Archive Dive 09/18/95 : ESM “The First Surf Rag” In Space !!

September 18, 2020 • Archive Dive

“… there wasn’t time for any official formalities or security protocols. So, Dad said, “Give me a copy when you’re ready, and I’ll take care of it.” -Matt Walker –

25 years ago today, on September 18, 1995, the storied space shuttle Endeavor landed at Cape Kennedy, ending it’s  STS-69 mission that launched on the 7th then flew for 10 days, 4,500,00 miles while completing 171 orbits. It was also the 100th successful crewed NASA spaceflight, not including X-15 flights and carried the strangest cargo aboard in the form of the cover Eastern Surf Magazine Volume 4 / Issue 25 which highlighted one sick water shot of CT Taylor getting kegged, snapped by photog Patrick O’Leary.

While not actually the first surfer in space, you can’t argue against CT Taylor being the hardest ripper (in the flesh or not) to go into orbit with this cover that flew aboard Endeavor courtesy of United States Naval shuttle Commander Dave Walker and the STS-69 crew. Photo of CT packing a Kauai barrel for our 2nd annual Who Da’ Guy issue by Patrick O’Leary.

How the heck did we pull that one off?

Well when your editor is the son of United States Naval aviator and STS-69 Commander David “Red Flash” Walker, it’s the kind nutty suggestion you throw out after downing multiple liters of beer at Coasters Pub. I’ll admit we hatched a million great  (and not so great) ones with Matty piloting ESM during our editorial spit-balling sessions bellied up to the bar, not remembering half of them next day.

Thanks to Matt Walker for this beautiful remembrance of his dad posted below and to Commander Dave Walker who stowed ( or smuggled as the case may be ) that piece of your favorite fish wrapper in his personal gear aboard Endeavor making surf publishing history 25 years ago today . – Mez –

Like father like son: “he understood and respected the concept of doing what you love, and doing it right, every time, whatever it takes” – Matt Walker – . Apples rarely fall far the tree they grow on … 

It’s funny  for me to reflect on 1995 from the perspective of “Dad’s last mission.” I tend —  like most self-centered humans — to think of that year in terms of “my first real job.” But really, I guess it was the convergence of the two: the end of his career as a highly respected astronaut and Navy aviator; the beginning  of mine as a lowly surf writer. But that period was likely the closest Dad and I ever got, particularly when it came to understanding what we did for a living — and why.

I’d just moved to Florida that March to become Eastern Surf Magazine’s Associate Editor. Coincidentally, Dad was starting to visit Cocoa Beach about once a month. While NASA astronauts live and train in Houston, they fly into Kennedy Space Center more frequently in the months leading up to a launch. So, my arrival in Melbourne was perfectly timed to see my dad on a much more regular basis. Simultaneously, I was also getting to know my freshly adopted family at ESM.

And we were definitely family.

Not only was I living with Dugan while I looked for a place, back then, “the office” was three rooms in Mez’s house. With just four of us powering out issues every six weeks, deadlines were constant. Work days began with Sebastian Inlet dawn patrols and ended with after-shift beers up at Coasters (maybe even Tootsie’s). It was a 100% immersive experience where the learning process was two-fold: 1) understanding the pure mechanics of producing a magazine from writing copy to pasting pages to delivering bundles etc. and 2) the subtler art of figuring out the Florida surf scene, which had worse waves — but way more sizzle — than my past couple winters on the Outer Banks.

The contents page photo of ESM’s 10th anniversary issue with Endeavor blasting off from pad 39-B with the ESM logo photoshopped onto the left wing by art director Kenny ‘Gibber” Gibbs. Photo: NASA

Fortunately, I had excellent teachers on both fronts. Mez and Lally walked me through editorial side, giving me lots of leeway to find my own voice (and make the occasional fuck up). Dugan paddled me out at First Peak, and charmed “the boys” into letting a couple waves slip by. Meanwhile, the occasional office visit from legends, pros and reps —Loehr and Catri, Butchy and Kech, maybe a Slater or Lisa sighting — got me tuned into the industry players (and the occasional free pair of sunnies). 

Against this backdrop, dad would show up every couple of weeks. I’d sneak up to Cocoa Beach and park the truck at Ron Jon’s, and he’d fetch me for dinner  — or to crack a few beers at Castaways—  often with the crew, where we swapped stories from our work week (as much as either of us was willing to divulge). Astro-talk blended with surf speak. I’d named drop surf stars; they’d discuss real ones. Once the two worlds literally collided off Cape Canaveral. Before each mission, the crew will quarantine in a beach house. Only family is allowed to visit, so I snuck up there with a board and tested the waters on a crappy waist-high day.

Former ESM Editor and son of a son of a sailor / aviator, Matt “Donuts” Walker launching at S-Turns. During one visit to to see his dad at the Cape Kennedy space complex Matty got to sneak in a ( probably illegal ) session near the crew beach headquarters there. Photo: Mez @mezapixels

Likewise, he made his way down to see my new digs, where he quickly got know the ESM team —  usually behind Mez’s where we’d fire up the grill and lounge in the pool. It was on one of those days where someone hatched the plan to sneak a mag up on the shuttle. Usually, items have to be catalogued  and submitted months in advance. Some tech stashes them in some hidden cubby well before launch date; six months after they land you get back your piece of history — plus a cool certificate to boot. But this was probably June — and he launched in September — there weren’t time for any official formalities or security protocols. So, Dad said, “Give me a copy when you’re ready, and I’ll take care of it.” 

We were fucking amped. So amped, we even put a piece in the August ish, boasting about our impending interstellar status. Thank heavens, dad delivered. Somewhere between deadline and launch day, he snagged a copy, clipped the cover and the masthead, folded the two pages into snug rectangles, and slipped them inside the zippered leg pocket of his flight suit.

Claiming it! Something we made a living from doing exactly that for the East Coast and all it’s talent, industry and the passionate surf culture looking for a voice to represent them.

   I can’t recall whether I asked him to bring up a mag, or if he suggested it — but he was always keen to tote items into space for folks he liked. And he more than liked the ESM crew. Not just because he was happy to see I hadn’t wasted four years (and tens of thousands of dollars) on an English degree, but I think he recognized a passionate team when he saw it. And as a lifelong aviator — who more or less stuck with NASA as much to keep flying jet aircraft whenever he wanted as for the rare opportunities to go into orbit —  he understood and respected the concept of doing what you love, and doing it right, every time, whatever it takes. 

A few years ago, Mez and Dugan mailed me the actual copy that flew on the Endeavour, September 7 -18, 1995. Needless to say, I treasure it as “the first surf rag in space” — high praise for a humble tabloid built on black-and-white photos, ‘f’-bombs and a fair bit of heart.  But I think I love it more for what it represented back on land: a pretty important crossroads for both Dad and I. For him, it was the end of 17 years with NASA and three decades with the Navy; for me it was the leading edge of a quarter-century slinging words. Ultimately, I think of those six months as a rare moment where our two flight paths converged: I got to watch him launch and land his final mission. And he saw his son’s career slowly start to lift-off.

Yeah, riiiiight, ESM went into space? Yep and we have the proof right here thanks to Dave and Matt Walker.