The Beginning, Part 1
By Corky Carroll
The following is from my new book “Not Done Yet,” and is the accounting of the first time I rode a wave on an actual surfboard. It is in two parts because the story is twice as long as I have space for in this column. Here is the first half.
I grew up in Surfside Colony, a tiny strip of Southern California beach, just south of Seal Beach, which was lined with a few dozen weathered and battered wooden beach houses back in the 1950’s. They were one step above what you could call “shacks” really. Our first house was a tiny one-bedroom affair with a little loft, which was where I slept. The sound of the surf, which pounded in constantly literally within’ feet of our front door and the little window above my bed, pretty much drowned out everything else. It became the soothing lullaby that put me to sleep each night and woke me early every morning. In time I would be able to tell exactly what the surf conditions were like, the size and shape, tide and wind conditions, just by listening to the sounds it made. The surf would come to take my heart and soul, as well as become my life story. It got into my very bones and has become as much a part of me as my blood. It pulses through my veins. When it’s up I can feel the excitement rush through me like a freight train. When it’s down I get restless.
Our house was B-21. Next door, in B-20, there was an older guy who was a surfer and whose name was Larry Conroy. He had a beautiful wooden surfboard that he kept in his backyard. I could see it through the slits in the wood fence that bordered our yards. I had wanted to try and ride it for the first few months we lived there. My dad had bought me a heavy-duty canvas air mattress to ride in the surf. I loved that thing, even though it would rub my body raw daily with its rough and abrasive surface. There were a few other kids along the beach that were my age and we all rode those air matts together. Actually we would ride anything we could find that would float. Old pieces of plywood with nails sticking out of them, inner-tubes, whatever. One dude paddled out in a rotten old row boat we found on the beach one day. Before he got very far from the beach the thing just sank out from below him, which was really entertaining for the rest of us. The beach and ocean were our playground. I could not stay out of the water, it drew me like a goddess with a magic flute. The older guys had surfboards. In those days they were made of wood, mostly balsawood but some still with redwood and other wood combinations. Needless to say, they were heavy. Most of the guys just left them laying around on the beach after they surfed. Nobody was gonna bother them.
But Larry Conroy was the best surfer on our beach and he had the nicest surfboard, I guess that’s why he kept it in his yard. Right where I could see it and crave riding it. I would peer through that fence day in and day out just wondering what it would be like to be standing on top of it riding some monster wave. It sort of became an obsession after awhile, like I was stalking it or something. Larry also had a younger cousin named Kerry, who was my age. Kerry was really good at getting me into trouble. One day we were hanging out and I was telling him how I wished I could try out that surfboard that Larry had. He kind of casually, and challenging at the same time, suggested that I might as well just get it over with and sneak the board out of the yard and try it out.
“Larry’s not home, nobody will ever know,” he urged. “Come on Corky, just do it.” Did he later work for Nike?
So, I did. That was the day my future college career went out the window.
Stay tune for my next column to hear the rest.