I first learned about Pat Farley when I watched a documentary called Between the Lines, a firsthand account of Pat and other surfers that went to the Vietnam War. After hearing their stories and seeing actual footage of what life was like for them, I was truly inspired by these soldiers/surfers. Thankful for who he is and what he went through, I got in touch with him and had a few words.
Joe Borress: When did you start surfing and who influenced you to learn?
Pat Farley: The first time I surfed was at Cowell’s Beach. I was around nine-years-old, but it was not until I was seventeen that I was surfing full time – giving surf lessons and glassing a few boards.
JB: When you turned 18, what inspired you to enlist in the Army and go to Vietnam?
PF: In the winter of 1967, my brother got drafted – it was cold, wet, and rainy. Still, I never wore a wetsuit and would always harass the guys who wore them. The Marines had just started to take draftees, and I knew I was going to get drafted soon, so I went and volunteered just so I wouldn’t go in to the Marines. I had no interest in going to school; I just finished 12 years of it – most of it at a catholic school – so I wasn’t going to get a student deferment from the draft. All I wanted to do was surf. My thoughts were, why go to college? You go to school, you graduate and then you get a job – I didn’t want a job, I just wanted to surf. I lived in a tent for a while up the coast at 4-Mile’s Beach. I surfed days by myself and didn’t see anyone. There were no surf leashes then, so when you ate it, you had to swim. Little did I know that I was swimming in the Red Triangle known for Great White sharks.
JB: What was the transition like from being in the lineup in Santa Cruz to being in combat?
PF: The transition from surfing to going in to the Army was a nightmare. I kept hoping that it was a bad acid/LSD trip. But it was real. There was nothing to prepare me for what I experienced on the morning of my third day in Vietnam with the Ranger unit I was with, and I was put on point – actually I volunteered for it. A living nightmare doesn’t even come close to describing the experience.
JB: Did you ever surf in Vietnam?
PF: I never got to surf in Vietnam. I was supposed to get a three day in-country rest and recuperation, but they kept denying it. I knew there were waves there, but I just couldn’t make it happen. I did get to go to Australia for a week, though.
JB: How long were you over there?
PF: I was in Vietnam for one year and a day. That extra day got added on because I missed my first flight home. I had Army personnel fucking with me, and I was also a wanted man by the MP’s. So I snuck out of Vietnam – I had a friend go through the outprocessing for me. I snuck into the Ben Hoa air base and hid until his bus arrived, then I walked up to greet him and we switched places.
JB: What was it like for you when you came home?
PF: When I returned from Vietnam there was no welcome wagon. The night I got home, a restaurant wouldn’t serve me. The next night, I was called baby killer and other vile names by old friends and acquaintances. People would actually hunt us down. And after I was home a few years, the media realized that there were a lot of veteran’s strung out on heroin, and then everyone thought every Viet Vet was a heroin junky. You couldn’t get a job because of it. Then came the first wave of PTSD vets – violent and crazy. Every movie and newspaper had a field day. Women wouldn’t get near us.
JB: How long were you home before your has your first surf session?
PF: My first surf session was at dawn of my second day. I paddled out before the sun came up. It was June 22, so almost the longest day of the year. First light was at 5:15, and I was in the water before 5:00.