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.
I wondered whether he misses traveling, seeing someplace else. Webster has seen the world he wants to see.
As a boy, he and his brothers took the train from Southern California to Chicago. Or between their Alhambra home to the zoo in San Diego.
As a man, Webster has no desire to go inland, to be away from the water. A day trip to Tahoe with his wife so many years ago was the last time he was an appreciable distance from the beach, and he still made it back to surf another day.
“That is the furthest I have ever been away and I don’t have the urge to go again,” he said.
Before technology allowed him to research where to find the best waves along the North Coast, Webster relied on his considerable bank of knowledge. Still, the mystery of the ocean has its own allure. Every wave is different, every ride a joy.
“When waves came, it was like a little mini-miracle,” he said.
I asked him if Guinness required proof of his accomplishment. He told me he kept a written calendar for nine years and after that swore on a stack of Surfer magazines.
“I swore on the bible of the sport I had done this,” he said.
The record keepers liked what they heard. Webster’s name, and nickname “Daily Wavester,” are inextricably linked with surfing and an almost unfathomable commitment.
“It’s a complete honor, to say the least,” he said.
His name in the record books is clearly important to Webster. He shares pictures of himself in Surfer magazine next to the likes of Kelly Slater and pulls out different editions of the Guinness Book of World Records that feature a grinning, earlier rendition of himself typically standing by a board. He knows the numbers, shares the dates.
And the record? He adds to that every day.
“That, no one can take away from me and no one in their right mind will break,” he said.
So Webster will continue to ride waves, at least three a day, until one day he doesn’t.
Remember the car Webster bought back in ’75? The one that ferried him to and from the beach, starting his streak? The Ford Falcon only lasted 85 days. Dale Webster has lasted a good deal longer — 14,535 days to be exact.
But who’s counting?
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.