Growing up on the Gulf Coast, a tiny pack of frothing groms coalesced around our little Nokomis, Florida neighborhood, the nucleus of which being myself, my younger brother, Jack, and three of our closest friends: Jarod Ruszkowski, Peter Murray, and Nick Horobec. Five little latchkey groms, middle and lower-middle class kids with busted thrusters, pedaling BMX bikes three miles to the beach at even the slightest hint of Gulf windslop.
In the decade and a half that’s passed since our Salad Days, we got cars and girlfriends, went to college, got married, divorced, became Christians or renounced our faith. Some of us got sick, some of us went to jail (never prison). Some of us lived together intermittently, in Southern California or New York City. We’ve stayed in touch, all of us, but not as well as we’d surely liked. We grew up. Life gets in the way, and all that.
The five of us grew up together, got our first boards, wetsuits, and barrels with each other. A few of us watched Jarod get attacked by a shark, his hand mauled by a little spinner at Spanish House, while we were on one of what must have been hundreds of Coast Trips — 3:00 AM missions to the East Coast in one of our parent’s minivans, our poor mothers or my stoked Pops dragging a van-load of smelly little kids endlessly across I-4, up and down I-95. We surfed ESA and NSSA together, battled fiercely against each other. We were thick as thieves until Graduation Day.
In the decade and a half that’s passed since our Salad Days, we got cars and girlfriends, went to college, got married, divorced, became Christians or renounced our faith. Some of us got sick, some of us went to jail (never prison). Some of us lived together intermittently, in Southern California and New York City. We’ve stayed in touch, all of us, but not as well as we’d surely liked. We grew up. Life gets in the way, and all that.
So this summer, when my brother called me up from San Francisco and suggested a reunion trip was long overdue, I was in. We called up Pete, who was living in St. Petersburg, doing graphic design, a nice little domestic thing going on with a great girl from our hometown. He had a window in August, he could get away then. Jack looked at options, decided Nicaragua was the call. Easy trip, sure thing surf. Exactly what we needed. Tickets were booked. Pete ran into Jarod, who mixes a mean cocktail at a tequila bar in downtown St. Pete, and mentioned the trip. Early the next morning, I got an itinerary confirmation for a J. Ruszkowski. Jarod was in. That weekend, I found myself in Huntington Beach, covering the US Open, and ran into Horobec, who has built a ding repair empire here in Southern California as the Ding Dr. I told him we’d just booked tickets to Nicaragua, asked if he didn’t want to take a little trip down memory lane, do that surf trip we should have done the summer after graduation. And just like that, the gang was getting back together.
Now I won’t go into the details of the trip, only to say that it was one of the most rewarding I’ve ever had. “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them,” Emerson once said, and that’s true. The five of us hooted each other into barrels, pridefully gritting our teeth as we smiled, wanting to one-up each other like pre-teens jostling for tropical storm slop back home at the Venice Jetties. Jarod was kind enough to sacrifice precious surfing hours to document our desperate attempts.
At one point, Nick said, “You know, it’s probably been fifteen years since we were all together, the five of us.” It seemed incredible, that it had been that long. But it couldn’t be denied, what with the receding (or receded) hairlines, greying whiskers. Hell, even my kid brother, the cub of the pack, was about to turn 30.
We drank beers and made the mistake of talking politics. We got lost and bickered like family. We laughed our asses off at stories of trashed cars and drunken debauchery, cracked skulls and stitches at punk shows, old flames and friends who’ve since passed — these beautifully hilarious memories, stories honed and polished by time. I got to know the men they’ve all become, these four brothers of mine. Men I’m proud to know and love. Ever since we got back, we’ve been planning the next one. Make it a tradition. We’re thinking Mainland Mexico. El Salvador or Panama, maybe, depending on the timing.
How about you and your crew? Sure, it’s been years. You’ve “grown apart,” lost touch, had falling outs. None of that shit matters, not between old friends. Pick up the phone and make the call. Get the gang back together. You’ll be glad you did.