BODEGA BAY — Forty years. Fourteen thousand, six hundred days. And then some.
Dale Webster, 66, of Valley Ford has gone surfing every day for 40 years. More than 40 years, actually. He passed the four-decade mark Sept. 3.
No days off. No calling in sick. No “I’ve got other plans” or “I just don’t feel like it.” Too cold? Too bad.
When Webster started his run, Gerald Ford was president, a gallon of gas was 54 cents and his Ford Falcon cost him a cool $250.
The beginning was almost comically practical: He’d purchased his own car so getting to the beach was suddenly easier. No more hitching rides.
Then a spectacular September of waves rolled through, a swell later dubbed “The Monster From New Zealand.” Webster vowed to practice, to up his game so that should beautiful conditions like those come again, he’d be ready.
“It’s just amazing how one day leads to the next,” he said.
When the days turned to weeks and then months, he started doing his own math, finding his own signs — they all pointed him further down the calendar. There were leap year calculations, connections he found to his birth year, so he started to target new dates, new consecutive days goals. The first was a record of 5,280 days surfing in a row, but it turns out that wasn’t consecutive days surfed — it was the world’s longest wave.
Funny thing was, there was no record for consecutive days surfed. Webster was building and breaking his own record every day.
“I have gone out on days no one in their right mind would have surfed,” he said. “I’ve surfed those days.”
He surfed the day he was in so much pain from kidney stones his wife Kaye had to drive him to the water while he knelt backward on the floor of the car to try to alleviate the pain.
“I stopped at three. I didn’t go for four,” he said of the waves that day.
He surfed the day his car couldn’t pass a storm-damaged road, hitching a ride with his board under his arm. “It was monumental,” he said of the surf that particular day.
He surfed when Kaye was diagnosed with cancer and he surfed the day she died.
Webster talks about waves with reverence — a gift that brings something to him every day.
Going surfing doesn’t take from Webster all of those things I thought of when I heard about a man who does something day in, day out, without fail — the time, the money, the freedom.
Surfing doesn’t take from Webster; it gives back to him.
He calls what he does “transcendental.”
“The waves seem to come and answer your thoughts,” he said.
But he does acknowledge he has given up some things on his journey.
“I didn’t really have a career, just different occupations,” he said. He had to keep his mornings free to hit the water.
Today he works as a custodian at Bodega Bay School, where his daughter Margo went to school so many years ago. He worries some about his health and health insurance, but also says “the ocean is what has kept me well.” He rents his home in Valley Ford, saying he could never afford to buy and doesn’t want to be away from the ocean.