From Stab issue 70: North Shore lifeguard and occasional tour comic relief Dave Wassel on collecting metaphors, the sublime texture of turtle meat and the geographically unique manner of how North Shore women present…
Interview by Rory Parker | Photos by Brian Bielmann
The Jerk Conundrum: There’s always work here. Just because there’s no surf on the North Shore doesn’t mean there’s no car accidents, or domestic [disputes], and whatever else. OD’s, all kinds of fun stuff. Our main focus is trying to inform the public. And as far as a ratio of problems of traveling surfers to the seven million tourists that come to Hawaii a year, it’s almost 50/50, to tell you the truth. Maybe a little more with the tourists. We get all kinds. There’s always Rick Kane coming from the wave-pool, showing up to surf Pipeline on a 10-foot First Reef day or a family with kids and the boogieboards they picked up at Foodland. You rescue somebody once, that’s a given, you’re just doing your job. But when you have to rescue that same person, that same day, a second time, I think you should get two percent of his or her paycheque for the rest of their life. Because they’re just tempting fate and they could get taken out and drown and they’re gone and they’re no longer contributing to society. And, literally, in any given situation, even if it’s just head-high waves, a person who is in trouble, they get so scared they can easily climb you and drown you.
Killing turtles: When I grew up in the mid-to-late ‘70s turtle was on every menu at every fancy restaurant. There was a turtle shell in everybody’s house hanging up. I remember that vividly. Nowadays, if you even sneer at a turtle, you’re the bad guy. I might sound like an ass, but you don’t have to refrigerate them, you can flip them on their backs, and they’ll stay alive and you can eat one and come back another day and eat another. That’s the way it was. Is that wrong? I don’t know, but that’s the way I grew up. They used to be food, now they just cause traffic. My solution would be to take the turtles, throw them in the back of my truck, drive them to Waikiki, and drop them off. That way the tourists can go to Waikiki to take their pictures of the turtles and come out to the North Shore to check out the surf. I think it would alleviate a lot of traffic. They’re good eating, I know that.
Man catchers: The North Shore has reinvented the straight-leg bend over. Everywhere else in the world women bend at the knees, not on the North Shore. There are a lot more girls than there used to be. As surfing has been popularised, a lot of money has come with it. Guys are making seven figure salaries, that’s not uncommon. Surfing has become a lot more popular, lucrative, and I think the girls basically come with that.
Getting in over your head: It was in the ‘90s and everybody had started moving into the tow-in thing and I’d just go paddling. I figured paddling is where it’s at. So I decided to go down when the winds were light and the swell was huge one morning. I was timing the sets, waiting for the sun to come up, and when I tried to make it through Log Cabins with my 9’8” I just got flogged. I mistimed it and got blown up and luckily got pushed in through Ke‘iki. I came back and walked back up the beach and tried it again and got hammered again. The sun’s just coming up and this lady is walking her dog and she sees me getting throttled and she goes, “What are you doing?” and I said, “I’m just trying to go surfing,” and she goes “Just to let you know, you honestly should not be out there.” I’d made this commitment to myself to train, to get physically fit and whatnot, and I’m, like, “Nah, I’m ready, I’m ready.”
So the third time I actually did make it out and it’s a weird phenomenon when you’re out there and it’s that big and there’s no wind. There’s a bunch of salt spray in the air so I had absolutely no line-ups towards land. But, as cars are driving by the lifeguard substation at Rockpiles, you could see the flash of the rising sun on their windshields and so I was trying to use that. But there was nothing else and so I was literally lost at sea in just ridiculously large conditions, sitting in the channel watching these just stupid giant waves come in and trying to line up. But, there’s so much water moving you have no idea where you’re at. And I kept hearing in my head, over and over, that lady’s voice, saying, “You should not be out here, you should not be out here.”
I ended up sitting there and eventually just getting blown to bits and I got pushed in to the, I don’t know, third or fourth reef, and then caught a double-up and rode it in. Got smashed, you know.
It was at that point that I realised, not only is it important to train your body, you also have to train your mind. You have to be ready for every single situation possible. No matter what other people say, you have to be sure yourself. That’s the first time I got over my head and it sticks with me all the time. Every time I’m paddling out I just crack down, you know, “You should not be out here,” and it’s one of those little mantras that I think about all the time, when I’m doing a beach run or a mountain run or something.
The asshole element in island living: Things were different in the ‘70’s and ‘80s. When I grew up surfing localism was rampant. And that was because people were coming in and taking the local resources away from the local people, number one being the surf. Things have changed though, dramatically. You’ve gotta be a real dick to run into trouble. If you come from areas of high population, like the continental US, there’s a strong chance that if you were to get in a verbal confrontation with somebody, you’re never going to see that person again. And, therefore, you’ve got carte blanche to go, “Fuck it. Fuck you!” Or whatever. But we live in a very, very small community here in Hawaii where if you say something to somebody, or do something, within a day, you’re going to bump into that person again. You can’t run away from the past here, it’s going to catch up to you. And that’s something that people don’t realise. Some people might get carried away and that’s more of a small man’s complex than anything. No matter where you go you’re going to run into that asshole here and there. But, in the bigger picture, nine out 10 guys are really cool, and you just occasionally get that bad apple.
Some real friendly advice: Number one tip? Please come to Hawaii, please come to the beach and please check in with the lifeguards. Every single day is different and we’d love to meet you on the beach, rather than in a critical instance. Everybody can surf every single day, maybe not at Pipeline on this day because it might be huge and out of control, but, at some point around the island, it’s going to be perfect for every single person at every single skill level. More or less, it’s my job to make sure that everyone who comes to the beach if having a good time. Because if they’re not having a good time, I’m not having a good time. If you’re not having a good day, I’m working extra hard and that just sucks for everybody. Just because I can do CPR doesn’t mean I want to.
On metaphors: Fifty per cent of the metaphors and quotes I use in the commentary booth come from slapstick comedy movies like Talledega Nights (Gabriel Medina was “a spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew”, a melange of two quotes from the Will Ferrel/John C Reilly comedy). The other half I make up. All of it is off the hip. If I try to rehearse something it comes out sounding just that way, rehearsed. The quote that seems most repeated from the Volcom Fiji Pro is, “Let’s get tropical.” If I had to choose a favourite it was, “He’s a tube whisperer. He’s the Caesar Millan (dog whisperer) of tuberiding.” I know it sounds silly and my commentary is not for everyone but I’m there as a colour commentator.