Gatewood was my great uncle. When I was a teenage grom surfing at the surfing area down by the steel pier just North of Rudee, I would see him at times. I remember one day when I was 13 or 14 and I was hanging out with Reid, Jimbo, Johnny, and the crew, when someone said, "Here comes Gatewood." And, indeed, there he was, pulling up in his '61 Mercedes with his board on top.
He rode a 10' Hansen, shaped for him personally by Don himself. On the bottom, in large vertical block letters of red resin was "GATEWOOD" - unmistakable. He was a long-time VB local surfer from the late 40s to early 50s, an early surfing pioneer along with Capt. John Holland, who had been surfing in the days of hollow wood boards and then balsa boards, and now these new-fangled fiberglass boards. Gatewood was a notorious cheapskate. He bought his Mercedes directly from Mercedes in Germany and had it shipped over to Norfolk to avoid the dealers' markup. When it arrived, the car was slathered with some sort of protective coating to prevent paint damage from the salt air. It was jelly-like, almost like Vaseline. Gatewood famously kept that coating on, reasoning that it would protect the paint and undercarriage so that he wouldn't have to pay for undercoating. Over time, though the material hardened and became more brownish and opaque. The texture of the car was more like a turtle shell. I don't think he could have gotten that stuff off if he wanted.
He paddled out among the crowd on a 2 foot day - good by VB standards. He would catch the waves on the log of his and go steaming down the line. He'd whistle at anyone trying to take off in front of him before he ran then right over. He'd poleax those grems on the new shortboards and cruise on down the line with hardly a hitch and certainly no diminution in speed. It didn't take very long before all but the most novice surfers knew to look out for Gatewood and the other old guys sitting outside on their longboards. They were merciless.
"Hey, G, isn't that your uncle?" "Yah," I'd say, somewhat sheepishly, unsure whether Gatewood was cool or a kook. He surfed actively until he was in his late 60s. Yeah, he was cool. He was someone to emulate.
Now, I'm in my late 60s, surfing every day there are waves since I retired, hoping to beat Gatewood's mark. But, that's unlikely. Once a kook, always a kook.
Posted by Gordon, No Hair Blog, Dec 18, 2018
© nohair.net and the author