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When it came to surfing I was nothing more than a ‘ho-daddy,’ a poser

What must it be like to be a native of Zermatt, Switzerland, and not be able to ski the gentlest bunny slope?

Umm, I think I know.

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I was raised in the hotbed of surfing in the 1960s — Newport/Mesa/Huntington — and was swept up in the surf culture of Jan and Dean, Dick Dale and the Beach Boys.

I wore baggies (never bun-huggers) to the beach, went to Bruce Brown films and read my brother's Surfer magazines.

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Could I surf? Not on your life.

Sure, I bodysurfed, but that's not "real" surfing.

My younger brother, Bill, was a heck of a surfer. He spent his entire high school career surfing, playing basketball and earning good grades. I was a pretender … a "ho-daddy."

I joined the Army in 1964, having just turned 19. I was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. and wasn't there long before I realized I needed to rebrand myself.

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I was billeted with four other guys in an aged barracks. We were from different backgrounds but became the best of buddies. We identified each other by our home states and our accents.

Mike was from New Jersey ("Joisey"); Errol was a Ragin' Cajun from Baton Rouge, La.; Bobby Joe was a Bear Bryant enthusiast from Alabama; and Stanley was a cheesehead from Wisconsin.

Mike was the prototypical NYC kid: fun-loving and full of fizz. I spent a weekend with him and his family and they showed me New York City like no guidebook could.

Errol was proud of his French heritage, talked with a Cajun accent and loved the Louisiana State University Tigers. Fort Benning is just across the Chattahoochee River from Alabama, and Bobby Joe drove home almost every weekend. He loved country music and biscuits and gravy.

Stanley talked with a distinctive Wisconsin twang. He pronounced his state's name "Wuhs-kaaaahn-sin" and, dontcha know, used lots of dem, dat and deeses.

At night, we'd lie in our bunks after lights out and talk about our girlfriends, our buddies and our families back home. The guys would tell stories about New York City, Louisiana, 'Bama and things dairy. Sometimes we were asked to repeat favorite tales.

My life, by comparison, seemed mild. I needed to spice things up.

"Carnett, are you one of them California surfers?" Mike asked.

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"Heck yeah, dude."

"What's your girl look like?" Errol probed.

I didn't want to admit that I didn't have a girl.

"Oh, she's boss," I replied. "We surf together all the time."

I realized my tales were suspect. I needed "proof."

Six months into my tenure at Benning, I was granted a two-week leave home. When I arrived, I set out to enhance my "rep" with the Georgia boys.

I'd been an Orange Coast College student for a year prior to joining the military, and went to campus during my leave. I purchased a pricey $10 sweatshirt in the student store. It had "OCC" in block letters on the front.

Next, I asked my best buddy since junior high, Bill, to lend me his surfboard … and girlfriend. We went to 15th Street in Newport and Bill shot photos of me in the water with the board.

I managed to stand up for two seconds on a small wave and Bill clicked the shutter at precisely the right moment. I looked like I was surfing. I knew I could fool my Benning buds because their knowledge of surfing was limited to "beach party" movies.

Then, Bill took a picture of me on the beach in my baggies with "my" surfboard in one arm and my "girl" (Bill's girl!) — in a bikini — in the other.

I returned to Benning with my "evidence."

I strutted around during off-duty hours wearing my OCC sweatshirt.

My surfing photo and the picture were strategically posted next to my desk in the public information PIO office. Guys would walk by and do double takes.

Six months later I was transferred to Korea. For all I know, my ex-Benning buds remember me as "Big Wave Jim."

And I still can't surf my way out of a paper bag.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.

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