Always click on the LEGENDARY SURFERS icon to return to this homepage. LEGENDARY SURFERS
A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By  Malcolm Gault-Williams

This Chapter Updated:  1 January 2005
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Late 1930's Surfing

1935-41

Pete Peterson

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.


Contents

  • HOLLOW BOARDS
  • AUSTRALIAN SURF CLUBS
  • LIFESAVING EQUIPMENT & CARNIVALS
  • PACIFIC COAST SURF RIDING CHAMPIONSHIPS, 1928-41
  • DOC BALL
  • FLORIDA, 1932-36
  • SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 1933-38
  • 1935 SURF SAFARI
  • SAN ONOFRE
  • 1936-37
  • 1938
  • 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
  • SWASTIKAS
  • 1940 - MALIBU & WINDANSEA
  • 1940 - KILLER DANA
  • 1940 - SAN ONOFRE
  • 1940 - PALOS VERDES COVE
  • THE ISLANDS

  • "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.


    Hollow Boards

    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 activities."

    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 saving."


    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 rescue.

    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 it."

    Duke 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 Tom 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 were impressive.


    Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships,1928-41

    Thanks to the sport's introduction into Southern California by Duke 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 the shade."

    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 (1940).

    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 down."

    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 then."


    Doc Ball

    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.


    Florida, 1932-36

    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 Tom 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 George 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 others."

    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 the days."


    San Onofre

    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 United States."

    "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."


    1936-37

    "September 1936," remembered Chuck A Luck of a landmark moment in SoCal publishing, "Surfing made the Brown Section (Rotogravure) in the L.A. 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.


    1938

    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 to most."

    "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, 'surfers.'"


    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, Duke 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. It's good."


    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 map.

    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 surf Rincon, 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 "Three 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 fire."

    "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, Bill 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 Rennie 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 Three 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, "'Granny' Grannis."

    "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 day.


    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.


    Swastikas

    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 to them."

    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 say '46..."

    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: Gard Chapin.

    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 Ann.

    "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, Royal Hawaiians."

    Notable Palos Verdes days: December 3, 1939; April 14, 1940; January 18, 1942.


    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, Williams."

    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 to ride."

    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 1942-45.


    The Islands

    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. Ancient 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 Mainland.

    ... 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
  • Bud Browne
  • C.D. Patterson
  • California Surfriders, 1946
  • Charles "Chuck A Luck" Ehlers
  • Claude West
  • Cliff Tucker
  • Doc Ball
  • Gates Foss
  • Gauldin Reed
  • Gene Nagel
  • Gerrard and Art Vultee
  • Hawaiian Surfriders 1935
  • Isabella Bradbury
  • John Severson
  • Kent Pearson
  • L.A. Times
  • Leonard Lueras
  • LeRoy Grannis
  • Lorrin"Whitey" Harrison,
  • Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine
  • Modern Surfing Around The World
  • Nat Young
  • "Pasqual" Pascowitz
  • Reynolds "Rennie" Yater
  • Santa Barbara magazine
  • Snowy McAlister
  • Surfermagazine
  • Surfing Subcultures
  • Surfing, The Ultimate Pleasure
  • The Santa Ana Daily Register
  • Tom Blake
  • Wally Froiseth.

  • Related Resources



    TOM BLAKE: The Journey of A Pioneer Waterman

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