Rogue of the month: Casimir Pulaski
The entire coastline has changed, not just Manhattan and Hermosa. All the little surf havens up and down the coast, like Dana Point and San Clemente and Huntington Beach, anywhere in San Diego, or around Santa Barbara, clear up to San Francisco, they’ve all grown up and become places for the very wealthy and affluent. Even little places like Half Moon Bay.
‘I went six feet in the air and came down to see this leviathan with the end of my board in his mouth. …I still see that membrane shutter across his dead black eye.’
ROGUE OF THE MONTH
Casimir Pulaski: Vintage surfer
Casimir Pulaski: Vintage surfer
By Dell Franklin
Twenty five years ago, at Point Buchon in Montana de Oro State Park, Casimir Pulaski was coming off a small swell and thought his board hit a big rock as he catapulted straight into the air. His surfer partner, Terry Schubert, now a 54-year-old lawyer in San Luis Obispo, thought he saw a whale hit the board. But it wasn’t a whale, it was a 15-foot great white shark, and Pulaski was staring into a membrane shuttering across the black eye of this terrifying man-eating beast.
“I went six feet in the air and came down to see this leviathan with the end of my board in his mouth,” Pulaski says. “I figured my safest move was to grab and hold onto the other end for dear life, which I did, and I punched at the shark’s head.” He chuckles. “Didn’t do any good. The board finally slipped out of his mouth and I paddled in as fast as I could. My buddy, Terry, was waiting for me. I really didn’t start shaking until I saw him. He was trembling. He saw the whole thing take place. I guess he thought his surfer pal was going to get swallowed by a whale.”
Photo by Alan Mittelstaedt accompanied the story in the Telegram-Tribune on Casimir’s encounter with a shark. No date available.
“Cas,” as he’s known locally, learned to surf as a 12-year-old in Hawaii. He lived in Manhattan Beach until he was 19, moving to Cayucos 32 years ago. He has won numerous local surfing contests and one in Hawaii. He is looked upon in Cayucos as an institution, and on the Central Coast as one of the legitimate originals, an old pro who knows the spots, knows how to get out to the big stuff, and can handle it.
Cas is not of the surf culture propagated by the Beach Boys band back in the 1960s. He isn’t of the stereotypical surfer apparel, the vernacular, the peripheral trappings of the sport. He is about straight surfing. If he walked into a bar, he’d say: “I’ll take my surfing straight up, no mixer, just a board and a wave.”
Cas has his own casual house painting business and puts in his 40 hours a week, which enables him to still live in a simple but affordable beach residence and find time to surf after work and on weekends, and, if the waves are big, to take a day or a week or even a month off anywhere between Foller’s Point up in Big Sur to the pristine beaches off Baja. He has paddled on his board from the Ithmus on Catalina Island to the Manhattan Beach pier (26 miles) in 8 hours and 45 minutes. At 51, he can still swim several miles in rough seas. In 1978, he was a lifeguard in his town of choice, Cayucos.
Rogue Voice: As a young guy down south, did you aspire to the surfing lifestyle as a way of life throughout your lifetime?
Casimir Pulaski: Not intentionally. It was like a dream, though. You go along, surfinq, traveling to places down south and up north to surf, you work to support your passion, and it ends up, at 51, you’re living your dream, your lifestyle, doing what you want to do, not taking orders from anybody, and I’m still doing it, and I guess I’ll keep on doing it as long as I can.
RV: Recently, I’ve talked to guys who’ve traveled as far as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, and to Malaysia. They stay on boats, eat gourmet meals, surf all day, for a week or two, and come home. That was unheard of 30 years ago. How has surfing changed and grown?
CP: It’s become a huge business and culture thing. I’m not part of it. With me, it’s always been the same, no change. I go down to Mexico and I go up north, and there’s plenty of good surf up here. Most of the small towns that were surf havens have changed. When I was down south in Hermosa/Manhattan Beach, back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it was not upscale, it was still funky, and there were five or six surf shops along the main drag, and you could live right on the beach for very little, and not have to work that hard or that long, so you could devote most of your time to surfing. Now, nobody can live down there like you could in those times and find time to surf unless you’re extremely wealthy.
RV: Being wealthy doesn’t go with the territory, does it?
CP: No. But the entire coastline has changed, not just Manhattan and Hermosa. All the little surf havens up and down the coast, like Dana Point and San Clemente and Huntington Beach, anywhere in San Diego, or around Santa Barbara, clear up to San Francisco, they’ve all grown up and become places for the very wealthy and affluent. Even little places like Half Moon Bay.
RV: Has the ocean changed? I remember going to Huntington Beach as a kid, and you’d get ready to ride a wave, and there’d be a school of tiny fish glinting in the sunlight. You could see your feet.
CP: Everything along this coast is dirtier. You’ve got to go down to Mexico to see the really clear water again.
RV: What’s unique about Cayucos?
CP: It’s still hanging on. It’s the last outpost. There’s a few places like it on the north coast, above San Francisco. But from San Diego to San Francisco, I think Cayucos is isolated, though it’s changed, and it's changing fast now, but I can still find myself a little place that’s not too expensive, and I can make it on my 40-plus hours and have plenty of time to surf, to drive around to my spots, like Spooner’s Cove in Montana De Oro, or Leffingwell off of Cambria, and around here, in Cayucos.
RV: What happens to the die-hard surfers of your generation who can’t afford to live here, or other beach cities?
CP: A lot of those guys have gone down to Mexico. There’s good surf all the way down to the tip of Baja, and there’s guys living and surfing all up and down that coast, secluded spots, all to themselves. Living the life. But even a place like Ensenada is changing. They’re building housing tracts down there. A lot of American money. I was just down at Scorpion Bay, north of Insurgentes. I spent three weeks down there. In time, those places will grow and change, too, I suppose.
RV: After that shark attack, do you ever get squeamish about surfing by yourself?
CP: I still go out by myself. I’m fine with it.
RV: Where do you find the biggest waves? Or the best?
CP: Always the northwest facing beaches. Up above Eureka, at Patrick’s Point and Mouse Rock, I’ve climbed my leash a few times. It can get pretty rough.
RV: Is there an element of fear when you look out there at those monster sets rolling in, and hear the thunder when they crash?
CP: Oh yeah. That’s part of the fun, though, the rush. It’s the fear. That's when my brain gets its cocktail of drugs.
RV: When you’re riding those big ones, what’s the best part of the deal?
CP: The drop. (He grins).
RV: Down south, you hear about the territorialism of surfers, fighting over waves. I’ve heard about it in Pismo Beach. Have you encountered much of that?
CP: Not really. Everybody practiced good etiquette down south, where I grew up, and guys are pretty cool here, too.
RV: When I was a kid, growing up down south, I was a ball player, and every time I went past a park and saw kids playing ball, I felt this enormous rush of excitement. I couldn’t wait to get in the game. My lungs literally filled with joy. Do you get that same joyous feeling when you get off work and see the good waves rolling in at the pier?
CP: Absolutely. Nothing’s changed. You stay a little boy with that. I get the same rush. If the surf is great up, say, at Foller’s Point, the Big Sur, off Nepenthe, I’ll drive up there.
RV: Do you expect to end up down in Mexico, surfing as an old man?
CP: I’ll always go down there, because of the great weather, but I don’t think I’ll end up there. Quite a while back I bought a piece of land way up north, on the Humboldt/Mendocino county line, at Shelter Cove, which is just south of Petrolia, a really isolated spot. Sooner or later I’ll end up there, either building something, or living in some kind of temporary shack.
RV: Do you ever think about that shark?
CP: I still see that membrane shutter across his dead black eye. §