Edrick Baldwin changed more than a tired stereotype.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
He’s the anomaly.
There are plenty of surfers in Monterey that can paddle out and get barreled, but there’s a smaller list of dudes that can move to Hawaii and command respect over there. Smaller still is that list of transplants who are from Seaside. Even smaller: those who are also black.
At this point, the list numbers one.
Edrick Baldwin, 38, started surfing on Styrofoam boards at 10. He just wanted to catch closeout waves at Seaside Beach, where local surfers carve once in a while called never.
He’s come a long way from there, though. Sure, Baldwin is no Kelly Slater. He works his ass off to support his competitive surfing – he’s worked in restaurants, surf shops, taught surf lessons, promoted music and produced songs as a rapper to help stay on the waves. At the moment, he works as a sales rep for Rip Curl and lives in Waikiki with his wife, Izumi, a petite Japanese woman who also surfs and raps.
But surfing, although originally just a passion, has become his career. He’s beaten well-known pros like Reef McIntosh, Eddie Aikau Invitee and Rico Jimenez head to head. But he had to get his mind right on land before he could succeed in the water.
~ ~ ~
As a kid, Baldwin, who went to Pacific Grove High, walked his dog on Asilomar State Beach near his grandpa’s house and watched guys catching long rides.
“I was like ‘Grandpa, what’s that?’ But he didn’t want me to get me into a white guy sport, so he told me to stick with basketball or football,” Baldwin says.
But the ocean humbled him in ways that the gridiron never could, and would serve as an outlet for channeling negative energy.
“People would see me and say, ‘He’s crazy. I’ve never seen someone surf so much,’” Baldwin says.
His parents had split up, and he and his mom were always moving around. He says he became angry: “I really wanted to fight a lot. When I was 11, I just kept bouncing around… [my mom] was always getting beaten up.”
He was tired of the abusive alcoholics his mother dated. And he grew weary of trying to fit in. He clearly wasn’t like the wealthy white kids from Carmel or even his peers from Seaside. He grew tired of hearing, “What are you doing in white peoples’ neighborhoods?,” most frustratingly when he would hang with his Seaside buddies after surfing.
“I got sick of that s***,” he says.
A few Monterey mentors made a difference. Brad Johnson, former owner of Sunshine Freestyle, got him deals on gear, despite his unorthodox style.
“When I first started, I had a drop-knee stance,” he says, adding he was known as the black kid with holes in the knees of his wetsuit.
His grandmother also played a pivotal role. She drove him to surf the Eighth Avenue break at Carmel Beach, not far from where she worked as a private nurse. She bought him his first surf car too, a Mazda hatchback, when he was 15.
Legendary local surfers like Forrest Millington also encouraged him.
“One time, [Millington] took me to the peak and told everyone he found a little buttons [black surfer].” Given Millington’s reputation as a heavily territorial yet well-respected surfer, that served as a major vote of confidence.
But his grandma gave him the breaks that allowed him to catch them consistently.
“My grandma could see what made me want to live,” he says. “My grandma was the super-power of the family.”
When she died, she left him $1,800. He was only 16, but he immediately went to Hawaii with Jason Brown, local friend and surfer. After a while, Brown came home, but Baldwin stayed – most surfers would, especially if they got a double-page spread in a surfing magazine during their first month on Oahu.
~ ~ ~
Marvin Foster, a dark-skinned Hawaiian surf icon, met Baldwin after hearing his story. Foster immediately took him under his wing and showed him the ins and outs at local breaks. Baldwin would get a chance to stay with renowned surfers like Dane Keaulana and Liam McNamara, and today he is in tight with the boys in Hawaii. “I felt more comfortable in Hawaii than when I was living in P.G.,” he says.
His grandma would’ve been proud of him. Things could’ve been different.
“I’ve never gone to jail,” he says. He’s also never forgotten people like Johnson, who gave him wetsuits to keep him stoked, and to keep his atypical existence growing all the more normal every sunrise at the beach.