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Encinitas surf devotee died a lucky man
by Logan Jenkins

read the full story at the San Diego Union
September 11, 2003 

You can say Gary Taylor was a lucky man.

Now you can't always say – at least plausibly – that 46-year-olds are lucky when they die of a stroke in a foreign airport as friends struggle to breathe life into their slumped bodies.

By most lights, that's damned unlucky, a sobbing shame.

But a buddy who was at Taylor's side in the Singapore airport offered a surfer's consolation.

"Gary was a happy man before he died," Donnie McQuiston told a mournful Tuesday meeting of the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association, of which Taylor was a board member.

Taylor was returning to Encinitas after an epic 10-day big-wave surfing trip to Indonesia. He was all set to start a dream job this past Monday – managing editor of TransWorld SURF Business magazine. For 20 years or more, he had paid heavy dues as a local newspaper editor, surfing columnist and all-purpose publicist for surfing and civic organizations.

In the so-Encinitas words of his former wife, Taylor's professional and personal life seemed to be "on the cusp of coalescing."

And then, in a fatal heartbeat, it was over.

"I didn't want him to be scared," Marlene Taylor told the DEMA gathering at Meritage restaurant, a few blocks from Swami's beach, North County's transcendental surf break.

"But there wasn't time to be scared. He went from being so happy – and then not being with us."

At the end of our summer, whenever it comes, we should all be so lucky.

You might say Taylor's greatest stroke of luck was his first, moving in 1971 from boiling Los Angeles to cool Encinitas.

"I still vividly remember the exact moment I got off the school bus for my first day at Oak Crest Junior High," Taylor wrote in a recent two-part column for the Surf City Times, an Encinitas lifestyle magazine.

"Deeply tanned, bra-less girls in loose flower dresses floated like butterflies across the glistening green lawn. This was in stark contrast to Oroville Wright Junior High in Westchester, where patrol cars circled the school daily to quell racial 'disturbances' caused by the forced busing of students from other parts of L.A., predominantly Watts."

In the swell of puberty, he washed up on the shores of the mystical Surf City, epitomized by the eternally seductive Swami's. He would go on to travel widely in search of waves to challenge his considerable skill, but he remained local to the bone, an ink-stained apostle of Encinitas surfing's history and its hard-won sublimity.

"Two decades before the advent of surf forecasting," he reminisced in the Surf City Times column, "it was common to wake up in the morning and see a 6-foot swell rifling off the reef with less than 10 surfers out, especially on weekdays. The Internet and wave cams had yet to pasteurize the spontaneous stoke of coming over the hill and seeing lines stacking through the palm trees, like coming across a treasure chest with no one around. You could score good uncrowded waves without the aid of cell phones or Surfline, and it took diligence."

In the wake of Taylor's untimely death, tender gestures will be made. A paddle out. A plaque. Maybe a statue in his honor. A Gary Taylor memorial fund will pay for a collection of his surf writing.

Though mild and polite, even shy, in person, he was not "North County's Gandhi," Taylor's wife reminded the DEMA members. He was a real person, an "excitable boy," she said, quoting Warren Zevon, the songwriter who died one day after Taylor, though with ample warning.

I suspect Taylor never came down from the chest-thumping high of an L.A. "grom" arriving in Surf City, Jan and Dean's sun-bleached SoCal paradise.

"To her credit, three decades of change has yet to wipe out the surfing lifestyle in Encinitas," Taylor wrote in the Surf City Times. "You can watch the sunset while cuddling your honey on the Swami's lifeguard tower. You can still do head dips under palm fronds as you ride your beach cruiser down Third Street past the boat houses. During hurricane swells, D Street still goes off. Our water is still relatively clean. And yes, there are even times you can score good uncrowded waves at Swami's if you're lucky."

On Tuesday, poet Bob Nanninga, who years ago Taylor hired as an environmental columnist for The Coast News, recited a hastily composed elegy titled "Safari's End."

One line – a question – struck me as a fitting epitaph to be etched in the shifting sand of Swami's:

With the wordsmith gone, who will speak for the waves?

Logan Jenkins

Gary Taylor, 46; journalist, passionate surfer, passes.
Read the full story at the San Diego Union

By Terry Rodgers 
September 11, 2003 

Journalist. Longtime Encinitas local. One-man public relations firm.

Gary Taylor was all of the above.

But first and foremost he was a surfer.

His passion for surfing was the catalyst of his life, his raison d'etre.

Mr. Taylor had just completed a two-week surf trip to Indonesia, during which he celebrated his 46th birthday, when he died of an apparent stroke Saturday at a Singapore airport.

His journalism career began in 1987 when he answered an ad for a "beach sports writer" at a then-start-up community newspaper The Beach News.

"He was painting signs when I met him," said Jim Kydd, the paper's founder and publisher. "I don't believe he had written very much before that. But he became a helluva writer."

In just one year, he advanced from freelance surf columnist to the paper's editor. He presided over its editorial content from 1988-98. 

Mr. Taylor was best known for his "SurfWriter" column, an often wry account of what was happening in the water at Swami's or D Street, two of his favorite surfing spots in Encinitas.

In one column, he recalled coming to Encinitas from the South Bay area of Los Angeles: "In 1971, Encinitas was as close to a surfing paradise as you could find in California."

Mr. Taylor's knowledge and perspective on surfing were gained from untold hours in the water.

"He typified the ideal existence in this area," said his wife, Marlene. "He was Mr. Encinitas in a way."

Mr. Taylor was a graduate of San Dieguito High School and he earned an associate in arts degree from Mira Costa College.

In his late teens and early 20s, he traveled from Mexico to Canada and from California to Tahiti in search of surf and adventure.

His name became nearly synonymous with Swami's, a surf spot named after the Self-Realization Fellowship Ashram Center built in 1937 overlooking the famous Encinitas point break.

In his 30-plus years as a Swami's local, Mr. Taylor worked his way up from junior-high "grommet" to the top echelon of surfers. As a columnist, he wrote with anticipation of "opening day," the first major Northwest swell each winter. He was a past president of the Swami's Surfing Association. "He'd go surfing first and come to work with sandy feet," said Shelley Medearis, general manager of the newspaper, which is now the Coast News. "Everybody loved his column. Even I liked it, and I don't surf."

Over the years, Mr. Taylor wrote many freelance articles on surfing and coastal issues for newspapers and surfing publications.

Steve Barilotti, editor-at-large for Surfer magazine, said Mr. Taylor was an authentic voice whose opinions were respected because of his prowess in the water.

In 2001, Mr. Taylor left the Coast News and began writing a column for the Surf City Times, a community newspaper started by friend and fellow columnist Mike Andreen.

"His talent was being able to articulate the epiphany of surfing to nonsurfers," said Andreen. "I consider him to be the best writer about surfing in North County."

Mr. Taylor also formed his own public relations firm, Gary Taylor Ink, and worked for the Downtown Encinitas MainStreet Association.

"Gary was a quintessential good guy," said Ira Opper, a Solana Beach surf-movie and video producer who retained Mr. Taylor. "His career was starting to blossom for him and he was excited about his life."

Jeff Mahoney, who was among the half-dozen surfing buddies who accompanied Mr. Taylor on the trip to Indonesia, said his friend's life was on the upswing.

Mr. Taylor had surfed thrilling waves up to 15 feet high and was coming home to start a new job as managing editor of Transworld SURF Business magazine, Mahoney said.

In his farewell column after 15 years with the Coast News, Mr. Taylor reflected on his tenure as a surfing guru:

"Accepting criticism – with some juicy character attacks along the way – is probably the most valuable lesson learned from this experience, especially for someone who was raised by his mother to please and not to make waves."

Mr. Taylor is survived by his wife of 16 years, Marlene.

A memorial "paddle out" and informal service has been scheduled for noon Sept. 19 at Swami's beach. A reception will follow at Pino's restaurant from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Donations are suggested to the Gary Taylor Memorial Fund at the California Bank and Trust, 135 Saxony Road, Encinitas, CA 92024.

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