photo blog

The Smell of Liberty

An inspiring photograph of an unknown surfing soldier

| posted on July 31, 2013

An unknown soldier, Oceanside. Photo: Gilley

“All you need to do is post a photo and write a little something about it.”

That’s what my editors have been saying for months. An allusion to over-thinking and over-doing it. A way of telling me that I’ve been creating way too much blog work for myself by writing long essays and posting thematic, word-heavy photo features.

What the wordsmiths might not understand, however, is that these essays are written out of desperation. Out of an older surfer’s pressing need to liberate long-harbored thoughts, ideas, and opinions. It’s like Monty Python vomit—there’s no controlling the amount (or odor) of the eruption. It just comes out.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve purged my gut feelings about Southers, locals, SUPpers, geocentrists, half-men, geezers, women, cold-water surfing, commercialism, log riding, beach breaks, parenting, culture, egotists, travel, comment board venom, journalism, conformism, surf vehicles, unsung heroes, digital delusion, aging, wipeouts, writers, neophytes, crude Aussies, wave pools, hatred, resilience, monotone power, home schooling, hand gestures, and fecal orbs.

Maybe it’s time to pause, brush my teeth, and ponder future emissions.

In the past, I looked at posting a captioned blog photo as a bit of a cop-out. Coupling an image with a few words seemed too easy—something that anyone with half a brain could do. Something that, to a discerning consumer, had a good chance of smelling undercooked and underprepared.

But then I started going through my files and realized something. There are a few photos out there that deserve special treatment. That require explanation. That need some back story. That deserve to be held up to the light and examined.

Take the above image, for example. Although it’s something you can see in person on most mornings at Oceanside Harbor, it’s something you wouldn’t normally see in print. It’s not a radical air shot of some pro—it’s a surf image I find infinitely more inspiring: An image of self-sufficiency and hardcore dedication. A visual testament to a surfer who, despite a significant handicap, goes out and rips without help. Who surfs and then, without fanfare, an entourage, or a tailing media crew, shimmies himself back up to his gear, and hobbles back to his car. A photograph of an unknown soldier without a leg who, day after day, leaves his crutches—and his earthbound limitations—at the water’s edge.

An odorless moment of liberty.

  • poisondwarf

    AAAAAA++++++++++, kudos to that dude!!!!!

  • JoyousJeff

    The cure for anything is salt water — tears, sweat and the sea.

  • ian from the east coast

    i would like to see an article about this and/or more photos.

  • 20ftat20seconds

    I started this life of surfing back in 1999. One of my first sessions was down at the Tijuana Sloughs in IB. Clean, waist to chest high swell was a bit much for this floundering rookie at the time. I’m not sure if this is the same guy, but there was surfer out that day who had a lower-leg amputation and a “peg” prosthetic. -He was killing it. This definitely was inspiring to watch from the perspective of a new surfer that was just trying to hang on. Seven years later when I graduated to cranking winter Sunset Beach, I watched in awe as a one-armed man single-side stroked and kicked into some serious bombs on his knee board.

    Bethany Hamilton rips harder than 99% of the surfing population. Mike Coots puts on POV barrel clinics with his cameras. Paralyzed surfer Jesse Billauer is still out there getting good waves. Surfing is such a great thing for the mind and body, and even people with disabilities can get out there and have fun too. Some can rebound and do this on their own because of past surfing experience, but others will need a little help or jump start. I encourage other surfers to support organizations like “Access Surf” , “Operation Surf” , and the Wounded Warrior Foundation’s “Jimmy Miller Foundation”. Surfing can bring a lot of joy to people who may have other hardships in life.

    • Robert Harwood

      20ft, the guy you saw at Sunset Beach was almost certainly Buddy McCray. Originally from Ca, Bud’s been a fixture on the North Shore since the seventies He lives at Sunset and is a local legend known and loved by many. Despite losing first an arm and later an eye to cancer, Buddy has always been one of the most committed surfers anywhere on the planet. He’s also a world-class kneeboard shaper and one of the best ambassadors of pure surfing stoke you’ll find anywhere. Like all the other people you mentioned in your comment, Buddy is 110% inspiration.

  • surfer m

    Google this, Martin Pollock surfer. It’s a video on vimeo

  • dgb

    You used this guys picture to talk about yourself. Well done. The surfing industry applauds you.

  • Pam

    People that are disabled and able to do whatever they set their minds to. They are amazing in what they can do, be it man or woman. I have great respect for someone that doesn’t let challenges get to them. Bravo to all that learn differently and have challenges in life. You just go out and conquer. :-)

  • Nicole Walker

    I am proud to say this man is my father.

  • J Scott

    This is Tim Walker, an amazing man!

  • Maggie Marez Witt

    Happy to say this guy, Tim Walker, doesn’t let anything stop him. He’s a great guy, great dad, great surfer, and a supporter of waterpolo. I know him from when we worked together with his advertising programs, and sitting along side his wife cheering on our girls as they played polo. Blessings to him and his wonderful family! <3

  • Deanna

    One of my 2 heroes besides my dad!