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    The quest for savation and a lost surfer

    By TERRY TOMALIN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


    Then one day, Weisbecker receives a faded postcard mailed from somewhere deep in the tropics. The writing is nearly illegible. The ink is smeared except for the signature: "Capitan Cero."

    That's all it takes to get Weisbecker moving. He sells his home on Long Island, says goodbye to his ex-girlfriend, tosses some boards into his diesel Ford F350, yells to his dog Shiner, "Come on girl," and heads south. Carrying an old photo of Chris, he travels through Baja looking for clues.

    Along the way, Weisbecker meets an interesting array of characters: Valentine, the Mexican fish camp owner, who shares a quart of Tecate and three lobsters. The bald, pale-skinned Germans who talk a good game but can't surf a lick. Some of the people Weisbecker meets can't quite grasp the significance of his mission or the ties that bind those who ride the waves.

    "Anunzio liked surfers and enjoyed watching them in the water . . . although he said he didn't understand the ultimate purpose of their calling, since nothing of value resulted from it," Weisbecker writes in the account of his journey, In Search of Captain Zero. "Many of the surfers he'd met did not seem to be concerned with anything other than surfing, which earned them no money. He thought that this was a bad thing although he hastened to add that it harmed no one."

    But Weisbecker, who has seen the seedier side of fame and fortune firsthand in Hollywood, counters with a question of his own: "What does the pursuit of money have to do with God's plan, or his artistry?"

    To find the answer, you must follow this intrepid adventurer across the naked navel of Central America and into the belly of the beast. Armed with a can of jalepeno spray and a fish billy, Weisbecker tracks his prey into the rain forest.

    "God sent you to me, Allan," Christopher says when he meets his friend again. "Everything's going to be all right now."

    That's what Col. Kurtz thought when Capt. Willard showed up at his jungle lair deep in the Cambodian jungle.

    Oh, the horror! At Christopher's Hogfish Ranch, Weisbecker encounters his own Heart of Darkness. His only salvation is the Perfect Wave.

    "Five hundred yards, one minute, of continuous Glide time," he writes. "Imagine hitting a baseball 450 feet over the centerfield wall and into the seats. Imagine the sensation of the bat striking the ball. Imagine that sensation lasting one minute."

    Surfers will be placing In Search of Captain Zero on their library shelves right between Bruce Jenkins'North Shore Chronicles and Daniel Duane's Caught Inside. Others will place it with other examples of classic travel literature such as On the Road. But it really is more than that.

    As Weisbecker once told a friend who asked him to teach him to surf, "Careful, it can change everything."

    Similar caution should be exercised before reading this book.

    - Terry Tomalin is the Times outdoors editor.

    * * *

    In Search of Captain Zero

    By Allan C. Weisbecker

    Penguin Putnam, $24.95

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