“Hey, Brad come on up and meet Bernie!”
It was the voice of Jack Shipley.
Jack introduced me to Bernie Baker and the rest, as they say is history. Bernie and I hit it off right a way. His quick wit and huge intellect added a much-needed dimension to my intense desire to learn how to surf Sunset. With Bernie there was never a dull moment or the lack of a really good laugh. Bernie was always in touch with the best and latest information on style, health and fast cars.
Peter Townsend (PT) holding the board, that's Brad with the fine 'stash talking to BK; and Jeff Hakmans with his back to the camera.
When I was able to get waves, I sat on the point with Eddie Aikau and Rick Irons. They welcomed me in and gave me waves. Around that time Bernie invited me to park in his yard. His house was right on the beach up from Val’s reef. The parking privilege came first. And, then the use of the outdoor shower. And, then a place under the house to keep my boards.
During this time I was riding for Lightning Bolt, co–owned by Jack Shipley and Jerry Lopez. I had four boards (7’6’’, 8’0”, 8’6” and a 9’0”) all shaped by Tom Parrish and glassed by Steve Cranston. They all had red decks, a white lightning bolt and white bottoms. Being on the team meant I paid less for the “shape,” glass job and the stickers were free. I only rode the 9’0” on occasion. It got me into waves I wasn’t ready for. I rode the 7’6” at Val’s and Pupukea.
My surfing progression took a few years of 40–hour surf weeks. Gradually I became a regular and could surf Sunset on most any day, size or conditions. Meanwhile Eddie and BK (Barry Kanaiaupuni) were the masters. Eddie made it all look easy. BK was doing no–paddle take off’s on the west peak. MR (Mark Richards) was destroying surf of any size on his twin–fin or Tom Parrish gun.
Around this time the regulars in the yard were Kenny Bradshaw, Charlie Walker, George Ramos, Manuel “Savage” Sanchez, Randy Rarrick, Reno Abillero, Butch Perreira, Edmont D’iscoli and a kid named Bobby Owens. Jack Shipley had overnight privileges and stayed when he was judging.
Bernie Bakers house was at Val's Reef. We named it the Embassy as Bernie was the Ambassador of Goodwill for an international group of hard-core surfers that loved to surf Sunset. The feelings and memories of surf, fellowship, family and love of the sport/surf-spot run as deep as feelings can get.
One day, as MR was stretching before he paddled out, Mark Foo and Mark Warren were lounging by the hammock. George Ramos and Charlie Walter were looking at Charlie’s new board. Suddenly the name Embassy seemed to fit our mission. We had no formal structure and you had to be confident to belong. Bernie was the Commodore and he had only one rule. Ask. If you wanted something you had to ask for permission. Bernie was incredibly generous as long as you asked. He was also totally in charge of his domain. Get out of line and he became a pit bull.
The house was pretty much off limits. My son, Reyn, was allowed in to watch MTV before most people even had cable on the North Shore.
Being a member in the Embassy was very special. It was about being team. Surfing in those days was about being able to paddle out and get waves. If you could get waves during the moments when the surf was best you were part of a very special group. There was very little pressure in the water other than the pride that was driving everyone to excel.
During the summer I ran on the beach right before it got dark. I’d run up to the point and then back past Rocky Point, Pipeline, Off the Wall (which hadn’t been surfed yet) and on a rare occasion to the rocks before Shark’s Cove and back. That was the best ever “Flow” feeling for me.
I learned two major lessons from being part of the Embassy.
One: surf relationships last forever. Bernie is still one of my best friends. We don’t have to see each other or work to maintain the connection. We have shared some incredible waves, times, laughs, pot–luck dinners and the bonds are set.
Two: the seven years that I invested in learning to surf Sunset was precious. The experience was rich, amazingly powerful, fun beyond belief and an absolute privilege. And it ended in an instant. The lesson: Be present for the special times and enjoy them to the max because they don’t last forever.
Writing this piece has brought the deep emotions related to having been a member in good standing of the Embassy.
Thanks Bernie and all of other members that this time and experience so special!
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