Ever seen the movie Sliding Doors?
At the beginning of the movie, Gwyneth Paltrow walks through a sliding door, and then the movie becomes two separate stories: One, telling what happens after going through the door; and the other, the consequences had she not.
Kinda makes you think. We all make similar decisions every day, and what happens as a result defines our lives.
For me, one sliding door was an invite to local surf guru Mitch Kaufmann’s WaveMasters Surf Contest earlier this summer. Ironically, for Robert August, it was another movie, Endless Summer, that would prove to be his sliding door.
The WaveMasters is an annual fun gathering of North Florida’s finest surfers with special heats for the legendary local surfers that put Jacksonville surfing on the map. Although I had a ton of chores to do that weekend, the thought of nabbing a few interviews with some of the area’s biggest surf legends was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Hence, my sliding door.
I grabbed my handy iPhone, checked the recorder to see if it was working, and headed to the Jacksonville Beach Pier. Upon arrival, the first person I noticed was legendary “Grandfather of Jacksonville Surfing” and East Coast Surfing Hall of Famer, Bruce Clelland.
“Hey Bruce,” I said. “Just want to do a quick interview. Need you for about five minutes.”
“No problem, Marion,” he told me. “But you may want to talk to my friend here, as well.”
That’s when I noticed that Bruce’s friend was none other than Endless Summer’s Robert August.
Bruce introduced us, we shook hands, and I told Robert, “Just want to do a quick interview. Need you for about five days.”
The laidback August laughed at my joke, but didn’t realize that, for the next two days, I would be all over him like Slipcheck on a Velzy. We talked. We laughed. We reminisced. Robert told me enough stories, cool stories, too, to fill a book.
That first session on the beach lasted for more than four hours. It got to the point that all I had to do was pull out my iPhone, which by now he knew was a recorder, he would nod, and then go on with each story, or chapter, as I like to think of them.
We talked about surfing, shaping, dropped a few big names and even discussed his favorite charity. Into hour five, I turned him loose and went home to shower before his “Meet and Greet” appearance that evening at Cabo’s Island Pizza.
As it turned out, this would be yet another sliding door, for I had no intentions of attending, but the proprietor, Mike Ferrara, and old surf bud, insisted. So I went.
I settled up to the bar with my favorite girl and a couple of Heinekens and proceeded to watch Endless Summer on the big screen, while August graciously mingled and signed autographs. Although I honestly wanted one, I had done everything just short of accosting this man on the beach all day, so I decided to give him a break.
So, while watching Endless Summer, on comes the classic segment in the movie, the discovery of Cape St. Francis and its “perfect wave” when I hear Robert’s voice behind me.
“We actually did just stumble upon it,” August said. “Not like in the movie. We were actually surfing away from the point, but we could see the whitewater down the coast. We surfed this beach break for a couple of hours, and then Hynson said, ‘I’m gonna paddle down and check it out.”
I whipped out the iPhone.
“You know Hynson,” August continued, “Mr. Dreamworld…I’m like, ‘Whatever…’ So we gathered up the stuff, and walked all the way out there. We came around the corner and were like, ‘Man-oh-man!’ It wasn’t hitting the rocks. It was perfect!”
Robert proceeded to tell us about the perfect 5-hour session they had until the tide came in too high, hitting the rocks, and surfing was through for the day, but not the filming.
“We surfed until I vomited,” he recounted, “and then Bruce (Brown) had us film the scene where we slid down the sand dune. We were like, ‘Aw, c’mon Bruce!’ But he insisted, and we got it done. Now we were totally exhausted, and he said, ‘That was great. Let’s do it again.’”
They went back to the beach the next morning, but the wind had switched onshore, and the waves were gone. He has never been back. But there will always be that perfect day at Cape St. Francis and the worldwide quest for the perfect wave.
And for August, the movie Endless Summer, itself, would be his sliding door.
“I went to school as soon as we got back from filming,” August told me. “I was going to be a dentist.”
But after one year of school, August had second thoughts.
“I was like, man, I don’t want to do this! I’m a surfer!
So Robert went to visit his dentist, who just so happened to be a surfer, as well.
“He told me: ‘It’s just like fixing a ding. You dig out the hole. You fill it up, and you sand it and polish it. And you hurt ‘em. And they’re mad at you.’ So I asked him if he was happy, and he told me: “I’m charging you for this appointment, aren’t I?’”
The dentist/friend continued to tell him how he was, indeed, happy, and that he and his wife were about to purchase their first home. Troubling for Robert, however, was the fact that the dentist had been practicing for twenty years.
“This guy had to borrow a ton of money just to start his practice,” said August, “not to mention all of the equipment he had to buy. It took him eighteen years to pay off his loans. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m twenty years old, so the next twenty years of my life are going to suck.’ I thought, ‘I don’t know how, but I’m a surfer, I gotta find something,’ so I just called Hap Jacobs and told him I wanted a job.”
So the rest is almost history. August didn’t know what he was going to do at Jacobs’ Surfboards, maybe fix dings or something. But Jacobs had other ideas.
“’How about being a salesman?’ he asked me. “And I was like, ‘Man, you think I could sell a surfboard?”
Now, the rest is history.
47 years after the fact, August’s company, Robert August, is one of the most successful surfing enterprises in the sport’s history. He doesn’t even have to tag the word “surfboards” on the end. His product sells on the name alone. But it almost didn’t happen.
Thankfully, he went through his sliding door.
And, thankfully, so did I.