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Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Surfing Through the Ages (With Ubiquitous Product-Placement)
It started about 12 years ago, when my grandparents retired to Myrtle Beach. My mother would drive the eight hours to see them once or twice a year. On several of these trips, my mother would bring me back a souvenir . . . usually a Billabong t-shirt from one of the local surf shops. It didn’t seem to matter that I’d left my surfer-chic phase behind in the middle of my high-school years, when I abandoned my faux beach persona in favor of dark clothes and general misanthropy. So, in the early 90s, I had a large (and stylistically inappropriate) collection of Billabong t-shirts.

When we were at my mom’s for breakfast this past weekend, my mom showed our friends a picture she’s had on her refrigerator for the past decade. It was taken on my 22nd birthday, and I’m wearing one of the Billabong shirts (a black one). Our friends thought it was funny that my hair is largely unchanged from the photograph (but I’m at least 30 pounds heavier). I remember that night 10 years ago, as a group of us were about to venture out to Salty Dog for pool and beer, and mom had insisted on capturing the moment for posterity.

Last night, I did the wash. As I was sorting my t-shirts between the “good” pile and the “around-the-house-and/or-working-and-getting-dirty” pile, there was only one shirt for the latter pile—the Billabong shirt from 1993. The shirt’s original black color had faded somewhat, and the fabric felt more threadbare. The logo and words have largely flaked off, but are still identifiable. And there I was, 11 days before my 32nd birthday, folding a t-shirt I’d gone out drinking in 10 years earlier. The moment felt very strange and heavy.

Perhaps to bring this thing full-circle, I should wear that t-shirt while I’m out boozin’ it up on my birthday this year. For those of you all into tying things up neatly and/or full-disclosure, don't expect to see pictures from the upcoming birthday along with a scan of the older photo. Ain't gonna happen.


The last time I went with mom to Myrtle Beach, Michelle went also, and she took us to the surf shop to pick out shirts. I got an all-black one that had a silly smiley on the sleeve, with the front reading “bong.” That was in the summer of 2000.