Billy Graham grew up in Bird Rock, a small community just south of La Jolla, Calif. This is Albert’s favorite story of WindanSea’s toughest hombra of them all.
Butch Van Aersdalen pulled into WindanSea parking lot in his beat up, demolition derby sedan, sliding within inches to the car next to him. He was feeling no pain as he got out staggering and started to talk to Billy and a few others. As they were talking, a young surfer walked up from the beach. His car was the one Butch almost scrapped the paint of while parking — while trying to man-handle the long board on top of the racks the board accidentally rubbed a bit of dust off of Butch’s car.
When Butch saw the board bump his car, he started yelling and screaming at the young surfer. As he started walking towards the kid, Billy immediately grabbed Butch’s shoulder and pulled him around, and with one Ken Norton punch, hit Butch right in the face. Blood flew everywhere. Butch hit the asphalt hard. As the dust settled a bit, Butch leaned up, while wiping blood off his face, screamed at Billy “What in the fuck did you do that for!”
Billy screamed back, “Because you are a fuckin’ asshole!”
For a moment Butch had this puzzle look. Then he looked at the kid, gave a small nod, and turned back to Billy and got up. He then started to walk towards Billy.
By now, a small crowd had gathered. By now, everyone was waiting for a fight to break out with two of the toughest men at WindanSea to see who was really the King of the Mountain.
But to the disappoint of all, Butch looked at Billy and said, in a low tone, “You are right, I can be an asshole, lets get some beers.”
And that’s what they both did. And that pretty much sums up up to Billy’s reputation and friendship with Butch.
Tribute by Doug Cavanaugh, author of Remembering Butch Van Artsdalen Story
It seems like I’ve been speaking and writing one too many eulogies for friends this past couple of years. Finding the words to encapsulate what a loved one means after they have passed on can be an extremely difficult undertaking, as I’m forced to slog through a mountain of memories I’ve shared with that person. The kinds of cherished moments that have suddenly been obscured by the dark fog of pain and sorrow from losing a person long before we are ready to say goodbye.
Yeah, I’m talking about YOU, Billy Graham. Windansea’s toughest hombre of them al l….
Despite decades of crazy times that included wild parties, hilarious pranks, rolled cars, countless brawls, monster waves, the Tijuana Jail, a stroke, a dangerous fall, and several hospitalizations, nothing could put you down for the count. You were practically indestructible from where I sat. Even after losing two sons—the worst nightmare of any parent—you still managed to rebound and find a way to keep on living. So, when your loving wife called and told me that you’d passed the other day, it almost didn’t seem possible.
You and Melinda Merryweather were the toughest nuts to crack when I first started coming around La Jolla in the late ‘90s seeking info on your fallen comrade, Butch Van Artsdalen. You guys were understandably suspicious of all outsiders and closed ranks on me pretty fast, waking me up to the fact that I was going to have to earn trust by doing some time here. It wouldn’t just be freely bestowed.
When it finally did happen that you opened up and let me in to your corner of the Windansea legacy, it was the beginning of a friendship that became one of my most cherished of all. Your memories were so vivid, as if the events you described had happened the day before and not decades earlier. I still have the interview tape of you and Carl Ekstrom giggling like naughty Catholic schoolboys as you recalled your youthful shenanigans in church. To this day I pop it into my old car stereo whenever I have a bad day and need my spirits lifted.
Some of my favorite stories:
How you filled Wayne Land’s car with crumpled newspapers, lit the match and tossed it in just as Wayne was walking down Nautilus St., breaking into a run as his eyes widened in horror and he yelled “NOOOOOOO!”
You turning the wood cross-grain on an unsuspecting Jim Fisher as he was putting on a demonstration of karate chopping boards to some local youngsters. They probably could hear Fisher howling in pain from PB to the Shores. Or razzing Fisher mercilessly in the whole tire iron-across-the-foot “Yogi feels no pain!” incident.
You, Ekstrom and Butch giving each other the evil eye, the silent signal that started a raging pie fight at poor Mark Poitras’s formal event at a fancy hotel. “Our social standing took a dip after that one,” was how you philosophically recalled the carnage and aftermath to me.
And then there were the memories I was lucky enough to be a part of. How we sat at the bar at La Rancherita from 2 until 10pm, drinking beer and talking story. I was the young kid and you were the “old man.” And yet you were the one walking a straight line out of the door that night while I slid down the barstool, wondering how the hell I was going to make it back to LA before sunrise.
Some months later at that same bar you being pleased I found that rare 8 by 10 surf photo of you at Little Point. Then telling me before going to the restroom how much you always disliked attention or publicity. So naturally I took the pic, propped it up on a bar table in the middle of the room and encircled it with candles so everyone entering could see it. The look on your face when you came back out was priceless—eyes wide, teeth gritted, jaw muscles clenching and unclenching underneath your skin (even when “had” you always had a great sense of humor and appreciated a clever rib!).
You saying something funny to me at Su Casa, right as I was chugging my beer. I choked with laughter and ended up spitting my beer all over poor Lynn Clark. She was NOT happy! I look over to you, hoping you’ll bail me out of this since you were the cause of it. All I see is your back as you walk away, your shoulders convulsing in silent laughter (thanks for the save, Graham!)
I could go on and on. Miles of stories and memories, yours mine and everyone else’s’. So many great times at all those amazing Windansea reunions too (thanks Mike Wilson, Melinda, Hans, Scot and everyone else involved). And it was so great that Carl, Woody, Barca, Dick Metz and the rest of the boys dragged you out to the book signing last year. I could tell you were glad you came. Seeing you and Paul Strauch reuniting and catching up after several decades was such a pleasure.
I never had a problem telling you that I loved you these past few years. You were getting older, and I knew that no matter how leathery tough you always were, you still wouldn’t be with us forever. So it was important to me that you knew. Sometimes you said it back. Sometimes you just grunted. I know that both responses were your way of returning the sentiment.
Thank you, Billy, for opening up and allowing us to be friends. Thanks for the stories, laughter and memories. I know you were met at the gates of Heaven by your boys. Not to mention the Windansea boys (and other surf pals) who preceded you— Wayne, Diff, Del, Cheney, Velzy, Buzzy, PG, Hasley, Butch, Snowman, Tiny Brain, Dirty George and Fat Wally. I’m sure they all dogpiled you on your way in, then threw a beach luau for you as soon as the dust cleared.
Love you, pal. See you on the other side.
–“Cavanaugh” (he almost never used my first name)