The beach at Parashant was an especially nice place for a campfire, so as darkness began to fall and one by one the brighter stars could be seen to pop out overhead, the fire pan was set up on the hard sand, and once again the flames began to grow.
"I donít know how it happened," Crystal began, "but somehow weíve managed to avoid getting a story or two out of Buddha. Like I told you earlier, Buddha is responsible for a lot of us being surfers, and most of us have had some great and memorable times down at his place."
"I donít know," Buddha said. "Iíd have to say that one of the more memorable ones in the last few years was about a year and a half ago, right after New Years."
"Oh, ho," Al grinned. He and Karin had planned to drop down to a small camp downriver after dinner, but in the late afternoon a private party had pulled in there, so they had decided to stay with the group for the night, if a little apart from it. That didnít mean that they were going to miss the campfire. "Are you thinking what Iím thinking youíre thinking?"
"Probably," Buddha grinned. "I guess most of you know Al and I were great surfing buddies back when we were kids. Weíre both from California, originally, and we just about grew up on Malibu."
"And on a bunch of other beaches up and down the coast," Al agreed. "We started at Malibu before we were old enough to drive, but when I got my driverís license, we had this old VW bug that weíd load up our surfboards with, and we went all the hell and gone up and down the coast, looking for a good break. Man that was a long time ago."
"Longer than I like to admit," Buddha agreed. "The surfing bug bit us both pretty bad, but I have to say that looking back on it, it bit me even harder than it did Al. I had pretty good grades in high school. Well, Vietnam was going on then, and I didnít want to go in the Army, so I went to college Ė Hawaii and Santa Barbara, mostly because there was good surf. Al, well, he didnít want to go to college, so he joined the Army."
"We sorta drifted apart after I joined the Army," Al added. "Oh, there were a few letters back and forth, nothing much, and when I got back home, Buddha was in Hawaii, so we missed each other and never did manage to get back together. I decided to go bumming around, wound up here and never left, and we just didnít cross paths again. I know three or four times when I went back to LA over the winter, Iíd ask after Buddha, and he was never around, and after a few years I just didnít ask anymore."
"Well, I wasnít," Buddha said. "Most of that must have been when I was working on my bachelorís and my masterís. After I finished up college, there just werenít any jobs in my field, so I decided to go surfing and see the country a little, and for some reason I decided to check out the surfing scene in Florida, what there was of it. I had a few bucks, nothing much, but I discovered this old place down near Sebastian Inlet. There was an abandoned shop that had sold sea shells, and this tumbledown little house, and I drove past it four or five times before one day I decided to stop and take a look. What really caught my eye was the fact that there was a pretty good break right out across A1A, not big but a nice shape, and when I got to thinking about it, I realized that it had been a pretty good break every time I went past the place. Over the years, I was to learn that thereís a pretty good break out there maybe half the time, less in the summer and more in the winter. Once in a while it gets up shoulder high, and once every few years a hurricane offshore kicks up some really nice waves and itís gangbusters. Anyway, this was right after my dad died, and I had a few bucks from his estate, nothing to write home about, but the place was cheap, and I thought I might be able to get something going. Now the east coast surfing scene isnít what it is in California and Hawaii Ė never was, never will be Ė but I got the idea in my head that I could be a big fish in a small pond down here. So, I put up a mortgage, bought the place, and set up shop. Got some lines of boards in, not a lot: Gastons and Webers and like that, mostly companies you havenít heard of for years."
"This was all back in the longboard days, right?" Al asked.
"Shortboards were starting to come in, then," Buddha explained. "And really, on the smaller stuff we had, they were a good deal. Anyway, things got started real slow. There was this big shop up in Melbourne that everybody thought had the market cornered in that area, and they did, pretty much. The problem was, that they catered more to showoffs and posers, rather than real surfers. You know, the kid from up north who wants a couple T-shirts to show off how cool he is, but never gets out on a surfboard. They had a lot of that and still do, but they were getting most of the business, too. Well, I sort of hung on, and when I was just about out of money, I discovered that the local community college needed someone to teach English literature, and on occasion other things. I had my doctorate in English lit, like surfer girl over there," he said, nodding to Myleigh, "so I went to work for them part time. I still teach up there, but never more than a class or two a semester. Iím kind of the utility infielder up there, Iíve taught several different lit courses, English, English as a second language, French, Spanish, comparative oriental religions, surfing, you name it. For a while there, I did some substitute teaching in the local high schools, too. You know, just doing what I could do to make ends meet, while I was trying to fix up the house and the store in my spare time. It was kind of a hippy life, still is, but Iíve been happy with it."
"Found your spot, huh?" Jeff asked.
"Well, sort of," Buddha nodded. "I didnít really realize it at first, and the second winter things were getting close, but by then Iíd started to get a little reputation among the hardcores as being more interested in surfing, rather than T-shirts. Well, I had this kid in my French class, Robbie Halstead. He was a real hardcore, still comes around. Back then, he was working in the surf shop in Melbourne, and hanging out in his spare time around my place. One day, this gal who only spoke French came into the shop up there in Melbourne. He didnít have a lot of French, just a little bit, but he was the only one who had any at all, and he got the idea that she wanted to try surfing, so he sent her to me. And, that was how I met Giselle."
"I really only wanted to try it out," Giselle said. "One afternoon, perhaps. I had come down from Montreal for a week because I was sick of winter up there. It was very difficult, not knowing any English, so it was nice to meet a man who spoke good French. European French, not Canadien French, but it was close enough."
"I have to say I was pretty impressed," Buddha grinned. "Not only was Giselle about the best thing Iíd ever seen in what passed for a bikini back then, she picked up surfing like no one Iíd ever seen, before or since. She was there the next day, then the next, and, well, one thing led to another. About six weeks later, I happened to ask her when she had to get back north to work, just out of curiosity, you know, and she said she had to be back to work a month before."
"I did not want to leave," Giselle said. "It was very cold still in Montreal, and Buddha was very nice, so I just stayed."
"Up till then, weíd only talked in French," Buddha said. "But when I realized she meant it, we switched over to English, and she picked it up pretty quickly. Having Giselle around eventually took a lot of the bite out of the financial issue, partly because she could watch the shop while I was out teaching, partly because she could instruct, too, and later, after her English got good enough, she could work part time as well."
"It took a while for my license as a nurse to get transferred, and my English did need to be better to be able to use it," Giselle added. "Like Buddha, I have rarely worked full time as a nurse, but there is always call for someone to work part time or as a substitute, but all the moving around gets tiresome, so the last several years I have worked mornings three days a week in a doctorís office. He does nothing but obstetrics and gynecology, so it has been rather easier, and I still get plenty of time to spend at the shop, surfing, and with Buddha."
"Weíre never going to get rich," Buddha smiled. "But along the way, weíve gotten rich by meeting a lot of good people, and some of them are on this trip. Thereís some special ones here, people who when they come down to surf, theyíre interested in surfing, being with the sea. Like you, Crystal, for example. You and Myleigh have been coming down there, what? Eight years, maybe? Trey, well, not quite that long, even though both of you were gone for a while. Thereís people whoíve been coming down there and hanging out almost as long as Giselle and I have been there, and their kids come down there, now."
"Must have been about January of í94 the first time I was there," Trey said. "I was stationed up at Ft. Stewart, and a bunch of us used to take three-days and come down."
"Myleigh and I have you beat a little," Crystal grinned. "The first time we were there was over spring break in í93, I think."
"Something like that," Buddha agreed. "Boy, I had no idea what the hell that was going to lead to."
"Me, either," Crystal smiled. "Youíre right, that was a day to remember."
"Damn straight," Buddha laughed, shaking his head. "I guess not everyone here has heard the story, but a lot of people here were part of it. Like Crystal said, she started out down there in must have been, í93."
"Yeah," Crystal said. "Myleigh and I were sick of winter at Northern, and we just wanted to get away for a while, so we loaded up in my car over spring break and headed south. I wanted to try surfing, so we stopped at that shop that Buddha was talking about earlier, up in Melbourne. And, he was right, it was filled with T-shirts and poser kids and didnít seem to be the place that I could learn anything about surfing, so we turned around and walked right out. We drove around until we found some people out really surfing, not just screwing around on bellyboards, and we talked with them a bit. They told us if we really wanted to learn, to come down to you. We did, and I got hooked."
"I did as well," Myleigh agreed. "Although, I must admit that in my case it took a while longer for it to take hold."
"Crystal was a natural," Buddha said. "Took to it right away. If she were to get out as much as Giselle, she could be about as good."
"I doubt that," Crystal said. "Giselle is just about the best Iíve ever seen, period, and that includes when Michelle and Scooter and I went to Hawaii that time."
"Myleigh could be about as good, if she were to get the practice," Buddha said. "Once I finally got her on a surfboard in the first place. It took her a couple days to get the hang of it, but now she plays it like she plays a harp."
"Buddha, I must protest," Myleigh grinned. "I believe you laid that one on much too thick."
"You did not learn to play the harp overnight either, did you?" Giselle said. "It took lots of practice, and I do have the opportunity for lots of practice. Myleigh, you are not a bad surfer, and if you were to get out half as much as I do you could be very good indeed."
"Sheís right, surfer girl," Buddha grinned. "But I always used to look forward to you and Crystal coming down, then Randy, when he started coming down with you a couple years after that. We always had some good times. But then, you graduated and went on to grad school, Crystal hit the road, and I missed having you around." He shook his head. "And then, when you came back . . . "
"Yeah," Crystal snickered. "That worked out pretty good."
"Outside of the fact that you almost killed me," Buddha grinned, looking up at the group clustered around the campfire. "Right after New Yearís, a year ago, Giselle and I were sitting out under the awning, and this minivan pulls in, and Crystal hops out one side while people are piling out the other. I recognized Myleigh, but there were others. Crystal comes running up and says, ĎBuddha, Iíd like you to meet my mom and dad.í" He stopped and shook his head. "I never came closer to a heart attack in my life. I looked up, and hereís Al. God, it must have been thirty years. I mean, hereís Crystal, a good kid who I liked a lot, but her last name wasnít Buck, so I never even thought about it. Then, to find out Al is her dad . . . I mean, it was a real surprise."
"You think you were surprised," Al snorted. "Think about me. I mean, Iíd known Crystal for about a year by that point, but the day I found out I was her father, we were sitting around on the beach up at Baseball Man, and we got to talking surfing. I hadnít surfed for years then; it wasnít something Louise did, and so I just never got to do any either. Then Crystal started describing you, and I knew it had to be the same person. I never really got the chance to thank you for that, Buddha. You managed to teach my daughter something I would have liked to teach my daughter to do if Iíd known Iíd had a daughter."
"Doesnít matter how it worked out," Crystal said. "It turned into something I had an awful lot of fun with. Thereíve been some good times, and not all of them were down at your place. Randy, you remember that time up at Second Sand Beach?"
"Donít think Iíve heard this one," Buddha grinned.
"It was along in April," Randy said. "Up there on Lake Superior. Weíve joked in the past about surfing in ice water, icicles hanging off the boards, and this was really pretty close to it. There was actually some ice around. Weíd headed up to a town by the name of LíAnse for some white water kayaking, but since it was blowing pretty good Crystal and I decided weíd take the boards, just in case we found a nice break. Myleigh was along with us, but she was square, she was studying for exams. It turned out the kayaking was a mob scene, so the three of us took off to check out the surf. There was this carload of freshmen following us; they couldnít believe we were going out in those conditions. We got up to this place called Second Sand Beach, and here is this awesome break. Not real big, but nicely shaped, so we probably stayed out longer than we should have."
"That was not the disgusting part," Myleigh grinned. "They came in off the water looking like Joe Cool and Jane Cool grooving around upon their surfboards in ice water, just to make those poor innocent freshmen think they were in the presence of some sort of superhumans."
"We were freaking cold," Randy admitted. "But we came off the water and all we saw was these big eyes in the freshmanís car. I mean Ė pure awe. So even though we were shivering so bad we could hardly stand up, we took each other in our arms . . . "
"For the warmth," Crystal giggled.
" . . . and had this big kiss. The kids came out of the car, and one of them asked me, ĎWow, wasnít that cold."
"And Joe Cool, here," Crystal said. "Just got a faraway look in his eyes, like weíd done something no mere mortals could do, and said, ĎNaw, it was pretty cool.í"
Everyone laughed at that one, while Randy shook his head and said, "One of them proved later to be a nice guy, even if he was one of the biggest gossips on campus, so it got around like that. After that, we were considered a little crazy."
"More like a lot," Myleigh smiled.
"Crystal was considered a little crazy down on the Ocoee, too," Noah grinned. "She turned heads for years down there with that surfboard. Iíll never forget the day she ran the river on it."
"You what?" Buddha laughed. "I never heard that story!"
"Oh, no big deal," Crystal laughed back. "It was a bet or a dare or something. Whatever it was, it seemed like a good idea at the time. We had a slow day, not a lot of customers, so I threw the board on the bus and ran the river on it. Surfed Hell Hole, a couple other spots."
"And had all the raft guides on the river bugging their eyes out," Noah said. "Especially at Hell Hole. Here these guys in kayaks are trying to surf that stopper, and here this babe in the bikini on the surfboard shows them how."
"Crystal, Crystal," Giselle smiled. "I am sure now that you are out of your mind."
"Aw, I was young and full of shit," Crystal laughed. "Havenít even thought of trying it here. Although, there are some people who have run parts of this with river boards. Theyíre kind of like surfboards, but are wider, have a little more volume."
"You want crazy," Tiffany said. "Weíve seen Randy out surfing on Spearfish Lake."
"Spearfish Lake?" Buddha frowned. "An inland lake? Whereís the surf?"
"Itís not crazy, itís desperation," Randy told him. "Thereís a difference. What you do is get out in the lake out where the channel comes out of the marina and wait for some joker to come out with a big wakeboarding boat and cob it open after he passes the no wake buoy. If you do it right and time it right, you can get a few seconds of something that sort of resembles surf. Itís just something to do to remind me that some people really get to go out and do things."
Joy shook her head. "I always thought it might be fun to try sometime, but I always figured surfers had to be a little crazy. You people have just proved it."
"Well, come on down and try it some time," Buddha grinned. "Giselle and I have taught a lot of beginners over the years, and if it doesnít work, well, thereís other stuff to do, too, like Disney World and Cape Kennedy."
"I donít know that Iíd be any good at it," Ben said. "But yeah, itís something that might be fun to try."
"You might want to think about coming down right after Christmas," Giselle smiled. "Thereís a lot of people on this trip who are going to be there; it could be sort of a reunion."
"It would be fun to get together with the rest of you again," Joy said. "After all the trouble with the first half of this trip, the second half has really gone by in a flash. Youíre all wonderful people, and Iím very glad that Mary and Crystal suggested that we switch trips instead of hike out. Jon, are you and Tanisha planning on being there?"
"Hadnít really thought about it," Jon said. "I tried surfing once, back before I met Tanisha, and I fell in a lot."
"I told you a long time ago," Crystal said. "If you ever want to try it again, check out Buddha and Giselle. Theyíll teach you right."
"It never worked out," Jon said. "But it would be fun to get together with everyone again." He let out a sigh. "Itíd have to depend on whatís happening at work, but it might be possible we could get away for a few days. Thereís no way of telling at this distance."
"Iíd like to try," Tanisha said. "And it would be fun to see everyone again, especially since weíre probably not going to be seeing the company people as much."
"Is something the matter?" Karin frowned.
"Yes," Tanisha smiled. "Weíve come up and helped you rig in the past, but now that Iíve seen this incredible place, if we come to Flag and Leeís again, Iím going to be tempted to stow away for another run."
"Weíre going to have to get you down here again," Al laughed. "Getting you hooked, too?"
"Both of us," Jon admitted. "We probably canít do it this year, especially if we think about taking off to Florida after Christmas, but maybe again."
"Well, come on up and help us rig, anyway," Crystal said. "That has worked out to be fun. Iíll just have to count noses real good before we shove off."
"Well, maybe," Jon smiled. "Ben, Joy, you might like to come up with us some time. It is kind of fun, and at least gives a taste of the place."
"You know, that might be fun," Ben smiled. "Iím getting a little tired of Dragonslayer, anyway. Itíd be nice to have something else to do with people we really know."
"Weíll have to get together sometime after we get back," Tanisha said. "Maybe we can think of something. Josh, are you and Tiffany thinking about the surfing trip?"
"Itís something to think about," Josh said. "However, with Tiffany due about November first, itís going to be hard to say."
"Itís something we never could have considered in the past," Tiffany added, "since weíve been so busy with the dogs, but this year it might be possible. I donít know if Iíd be any good at surfing, or what, but it would be fun to get away and just enjoy taking a break from winter. But, thereíll be a baby involved. Maybe I can get Mom and Susan to help."
"If you canít," Karin smiled. "Bring it along. I wouldnít mind having a practice grandchild for a while." She let out a sigh and added, "especially when thereís no telling when I might have a real one."
"Mom," Crystal said evilly, but with a gleam in her eye, "was that supposed to be a hint or something?"
"No," her mother smiled. "Just a statement of fact, but you can take it how you wish. Randy, you and Nicole are planning on being there, arenít you?"
"Probably," Nicole said. "I mean, unless something really comes up, but if it works out that itís tied in with Randy going sailing with Crystal and whoever, thatíd mean it would be more likely."
"I sure hope that comes off," Randy said. "Donít get me wrong, because surfing down there has been a big deal for me for years. But Iím coming to realize that itís not going to last forever. The way things are shaping up, thatís about the only time Nicole and I can get away together, and sometime weíre going to want to do something else. I was thinking that with the sailing trip we couldnít do it this year, but we could maybe jam a hiking trip to New Zealand in over Christmas sometime in the future, maybe throw in a little tourist stuff, some sea kayaking maybe. Itíd take two weeks to do that, what with all the travel time."
"Weíd miss you," Buddha said. "Does that mean youíre thinking about giving up coming down?"
"No, itís something we can enjoy together," Randy said with a headshake. "But we still can get down over Nicoleís spring break sometime, maybe, when it falls early enough." He let out a sigh. "Again, itíd have to depend on how things go and what the schedule is like. Iíd miss seeing a lot of the people here, since itís about the time youíre rafting, or getting started to. But at least itíd be something."
"Hang in there, Randy," Crystal nodded in understanding. Over the course of the day, sheíd gotten a full dose of Randyís frustration, after all. "Like I told you, maybe youíll get lucky. Luck does happen sometimes, you know."