By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
In the summer of 1987, Gene was a member of the Corpus Christi lifeguarding team that went to Hawaii to compete in the nationals. As the plane approached, Gene remembers pressing his face against the window. What he saw was the best surf in the world. The waves were all lined up, one after another, "and the ocean was just corduroy," said Gene, and he jumped up and began screaming at his buddies, and the flight attendant began shouting for him to sit down.
The waves were like none he had ever seen -- long and blue and taller than any three ranch houses. Gene won the footrace in the lifeguard tournament, but afterward, he thought mostly of the waves.
In Texas, he became known as one of the top longboarders in the state. His fellow surfers say he can do anything on a wave -- hang five toes over the nose of the board, hang ten. He can even stand on his head. You see him out there cruising along with a wave crashing behind him, just stoked, and you know, said Darrell Raska, his best friend, "That guy is just happy-go-lucky."
Gene became a man with skills, which he took on the road. He's won dozens of amateur tournaments, and even a few professional, though to retain amateur status, he declined the money. His best event is the paddling race, for which the choppy Texas water actually provides the best training. Gene is the kind of fellow who, having nothing else to do, will get on his surfboard and paddle 17 miles out to an oil rig, where he'll take a nap and paddle home by dinnertime. He's won five national paddling titles.
Surfers in surf meccas hate getting beat by a Texan. And Gene loves beating the Californians; they have such attitude. Making it to the finals there one year and not really giving a damn, Gene caught his last wave, dropped his trunks and mooned thousands of spectators all the way to shore.
He did it because he was kind of grumpy, not just with Californians. A one-legged, tattoo-artist surfer friend had just run over his favorite board, accidentally. And Gene had just lost another girlfriend, who had forced another choice between herself and surfing. Don't leave, she had said, or don't come back.
He left, of course. He returned home with "a broke board and no chick." And very bummed.
Many hundreds of miles away, in a suburb of Memphis, there was a beautiful young girl coming of age who had always believed her soul was at the beach.
Rachel Molasky grew up on a cul-de-sac in "a very preppy area of the country," according to her mother. Maxine Molasky was a homemaker, and Rachel's father, Bobby, owned a daycare center. They were the kind of parents who walk with each other in the evenings, holding hands.
And Rachel never seemed out of place. She was a cheerleader for the Germantown High School Devils. Her squad twice won a national championship. She was a gymnast, a sprinter, a softball player, a yearbook editor and a member of the National Honor Society. Sarah always thought Rachel "would be, like, a real professional, like dress up and be in an office, making lots of money." Rachel's mother thought so, too, but "Rachel has always been a freethinker."
Her family had a pool in the backyard. Everyone knew Rachel loved the water, but maybe they didn't understand the depth of her obsession. On top of everything else, she was also a lifeguard and a certified scuba diver. In her senior year, Rachel had begun windsurfing.
She was indifferent to science, but when it was time to think about college, she decided to major in marine biology. Rachel had always wanted to be a cheerleader at the University of Florida, but when she realized it wasn't on the beach, she crossed it off her list. She visited Florida Atlantic University: The beach was awesome, but Boca Raton was filled with rude old New Yorkers. So Rachel narrowed her choices to the University of South Florida in Tampa or Texas A&M at Galveston.
Maxine Molasky said the family was used to the "clean, beautiful, white sand, the gorgeous turquoise water" of their Florida vacations. Galveston did not measure up for Bobby Molasky. He hated it. But his daughter thought the people were nice. She saw porpoises jumping behind the ferry, and she found a sand dollar on the beach. "And I was like, wow," said Rachel. "This is, like, a landlubber's dream."
Gene was still searching for the right place, and he finally did move to Hawaii. Even there, he was one of the top longboarders. He worked as a lifeguard, and worked second jobs, too, which he lost with regularity when the surf was going off. The surf was going off nearly every day.
His native friends called him "The White Hawaiian," and as much as by the waves, Gene was captivated by the people. Surfers weren't considered strange there. Life centered around water and around family. The aloha spirit came naturally to Gene, but after three years, he began to understand that Hawaii wasn't home. He wasn't near his family. And he had begun to grow numb to the giant swells. He began to miss the little black waves of Texas that rise up on stormy days.