It was with quite some skepticism that I accepted Peter Szor's invitation to go surfing with him five years ago. I had tried surfing several times before but had been disappointed by the lack of adrenalin. I came from a snowboarding background and everyone had told me to try surfing because it was so similar. I had tried it, several times, and I was not impressed. It was mostly about sitting around waiting for something to happen. Where is the adrenalin? Where is the rush?
Peter Szor holding his book The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense, I was looking for a picture of him out surfing but I realized that sadly I don’t have any pictures with him at all.
At first Peter wanted to take me (a true novice) to his secret spot* in Malibu, a point break with a rocky bottom that would cut you to pieces if you fell the wrong way. In fact, I remember Peter arriving to work one morning and asking me to have a look at a three inch gash on his head wanting to know if I thought it needed stiches! Not only did he want to take me to this treacherous razor-wire-for-a-sea-bed secret spot (treacherous in my mind anyway) but he also wanted to pick me up at 4:45 AM so we could get out to this spot, about a 45 minute drive from the office, and be ready for the swell he knew was coming. I didn't want to rock his enthusiasm so I accepted. I think some other people advised him on the "hidden" danger of his strategy and, luckily, he thought better of the first outing and took me close to Santa Monica pier instead at a much more reasonable 6:30 AM.
I don't know if Peter had read the stress lines appearing on my face or if he was just explaining his own philosophy to me that day. I was new in town and I suppose the stress was starting to show—the stress of being in a new city, a new country and a new role, the stress of taking over and building a new team, setting up the office, as well as dealing with all the normal craziness and hustle and bustle that an incident response role incurs on a daily basis. Whether he was an astute observer or not, I can still clearly remember that early morning surfing session and the conversation we had. In a year of new experiences, arriving in Los Angeles that morning still stands crystal clear in my memory.
We had paddled out together, a little past the break, and we were sitting on our boards waiting… and waiting… I was in the ready position my board facing towards the beach and the city, just waiting for the right wave to come. Peter was sitting upright on his board facing out instead to the ocean. He said "this is what I love about surfing" and at first I thought I misheard him. "There are no waves" I thought. "I'm not catching anything, it's early, my arms are tired, and I'm just stuck here waiting". I told myself, "this guy is losing it".
"I love to come out here in the morning," he continued, "turn my back on the city, look out on the ocean and just let all the stress go, have the sun on your face, the blue sky above you, nature all around you, feel the calm of the ocean and just relax. If I catch a wave that’s great, that's a bonus, but I can just sit here and pretend the stress of the city doesn't even exist and revel in nature". And here I was scratching at this ocean and trying to bend it to my liking, trying my hardest to get something out of waking up early, trying so hard to be productive. So, like Peter, I stopped, turned my board around, and for the first time enjoyed surfing.
One minute later Peter was up and away on a nice wave he had spotted while his back was turned away from the city. He sailed by me smiling, giving a thumbs up as he passed. It took me quite a few more sessions before I could enjoy a wave in that way but I have never looked at surfing the same since.
That wasn't the only thumbs up he sent my way. On a professional level he also gave me some much needed thumbs up during my first years in the Los Angeles office. I appreciated his kind words since, even though he sat just one cubicle away, he did not work on my team or benefit from my work in any way. Affirmation of your work has added gravitas coming from someone with more than 20 years of experience, 40 patents, a book, and numerous papers to their name. Actually the breadth of his patents is still a constant annoyance to me as I try to patent ideas and find out "oh, that's covered by Peter's XX patent from 10 years ago". But that I can handle.
The last time I saw Peter was about two months ago. We went out paddling in Huntington Beach which is where he had relocated to when he started working with McAfee. Huntington is at least an hour drive away so meeting up was not as easy as before and on the occasions when he did come up my direction, to Santa Monica, he was visiting family so surfing was the last thing on his mind. I needed to have a work related conversation with him that week. I wanted his input on a situation many security companies were dealing with at the time. He was familiar with many companies, having worked at F-Secure and McAfee, as well as Symantec. So we agreed to meet up to discuss work and to catch some waves at the same time.
We headed out to Bolsa Chica state beach and were in the water for about an hour. The waves were bad but the day was good. With not much surfing to be done Peter was just enjoying the water, chatting with other surfers, asking them about their boards, showing off his, and just generally talking to everyone. We had lunch together and talked for a few hours. He showed me his new house, raved about his new wife—who was away that day so I didn't get to meet her—and we caught up on his new role at McAfee.
I didn't see him again after that. I was planning (and attending) my wedding in Hong Kong. When I returned two weeks ago and contemplated getting in the water again, I thought of Peter. I wanted to call him to go out paddling again. In the end I was still jetlagged so I put off the surfing and the call to Peter for one more week, one week too long.
I'm sad that I won't get a chance to paddle out with Peter again, and to turn our backs to the city, and forget all the stress of life, to be one with nature and enjoy a piece of serenity with my friend for one more short moment.
May you look out on the ocean with your troubles far behind you forever Peter and may you Rest In Peace.
*Secret spot: it's not really a secret spot but someone had told Peter not to mention it to anyone so he felt terribly guilty mentioning it to me at all.
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