Doubling Up

Joe Lazar, having his cake and eating it too at Black's. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

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

Lately my daughter has been bugging me about going to Black's Beach. Usually I just respond to her pestering with a blanket deferment, "You're not quite ready yet. Maybe next year."

I don't go into too much detail with her because it's a little long-winded to explain to a 13 year-old girl all the subtleties of the Ho Chi Min trail, big canyon sets, and creepy naked dudes.

Her requests have conjured up memories, though. Lots of memories.

One of these recollections is a about a dirt bag named Joe. When I say dirt bag I mean it in two senses of the word: Dirt bag as in hardcore, and dirt bag as in a guy with lots of actual dirt around him.

Cliff dirt, to be precise.

I reckon that in the late 70s, 80s, and 90s I walked down the trail to Black's about a thousand times, and during those journeys it felt like I saw Joe about 900 of them. Pretty much every time I would get to my favorite little post-up perch on the landslide fronting North Peak, Joe would either be surfing out front, or ensconced in his own little cliff crevice down the way.

Joe was pretty easy to pick out of a crowd because he's a big guy and usually caught the biggest set waves. He also rode some funky-ass boards and wore unusual wetsuits.

After a while, I developed a theory about Joe: That he probably lived down at Black's. It seemed to be a reasonable conclusion—something that would explain his constant presence and well-worn equipment. I figured he probably had a little hovel back in a ravine or something.

In addition to his balls-to-the-wall surfing, I greatly admired Joe's monk-like dedication. This was a man who seemed to have given up other worldly pleasures for a life of purity. At one point, I even felt like bringing some food or even an old board down there to donate to Joe to show him my appreciation.

One night, after a particularly good Black's afternoon session, I took my wife out to a La Jolla birthday dinner. Having caught wind of the occasion, our waiter arranged for the general manager to stop by our table to offer his blessings. Out from the kitchen came the quintessential looking restaurateur: tall, good-looking, and confident. El Jefe, to the bone.

As this meticulously-groomed man greeted us, I noticed he looked familiar. I couldn't place him at first, but then, as he offered his birthday wishes to my wife, I got a glimpse of his profile and realized who it was.

Holy crap, it was dirt bag Joe.

This was a startling observation and something that threw my whole compass off. So much so that I didn't say anything to him—I just kind of nodded and stared, and he just gave me this all-knowing smirk back.

As I found out subsequently, dirt bag Joe was actually a guy named Joe Lazar. A man who managed the Chart House in La Jolla, went on to manage the Chart House in Haleiwa, and became the Joe in Haleiwa Joe's. In Hawaii, Joe simply transferred his rat-out-by-day/supervise-by-night act to the North Shore.

This double life led by Joe Lazar was quite a revelation for me. It showed me that you could still surf your brains out and make a good living. That you didn't have to be a smuggler or a jewel thief or a trustafarian. All you had to do was find the right job with the right hours. That if you were smart about it, you could not only build your life around surfing, you could build a successful life.

That you could become a dirt bag by choice.