Every single day since September 3rd 1975, Dale Webster has surfed a minimum of three waves. Every. Single. Day. Fourteen-thousand six-hundred and forty-one days, no matter the conditions or circumstances. When storms were blowing waves back out to sea, he was out there. When his daughter was born, he was out there. When he passed a kidney stone, he was still somehow out there. And on the day his wife died of cancer, he was out there catching three to the beach.
But yesterday, on October 5th 2015, for the first time in four decades, the 66-year-old didn’t go surfing. Due to another kidney stone, Webster will be undergoing minor surgery this week and will be out of the water for a couple months. We called him while he was at his house in Sonoma County, still cleaning up the byproducts of his surf-retirement party the night before.
How are you feeling right now? Today must be an emotional day for you.
I thought it was going to be an emotional day. It’s been this climactic thing and I just stopped cold turkey. But thankfully, being with my friends for my “final day” party has made this a little easier. We had it at the same place that we had my 28-and-a-half-year party. A lot of people came out. We had t-shirts printed out with my picture and the date on them; they were selling like hot cakes. I'm still cleaning up bottles and cans from it. It was an all-time hooter. If I didn't have that party and all my friends and family around, this day would have been more difficult.
How did you react when the doctor explained that you needed surgery?
Well, when I went to the doctors in May, they had me inspected and X-rayed and CT-scanned, and basically told me that I had a kidney stone and that I needed surgery. I told them that I couldn't do it, because of what was written in SURFER magazine. In the August issue, I said that I'll go surfing until September 3, 2015 and I didn't want to disappoint the readers. I told them that I wasn't going to come in until I had done what I said I would do. They tried to discourage me, but I said "no". After I hit my 40-year goal in September, I realized now is the time to take care of this thing.
When you get back in the water, do you think you’ll return to surfing every day and counting your sessions?
My friends suggested that I should count "my accumulative days of surfing". Then I thought, “Well, maybe I can be the 67-year-old surfer who surfed every day for a year.” But at the same time, I've been there, done that. I want to travel again. The furthest I've been away in the past 40 years was Lake Tahoe. I don’t want to have to drive to the beach through a flood; I don’t want take my board out of my car during a gale or battle the ocean during a storm. I don't have to do that stuff any more, I've done it.
What inspired you to start this pursuit?
It kind of started by complete accident. I didn't think I was ever going to do it. In 1975, there was a solid south swell in September and I surfed everyday during the swell. Each day the waves got better and better. After surfing 85 days straight, my friend said, “You should try to surf for 100 consecutive days.” When I got to 100, the story was in the local newspaper. That publicity gave me a little pat on the back to make it to a year. So then the challenge became a year. And so forth.
And what was the reasoning behind setting a three-wave minimum per session?
Doc Paskowitz and his teachings on health had a big influence on me. He once wrote that in order to be the best surfer in the world, all you had to do was surf one more wave than Phil Edwards. And Phil Edwards didn't consider a wave a real wave unless you rode it all the way to the beach and you dragged your fin in the sand. So that's how I surfed: I rode waves all the way to the beach.
Have your boards changed throughout the years?
I've had about 35 boards altogether throughout the 40 years I've been doing this. For about 18 years, I acquired and used nineteen 7’11” surfboards. But recently I've been riding Malcolm Campbell Bonzer 5-fins. I have seven of those. People on the beach last Saturday told me I was the only one catching waves, doing turns, and cutting back. It’s more maneuverable than any surfboard I've owned.
You’ve seen the sport change quite a bit since the ’70s as well.
I think the biggest change I’ve seen is that people don't know how to respect each other and share waves. Today, sportsmanship is out the window. Back in the day, you knew everybody and you respected each other. It was okay to take off on the same wave with someone.
Can you remember the absolute worst conditions that you've surfed in?
I've gone out in incredible conditions, where just getting to the beach was hard. One day it was blowing a gale, the rain was pouring horizontally, and the roads were flooded. I got down to the beach and my board was being blown in every direction. I finally got out past the waves, but the wind was so strong that when I would turn my head one way, these bullet-sized pieces of rain were just bombarding my face. After I got my waves and went home, I looked at my face in the mirror and half of it was bruised, black and blue from the rain pelting me. My eye was swollen on one side. It was like I had been beaten up. But I survived and I thought, "If I could do this, I can do anything.”
And this didn’t make you question your commitment to your goal?
Two weeks later there was a similar storm, but the wind and rain were blowing the opposite direction and I got similar bruises on the other side of my face. I was on an honor system. I could've only caught one wave and no one would have known. But there was honor in it. I didn’t want to be a liar and be admired. I actually wanted to have done what I said I would do.
What has surfing every day taught you over the decades?
Surfing is really a challenge. Sometimes you end up looking for perfect waves that only exist in magazines. But when you go to the beach, you have to surf the waves you have on hand. It may not be barreling, but the act of putting on a suit, going out there, and just being in the water feels wonderful.