Taking the Waves

A tale of love, life and longboarding

Gene came back in 1995, lonely and aimless, but content to surf in a place where "it's just real low-key -- a good vibe on the water." He was looking for peace, but coming home was painful.

His closest friend was a surfer, "hard core to the bone," who left one day to catch the hurricane surf in Florida. When he returned, the man found his wife had left him, and he hanged himself with the leash of his surfboard. The surfers gathered in Surfside to scatter his ashes over the water. Gene sang a song: Friend in my eyes, I'll take the next wave for you....

This was the same month that Gene's closest brother died of an epileptic seizure. In all his years of lifeguarding, Gene had never lost anyone, and when he awoke in his mother's house to find that his brother had died in the bed beside him, Gene let out a howl "like you hear in monster movies," said his mother, and began kicking chairs and punching the wall.

The waves, for once, were not sufficient, and Gene finally turned directly to God. Gene found Him not in the Catholic church, but in the Bible. The Bible consoled him. It directed him. Gene said the Bible became the father he never had. His faith is a personal matter that he keeps to himself now. He was baptized in Surfside, and the surf was a key part of the experience.

Thirty years old, Gene had traveled this far in his life when he heard about "this chick who surfed all night." He said, "Nah, no chick can be more into surfing than me." And on a spring night in 1996, he went to check it out.

He pushed his skateboard to the end of the Flagship pier in Galveston. Everything he'd heard was true. Gene gazed at Rachel in the midnight water, and she seemed to him bliss embodied. "Wow!" he thought. "There's someone who really loves to surf."

Rachel by then was scarcely recognizable to her family and friends. On a visit home, she sported a pierced belly button and a porpoise tattoo on her ankle. Her friend Sarah said she was "so shocked that Rachel got a tattoo. I thought for sure she was over the edge."

There were odd phone calls, too. Rachel had developed a new vocabulary, and her parents couldn't understand. Neither could Sarah. Rachel would call and say she had caught a pipe and eaten shit. And Sarah would say, "Excuse me? Rachel, what does that mean?"

No one knew what to think. Rachel went to her classes and surfed during the day, and when everyone went dancing at night, she went surfing again. Surfing was awesome. "It just blows everything else away," she said. "You take off on a wave, and you just walk up and fly."

She was never bothered by the brown sand or water, or by the pollution or fish kills. If the surf's going off, what's in the surf doesn't matter, she said. You go to it. And she lost a job at the Limited by doing just that.

Gene followed her from afar. He knew she was a Galveston lifeguard when he became a lifeguard too. One day that May, they were assigned the same patrol tower. Gene took a break and began showing off with his surfboard. The waves were only knee high, but he was just "ripping," said Rachel, and she thought he was the best surfer she had ever seen. During her break, she couldn't catch a wave, but when she came back, Gene had emptied his backpack and had made them a fruit salad, using cantaloupe halves as bowls. Rachel, a vegetarian, was already "totally stoked on him."

They began doing the usual silly things. They took a surfing trip to Matagorda, where they sat around writing their names in the sand. They went to a silly costume party. They went to the Beavis and Butt-head movie and walked away, repeating the lines. A stranger overheard them, and Rachel said, "Oh my god, we are so busted!"

In the summer, on nights when the moon was full, they went into the water together, the phosphorous sparkling with every movement, a glimmering wake behind their surfboards. Rachel came to think of Gene not simply as a surfer of amazing grace, but as a protector, someone with whom she could always feel safe. And Gene's attraction was that "she surfed. She surfed good."

They went to Hawaii, where they lived a month aboard a sailboat, and after that Gene wrote Bobby Molasky a letter. He told him about the weather, the surf conditions and their surfing. Then he signed off with, "Oh, by the way, can I marry your daughter?"

The answer, as Gene recalls it, was, "Sure, whatever."

He proposed on a surfboard, and their engagement was announced in Surfer magazine.

The surf seemed the perfect place for a wedding. Maxine Molasky took her daughter shopping not long ago for a wedding bathing suit. Gene will be in his wedding trunks, and to present a good appearance, he's been doing 300 pushups a day.

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