|mats that matter|
Terry’s Secret Sauce
By Ken McKnight. San Diego, Calif. December 2018.
Sometimes anything will do in a pinch, or so they say.
It’s funny how a single, poorly constructed mat can take you places you never thought you would visit. For instance, that same mat could ride waves differently than any other mat or change a fifty year outlook on surfing into a fresh way of riding waves. Or, it might introduce you to people you never thought you would meet, interesting surf people.
Yet that is exactly what happened to me via a cheesy, cheap red and blue, 5 pontoon Intex mat, with a rope around it, that I bought online for $12.95. At the time it was more an adult pool toy than a wave riding vehicle. I still have it today and it is still riding waves.
Flash to 1958
As a kid on day trips to Malibu in the summer with my family, my brother and I were hooked on surfing. Since we couldn’t afford surfboards (or my father wouldn’t buy us one) my dad ingenuously decided to make us surf rafts to ride the waves at Malibu and Zuma Beach, where we hung out. It was a simple raft, a burlap sack with an old car inner tube inside. He stuffed the black tube in the sack and went to the local gas station and inflated it till it was hard. The thing worked perfectly for two sessions until the burlap got too heavy from water, and then we had to change the bag. One day late that summer, I went over the falls and took the metal valve stem in my leg. That incident ended with stitches. My father immediately bought my brother a surfboard and me a canvas mat with a rope around it.
Flash to 1959
A year later I’m standing on the warm sand at Zuma Beach’s notoriously dredging shore pound called Drainpipes in northern LA County. With a brand new blue and yellow surf mat in hand, I’m waiting for a lull before diving in. There are about thirty other mat surfers bobbing around outside the breakers, and assorted waders and swimmers who are lollygagging in the knee to waist deep shallows.
After a couple minutes a set shows and I’m kicking and paddling furiously for the second wave. Before I can blink I am heading straight over the falls with a big, WHEEEE! Then I land right on top of Melinda Williams with her white bathing cap on. I’ve ploughed into her like a freight train. When she surfaces she looks horrified and then smiles and says, “Wow, can I try that?”
“Sure,” and I handed her my mat. Before too long she is going headstrong over the falls and running down unsuspecting bathers in her path. All I can hear is her giggling and laughing.
“I got to get one of these.” She said handing the mat back to me. That was my last summer on a mat for many years as I got a surfboard right after that.
As most of you know, the red and blue Intex mats today are not that good a mat for riding waves, unless you don’t have any other mat to ride. Then it just might be the best mat on earth. That happened to me. There is one Intex I still have that has stayed with me for almost 17 years. This friggin’ red and blue thing is really a piece of crap when it comes to construction. Of course, it wasn’t made for riding waves the way I want to. But still it was all I had to ride years ago and I rode the darn thing into the dirt. It popped, fizzed and got more holes in it than my gopher strewn hill. I tried to be a good fixer upper but I have to admit I am not. So I called Dale Solomonson, who, at the time was still working on my first Neumatic. He recommended some glue for the seams, for me to smear on!
That didn’t work! But as I was really into riding this beast and I was also just learning about the air coming out of it and the ensuing “TACO EFFECT.” Inflation, Inflation, Inflation. Constant adjustments to the air pressure meant a steeper learning curve for me. It was part of the experience. And that experience was being groomed on my now dedicated super early Dawn Patrols that I was doing daily at the Swamp.
And this brought me to Dr. Hendricks’s front door step. But, before I go any further there are two things I need to clarify.
First, Fixing the seams on one’s blown out mat SUCKS!
Secondly, the late Dr. Terry Hendricks is the Inventor of Terry’s Secret Sauce, about which this article is written. When I did not have a mat to ride, it was Terry Hendricks who took the worst mat and simply made it fun! Game on!
So some 16 plus years ago I am paddling around at 3am on this horrible Red/Blue mat that can’t hold air very well and I am missing waves because of it. What I found at that time of the morning was quality surf, a new ability to see and feel the ocean in a more sensitive manner, and of course, a chance to meet the good Doctor, one of the original Creatures of the Night.
Hendricks, who has since passed away, had many interests. He was a world class knee boarder. He also was into hang glider, Baja exploring and a devout George Greenough disciple. He earned his PHD at UCSD where he was a math professor. He literally held a degree of Innovative Surf Design. As an inventor extraordinaire, he created everything from his amazing kneeboard hydrofoil to his insane Helmut camera and of course “Terry’s Secret Sauce.” This mixture was a concoction of glue, silicon and spit that he successfully applied to everything from his car to my pitiful Intex mat seams. And they all seemed to hold, and for years on end.
Dr. Hendricks was one of the best wave riders I have had the privilege to surf with and know. It was fascinating surf with someone so well versed on many subjects from surf history and forecasting, to cars, cameras and materials. That is why I timidly asked him, on one cold Dawn Patrol session, for advice on fixing the seams on my popped mat.
He was natural a surfer. Personable, confident and unassuming, Terry surely did not look like a man of so many accomplishments. He was gruff, disheveled and almost homeless in appearance, but that was only the exterior. Dr. Hendricks was a brilliant mathematician, always percolating a new idea, plotting another technical conquest or formulating some brilliant scenario. He was also a very nice person, easy to talk to, without any ego problems to get in the way.
His expertise was not limited to just riding waves in the water. Terry designed and wore daily a white helmet for protection that sometimes featured a camera but always had blinking red lights. His camera and mounts came long before they were trendy with Go Pros. Years ago he actually placed a hydrofoil underneath his kneeboard with a movable handle that worked amazingly well. He was always asking others to try it. I did once and almost died when the sharp leading edge of the flap caught me on the side of my head. He was a leader in kneeboard riding and design. He raced dune buggies in super austere Baja conditions from the 60’s thru the 80’s. He was a big hang gliding aficionado and he helped to pioneer an ocean oriented speedometer.
So many original pioneering surf stories Terry Hendricks was the subject of, from dicey boat trips into the Ranch in the early 70’s to exploring Baja in the mid 60’s. And then there was the time he was bit by a huge Sea Lion in the dark on a minus tide Swamis reef, after he accidentally stepped on the creature in the dark. He had to go to the Emergency Room at 3 AM explaining the horrendous bloody bite on his legs to the ER staff. And of course he was there dripping wet in his wetsuit!
He was the absolute King of the Dawn Patrol. The bigger the conditions the more he excelled. At 2 AM, in freezing cold water at Swamis, all by himself,. The only way you knew he was out was by the red, incessantly blinking lights on the top of his white helmet. The few of us who showed up in the dark to surf would invariably ask each other from the cliff top parking area,
“Did you see Terry’s last wave, or at least the wake?”
Terry Hendricks and his ocean adventures were the real deal, everyone knew that.
I was talking with Jeff Divine, one of the greatest surf photographers in our era, Photo Editor at The Surfer's Journal, and a longtime friend of Terry’s.
Reminiscing about Terry, He said, “Circa 1966-1972, I remember, we had our area, which was the north end of the La Jolla Shores parking lot. It became a de facto club house/ meeting place any time there was a swell or not. BA once did wheelies down the length of the parking lot on a Bultaco, we smoked a lot of weed in our cars, the Stones blared from our eight track tapes to heighten a pre surf stoke mood enhancer and there was nary a fight or public drunkenness. We were well mannered and tame by today's standards. It was a more cerebral type of vibe and Terry Hendricks fit right in. “
“On the right swells you could see the backs of the wedge peaks at Blacks, which always triggered the analysis of, was it worth it? Depending on how tired you already were and which torturous track to take to the waves. Seeing an obviously big wave of blue fold over with the beige, orange cliff background could hold you spellbound, especially after surfing at the Shores where the swell was dribbling there but firing at Blacks. All routes were a quick descent but a harsh return walk back up a steep trail/road. Even though we were all fit and in our late teens, it was a REALLY HARSH hike back out. Not many cars had access to the steep inclined road. An official sticker was needed to go with a key. Mostly you would see officialdom going up and down.”
“Enter Terry Hendricks and his GOLDEN KEY to the Paradise Kingdom of deep blue, spinning dolphins, squeaky sand and long barrel rides from the road going north or the Hawaiian looking wedge pitch out peaks at the point.”
“We hung out with Terry a lot. Some of us, including Terry, got into a doughnut craving window of time. We'd surf and gather for a post surf de briefing and Terry would toss us the keys to his Camaro to go get doughnuts. There were a lot of keys on his chain, all a mystery but a quick analysis narrowed the Golden key down to one. The next doughnut run included a quick detour to Meanly's Hardware Store. The road to Blacks was never the same after that. The first month or so was access paradise. No cops to worry about but as you approached the locked gate you went through the process of open/close/secure as fast as possible. Within 6 months the UCSD cops had some surly , back talking 20 year old surfers to deal with. Within a year there was a crack down and it all changed back to the control of the past.”
Terry never said anything. We felt guilty for the trespass. But we knew that, if he knew about it, he could understand. He was one of us. He had the bug, the love of a core surfer. We loved Terry. “
And now, to get to the story of Terry’s Secret Sauce, this is what transpired.
I was channeled/ funneled/directed to Neumatic mat maker, Dale Solomonson, at some time in the early 2000’s, probably by Kirk Putnam. After a broken foot stopped my surfboard riding the only alternative that was comfortable in the water was wearing swim fins as I could shoot shoot water photos with my Nikonos V camera. It was those damn fins that helped introduce me to mats, that and most likely Putnam’s advice on interviewing this mat maker named Dale “the Seal” Solomonson for a piece in my online mag I was producing at the time.
I talked to Dale and he suggested I try riding a mat to get a better perspective on what he was doing and what his guru, George Greenough was doing thru him in designing said mats. I immediately ordered a mat from Dale and started the year plus long wait to obtain a highly prized, custom built Neumatic Surf Mat. He also suggested I buy and try a mat similar to what I had ridden in the 50’s and 60’s as a kid. It was called an Intex. OMFG!
My first ride on the 5 pontoon beast, sans the rope, came on a solid six foot South Swell at Terramar Lefts. The lineup that day was producing really good quality 200 yard rides. So, after that blurry first ride (Dale had given me a hint on how to approach the waves:, Ride straight across the top, no turning, chin over the front , hands off the front end, and pick the Fall Line.) Suddenly, I am deliriously hopping off on the beach and some surf guy that was watching from the shore is excitedly running up to me,
“What is that?” he yelled. “Do you know how fast you just went?”
I never rode a surfboard again.
What happened next was life changing to me. That first wave was, well, magic to say the least, right up until the air came out of it, which was on that first session.
One of the biggest problems in mat construction are popped seams and how to fix them. I have tried and failed many times and always seem to defer to a better fixer-upper than I am. Thank goodness for our current mats and their solid seams.
So in lieu of trying to fix them I simply bought another mat, and another and another. And they all popped on the seams, usually on the first go out. Now I am okay with low inflation mats but this was ridiculous. I tried to fix them but all to no avail until one zero dark thirty morning at Swamis while explaining the leaks to the master dawn patroller Terry, who laughed at me with his funny snicker and said,
“Oh, I can fix that today, with my Terry’s Secret Sauce. “
I had to laugh to myself at that comment, while others around us just nodded in approval.
“OK , When?” I yelled, “Yes, Today,” he said. “Surf it on tomorrow’s Dawn Patrol? Let’s do it!”
We lost Terry a couple years back, but we will never lose his insights on surfing and the mechanics of our Equipment. From the regular surfboards to Boogs, hydrofoils to mats! From Helmut cameras to speedometers, Terry was ahead of it all and he seemed to touch at all times. Even his “Terry’s Secret Sauce,” the same bonding agent he used laughingly on his car.
And it was our good friend and DP partner, Stanley Stannert who eulogized Terry best.
“Dr. Terry Hendricks was a purist and an innovator. He rode his waves at night. He rode otherworldly self-crafted knee boards. Speed, lift (forget trimming) and serious productivity were goals he envisioned and realized.”
“Also, a mere two other surfers (of conventional posture) constituted a crowd for the good doctor. Anything over four guys out – he went straight to the beach. Two guys out could end his sesh. He craved round tubes and the high speed lines that his advanced brain and hands brought to fruition through careful manipulation of his ultra-hydrodynamic knee boards.”
“Surf that lacked the requisite pep or moxie could send him back to shore, or keep him in the parking lot. He had high standards. These were not always realized.”
“In the prime years of his surfing performance he totally ripped. Close to the curl line, tucked under the sheet, packed tight: all were his modus operandi as he slingshot his way from beginning to end. Terry dominated each wave as few before. Tube time, tube sense, all innate and predicated on feel. He was the consummate night crawler. He surfed alone long after sunset and before sunrise. Few could bear witness to his incredible prowess. He did not care for full moon sessions when surfers who considered themselves night time soul surfers showed up to claim their glittering waves.”
“Reduced friction, cavitation’s, lifts, and drift with an ever determining forward momentum were the hallmarks of his approach. Down the line with a seeming break neck abandon did not preclude the maestro from curvy, cool roundhouse cutbacks. His display of knowledge, both while wet and dry was profound and legendary.”
“He knew some tricks with epoxies and resins. Not much escaped his laser beam attention when it came to surfing and its varied accoutrements.”
“His mortal end came as a direct result of a bad wipeout.”
So Dr. Hendricks put his Terry’s Secret Sauce on my piece of shit Intex mat and it worked just like he said, and the very next day , “IT WAS HOLDING AIR,” and for the entire day! Terry eventually tried this freshly fixed beast of a mat, and as good (or great) a waterman as he was he just couldn’t figure out how to make the mat work for him. It frustrated him as well. He had spent a lot of time watching and talking with George, Kenny Hughes and others about Mats over the years. Here is a guy who invented a lot of stuff, but on a mat Terry couldn’t get it to work. The darn thing just humbled him and he would admit it freely.
There was even a time Terry had a speedometer strapped to his arm to tell how fast you could go on a wave. He tried it with a lot of people, such as, James “Mattitude” Sowell at a lot of spots from the Wedge to Rincon. He gave it to me to try on a trip to Honolua one winter. When I came back I gave it to him and the next day on the DP in front of about twenty of us after a session, he tracked me down in the parking lot laughing and explaining I now own the record for the fastest wave ridden on any vehicle.
“You broke the record of 29 MPH by going 330MPH.”
“What, “I yelled, as the quickly growing crew was laughing.
Turns out I forgot to turn the darn thing off and when we flew home from Maui and the speed of the airplane pegged the speedometer before shutting down at 330.
My Intex has stayed with me for these many years, and yes, it still holds air. My daughter, who also rode it, and most recently Dave Harris had a go.
What got me pumped originally on this mat was that I had to wait for so long on my custom ordered Neumatic. I just wanted to ride a mat and this Intex would not have existed as a rideable creature without Terry and his “Secret Sauce.” Sometimes anything will do in a pinch!
Special thanks to Diane D’Ewart for editorial assistance.