GOING LUNAR

posted by / News / February 29, 2004

Sharks. Crowds. Kidney stones. 55-year-old Dale Webster has faced them all in his attempt to surf more consecutive days than any other human in history. Since 1976, Webster’s barely left {{{Sonoma}}} County’s Dillon Beach and Salmon Creek in order to maintain his streak — drawing reactions from ridicule to reverence — but the surfing world has always made a point of following his Quixote-esque quest, from a SURFING interview in ’76 to a segment in Dana Brown’s big-screen hit, Step into Liquid. And now, after 28 and a half years of daily sessions of at least three complete waves, the mission is over. On February 29, Webster officially called it quits, stopping on the magic number of 10,407 days in a row. Surfingthemag caught up with “Daily Wavester” just prior to this momentous occasion to find out: why such a strange number? What made him decide to stop? And, perhaps the most important question: can he?

SURFINGTHEMAG:What triggered such an odd quest?
DALE WEBSTER: Well, did you ever hear of a pilot named wrong-way Corgan back in the thirties? He made his flight plans for California and he landed in Europe. And that’s basically what I’ve done; I’ve misread all these different things. I thought that the one-year {{{warranty}}} on my wetsuit meant that if you wore it every day for a year, you could take it back and they would repair it. And looking at the calendar and seeing that 1976 was a leap year and there would be 366 days, it seemed like a perfect idea at the time to challenge the warranty. After that, I looked at the Guinness Book of World Records and it says 5280, so I surfed 5280 days — then I looked again and it says 5280 feet, which is a mile. I misread how long the lunar cycle is. A lunar cycle is 281/2 days, I could’ve sworn it said 281/2 years! Today everyone has Google but for over 25 years I thought I would be able to recycle my 1976 tide book in 2004. So I just made all these blunders.

Did they ever repair the wetsuit?
No. My claim to fame is I caused the 10,000-wave clause — the tag on O’Neill suits now says, “one year or 10,000 waves.” On February 29, what goal will you have met?
Well I started September 3, 1975, so on the 29th of this month, it will be 10,407 days. 8 leap years. And five Sundays in a row — twice. Sunday’s always been considered this religious day of rest, of giving thanks, and I wanted to be a person that surfs religiously. And for these two Sundays, twenty years apart, I guess it was something in me that really wanted to be recognized. You know it started out as like a string, a string of days in a row. And then it kind of turned into streak, a streak of months in a row. And then it kind of turned into this quest, how many years in a row? And then it became this mission. And I don’t know what this mission is, but I hope to find out when I’m done. [laughs]. And now it’s become like this toll, the toll it’s taken, on me to complete this, and all the changes that have gone down in surfing in the meantime. A lot of people would say why not just go for something obvious, like 25 or 30 years.
Well, I’m not surfing against anybody; I’m surfing against myself. And I’m challenging the calendar. Everyone has the same calendar. If somebody wants to beat my record, start today and surf everyday, and in the year 2032, on that February 29, that’s when someone can break my record. Do you think anyone will break that record?

Probably not. Actually, it’s already too late. They would’ve had to start two Sundays ago.
Well, mathematically not. But the challenge is still there — there’s nothing stopping anyone, though I don’t think anyone will.

Was that part of the goal of such an unorthodox record, to make sure nobody could ever break it?
Well, the thing is, growing up in Southern California in the 60s, being part of the phenomenon of the Beach Boys and being part of that boom in surfing, it’s really easy to realize what a great thing surfing is, how healthy it is, how it makes you feel being part of something bigger than yourself. And I wanted to be recognized as a surfer. I wanted people to think of me, to see me, to realize that I’m a surfer. And back in those days Surfer magazine was considered the bible of the sport. So here it is all these years later, and my dream is still to make the cover of the bible of the sport. If I don’t: for a surfer to surf religiously and not make the bible of the sport? Then as far as I’m concerned, then Surfer magazine won’t be able to call itself the bible of the sport anymore.

How’s your family been through all this?
Well, my family supports me. They realize it’s the best thing for me and that it’s harmless. I don’t spend all day doing it. I still have plenty of time for my family to work, so they’re happy about it. My wife surfed until she was six month pregnant, my daughter surfs, so there’s surfing in our family.

What about when your daughter was born? Did you sneak out during labor?
Well, I went surfing in the morning and found out she was going to born in the afternoon, so I went down to the hospital and participated in the birth. What’s the biggest thing you’ve missed in your pursuit?
Well, I don’t get to travel and I’ve taken all these menial jobs — night jobs and stuff — in order to be compatible with surfing. For the past seven years I’ve worked as a custodian at an elementary school in Bodega bay. My in-laws live back in Utah, and I’ve never been be able to go visit them. I’ve feel kind of rotten about being so selfish and self-centered that I can’t visit my in-laws, but they seem to understand.

Some might see that as a blessing.
Well, I’ve always wanted to travel again. I haven’t traveled very far in the past 28 years so it would be nice to take a nice extended vacation. But at the same time, vacations are so much more expensive now that I can’t imagine how much it would cost to go live out my dreams. I’d just as soon go surfing than spend all this money to go to the Grand {{{Canyon}}} again.

But you know, I started and after a decade my wife and I got married, had a little baby coming on the way, and for almost 18 years now, my daughter’s been part of our family, and now she’s about to graduate from high school. She has perfect attendance, kindergarten through the 12th grade, 13 years. So she has this little streak and straight As, and she’s hoping to get some scholarships. And I just feel blessed I have this person in my life to give strength and understanding and perseverance, because I see her persevering. And I look at her and see her whole life ahead of her and I’m just so stoked for her: she can do whatever she wants; she doesn’t have to live her life locked in like I am.

You obviously don’t leave Sonoma County much. Do you always surf the same spot?
Pretty much. Years ago we used to think nothing of driving {{{200}}} miles or more to go surfing. And, now I can’t see it. Mathematically it’s just crazy to drive that many miles a week. So now I just drive as minimal as I can, surf as close to home as I can.

Do you usually get your three waves and bail?
No I surf as long as I can. I try to surf a minimum of three waves, but most of the time it’s a lot more than that. But there are days when it takes a couple of hours to get three rideable days. I’ve had days when I felt like I paddled for ten miles to get out, caught like three waves and then come in and was just completely spent. Had to walk like two miles to get back to my car because of the drift. In order to keep this string I’ve surfed through hell. There’ve been some days when anybody looking and seeing someone out there with a surfboard, there’d be no doubt in their mind that that person was going for the Guinness. [laughs] because there’d be no other reason to be out there.

What’s the closest you’ve come to breaking the streak?
Well, there was one day like 27 years ago where my car broke down. My friend forgot to pick me up, and by the time he remembered and came and got me it was too late, so he took me to work. So I went to work, got off work, and he took me to the beach. I put my wetsuit on in the car, got to the beach, paddled out, caught a wave, paddled back out, caught a wave, paddled back out, caught a wave, rode that wave into another wave, rode that wave to another wave, caught three waves with one take off, and then when I kicked out, the sun had set. So did I make that third wave before the sun set or not? It’s debatable. So if that’s the case, then the record’s only 27 and a half, not 28 and a half. But most people would concede that I stood up, that I got wet, that I rode, regardless of what the sun was doing at that moment.

What? Nightsurfs don’t count? Well, I’m just being ridiculous at how somebody might say if you surf after sunset it’s not a day.

Semantics, basically.
Yes, but I’ve had people argue that with me.

You have you caught some flak for this. Do you think some people look at it as a publicity mission instead of a surfing mission?
Well, I don’t know about that. But it’s just becoming some kind of a target that people have to compare themselves to or be better than or get more waves. It’s just ridiculous how I can be treated sometimes by these people who seem like they’re trying to give me lessons on how not to surf. I’m sure you’ve seen the same phenomena that I have. The last few years there’ve been more and more of these molded, third world boards, and people just leaping lizard, splash dancing, whoopdy-whoo, surfing. And they can catch anything but they can’t finish a wave. And I have to surf against all these people that are just splashdancing kooks. And I have to share waves with people who won’t share waves with me. I have to keep away from people who won’t keep away from me. They paddle right up next to you and catch the wave you were waiting for. It’s just no rules, no respect, free-for-all surfing. And that to me is the biggest reason why I’m quitting.

Certainly sounds like you are finally going to quit . . .
Well, what else could I do? Get a molded board and instead of fighting them, join them? I guess I could do that. But to me it’s just ridiculous to go out and be treated like a kook by somebody who . . .who can KICK MY ASS! Yeah, they can kick my ass, but they can’t kick out. [laughs] And d that whole thing that’s’ happening in surfing right now is just so disgusting to me: that people don’t know how to share, they’ve gotten so bad ass that kicking someone else’s ass is more important than getting a good ride. You know, a lot of people can outsurf me but I’ve never met anyone that can outshare me.

For the record, how many wetsuits do you reckon you’ve gone through?
I’m pretty sure there’s 30 of them out there. I’ve saved all my wetsuits case anyone wouldn’t believe me. Sort of like the tiebreaker in case there’s anyone anywhere else in the world claiming to have done as much surfing as I do: well let’s see who’s gone surfing in the holiest wetsuit.

Any weird rituals you’ve resorted to in order to avoid flat spells or . . .?
I guess I’m full of ‘em. I always take a shit before I go surfing so I don’t surf like shit. Trying to get down early before everyone else gets there. And I truly believe that the best wave is a complete wave: one that you start, you ride and you complete without getting wiped out. That’s why I’m a firm believer in kicking out; a firm believer in control. And you know here’s the funny part. are you familiar with the Indianapolis 500? Did you know the Indy gave us rear-view mirrors? Well, with my quest, there’s been a side product; I’ve developed a technique for how to roll waves. And I pride myself on that. I’ve gone years without deliberately ditching my boards.

Is that something you hope people will pick up on?
One day I hope to get a PhD in surfing; I hope to teach the world how to surf, how to roll a wave and then you can send my mail to the Professor Daily Wavester, PhD in surfing, and that’s when dreams will truly come true. This 28 and a half thing is one thing, but if I can get my PhD in surfing — if I can teach the world to roll — that’s what I’m waiting for.

Any regrets? Every wish you’d picked up soccer instead?
I sometimes wonder what I would be doing if I wasn’t surfing every day, or if I’d missed a day all those years ago and it wasn’t such a big deal to make it out the next day too. But surfing’s in my blood and in my life. I love surfing. I’m never gonna stop. But this whle thing of being so locked in that I can’t give up a day when it’s shitty, finally I won’t be so obligated to paddle out — at least theoretically.

Do you think you will anyway?
It’s hard to say. The day I really do quit will be one of those days to remember. I’m just glad it’s not because I got hit head-on by some car in my lane. That’s why it just seems to me how the Infinite Intelligence –that’s what I call god — has some plan I just don’t understand. So as long as I can continue to do it, I may as well go along with the plan. So what’s the plan on February 29, just get up and just go surfing?
Well, that’s I want to do, but all these people want to take their pictures and stuff. It’s kind of a neat honor but it’s kind of a strange hang-up too. I’m not looking forward to being compatible with everybody else’s desire to take a picture of me or get an interview with me, so it’s kind of a headache. But I’m trying to be as complacent of their needs as possible.

Do you think it’s ironic that finally being recognized as a surfer could make the record a bit of a hassle?
I’m not looking forward to that at all. And all these people who want to make me miserable, if they all were to paddle out they could definitely keep me from catching any waves.

Do you think someone will try to sabotage you?
The joke goes, on the first of March, I could probably get in a fight with at least 10 people around here who’ve given me so much grief. People around here seem to think you’re weak if you share a wave. All I can say is the people who don’t like me — my enemies, all the people who can’t stand that I surf every day, they can’t stand that I go out in crummy conditions, can’t stand that I don’t’ drive {{{100}}} miles to go surfing — I always say, how would you like to surf against yourself? To go surfing with someone who surfs just like you? How long would that last? How long could you surf with someone who treats you just like you treat them before you were killed? And I like to think I could surf with someone who surfs just like me with no problem. Because I respect other people’s right to surf. I respect that these people love surfing just as much I do. It’s almost like I feel like I’m quitting surfing in protest and what it’s become.

You obviously think about this stuff non-stop. Do you ever have nightmares?
Yeah. That’s one of the things about surfing every day, it totally permeates your life to where in my dreams I’m going for the Guinness. So even in my dreams I still have to get my three waves in.

What do you think you would’ve done if you’d broken the streak?
I’m sure I’d be completely broken — you know crying and heartbroken that it’s over. That’s why getting to this day I go, “God, I hope I make it.” Because if I don’t a lot of people are going to be bummed out at me. You know, a lot of people have written and talked to me over the years and said that they go surfing because I do. They got to the beach and it was shitty but they went out and had a good time because I would have. And what stokes me is that somehow or another I’ve been an influence on someone else who doesn’t need perfect, magazine wave to go surfing. They can go out and catch a wave and have fun, even if the wave isn’t near magazine quality.

Is there a Guinness record right now for surfing the most days in a row?
Yes. In the 2004 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, on page 247, there’s an entry for surfing consecutively: 10,000 days in a row.

But if Guinness has already recognized you, what else is there to prove?
Well, it’s not done yet, there’s still 19 days to go, but on February 29 you can say with a smile that dreams can come true. If you set yourself up for a dream, [voice starts to break] no matter how impossible, how ridiculous, you can accomplish that. And that’s what I hope to do. Show that you can accomplish the impossible if you set your mind to it.

Does that mean you’ll take a day off on March 1?
It would be a good idea . . .but I probably won’t. Matt Walker [Editor's note: Stop Googling: our research team has determined 1976 did indeed feature five Sundays in February. Too bad it was America's bicentennial year as well, meaning that Webster could easily keep powering for another offbeat record in 2026.]

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