I met George Tipping sometime around 1967 or 1968 surfing at the North Jetties of Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The jetties was a special kind of place in the 60's and 70's---very isolated, difficult to get to, but lots of good waves. Because of its isolation not many people went there in those years and the surfers and friends that did go there became bonded for life. In the late 60's and early 70's George was, in my humble opinion, the best goofy-foot at the jetties, a beautifully creative rider with powerful, concise turns, power on big waves and finesse on small waves. I was also a goofy-foot and we became good friends over the years, hung together, partied together, and mostly, surfed together. In the summer of 1969 we camped out together for two weeks at the jetties, $10.00 between us and just a couple of blankets. That was an experience...at one point we were so hungry we figured out a way to catch the small fish that were trapped in the pools of water around the rocks and ate them raw....yummy !! George was a very unique individual with a charismatic personality yet so laid-back and unmotivated in normal ways. In the years I knew George well he never worked or went to school...he just surfed and hung out !! At some point in the early 70's the first great love of my life decided to move on and I was traumatized.....at least until I realized she had moved on to George Tipping, and it was such a great match that....how could I be upset ? All better then!! But, eventually she moved on from George as well and I can't help but think that that affected him. Maybe if she had stayed, with her strength and character, he would have become more focused and more motivated. But then again, maybe not..... maybe he was forever locked into that iconic, laid-back "moon doggie" lifestyle of his.
At the end of the 70's, as we all moved on into marriages, family, and careers George moved out west, and I lost touch with him and only saw him a couple of times ever again. In 2003 we started the Jetty Reunions and in 2005 I managed to track George down and he came to that reunion. And guess what, he was the same George I knew all those years ago, living that iconic, laid-back "moon-doggie" lifestyle with even more outrageous stories to tell. That was the last time I saw George and a few days ago I was told that he had died in 2008 from lung cancer.
A page was turned......a story was ended.....the book was placed on the shelf with all the Beatle books, albums with pictures of the past, maybe to be read again.....but probably not. At 62 life still goes on and memories fade.
But one final note----I have never been a religous man, and heaven and hell has never been an obvious influence in my life. But if I've been wrong, and there is a heaven, and God mysteriously forgives me for all my failures and transgressions, and I do manage to go to heaven then my idea of that heaven is the North Jetties of the 60's and 70's with all of us hanging and surfing together. And one of those mornings as I walk across the sand heading for the beach, I see the tops of the waves feathering in the distance over the rise of the flats. As I get to the beach and head to the rocks I see the waves are 2-3 foot overhead, bowling up in that perfect peak at the rocks and that long right wall, slight west wind holding up the wave. Heading into the water I see George with his surfboard lying in the sand at the waters edge, sitting back on his heels, his left hand is waxing his board and the ever present cigarette is in his right. As I approach he rises, flicks the cigarette into the water, looks at me with that iconic Tipping look....."hey Swift, waves are good, let's go surfing" !
"I'm right behind you, George."
Thanks for being my friend, George Tipping.......and we'll see you later.