What’s the title of your book?
“Waterman's Eye. The term ‘waterman’ is from the ‘20s and ‘30s. It was applied to gentlemen who ran the gamut in terms of their involvement with the ocean — either recreationally or work-related. It wasn’t just surfing — you had to be into diving, lifeguarding, boating, and fishing, also. The book is available online, in some local surf shops, and at the Surf Museum in Oceanside.”
Tell me about the story.
“It’s about one man’s relationship with the ocean, from Mexico all the way to San Onofre. That man was Emil Sigler; he was the person who stimulated the surf community in San Diego. When he started, there was only one board in San Diego, and it belonged to Charlie Wright. Wright would ride it two or three times a year at surf exhibitions. But Sigler rode it more often, and when he was 17 or 18, he started experimenting with shaping another board. He made the second, third, and fourth boards in San Diego.”
How did you come to write it?
“I was surfing in Pacific Beach one day, and afterwards, I stopped at an estate sale. I found this little Kleenex box full of old surfing photos, dated 1928 on the back. I collect surf memorabilia, and you don’t see Southern California surf photos from the ‘20s and ‘30s. It’s just a missing gap. My surf crew is mostly about 20 or 30 years older than me — I love older people, the stories they tell — and so I started asking around to see if anyone knew this guy in the photos. Larry Gordon, who founded Gordon & Smith, told me about this guy Hadji. Hadji was 88 and he still surfed down there in P.B. I showed him, and he said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Emil Sigler, the guy who taught me how to surf when I was a kid. You know, he’s still alive. I’ll bring these photos next time I talk to him.’
“The next week, Hadji brought Emil to the beach — Emil was 91 at the time. He had a walker, and these dark shades, and he was strolling along the beach so smoothly. He had such a presence. We talked, and he took me to his house and gave me more photos. Once I started talking to him, I knew there was a story there. I went home and told my wife, ‘I’ve got to do something.’”
Why should someone read this book?
“Emil documented everything through photography. He took pictures of his friends and had them take pictures of him. Not too many people did that back then. The book is very historical. The cover photo shows him coming into Mission Beach on a wave, and it’s very symbolic. He’s on Charlie Wright’s board, and the people on the beach saw that — another person riding the board.”
Tell me about writing the book.
“Writing the book got very emotional. I’d go to Emil’s house after work to do interviews, and I’d tell my wife I’d be gone for just a couple of hours. Then it would be 10 p.m., and my wife would be calling for me to come home. Sarah was Emil’s wife, and bless her, she would go to the garden and cut roses, and put them in a vase for me to bring home to my wife. She was so loving — she used to warm up sake for us, and we had a lot of dinners together. Near the end, Sarah came down with terminal cancer. I was able to make a mock-up cover of the book for her to see before she died. I wanted to write the book, not only for Emil, but also for Sarah.”
Name: David Aguirre | Age: 44
Neighborhood: La Mesa | Where interviewed: Aguirre’s Home