SUNDAY JOINT, 9-2-2018: DOC BALL, MICHAEL BURNESS

Hey All,

Doc Ball, Surf Photography Moses, will forever be an unsolved mystery to me. He’s been dead 17 years, and his surfing prime took place during the Roosevelt administration, so for starters that’s just a lot of time and distance. But it’s more.  Ball had a career outside of surfing (dentist), served in World War II (Coast Guard) and was Born Again. There’s something in Ball’s Above the Roar interview that, to my ears anyway, sounds distant and guarded and kind of shut down. Doc was an incredibly nice, friendly, funny guy. Loved to talk. He was smiling and pranking (and skateboarding) all the way to the end.

But Doc was either unwilling or unable to go deep when talking about things like not being able to afford a house during the Depression (he slept in a room just off his work office), or going off to war, or coming back with PTSD, or finding God. I’d like to know more about all these things. On the other hand, it doesn’t bother me in the least that Doc choose not to share. It’s enough to know that, after going a little wobbly in the ’40s, he made the necessary changes to get his life back on track. He was happy and productive in his middle and late years, had a marriage that went the distance, and raised two boys. The ocean was healing for Doc Ball the way it was for Blake and Dora and Peterson and Curren and a million other surfers, myself included. That part’s not a mystery. Thank God (or whoever) for a few free waves.

I also posted a Roar piece with Durban’s Michael Burness, the best least-known surfer of the 1980s. It’s been 30 years since I last spoke with Mike, but for a guy who preferred flying under radar he made a really strong impression: sharp mind, dry wit, more grown-up by far than nearly all of his world tour peers—likely because he’d done a mandatory stint in the army, at a time when the South African Border War was still spitting out casualties in Namibia, Zambia, and Angola. Burness also looked like Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, and had a roundhouse-to-vert-rebound cutback as smooth as a hot knife through butter. Somebody on Facebook wrote today that Mike is maybe the best 56-year-old surfer in the world, and it doesn’t surprise me a bit.

Next up: Simon Anderson and his mighty Thruster.

Thanks everybody, and see you next Sunday!

Matt

[Doc Ball photo by Tom Blake; Mike Burness photo by Paul Maartens]