Beginnings / by daniel hamlin

 My dad shot this photo of Miki Dora circa '64 at the Malibu Invitational. Photo: Craig Hamlin

My dad shot this photo of Miki Dora circa '64 at the Malibu Invitational. Photo: Craig Hamlin

            When I think back I really owe a lot to my dad, especially when it comes to surfing. I had a late start in surfing, though the ocean has played a significant role in my life from a young age. But I didn’t start surfing until my mid teens, when my dad suggested I give it a try after I told him I was done with organized sports. I’m not very competitive, so in high school when coaches and everyone else started taking things a bit too serious for my taste, I decided I was done.

            That’s when I started surfing. Growing up I’d periodically overhear my dad recount stories from his surfing days, and the two places he always seemed to talk about were Malibu and Rincon. He’d speak of a surfer named Miki Dora, of his surf club, fires on the beach, point breaks, and “stoke.” But one of the overriding themes I took away from his stories was that Rincon and Malibu were amazing waves. So when I paddled out for my first time I wanted it to be at Rincon. I figured if that was the best wave around, then I should go there. My dad tried to gently enlighten me on surfing protocol, and suggested we maybe try somewhere not so crowded. But I was undeterred, and my first surf was at the famous Rincon point in Carpentaria, on an old 70’s single fin. It went like a lot of first surfing attempts go: lots of paddling, white water, tumbling, and a few brief moments standing upright going straight. But I was hooked.

            It’s kind of funny, but for me to quit high school sports and start surfing was a bigger deal than you’d think it should have been. Some of my friends, teammates, and coaches thought I was getting mixed up with a bad crowd. I got a bit hassled by them for a while, but it only seemed to confirm my desire to surf and escape the clutches of the status quo. I remember making a conscious decision that I was going to surf regardless of what my peers thought. And so with a little encouragement from my dad, I did just that.

But it wasn’t until a few months after that initial surf at Rincon that I actually considered myself a “surfer.” The first time I caught a wave and rode down the line it was a stormy and miserable day. Just when I was about to go in out of frustration, I caught the wave that cemented my love for the sea and for surfing. As most first rides go it was nothing too extraordinary, but in that instant I felt an overwhelming excitement and sense of accomplishment. I knew from then on I was a surfer.

Sometimes I find it strange that I ended up loving the ocean so much. As I mentioned it has played a significant role in my life; it almost took my life when I was about 4 or 5. Whether I was too young to remember or because my mind instinctively blocked the incident, I can’t quite recollect what happened. But as the story goes by those who were there, my family and I were enjoying a sunny day at the beach when a surge of water caught me and began to sweep me out to sea. Thankfully my dad and brother saw what happened and were able to rescue me before I drowned. Perhaps the incident helped to foster the fascination with water that has been with me as long as I can recall. Perhaps the incident instilled in me the respect and awe I still feel toward the ocean. Perhaps I’m making too much of the incident altogether.

  Now I’m in my thirties and when I take account of the role my dad has played in my surfing life, I’m forever in debt to him. He passed along a great gift in the act of wave riding; and he helped instill in me a love and respect for nature that endures to this day. On that day as a small child he saved my life by bringing me safely out of the surf, and years later as a teenager he rescued me again by gently encouraging me to enter the surf; funny how things come full circle sometimes.

Today my dad and I still enjoy surfing together, though he no longer surfs due to some health issues. But he says the next best thing to surfing is photographing it; he says it allows him to surf with each wave he captures through the lens. So we still regularly meet at the beach for a session, and still get breakfast afterwards to recount the day’s waves. The ocean is a special place, and I’m thankful my dad encouraged me to pursue it. It has provided a common ground for my dad and I, and I’m thankful for the blessing it has been in my life.

(Originally published in DEEP Magazine)