Curt Carlson aka ‘Shrimpo’ 11.11.62 to 1.14.14
REFLECTIONS OF THREE
Sometime things come along in life that just shouldn’t be, and this is one of them. An aggressive inoperable brain tumor forced Curt to leave this world all too soon. He was one of kindest, humble people one could ever meet, but faced with a challenge, he was tough as nails. Given even a small chance by the Doctors, he was the kind of guy that would have beat this thing. He chose, in his words, not to be a ‘guinea pig’ and to ride out the 5 months he was given with the best quality of life available to him. He did this without self pity or a trace of rancor. He was a living teaching to all those with him in those last months.
This past Saturday about 200 friends and acquaintances turned out to pay their respects. Shrimpo told his Mom that he didn’t want any big to do, or a paddle out for him. That was Shrimpo to the end; totally self effacing. Well, he couldn’t stop friends and loved ones from gathering in the late afternoon at the beach where he first began surfing; but the big swell with consistent 100 yard closeouts pounding Pierpont Beach insured his wish for no paddle out would be fulfilled. As things turned out, it was a low key heartfelt send off, and a beautiful ‘sunset for Shrimpo’.
Shimpo arrived to live with us on the North Shore in 1982 on his return from Australia. He had been traveling with Malcolm, Lise, Robert and Maria on what i think was his first surf trip abroad. I had been working all summer trying to meet our deadline for the opening of Cafe Haleiwa, which was scheduled to launch on Nov. 23rd. As it turned out Nov, 23 was the day Hurricane Iwa hit the Hawaiian Islands.
Shimpo and Davey Miller were living with us, that being, my wife Jacqie, and our two daughters, Noelle, two and Megan, one year old at the time. This was a giant storm and when it hit it took out both Oahu and Kauai with winds up to 120mph. It was a full two week without power, gas for our cars, or water. Although it was rough we all stuck together and made the best this crazy situation. Shimpo and Davey would help haul the dishes and laundry down to beach to be washed then back to the house.
Davey and the Shrimp were a big help with the girls, they made them laugh and watched over them like good big brothers.
When the Cafe finally opened, Dec, 7 Shimpo stayed on as our first dishwasher. He worked 7days a week straight without day off for the many months he was there. By mid winter he and Davey along with Shaun Frasier moved into the Cafe, in the one room flat up stairs. Now I had ‘Pierpont Rats’ living at the Cafe.
Shrimpo a I surfed many days together during 1982-83 season, which saw one of the best big wave years since 1969. At one point it was over 18 feet for 20 days in a row with light winds and glassy conditions. That year Shrimp, at the age of 19, surfed the ‘Big Three’ – Pipeline, Sunset, and Waimea Bay.
Mr. Poh was my biggest fan, always saying I was ripping at Pipe, even if it wasn’t true.
Aloha to my friend Shrimpo.
It was late one night, maybe 11: or 12: am when I receive distressed phone call from Miller down at the Cafe, he sez, “Duncan you need to get down here right now, Shrimpo pulled a chefs knife on us!”
I said: “boys, I guess Shrimpo has just became the King Rat, your on your own, I’m from Oxnard.”
It was sometime in the 70’s. The exact year is a little fuzzy in my recollection, as is a lot of that particular decade, but I believe I was somewhere in the vicinity of 18 years old at the time. The place was Schoolhouse Jetty on Pierpont Beach. That beach, at that particular point in time, was ground zero for what to this day is one of the largest packs of underage, unsupervised surf kids I have ever seen in my life.
They dubbed themselves The Rats. The name was apt. They were raucous, mischievous and borderline delinquent to full-on criminal. As far as The Rats were concerned you were nobody if you didn’t surf and if you were a surfer from anyplace other than Ventura, you were an interloper at best, an enemy at worst. They were a juvenile surf gang. Like many gangs, The Rats were formed for neighborhood defense, protection and various forms of social deviance and camaraderie.
Acceptance into the rats frequently seemed to be accompanied by the bestowing of a nickname. I don’t know if they held a meeting or took a vote, but somehow I doubt if it was that formal. By whatever mechanism they were chosen, a lot of those nicknames, regardless of time or change, seem to be for life. Although I was beyond the age/demographic for full Rat status, they even bestowed a nickname on me and almost 40 years later, I still hear the name on occasion.
I remember when he first showed up. Or at least I recollect when I first became aware of his presence. He was small and fragile looking. A skinny little kid with twig-like arms, blond hair, an intense gaze and a nose that seemed slightly too large for his face. By this time, The Rats had already held the meeting, the party, taken the vote, or utilized whatever mechanism they utilized in the selection of nicknames. For better or for worse, he was Shrimpo.
Shrimpo? I remember laughing. They’d nailed it with this name. Or at least at that time I thought they had nailed it. At some point I noticed something about him though. That skinny little kid had guts. Sand sucking close outs on a day far too large for the jetty didn’t slow him down. With no ride to anyplace that would hold the swell, Shrimpo would paddle his small frame out through the onslaught of closeouts, pick one seemingly at random, turn and go. He’d pull into close out after close out. Take the beating for a second or two of tube time and then paddle back out through the mess to do it again. We’d pull up to check the surf, see him abusing himself, laugh and drive away to find something more organized, leaving Shrimpo and the Rats to their closeouts. At that point however, one thing became evident to me. Shrimpo may have been small, but there was at least one thing about him that was over sized, his heart.
As I look back, a lot of the details of particular days and sessions from those long-past years have blurred with time. There is however one particular day that I will never forget and the story of that day is, in my mind, definitive of the Shrimpo I know and love.
Summertime in Ventura can be slim pickings for a surfer. Many times the south swells just don’t seem to make it around the corner and/or thread the needle through the Channel Islands. During one of those particularly desperate stretches of time a couple of us decided to do the unthinkable and make a trip south to Malibu. Somewhere along the way as we were getting ourselves together we ran into Shrimpo and he talked his way into a spot in the back seat.
Upon arrival, Malibu was about head high and crowded. All the standard clichés regarding crowded Malibu were in full effect. Rules that were pretty much iron-clad to the North were almost nonexistent here, and indeed, any verbal criticism of questionable behavior was inevitably met with, ‘This is Malibu. What do you expect?’
In spite of the crowd, I remember getting waves. I was having one of those days when I seemed to consistently be in the right spot. Somehow I was even managing to keep the shoulder hoppers at bay as I rode down the point. I was having a good time. Paddling back out, I could see Shrimpo sitting out there. He wasn’t getting anything. He was sitting there waiting and waiting and just not connecting with a wave. Finally, on yet another paddle back out, I saw him scratch into one. He was in the right spot. He had played by the rules, there was nobody behind him and it was a set wave. That wave was his. Until three guys dropped in on him like he wasn’t there. I remember him straightening off with his hands in the air and a look of disbelief on his face. Welcome to Malibu kid.
As the day wore on, the pattern continued. I saw him take off on a number of other waves and every single time, nobody would give the little blond kid a shot. As far as the crowd was concerned, he was invisible. A nonentity, an undersized kid who could be taken advantage of in the name of greed. I could see the frustration and anger building on his face as the day continued.
Finally I saw Shrimpo paddle outside and off/away from the point. It looked to me like he had given up and voluntarily taken himself out of contention for another wave. Head down, shoulders slumped and way out of position, he appeared to be defeated. And then, a set wave appeared on the horizon.
The pack started frantically scratching for position as Shrimpo sat out on the outside and watched. Three guys dropped in on the wave as others jockeyed for a spot to shoulder hop the three that were already up. Suddenly Shrimpo started paddling with purpose towards the wave from the outside. The pack was entirely in-between him and the point. No one was outside of him. He paddled like a maniac, digging hard. Somehow he got to a section out on the shoulder that allowed him to catch the wave out in front of all the guys already up.
Fair enough. The crowd had been abusing him for hours. I surmised he had decided that if he couldn’t beat them playing by the rules, he would join them in anarchy. I stopped paddling and watched him come to his feet and then… cut back? He did a top turn and faded left towards surfer on the outside. I assumed he was planning to turn back the other way at some point, but I was wrong. Shrimpo went left at Malibu. All three of the guys on that wave probably had 50 pounds or more on him and he plowed into the outside surfer’s rail with an audible crack and then launched himself into a swan dive in the direction of the curl. He in effect became a human wrecking ball and took everyone on the wave down in one of the most audacious things I have ever seen.
At this point I’m a little angry as well as concerned. I started paddling towards the scene of the collision assuming I was probably on my way to a fight to save Shrimpo from the retaliatory violence I believed was now sure to happen. As I paddled, I saw everyone surface post collision and watched as the older/larger guys untangled their boards and assessed their dings. Shrimpo stayed right there treading water, glaring at them defiantly. It was an obvious, in-your-face fuck you to all of them. For that matter it was an obvious fuck you to the entire place. Then something amazing happened. One by one, all the big guys briefly looked over and met Shrimpo’s glare and then quickly looked down or away and pretended he wasn’t there and this hadn’t just happened. Not a single word was spoken as they gathered themselves and paddled away. It was one of the most defiant, courageous and angry things I have ever seen and I loved him for it. That little kid with the huge heart had shamed us all.
There are a few other stories that come to mind, but I won’t tell them. He eventually grew up and became a little too large for the nickname “Shrimpo.” Which didn’t matter. The name still stuck. My son met him a few months back and was laughing. “How does a guy that big get called Shrimpo?”
That led to a recounting of much of the above by way of explanation which in turn led to me putting this down on paper. He’s still Shrimpo. He’ll always be Shrimpo. By all accounts he faced death the same way he faced that wave full of Malibu kooks. Head-on and with courage and spirit. Game to the end. I hope I can do as well when my time comes.
I have to confess that I am a little bit pissed-off at him right now. He’s not supposed to do this first. He’s going out of turn. Charging it. I’ll get over it though. My anger is more than overcome with love and admiration.
See you on the other side brother. Hold things down until the rest of us get there. We’ll miss you.
I met Shrimpo in ’78’ or early ’79’ when I was shaping at Ventura Surf Shop. He was the first young local Ventura kid to order a board from me. It was just one of those unique things in life, in that from that point on he became like extended family. In 1982 he came to Australia with my wife and I. It was his first adventure outside the US. We surfed a lot of great waves at Burleigh Heads. We’d get up before light to sneak in a few before crowd. During the time we were on the Gold Coast the World Amateur Championships took place at Burleigh. Shrimpo knew Tom Curren a bit and we grabbed him one day and went for a surf at Surfers Paradise. There was almost nobody out and the waves were really good. Thanks to Shrimpo that was a day I will never forget. As I recall, Tom won it.
Lise and I went on to Western Australia to visit our friends Robert and Maria Moynier. Shrimpo stayed behind for a couple of weeks and Richard Harvey kept an eye out for him. It was one of those ‘pushed out of the nest’ moments, but he pulled through, and was all the stronger for it. When he caught up with us we went on a whirlwind tour of the Margret River and south west coast area. We visited a large subterranean cave, and with much trepidation, we went up to a forrest lookout platform at the top of a 300 foot tree. We were both scared of heights, but when we saw a 10 year old girl come bouncing down the circular staircase we looked at each other, laughed and said, “we gotta do it”. Sitting up there, the tree gently swaying, and overlooking the eucalyptus forest is another unforgettable moment with Shrimpo. Lise and I left for home a few days before Shrimpo was to head to Hawaii and connect up with Duncan.
Robert recently reminded me of a funny moment he had with Shrimpo. They had gone out to get some lunch and Shrimpo ordered a cheese burger. When it showed up, he took a bit, had a look at it, and said indignantly to Robert, “Where’s the burger”? Robert said, ”It’s a cheeseburger”. Shrimpo retorted, “but where’s the burger”? Well he found out that in Australia, a cheeseburger is just a freaking grilled cheese sandwich. In his last days I just had to mention that story to him. He didn’t have the strength to laugh, but he give a slight smile. During our 35 year friendship there have been far too many great moments to mention. Suffice to say, through all the ups and downs of life, he maintained a wonderful and rye sense of humor. The sound of his laugh is something I will never forget.
Needles to say, all that had the pleasure to meet him are the better for it. From Curt, to Shrimpo, to Master Poh, his was a life well lived.
Peace, Love and Light………………