Record-Setting Surfer Wears a Suit Every Day

By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dale Webster refers to his wet suit as body armor, which is an appropriate analogy for a man who has relied on protection more often than any other surfer in history. Webster, 57, has surfed near his home in Northern California for more than 11,200 days in a row, a Guinness World Record that has left Webster with 30 worn surfboards and 29 torn wetsuits as keepsakes.

His streak started in New Zealand on a whim during a warm week in September 1975, and Webster sometimes laments the long list of sacrifices he's made to ride at least three waves every day since then. He's never visited his in-laws in Utah because he can't travel inland. He needs surgery on his eyes and ears because of extensive water damage. He's never held a full-time job -- he's a part-time custodian at a middle school -- because it would require adjustments to his surfing schedule.

But Webster continues to surf relentlessly because, he said, the rewards outweigh the costs. He's become a legend in the surfing community, a man whose pious devotion to the water captures the spirit of a sport that, for its diehards, is more about relating to nature than competing against it.

"The beauty of getting a free ride from nature is hard to describe," Webster said. "You've been out on this playground with all of this conflict, and somehow or another you've learned how to harness it and tap into it and get a ride from it. It's an incredible thrill."

Webster has earned a modicum of celebrity since he appeared in "Step into Liquid," a popular surfing documentary released in 2003. And he worked hard for the acclaim. Webster has surfed through several tropical storms and often jumps into 50-degree water. He once surfed with kidney stones so painful that his wife had to drag him into the water and then take him directly to the hospital three waves later. Typically, Webster wakes up to surf each day at about 6 a.m., and he usually spends two or three hours in the water.

In the 30-plus years since his streak began, Webster has never competed in a professional event. Still, he's become something of an icon for professional surfers who revere his approach to the streak.

"I could stop and end the damn thing tomorrow, but I know I won't," Webster said. "I don't know what I'd do for one day without surfing. Riding those waves is addictive, and now it's a part of me."

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