By Roberto Damiani

Nineteen-seventy-something, and the Times were groovy, hairs were long, and song lyrics depicted mystical journeys, much like Led Zeppelin´s dreamy "Stairway to Heaven”. Hippie culture pervaded the brazilian surf scene. In Santos, Sao Paulo´s port city, inside Homero´s surfboard factory there was this wooden stairway that led to the shaping room. Rather than a factory it was really an old, beat-up house in the middle of a parking lot, distant just a frisbee´s flight from the waves. Outside, dusk was setting among the incredibly leaning buildings crowding the Canal 5 shoreline.


I was standing close to the stairs, fiddling away some spare minutes after a day´s work, waiting for the rest of the gang to dash off and raid some food stand. The stairway. It was always in the way. Up against the handrail of these creaky, steep and narrow steps someone had previously rested a surfboard. Down the steps comes Homero clip-clopping his terribly obnoxious slaps, the ugliest ever, covered with layers of resin drippings from years of glassing, morphed to rock-solid glass clogs long before.


Homero was a sight with or without his clogs. Wiry and pot-bellied, long, loose-jointed arms, bobbing head as he walked. He looked like right out of a Star Wars screen cast. Watching him describe a wave ride with his peculiar body language was a riot. Anyway, here he comes stumping down the stairs while this unsteady board is just waiting for a slight tip so it can slide to the floor. This was no ordinary board but a brand new Gordon & Smith. A venerated piece of glass and foam, fresh from the Southern California Surfboard Mecca, and twice as costly as a local clone, not to mention the plane tickets. This was a time when you couldn´t find a board made in the States at a foreign surfshop, just like that.


It was there for a minor repair -already done- and the owner was due any minute, so hastily it banged rail first on the edge of a metal bucket, then clattered to a halt as Homero stumbled the last steps in a futile effort to catch it. The board looked up from the floor with a fresh half-moon smile in the rail, while the man started uttering a string of brazilian curses that seemed to rise from deep within a cavern.


The growls turned into loud shouting as the rest of the crew gathered round...and this, more than anything else, sealed the poor board´s fate. He had just finished shaping and still had his big Skil planer in one hand. Mean, heavy machine -no plastic parts in those days- , easily ten, twelve pounds of metal.


Homero had this Jekyl and Hyde thing about him that was awesome to witness. Even if a bit bossy at work sometimes, he was generally quiet mannered and fun to be with on the occasional surf sessions. But when some upsetting event triggered his behavior changes, he turned into a raging bull. His strength leaped tenfold, his face a tribal war mask, as he charged against anything inanimate with demolishing, unstoppable fury. Once he drove his fist through the triple layer glass window of his own surf shop -collecting severe cuts, of course- though usually it took more than that to unwind him.


But even in the midst of these one-man-battles his fury wasn´t really all that blind. It seemed kind of calculated. Better still: he liked an audience. So when he saw us gawking in disbelief, first at him, then at the board, he just felt inspired. In one swift motion he lifted the board with one hand, held it upright, rammed the half-meter-long planer into it, then let it go as he turned around and left the room still shouting while the thing collapsed once again on the dirty floor.


We were aghast, but we´d seen nothing yet. Instinctively we circled the victim letting out hushed comments while Homero´s imprecations seemed to fade backstage. One of us picked it up and set it on the stairway again, trying to size up the damage, as Homero´s volume went up again a few notches, sounding like he was getting closer. Into the room he bursts, sensing the paramedic scene, and out of a fierce grimace he mumbles something about the "stupid" board standing up once more, making a line for the victim with arms extended and crisped fingers, Frankenstein style.


We tripped all over ourselves out of the way like fast, man! Many years later, our nightmares still bring us not only the sight but also the dreadful soundtrack. He grabbed the board with both hands, lifted it over his head, looked about for the most suitable landing, and then thumped it on the glassing stall with all his might. Our eyeballs popped out of their sockets. The board was literally impaled on the solid metal "T" !


"Frankie" lost hold for a moment, but bracing himself better he yanked hard, tore it loose as the fiberglass layer shrieked a marrow-freezing "r-r-r-r-r-rip", then threw it down, gripped the fifty-pound stall by the rod and using it as a piston he proceeded to pound the board to paper thickness. Subhuman. Then he threw this other weapon down -cracking a few tiles in the process- and exited again. Silence. We were breathless. Then, right on cue as if rehearsed, the gate-bell rang. The End of “The Ding”.