rob gilley

Not Forgotten

| posted on August 15, 2011

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

I started surfing regularly in 1979—right about the time the eastern Pacific Ocean decided to wake up. This wouldn’t be remarkable if I had lived in Santa Barbara or LA, but at the time I lived in the college dorms directly above Black’s Beach, and let’s just say that trying to find your sea legs amongst a North Peak minefield can be a little intimidating.

It’s a little hard to work on your cutback when double-overhead, thousand-pound peaks are flying out of a submarine canyon like a flock of angry, aqueous pterodactyls.

As any good, stupid young man worth his salt might do, I faked my way through bigger days during my freshman years, and paddled out with friends and roommates with a convincing, yet secretly forced smile on my face—and testicles firmly tucked into my lower intestine.

Out in the lineup I would try to convince myself that the surf was no big deal—after all, “it’s only California”—and that I should relax and enjoy myself. Just in case, though, I was hair trigger-wired to paddle for the horizon at a sprinting velocity so vigorous that it would make Usain Bolt jealous.

Another thing that gave me peace of mind—and probably many surfers at this time—was the feeling of immortality. Almost without exception, a surfer dying was unheard of. Especially by drowning. For the most part, nobody we knew died—I mean nobody. I tried to tell myself that no matter what happened out in the water, at least I wouldn’t leave the beach in a body bag.

About a decade passed and this feeling only strengthened. Even in the biggest surf imaginable, surfers seemed invincible.

And then it all changed.

Starting with Ronnie Burns, young surfers that we all knew and cared for started leaving us: Barry Wilson, Mark Foo, Donnie Solomon, Mark Sainsbury, Todd Chesser, Jay Moriarity…just one blow after another.

Suddenly, the air was filled with sadness and introspection. Maybe surfers weren’t so invincible after all. Maybe surfing is riskier, and life more fragile than we thought it was.

Mostly though, it taught us how fleeting life can be, and how much to appreciate your friends while they’re here.

In this spirit, you will find a mini-gallery below. A visual tribute to members of the surfing tribe, immortalized in our memory, gone but not forgotten…

Todd Chesser, 1968-1997. Photo: Gilley

Donnie Solomon, 1970-1995. Photo: Gilley

Colin Wagschal, 1976-2008. Photo: Gilley

Marvin Foster, 1961-2010. Photo: Gilley

Jimmy Blears, 1949-2011. Photo: Gilley

Andy Irons, 1978-2010. Photo: Gilley

  • Marcus

    Nice photos, be nice if you added Chris O’rourk, Rick Rassmussen?

  • Monier

    Fantastic project, nice photos…Mark foo and Miki “Da cat” Dora too…ow Eddie Aikau

  • Frazer

    I had no idea Marvin Foster passed away. Met him when I was on the North Shore in 1976. We were just groms having a good time. RIP Marvin

  • Julie Monaghan

    Thank you for making this~

  • Whamo

    RIP, Eric Hopps (best San Clemente surfer of all time), Greg Starr.

  • surfman

    Shoulda added Eric Diaz and Sion Milosky WATA SHAME BRAH…….ALOHA to both of them! Oh yeah how about Jay Moriarty and Rell Sun……ALOHA KE AKUA

  • Jac

    Rick Rasmussen – where’s Rick’s profile?

  • Peter Pope Kahape

    Butch Van Artsdalen, Buzzy Trent, Jose Angel, Dewey Weber…etc. Certainly a different era, but none the less, true watermen of the highest caliber.

  • Mike

    The point of not including everyone else mentioned is to highlight what we overlook in life. Until we truly consider things that were lost in the process of making a future, we haven’t seen the true cost. Well done, Gilley. It is nice to not have some smart ass with generic tattoos acting like they know what they are writing. The rest of you kook editors and writers should take note…

  • Kailua Boy

    Jason Bogle and Peter Miller R.I.P. Two incredible surfers that left us too early.

  • http://lizardkine LIZARD

    TIGER ESPERE had a huge influence on a lot of us.I miss him.

  • Brad

    At the dawn of shortboard surfing a cadre of town kids led the charge. But it was the 60′s, and with the good vibes came bad drugs. Hawaii was ground zero, so we lost a few. I wonder today what Tommy Winkler, Rusty Starr, and Bunker Spreckels would be like today if lightning bolt had only referred to surfboards.

  • Westcoast /Louie

    Gilley could not have mentioned everyone, but he has made us all remember that at one time in our lives there was someone special that left us too early.The last minute surf trips,laughs on the beach,promising to do it again real soon then………there gone. RIP ! To all the fallen waterman in the world.

  • erik frang

    jesse oke , west coast canadian surfing legend and my friend . i miss you bro

  • Kevin

    Rob took all the photos. He probably didn’t have any photos of the others. Nice job Rob.

  • Craig Hoshide

    Add Midget Smith to the true waterman list – a legend and outstanding friend.

  • tom schmidt

    Hank Oppenheimer lives in Maui and might have some pics and stories about Rick Ras. I met him in Rincon where I surfed from the eastcoast from ’67-74. Then moved to maui from 76-97 and finally to Costa Rica 98-09

  • cucuve1

    I never knew my second cousin Rusty Starr, thanx mr. Lopez for the article , R.I.P. cuz !