Legends Never Die: They Live On Within Us
By Mike McDaniel – July 18, 2020
The passing of Big Dave King on July 3rd 2020 came as a gut punch to the surf and waterman community of Santa Cruz. Dave embodied everything good about the surf and paddling lifestyle, and had a big smile for everyone he met. Full of pure Hawaiian aloha, he was more than loved—he was beloved—by an entire town. And at six foot nine (or ten?) he was looked up to—literally and figuratively—by everyone. He was the guy we all hoped we could be, someday; a grounded, genuine, surf-stoked grom. In his middle sixties.
He was the guy we all hoped we could be, someday; a grounded, genuine, surf-stoked grom. In his middle sixties.
Dave had a stroke back in March of 2019, and although his road to recovery was going to be long and bumpy, nobody doubted that Dave would endure that journey, and emerge victorious. But sometimes, fate has other plans. Big Dave passed at home on July 3rd, surrounded by his loved ones.
Only a few days later, I heard of the passing of another surfer/friend, Chuy Venegas. The name might tip you off; Chuy was a friend from Mexico. He lived his entire life in a small surf/fishing village in the Mexican state of Nayarit, that I happened to inhabit for eleven years. In those years, my relationship with Chuy evolved from fear to tolerance, to some sort of compatibility and eventually, to friendship. It was another long bumpy road, punctuated with tense exchanges and middle fingers. But as is often the case, harsh words and puffed up chests sometimes hide soft hearts.
I purchased my first prone paddleboard from Big Dave almost twenty years ago. We were introduced by our mutual friend Zach Wormhoudt. At the annual Pier 2 Pier race in Santa Cruz Zach called Dave over and said “Mike is looking for a used paddleboard, do you have one for sale?” Dave said he had two boards for sale, and asked if I wanted to follow him over to his house to check them out. Thirty minutes later we were in his back yard, checking out his quiver, five beautiful boards racked neatly. I knew very little about prone boards at that point. Dave gave me a quick education, and suggested I try out a couple of them. That was easy because he lived two houses away from the beach. Dave was a realtor, and said “I have to go show a house, but I’ll be back in about an hour and a half. Just help yourself to my boards, even the ones not for sale. Figure out if you like it, first. Then we’ll talk when I get back.” I went paddling alone.
We made a deal when he got back, and I had my first prone board, an 18 foot Richmond that looked like a giant ocean-piercing spear. I had almost enough cash on me… I was a hundred dollars short of the thousand that he hoped for. I offered to run to the ATM, but he said “Nine hundred is fine, it’s a deal.” I considered him a friend from that day forward, the day I met him. And I looked forward to all the Santa Cruz paddleboard races and events, at least partially because I knew Dave would be there. Dave was impossible not to like.
It was definitely possible to not like Chuy. But even though he was the grouchy enforcer in a surf town known for producing talent, and often had harsh words for tourists and expat gringoes living in ‘his town’, or anybody that rubbed him the wrong way, I wanted to like him. That took effort. He was fluent in multiple languages including English, profane in all of them, and his edges were perpetually rough. At times, he seemed like a grenade, ready to explode and take out the whole beach.
I came in from a surf one afternoon, where I caught a bunch of waves. I was stoked on my session. I made some critical (for me) drops, made some nice turns, and kicked out cleanly on most of my waves. I was pleased with myself. As I crossed the sand, Chuy—who had been watching from the beach—blocked my path and he looked irritated. He said “Hey pinche gringo, if you’re going to keep doing that shitty pop-up, go surf another break. It’s ugly.” Now, I knew my pop-up was less than textbook; I had struggled with it for years. But the fact that I could still make a drop and hit a bottom turn, occasionally make a clean, open-face cutback, and find speed on a mushy wave made me feel better about my surfing overall. But Chuy zeroed in on my weakness, and scolded me.
But he also wanted to help me. He and I are built the same; short and barrel chested. And mutual fondness for beer made us both kind of doughy. I tried to blame my clunky take off on my physical limitations, but that was a flawed strategy with Chuy. Despite his stockiness and rock-star-party-all-night lifestyle, he could ride a longboard in heavy surf and make it look natural, even beautiful. His pop-up was flawless. And he could throw an old-school headstand on an open face at will. He gave me some suggestions on getting my knees up under my body more quickly and efficiently. A guy who had never EVER been to a yoga class in his life, or even considered it, suggested I might try it, to improve my flexibility. And then he slapped me a ‘chocala’—the Mexican equivalent of a high five—and said “you owe me a beer” and walked off. That was the day I realized we were some version of friends. All my experiences with Chuy after that were much more pleasant, and some of them included post-surf beers.
Despite his stockiness and rock-star-party-all-night lifestyle, he could ride a longboard in heavy surf and make it look natural, even beautiful.
I’ve been thinking about Dave and Chuy a lot the past couple of weeks. Despite the very obvious differences in the types of people they were—polar opposites, really—the feelings of sadness and desire to see them both again, even just one more time, are strong and equal. I’m going to miss Chuy as much as I’m going to miss Big Dave. I know the the next time I visit Sayulita (usually about once a year) it’s not going to feel the same without Chuy there on the beach, drinking a ‘ballena’ and sneering at kooks. And when I drive up to Santa Cruz on August 8th for Dave’s paddle out celebration, it’s definitely not going to feel the same. But I hope to feel Dave’s loving presence when I get in the water there. They both offered their versions of friendship to me, and those are gifts. They both had an impact on how I ride waves, how I treat others, and how I see and interact within our waterman community. Despite their distinctly opposite personalities, they both had positive impacts.
For all of that, I am grateful. Chuy and Dave… rest in love and peace, brothers. Maybe they will meet up on the other side? I assume there’s a nice wide, sandy beach there, with clean water and peeling waves, and whales breaching on the horizon… and a cold cerveza when you come in from the surf. Under those idyllic circumstances, they could even become friends.
About Mike McDaniel
Mike McDaniel is a surfer, prone and SUP board paddler, creative genius, and all around rad guy. He runs Mile 22 and is the mastermind behind Monster Straps as well as a collector of snowboards and Jay Race t-shirts. Find him on Instagram @miletwentytwo or Facebook.