He pulled up along our port side, peered through his old, rusty wheelhouse and cut his engine. As a kid I’d seen “Eyeball” around Oxnard, but that was 10 years ago and {{{100}}} miles away. He had watched us since dawn as we scoured the rocky coastline, looking for a left we’d seen from a plane earlier in the winter. From 1,000 feet it had seemed so attainable, but from sea level it felt like we were chasing an eternity of boulders and backwash.

Eyeball made his way up to the battered bow of his little ship. He was alone except for his dog. “Morning, fellas. Are those surfboards I see there strapped to your railing?” We just shook our heads up and down. “Cause there’s a spot nearby that’s been going off all morning.”

When we asked for direction he smirked and offered us fresh sea urchin. Again we asked and again he avoided the question with an offer of advice. “Watch out for the military. They’ll arrest you for even looking at that damn island.”

During our conversation he had dropped anchor and was preparing to dive for urchin in the 20 fathoms of dark blue rolling below us. Before Eyeball disappeared into the abyss, he offered one more pearl of wisdom: “Don’t worry, you’ll find it. You’re heading in the right direction.” When we finally found the spot, the swell was clean and ran along a little cobblestone point. An hour into our surf, a crew of seals passed through the lineup. They made us laugh out loud with their antics until someone noticed the giant teeth marks in one that ran from its face to its stomach. After that, we sat shoulder-to-shoulder between sets.

Later, under the cover of twilight, I couldn’t help myself. Timmy and I ran up on top of a headland to get a better look at the beach setup. But it quickly became clear this was no typical, isolated outpost as shrapnel and undetonated bombs littered the ground. Deciding to skip the beachcombing, we walked — then ran — toward shore, and ended up in the biggest pile of jumping cactus I’ve ever seen. We sat in the dark, pulling spines out of each other’s feet until we could hobble enough to get back to the water. During dinner that night, a military officer informed us via radio that the area would be absolutely off limits for the next few days.

After seeing the bomb craters and the blown-up army tanks, I didn’t need an explanation. There was one thing, though, as I prepared for the cold, dark trip home: I couldn’t help wondering why that military officer’s voice sounded so much like Eyeball’s. Chris Malloy