed that Sonoma County summer. Eighteen years later
Will's earthly remains were found a stone's throw from this beach. I still
miss him and wonder just what he couldn't work out.
I'd like to think that harbor seals still
surf that wave. Maybe descendants of the one that used to show up every
late afternoon when I was there. Surfing was banned by the Director of
the marine lab years ago, so they have it all to themselves again. Don't
tell them I named their spot in this piece.
And so it was,