Late 1930's Surfing
Aloha! And welcome to this chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS collection.
The decade of the 1930's was a pioneering age, when riding waves on
surfboards was still a novel notion to many people outside Hawaii.
The 1930's was also a time
when surfboards first began to undergo technological changes -- in materials,
construction and design. It was the era after surfing's revival and before
World War II. It was the era of the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism
in Europe and imperial Japan in Asia. World events would be reflected somewhat
in surfing lifestyles, but pretty much surfers became their own enclave.
This chapter is a follow-up to EARLY 1930's SURFING,
where we covered primarily the first part of the decade.
Photograph of Preston "Pete" Peterson courtesy
of Doc Ball's family.
AUSTRALIAN SURF CLUBS
PACIFIC COAST SURF RIDING CHAMPIONSHIPS, 1928-41
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 1933-38
1935 SURF SAFARI
BLACK SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1938
THE AUSTRALIAN SURF SKI
EARLY BALSA COMBINATIONS
RINCON DEL MAR - "THREE MILE," 1938-39
EPIC THANKSGIVING SWELL OF 1939
1939 - LONGBEACH'S FLOOD CONTROL
1939-40 - SANTA CRUZ
1940 - PEDRO VALLEY & SHELTER COVE
1940 - MALIBU & WINDANSEA
1940 - KILLER DANA
1940 - SAN ONOFRE
1940 - PALOS VERDES COVE
"I remember thinking that if I couldn't
ride a wave again, I couldn't live. I really thought that there was nothing
else in the world that I'd rather do." -- Cliff Tucker
"My dad used to think I was nuts out there
in that cold water, riding those stupid boards. But hell, it gets in your
blood -- you know how it is, you just gotta do it. If it's there, you gotta
do it. I'd like to have a dime for every mile I ran up and down this coast
looking for waves." -- Bill Muller
"You could only catch three or four waves,
because it was so big and so hard to get back out... I knew it was a huge
swell because I counted 13 breaks from the shore all the way out to the
Carpinteria reef. It was the biggest surf any of us had ever been in."
-- Mike Sturmer
The period between the first and second wars marked the first technological
changes to surfboard design and construction of watercraft since the evolution
of the traditional Hawaiian surfboards -- the olo,
kiko`o, alaia and paipo. Tom
Blake was the first of the great innovators during this time. He was
followed by a notable list of others, including Chuck Allen with balsa/redwood
combinations on the Mainland, G.A. "Saxon" Crackenthorpe with the Australian
surf ski, and Hot Curl big wave surfers like John Kelly and Wally Froiseth
with the V tail on O`ahu.
Tom Blake's hollow
boards played an important part in the scenario between the world wars.
From the early 1930s on to the mid-1940s, hollow surfboards were extremely
popular. This period of time saw the stock market crash on October 24,
1929 and was dominated by the problems caused by the Great Depression.
It spanned the entire presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and saw the
rise of the United States as the greatest military and political power
on the planet. The last days of hollow board popularity coincided with
the ending of the Second World War.
Sometimes referred to as the "heyday of the hollow board," the 1930s
was a time when surfboards became longer, lighter, narrower, and -- in
many cases -- hollow. Lighter boards enabled more people to get into the
sport and these "kook boxes" were prevalent at surfing beaches on through
the 1940s. Even though the hollow board's popularity rose quickly and dramatically,
as a dominant form it was the board of choice for only the decade of the
'30s. Instead of veering off into the realm of hollow surfboards, surfboard
evolution stayed with and continued on from redwood planks. Eventually,
the hollow board found its resting place not amongst surfers for recreation,
but amongst lifeguards for lifesaving.
Australian Surf Clubs
Surfing and paddling competitions were a new thing on the Mainland
of North America at the beginning of the 1930s, but in Hawai`i, surfing
contests had an ancient history. Even Australia was ahead of California
when it came to organized ocean sports competition. By the time the Pacific
Coast Championships got started in California in 1928, Australian surfing
competition was already experiencing its first growing pains as an essential
ingredient to the life saving movement.
"From 1910 to the late 1950s," wrote Kent Pearson in Surfing Subcultures,
"Australian and New Zealand surfing was dominated by the Surf Life Saving
Association... " Surfing became, "for those who wanted to become closely
involved, synonymous with surf life saving. Very few people who were not
members of the SLSA used any type of equipment or craft in the surf. For
those more interested in surfing than the casual beachgoer, the surf life
saving clubs came to be operational bases, and often homes away from home.
The clubs provided the focus and framework for virtually all their surfing
This was in contrast to surfing in America, where there was no voluntary
surf life saving movement comparable to that in Australia and New Zealand.
American lifeguard services, instead, were professionally organized and
operated. Surfing was pursued as an individual sport, separate from life
Lifesaving Equipment & Carnivals
Australian and New Zealand competitions began with team rescues and
resuscitation demonstrations. These competitions became increasingly structured,
diverse, and organized as the years went on. In the early days especially,
there was much experimentation with boat types and surfboards for ocean
The Sly brothers first used a boat for life saving, at Manly Beach,
at the turn of the century. They continued making boat rescues well into
the first decade, while others used the reel, line and belt for surf life
saving. The Sly boat was an ordinary, double-ended lifeboat from an ocean-going
ship. Although the boat was heavy and slow, it served the Sly brothers
well because they could use it both for surf rescue and for fishing.
Bronte surf life saver Walter Biddell was the first person to re-design
and build a surf boat strictly for rescue work. He first experimented with
a catamaran-style craft, then a double-ended surf boat with buoyancy tanks
fore and aft.
After surf boats became established weapons in the surf life saving
arsenal, surfboards came along. "In the early 1900s," wrote Pearson, "there
had been spasmodic attempts by the Australians to use the surf board after
they had witnessed board riding in Hawaii... the first surf board of Hawaiian
design brought to Australia was imported by C.D. Patterson in 1912... various
persons had experimented with this board, but none had been able to master
Kahanamoku's introduction of surfboard riding to Australia, in 1915,
dramatically changed the status of the surfboard in Australian beach culture.
After Duke left Australia, Claude West, "the Hawaiian's star pupil" became
Australia's first surf champ and ruled as such from 1915 thru 1924. "West
was also responsible for establishing the board as a valuable piece of
life saving equipment in Australia," wrote Pearson. "He repeatedly used
his surf board at Manly Beach to make rescues. This was not looked upon
favourably by the Australian Surf Life Saving Association, which at this
time warned members against board rescues."
"The reel, belt and boat were seen as proper life saving gear," recalled
Australian champion surfer Snowy McAlister, in 1975, of the years between
1915 and 1926. "... life savers were forbidden from departing from the
usual form of rescue, and of course, only a few could use boards whereas
all were trained in methods laid down by the Association."
According to Pearson, "Some Australian board paddlers were experimenting
with hollow boards as early as 1918." After
Blake developed the first true hollow surfboard, from 1928 on, hollow
surfboards and paddleboards became widely accepted amongst surfers in Australia.
The same year Blake took out the patent on his chambered hollow design
(1934), the first hollow board was used in Australian competition by "the
heaviest board rider in Sydney" with success.
Important in the popularization of the surf lifesaving movement were
surf life saving carnivals. Over time, sprints, flag races, relays, chariot
races and pillow fights were all added to the carnival repertoire. Some
of these continue to present day.
So, by the 1930s, the distinctive pattern of today's Australasian
surf life saving competitions were well established. These are: 1) rescue
and resuscitation (including surf race swimming and surf belt racing);
2) beach events; 3) boat events; and 4) small craft events.
From the 1930s on, surf boat races were integral to the surf carnivals.
Boat design stayed the same for a number of years; similar to the first
one owned and operated as a fishing boat by the Sly brothers at Manly.
Eventually, the Manly Surf Club had a special rescue boat built with added
watertight bulkheads and a sawed-off stern. This was the beginning of the
first true surfboat. The surf boats cost clubs quite a bit, but more importantly
fostered team spirit. Used primarily for racing, they were virtually useless
for lifesaving. They were too slow to get moving in an emergency and a
challenge to get them beyond the impact zone in heavy surf. As crowd-pullers
at the surf carnivals, however, they were major entertainment. The wipeouts
Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships,1928-41
Thanks to the sport's introduction into Southern California by
Kahanamoku and George
Freeth prior to World War I, there were enough surfers a decade or
so later to hold the first annual Pacific Coast Surfing Championship even
before the 1930s had kicked-in.
The first annual Pacific Coast Surfing Championship took place in
1928, the same year the stock market crashed. In half-page advertisements
in The Santa Ana Daily Register, the contest was announced and the public
invited to bring picnic baskets and enjoy, "absolutely free," surfing demonstrations
by "world famous figures" such as Duke Kahanamoku, Tom Blake Gerrard and
Art Vultee "of the Los Angeles Athletic Club," swimming coach of the Hollywood
Athletic Club Clyde Swedson, and "other experts" like L. Jarvis, lifeguard
captain Rusty Williams and H. Hutchinson.
In addition to surf board races, the first PCSC featured canoe tilting
contests, paddling races and a surf board life-saving demonstration. The
1st Annual was hosted by the Corona Del Mar Surf Board Club, at that time
the biggest surf club in the country.
Held at Corona Del Mar, on the east side of Newport Bay, on August
5, 1928, the largest crowd, "that has visited the beach in the last five
years," witnessed the first surf riding contest in Southern California.
It was here that Tom Blake unveiled the first hollow board. Taken from
ancient Hawaiian olo board dimensions, Blake's board was much longer than
anyone else's. At 16 feet, it would have averaged approximately 150 pounds,
except for the fact that Blake had drilled holes in the deck and resealed
the edges to produce a board weighing "only" 120 pounds.
After the Pacific Coast Surfriding Championship trophy, was first
won by Tom Blake Blake donated the trophy, "to be the perpetual cup," wrote
Doc, "for the above mentioned event. Winners since 1928 are inscribed on
the back of it." Doc added that, "World War II precluded any possibilities
of a contest from 1941 through 1946."
Blake's "Hawaiian Hollow Board" would become better known as "Blake's
Cigar," due to its shape. Both he and his board were nearly laughed off
the beach until Blake easily won the day's grueling paddling competition.
Thereafter, almost every surfer in California and the budding East Coast
began turning in their old spruce pine and redwood planks for the lighter,
Blake-style boards. The trend in surfboards soon changed to hollow boards,
due mostly to lightness.
Delbert "Bud" Higgins, a Huntington Beach lifeguard of those times,
recalled of the redwood boards that the "redwoods were really too heavy,
about 125 pounds, plus another 10 pounds or so when they got wet." Yet,
Higgins, who was the first man to ride through the pilings of the Huntington
Beach Pier while standing on his head, swore by the old boards, saying
they were, "so big and stable [that] you could do almost anything."
"I remember one fella," recalled Bud, "who used to bring a little
folding camp stool and a parasol along with him when he'd paddle out. He'd
catch a good wave, unfold the seat, then sit down and enjoy the ride in
By the early 1930s, Blake helped reduce the average weight of a board
from between 125 to 150 pounds to a lighter 75 to 100 pounds. Steering
and stability were a problem, though, as the boards tended to "slide tail"
or "slide ass." Except for simple angle turns -- accomplished either by
dragging one's foot "Hawaiian style" off a board's inside rail, or by stepping
back and tilt-dancing the board around and out of its old course and into
a new one -- the hollow boards were still awkward and cumbersome.
Tom Blake was the one who came up with the solution to this problem,
too. Although it would take a decade to be completely embraced, keels on
surfboards eventually were universally accepted. The fixed fin or skeg
was invented by Blake in 1935 in an effort to solve the problem of the
hollow board's tendency to "slide ass." This innovation allowed surfers
to track and pivot more freely and gave the board more lateral stability.
As a result, terms like "dead ahead," "slide ass," "all together now, turn,"
and "straight off, Adolph," began to be heard less and less.
The technological advances in board design and construction not only
stoked the surfers, but benefited spectators, as well. The Pacific Coast
Surfing Championships became an annual event, dominated for 4 out of 9
years by ledendary waterman Preston "Pete" Peterson of Santa Monica. Peterson
reigned as California's recognized top surfer during 1932, 1936, 1938 and
1941. Other early winners of the trophy included Keller Watson (1929),
Gardner Lippincott (1934), Lorrin "Whitey" Harrison (1939) and Cliff Tucker
Cliff Tucker recalled the 1930s surfing days as a time, "when a man
could still be arrested at Santa Monica Beach for not wearing a top." As
for the contests, they were serious business. "If you were in a contest
situation and a guy took off in front of you, it was your obligation to
show no decency. You either went right through him or otherwise mowed him
Tucker said that in the 1940 PCS championship meet, held at San Onofre,
"I won by switching boards at the proper times. I rode an 'ultralight,'
a hollow, 50-pound plywood board, in the morning, and then when the chop
came up later in the day, I switched to a heavier, 120-pound spruce. Once
enough people were eliminated, and I didn't need the extra weight for personal
protection, I went back to the more maneuverable ultralight (known in surfing
circles as a 'Slantwise'). In those days, I could build myself a spruce
plywood 'ultralight' with about five dollars worth of materials."
Cliff Tucker was a member of the state's first and then most prestigious
surf club, the Palos Verdes Surfing Club, whose members rode the thick
wave break off Palos Verdes' Bluff Cove. Tucker recalled earlier days surfing
with Preston Peterson. Both 6th grade classmates, "would ditch school to
go surfing" near the old Crystal Pier Bathhouse at Santa Monica Beach.
The Peterson family owned the bathhouse at that time. "For years," Tucker
said, "surfing was the biggest thing in my life. I remember thinking that
if I couldn't ride a wave again, I couldn't live. I really thought that
there was nothing else in the world that I'd rather do."
Leonard Lueras interviewed Tucker for his book, Surfing, The Ultimate
Pleasure. Lueras asked Tucker if he had any regrets concerning his
days surfing. "I wish we had the equipment then that the kids have now,"
Tucker responded. "It's absolutely amazing what's being done on a surfboard
these days. I'm sure we were just as strong and capable then as athletes,
but we just didn't have the technology that's evolved in surfing since
Doc Ball was surfing's first photographer. Although Tom Blake and
others had taken pictures of surfers and surfing well before Doc came along,
it was Doc Ball who got into it so much that he put out the first photo
collection of surfing, California Surfriders, 1946, and was the first surfer
to shoot 16mm film of our sport. Still alive today, at age 90, Doc Ball
is one of us.
In his limited-edition photo collection published as California
Surfriders, 1946, Doc documented "'How All This Started.'" Below the
title, the photo shows Doc Ball, "snapping one in the good old days when
the camera was carried out by holding it between his teeth. Towel was there
just in case. He has since devised a waterproof job which he calls the
'Waterbox.' It's a stripdown Graflex in a watertight case." The photo below
it, entitled "Straight Off," explained that "Paddleboards, hats and paddles,
constituted the cove surfing gear back in 1934."
Doc's book of photos with captions has been reprinted twice since
it came out following World War II. He, himself, was a major influence
in Southern California in the 1930s. His photographic work stoked up friends
and fellow surfers alike, both when the surf was flat and when it was pumping.
To this day, Doc's work provides the best view of 1930s California surfing
and is liberally quoted throughout this chapter.
By the 1930s, Mainland USA surfing was no longer confined to California.
Following Duke's introduction of the sport to the East Coast, surfing got
underway in Florida around 1932. Gauldin Reed and Dudley and Bill Whitman
were three of Florida's first surfers.
"My brother Bill," recalled Dudley Whitman in an interview in 1994,
"who is five years older than me, and I started surfing in Miami Beach
in about 1932 on bellyboards. My brother's quite a craftsman, and we made
some bellyboards that were quite beautiful. John Smith and Babe Braithwait
of Virginia Beach came to Miami Beach with the typical, 10-foot redwood
Hawaiian surfboard about that time. My brother and I, being bellyboarders,
were totally amazed, so my brother built the first Hawaiian surfboard that
was ever built in Florida. It was 10 feet long, and made out of sugar pine.
A year later, I followed... I was only about 13 years old at that time."
"I was just finishing that Hawaiian surfboard when along came this
chap, Tom Blake, paddling in the ocean on the famous
Blake hollow board. It was well-introduced into Hawaii back in 1933-34,
and fairly well accepted at that time. Of course, eventually it became
the most popular board in Hawaii. As a kid finishing my first Hawaiian
surfboard, it was outdated before I finished."
In Tom Blake's book Hawaiian Surfriders 1935, he named a number
of well-known East Coast surfers who started-up in the beginning of the
1930s. Prominent among them were Dudley and Bill Whitman, Florida's first
surfers, who took to the waves in 1933. Later, as members of the Outrigger
Canoe Club, the Whitmans went on to patent the underwater camera, make
movies and pioneer the sport of slalom water-skiing.
The brothers started out by surfing Miami Beach on bellyboards in
1932. A year later, Bill and Dudley were making their own 10 foot redwood
surfboards of the type introduced into Florida by John Smith and Babe Braithwait.
"When I was 14 years old, in 1934, I built my first hollow Blake surfboard,"
Dudley Whitman told an interviewer of his progression. "We were the first
people [in Florida] who ever built the Blake-type hollow board and rounded
it off a little bit more like the modern boards of today. They were put
together with wooden pegs instead of screws like everybody else had."
Dudley Whitman was asked where the surf spots were back then. "We
probably surfed more up in Daytona than in Miami Beach, especially when
Bill and I went to college. We went to the University of Florida, so every
weekend -- bam! -- we were over in Daytona surfing. We introduced the sport
there, and I think we started a lot of people surfing. Some of our friends
are still surfing there, like Gauldin Reed."
"I was surfing before the Whitman brothers came up from Miami and
joined us in the mid-'30s," recalled Gauldin Reed, in his home at Daytona
Beach. "We had a pretty strong group early on. I have a picture with 25
boards on the beach that we built ourselves. The boards were hollow and
weighed about 40 pounds. We built nose and tail blocks and side strip bulkheads
every foot and then nailed the plywood down on top of it. Of course, this
was providing we could save $3 to buy all the materials."
"Nobody knew what we were doing," retold Dudley Whitman. "We carried
our boards on the cars, these hollow Tom Blake boards that were 12 feet
long, and people just didn't understand it. Daytona was the focal point
in Florida for surfing in 1936. Every time we surfed we had a crowd watch
us, but it didn't really take off until after World War II."
Southern California, 1933-38
Between World War I and World War II, surfing really got going in
California -- especially Southern California. Compared to the rest of the
United States mainland, the West Coast provided the best waves and a sustainable
temperature. With the popularity of the automobile, surfers drove further
and further out in search of waves. The gathering spots in Southern California
were places like San Onofre, Long Beach, and Palos Verdes.
From the start, surfers tended to be individualistic, non-conformist
and in great physical shape. Long days were spent at the beach free surfing
and also in friendly competition. On weekends, groups of surfers would
ride the waves during the day and party at night on the beach. The pioneers
of Southern California surfing successfully combined normal working-class
lives with the excitement of being the first group of Mainland surfers.
Fourteen years after the death of
Freeth -- "The Father of Southern California Surfing" -- the year 1933
marked the beginning of organized surfing in Southern California.
"This year," retold Charles "Chuck A Luck" Ehlers, "the Hermosa
Beach Surfing Club was formed. They had about 18 members. The old ones
plus Don Grannis, Ted Davies, and others."
The following year was "A banner year," Chuck A Luck recalled of
1934, when, to the north, "the Palos Verdes Surfing Club was formed --
with Tule Clark, 'Doc' Ball, Hoppy Swarts, LeRoy Grannis, along with transferred
surfers Matt Davies, Jim Bailey, Johnny Gates, Tom Blake, Gard Chapin and
Doc Ball remembers that, at this time, just north of Lunada Bay,
Bluff Cove -- near the Palos Verdes Estates -- was known as "California's
Little Waikiki," and was "one of the Southland's favorite surfing spots."
It was "This year," continued Chuck A Luck of 1934, that "the first
hollow board came out with a light frame work covered with water proof
canvas made by Jim Bailey, about 10' long. Jim said it was too slow and
sluggish. A dream gone bad. Not so, at least six surfers made hollow 12'
plywood paddle boards and Jim rode on his new paddle board with his dog
on the nose."
That year, Chuck A Luck and friends "Held a tandem contest at Hermosa
Beach Pier with Hoppy Swarts/Mary Kerwin coming in first; Chuck Ehlers/Marion
Cook -- 2nd; John Dale/Lucille McCarron -- 3rd; Tule Clark/Mary Anderson,
Spud Moorman/(Mullard) Mildred Neelands and others had a fun day using
long boards. The surfing population had grown to about 80 by now and Fred
Alkire and Spud said this was the year of the long boards 9' to 12' --
97 lbs. to 117 lbs. -- a lot of tandem riding with movie starlets, and
a line of beach beauties."
"Tom Blake's fin," made its appearance along the beaches close to
Los Angeles also in 1934 -- the year of its invention. Chuck A Luck first
saw it, "on the tail of a paddle board. Made of spruce, it was about 1"
thick X 4" high X 6" long and started a whole new way to hold a board from
slipping. It also made you lean instead of using your feet to turn."
1935 Surf Safari
Charles "Chuck A Luck" Ehlers, a noted surfer of the 1930s, told
of a 1935 surf safari when "three vagabonds and a long holiday let us travel
south. We went by Long Beach Flood Control for a few 6' rides. On to Huntington
Flats -- small breaking surf and slept on the beach. Next stop found a
lot of surfers at Corona del Mar. Good surfing 8' to 12' swells outside
of a cement jetty -- the best all-day surfing in sometime. Our ride started
just inside of a bell buoy along the jetty and around the rocks to a bath
house about 3/8 mile distance. Next morning we met (Whitey) Harrison from
Hawaii now living in Corona del Mar, Tom Blake, Jim Bailey, (Pasqual) Pascowitz,
Ray Tucker and others."
It was the era of the big bands and surfers of the day were into
big band music, big time. The surfari "Moved on to Dana Point -- 8' super
glassy right cuts," continued Chuck A Luck. "Met another 6 plus surfers,
'Peanuts' Larsen, George Brignell, Johnny Gates and others. Heard of a
good band playing Green Gardens in San Clemente. We danced every number
Benny Goodman could throw at us. Lots of single girls, so we slept overnight
on the beach. On to San Onofre's big 10' to 12' swells and waves. Met several
surfers and slept with their gang under an open palm leaf roof held up
by railroad ties. They told us about a surfing contest to be held in 1936.
After two days of surfing, we started for home along narrow tar roads,
stopped at Dana Point and caught some more good rides and then spent the
night on the beach at Corona del Mar after surfing there again, too. The
next day, we passed up Hungtington and Flood Control and made our way home
along Highway 1."
Later, Doc Ball would eulogize the Corona del Mar bell bouys and
jetty in "In Memoriam Corona del Mar" -- Famous 'Bell Buoy Rides' and 'Jetty
Surf'... are now become a treasured memory. "We who knew it will never
forget buzzing the end of that slippery, slimy jetty, just barely missing
the crushing impact as the sea mashed into the concrete. Nor will we forget
the squeeze act when 18 to 20 guys all tried to take off on the same fringing
hook. And do you remember the days when you waited near that clanging bellbuoy
for the next set to arrive? Corona Del Mar's zero surf was hell on the
yachtsmen but -- holy cow -- what stuff for the Kamaainas. Yes! Those were
By this time, San Onofre had become the center of Southern California
wave riding. Some sources say the sandy beach below sheer sandstone cliffs
was named after the Egyptian Saint Onuphrius. By the early 1930s, it was
unquestionably "the meeting place for surfers up and down the California
coast -- from Tijuana Sloughs to Steamers Lane in Santa Cruz," wrote Dorian
Paskowitz, who has been there since the late 1930s. "Friday and Saturday
nights were gay 'ole times, with Hawaiian guitar, Tahitian dances and no
small amount of boozing. But come Sunday morning, it was serious surfing
for the true beach rats -- like us guys from Mission Beach. The Second
World War, the take over by the Marine Corps and not being able to sleep
on the beach anymore changed much of that. What hasn't changed is surfing.
San Onofre to this day is one of the most consistent surf spots in the
"It's just a giant family," declared Bill Vetter, one of San Onofre
Surfing Club's elder statesmen, talking about San O's tradition that carries
to present day. Since the 1930s, comraderie has been the mainstay at Nofre,
"even before the San Onofre Surfing Club was founded," wrote Andrew Cowell.
"For this extended family, communication is paramount, activism a must,
stewardship of the land and sea a responsibility, and fun and recreation
the first order of each day."
What exactly the name San Onofre means is a subject of some debate.
It appears in the papers of the Santa Margarita Land Grant of 1836 and
1841. It is also in the official records of the Mission San Juan Capistrano,
dating back to 1828. Besides the Onuphrius supposition, it has been suggested
that the name is a Spanish adaptation of a local native American place
name. Whatever its origin, the San Clemente Public Library documents the
Sante Fe railroad as erecting the first San Onofre sign in the late 1880s.
The "golden years" at San Onofre are generally considered by 'Nofre
veterans to have been between 1936 and 1943, when the area was owned by
Rancho Santa Margarita and leased as a fishing camp. "Back then it was
part of Rancho Santa Margarita," Stan King recalled, "and a guy named Frank
at the Texaco station charged us a quarter to get in. We usually snuck
in, and he'd swipe our clothes while we were out surfing and hold them
until we paid the two bits."
"I was almost born here at San Onofre," declared Bill Vetter. "My
dad was a surf fisherman. I've spent every summer down here, as long as
it was open. From 1931 on, I can remember getting up in the morning and
seeing half a dozen guys sitting out (in the line-up) at 6:00 in the morning."
"September 1936," remembered Chuck A Luck of a landmark moment in
SoCal publishing, "Surfing made the Brown Section (Rotogravure) in the
Times." This might be the same article Doc Ball noted as "Surfboards,
Ahoy!" by Andy Hamilton.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the surfers in Southern California, the
Hot Curl guys were getting underway in the Honolulu/Black Point area, on
O`ahu, making the first great move out of the Waikiki area and into other
areas of the island in search of big surf.
"This is Big Surf," wrote and photographically documented Doc Ball
of March 13, 1937. Pete Peterson "of Santa Monica" is identified riding
the "wave of the day." Also featured: LeRoy Grannis and Jean Depue.
Hermosa -- "Twenty Footers Roll In... Turkey Day, 1937. Identified
surfers: Doc Ball (having deserted his Graflex) and Kay Murray.
"Storm Surf of December 12th, 1937" shows a photo "Taken during a
drizzling mist... shows the cove in the throes of a zero break. Johnny
Gates vowed 'he'd get a ride on one of those or else.' Credit is hereby
extended him that he did reach the half way point, only to be wiped out
by a monstrous cleanup and forced to swim in through devastating currents,
rocks, etc., to retrieve his battered redwood plank. Purple hardly described
his color when he finally got out of that freezing blast."
"Zero Break at Hermosa. Perhaps twice a year this remarkable surf
will hump up a good half mile offshore and keep all 'malininis' on the
beach. Strictly for the 'kamaaina,' this stuff comes upon one out there
with a long steamy hiss, and fills him at first with the apprehensive thought
of, 'Mebe I better wait for the second one.'"
Other surfers and notaries identified: [Adie] Bayer, [Cliff] Tucker,
Fred Kerwin, Johnny Gates "the Smokehouse Kid," "Rusty" Williams (Captain
of the Los Angeles County Lifeguards -- photo caption: "Worry is registered
on the Williams 'puss' as he watches the antics of the surfers in the heavy
seas."), Cliff Tucker, Gene Hornbeck (December 16, 1937), John Kerwin,
Ed Edger, Dave "Black Bass" Perumean, Dale Velzy, Bill Edger, Fenton Scholes,
[Bob] Landes and Big Bob Johnson. Williams would go on to taste Hawaiian
waters, as well as Velzy who was to become one of surfing's great shapers.
Covering the surfing scene at Hermosa Beach, Doc Ball pointed out
Hoppy Swarts and featured him in photogenic rides on January 7, 1938 and
January 5, 1939.
January 7, 1938 was "The day when the newsreel boys came down to
shoot the damage done by the big seas -- packed up and left when we came
out with our surfboards." Other surfers identified: "Tulie" Clark, Pearson,
Al Holland, Adie Bayer and Leroy Grannis."
"Hoppy, LeRoy, Pasqual, Blackie, Fred and John Kerwin, Tule, Tom
Horton, myself and others built 3" X 18" X 6' identical hollows," recalled
Chuck A Luck. "We made 6 of them with both ends round and held ten tournaments
of paddle board polo in the Olympic swimming pool at the L.A. Coliseum.
There were nets at each end and you could not leave your board unless you
jumped on a guy with the ball, played like water polo."
In covering Venice, "Home of the Venice Surfing Club," Doc identified
surfers like: "Wes" Gireau, "Porky" Corcoran. Doc has a photo of the Venice
Half Mile Open Paddleboard Race of 1938.
In "Picture of Two Worried Surfers," taken on the Palos Verdes area,
Doc spotlighted two surfers -- Gard Chapin and Bud
Browne -- who would go on to have a significant impact on wave riding.
The photo shows Johnny Gates and Gard Chapin "coming out of the hook" and
"watch with apprehension the course set by Bud
Browne on the 'paddlewhacker.'"
"Riding Cove Storm Swell," October 29, 1938. Ball photographed the
riding of Fenton Scholes and Jean Depue.
Black Sunday, February 1938
Back in Australia, the surf lifesaving clubs had an incredible record
of no lives lost while on patrol until a fateful day in February 1938;
a day referred to in Australian history as Black Sunday. On that day, extreme
mid-summer temperatures in the Sydney area sent tens of thousands of bathers
to the beach. Down at Bondi the beaches were crowded with people enjoying
better than average surf conditions. "Earlier in the day the high tide
and rough sea kept most people from showing themselves too game and they
didn't give us much trouble," recalled Tom Meagher, Bondi senior beach
inspector at the time. "But in the afternoon as the water shallowed with
the fall of the tide, some got a bit cockier and there was a gradual edging
out toward the end of the sandbank."
Toward shore and to one side of the sandbank was a deepish channel
cut by the waves receding to open ocean. Club captain, Carl Jeppesen, had
recognized the potential for trouble, had the patrol on duty bring down
extra reels, and these were set-up immediately opposite the channel.
Shortly after 3:00 p.m., there was a lull in wave activity. Then,
a series of five or six big set waves came crashing in, sweeping over the
heads of the bathers on the bank, knocking many off their feet. "As one
wave surged up the beach," wrote Nat Young, "the next followed close behind
it. No interval between the waves permitted the water to recede through
the normal channel and it banked up to the high tide line. As the last
waves of the set came rolling in a massive volume of water surged towards
the channel, sweeping the sandbank clear of everyone on it. Some two hundred
bathers were in serious trouble; mothers were crying for their children,
people were shouting for help. Several beltmen raced into the sea, taking
advantage of the extra lines, but their efforts to bring assistance to
the ones furthest out were hampered by the panic-stricken swimmers who
were fighting for their lives just beyond the edge of the bank. Dozens
gripped the line. When the linesmen saw what was happening, with the beltmen
submerged by the weight of so many people dragging on the line, the 'haul
in' order was given. Every line came in with ten or twenty people clinging
to it. Luckily many Bondi clubmen were on hand that afternoon, due to the
regular Sunday competition, and they helped handle the emergency. They
snatched up anything which would help support people in trouble and swam
out with these floats into the surf."
"The clubmen began bringing in drowning victims, one by one," continued
Young. "In a short space of time the beach resembled a battleground, with
bodies everywhere being given the resuscitation that would give life back
"There were at least 40 to 50 people that didn't look as if they'd
be any good," Tom Meagher recalled. "They had to be treated on the beach,
but as breathing was restored in each case we sent the worst cases to the
clubhouse where the casualty room overflowed in a couple of minutes. Then
we sent them to the wrestling mats on the clubhouse floor and when there
was no more room there, we sent them up onto the flat roof. It was literally
a matter of putting them wherever we could find a few feet of space."
Doctors among the bathers on the beach and police and ambulance personnel
gave assistance. Resuscitators formed into relay teams, relieving each
other as the strain became too much. Almost amazingly, the final tally
of dead was only five men.
"No awards of merit were ever made to individuals in connection with
the rescues on Black Sunday," wrote Young. "Individuals could not be singled
out. The clubmen had functioned as a single lifesaving unit; the authorities
considered that the fact so many lives had been saved was enough reward."
"The lifesavers merely did their duty," club captain Carl Jeppersen
told the coroner at the inquest. It was left to an American doctor then
visiting Australia, who had witnessed what had happened on Black Sunday
and had helped with the work of resuscitation, to say the last word: "This
rescue business is a labour of love, the like of which the world cannot
show anywhere else."
By the 1939-40 surf season, the Australian Surf Life Saving Association
comprised 10,000 members. Affiliate clubs had been firmly established in
nearly every coastal town in New South Wales and every state.
This comraderie amongst lifesavers, many of whom also surfed, was
to undergo change following World War II. After the war, rivalry between
lifesavers and surfboard riders caused a division amongst them. Yet, wrote
Nat Young, before the Second World War, "board riders were still part of
the club movement and all [clubmen] regarded themselves as, first and foremost,
The Australian Surf Ski
At this time, G.A. "Saxon" Crackenthorp invented the surf ski. "It
probably evolved out of the use of canoes in the surf at North Bondi,"
guessed Nat Young. "Because you paddled the ski with an oar, sitting down,
it was easier to ride than a board. Originally the skis were 8' long and
28" wide and made of heavy cedar planking, but this gave way to plywood
over a light timber frame. Surf club competition drew the skis out in length
and eventually another man was used to gain more speed and make it more
of a team sport; this led to the standard two-man double ski, a sort of
tandem bike on water. In contrast to the surfboard, the surf ski was quickly
adopted by the Surf Life Saving Association as official lifesaving equipment.
Surfboards, however, were tolerated by officials because so many loyal
club members used them, displaying their club badges printed on the decks
together with the club's colours running in pin stripes around the rails.
The surf club was a tremendously prestigious institution during this period.
Australian girls liked the idea of going out with one of those 'bronzed
gods' and the surf club ranks swelled to reach 8,454 members in 1935."
On his second trip to Australia,
Kahanamoku brought back a surf ski, the first to reach Hawaiian shores.
Nobody expected to be impressed by something from Australia, but Hot Curl
surfer Wally Froiseth admitted, "Yeah, it impressed us. It was something
new, something we'd never seen. It was great. You know, my thinking is...
every area has contributed something. I don't care where they are, these
guys have contributed. Nobody can say that they did the whole thing. There's
just no way. Nobody's got all the brains. Nobody can think of all aces.
Early Balsa Combinations
On the Mainland, Chuck Allen's board was a progressive board for
his time, being one of the first part redwood and part balsa boards. Allen
was a member of the Palos Verdes Surfing Club. By 1938, he had a varnished
solid California redwood and balsa board, 11-feet, 6-inches by 22-inches.
Allen had built and also used two paddleboards in 1936. In 1937,
while attending a shop course at UCLA, he built an almost-solid cedarwood
board that weighed only 140 pounds. It floated "under the water." He sold
it and then built a lightweight nearly-all-balsa board. It was all balsa
except for two 3/8-inch redwood strips added for structural integrity.
Everyone "pooh-poohed" his 35-pound balsa board, so he quickly sold
it, took a week off from school during 1938 and worked at Hammond Lumber
for the plank used for his redwood/balsa board. He shaped the plank at
home, using hand tools. This board is typical of the 1938-42 era, weighing
approximately 88-pounds and measuring 12-feet long. The board rammed some
rocks once and 6-inches were chopped off the tail. The balsa was actually
added on for two reasons. Besides reducing the weight, the balsa provided
a soft spot for the knees while paddling.
Rincon del Mar - "Three Mile," 1938-39
In Doc Ball's California Surfriders, 1946, California surf
spots in the 1930s -- listed from south-to-north -- went like this: Windansea,
San Onofre, Dana Point, Corona del Mar, Long Beach, Palos Verdes, Hermosa
Beach, Venice, Malibu, Paradise Point and River Hole (Santa Cruz) and Pedro
Valley (south San Francisco). Santa Barbara wasn't even marked on the surfing
That's probably because the foremost of California's surfers were
only surfing between Malibu and Windansea. If they surfed up north, it
was all the way up to the cold waters of Santa Cruz, in the summer, and
that was basically at Pleasure Point. Nevertheless, others who got into
surfing started hitting the breaks near their homes. The first guys to
south of Santa Barbara, were prime examples. Coming from the lifeguard
tradition, these Rincon
pioneers were never amongst the most noted of that era. In terms of
historical significance as the first to surf Rincon, however, their contributions
and exhibit of the surfing lifestyle in the Santa Barbara area are significant.
Gates Foss (1915-1990) was the first person known to surf Rincon.
The point break was originally called
Mile," because it was three miles from the Carpinteria train depot.
"According to his son Bob," wrote Lori Rafferty in an article entitled
"Rincon Memories" for Santa Barbara magazine. "Foss discovered Three
Mile driving down the coast from Carpinteria one day in the mid-1930s.
It simply looked like a good place to surf."
John Severson, the founder of Surfer magazine and a surf movie maker
of the 1960s, in his book Modern Surfing Around The World (1964)
confirms that "Gates Foss was the first local Santa Barbara surfer to ride
the Rincon. In the late thirties he rode on planks with Mike Sturmer, Bill
Muller, and others."
"Foss had come out from Arizona to attend Santa Barbara State College,"
continued Rafferty. "Gates was the college boy chauffeur for my grandma
that I fell in love with," recalled his widow, the former Isabella Bradbury.
"After they were married, Foss worked as a ranger at Gaviota Beach, head
lifeguard in Carpinteria, manager of Los Baños Pool in Santa Barbara,
and coached at Santa Barbara High School for 25 years.
Bill Muller grew up as a "beach rat" in Santa Barbara in the 1930s.
"My mom would drop us kids off at the beach in the morning with lunch and
not come back to pick us up until late afternoon," Muller recalled, probably
referring to the Santa Barbara beaches close to Sterns Wharf and the harbor
area. "Body surfing in the shore break near the East Beach bathhouse led
to a summer job as a lifeguard," wrote Rafferty, "and Muller remembers
the day the city pool, Los Baños, opened in 1938. Through the lifeguarding
network, many friendships were formed, and the guys would paddle their
rescue paddleboards over to the sandbar [Sandspit] and ride the little
waves or use the boards as platforms to dive from for lobster and abalone.
Soon enough they were looking for more challenging waves, and they heard
about the break at Three Mile from a fellow lifeguard in Carpinteria."
That Carpinteria lifeguard was most likely Gates Foss. The boards
they rode were typical of the day; a mixture of 14-foot plywood decked
hollow paddleboards and slightly shorter redwood surfboards. Of course,
it was well before wetsuits.
"Back then," Bill Muller reminded, "there were no such things as
wet suits. What we did when it was really cold was to use navy wool underwear.
When you were sitting out on the board and it got real cold, you could
take that wool sweatshirt off and wring it out real good and then put it
back on, and it felt pretty good. But when you got dumped it felt like
you were going to drown, because they were so damn heavy. We would stay
out 45 minutes to an hour at a time and then come in and warm up by the
"My dad used to think I was nuts out there in that cold water, riding
those stupid boards," Bill Muller continued. "But hell, it gets in your
blood -- you know how it is, you just gotta do it. If it's there, you gotta
do it. I'd like to have a dime for every mile I ran up and down this coast
looking for waves."
For the next couple of years before the war, Gates Foss, Mike Sturmer,
Muller, and Gene
Nagle rode Three Mile "whenever the surf was up." "Mike Sturmer lived
up on the hill back behind Carpinteria," explained Bill Muller, "and when
he saw the outside Carpinteria reefs breaking with lots of white water,
he knew there was surf. Mike would call Gates, and Gates would call me,
and we'd all get excited and meet in Carpinteria to go down to Three Mile."
"Rincon was perfect for plank surfing," Mike Sturmer declared. "It
had a nice 'eye,' you could get in the hook just right."
"Riding down to Rincon
in Foss's '38 Chevy sedan, Muller, Sturmer, and Nagle became pioneers of
California's perfect wave," continued Rafferty. "Long before the Malibu
hotdoggers popularized the sport after World War II, they had Three Mile
virtually to themselves."
Epic Thanksgiving Swell of 1939
"These fellows," continued Severson, "were around for the big surf
in 1939, and like most of the other old-timers, they maintain that nothing
since has approached the size of that surf."
There's a classic photo of Mike Sturmer on a wave at Three Mile during
the big swell of 1939. It rivals, in size, the one taken of
Yater, at the same spot, 30 years later.
"You could only catch three or four waves," remembered Sturmer, "because
it was so big and so hard to get back out. I'm six-four so that wave must
be a 15-footer [wave face measurement]. I knew it was a huge swell because
I counted 13 breaks from the shore all the way out to the Carpinteria reef.
It was the biggest surf any of us had ever been in. This photo was taken
by a guy on the beach with a 16mm movie camera. When we came out of the
water, he came over to talk to us 'idiots.' I asked him if he'd cut out
a frame and send it to me. This is what I got."
Gates Foss passed on in 1990. Bill Muller and Gene Nagel still live
in Santa Barbara. Mike
Sturmer moved from Carpinteria in 1965 and eventually settled in Idaho.
"But those memories are etched firmly in my mind," Sturmer admitted.
Rincon saw a second group of surfers begin to hit it, John Severson
wrote, "After the war" when "a couple of young surfers from the Malibu
area -- Bob Simmons and Matt Kivlin -- 'discovered' Rincon and began to
make winter runs there. They brought back reinforcements and by the late
forties the Rincon was ridden occasionally by surfers Mickey Muñoz,
Bobby Patterson, Joe Quigg, Billy Meng, and a few others."
1939 - Longbeach's Flood Control
Not aware of the fun to be had at
Mile, south of Santa Barbara, Doc Ball photographed and wrote about
1939 surf culture to the south and far to the north of Santa Barbara:
In a section entitled "Palos Verdes Surfing Club at the Long Beach
Surfing Contest" Doc Ball wrote that at this contest, the Hawaiians even
sent over a team. PVSC members, left to right were: Hornbeck, Reynolds,
Humphreys, Scholes, Huber, Pearson, Gates, Alsten, Oshier, [Adie] Bayer,
Depue, Allen, [Hoppy] Swarts, Grannis, Pierce, Landes, Clark.
A photograph of Long Beach's Flood Control in action "shows the tremendous
size of one of its famous humpers." Al Bixeler declared that day: "I believe
I have ridden a tidal wave."
"Flood Control Was Spectacular," wrote Doc, after the war. "Charles
Butler in a portrait of action plus! This young man, more intimately known
as 'Doaks,' was a promising medical doctor when he enlisted in the United
States Navy and was sent to the South Pacific theater of operations. It
is understood that he went down with the destroyer Edsal during an early
engagement with the Japanese. The surfers lost a good friend, the people
lost an excellent doctor."
"The Convention City" was how Long Beach businessmen used to refer
to their metropolis. One of the early surf breaks to disappear due to human
engineering, "Flood Control," at Long Beach, was a primo break.
"When this place 'boomed in' and we mean just that, it was no place
for the malihini. A long speedy ride was to be had and the power behind
those giant walls of soup was second to none." Flood Control was famous
for its "sneakers." Hoppy Swarts rides one on November 7, 1939.
1939-40 - Santa Cruz
Hawaiian surfing had originally been brought to the Mainland in the
late 1800s, in Santa Cruz. Hawaiians David Piikoi, Kupio Kawanakoa and
Edward practiced their native sport near the rivermouth as early as 1885.
While others in the area took up the sport, Santa Cruz surfing did not
begin to flourish until over 50 years later.
What is generally considered the true rebirth of surfing in the Santa
Cruz area took place around 1939, lead by Richie Thompson, Ted Pierson,
Doug Thorn, Quintin Tavares, Dick Keating, Ced Shear and Chuck Foley.
Doc Ball documented other notable surfers surfing Santa Cruz, including:
Johnny Dale on December 2, 1939 and April 9, 1939; Art Alsten and Jim (Burhead)
Drever "coming out of a fast breaking hook, December 16, 1939;" and, also,
"By this time," Doc wrote about surfer nicknames, "you'll no doubt
have noticed that surfers possess some odd nicknames. We quote a few for
your pleasure: 'Red Dog,' 'Black Bass,' 'Burhead,' 'Hammerhead,' 'Bird
Dog,' 'Button Nose,' 'Gooseneck,' 'Whitey,' 'Scobblenoggin' and 'Nellie
Bly.' Ain't they somepin?"
By 1940, Santa Cruz was "Home of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club." Wrote
Ball: "Paradise Point is capable of dishing out rides of a half mile length
when the surf is big." Paradise Point was officially named, as such, on
May 25, 1940. Hoppy Swarts and E.J. Oshier were identified riders this
1940 - Pedro Valley & Shelter Cove
Pedro Valley was "Where the Strawberries Meet the Sea." Doc Ball
noted this cove 17 miles south of San Francisco. It was "Home of the Pedro
Mountain Surf Club."
Another notable break was Shelter Cove, far to the north -- in fact,
the furthest latitude surf break up to that time. Doc identified the surfer
in these areas as: Quintin Tavares, Tony Sanchez, Teddy Pearson, Sylvio
Giuliani and Dick Keating.
Pacific Ready Cut Homes, a.k.a. Pacific Systems Homes, or just plain
"Pacific Systems" in Southern California, was one of the first companies
to produce commercial surfboards, and the era's most notable in terms of
volume and design. Two separate manufacturers of Blake's hollow boards
had been the first. Owned by Meyers Butte, the company operated out of
Vernon, in the Los Angeles area.
A young surfer who was one of many who first rode Pacific Systems
boards was Rennie Yater. Reynolds "Rennie" Yater was born May 11, 1932.
"I grew up kind of in Laguna Beach," said Rennie of the early 1940s, "and
body surfed what we called 'slam dump shorebreak.'" In the Laguna Beach
of the 1930s and early '40s, "You didn't see surfboards -- at least those
100-pound surfboards -- you didn't see them there at that time. I knew
they existed at San Onofre and Doheny, but I didn't have much exposure
When I asked him when he first saw a surfboard, Rennie answered,
"I'm gonna say probably '43-or-'4 -- saw one that was ridden. My first
exposure was at Salt Creek. Somebody was riding there. I got the opportunity
to go down there by one of the fellas who said, 'You gotta ride some different
waves other than this crashing beach surf at Laguna Beach.' So, he took
us down to Salt Creek and I was ecstatic! There was a neat wave! And there
was a guy riding a surfboard there. It was difficult to ride a 100-pound
surfboard. It wasn't easy... Anyway, there were a couple of guys riding;
lifeguards. That got me exposed to it and that got me interested in it.
I picked up one of those Pacific System Homes boards, probably -- I'll
During the course of its years manufacturing boards, Pacific Systems
employed a number of well-known surfers, one of whom was Whitey Harrison,
in 1937. Production pay for a shaper was $100/month for 4 boards/day. These
boards were made of laminated redwood and pine, which could be milled and
joined with waterproof glue -- a relatively new product. The wood was combined
so that the lightness of the pine (and later, balsa) ran down the middle
and the strength of the redwood went to the stringer and rails. Varnish
protected the outside. The rail shape was full with a square upper edge
and rounded lower edge. "The typical board was 10' long, 23" wide, and
22" across the tail block, and was known as the Swastika Model because
of the distinctive logo the company used. It wasn't until years later 'Whitey'
found out that the person responsible for the Swastika, a guy named 'Dutch,'
was a Nazi! After 1939, when war broke out in Europe, the swastika insignia
was no longer used." The boards sold for around $40 bucks.
A typical example of a Pacific Systems Homes Swastika model surfboard
is in the Surfer magazine collection, in San Juan Capistrano. It's solid
balsa with redwood stringers and rails. It features a nose piece and tail
block for strength and protection. The 10'1" X 22" board is doweled for
rigidity and durability and weighs 45 pounds.
Hot Curl surfer Wally Froiseth got a balsa/redwood for tandem riding
at Waikiki. For his own surfing, Froiseth preferred his pintail redwood
Hot Curl surfboard he had helped develop. With the balsa/redwoods, he tried
cutting down on the tail and shaping a V into the tail, but, "it just didn't
work that good. Because it was too buoyant. Even though the tail was narrow,
it was thick and wouldn't sink in. It floated too high. I owned about the
sixth or seventh balsa board in here [to the Hawaiian Islands]; I got it
for tandems. We'd walk up the beach, ask some girl: 'Hey how about going
surfing tandem?' In those days everybody would go out... we never asked
for any favours... we just wanted people to enjoy the sport. So I had my
solid redwood and I had this balsa for tandem, you know."
1940 - Malibu & Windansea
"Most every surfer would ride under the pier," testified Chuck A
Luck about the Manhattan Pier of 1940, "and through the pilings, sometimes
worrying the people watching from the pier."
Doc Ball has a shot of storm surf of February 6, 1940.
Malibu -- "Waves here are fast and crack down like dynamite. We understand
that the free gangway to this beach is now enjoyed by any surfer who so
desires to enter it. In former days one had to sneak in through a hole
in the fence and run the risk of having that hole nailed shut before he
could get out." Photos by John Gates of Los Angeles. Surfer identified:
WindanSea (Pacific Beach, San Diego area). Surfers noted by Doc Ball:
John Blankenship, Buddy Hull, Don Okey.
In other photographs with notations, Doc Ball featured "Sliding Left."
It identifies Trux Oehrlin, Hal Peason and Don Grannis. "At least half
the fun in surfing is had by watching fellow surfers turning in a masterful
performance on a fringing giant," wrote Ball, "or getting wiped out in
the impossible, when boards and bodies are tossed about in reckless abandon."
1940 - Killer Dana
Continuing to survey Doc Ball's notations and photographs of California
surfers of the 1930s, here are the notables and notable events he noted
for the year 1940, just before World War II:
In Addition to Flood Control, another key surf spot of the 1930s
that is no longer with us was Killer Dana -- Dana Point, before the harbor
was expanded. In a section entitled "It's Humping Up At Dana," Doc featured
the riding style of George "Nellie Bly" Brignell.
In "Dana Killer Surf," Doc presented two photos, one of "Peanuts"
Larsen and the other of "Whitey" Harrison "on the angle to avoid the rocks
and the break as 'Doaks' pulls up and over to see what's coming next. Times
have been when many a man has come to the top of just such a crest and
looked straight into the maw of a bone-crushing monster."
Other photos of Dana Point, were those taken on May 15, 1940 and
July 9, 1939. Johnny Gates and Hal Landes featured, respectively.
1940 - Palos Verdes Cove
"Fun at the Cove," identifies Fenton and "Dixie" Scholes riding tandem,
January 14, 1940 at Palos Verdes Cove. Also there in those days were "Tulie"
Clark, Hornbeck, Johnny Dale, Harry Dunnigan and Bud Morrissey's wife Mary
"Jam-Up," is a classic Palos Verdes photo of Tom Blake, Jim Bailey,
Johnny Gates and Gard Chapin.
"We Make the Local Sunday Magazine," wrote Doc about an article by
Andy Hamilton, "Surfboards, Ahoy!" which appeared in the Los Angeles
Times Sunday Magazine (exact date unknown). Doc's got a picture of
the article being held up and looked at. Identified surfers at that time:
Reynolds, Oshier, Clark, Mary Ann Morrissey, Bud Morrissey, Woods, Landes,
Pearson and Grannis.
"The Mighty Ski Jump Roars in -- December 22, 1940" shows "Al Holland,
Oshier, Grannis and Bayer riding the 30-foot grinders that arrive here
on an average of twice a year and rattle windows over a mile inland with
their heavy concussion. This picture published in an Australian magazine,
made its appearance in far away Noumea, New Caledonia. Was discovered there
by a very surprised Doc Ball... Adie Bayer bites off more than he can handle
and his 14-foot board can be seen sticking up in the crest of this colossal
sea. The Doc and his camera had a bad few seconds also!"
In a humorous shot, Doc featured "Jim Bailey and His Surfing Cocker
'Rusty' -- Frequent visitors to the cove are thes two, when the waves are
running high. So captured by this picture was Joe Chastek, owner of the
Los Angeles night club 'Zamboanga,' that he immediately procured a copy
and had a 3 by 5-feet enlargement made for the adornment of his bar." Note
water-sled shaped board.
"Winter Days at Palos Verdes" identifies Grannis, Alsten, [Hal] Landes,
Hornbeck, [Johnny] Gates, Bailey and [Gard] Chapin.
Miscellaneous: Tom Blake, Bud Morrissey; Tule Clark and Patty Godsave
tandem; Tule with sea lion pup; kid scraping lots of tar off lower body
(they even had it back then); "Pre-war device for warming up in a hurry
what gets coldest while shooting these pictures," showed a surfer squatting
over a small burning tire on the beach.
In "Tom Blake, Author, Inventor, Beachcomber" Doc ball zooms in on
Tom Blake, "beachcomber by choice, is shown here, whiskers and all, enjoying
a surf ride at the cove. Tom is currently to come out with another book,
Notable Palos Verdes days: December 3, 1939; April 14, 1940; January
1940 - San Onofre
San Onofre continued as "Surfers' Mecca" -- Doc Ball documented an
epic contest day there, in 1940: "The competition was keen, the spills
were frequent, and the spectators roasted on the beach. The boys come from
within a hundred and fifty mile radius to participate in this activity."
Winners of the 1940 trophies included: Eyestone, McGrew, Tucker (first
place), Gates and Swarts. Famous shot of 17 riders on a wave, "h--- bent
for a trophy. The boards fly and they pile up in droves but somehow out
of the mess comes the new champ."
In covering the San O event Doc has a classic overhead shot of Gard
Chapin blastin' into the beach. "Gard Chapin arrives late. Down the dirt
road at 60 per, spots parking space, cramps wheels and slides in."
In "'Nofre Days," Doc has a photo showing "Pete Peterson and Bob
Sides, two strictly 'Kamaaina' boys, having some pre-contest fun. Both
of them could tell some hair-raising tales of Corona del Mar Days."
In another photo of the contest held right before the outbreak of
war, summer 1941, "Pete Peterson wins the 1941 'Nofre sweepstakes. He is
seen here as the proud possessor of the perpetual cup. Left to right: McBride,
Lindberg, Okey, Pascowitz, Bailey, Harrison, Blake, Peterson, VanBlom,
Photographs showed the beach scene. "A couple of guitars and a 'uke'
will always draw a crowd," wrote Doc, also including a photo of the 'Nofre
crew still sleeping. "Six A.M. of a 'flat' day and everybody still in the
bag. Had the surf been humping they probably would have stayed up all night."
Tandem riding was a common sight at San O. In "Tandem Rides Are Popular
With the Boys," Doc Ball showed a picture of "Benny Merrill and wahini
slicing along neat as anything. Most of the female sex, however, prefer
to sit on the beach."
"A lot of familiar faces and a goodly stand of timber," continued
Ball, noting surfers: Bud Andersen, Benny Merrill and wahini, Whitey Harrison
& his outrigger; Oshier, Hawkins, Ann Kresge and Gard Chapin.
In "Soup And Sneakers," Ball showed "This big sneaker came in with
a frightful blast and nipped off the unbeliever who had just inquired 'whatinell
you doing way out there?'"
"Two Kamaainas Take Off" shows "'Frenchy' Jahan and 'Nellie Bly'
Brignell whip out on a 'screaming left.' Brignell's eyesight demands that
he wear glasses even when surfing. He fastens them on with a piece of inner
tube but on occasions they get lost and he has to come in without them.
This accounts no doubt for some of the daredevil rides this guy has gotten
away with. He simply could not see the size of the monster he was choosing
Doc added some shots of riders like Glen Fisher, Levy, Lavignino,
McBride, Harrison, "Straightoff," Jahan, Larsen, Boice and Barney Wilkes,
shot after the war, in 1946. World War II put a hold on most surfing activity,
so there are few surfing photographs in existence that were taken between
To early 1900s kamaina Waikiki surfer Lorrin Thurston goes the credit
of first using balsa wood to make surfboards in the 1920s. He did so in
an effort to replicate the properties of the ancient Hawaiian olo material,
wili wili. As noted earlier, there were some balsa boards built during
the 1930s, but these were rarities. As a building material, balsa did not
catch on at the time probably due to the lack of suitable material to seal
the porous balsa from contact with water. However, it is also possible
that it didn't catch on because it is too buoyant.
Hawaiians had solved the sealant problem with numerous polishings of
kukui nut oil, certain specialized treatments, and fastidious care before
and after every surf session. The buoyancy problem was another matter altogether.
The issue was similar to what the Hot
Curl Surfers experienced when they tried Tom Blake's hollow boards.
They considered the hollows too "squirrelly" and non-manouverable. As the
1930s progressed and despite its limitations in the pre-fiberglass and
resin period, balsa gradually began to be combined with redwood. In that
way, balsa found its way into use by surfers in both Hawai`i and on the
... And in the Hawaiian Islands, the surf scene was still pretty
much limited to O`ahu -- Waikiki specifically. The beach boys ruled the
beach. Surf clubs engaged in rigorous competition, mostly centered around
outrigger canoes. Duke
Kahanamoku was still Hawai`i's most respected surfer and was still
actively riding. However, toward the mid-1930s, a newer breed was growing
up in the Honolulu area that would change the course of surfing -- particularly
big wave surfing -- forever. The Legends of the Hot Curl are the stories
we take up in subsequent chapters...
Some sources quoted and/or referenced:
Australian Surf Life Saving Association
California Surfriders, 1946
Charles "Chuck A Luck" Ehlers
Gerrard and Art Vultee
Hawaiian Surfriders 1935
Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine
Modern Surfing Around The World
Reynolds "Rennie" Yater
Santa Barbara magazine
Surfing, The Ultimate Pleasure
The Santa Ana Daily Register
TOM BLAKE: The Journey of A Pioneer Waterman
Return to LEGENDARY SURFERS Homepage
Surf Shop, Online Store and Donations
Booklets and eBooklets:
LEGENDARY SURFERS Booklets.
Legendary Surfers branded clothes:
LEGENDARY SURFERS CafeShop.
Other LEGENDARY SURFERS stuff for sale:
LEGENDARY SURFERS Surf Shop.
To make a donation, please click the donation button:
To return to the homepage with contents listing, please go to:
Have stories to share? Corrections? Please email
LEGENDARY SURFERS... Aloha Nui Loa!