I could start this article with #DAMSUX, end it there, and that would be enough for most of the people who know Dam Nguyen but some of you wouldn’t and then you would be robbed of knowing how it damn sucks to not be Dam “Lucky” Nguyen. But, first, four long-winded and completely unnecessary (okay, necessary) paragraphs about how I met the skinny f**cker.
The love/hate relationship (hate only out of jealousy over his amazing feats) started on the north coast of California during an abalone trip. A group of us “Nor-Cal” guys were meeting up with divers from Southern California for “Rock Star Ab Weekend”, a yearly trip sponsored by some gazillionaire restaurant owners. They carried our gear, fed us five-star cuisine, and drowned us with expensive booze. All in exchange for a few abalone. Now before you hardcore “only-ten-incherz-northern-cali-boyz” freak out, know that it was all above board and nothing illegal or remotely shady was going down. Wait….why would I feel compelled to mention that last part? Anyway,
a group of So-Cal guys that included the famed Nate Yates, Mori-san, and the one and only amazing Jack Ku had arrived the day before and after a long day of diving had gone to bed. We rolled in at 2:00 AM and after somehow managing not to get anyone’s panties in a bunch in the other Sea Ranch rentals, crawled into the beds paid for by the cash-duck confit-and-MSG-fat gentlemen sleeping on the living room floor.
The next (same as above and including IPAs) morning it was up and time to slink into the comfy forty-eight degree, super clear, two-foot-visibility water. As we were about to depart, it was pointed out that we were missing the “FNG” (F**king New Guy for the people accidentally reading this pulp and who are too literate and cultured to understand slang). Not being known for being patient, and at the same time, famous for being an outright grumpy d**k in the morning, I volunteered myself to go pull him out of the dreamy clutches of his mother’s warm cuddly arms. After all, I’m not doing ridiculous stuff like putting on a cold urine-soaked wetsuit without everyone involved actually involved.
I started gently with, “Dam! Get the f**k out of bed!” Dam responded slowly with, “Uuuuuuh.” To which I, again, said,“DAM! Get the f**k out of bed!” just in case he had saltwater in his ears. Dam: “Uuuuuuuuuuh!” So I ramped it up slightly (okay, aggressively), “DAAAAM!!! Get your f**king skinny a*s OUT OF BED!!!” Dam, “UHHHHHH!!! Chris! TAKE ME TO YOUR BEST PARGO SPOTS!!!” and that was our very first interaction.
You see, by that trip he was well on his way to #DAMSUX fame. Multiple huge white sea bass, giant yellowtail, and even a massive halibut that just happened to free-swim under him while he was parked in a kelp bed but let’s get to the heart of the story.
In all seriousness, I liked Dam from that first moment. A lot of people don’t get it, but my grumpiness in the morning, though not fun for some, is just truthfully just that: fun. Dam got it that morning. He not only got it but responded back with one of the funniest compliments I’ve ever heard. So, before I handed him a quiver of guns as his sponsor five years later at the Fred Hall Show in Long Beach, and said with a straight face, “Listen you little f**ker. Here’s what’s gonna happen”, I already had a rapport with him and away we went with the same old interaction.
We sat down in the Sea Sniper booth and I said his name in a serious tone. Dam (nervously) said, “Uh… yeah?” I said, “Listen you little f**ker. Here’s what’s gonna happen, I have something for you.” I pulled out a set of custom painted pearl-white rear-handle guns with reels and said, “Before you put your d**k-beaters on these and walk out of the show, here’s what you’re going to agree to do”. Dam, “Uh… okay? What?”
“You’re going to take these guns, go out tomorrow, shoot a fifty-plus pound sea bass, and take a picture of it. Then you’re gonna take the picture, bring it to a print shop, have it blown up, and haul it ALL back to the show.”
“Really?” I snapped back, in a mocking tone, “Really?” “Yes, REALLY!!!” Dam said, “Uh… okay?” So, I handed him the shiny new guns with a final word of warning, “If you fail, I will take these back and give them to Sam Dilberra”. To which Dam said, “Really? Sam Dilberra?! Uh… okay?”
Only a complete half-moron would fail to recognize that I had asked (demanded) that he do the impossible. Talk about pressure. Not to mention, I would never give ANYTHING TO Sam Dilberra! And, to top it off, he immediately followed up his response of “Uh… okay?” with, “Oh yeah, you guys want some Vietnamese spring rolls? I got some fresh and snuck them into the show!” Ugh. Yeah. That’s Lucky. In one big, somehow COMPLETELY humble, cocky, nutshell.
But goddamn if that pencil-thin, barrel-lunged, all-tooth, luckyf**cker didn’t pull it off. With style to boot. He rolled that fifty-six-pound wsb in an ice-filled one-hundred-fifty-quart cooler, tail and head sticking out both ends, right through the other booths as if he had done it a million times. He stopped with his trademark smile, pulled out the SIGNED sixteen by twenty-inch poster, and said quietly “Where you wanna put this?” quickly followed by, “Oh! I brought some Vietnamese sandwiches!”
What’s worse than luck? Quiet, humble, inexhaustible skill. Turns out he’s not lucky at all; he is, indisputably, a winner. Okay, not lucky except for the forty-five-pound halibut that happened to wander by. Nobody can tell me that that wasn’t luck. Right place at the right time at the very least, right?
“I brought some Vietnamese sandwiches!”
Next Issue: Reel Man