This humble Jim Banks birthday-week tribute page has a distinct 4/20 theme. Not sure how that happened, exactly. I got stuck on that opening part of the vid clip, with Jim discussing his hemp-glassed board, and that led to the spliffy Aggrovators tune, and that reminded me of my all-time favorite Banks story (reprinted below), which ends with him sitting on the deck of a boat at Deserts, firing up a chunk of hash, looking at empty perfect waves, and having an existential crisis. I followed the smoke.
I have no idea if Banks is a devout pothead, or a part-timer, or a retired user, or what. I’ve only met him a few times. In 1999, in San Francisco, I threw a New Years Eve party and out of nowhere Jim strolled into my kitchen. Don’t know how he found out, or who brought him, but for two or three hours he was drinking beer and talking and joking like he was a rent-paying member of the household.
Actually, if I were being fair, and if I knew how to pull it off, I’d shift the theme of this page from weed to humor, which is the third thing that Banks’ name conjures up for me, right behind his near-infinity amount of aggregate tube-time over the past four decades, and the equally large number of miles he’s traveled to get those tubes.
Banks’ humor is smooth-edged. Nothing jarring or aggressive. It’s as if Banks’ notion of what’s funny had been just as well-barreled as the man himself, and is now decanted as refined and honeyed, like a good single malt.
All by itself, Banks’ hemp surfboard isn’t that interesting to me. What I love is the way Banks, telling the story, comes to a full stop after the word “hemp,” let’s the idea hang there, give it a little spin with a raised eyebrow, then calmly line-drives the punchline: “So if you break it you can always burn it and stand downwind.”
But see, I’m ruining the funny by describing it.
Back to the weed angle. Here’s the Desert Point story I mentioned above. Long may you roll Jim!
* * *
Jim and a couple of friends sailed into Desert Point one flat morning, years ago, back when the the break was still pretty well off the radar.
Banks paddles out, just to get wet. Eventually, a tiny wave bumps up, and Banks manages to catch it, get to his feet, trim along for a bit. The next one is a few inches bigger. So is the one after that. You can guess the rest. A few hours later, six-footers are whistling down the reef like arrows, the other guys are surfed out, and Banks has the lineup to himself. He destroys the single-day record for tube-time. Finally, at dusk, he’s sitting on the deck of the boat, red-eyed and exhausted, smoking hash, eating rum cake with his fingers, and watching the best waves he’s ever seen pump through one after the other, completely untouched.
What does it mean to surf one of the finest waves in the world, as good as it gets, alone, with a couple of friends shouting and cheering you on? Banks says it was just as incredible, just as surreal, as you’d imagine. But unsettling, too. “For years and years I’d travelled around looking for the perfect wave, the perfect day. And at that moment, on the boat, I remember thinking, ‘This is it. This is everything I’ve ever searched for.’ And it was a weird feeling. I’d just reached this pinnacle, and now I was going to have to look for something else.”