The Red Surfboard

Wally Froiseth

(left) Wally Froiseth in 2007 at age 88, pictured with the Red Balsa Gun Surfboard he shaped in the late 1950s. My Dad bought this board in 1964 and sold it in 2007. Photo by Randy Rarick of Hawaii Surfing Promotions.

Excerpt from The Red Surfboard, read May 10th, 2010, at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, made possible by grants from 4Culture King County and Richard Hugo House:

In the mid sixties, my dad’s longtime surf buddy Tony Evans borrowed Dad’s red board to catch Sunset Beach’s giant waves. No lifeguards patrolled Oahu’s North Shore, with its legendary big surf, until 1968. Tony took along his sweet young bride and impressed her by continuing to wave at her from the ocean as she tanned herself on the beach. Tony waved, and waved, getting smaller, and smaller, until he was a speck on the horizon. He’d been caught in a riptide. Any surfer worth their salt knows how to exit a riptide, but Tony feared my dad would kill him if he lost the red board. So he hung on to that red board as he was sucked out to sea.

With the giant red board, he was easy to spot when the Coast Guard rescue arrived quite awhile later. The helicopter lowered a basket for Tony to climb into, but he refused, since entering the basket meant leaving the board. He hooked one arm and one leg over the side of the basket and hooked the board under his other arm. “Drop the board!” the rescue team squawked through their megaphone. “Release the surfboard now!” Tony refused. The basket tipped sideways as he dangled. The helicopter kept its rope down and gently made its way to shore, surfer and board swaying beneath it, and deposited him on the beach. A sequence of four pictures appeared on the next day’s front page, with the headline, “He Saved The Board!”

Bobby Munro, 1980, with the red board

My oldest brother also nearly drowned, choosing death at sea rather than having Dad kill him for losing a surfboard. Ten-year-old Bobby chased his runaway board until he had no strength left to pull himself out of the water. He was about to go under for good, smashing against the jagged, lava rock shore, when a fisherman grabbed his hand and hoisted him up.

Over forty years after Tony Evans almost died so as not to lose the red board, Dad tried to give it to him. Dad was seventy, and he’d had the board for over half his life. Tony declined. Dad’s old friends didn’t want it. The kids didn’t want it. Nobody wanted it. Dad, reputed killer of those who lost his surfboards, could not get rid of this surfboard despite his best efforts.