Zé dos Cães


15 Oct Zé dos Cães


“Zé dos Cães” was written by Ithaka, in 1993, and published in Water magazine for his column “Fishdaddy Chronicles”, in 2007.

“In 1993, while publishing International Surf I received a manilla envelope from Portugal containing a short surf story by a social expat named Ithaka (aka Darin Pappas). The story, called Ze dos Caes, was poorly typed and much too long to be used in a surf magazine. But it spoke to me, completely original and different from anything else coming through the office at that time. I published an abridged version of the story without hesitation, later receiving several congratulatory letters there at the mag. Only later, when I met Ithaka did I learn this was the first written work he’d ever published. He claimed that having that first story printed fueled him to continue writing nonstop. He has since migrated into songwriting among other forms of written expression. As accidental as it may have been, I’d like to think I had something to do with the evolvement of this storyteller . So here it is almost 15 years later, the story that started it all. Enjoy.” Steve Zeldin


Five people sardined

into the cab of Duda’s

pickup truck, the back

stuffed to the limit

with all sorts of shit;

sleeping bags, clothes,

snacks, a mountain bike,

six surfboards and wetsuits.

I was ecstatic just

to be on my way out

of Lisbon for a while.

Our destination,


part of Portugal’s

Algarve region,

at the extreme

southwestern corner

of Continental Europe,

a complex crossroad

of several different

oceanic microclimates.

Henry the Navigator

had created one of the

world’s first maritime

academies in Sagres

nearly six hundred years ago.

Columbus himself studied

there in his mid-twenties.

In modern-day

summers, the area

is a playground for

pink north-Europeans,

flocking to the Algarve

to take advantage of the

low prices and sunshine.

But in winter; desolation,

rural beaches and big,

perfect waves.

Six hours of nighttime,

two-lane highway later,

we arrive at the

old stone house

we’d arranged to rent.

My travel companions

were frequent visitors

to the area and our

arrival in town was

soon spread to the

local surfers

(all six of them),

who drop in

around midnight

to drink beers

and talk story.

Ze’ dos Caes,

(the leader of the

Algarve Underground),

shows up with a brick

of hash the size of

a man’s wallet.

He cuts off a piece,

warms it up with

a lighter and starts

mixing it with

the tobacco of a


clove cigarette.

Ze’ is a rare character;

a kind of slightly speeded up,

foot-taller version

of Jeff Spicolli.

It’s weird –he’s

never even traveled

outside the homeland,

but barely has a

Portuguese accent

when speaking

his stoner’s English.

He’s a one-man

comedy act…..

Funny as Fuck,

but also seems to

have a much darker

side buried in there


Sometimes he

just stops speaking


like he’s watching

a film clip on the

inside of his skull,

or having some kind

of war flashback.

On his way out,

he informs us that a

new swell is arriving.

And that he’d be by

in the morning

at a reasonable hour.


In the depths of predawn,

I’m jolted to full consciousness by a;


on the window, followed

by Ze’ screaming

like a drill sergeant,

Come On, Pappasss !

It’s ten-foot

with east wind.


Nobody else even stirs

from their comas,

but after five hours

of trying to hibernate

on a frigid stone floor,

I needed something….

a coffee, beer or some food.

We stop in at an


fishermen’s snack bar

for juice and

egg sandwiches.

After we grind, I

go to relieve myself.

And as I’m coming

out of the bathroom,

Ze says in a rush,

Let’s go…

I already paid for you.

But as we’re getting

in the car, the owner

of the snack bar

runs out shouting,



Maybe later,

he laughs,

forcing the car

into first gear

and powering off….

the proprietor’s

profanities fading away

in the distance.


Sixty-miles-an-hour down

a muddy dirt road with

puddles you could drown in

and rocks the size of basketballs.


We nail one of

the basketballs head on.

Ze’ gets out to

inspect the damage.

The bumper and grill

are fucked, mangled

beyond repair,

but the tire rod

and radiator

appear undamaged.

He gives it a shrug.

Gets back in the car.

Throws it in reverse.

Does three full

mud-spraying circles

going backwards,

then slams it back in First.

And we continue

our journey…..

flying and bouncing

another ten or so miles

down the road

that ain’t no road,

finally sliding to an abrupt

180-degree psycho stop

just ten feet

from the edge of a

four-hundred foot cliff.

We’d come to a panoramic

view of three surf spots;

On the south end,

was a long outside

left reef-point.

About three-quarters of

a mile to the

north of that,

was a shorter

lesser-quality right slab.

The two reefs being

separated in the middle

by a gnarly looking

beach break.

Ze’ wasn’t bullshitting

about the swell,

it was easily into

the 8-foot PLUS category

with NO ONE, not even

a fisherman around yet.

Wasting no time,

we negotiate

our way down a steep,

EVEN worse road,

leading to the wide

dirt-colored beach below.

It was already

a half-hour after daybreak,

but the cliffs were still casting

a huge shadow about

a mile out into the ocean.

Freezing, we struggle into

our wetsuits and head

out to the left.

Although a dry hair,


paddle out, as we

approach the outside

I realize this was not going

to be a cakewalk session.

This was the real shit;

big, COLD, powerful waves,

with violent offshore gusts

and looming sweeper sets.

I was about to discover

the answer to the answer

to my cerebral inquiry:

Can this big, clumsy,

gangly, goofy, hash-toting Algarvian even surf?

Hard to image considering how off-balance he

seemed to be on land,

as if he had just

gotten off a sailboat

after six months;

always stumbling

over curbs, pebbles,

cracks in the sidewalk…..

he even had trouble

getting in and out

of his own car.

It couldn’t all

be hash/alcohol related,

he was just plain


at least on dry land.

Ze caught the first

wave of the morning,

a big, slopey mutha

nearly three times

his height.

He took off

so dangerously deep

that the bottom

of the wave at that point

wasn’t even liquid,

just a jagged floor of

barnacle-encrusted boulders.

But he casually

high-lines it above

the rocks, out of the

helter-skelter zone

and into the main section

where it really starts

jacking and picking up

A LOT of speed.

At that point,

most mortals would’ve

been trying to outrun

the wave to safety.

But instead, madman Ze’

fades into a gigantic

arcing backside-cutback

(looking a lot more like

a frontside bottom turn)

heading straight back

toward the pit.

THEN, at the last

feasible millisecond,

does this BIZARRE

hinge-pivot redirect

stall move and is instantly

swallowed up by the massive

but thin-lipped barrel.

Absorbed into

the big foam ball

rolling down

the subway tunnel,

he disintegrates from

my view entirely,

although I’m actually

looking directly

into the tube from

the distance of the channel.

This wave didn’t spit,


with it upchucking Ze’,

ALREADY aiming

for the lip.

He continues up

over the edge,


for a second,

then skates down the

backside of the huge

transparent green cylinder.


Blasting through

the turbulence

only slightly off balance-

still managing to

carve around

the detonation

and continue his

way down the line.

To this day, one of

the most insane floaters

I’ve ever witnessed;

films, videos,

top pros included.

At this point, his wave

passes me by and

I’ve got the rest

of the set swinging wide,

staring at me from

point-blank range.

I can already see

the second wave

wave getting frothy

and beginning to break.

The only way I can avoid

a serious prison beating

is by snagging

the first one

and getting the hell

out of the there.

The swell begins

to elevator me skyward….

and despite a huge gust,

I still manage to

get to my feet

feeling pretty solid.

Squinting though

the spray from

the top of the

immense textured wall,

I see in the distance;

Ze finishing his ride,

the beach, the cliffs….

and that a couple

of other cars have arrived.

But at that instant

the sun, revealed by

the wave lifting me up

out of the shade,


directly into my eyes.

I’m completely blinded

floating through the air,

the offshores slowing everything down to a pulse,

my big toes still

connected to board.


Then back to real time:


That Bertha of a lip

lands on my dome,

followed by

15-seconds of

atomic wash cycle.

Thankfully, I’m able

to come up for a

half gulp of air before

the second wave

dog-piles me…


to drag me most of

the way to the beach,

where I’m bitch-slapped

by six-foot shorebreak.

My limbs exhausted,

but the adrenalin racing,

I stumble onto the beach

with my heart about

to poke a hole through

4mm of neoprene.

Back on the outside,

Ze catches the largest

wave of the next set.

He carves a deep first turn,

drives straight up the face,

bashes the lip MENTAL –

reentering directly

into a grab-rail stall….

just to get devoured

by another huge tube.

He flies out a few seconds

later on a bullet-train

speed run all the

way to the beach.

He gets out.

Nice wave Pappasss,

he says mockingly.


A couple of hours later,

after a second session

and an unwelcome change

in wind direction,

we’re speeding through

the pastures again…..

Climbing a small blind hill,

we are road-blocked

on the opposite side by

a herd of two-hundred

cattle grazing. They

don’t move an inch.

But Ze’ just blares the

horn and speeds up

even faster, weaving

slalom-style through

the black, brown

and white beasts.

We clip the horns

of one of the larger bulls-

and (not even stopping

to see if the animal was ok),

continue through

the remainder of the herd.

Past the shepherd dogs.

Past two stone farmhouses.

And then ninety mph

down the straight stretch

of paved road leading to

the Cabo St. Vincente lighthouse.

A small white car

is approaching us

at equally high speed,

but there’s NO room

for passing on either side

and I’m convinced

Ze’ has some kind

of death wish.


I plead.

Surprisingly, at

the last possible

moment both drivers

abruptly decelerate

and brake, coming

to complete stops

just a few feet apart.

He gets out to talk

to the driver of

the other car.

After a few

exchanged words

and a bro-shake

we’re following

the white car

south toward the

more protected side of

the Sagres peninsula.

Who is that ? I asked Ze’.

Joao Antunes, he says,

The best surfer

in Portugal.

Really ?..

Yesterday you told me

YOU were the best.

I MEANT, he’s the best


anyway, he says

Z-Point is about

6-foot and glassy

right now !

With an diabolic grin

plastered across his mug,

Ze’ cranks up the volume

on a Bad Brains cassette

and floors it .

In about

fifteen minutes

we’re at Z-Point,

looking at some

of the most

picturesque waves

I’d seen in a

long, LONG time.

A short,


right semi-point,

with 12-foot face sets

and just a baby’s breath

of offshore wind.

Big, open, super-clean,

bright green tubes.

Antunes was already

in the water and

the only person out.

And nobody

but Ze’ and I

was on the beach.

The three of us

surfed alone for hours.

Wave after wave after wave.

Tube after tube after tube.

Joao surfing with

radical precision.

Ze’ surfing with

reckless abandon.

And me….

just surfing for survival.

Seven dogs howled

from the beach as Ze’

took off on the biggest

wave of the session.

The wave was

absolutely unmakeable;

an ugly, mutated, close-out.

But Ze’,

seemingly encouraged

by the cries of dog-pack,

hurriedly scratches his way in

from the top, free-falling

down of the past-vertical face,

barely managing to carve off

a juicy filet mignon

bottom-turn before getting

OBLITERATED by the lip.

Half of his board washes up

on the rocks and is

immediately retrieved by

the largest of the dogs,

a dirty-looking

German Shepherd.

Ze had collected

them over the years.

All strays nobody cared about.

He was the only person

who’d ever fed them.

Who’d ever loved them.

They just sit on the beach

and wait for him to come

out of the water,

Antunes told me.

By the time we get back

up to the cars, Ze’ is already

engaged in rolling a big,

fat hash-and-tobacco joint

and listening to the Doors

with his canine crew.

Hey Dude, he says to me,

You’re from Los Angeles.

Do you know

Jim Morrison?

Morrison’s from

Los Angeles.

He’s from NEW MEXICO..

I reprimanded

…don’t you go

to the movies ?…

besides, he’s dead…

isn’t he?


The next several days,

were repeats of the first

with smaller waves and

a few other variations.

Ze’ came by

every morning

before dawn.

I was the only person

he could find to get

up this early on

gelid mornings

like these.

Like myself,

he was an extremist,

but in a more

self-destructive way.


Ze’ pounded on the window

at six am for

our morning surf.

But it wasn’t six,

it was eleven.

And it wasn’t Ze’,

it was Joao.

How are the waves ?

I asked.

HUGE, come on…I need to

show you something.

We drove to

Cabo St. Vincente.

Standing near

a parked police car,

was a single uniformed cop

and several fisherman

looking over the cliff

at what was left of Ze’s

dark blue, sixteen-valve

Volkswagen GTI

laying face down

on the rocks.

The swell had risen

enormously overnight

and was now

at least twenty-five feet.

With the rising tide,

the mountains

of water soon began

pile-driving directly

into the cliff itself,

completely submerging

the car and sending

plumes of spray

almost to the

lighthouse parking lot

hundreds of feet above.

Absolutely nothing

could be done until low tide

when the wreckage could

be more safely inspected.

The cop and fishermen

all split, returning back

to their daily tasks.

That stupid fucker !!…

I yelled angrily

to no one in particular.

Always driving like an idiot and showing off !!!

You think this was an ACCIDENT ?!

Joao asked incredulously.

What do you mean ?? I say.

Look at all these

tire tracks…

Joao explained,

Most of the old ones are

from Ze’ when he was driving stupid,

doing those a hundred-and-eighty

degree slides up to the edge of the cliff

he liked to do…..

but look at these

freshest tracks,

they go STRAIGHT

off the cliff…

SUICIDE ??? I say shocked.

No man, I don’t know

about all that. I think

it was more of a case

that he drove exactly

the way he surfed….

never thought

things through….

whether or not he’d

make it from

Point A to Point B…..

or the consequences

if he didn’t.

Six hours later,

half of Vila do Bispo

came back with

the town cop to see

the wreckage

of the infamous

Ze’ dos Caes,

but no car

was to be seen.

The gigantic swells

had washed the car

completely off the rocks,

across the shallows

of the narrow coastal

shelf and out into

abysmally deep water.

Here in this rural of an

area, no government

official was about to

green-light funding

for proper underwater

equipment to investigate,

“the suicide of a

delinquent drug-addict”.

After the official funeral

the following week,

we all stuck around

a few extra days,

holding our own private

service down at Z-Point…

Ze’s domain.


who considered

Ze’ a friend

(and many people

who considered

him a menace)


We smoked hash-joints

until sunset, watching

Z-Point at its best

as countless,

unridden rights

peeled off the rocks

and seventy-five yards

to the beach.

I’d only known Ze’

a very short time,

but felt in some way

he’d been a kind of

distant brother of mine.

I wondered where his dogs

were at a time like this.

*Inspired by the life and times

of Jose Neves.


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