SUNDAY JOINT, 11-29-2020: THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF DONALD TAKAYAMA

Hey All,

Greetings from our isolated Thanksgiving condo-weekend in tiny Glacier, Washington (pop. 211), hiking distance to Canada and 10 or so crow-flying miles to Mt. Baker. Hardcore Pacific Northwest ski country. I’ve been thinking back to when rich Uncle Irv flew me and my brother to Mammoth for the first time. I was 11, Chris was 9, and it was the baller experience of our young lives. After jetting parent-free from LAX to Bishop, CA, we were outfitted with red-white-and-blue K2 Comp skis and matching Spider Sabich sweaters, then dropped off each morning at the Main Lodge for private lessons. We owned Jill’s Run by Day Two and were crisscrossing Broadway like a pair of bushy-blond-haired squirrels before the week was up and we flew back home, me thinking I was a season or two away from becoming the new Wayne Wong.

Image

I still ski—slowly but with Cary-Grant-flirts-with-Audrey-Hepburn good form—although if I’m being honest, the thing I like most about skiing these days is the way it makes me appreciate surfing. Right down the line, in ways big and small. Surfboard over skis, paddling over chair lift, flask whisky while sitting on the tailgate of Jeremy Sterling’s truck over eight-dollar Natural Light with 300 steaming strangers at the lodge. I don’t dislike skiing. I also don’t know why I feel the urge to compare skiing and surfing; they are apples and oranges and why not have both. But I can’t help it, and while I drive off the mountain after a day of skiing feeling content and sore and happily tired, I always aim a big kiss of gratitude into the void that I grew up in a beachfront house in Venice instead of in the Sierra foothills, thus setting in motion a 50-something-year saltwater adventure that gets us to this moment, here and now, sharing this Joint.

Image

On a warmer topic—Donald Takayama. Here is a new clip of the nimble-footed Hawaiian ace in all of his 5′ 4″ elfin glory, and here is a gracious Takayama profile by Scott Hulet. At some point in surf history there may have been a more likable person than Donald, but offhand nobody springs to mind. And no, I’m not overlooking his part in a transamerican Cocaine-distribution ring or his subsequent 13-month prison term. But that massive fuck-up—or not the fuck-up itself, but the way Donald filtered it and used the experience to redirect his life—is a shadow that, for me anyway, only throws his likability into greater relief.

Image

I do, however, raise a skeptical eyebrow at Takayama’s fabled menehune-comes-to-California surf career origin tale. Hulet says Takayama was 12 when he saved enough paper-route money to buy a one-way ticket from Honolulu to Burbank, from where he managed to find his way, solo, to Dale Velzy’s shop in Venice and was hired on the spot to shape boards. Donald himself claimed he was just 11. Story goes that he stayed three months, flew home, and walked into the kitchen unannounced to surprise his mom. Yes, call me skeptical. But charmed. Eager, in fact. Sprinkle the fairy dust and I will run through it. Seriously, please, tell me that Takayama in actual fact was a child-surf-genius runaway sprite of 11 or 12 and I will gladly and publicly break this skepticism over my knee, cast it away, and good riddance.

Also: I just learned today that Donald’s official birth-certificate middle name is “Moke.”

Thanks for reading, everybody, and see you next week.

Matt

[Photos: Michael Halsband, Bruce Brown, LeRoy Grannis]