For those of us familiar with Puget Sound lore, Orcaman is a known figure. Your first encounter could have been on the ferry between Seattle and Bainbridge Island when the announcer on the loudspeaker declared Orcaman’s arrival as a jetski zoomed into view. Orcaman no doubt pointed up with his left hand, his signature move, as he pulled off stunts with his black fin proudly protruding out of the back of his lifejacket.
It’s possible you haven’t had an Orcaman encounter yet, but rather came across The Seattle Times’ Gabriel Campanario’s sketch series of the icon in 2011. You may have even seen kids reading stray copies of Orcaman’s comic books, The Adventures of Orcaman!, in coffee shops. We sure have.
Who is Orcaman? As fate would have it, we bumped into him on one of his rounds with his work truck and invited him to coffee to meet the man behind the fin.
For once, Orcaman leaves the helmet and fin in the truck.
Howard N. Garton, born in 1960, is a bricklayer who calls Ballard home. His mane of hair frames his windblown face and toothy smile, and he is quick to
clap his hands with laughter as he recalls his latest adventure, this one from November 2015.
“I rode my jetski from here all the way to Wrangel, Alaska,” Garton laughs gleefully with a youthful gleam in his eyes. “I sure impressed the heck out of the Coast Guard, I’ll tell ya.” November, as cruisers know, is not a month known for its pleasant weather. “I actually was blown off course. My original goal was Ketchikan.” Garton, an Eagle Scout who rides a 200 HP Kawasaki jet ski is a big proponent of living a vital life. He can be found hiking around Mt. Rainier when he’s not on the water.
“There aren’t enough tough guys anymore,” says Garton. “Back in the day if you lived out here, you’d have to ride over the mountains with your horse and a powder rifle just to see family for the holidays. You’d just be expected to make it, ya know?” Garton lives by a self-imposed, “Howard’s Law”, which is also a creed Orcaman is bound to.
“No one gets hurt, the process is a lot harder than originally planned, and the results are usually hysterical,” Garton recites his law. When asked what Orcaman stands for, Garton offers a copy of The Adventures of Orcaman! Issue #1 The Drab Debacle and points out the four tenets of Orcaman that are clearly displayed on the back of the book.
“The Orcaman tenets. #1: Goodness, not badness. #2: Social Discourse. #3: Courtesy. #4: Don’t hurt the Earth,” Garton says. Above all, Orcaman is supposed to be about having fun. We pushed him a bit, surely environmentalists aren’t be thrilled about his gas consumption?
“We don’t need to talk about that,” Garton waves off the question. “I pick garbage out of the ocean. A couple weeks ago, a floating raft of two by tens from a construction site was floating off Elliot Bay near the ferry route.” Allegedly, he rode behind the raft on his jet ski and pushed it out of harm’s way. “I’m cleaning Puget Sound one log at a time.”
Garton is seeking sponsorship for a jet-ski voyage from Seattle to L.A., 1,000-plus nautical mile trip. That’s right, Orcaman is trying to jet ski down the West Coast of the USA in the open Pacific.
“People sure talk about sponsorship. For a while there, I thought I was set to be the mascot of Elliott Bay Marina,” sighs Garton. He’s thankful that skilled bricklayers are in high demand. It appears as if, like Peter Parker or Clarke Kent, superheroes have to keep their day jobs.
Things aren’t all laughs and smiles though. Garton has a few hard-earned insights on life.
“Stay active, life is brutal, humans were made to be tortured,” Garton says. “Positive mental attitude is important. There’s too many deadheads and non-chance takers and routine orienters. For God’s sake, try a new restaurant!”
Orcaman may not be saving the world against supervillians, like the Drab Meister from issue #1 of the comics, or be the key to stopping global climate change. But perhaps we ask too much. Above all, Orcaman is about having fun. We bid Garton farewell as he leaves for his next brick-laying gig. Will he make it to L.A.? We shall see.
More information about Orcaman can be found at at orcaman.org.