“Super Good” Life: Remembering Gonzalo E. Diaz

My first conscious memory of the person I so respectfully called “The Old Man” was, appropriately, on the race course; watching his Snipe, sail numbers barely visible, cross the entire fleet by a mile from the LEFT corner at the 1992 Nationals in Alamitos Bay, California—where the right “always” pays. I soon figured out that hearing his voice in the boat park would be both inspiring and educational: the best example ever of cooperative competitiveness.

My favorite photo of the Old Man, captured by Fried Elliott at the 2006 Snipe DonQ on Biscayne Bay.

The best of many legends is that he sailed his Snipe out of Cuba when the family emigrated to Florida in 1964. The one time I asked him directly about the tale, he explained calmly that it wasn’t true; he and the family took an airplane—after arranging for his beloved Snipe to follow on a ship. First in Clearwater, and later in Miami, Old Man built a successful business and, with Carmen, also raised a family. His son Augie Diaz remembers learning to race in the Clearwater prams before graduating to the Snipe, and he says his father trained his brother Gonzo to be an excellent Snipe crew!

Old Man (it sounds much more respectful in Spanish: Viejo) was also a Snipe champion over many decades. He and his brother Saul won silver at both the 1959 Pan Am Games and Snipe Worlds; in 1971, Old Man and Augie continued the family tradition by winning another Pan Am Games silver medal together. A year later, they won the Snipe Western Hemisphere and Orient (WHO) Championship. It’s no surprise that in 2021, when Augie again won the WHO (this time with Barbie Brotons), the first call he made was to the Old Man.

For many decades, wherever the U.S. Snipe Nationals were sailed, Old Man and Carmen showed up—and for a few years, there were three generations sailing. In 1993, I included a tribute to the family in Why Sail a Snipe?, because I was so impressed that a 13 year old Lucas Diaz, crewing for his uncle Gonzo, “was narrowly beaten by his grandfather for 12th place in the championship fleet… it is clear from their example that significant birthdays need not put a halt to future Snipe fun for many years to come.” 

I always enjoyed showing up early for a Snipe regatta at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, because it gave me a chance to catch up with the Old Man before he was too distracted by helping another junior sailor properly rig their Snipe. How many generations of young sailors did he inspire, outside of his own family? I can’t even begin to count, but there are folks now in their 50s with memories of “renting” a race-ready Snipe from the Old Man for some ridiculously low monthly fee; his way of making sailing affordable, while ensuring they had a little skin in the game. He continued these rentals (and kept competing) until just a few years ago.

Competitor’s briefings always began with “Attention Snipe Sailors!”

There are a few stock “Old Man” phrases that I will hear in my head for many years to come. The most famous, of course, is “Attention Snipe Sailors!” But my favorite was his answer to “how ya doin’, Old Man?” which was always: “Super good, super good!” And then there’s his nickname for my friend and longtime teammate, Kim Couranz: “My Diva!” To which she would answer, “My Hero!” 

His tales of sportsmanship and leadership were one reason I always made the Comodoro Rasco Regatta a priority. Watching the Old Man narrate home movies from 1950s Cuba (with Comodoro Rasco, the Cuban Snipe Nationals winners, and Castro’s march into Havana given about equal time) never got old.  (Read more in Comodoro Rasco and Old Man: Appreciating Tradition)

Old Man is still inspiring good deeds; though it couldn’t possibly begin to match his importance and legacy, I’ve donated a keg to the 2023 U.S. Nationals in his name. I like to think he’ll be smiling down on all of us as we raise a toast to him in late June; the best example I know of cooperative competitiveness. If you want to join me, here’s the link.

Sail on, Old Man. We will miss your wit, your determination, and your love of all things and all people Snipe. I hope your next life is just as “super good.”