"Change is inevitable... Survival is not"

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SOB Stories

The Incredible SOB Story 1
by Oscar Knows

"You can raise your voice! You can get involved. You can spread the word. One man can do that!"

Only a few months have passed since it happened and already I've told the story to practically everyone I know in Half Moon Bay. Katie made me promise to get it down  on paper, and knowing Katie, I'd best keep my promise. Otherwise, she'll badger me until I get it done and published, so here goes -- but this is the last time! Positively the last time!

It happened on January 1, 1997. As in previous years, this New Year's morning brought the annual assessment and subsequent realization that there was definitely more of me to love and behold. Like all compelling issues confronting me, I formulated a plan of attack. A resolve of healthy activity for mind, body, and spirit. I loaded the long board into the trusty Woody and headed for Mavericks. Surveying the conditions, I slurped on black coffee. Two words entered my mind: Surf's Up.

Almost two weeks of solid storm bashing and wind had created a hellish spew of floods, mudslides, broken dreams, and even death for poor souls who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But today, this was a magnificent place. Today, nature's brutality seemed once again impeccably balanced. I pulled on my wetsuit and walked out onto the sand. It appeared I'd have the first couple of sets all to myself. My board and I became one as we crashed into the Pacific's chill. Paddling out, the peaks slapped us from side to side, changing directions with each swell. Through the surf zone, beyond the breakwater, and gliding toward the point, I became so captivated by the moment, I just kept paddling west. This state of mind is something I usually refer to as 'starring in my own movie'. Just as the projectionist began the second reel, something caught my eye and brought me back. I turned my board and moved quickly toward it. As I closed in to within 50 yards, I determined it was a swimmer in distress. I flattened out on the board and started paddling with all the strength I could muster. The old dive master in me took over my brain. I lifted my gaze from my stroke to see that I was only five yards from the distressed... otter?

I dropped my legs to the side of my board and sat there gasping, with what I'm sure was a look of complete bewilderment. The otter just looked back at me, then raised his left paw and asked me in sign if I was okay. I responded that I felt a bit wheezy. The otter told to me to relax, that I had probably overdone it. He signed that I was paddling too fast and was too fat and too old to be out here on a big board. I said, "Hey, who the heck do you think you are talking to?" He answered that he did not know my name but that he had seen me around and knew I was a 'local'. I told him my name, Oscar Knows, and that I was an international dive guide residing here on the coast. As I caught my breath, I asked the otter if he had a name. "Of course," he said. "My name is Second Otter Boy, but everyone calls me SOB."

"Second Otter Boy?" I inquired. "Yeah, I know it's a very common name," he replied, shrugging. "Do you have any family? Any brothers or sisters?" I asked. "Well, yes, I have one surviving sister. Her name is First Otter Girl, but we call her FOG for short." SOB continued to communicate with me and shared that he was born south of here, along the coast, at a place where the Northern Elephant Seals visit during winter. He lived there until a few years ago when, on a day filled with the abundant promise of spring, the natural order of things revealed itself. SOB and his father were diving off Aņo Nuevo point. FOG and his Mom were feeding over in the kelp beds a little further south. SOB and his Pa were just getting into some succulent abalones, when in a blink of an eye, the water broke open and his Pa disappeared. Forever. "Oh No!" I exclaimed, "your father was eaten by a great white shark? How awful!" SOB looked at me puzzled. I continued my empathetic plea; "to be orphaned by a great white right before your eyes must have been emotionally life altering, scarring and a traumatic experience for you!" SOB looked at me, his eyes filled with innocence, "Oh, I never thought of it that way. Life here is all about survival. We are all part of the environment and we are one element of the food chain. That is what our life is all about. We understand it as a very natural thing, you know, Oscar?"

photos courtesy Alan Studley

SOB and I talked a while more and he told me that after FOB (his father, First Otter Boy) was taken, the family moved north to reside on the edges of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Things were going well until the winter storms hit. SOB's mom and his sister FOG became very ill. Ill from the onslaught of high fever and diarrhea. "My mom died," SOB said, looking down at the water.

Sadly, I said "SOB, your mom was taken by a fever?" "No," he insisted. "She was killed. There's a difference. There's nothing unnatural or wrong about being taken. My mommy was killed! Killed by SAM" he declared. "SAM who?" I asked. "SAM, the sign guy. Don't you know, Oscar, who SAM (Sewer Authority Mid-coast) is?" SOB implored. "He's the guy that puts up all those orange signs that say "DANGER: HUMANS SHOULD NOT COME IN CONTACT WITH THE WATER. THERE IS RAW SEWAGE IN THE OCEAN." It is dangerous for humans, but it is deadly to us living here in the marine environment," he said, his paws tremoring.

I knew he was right. I have nearly thirty-five hundred hours logged in diving all over the world. Polluted conditions similar to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary exist along some of the most impoverished areas of the third world where neither infrastructure nor sanitation facilities exist to protect the waters.
Feeling SOB's pain, I replied, "You have to understand, SOB, people care, they love their community and they love the beaches and oceans but they just don't realize how destructive or deadly some of their actions and policies are. We have many influential politicians who want to preserve our coast just the way it was one hundred years ago. The way they try to achieve these honorable goals is to inhibit the expansion of the infrastructure; such as sewer facilities, water, and roads. They believe that if they can prevent the growth of the community and inhibit the flow of tourism, that they can protect the character and the vistas of our coast."

SOB said, "Well, their intentions may be honorable, but all I know is that SAM killed my mommy and a whole lot of things are dying over at Fitzgerald's. Oscar, you say you know I'm right, but are you willing to do something about it?"

"Sure SOB, I want to do something about it, but what can one man do?" I asked.

"You can raise your voice! You can get involved. You can spread the word. One man can do that!" he exclaimed.

"OK, OK, I'll do it, I'll commit," I said, "But I'll need your help. I'll need you to teach me what the right thing is. SOB, I need you to tell me the truth. I want your word that if I come to you again you'll be here for me."

"You've got a deal, Oscar Knows," SOB promised. With that he slid his goggles down over his eyes.

"Goggles?" I asked. "Hey, Second Otter Boy, what's with the goggles?"

"Pretty cool, huh, OK Man? A couple of years ago down in Santa Cruz I was a spectator to the life guard competitions by the wharf. You know, the competition where all the young hard-body humans compete to get their water safety instructor badges. All sorts of great gear comes flying off as they go splashing around that old pier. I spotted these goggles on the bottom -- like they say, finder's keepers! All I know is I got a great pair of goggles and someone named Jessica D hit the finish line with some real bloodshot eyes."

"How am I going to find you the next time I want to talk to you, SOB?" I inquired.
"I typically hang out next to the surf zone over near Francis State Beach. You'll know it's me because, believe me, I'm the only otter out there with a pair of cool goggles," SOB said with a wink.   "Is there one special thing you'd like me to tell the folks back on shore, can I give them a message from you, Second Otter Boy?"

"Yes, please tell them this...

Change Is Inevitable... Survival Is Not."

Pollution Alert.  San Mateo Environmental Health



"Change is Inevitable... Survival is Not"
HMB Coastside Foundation's California Watershed Posse (Save Our Bay!)
1589 Higgins Canyon Rd. Half Moon Bay CA. 94019   -   Phone: 650-867-5779 Fax: 866-756-3101