Words and photos by Taylor Paul
"I think we're gonna need a bigger river," I heard someone say as a couple hundred people stretched across the mouth of the Russian River. We were making a human circle in memory of Noel Robinson. He drowned in Puerto Escondido last Friday.
The group nearly spanned from bank to bank, and we cheered as the final person clutched her neighbor's hand to unite us all. The laughter and sobs of the crowd echoed off the low hanging Northern California fog.
It was a day like that—equal parts laughter and tears. While we were there to mourn, one of Noel's friend's reminded us, "not to cry because it's over, but to smile because it happened."
It started in the river, and went to the ocean. Flowers were spread. Waves were surfed and memories were shared. When it was over, people paddled to the beach on the north side of the river to huddle around a fire that had been burning since the day of Noel's death. For the past eight days they used it as home base to share memories of Noel. They brought food and beers, sleeping bags and boards. A shrine was built against a tall rock—photos of Noel, flowers, drawings, carvings, notes and poems.
The celebration of Noel's life moved up the road to a large plot of grass. Friends and family brought copious amounts of food, which was soon devoured—partly because we were hungry, partly to honor Noel's notoriously large appetite. I overheard one family member say, "Well there's going to be a lot more food at Thanksgiving."
After an hour of aimless mingling, a drum was beat and a crowd gathered to hear Noel's friends remember him.
"We need to awaken our inner Noel," said one friend.
Rusty Long, Noel's vecino in Puerto, said, "The local Mexican ladies were always really impressed with his black beans."
"He taught my kids to fart and be proud," said another.
Greg Long added, "It is our obligation to carry on what Noel has taught us. To pass on his spirit."
On that note, Skindog and a small crew snuck back down to the beach to honor Noel. Skinny paddled into the icy water, into the fog, and into a couple of waves. And he did it naked.