RIP John ‘JT’ Taylor, Humboldt County Big-Wave Legend

James ‘Bobo’ Fay / Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 @ 8:26 a.m. / Obits

Humboldt County lost a true legend this week. John “JT” Taylor passed quietly after a brief illness. JT was a stalwart in the big wave scene and anywhere it was pumping. He knew every nook and cranny of the North Coast. I remember learning not to be surprised when seeing JT show up at some secret remote break on one of the few days a year it was prime. And more often than not he’d be with all-time Humboldt surf god Greg Goldstein. The fact he was best friends with Greg tells you everything you need to know about him.

JT moved to Humboldt in 1984 to study Oceanography and surf big waves. He excelled at both. Whether it was chemistry, physics or calculus JT breezed through it. He was extremely intelligent.

JT had an incredible self-confidence about him that was well deserved. He wasn’t just a total bad-ass in big waves; He was a black belt who lived in Asia to train with some of the top kung fu masters in the world. It was classic when JT confronted someone who was out of line in the water or on the beach. Whether it was some aggro muscle head trying to jockey and paddle around or a photographer on the beach, JT let them know they would have to deal with him.

JT certainly wasn’t a warm and fuzzy guy. He was a tough nut to crack and if you were a surfer showing up in Humboldt all you got from him was a cold stare. He had a little Australian Shepard named Red who went to the beach with him every day for about 12 years. Red would bite at other dogs and generally be aggressive. Well, Red, who was about 40 lbs. came up and just lit into my 100-lb. dog Bud for no reason at the jetty. Bud tore Red up pretty good and JT came flying out of the water wanting blood. I was a lot bigger than JT, but he wanted a piece of me and had to be held back by Sheriff John and a few others. He held a grudge and we had a frosty relationship for the next 7-8 years. That was JT. Eventually, due to mutual friends and constantly being around each other at the beach and BBQ’s, he relented. After an epic weekend at Reggae on the River together in the late ‘90s our friendship was cemented.

But JT really knew how to have fun. You couldn’t have a better guy to go out on the town with. He was a really handsome guy in supreme physical condition. It wouldn’t take JT long to have the prettiest girl laughing. He was a funny guy with a biting wit. His observations would have us all rolling.

JT had a lot of pride and wasn’t the type of guy to try and gain sympathy, at all. You would never see him show any kind of weakness. That’s why JT only let his inner circle know about his condition and they were under strict orders to keep it a secret. He didn’t want anyone to feel sad when they saw how much weight he had lost and how sick he had become. He said he wanted people to remember him well. He wouldn’t let anyone come by and see him. The first thing I thought was “That’s ridiculous, because I will NEVER, EVER FORGET what a total stud/pimp/hero he is!!”

I had been gone a couple of months and went to the Lost Coast to visit some friends. I had been there a couple of days and was ready to go home. Wouldn’t you know it, Graeme shows up in Shelter Cove with five beautiful European women to watch the sunset just as I was about to leave. I stay and have a beer with them while the sky was going off in a “had to be there to believe it” sunset. I spoke to G about JT and he immediately wanted to drive the two hours north and see him. We decide to go to dinner and sure enough Steve and Allison Mitchell are sitting next to us. He tells us he had just spoken with Dan G and JT said he wanted to catch one more wave at The Flat tomorrow.

It was appropriate seeing as it was going to be the best days of the year and about 15 feet, and JT always showed up on the best days. I called Dan G and left a message trying to arrange a flight t in with him. I didn’t care what it took, I was going to get up there and see him one last time. I didn’t have a board or wetsuit with me but I was going to be on the beach even if it meant swimming to the beach in my clothes from Graeme’s boat. Luckily Dan G called me back and offered me a plane ride in. We flew in and it was a gorgeous day and the surf was firing! We landed and Dan called Sayer who was going to fly in JT and Goldstein. He said JT was too weak to even fly in, much less surf. I was deeply saddened as I figured it was my last chance to see him and say goodbye.

A couple of hours later we got a call from Sayer telling Dan to clear the runway. JT had made a heroic rally and was driving himself to the airport. He was adamant that no one make a big deal about him. A 1/2 hour later Sayer comes roaring in with JT, Goldstein and Big Dean. I didn’t even recognize JT at first he was in such bad shape.

Goldstein went out and put on a clinic. He was in “the Zone” and riding waves for his friend who couldn’t. There were some out-of-town surfers camping there who had never seen Goldstein surf before and they were just blown away while hooting and hollering in amazement.

It was a warm, perfect day and it was great to have a beer and a few laughs with some good bros. JT was stoic, as usual. No tears. No sobbing goodbyes. I was able to hold it together and let him know I appreciated his friendship and loved him. He replied “OK, cool” and gave me a stern look of “don’t even think of pulling out any touchy-feely shit”.

Just as another stellar sunset was commencing, JT got back into the plane with the help of Sayer and Goldstein. The last time I saw JT they were roaring back down the runway heading due west into the sunset. Dan G and I were waving with tears in our eyes knowing this was the last we’d see of JT here at The Flat, where he had been such an iconic fixture the last 28 years, or anywhere else. As we waved JT just stared straight ahead into the sunset with that steely gaze, not looking back.

When I got the message from the other member of JT’s inner circle – Brian Kang, another Humboldt surf god and local board builder who crafted many of the boards JT achieved legendary status on – that JT’s battle had come to an end, I asked about the paddle-out. In the surf community it is customary to have a paddle-out and throw flowers into the water off of surfboards while giving a big cheer for a fallen comrade. Brian chuckled and said JT specifically told Sayer he didn’t want a paddle-out. The thought of kooks, people he didn’t know and people who knew but didn’t respect or like paddling out in his name made his blood boil. He said he wanted to have his bros throw a big party instead. Classic JT.

A special acknowledgement and thanks goes out to JT’s longtime girlfriend Jody who quit her teaching job to be his full time caretaker during the final stages of his journey.

Much love JT, you’re already missed.

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