A Thanksgiving Story

Hobie Surfboards
Hobie Surfboards

A little while ago, at the behest and planning of artist Robb Havassy, I found myself at the home of film maker Bruce Brown. Though I tend to want to keep some aspects of my life private, this is something to share, as it is a story about the power of gratitude. November twenty fourth being the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S., it is especially appropriate, as thankfulness is in the heart of a Nation today. This little tale explains how it works, in the lives of my friends.

I met Bruce many years ago. He had rang me up out of the blue. His son, Wade and I, had worked together in my surfboard shop in downtown Santa Barbara. Yet our paths had never crossed. Bruce had asked me to come up and meet a writer on assignment for the NY Post, as they were doing a piece on him. He was so funny on the phone, that of course I said yes, and laughed for about ten minutes after we rang off. Not wanting to take any chances screwing it up, I had dragged my then assistant, Brian Nevins up with me. The portrait below was at the end of that day we would share at the Ranch and his home with writer Corey Levitan.

Film maker Bruce Brown
Film maker Bruce Brown

As my fiance, Donna Von Hoesslin, Havassy and I, sped up coast in the warm afternoon light washing the California Coast, Robb explained a film project idea that he was developing. Donna was craning to see if any of the multiple breaks that lie alongside the 101 on the Gaviota Coast were breaking, and I was quietly thinking about how special the people in my life are.

Gaviota Coast
Gaviota Coast

Robb loves to cook. Whenever he comes up to visit Donna and I, we usually let him. So part of his happy little plan, was Carne Asada del Havassy, and it was stashed in the car boot along with Vodka, a bottle of pretty special wine made by my friend and filming partner Rob Dafoe, and a few other sundry things for dinner.

The Speed 3 rumbled up the dirt road that led to Bruce’s home, Robb and I laughed. A big van emblazoned with Sanuk marketing wrap was parked next to the garage. Ha! It belonged to Wingnut, AKA Robert Weaver. We had just discussed him being in Robb’s project. Of course he was there. You could see what was coming in terms of our evening, as clearly as one would driving a long country road and happening upon a cross road.

As an image maker and Journalist I am highly cognizant of the significance of cross roads. They are pretty special when you look back on them with the benefit of retrospect. But nowadays, I cherish what comes at me via these very fortuitous moments in time. I pay attention to the traffic.

There we all were on the Gaviota Coast, and as golden fingers of light withdrew in leisurely fashion across the coastal scrub and the ocean took on mauve and amber tones, the stories flowed, and Bruce, his daughter Nancie, son Dana, Wingy, Robb, Donna and I shared stories, wine, laughter and the texture of our separate and collective lives. I will forever sit rapt at the feet of a great story teller. And I was surrounded by them.

As dinner wrapped up, none of us left the table. A lot of very rich and heavy sonnet ensued, and I swear I went from tears to laughter and back, several times before Bruce got up, only to return to the table with a sheaf of papers bound together. A hand made phone book of sorts.

“Hey have you talked to Hobie lately?” Bruce asked. “Ah no. I had wanted to interview him actually Bruce, but he has been having a pretty heavy battle with Cancer. I think he may be on Orcas Island.” (A lot was contained in what Bruce was doing. That man has the sharpest mind of just about anyone I have met. I swear he thinks in multiple dimensions. It is an ability which I have seen and found in common with many great creatives).

“Let’s call that foker up.”

I had been enlisted many years ago as an image maker for Hobie Sports Intnl and they had sent me all over the world. I have gotten to travel with Jeff Alter, Dan Mangus, Sean Douglas and a plethora of great athletes that today are a part of the lifestyle Hobie Alter created, which I truly view simultaneously as being descendent from my Hawaiian heritage, and having steered the development of contemporary culture. I constantly pinch myself when on our shoots, the ocean delivers repeatedly, experiences that are sort of mind blowing.

Bruce got Hobie on the line by the third ring I think. Without betraying the confidential nature of the conversation, I will just say that it was about gratitude. I listened as he thanked Hobie for everything he had done. From surfboards to boats to gliders and more. Bruce thanked Hobie Alter for introducing him to it all. And then he handed the phone to me.

I have surfed all over the world. I think that I have built maybe 40k surfboards in my life. I’ve sailed, swam, fished, soared, built and raced cars and bikes, and today I travel with cameras, and communicate what that life can look and feel like. I introduced myself to the gentle voice on the phone and gave a brief explanation of who I actually was: some guy who really is no different than any of us whose life revolves around the sea, and all I could think to say that meant anything was this: “Thank you. What you have done has made a big difference to me. I know you have been dealing with Cancer. How are you?” “Pretty good! I have to walk with a cane now. But I feel pretty strong. I think that I am going to be around for awhile”  “Really happy to hear that Hobie, I am going to hand the phone off now. There are some others here who want to talk to you.” And I said goodbye.

Auspicious moment, getting to talk to a man whose work created the platform for the things that bring joy and meaning to your life. Bruce knew what he was doing.

Then he called two more people. He was sowing seeds.

That is what we are doing today. All of us as we give thanks, are sowing to the future, in the honoring of the lives and memories of those who invested in their dreams, and pursued happiness. There is much to be said for that.

Here is a fantastic example by Photographer Giles Duly

Here is another, by  film maker Louie Schwartzberg.

Gratitude and Happiness are siblings.

You have to invite one in to get the other.

Happy Thanksgiving. Sow some seeds.



3 Responses to A Thanksgiving Story

  1. Aloha David,
    Wow–you really made my heart sing and my mind recall just how lucky we all are to have great people in our lives. I have always followed the creed that you treat people they way you would like to be treated and it sure seems like the group you encountered did just that…
    I have been fortunate to have many great surfboards in my life’s quiver and I have one shaped by Hobie himself, I even named my first bulldog Hobie in his honor.
    Thank you so much for allowing us in on a great evening, I felt like I was there just listening and watching. If you get down to Dana Point I would love to share some waves and talk a little photography.
    Much Aloha to You and Mahalo for sharing such a great gathering,

  2. Great story, I too spent the evening of Thanksgiving talking surfing with an old friend Gary Fowler of Dana Point. We talked of the past and the future, how surfing has affected us and our immediate families. It always amazes me how the ocean ties us all together, whether we know each other or not. But, just by listening to the stories of surf and the adventure we feel a wanderlust that binds us all together.
    Thanks for sharing

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