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We Were Watermen, or, Why I’m Thinking About The Beach Boys, Part I

23 May

We were watermen.

Or at least we were the Utah equivalent of the Polynesian term for someone whose life, as surf legend Chris Malloy once put it, is dictated by the ocean’s moods.  A waterman swims, dives, surfs, and spear fishes.  He lives in and for the sea.

Our seas were the lakes and streams along the Mirror Lake Highway in northeastern Utah.  Each summer, a sequence of family camping reunions allowed my cousins and me to escape to our aquatic Shangri-La in the Uinta Mountains for days on end.  Matt, Adam, and I learned to swim at a young age in the frigid waters of the Upper Provo River.  Our older cousins Tommy and Josh taught us how to safely ford rapids and properly acclimatize to cold depths.  Eventually we learned to fashion rafts out of driftwood and catch rainbow trout with our bare hands.

By about age 9, we considered ourselves experts.  Each morning after breakfast we’d leave camp for the river, often not to return until sunset.  We navigated miles of the Upper Provo, charting swimming holes and naming landmarks.  There was Coney Island, a large rocky islet near the Soapstone Campground.  A particularly sandy shoreline earned the title “Waikiki Beach.”

Matt had a Sony Walkman with a pair of portable speakers.  The happy, surf-centric harmonies of the Beach Boys provided the soundtrack for our adventures.  We’d belt the chorus of “Surfin’ USA” as we tossed a Frisbee over the river between Coney Island and Waikiki.  Many of our landmark names came from Beach Boys tunes.

When Uncle Garth bought a power boat, our turf extended to Rockport Reservoir, an impoundment along the Weber River.  Time not spent water skiing was passed lounging on a wide beach on the lake’s north side.  Adding to my delight was the fact that our annual trip to Rockport coincided with my birthday.  Water, sand, campfires, and birthday presents—it couldn’t get any better!

One year, Tommy’s wife, Shanna proudly gifted me a New Kids on the Block album on cassette.  Later, Tommy pulled me aside and discretely handed me another album, The Beach Boys’ Still Cruisin.

“The New Kids are hot now,” I remember him saying quietly, so as not to upstage his wife’s gift, “But The Beach Boys are timeless.”

I don’t swim in rivers much these days, but I pine for my waterman days—for the loud rush of the Provo, the glow of a Soapstone campfire, the lazy days on Rockport’s beaches.  Those times epitomized summer for me, and so did the tunes.  That’s why every year around this time, I get an irresistible urge to crank The Beach Boys and head for the mountains.

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