“IN Search of Captain Zero,” a surfer’s memoir, is a string of painstakingly described waves from Baja, Mexico to Pavones, Costa Rica, knotted with flashbacks to ill-fated marijuana smuggling jaunts in the Atlantic.
Author Allan Weisbecker’s search for a vanished friend is the switchboard where memories and the momentum southward of his journey are plugged in. He follows hunches and tips from grizzled ex-pat surfers, drug barons, permanent vacationers and a brothel entrepreneur to Costa Rica, tracking the buddy who sent him a puzzling last note signed Capitán Cero (TT, Nov. .21, 2003).
This book is mentioned in Mike Parise’s “Surfer’s Guide to Costa Rica” as one of the books to pack, and there is a surf-guru mystique to Weisbecker’s portrayal of wave riding.
THE book is studded with accounts of surfing’s details – the technicalities of stance and board length, the pitfalls that snag novices and those rare monstrous waves that bang up even the pros. There is the etiquette of the line-up in the water before the waves swell beneath the boards, the art of selection and timing, and the sublime ecstasy at the tip of a long board hurtling ahead of a foamy wall of water closing out behind.
Road-travel chapters end with secondperson commentary from inside the driver’s head.
The flashbacks toss readers onto boats crammed with Colombian weed screaming toward the expectant New York coast and the pipes and lungs of a 1970s nation trying anything to relax. The eyes of Weisbecker and his pal sparkle with dollar signs, and the dream of plopping down on an island and surfing is lured away by wads of cash from the drug trade.
The search seems at first a writerly artifice to embellish a travel journal and autobiography with a plot. But later, the story of the missing Captain becomes a sideline to the real tale, of a man both grappling with his past and reveling in it, whose loneliness is both self-inflicted and unwanted, a natural side-effect of his obsession with surfing “Big Blue.”
THOUGHTFUL and tinged with the paranoia of a single traveler (not to mention recovered trafficker) on Mexican and Central American highways, this story is propelled by well-wrought descriptive passages (keep a dictionary handy) and thrilling surf adventures anchored by the melancholic self-examination of a man who is always leaving someone.
Allan Weisbecker lives in the backwater surfer’s magnet Pavones, on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica’s Southern Zone. See his Web site www.aweisbecker. com.
“In Search for Captain Zero” is available at 7th Street Books (256-8251) or by order at Librería Nacional (253-9553).