Remembering Jerry Whitesides:

"How many people driving down PCH with their heads full of whatever, on their way to wherever know the feeling of the spray and the hiss of an offshore wind wave they have just slipped through hitting their back, and the image of a pelican gliding a wing tip inches above the ruler edge line of the next glistening wave in the set. Spin and go. Be stoked. Be happy. Be full. Radiate the essence of who you are. Bring that energy into your life and make the world a better place." - JW

Gerald Robert Whitesides

December 22, 1945 - July 24, 2007

Jerry and I go back a long, long way.

Back before Gidget. Back before wetsuits. Back before the Malibu Surfing Association. Back before Marina Del Rey severed the beach road that connected Venice to Playa Del Rey and North Bay to South Bay. Back before Surfer or Surfguide magazines. Back before Endless Summer. Back before the Beach Boys or the Surfer's Stomp. Back to a more simple time when we were both young and crazy about surfing.


We're talking about more than 50 years ago. I must have been 16 going on 17, and Jerry was four years and eleven days my junior. I was still bumbling my way through my senior year at Santa Monica High School and living with my mom and step-dad in Santa Monica.

Jerry and I met one weekend after a surf near the old Del Mar Club in Santa Monica. Despite the difference in our ages (a big deal at that time of life) we got to talking and I ended up giving him a ride back to his grandmother's house, three blocks up the hill in Ocean Park..


After that we ran into each other on a fairly regular basis. Usually down at the beach in Santa Monica, but also at surf spots like Hubbyland. Sometimes I'd give Jerry a ride back from whatever beach I'd find him at and sometimes I'd stop by the house to pick up Jerry and his brother, Tom, when I was passing through Ocean Park on my way to South Bay.

It was an easy, unspoken friendship that grew between us. Born out of a mutual love of surfing and the joy of life.

I recall one day in particular when I arrived at Hubbyland to check out the big, lumbering, slow breaking waves. There was no official parking across the bridge - just a dirt strip along the south edge of Ballona Creek.


Hubbyland/Ballona Creek circa 1961 - Pacific Avenue in Venice was still connected to Vista Del Mar in Play Del Rey. 
Note the beginnings of the marina that would eventually lead to that connection being severed.


Close to where I pulled in was another old car with the windows all fogged up and rivulets of moisture sliding down the glass.

As I stood there gauging the waves and deciding whether to paddle out or drive on to South Bay before the wind came up, Jerry emerged from the back door, smiled sheepishly and declared, "God, that was good."

A few seconds later a beautiful girl got out of the other door, smiled towards Jerry, walked over to a little red sports car and drove away.

I nodded towards the car they'd just vacated, "So whose car is that?"

"Don't know," Jerry shrugged innocently. "We were only in there a few minutes."

The following summer I started going with a girl who lived with her family on the beach at Latigo Cove and began doing more of my surfing further north. Jerry and I would run into each other less frequently as I rarely surfed Del Mar/Bay Street or Hubbyland, preferring the fast, hard breaking rights at "The Lighthouse" before work or during breaks from Santa Monica City College.


Jerry surfing Baja wave- circa 1966. Photo courtesy of Starr and Deepak Whitesides


Later, after I moved to Topanga Beach and started to build a new life, I lost touch with Jerry and the Bay Street crew. Then, a few years later, I met up with Jerry again when I was working for Surfguide magazine, joined the Malibu Surfing Association and became involved in the politics of surfing.

Jerry might have been one of the founding members of the MSA, but he didn't take the more official stuff very seriously. As he wrote in
a piece for the Malibu Surfing Association newsletter a few years ago, "By one vote the now revered Malibu Surfing Association could have been known as "The Kelp Cats.' It was close and some people were stoked and some were not." I would have bet big money that Jerry had come up with that name but, according to Jerry, the credit goes to Steve Perrin.


The original members of the Malibu Surfing Association.
Jerry standing third from right with his arms draped around the ship's wheel.


It seems like Jerry and I were born with wanderlust in our veins ... and we lost touch again as we both followed our separate paths around the world. But thanks to mutual friends, like
Ron Normandeau,I'd been able to keep up with the adventures of "Warren Peace" - one of the names he'd adopted while avoiding being sent over as human fodder to feed the Viet Nam war.

As Ron rightly said, "Jerry was a lover, not a fighter."

Then, out of the blue, I received an email from Jerry in 1998 and our friendship was resumed across the Pacific Ocean cyberspace between Aotearoa New Zealand and Hawai'i.

 

Jerry with sons, Starr and Deepak Whitesides and with Han Tiger Whitesides in Hawai'i. Courtesy of Starr and Deepak Whitesides.

Even as a young man, Jerry seemed wise beyond his years and expressed himself with a clarity and natural ease that I will always admire, appreciate and miss. His writing was a joy. (see Local Respect).

Sometimes there would be a flurry of email exchanges followed by months of silence. But over several weeks in 2005 we talked about
joining forces to write a whimsical article about the surfing culture that had developed around Del Mar/Bay Street during the late-50's and early-60's. Working title: The Bay Street Boys. (see email to Butch Linden

We also discussed writing a definitive history of the Malibu Surfing Association. 


Jerry surfing Kona, Hawwai'i wave - photo courtesy of Starr and Deepak Whitesides 

Because of the sporadic nature of our communications I wasn't all that concerned about my subsequent emails to Jerry going unanswered. And when they started bouncing, I figured he'd simply changed his email address and forgotten to let me know. I figured he' be back in touch when he was ready. But his last email was dated November 6, 2005 and I never heard from him again.

This is a copy of an article I wrote for the MSA news letter a few years back. It's a little hard to read, cause it's a scanned copy of the news letter, but squint through your mr peepers. Sort of more of the same with a little twist.
Aloha,
Jerry

When I look back over the years, I realize that I've met many people who have touched my life in various ways. But there never will be anyone who touched my life quite like Jerry Whitesides.

No matter what the situation or circumstances, he would find the funny, ironic, positive side of it and turn adversity into adventure.

I have never ever heard Jerry utter an unkind word about anyone ... even when he's had every reason to do so. Nor have I ever known him to intentionally do anything unkind or cruel. It just wasn't in his nature.

Jerry loved life and I think that everyone who knew him loved Jerry. His gift to all of us was himself and I only hope that my brief introduction to his tribute page will reflect my love for him rather than the deep, deep sorrow I feel at our untimely loss.


"Go deep and never lose the joy of your sinuses draining at the most inconvenient times." - JW

Remembering Jerry Whitesides introduction Robert R. Feigel 2007 - All Rights Reserved

 

Further Tributes:

From Sandra Provencio (Jerry's first wife, and mother of Starr and Deepak Whitesides)

From Jami Carhart (friend)

From Jamie Budge (early friend)

From Ron Normandeau (early friend)

Memorial Tributes (from friends of Jerry and his family)