Tim Dion, a professional surfboard shaper here in Malibu stopped by the shop today to check out what we were doing. Within minutes we had forgotten about the cups of epoxy curing in our hands as surfer wisdom poured out of his mouth. As it turns out, what we do in Camden and what we are doing here in Malibu are much more similar than ever realized. The area Camden now resides in began as prime waterfowl hunting and fishing grounds for the lenape people who would earn their keep on birch bark canoes. European immigrants (dutch, most likely) fell for the land for the same reasons and began imitating and re-imagining these double ended vessels to include sails, rowing and poling stations, birthing boats like the ducker, tuckup and railbird skiffs. As industry began to run our cities, Camden became a workingman’s mecca.. but not for railroads or automobiles... for boats (and phonographs and soup, of course). Ships would roll off of the New York Shipbuilding Corp. lines in south Camden to discover the unknown, map the uncharted, and devastate the non-compliant (sadly indeed).
All of these make me think that Camden has something to it... something greater than mere water access that causes people to build boats and fall for the rivers... as if the land itself yearns for it. Perhaps now it simply longs for a return to a home it once new.. the kind that was felt at the most recent boat launch on the Cooper River as 15 kids bounced toothy smiles off the most subtle wind swells. Malibu shares in Camden’s longing. Rumor has it that Malibu created surfing as we know it by being the first wave where someone turned down the face as opposed to simply riding towards shore. I believe it.. and if you were here, you would too. Surfrider beach (or Malibu Point as it was called during Malibu’s golden age of surfing beginning in the mid 20′s) has been credited with being the wave that has had the most effect on surfing’s popular image... that long, perfect, glistening tube... visible from miles up Malibu Canyon Road. Tom Blake’s legendary board (especially SUP) designs were built in driveways and garages all around this area through the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties until Malibu shifted gears. Once a wilderness for the redwood paddling adventurer, Malibu became a retreat community for those lucky few who could afford it. Though surfing is still huge here, we can feel that what we are doing here is something greater, something more important. It’s pulsing through the group of builders, growing in both numbers and excitement daily, and keeps us feeling as if we stumbled onto a goldmine. It seems that we Urban BoatWorkers, apprentices of the very boat that chooses us to build it, are once again in over our heads trying to reconcile a culture and a people to it’s land and it’s history... and I think it’s working.
This weekend we will sign our name on the board’s deck, not for vanity but for bookkeeping. These kids are making history in their city and 75 years from now when most of us are long gone these old school paddleboards may well live on adorning the wall of a themed local eatery or small gallery to forever tell the story of a bunch of wild locals who decided to go against the grain of their culture and honor, commemorate, their home. these boards may well outlive us... the most important boards I have are the ones that were made long before my time.
- Tim Dion
This student is obviously distraught; a close friend he’s grown up with was killed after being shot multiple times last night on Mt. Ephraim Avenue. He tells me he’s not available to make Sunday’s practice and he won’t be able to be part of the team anymore. I text him back that I am very sorry for his loss, but the practice is not scheduled to start until the following Sunday.
Afterwards, I begin thinking about some of the events that happen in the lives of my kids. Later that weekend, I pick up one of my students from his home in South Camden and, as he gets into the car shaking his head like only a seventeen year old can do, he grumbles, “My mom, she always says the same three things to me when I leave the house - ‘I love you, be safe and don’t get shot’.
‘Don’t get shot!?’ I know that, as parents, we have a long list of worries as our teenagers walk out the door on a Saturday night, but for most of us, having them get shot down in the street is not one of our concerns.
Back at school the next week, I spoke to the young man who texted me about not being able to be part of the team any longer…I told him I thought the team was part of the solution for him. I told him he couldn’t let the bullets that left his friend to “bleed out” on the street also take him down. He needed to ride for his friend and, even more, for himself; otherwise those bullets would just go on killing more and more young people.
So, if you ask me why we ride, I’ll tell you stories about some of the most amazing and resilient young people I’ve ever met. I look forward to sharing the road with you on May 7th and thank you to everyone, riders and supporters alike…you keep us trekking and, most of all, believing!