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In surf lingo, the term “underground charger” usually defines someone who is not well known worldwide (yet) but never the less has world-class skills. In the surfing world, that definition pops up every now and again, once one of these surfers either find themselves on the receiving end of a video camera lens and that footage goes viral (naming them), or if they just so happen to come out of nowhere and not only enter, but win some mainstream surf contest. However, if neither of those scenarios happen, they remain underground and go about their mysterious life. That’s who I refer to as the “Mysto-Man”. If they are truly underground, their entire existence is still mostly based on hearsay, second-hand stories, myths and alleged random sightings. If you were lucky, you may have actually witnessed a ‘mysto-man’ surf first-hand. Often times, if someone actually saw him surf, they still had no idea who he was but I can assure you they asked someone, “who the hell was that”? That was the “Mysto-Man”. They are mysterious and you probably don’t know anything about them but you do know one thing– they fuckin’ rip…and then they’re gone. In Texas, our Mysto-Man’s name is Nicholas Von Schanderholder (not his real name). Nicholas was born in a Luckenbach barn, on December 25th, surrounded by 3….no just kidding.
I would bet that almost every surf community has a guy like Nick. These types aren’t into surfing contests, so that alone minimizes their exposure risk immensely, nor are they attention seekers. Maybe it’s because of their humble nature or their innate belief in privacy, or possibly because of their (hearsay)clandestine activities…it’s hard to say. They have an intuitive knack for always knowing exactly when the surf will be at it’s absolute best, without the help of such nonsense like surf cams, surf reports, swell models or weathermen. They simply look at their favorite tree. They have the ability to ride any board in any type of condition on any given day. You know… the guy that you brag about to your bros, “Nick could ride an ironing board in macking Pasquales”. Yeah, that guy….probably while wearing a wrestler’s mask too.
I first met Nicholas in the early 80’s…but I didn’t actually meet him. It was just my first sighting. I saw someone at a local surfboard factory, with long bleach-blonde hair, super fit and sporting a ridiculous tan for January, putting a board bag into the back of a truck camper shell. The board bag looked like it must have had six or seven boards in it. I made an educated guess that he was probably headed to a surf destination other than Galveston to use all those new boards. I made a head gesture and asked my work buddy, “who’s that”? My buddy seemed a bit flustered and stammered, “oh, uh…that’s Nicholas Von Schanderholder…you don’t know him? He travels down south a lot”. So, I start thinking…hmmm, he must mean Mexico…or maybe El Salvador…or maybe Panama…and there began the mystery. That lucky dawg obviously just got back from a trip (the exceptional January tan) and was going somewhere tropical, yet again, with a batch of new boards, while we remained stuck in Galveston’s flat Winterland. Nicholas tore off in a cloud of dust, leaving us to ponder our now seemingly lame existence and question why he seemed to be in such a hurry…?
Two years later, I took a bus all the way down to deep south mainland Mexico to a secret, nearly empty, perfect left point break. For two weeks, I surfed as much as possible, slept in a hammock inside a dirt floor thatched hut and lived a short version of the good life. A surfer from Oregon had driven his rust bucket Toyota pick-up, along with his dog, all the way down to this little paradise at the end of a dirt road and set up camp right next to me. We had just shared double overhead peelers all morning. The guy had a quiver of some well-used semi-guns and rode them with style and confidence. He ripped. I sat there watching set after set wrap around the point and would occasionally glance his way to watch him prepare his own breakfast and brew coffee on his antique looking Coleman stove. Also, I noticed his dog seemed to have an itch that couldn’t be scratched. It looked like the guy had perfected the life of the wandering feral surfer– dog and all. We had yet to say a word to each other. In the line-up, our interactions consisted of a nod and a few hoots. I had noticed his Oregon license plate, so I started the conversation, “you drove a long way amigo…fun waves this morning, eh?” He agreed about the fun dawn patrol we had just shared and then told me he had been coming to Mexico every year, for the past 10 years. He worked 6 months out of the year and traveled the other six months…a perfect scenario for any surfer. I was envious. We sat in silence for a bit until he asked, “where are you from man?” I told him I was from Texas. We sat in silence once again, when suddenly he perked up momentarily and asked, “hey, do you know Nicholas Von Schanderholder”? I’m thinking like…no fuckin’ way he just asked me that. What are the odds? I replied, “hell yeah man” (I still hadn’t actually met Nicholas). A long silence ensued once again…that’s how it is when you are in the middle of nowhere, with no phone, no tv, no electricity, etc…you have a reeeeally long time to converse and watch a dog scratch himself, so why be in a hurry? He finally continued, with his head bowed down, as if praying or paying homage to a lost friend, ”that guy fuckin’ rips.” He goes on, “I met him last year during an El Nino swell, up north a bit. It was huge. Nicholas was taking off on bombs nobody wanted any part of, including me, and I just couldn’t believe it when he told me he was from Texas! What do you guys put in the water up there?” I laughed. Now I knew that when I had first sighted Nicholas loading up all those boards that day outside the factory, he was headed down to Mexico to chase the El Nino swell and ended up surfing with the guy camped out right next to me! It was the complete ‘Mysto-Man’ package: the second-hand story, the alleged random sighting and someone claiming to had actually seen him in action! I chewed on all of that over the remainder of my trip and during the long bus(s) ride home. How odd and random that was… I wouldn’t hear anything more about Nick for another year.
About 4 years prior to that adventure to Alfred Hitchcock’s Point, I had bused it to San Blas, Nayarit, hoping to catch the fabled mile long wave at Matachen Bay. San Blas had a very famous steak house that all previous surfers had bragged about…best and largest filet mignon on the planet. It’s the true-true. A beautiful local girl worked there too. This was either my third or fourth futile attempt to catch the mile long point break at Las Islitas, so I already knew about the steak house and had developed a friendship with the local beauty. Every year, she told me the same story about a surfer from Hawaii that she had fallen in love with. He too had been on a mission to catch the Guinness Book of World Records wave and came every year, hoping to score. Each time he visited San Blas, she said he told her that, on his next visit, they were going to get married and she would move back to Hawaii with him. But then, he would disappear, reappear and disappear again. I felt sorry for her, especially since she had told me that story three years in a row, but I gave her my mailing address and told her that if she ever moved to Hawaii to write me and I would go visit her there. Well, low and behold, when I returned from the trip where I had met the surfer from Oregon, there was a letter with a Hawaiian postmark from Maria (not her real name) in my mailbox. The following fall, I went to Maui!
Her husband was a badass: a gnarly local boy and a great surfer-100% Hawaiian. He opened his home to me, shared Aloha and took me to spots that were otherwise off-limits to haoles (white boys). In fact, he ended up gettin’ beef with two other locals who fronted him out for taking me with him to their secret spot. He drove me back to his house and said, “I be back brah”. While he was gone, Maria told me that he had gone back to kick their asses on my behalf. I couldn’t believe it. He came back a bit battered and told me that they got the worst of it…I believed him:) That night, while we had a BBQ outside and talked story, he casually asked me, “ eh brah, you know one kine guy Nicholas Von Schanderholder”? I kid you not! Now I’m friggin’ tripping. He went on, “da guy rippa…I seen him one time last yea Westside Oahu…heavy wave brah, locals only spot and he da only haole in da wata. He Texan too eh brah”? All I could muster was, “yeah man, he sure is”. Now, ‘Mysto-Man’ had street cred with the Oahu Westside heavies? You couldn’t make this shit up. I actually began to question the myth surrounding this world traveling Texan. A few years later, after plugging in a VHS surf tape, the movie got to a sequence labeled Underground Westside Shacks (not real name). It was the spot Maria’s husband had told me about….a heaving reef ‘barrel-on-the-take-off’ right-hander and there he was…getting shacked…unnamed…the ‘Mysto-Man’.
I went on to become friends with Nicholas over the years, made him a couple of boards, shared some great waves with him and learned that all the hearsay and second-hand stories told about him were mostly true. He turned out to be the humble, soft-spoken, extremely talented surfer that I hoped he would be, but the cloak-and-dagger aura remained. I still only hear from him on those few, epic, very rare days when the surf conditions suddenly just turn on. My phone rings…I know it’s him…he doesn’t ask how the surf is. ..he just asks, “where you going out”? All I say is, “dunno-get down here”. Some of those times I saw him…other times I didn’t. His tree probably suggested Surfside was better. It goes without saying that I haven’t seen him or heard from him in a while. That’s his standard operating procedure, though. The last time his name came up was almost two years ago. A huge storm was slowly meandering by the little window between the Yucatan Peninsula and the Florida Keys. A big ground swell was forecast to hit the Texas coast way down south, near the Texas/Mexico border. I drove the 8 hours to try my luck and arrived at the beach to see roughly thirty lines of overhead whitewater, sweeping over the long jetty and making it look nearly impossible to paddle out- unless you took a boat out, through the channel. Everyone’s standing in the parking lot watching, talking and pondering their next move when, way- way outside, where the whitewater ended and a massive looking, feathering peak started to pitch, a lone surfer dropped in. All talking stopped and everyone looked out to sea to watch the surfer successfully make the drop. Behind me, I heard somebody ask, “hey, wasn’t that Nicholas Von Schanderholder”. Son of a….
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