The Malloy Brothers Conspiracy
The hills are there in front of us, the sun behind, and he’s getting smaller and smaller, framed by the burnishing light, the water, the sand, the hills. I remember for a moment how much beauty is still left in this world. And now here’s my wave, lifting me gently and sending me off in the direction of where he’s glided down the line, disappearing into the reflected light.
I’ll never catch him. He’s a Malloy. He goes first.
It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m at the place that Chris Malloy and his brothers come back to when they’re done with the adventures that send them off to the rugged shores of western Ireland or the malarial jungles of Indonesia or the jagged reefs of Tahiti. They go to these places in search of things out of the reach of most of civilization: moments of purity, grace and thrills — a type of simplicity bounded by nature and determined by the sea. Spend time with these guys and you too will start to believe that civilization has its drawbacks. Sure, they are just professional surfers. But then, again, Bono is just a singer in a rock & roll band.
The place Chris Malloy has taken me will always be the best place in the world to him. Etiquette forbids me from telling you exactly where this place is, but it’s not far from where he and his younger brothers, Keith and Dan, grew up on a ranch near Ojai. It’s close to where they live now. It’s near his family and his sister, the one sibling who doesn’t surf and never will. It’s where their story began. It’s where their story continues to grow, and where it’s likely to become part of the rich local lore, before they’re done. For all their traveling, these part-Irish, part-Mexican young men are still homeboys, after all.
In late September, I drove to Laguna Beach for my first in-person encounter with the Malloys. Laguna is about 100 miles and many light-years from where they come, yet there was Chris, the oldest of the three at 32 years old, nervously addressing the packed amphitheater at the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts. More than 3,000 tickets — up from 300 last year — had been sold on Saturday alone for that day’s installment of the weekendlong Moonshine Festival, a surf-spawned art, music and film event named for the Malloy-led Moonshine Conspiracy — a collective of surfers and artists who share a certain retro sensibility. Jack Johnson, Will Oldham, the Shins and others like surfer-musician Donovan Frankenreiter would perform. Among the photographers and artists showing were John Severson, Scott Soens, Barry McGee and Alex Knost. The event’s proceeds would benefit the Surfing Heritage Foundation, dedicated to gathering, documenting and making available to the public the artifacts and history of surfing, something to which the Malloys are precociously attuned.
For Dan Malloy, a wave this big is like manna from down under
I’m not sure the parade of The O.C.–minted, hypersexy girls — and boys who dogged after them — cared so much about surfing heritage as they did about just seeing and being seen at what has become the Woodstock of surfing, a pursuit that is now officially the primary cultural signifier of the young and/or the tragically hip (like 50-something Blue Crush producer Brian Grazer), but that didn’t stop Chris from trying.
"Welcome to two years of home movies," he said, by way of introducing the main attraction, the premiere of the Moonshine Conspiracy’s A Brokedown Melody. Malloy, who directed the film, was as inconspicuous in khakis and a flannel shirt as a man on a large stage with a spotlight on him could be.
About a month later, fans would be turned away from the film’s premiere at the 2,000-seat Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Something, it’s clear, is happening, because this film, even more than the rest of the Moonshine Conspiracy’s catalog, isn’t a typical surf film. The Malloys don’t pimp their rides, and their films are leagues apart from typical punk-adjacent contemporary surf videos. Without losing its relevance (how could it when it features Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Tom Curren and CJ Hobgood?), Melody is thematically and aesthetically reverent to an older, more classic idea of what it means to be a surfer. It draws a direct line from pioneers like Duke Kahanamoku — the Hawaiian 1912 Olympic gold-medal swimmer who traveled the world spreading the concept of surfing — to Slater, who is the greatest surfer who ever lived, and who, like the Malloys, believes in a broader definition of surfer as waterman and steward. Those waiting throngs might not have known it going in, but when A Brokedown Melody is playing, surf church is in session and the Malloy brothers are leading a revival.
I’ve got all three Malloy brothers in one place, which should qualify me for permanent membership at the Magic Castle considering the difficulty of herding these guys. Keith, the middle brother at 30 years old, has just returned from an excursion to Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands on behalf of Surf Aid. The mission involved traveling upriver to visit an indigenous tribe that still file their teeth into fine points and fashion loincloths from tree bark. The group brought doctors and dentists with them and tried to promote malaria awareness, still the biggest killer in places like the islands. Prior to that trip, Keith had spent most of the summer training for an epic coed paddleboard contest in Hawaii called the Molokai. He and his partner finished second. Meanwhile, Dan, who is 26, spent the better part of the last month traveling the country to promote artist and fellow Moonshine conspirator Thomas Campbell’s art-damaged surf film Sprout, in which he’s a featured player. He also managed to work in a couple of weeks of surfing in France. Chris, for his part, is just coming off an editing schedule for A Brokedown Melody that would have given a speed freak pause.
Keith poking his face out of the tube.
We’re at Keith’s house, where Dan also lives, sitting in the bright living room that overlooks the break north of Ventura where Chris and I surfed. A tree in the front yields edible bananas. The place is half home, half warehouse for a collection of gear that can outfit the boys for every kind of water adventure from towing into big waves to paddling 60 miles up the central coast — something Dan and Keith recently accomplished.
Individually, these boys are impressive — each one seemingly taller, more rugged and more handsome than the other (Dan was recently paid to model for Ralph Lauren). Together, they are formidable. As Scott Hulet, the editor of the incomparable Surfer’s Journal, told me, "If Hollywood, in its unquenchable hunt for schlock re-releases, ever spanks a Bonanza redo, these three would be a good place to start for the Cartwright brothers. They’re all too smart to bite on that, though."
Chris Malloy peppers any discussion of surfing with references to legends, like their neighbor, big-wave pioneer Pat Curren, and others like champion swimmer, surfboard innovator, photographer and philosopher Tom Blake. Or John Severson, the man who started Surfer magazine and was the original surfer-artist. These were men who knew their history, made their own boards, dove for their food, and approached their lives with a poet’s heart and a beatnik’s wanderlust.
"Those guys did everything. They did film, photography, writing, and Pat was just a legend. They were the kind of people I aspired to be like and to experience some of the things they did," Malloy says. "You know, when my time finally came and I got to surf these places that I had always dreamt of, and then came home and looked at this depiction of my experience [in articles and video], it wasn’t representative of anything I had experienced. I got sick to my stomach. They were product-driven and missing the experience. Surfing was becoming a commodity so fast. What was a cottage industry has become a billions-of-dollars business. It just wasn’t what I dreamed of being a part of."
Earlier, at the Moonshine Conspiracy’s headquarters in a renovated Victorian in downtown Ventura, where much of the staff (mostly family) lives and works, Chris drew up a schematic of the gladiator pit that is the North Shore’s famed Pipeline lineup. Pipeline is the serious surfers’ proving ground, and the pecking order goes from Pipe Rulers, right at the wave’s peak, and descends down the shoulder to the Mob, the Brazilians, the body boarders and, finally, the Japanese body boarders. Lately, there has been an influx of jujitsu enthusiasts among the Brazilians, and the local Hawaiians, who have long seen outsiders crowd their turf in hopes of catching some sponsor’s eye, are always ready to fight. The Malloys have all scrapped their way, literally, past the Mob and into the Rulers.
All in the family: The Malloys (bottom from left): Dan, Keith, Mom Denise with Mary and dad Mike. Chris and wife Carla are on top.
When they are surfing, they approach the level of daunting — fearless and fearsome, not flashy but powerful, fast and seemingly in total command of their environment.
"There are a lot of guys out there who are fast, and a lot of guys out there who are powerful — they have to be — but we surf every day. If it’s 20 feet, we surf. If it’s 2 feet, we surf," says Chris Malloy. "By far, if there’s anything that’s significant about us, it’s that we surf every board in every condition, and there isn’t so much of that anymore, which is something they prided themselves on in the olden days. You use the ocean for what it is. It isn’t something we tried to develop on purpose; it’s just that, at age 32, I still surf every day."
Adds Dan: "If they’re trying to figure out whether it’s big waves or small waves or cold water and they’re trying to figure out who would go, they’d be, like, ‘Get one of those kids. If it’s big or small or rocks, they’ll go do it.’ "
"We love it. We’ll go do it," says Keith.
Usually, they’ll do it together. There is one entry for all three Malloy brothers in Matt Warshaw’s indispensable The Encyclopedia of Surfing. Whether they like it or not, they are indelibly linked in people’s minds. They seem okay with it, the linking part, but they do want people to understand that they are three individuals as well.
"I always tease them that they’re the guys you don’t want to sit next to on an airplane, because they’re going to talk your ears off the whole way," says Keith, who fashions himself to be the quiet one, more like his father. "We usually get along real good, but we’re normal people. We’ll scrap it out. Usually not in a fistfight, but you know. We never get to the end of the day without figuring it out and making amends, you know?"
You can see that in person, all three shooting the bull in Keith’s living room. Despite their prowess and their über competence — they are the kind of guys who can do what men are supposed to do: fix things, work things, lift things — they’re just too damn gentle to be intimidating. We’re talking story, as they say, and the brothers are regaling me with some of the gnarlier sides of being a modern-day adventurer. Like the time a few years ago when Keith was in the Spice Islands coming into a break on his boat and the water got lit up with Uzi gunfire. It was just days after Muslims had massacred 500 Christians.
'Dude is that my shirt?' Dan and Chris on a surf/camp adventure in New Zealand.
"We pulled up, and these guys started firing off rounds. They jumped on their motorized canoes and were coming out and firing shots. I was thinking, I’m fucking dead in a couple of minutes." He tells of walking around Indonesia and natives wearing Osama bin Laden T-shirts with the Twin Towers blowing up on them.
On a recent trip to get footage for A Brokedown Melody, Dan found himself delirious and alone at a rat-infested hospital in Jamaica, suffering from Dengue fever. "I was so tweaked and dehydrated, and I’d be asleep and awake and asleep and awake," he recalls, smiling with gallows humor. "They call it break-bone fever. Every joint in your body and your eyes and everything hurts. Never have I sweated so much in my life."
These, though, are the risks they take in search of the golden moments, like the one Chris had with surfer, musician and Moonshine Conspiracy co-founder Jack Johnson. They were on a mission to find a never-before-surfed break in the Bay of Bengal that was just a wild rumor at that point.
"I had been talking to this guy, this crazy guy named John Callahan, who had been doing his homework on that area for years and mapping out the weather systems, and timing when he thought there’d be a swell. So we said, If we get to Thailand on this day, we can drive through the jungle for nine hours and get to Burma, where there’s a boat we can catch that goes across the river, and from that island, we’ve got a charter company that will take us across," Chris tells. "We’re sitting there with maps and it’s real old-school and for the final boat trip we got this funny English guy and his sailboat to take us out and go do it. He’d done dive charters and fishing charters before. He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll take you out there, sure. There’s nothing there, no waves.’ We said, ‘Well, we think there are.’ "
Old school boards at Keith's house
They found a wave, all right.
"I remember sitting out there on the bow of the boat and the sun came up and just watching it and thinking: This is the last time this wave will ever be a virgin wave. It’s surreal, taking off on a wave that’s never been ridden before and people come out of the jungle to watch you and they’re cheering. I’ll never forget it." That session became the inspiration for the Moonshine Conspiracy’s Thicker Than Water, the first of the four films the independent-minded collective has put out in the past five years, Melody being the fourth.
These stories aren’t told with any dick-swinging swagger, but rather with an appreciation that the world is a sad and beautiful place — a place where people like them surf virgin waves while the locals die of malaria. They spend more time than most of their contemporaries trying to close those gaps. It’s a rare quality to find in young men, especially those who can glean the tube of a triple-overhead closeout. But once you know who they are and where they come from, it’s not surprising that the Malloy brothers should possess it.
Who they are is inexorably tied to where they came from. "Let me put it like this," says Chris. "My brothers and I literally came out of the sticks. We grew up with pigs and horses and chickens and goats. It was a few acres up in Ojai at the base of Los Padres National Forest."
Back then Ojai wasn’t the New Age spa getaway for well-heeled Westsiders that it has since become. The Malloy lineage goes back five generations in these parts. Their great-great-grandfather was a muleskinner and worked the oil fields. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, their father, Mike, was a fixture on a long board at Topanga Beach’s right-breaking point. Topanga Beach was different then, too. It wasn’t a state beach, but an eclectic beachside community, home to colorful characters, dropouts, derelicts and Miki Dora when the break was working. Mike Malloy felt comfortable there.
But change came quickly in the early ’70s. Los Angeles was getting more and more crowded, the Topanga community was razed, a state beach was put in its place, and Mike Malloy, a construction worker with a little cowboy in him, moved his fledgling family up to Ojai, where they had roots and the land was cheap.
Although the father was turned off by the short-board revolution that came with the late ’60s, he encouraged his boys to surf. They’d get dropped off or hitchhike the 15 miles over the mountain to the beaches where they still surf today.
"When he wanted us to start surfing, he gave us this equipment that was like 1965 equipment," says Chris. "I remember the first contest we ever went to. Keith made the finals and he was on a single fin and all the other kids were on these little -thrusters. I remember Keith was waiting for the semifinals and was almost crying because all the kids were making fun of his big, single-fin board."
"He didn’t know what he was doing," says Dan.
I suggest that it was so old-school it was new-school.
"Yeah, but it was so long ago, it wasn’t cool at all," says Keith. The brothers laugh at the memory. But Keith made the finals and finished second.
"I made all these enemies," says Keith. "They were like, ‘I can’t believe you beat us on that piece of shit.’ "
"When we were kids, we only had one wetsuit," recalls Dan. "So, two of us would be in trunks and the other one would get the wetsuit. I remember the first suit I got was a short john, and I remember I was out there in the winter thinking how warm it was."
"The first day he got his wetsuit, he slept in it," adds Keith.
During the summer months, after their father put them through a couple weeks of working on the ranch and on construction sites, he would drop them off at the beach. "We’d have a tepee set up and my dad would come once a day and drop food off and we’d stay there the whole summer. I was probably in eighth grade," says Chris. "People would come and take pictures. We thought they were taking picture of the waves. We’d always be like, ‘It’s shitty out there; why are they taking pictures?’ And they’d be -taking pictures of these kids staying in a tepee on the beach.
"It was really unconventional growing up," he adds.
The boys were so out of the culture of the competitive-surfing world — a culture so cutthroat it would make Little League dads blush — that there’d be competitions right around the point from their tepee and they wouldn’t even know about it.
Still, they managed to do well enough with their hand-me-down gear that the surfing Malloy brothers started to get talked about around Ventura. Soon they caught the eye of local board-shaping legend and surf guru Al Merrick, whose Channel Islands Surfboards was the industry standard at the time. Merrick was among the first to recognize the talents of such revolutionary modern surfers as local boy Tom Curren and Kelly Slater. Merrick anointed the Malloys all at once, together.
"Al Merrick was the first person who ever had faith in us as far as sponsoring us, and at that time he had the best surfing team in the world," Chris says. "We were these kids from Ojai, and he saw that same hunger to surf in all of us."
For the Malloy brothers, family became a brand, not a word. "It made sense and it was easier going that way than not. It was rare that anybody would say, ‘We want Keith or we want Dan or we want Chris,’ " says Keith. "It was always like, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you guys about working together.’ "
"I think the sponsors knew how tight we were," Chris adds. "It would seem inorganic to do it any other way."
The Malloys’ careers skyrocketed throughout the ’90s. Chris’ fearless big-wave charging began earning him invitations to the Eddie Aikau big-wave contests. Keith was one of the most photographed and filmed surfers of the ’90s. Dan was poised for perhaps the most glory of the three after winning the Ocean Pacific Pro Junior in 1996 and placing second in the 2000 U.S. Open. A couple of years ago, his peers selected him in Surfer magazine’s poll as one of the 10 best surfers in the world.
Then, in 2002, Dan quit the competitive circuit, having decided, like his brothers, that the circus was getting in the way of the surfing.
The feeling that something was getting away from them had been building in all three Malloys even as their dreams were being realized beyond their wildest expectations.
Dan gets blow-dried in New Zealand
"Even since the time we signed those first contracts, the face of surfing has changed so much. At first, it’s ‘Hey, I can pay my rent and get to do what I love.’ It goes from having enough money to pay rent and barbecue to having your face on billboards and MTV and people in the Midwest wearing the stuff you’re hawking and you realize maybe you’ve gotten into more than you thought you were," says Chris. "After a while, about five years, it’s become apparent you’re a trained seal. It’s wear the trunks, wear the shirts, smile. Don’t say too much when you’re interviewed and everything will be fine. You’re helping surfing grow exponentially; surfing is growing like mad, but you’re helping create a bunch of loose cannons because of people who think surfing is fashionable or they are drawn to these idols that they see in surfing magazines and you step back and you start to feel like you’ve betrayed something that’s dear to you."
The first step in finding their way back was sort of a joint internal affirmation. "We wanted to surf for the reasons we started to surf; over the last four or five years, that’s how we’ve felt. We didn’t want to compete. We weren’t going out there trying to create attention with these hideously bright colors that they were using in surfing for so long," says Keith. "It wasn’t something we talked about or anything, we just moved in the same direction together. We do spend so much time together, it just rubs off. We feed off each other."
Once they had reclaimed surfing for themselves by dropping out of the competitive grind, they slowly started a process that would be dedicated to reclaiming it for those who had gone before and those who would come after.
This is where the Moonshine Conspiracy comes in. It’s a loose affiliation of like-minded surfers, musicians, artists and filmers, but it’s really a code name for Chris Malloy, his brothers, former pro surfer and now-famous musician Jack Johnson, cousins Emmett and Coley, wife Carla, other family members, and anyone else they can inspire. Lately that’s come to include even full-time surfer and part-time rock icon Eddie Vedder, who contributed a ukulele song to A Brokedown Melody.
They released their first film, Thicker Than Water, in 1999. It was a definitive step away from the prevailing mode of the day, which was to make corporate-funded, quick-cut, heavy-action and heavier-music affairs that were little more than adverts for the surfers and their sponsors. Aside from featuring the biggest waves ever ridden in Tahiti and debuting Jack Johnson’s music for most people, it is one of the few surf films ever to be shot entirely on 16mm film. The same year, the Conspiracy released Thomas Campbell’s incongruously long-board-centric The Seedling, also shot on 16mm. Then came September Sessions and Shelter.
Chris prefers to spray it, not say it.
The films were so out of context with the mainstream that they were subversive. They didn’t identify riders or locations, had little of the standard (and annoying) voice-overs, and were infused with subtle messages and inside jokes. The idea was for viewers to be inspired to figure things out for themselves: who it is surfing, what they’re doing, what the references are. They depicted the Malloys and their friends as a band of adventurers, using the water in a variety of ways, living off the land, and gathering around the campfire to play music and tell stories of their predecessors. The films were independently made and distributed out of the Conspiracy’s headquarters in that renovated Victorian in Ventura. They were as much art projects as surf films, throwbacks to a bygone era that showed surfers living out an older definition of what it means to be a surfer.
"I feel like where we come from, our heritage, is better than anything I do," says Dan. "I have a whole lifetime of learning about the ocean, about what that lifestyle is. We’re trying to learn what it means to be a waterman." That sentiment has resonated, and each film has become a cult classic in the surfing community.
The recently completed A Brokedown Melody is the most fully realized of them all — a perfect balance of state-of-the-art surfing and high aesthetics. Shot in saturated, deep hues of blue, violet and amber — which serves to close the distance between the viewer and the action — the film seamlessly moves from moments of -aching beauty to seat-grabbing adrenaline. But it’s never over the top, always neatly calibrated to the overriding message, which is that to be a surfer is to understand one’s responsibility to both surfing’s past and its future.
Among the film’s many poignant moments is a jam session with Tom Curren and Kelly Slater. Curren is like the Steve McQueen of surfing, an almost mythical searcher and the heaviest influence on the Malloys’ and Slater’s generation of neo-romantic surfers, which includes other stars like Rob Machado. The sequence intercuts between them out in the surf in Indonesia, which includes some of Curren’s best moments on a board in 10 years, and on the sand, where they try to out-insinuate each other.
"You kind of have to be a surfer to get the humor in this," says Chris. But you don’t have to be a surfer to get the meaning of these two icons surfing together.
Later in the film, Slater, Machado and others are joined in the surf by local kids who are flat going for it on broken boards. You can feel the kids spurring on the elders and the elders inspiring the kids. The segment, laid over a stirring track by the Beta Band that includes a turn on a pretty wave by Slater that’s so insane Malloy freeze-framed it, is a hosanna to the transformative power of surfing to induce joy and exorcise cynicism. If your skin doesn’t get goosy watching this, you may be dead.
"Without being preachy or trying to tell people what to do, I wanted to, in a fun way, or in a simple way, just remind people a little bit about where we come from and what is there for everybody as surfers and that this carrot that people are trying to chase now, and the Hollywood depiction of surfing and the glory that comes with it, that there’s something more than that," says Chris. "But in a fun way."
It’s not a new thing, someone reclaiming something that has a pure heart from the maw of commodity and commerce. It happens in music, it happens in art, and it happens in surfing. But it’s a good thing, nonetheless.
"What you see on film and in magazines represents about 1 percent of the surfing population. What the Malloys represent is the rest of surfing; the way the rest of people experience surfing — going on trips, camping with friends, playing music and enjoying a beautiful setting. That’s the feeling you get when you watch their movies," says Machado. "I definitely want to be a part of it."
Before I knew all this stuff about the Malloys, before I knew about their work with Surf Aid, or teaching autistic children to surf, or that they had taken a big pay cut to leave surfing giant Hurley to develop an environmentally sensitive ocean division with unfashionable Patagonia, or that they had turned down big bucks to do a Sunkist commercial because they don’t think soda is good for kids — before any of that, I knew there was something different about these guys.
I had seen them in Step Into Liquid — Dana Brown’s mega–surf flick from last year — in a segment that took place in Northern Ireland. They were teaching kids on both sides of the schism there to surf and maybe find some common ground in the bargain. That was cool and one of the movie’s touching moments, but also impressive was how the brothers turned the burly surf on the northwest coast of Ireland into a playground. People from the village came down to gawk as if they were watching aliens land. But the brothers came across as incredibly humble and grounded. There was something different about them and I wanted to know what it was.
Keith checking damage after heavy surf.
I thought I found my answer more than a year later when I finally watched photographer and artist Alix Lambert’s Box of Birds documentary, which aired on PBS and which followed the Malloys from a surf trip in New Zealand to their family’s ranch in Ojai. Her film introduced me to Mary Malloy, the youngest of the Malloy siblings, the one who doesn’t surf.
By the time I get around to asking about Mary, the brothers and I are sitting at an authentic Mexican cafeteria, one of the few remaining traces of old Ventura, a place that’s in the middle of a franchise takeover they say has caught the town all but unawares.
"I heard the Gap and all these places are just circling, looking to try and kick out the antique stores, the old ladies who have had antique stores here for 50 years, and putting in the Gap," says Chris. "There’s a real tug of war in this town right now."
Ventura, they say, was the kind of place where cowboys, Hell’s Angels and farm hands all mixed comfortably. As if to punctuate the statement, a roar of motorcycles announces a couple of guys on Harleys cruising down the street. Chris says they’re probably weekend warriors, not the real thing, because he doesn’t recognize them. The windshield on the front of one of the bikes would seem to confirm that. To illustrate the changes taking place, Dan tells me about last Halloween. "Some kids came up to trick or treat and my dad opened the door and they were like, ‘No way! He’s a worker for Halloween." They all laugh.
I ask if their dad would have been happy if they’d all stayed on the ranch. "Yes," they answer in unison.
"I was thinking about that the other day, how when I go out to work with my dad, he has to show me what to do," says Dan. "He calls us city boys and says we have hands like girls’ because they aren’t all fucked up like his are."
I wonder if there is any tension.
"I was just going to say, he has a tremendous amount of respect for what we do now," Keith says. "He enjoys the big-wave surfing stuff. Although we don’t have the working hands he does, we have plenty of battle scars."
They hear it from their mom, mostly, about how proud their dad is of them. "We come from a family that if you sit there and talk about it, it degrades the whole thing," says Chris. "He admires people whose actions speak for it. He’d rather show us his approval over the course of six months in a subtle way than say, ‘Gee, son, I’m so happy with you and I love you so much.’ "
The brothers, though, will be the first to say that they aren’t the real heroes in the family. The lessons of courage, resilience and generosity were taught to them by their sister, Mary, who was born with cerebral palsy, a bad heart and no hearing or sight. She’s fought harder for her moments of joy than they ever will, and they all know it intrinsically. Mary is 22 years old, and that’s 21 more than anyone said she’d be. When the Malloy kids were growing up, the fire station was between the school and their house. "So, for, like, 10 years, every time I’d hear a fire engine, it’d be awful," says Keith.
There’s a scene in Box of Birds where Chris is lying next to Mary, who even now is not much bigger than a toddler, and he’s remarking that the doctors told them she isn’t sentient — that she doesn’t know what’s going on. Just as Chris says it, she reaches up and lovingly rubs his face. And then she does it again, a wide smile on her face. It’s a bald expression of love, and it’s more beautiful than any wave the boys have ever ridden.
"Her being there gave us a perspective that I think a lot of people don’t get, you know? I think that just shaped us to be just a little bit unique in what is important to us just because we got that perspective from having our little sister, Mary, who has all these problems," says Keith.
"With her, the biggest lesson was no matter who you think you’ve become, no matter what a magazine has written about how good you are or what you’ve done, coming home to her and our family always made you realize that you were that same kid that you started out as, and that life’s not perfect. In fact, it’s way off center," Chris says. "And the other thing is . . . "
"She’s probably happier than all of us put together," Dan cuts in, laughing.
'If that pizza isn't here in 10 minutes, it's free!' Dan, Keith, and Chris(L-R), waiting to be delivered
"You’d come home from school and there’d be an ambulance or something and it was a really strange way to grow up," Chris continues. "Here we had this wonderful place we lived and these great parents and we had each other, but it just gave you an appreciation for every day and what was in front of you, and to be optimistic, too. It gave you confidence. You’re told that things are going to be so wrong; she’s not going to make it past 2 weeks old, they said at first . . . it gave us optimism."
Chris can see where this is going, though, and doesn’t want me getting all soft on them. He has a warning for people who think they’re some kind of saints just because they’ve taken advantage of some of their time and privilege.
"I just want to call bullshit on it," he says, almost pleading. "We get wasted and we get in bar fights and do stupid shit."
"If I read the stories about us, I’d be like, ‘Jeez, dude, what are you trying to prove?’ " adds Dan.
In the end, they say, they’re not out to save the world, or even surfing, for that matter. Their goals are much more modest. "My new goal is no more goals. That’s what I told my wife," Chris laughs. But then he gets a little serious again and says, "All those guys who came before us, they’ve passed on a really precious thing, and we want to take off all the bullshit and leave it just how we found it. We don’t want to be seen as anything other than that." Well, there’s one other thing, Chris sheepishly admits: If they ever write the story of this odd place called Ventura and the characters who lived and surfed here, maybe, just maybe, there will be a page in the book on them.
If there is, it should say something about these handsome, modest kids who surfed pretty well, but, more importantly, who stuck together and lived exemplary lives . . . and that their father’s proud.
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