A Tribute To A Surfer
The Bob Hayes Story
I first met Bob Hayes during a time in my life when I wasn't exactly auditioning for any new friends. I was basically keeping to myself in those days. I was single, working at a newspaper, and just surfing my way through life. I had seen him out in the water along with hundreds of other surfers. He just blended in with everyone else. Bob was just another surfer to me. Nothing more.
Hampton Surfers are for the most part a mixed lot. There is no real stereo type surfer "dude", like there is in, say other parts of the world. In New England, and particularly in New Hampshire, surfers are made up of many different types.
Carpenters, doctors, bankers, artists, restaurant owners, just to name a few. It seems that almost every kind of business has a surfer working there.
Bob was apparently a very successful salesman who happened to love surfing. I just didn't know him that well until the last few years.
Bob and I were not best friends. But, we were by the end of this summer what I would consider Friends. I had gotten to know more about Bob during the making of my first Surf video in 1998. In fact, Bob was the very first person to ever buy one of my videos. I remember that call.
"Hi this is Bob Hayes." Yes Bob what can I do for you? "Well, I'd like to buy one of your surf videos." Really? You want to buy one? "Yes". Why? "I heard it's great." he answered laughing. But I don't even think you're in it. I tried to explain to him. Laughing again, he said, "I don't care if I'm in it. I heard it's good. Besides it's Hampton."
For the record, months before Bob called I had thrown up a new website (SurfFreeOrDie.com) and posted the information about my local Surf Videos. No one called. No one bought anything off the site. Bob was the first person to ever buy one. It was the start of our friendship.
I remember feeling guilty about not having said more to him before he called me that day. We had been cordial to each other in the water over the years. But nothing more. Bob was just another friendly surfer. I'd think back and remember my friend Jack Keefe saying how nice of a guy Bob was. And he was. Always smiling. I just never bothered to get to know him until he called and bought that video.
We exchanged email addresses and Bob would send messages to me from time to time. Telling me how good my videos were. He ended up buying all three of my releases. He'd let me know how great it was that I was doing this Fund Raiser for The American Diabetes Association and using surfing as a way to do it. He was always giving me praise. Always. The more he praised me, the more I felt guilty of not getting to know him better earlier in life.
I did in time, get to know more about him. During my yearlong undertaking of Catching a Wave a Day for a Year in memory of my father, he would from time to time show up at the Wall at 10th street and we would talk.
His own father had passed away a few years earlier. It was another bond between us. He was married for 8 years to his wife Debbie. He had a young son named Robbie and Debbie was pregnant with their second child. I remember one conversation we had about how absolutely wonderful it is to have more than one child. I told him that I had friends who had recently adopted a child and they couldn't wait to adopt another. He would smile at the thought of having another child. He was genuine in his love for his family. Bob's smile was infectious. I think back now and remember all the times I ran into him over the years. And you know what? He was always smiling. Always.
One day last spring at the Wall he was there with his 4 year old son Robbie. My friend Jack, myself and my son Max had just gotten out of the water after surfing. As we all stood there talking, little Robbie started throwing rocks at us. The three of us dodging rocks from little Robbie. When I looked up there was Bob, smiling from ear to ear. I don't know of any kid who's ever been to the Wall that hasn't thrown rocks. Kids throw rocks at the Wall. We all laughed.
Bob had great news this day, his wife had given birth to a new son, Ryan.
It was that day, that Bob and I had our deepest conversation. We talked about the joy and love of raising a family and introducing them to the ocean. He had just witnessed my son Max surf with me and he could not wait until he would do the same with his kids. This needs repeating. Bob could not wait until he surfed with his own children. The smile on Bob's face that day will stay with me forever. He was smiling at the image of he and his sons surfing together. It was a tender moment. I remember feeling so good for him that day. Nodding and winking at what was to come. The future.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Bob Hayes was one of the passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 out of Logan. He was flying to LA for a 3 day business trip. The irony of that morning was, sitting right off the coast was the first Hurricane of the season, Erin. We had perfect waves pouring onto our beaches under beautiful sunny skies. There's no doubt in my mind, that Bob would have been surfing with the rest of us, if not for his work commitment.
I'd like to think, that when Bob realized what was about to happen on that ill fated flight out of Boston last week, he simply closed his eyes and dreamed of his beautiful wife Debbie and their two beautiful children.
I prayed that by the time that plane slammed into the North Tower of The World Trade Center, Bob was far away. Oh, his body may have been there, but Bob was back home at the beach. His wife Debbie playing with young Ryan in the sand, while he and Robbie paddled out on their surfboards for one more wave.
Maybe his dream had come true.
And, if he was dreaming of his family, I'd bet anything, that when that final moment came,
Bob...had the biggest smile on his face.
The next time you walk by the Wall at North Beach and look out at all the surfers.
You now know, there will be
one less surfer,
one less husband,
one less father.
And one less smile.
Ralph G. Fatello