Friday, April 29, 2005

The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks

I'm going to admit something right now. All I ask is that you hold tight and keep reading. It's not as bad as you might think at first. Really.

Okay, here goes...

In college I was in a fraternity.

Still with me? You haven't shut your browser in disgust and purged your bookmarks of anything with "charlie," "surfs," or "colonel" in the title?

Thank you. Now here's why it wasn't what you think...

This was not your average San Diego State frat. There were no Dave Matthews baseball caps. No one did keg stands. We didn't have toga parties. And no one ever leaned out of a 2nd story window and yelled, "PARTEEEEE!" unless it was pure sarcasm.

We were a house of surfers. And not just a bunch of San Diego boys from Clairmont either. I'm talking a who's who of California rippers (one semester, sick of having no awards to display for prospective members - grades and traditional sports weren't really our forte' - one of the guys filled an entire room with his WSA and NSAA trophies).

Okay, and there were a few wannabes, like me...but hey, even our house needed a little variety.

And it's amazing, as I've gotten older the "Industry Notes" in Surfer Magazine has started to resemble an alumni newsletter. Various higher-ups at Volcom. Top reps at Hurley, Quiksilver & Sector 9. One of the hosts of Bluetorch and 54321. The original publisher of Swell.com and former publisher of Snowboarder. The list just seems to go on and on.

I'm starting to think my old fraternity was like the Skull and Bones of the surf industry. Even quintessential surfer post-sesh-grinds-staple, Wahoos Fish Tacos, was started by an old bro.

So why am I telling you this?

Because fraternities in general are usually filled with the kinds of guys I would never hang out with...and who would never be reading this blog. Over the years I've come to realize just how unique our organization was and what a cool twist on the whole frat thing it was. I mean, we had greek letters, did a whole initiation thing, hassled our pledges...but it was all done in our unique surfer way.

When I was a pledge, we kidnapped an older member (and current fixture at the South Mission Jetty) at 2 in the morning, made him drink two 40 oz. Mickey's, an entire jug of Gallo wine, stuck a blunt of killer weed in his mouth, and then covered him with sand and shaving cream. Where? Tied securely to the shack at Windansea. We tossed him a quarter and told him to watch out for the ghost of Butch Van Artsdalen.

That same semster, another older member kicked the door in during one of our pledge meetings. He was pissed and ready to get in someone's face. Why? Because someone had borrowed his new 6'2" Burke without asking and then put a buckle in the rail. (I got blamed, and hazed for the duration of the evening, and in return for my $150 in compensation, I got a slightly buckled Burke which I promptly snapped the next day at Baja Malibu.)

On Mondays, our weeky chapter meeting would always run short in the early Fall and late Spring, as every bro would sneak out the windows for a quick evening session before the sun went down.

Even our marquee party every semester, our "luau", which had co-eds from as far away as Santa Barbara rolling down for the event, was pure surf-culture. I can still think back to the view from the roof (where rows upon rows of bros would sit and heckle the kooks from the traditional frats who'd try to crash with their Gap button-down shirts and Timberland boots), and see the masses of Reyn Spooners and palm fronds and tan girls.

During the day, anyone who walked by the house could look up at any one of the 5 upstairs bedroom windows and see the walls bristling with rows and rows of boards, wetsuits hanging over every ledge.

I remember every Fall waiting to see which bro would get his shot on the rush poster, thereby laying claim to biggest ripper in the house...for a few months anyway.

And hey, we may have gotten our asses kicked in Inter-Fraternity Council football, but I don't think we ever lost an IFC Surfing title. Not once.

Granted, there were always a few straight guys in the house who looked at the surfing aspect of the fraternity as a hindrance.

"Straighten up," they'd say. "Why can't you guys live on campus instead of moving to South Mission? Why can't we bring in more football and baseball players instead of every 5'8" shrimp with a WSA jersey in his closet? And why do our grades always suck so bad? And for fuck's sake, QUIT SMOKING POT IN THE HOUSE!"

But we needed those guys, too. They kept the books, went to the IFC meetings, and most importantly, kept the National Headquarters from storming the house and beating everyone to death with pink Polo shirts. The best part though, was that most of them surfed, too. I remember one of the older guys would come back from his "one weekend a month" for the Army Reserve, with his high and tight military approved haircut, and hang up his combat boots, grab his board and paddle out as one of the boys.

In some respects I like to think of this as a bunch of surfers taking it to The Man. We entered the world of the soulless, backwards cap white boy, co-opted his fraternal organizational system, stole his women, and knocked him a few rungs down on the established social ladder.

Now, to be fair, one could easily make the case that this was more the case of the modern surfer conforming - the beach bum cleaning up his act, getting a haircut, moving out of his parents' house and becoming a lawyer. But I don't think so. The other houses hated us, except for the few that had a contingent of surfers as well - we'd hang with them. The sorority girls loved us, and yet so did the non-sorority girls. And, in a finale in the spirit of the blowout bash in Big Wednesday, we were finally kicked off campus after almost 50 years of bending, twisting, and breaking the rules.

Today, 10 years after the school attempted to scatter our sticks in the wind, we all still keep in touch. Well, not literally all of us. But via an extended network of emails, surf contests down in South Mission, summer camping in Mex, trips to Bali and elsewhere, we're a fairly tight group. There are probably very few of the 1200 or so brothers that I couldn't track down with a couple of emails or phone calls.

And while the National Headquarters of our organization would love to take the credit for providing the fraternal basis with which we forged our friendships, thereby lumping us in with date-raping dweebs from MIT to USC, they can't. For a significant percentage of us, surfing was the common bond that brought most of us together (whether it was 1969 or 1989), and it's what keeps us hanging out and staying in touch today.

So a big up to all the bros. As the last of us to enter the ranks now move steadily into our 30's, I'm thoroughly enjoying watching this group of former misfits, rippers, shredders, and hell-raisers, continue to live the surfing life as they enter middle-age and beyond.

And to the college boys who are currently resurrecting our house on the SDSU campus after a 10 year absence, I'll raise a cold 10 oz, thick-glassed, Baja-recycled Pacifico to you, too. I hope you succeed, and I hope you carry on the surfing tradition.

After all, we don't want any frat boys in our fraternity.

The Colonel says, "Load him".