The new issue of SURFER just arrived, and I of course thumbed straight to my “Archive” column, settled into my black leather Le Corbusier LC3, crossed my legs, flecked a spot of dust from my sleeve, began reading, and a moment or two later chuckled softly and muttered “Warshaw, old boy, you’ve done it again.” Then I noticed the final paragraph had been cut. My eyebrows knitted. Not in anger. The text had ran a bit long. Editors must edit. But I could not for the life of me recall what that last paragraph was about.
Then it hit me like a gong. Dale Webster. He of the soulful rheumy-touched eyes and the mind-boggling daily surfing streak. The sweetest, gentlest hardcore surfer in the world. Cut my paragraph on Laird, Gerry, Kelly, Steph, or John John? Not a problem. Part of the job. Cut my paragraph on Dale? My heart is broken.
The reason I feel so bad about Dale getting cut from my SURFER column this month is that 10 years ago I did a short profile on him for Outside, which also, for reasons I can’t recall, never got published. For that one I drove up to Dale’s place in Valley Ford, California and spent the afternoon with him. A lovely, earthy, honest, strange man. Completely obsessed with his streak. Yet very much aware of how ridiculous it was. The streak was both his lifework and a burden, and I admired how clearly Webster himself understood this. He was and remains the very best kind of eccentric. The streak continues.
Here is the Outside article:
The biggest and best swell of 1975 hit Northern California in early September, and Sonoma County regularfooter Dale Webster charged it for a week straight. “Seven days in a row,” he said recently. “And then I said to myself, ‘Why not just keep going?’”
So he did. For 10,407 straight days, usually riding near his Valley Ford home, Webster went surfing. He surfed through vaporous fog banks, flood-tide currents, hailing winter storms and catatonic summer flat spells. He surfed while his wife was in labor. In 1988, when a kidney stone left him doubled-over in pain, he got his minimum-requirement three waves then crawled up the beach and went straight to the hospital.
Webster, a 55-year-old school custodian with gray-blonde hair and sad eyes, often talks about his streak in lofty, even spiritual, terms, describing it as a “mission” or “quest” – although the point of the quest is never really defined. Then he’ll admit that the goal all along was to make the cover of SURFER Magazine. Webster talks also about the cost of the streak; how he’s been unable to see the world, or even visit landlocked relatives. “It practically brings tears to my eyes, thinking of how obsessive I got with this whole thing,” he says, confessing that he wouldn’t mow the lawn for fear that the mower blades would kick a rock back and take him out of the lineup. He thinks he’s finally ready to get rid of his bizarre collection of streak-related artifacts, including 10 year’s worth of scrapped-off surf wax leavings, which he’s mashed together into a grungy 25-pound petroleum ball–a surf-world oddity with no equal.
Webster announced in 2000 that he’d end the streak on February 29, 2004, after completing a full lunar cycle. He kept the date even when it was pointed out that a lunar cycle is 28-and-a-half days, not years. Reporters covered Webster’s final session, and a big party was held that night in his honor. The next day, March 1st, dawned rainy and windy. “My wetsuit was damp,” Webster said that afternoon, “and my butt was black-and-blue from a wipeout the week before. So I’m thinking, ‘I don’t have to surf today? Great!’” He tried to go back to sleep. A half-hour later he quietly slipped out of bed, dressed, threw his board on the car and drove by himself to the beach to go surfing. “I don’t know,” he later said in a resigned voice. “It’s just easier to keep surfing than to stop.”
Cheers to you, Dale. May your streak be only half-completed.