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Surfing Sure Beats Working, So This ‘Fish’ Never Strays Far From Coast

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“I’ve been talking to a friend of mine,

He says making money’s just a waste of time,

But it’s hard to hear what he has to say,

‘Cause everyone around me is just the same way,

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Some kind of funny-looking money machine,

Saddest-looking people I’ve ever seen,

Living in a hole, body and soul,

All strung out on the company dole,

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One for a nickel, two for a dime,

Time might be money, but your money won’t buy time.”

--From Sun on the Moon, by James Taylor

Steve Truelsen recently left his job at a gas station. He’s not sure whether he quit or was fired, but right now he seems more concerned with the size and direction of the swell than with his employment status.

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Truelsen, who celebrated his 44th birthday this week with a round of golf (the surf was blown out), is an admitted surf bum, although he doesn’t much like the word “bum.” He does spend as much time in the water as some amphibians, but he’s not a drain on society. Until last week, he had worked full time at the same job for five years and his resume is certainly long, if not always distinguished.

Truelsen was pumping gas from 2 to 10 p.m. while most of the men his age in this upscale beach community were out battling for millions.

“These guys would pull into the station in their big Mercedes with the car phone in one hand and a bunch of papers on their lap and they were supposed to be off work,” he said. “And they would say, ‘Steve, how come you’re always in such a good mood?’

“They might make a lot of money, but I guess they’re not all that smart. I’d say, ‘Because while you were fighting the freeways and fighting to make more money, I was surfing.’ ”

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OK, so who’s really the rich man here?

“I can’t afford to own a home like this,” he said, sitting in the living room of the Monarch Beach house where he rents a room from a friend, “but life is all a matter of balances, and I’ve made sacrifices, like money for time. I’m not into poverty, but whether I’m living in a mansion or a tent, I can be happy.”

Since he was boy growing up in Baldwin Park, Truelsen has gleaned strength from the ocean. He got the nickname “Fish” because he would stay in the water all day during family excursions to the beach.

He began surfing in 1959, and by the time he started high school, he and his older brother were making the 1 1/2-hour trek down Beach Boulevard to Huntington Beach every morning before classes. They spent the weekends surfing and sleeping in the back of their 1941 Ford “woodie” station wagon on the beach at Doheny.

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Truelsen lived in Hawaii for 6 1/2 years, and he could check out the surf at 204 in San Clemente from the front lawn of the house where he lived for almost 14 years. At the moment, he lives in a half-million dollar home with an ocean view, but he also has lived in a trailer at a friend’s nursery in San Juan Capistrano.

He also has resided in almost every Orange County coast town and has spent extended months riding the waves in Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, the South Pacific and, of course, Hawaii. He’s mobile, but never far from the surf.

“The ocean is a spiritual experience for me,” Truelsen says. “It’s not only refreshing, it’s cleansing. That’s why I only work jobs that will allow me to surf. There aren’t a lot of bosses who will allow you to call in and say, ‘There’s a big south swell and Trestles is really firing so I can’t come in for a few days.’ ”

He has been a landscaper, an interior decorator, a janitor, a clothing designer, a roofer and played guitar in a band.

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“If I get unhappy,” Truelsen says, “I move, get a new job or buy a new surfboard.”

Most of the time, he’s all smiles, though. Especially if the surf’s up. Sometimes he pines for the days when one didn’t have to defend this kind of life style.

“Whatever happened to the California magic?” he asked, shaking his head. “I grew up here when people believed in staying low key and maintaining a simple life with basic values. It used to be laid back and easy, but the mental consciousness of this community has changed along with the physical face.

“I’m still in the old flow, but almost everyone else is so aggressive. Now, it’s like I’m some kind of freak or something.”

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Truelsen is a peacemaker in the water, suggesting to the hot young surfers that they go a little easier on the not-so-hot--(“We were all gooks once,” he points out)--and explaining to a floundering novice that he’s creating a safety hazard.

His surfing skills ensure him of a measure of respect in the water, but he’s not sure anyone’s listening when says: “A little bit of sharing could go a long way.”

Still, Truelsen sees some hope in the next generation, which, he believes, is going to learn the hard way.

“People are beginning to understand that we can’t keep seeking more, more, more, because soon there won’t be any more,” he said. “And soon young people just won’t buy the illusion that more is better.”

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“You’ve become a slave of your possessions,

You’re wasting your life away with such aggression,

Don’t you realize that’s causing your depression?”

--from a song by Steve Truelsen

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