Tales From The Rock House: A Collection of Stories from Ken McKnight

  The Here and Now series of interviews is the brainchild of Ken McKnight. He has scoured the globe to bring this series from concept to fruition. Fifteen interviews into the project, we at UK Mat Surfers felt there was a significant voice missing from the vast array of characters, so we turned the tables on the interviewer, pinned Kendog down and made him talk. Without further adieu, we are proud to present the first in a series of stories, tales, lies and exaggerations with Ken McKnight. 


Be Careful What You Wish For.

I stumbled with my fins on into the shore break, following a few mat carrying friends.  I immediately knew I was over my head when my fins left the bottom of the sandbar. I completely misjudged the speed of the current and suddenly found myself being whisked away in the rip at an alarming speed. I drifted probably 30 to 50 yards the wrong direction in a matter of seconds while the crew made it out effortlessly.

Being one of those surf guys who is constantly searching for that one particular moment that defines who I am and what I do as mat rider and ocean adventurer, I had been eager to “Get that Shot.” There is that certain space in time I aim for that often comes in the oddest of ways. Maybe a deep tube, a super long and fast wave that I miraculously make, or a water photo with a cool angle. I, for one, am always daydreaming about all of it. Sometimes I have to be careful what I wish for. What starts as a great session can easily turn into a popped mat, lost fin or leaking camera. So I am always careful what I wish for!

With all these expectations running thru my head I was pumped for a dawn patrol photo session in Oceanside, California with a few of the crew. Surf was on, check. Sky and Water color bright, check. Riders, wetsuit, film, fins, check, check, check. Onward and outward. 

I swam as hard as I could, kicking and paddling. I was holding my camera with the patented death grip in one hand and side paddling with the other. I was severely limited in speed and mobility. At one point I was able to get to a spot where the boys came by. I fired off a couple shots before, once again being pushed 30 yards out of the lineup from where they were. Of course they yelled at me to keep up.

“Swim faster, ken!” They screamed while laughing at me struggling. It seemed like I fought the rip for an hour. I was so tired. Then I saw it!  Something I had never seen in the ocean before and it was lurking just outside the line-up.  It appeared angry and was spouting steam and foam and churning water like giant egg beater.

“What the F#@$ is that?”


I watched this strange looking behemoth coming at me really fast. Suddenly it stopped about 75 yards out, just kind of staring at me. I freaked!

 “I’m going in.”

And I did, as fast as I could. I let the whitewater push me in further and further and after ten minutes my fins were dragging on the bottom, finally!. Now I am walking duck-like backwards staring down this behemoth just outside the line-up. It appeared to be waiting to come towards the beach.

What is it I kept wondering? It seemed to float over the water as all this chaos exploded around it. One of the best sensations I personally get from mat surfing is that feeling of floating, or hovering on a wave. It is a magical feeling and I know why, (I think it was) George Greenough, who coined the phrase, “Magic Towel,” to describe the sensation. The way the mat, or my “Adult Pool Toy,” as I call it (I don’t know who first called it that, might be GG, Dale [Solomonson], or even Prana [Bruce Cowan] but I always like that moniker) , suspends itself on the face of a wave making it literally a Hovercraft.

And now, here in front of me, just starting to come back to life, is the biggest monster US Marine Hovercraft ”Straight Outta Compton,” I mean, straight out of Camp Pendleton, and it is now bearing down on me. It is big and impressive when it is sitting all stealth-like in the water. But when it comes to life and the turbines start to whine like the Nautilus in Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” you are literally and figuratively blown away, not to mention a little afraid.

Like a big elephant sitting on its haunches looking calm and safe, the monster suddenly rears up and makes you appreciate how darn big and powerful it really is.

And now as I am hobbling backwards up the beach, well, here it comes!

“Hey, get out of there.” Says a yellow jacketed lifeguard waving his arm and orange life preserver at me. Get out of the way!”

“It is about time you came in. Didn’t you see us waving or yelling on the bullhorns?”

“Uh, NO!” I yelled back. And suddenly the Hovercraft was on us, huffy and chugging and now it’s blowing a horn at us. I just got my fins off and we are now running away as fast as one can in sand, and I have to admit it. I’m a pretty slow as a runner in sand. I made it to the street where there was a parking area south of the Oceanside Pier. I couldn’t help but notice a crowd, by now of about 200 people standing off to the sides and up on the cliff. Most were pointing and laughing at the lifeguard and myself. We must have looked pretty foolish trying to dodge this thing. I slinked off behind a retaining wall and started shooting photos.

Next to me another lifeguard said, “We have been yelling at you for almost 25 minutes, trying to get you out of the water.” He cackled over the whine of the Hovercraft’s engines, which was by then firmly on the beach and slinking towards the parking area.

“How was I supposed to know,” I yelled back.

“Well, there are two Hovercraft landing here this morning as part of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce Military Appreciation Day. The Hovercraft’s are the main display and all these people are here to take a guided tour on them.


“Great,”  I thought. ” I just delayed everyone’s fun.”

The Hovercraft had exited the water like a monster and it was going fast. It came straight at us and made a huge turn, like a car slamming on the brakes and doing a perfect Brodie to stop. Except he completely drenched the lifeguard truck and the driver in blowing sand. I missed the sand blast by a few feet.

Quickly I blended into the parking lot thinking; surely this thing was chasing me. The beast stopped, the sand settled and the entire crowd immediately starting walking towards it.  A hatch opened and six crew members exited thru the narrow doorways checking this, securing that. Then suddenly they were all looking at me, standing quietly off to the side, still dripping wet, and holding my trusty Nikonos like some drowned tourist.


By now my mat friends had walked north, back up the beach. They must have been over a quarter mile to the south after fighting the rip. Wondering what happened to me. Until they noticed all the commotion near where they had last seen me. As they walked up, they were laughing too! I heard one of the Hovercraft’s crew say to a now emerging officer,

“Sir, that’s the guy from the water over there,” pointing in my direction.

In my typical smart ass attitude I looked around and pointed at myself, “Who me?”

The captain walked right up to me.

“You must be the swimmer that held us up for 20 some minutes?” He said curtly.

“Uh, yeah, sorry about that.” I offered.

“I didn’t know you guys were there when I was floating around in the various rips. The water and tides are pretty strong today”

He smiled, “We expect that from, a civilian.”

We talked quickly about surf, swimming and shooting water photos in the ocean. He thought I was crazy. He wasn’t a waterman. Just a courageous Captain in the United States Marine Corp and a damn fine Hovercraft driver who had seen a bit of action in Iraq.  As a crowd gathered around him for more questions I did what I came to the beach this day to do. I had him pose for a portrait. Thanks Captain!