The Last Voyage of the Loch Ryan
by Andrew Struthers
first installment of excerpts from his new book)
Seen from day
the course of a human life
So what looks like a backwater sometimes leads down to the Amazon.
On one such eddy of a late summer evening, I ran into Adam Busker.
Adam is a huge guy with a missing front tooth who lives in a cabin
on Frank Island, which is connected to Chestermans Beach, near Tofino,
by a sandspit. He could only get home at low tide, and this tied
him to the cycle of the moon. He worked in construction and was a steady
sort, but because the moon was the heart of his life rather than
sun he kept odd hours. When I ran into him, night was coming on,
but he was headed down to Long Beach to surf.
We chatted idly by his truck. I talked knowledgeably about surfing,
although I'd only tried it once. He said once was not enough.
I said I'd only had the chance once. He said he had an extra
suit and board. Checkmate.
We pulled into the parking lot at Long Beach, that magic spot where
only driftwood separates the cars from the waves. Adam cracked a
green Tupperware bin and out slopped a soaking wad of neoprene. It
The wet material was almost impossible to slide over my skin. It
took me five minutes to wrestle my foot into the suit's clammy leg.
Finally I said, "Is it meant to be so tight? I can't bend
He said, "That's because you've got your leg through
Once my legs and arms were in the right places we carried our boards
down to the shore. The waves looked pretty small, perhaps three or
four feet high. Adam lay on his board and paddled, and I did the
same, paddled into the first wave, which suddenly reared overhead like
herd of distempered horses. It knocked me off my board, tumbled me
like a sock in a washing machine. So did the next.
Twenty waves later there was a lull, and I paddled like mad. I made
it over the lip of the next wave just before it crashed. The roar
sucked away like a fleeing crowd, and it became so quiet I could hear
I looked around. The surface was deep, dark green, an impossible
Rembrandt green. White foam champed at the glassy water right behind
had just caught a good one.
Then the water gathered up in front of me like a hill on a highway.
A low rumble. I was terrified. I cowered behind my board, but it didn't
help. The wave drove the board into my face so hard my fillings rang
like xylophone keys. My board tore free, a fingernail bent back, soft
and sickening. My ankle got yanked down by the leash, all the way down,
and it got very quiet and very cold. I saw the boiling underbelly of
the wave pass overhead. Water rushed in on me from all directions.
Then I shot out the back of the wave with an enormous gasp. I couldn't
catch my breath. My nose and chin where the board hit were numb as
holes, no sensation at all. I dragged myself ashore, puked, and watched
the others surf.
Next day I ached like I'd been shot out of a cannon. I decided
surfing was not the sport for me. But it was too late. I had seen that
holy rolling moment surfers call the Break, and it drew me back like
heroin stroking the thigh of a horny poet.
A few weeks later September pulled up, the gorbies left in chevrons,
and the surf place behind the coffee shop had a sale on its battle-weary
rental suits. I found one going for a hundred bucks because there
was a slight rip in the neck, and the arms and legs were purple. My
as a surfer had begun.
I went out every day. By spring I only came ashore to eat and sleep.
I spent the days zipped into my skintight rubber suit, trailing on
a leash, getting my head thrust under freezing water over and over,
and my board whacking me on the head and ass until I felt like a neoprene
piñata. I was in constant pain as my muscles slowly tore apart
Winter came again, and all I'd done for a year is surf. Even
on the shortest day of the year I found myself running down the beach
listening to ice crystals crunching under the sand. Out at the Break,
hail pinged off my board. The water was cold as a banker's handshake.
Waves drummed slowly against black rock. In the fog around me a murder
of surfers cowl over their boards like strange offshore birds, the
brims of their wetsuit hoods dripping like beaks. Arms crossed for
warmth. Glancing at each other.
I felt at home here. But there was a restlessness growing inside
of me, and I didn't know what it meant.
Andrew Struthers homesteaded in Clayoquot Sound for ten years,
three on the MV Loch Ryan and seven in a hand-hewn pyramid on Poole's
Land, surfing obsessively and only coming ashore to eat and sleep,
until the Federal Government informed him that there was no such profession.
He once stalked George Lucas by mistake.