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:  9 August 2004
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E.J. Oshier: Living The Life

Volume 2, Chapter 10

E.J and Peanuts at San O 1937

Aloha and welcome to Chapter 10 of Volume 2 of LEGENDARY SURFERS.

In this chapter, we cover a surfer not widely known, but whose influence has been felt at such disparate places as San Onofre, Palos Verdes and Santa Cruz, California, during an incredible span of time from the mid-1930s to present day.

Enjoy and spread the stoke!

Photo of E.J. and Peanuts at San O in 1937 - courtesy of Don James.


Contents

  • PALOS VERDES SURFING CLUB
  • EARLY CALIFORNIA CLUBS
  • HOLLOWS & SOLIDS
  • SAN ONOFRE
         “Gay Ole Times”
         “A Different Approach”
  • TWO VIEWS FROM 1940
  • SANTA CRUZ, 1939-40
         December 7, 1941
  • POST WAR ‘NOFRE
         The San Onofre Surfing Club
         Family Beach
         Nixon Years
         Surfing Since the 1970s
         Boards Remembered
  • E. J. RECOGNITIONS, TODAY
         Bamboo Room Philharmonic
         No Secret Statement
  • SOURCES

    Those who are members of surf clubs know, but few who aren’t do not: groups of surfers vary greatly. >From the formal to the informal; from the organized to the disorganized; from the active to the rarely summoned and; from those born of desire and those born of necessity. Such is it now and such was it back in the days of Southern California’s first surfing clubs.

    One man still with us who was active during the mid-1930s, when California’s early surf clubs got going, is E.J. Oshier. Not only did he begin surfing during the rise of California surf clubs, but he was the only person who easily moved between the two major surf clubs of the time: the Palos Verdes Surfing Club (PVSC) and the rag-tag partiers at San Onofre. He’d be part of the Palos Verdes crew in winter and then, come summer, shift over to San O. Born February 4, 1916 in Oakland, California, Everett .J. Oshier started on hollow boards but then moved to solids around 1936-37...

    “The way I started in surfing was – I was going to – then it was called ‘Los Angeles Junior College’ (LAJC) – up on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles,” E.J. began, using correct Spanish pronunciation: ‘los-an-GHEL-ESS,’ not ‘loss-ann-jell-iss’. “I was going there and I was on the gym team, doing the horizontal bar and that sort of thing. And, so I decided I was such a hot gymnast, maybe I could be a good diver [exhibition diver]. So, one afternoon after gym was over, I went over to the swimming pool to talk to the coach about what my chance was to be a diver. So, he checked me out (laughs) – I was a lousy diver! While I was there – it was a lovely day and all – the swimming team was working out and I sat down with a couple of swimmers, in between workouts, and I got to talking to ‘em. I got along with them and they said – it kind of came up that they were going to Palos Verdes. They were building paddle boards and going to Palos Verdes and riding waves down there, like the Hawaiians.

    “Well, that kind of tickled my fancy. A lot of the guys there on that swimming team were guys that became members of the Palos Verdes Surfing Club [PVSC]: Dutchy Lenkeit, Adie Bayer, Jimmy Reynolds, Kay Murray, Daryl Miller, Gene Hornbeck…”


    Palos Verdes Surfing Club

    The prime motive force behind the Palos Verdes club was John "Doc" Ball, dentist and pioneer surf photographer. “He rented a second story, five room suite above a movie theatre that then stood at that address,” wrote Gary Lynch. “One room was dedicated to working on his patients and one room served as his bedroom, office, darkroom, and laboratory.” A third room constituted the Palos Verdes Surfing Club, after it was formed in 1935. Doc painted the murals on the club walls, located at Vermont and Santa Barbara streets. “There was the surfing club room,” explained E.J. “It was on the second floor, looking down at Vermont Avenue. Then, you ducked under a low door into his dark room. Then, you walked through another door into his dental office.”

    “The interior of the club room,” reconstructed Gary Lynch, from Doc’s personal photographs, “was elaborately decorated with photographs of all members with their boards, trophies won by club members, surfing paintings, a president’s desk with gavel, and a set of shark’s jaws that housed the club creed.”

    “I as a member of the Palos Verdes Surfing Club, Do solemnly swear:
    “To be ever steadfast in my allegiance to the club and to its members,
    “To respect and adhere to the aims and ideals set forth in its constitution,
    “To cheerfully meet and accept my responsibilities hereby incurred,
    “And at all times strive to conduct myself as a club member and a gentleman,
    “So help me God.”

    Doc initially got together with Adie Bayer to found the club. “He was one of the big ones,” Doc told me, referring to Adie Bayer as one of the top surfers of the era. Bayer was a champion platform diver, swimmer, tennis player, as well as an outstanding surfer. Even hollowboard innovator Tom Blake – who was looked up to by all the guys in the PVSC — held Adie Bayer in high regard to the day Blake died.

    “Photographic evidence tells us Adie Bayer was probably the finest hollowboard rider on the coast, in the 1930's,” Gary Lynch wrote. “Few really good surfers used hollows. Adie stuck with them and tried in vain to overcome the obstacles of riding one. Check out the photos of Adie at big 'Ski Jump' [in Doc Ball’s California Surfriders book], he's the man. Also, there are many images of AB riding parallel on surf when no one else was really doing it well. The rails of the hollows were 90 degrees and would not support foam hitting them without knocking the board out from under you. Adie did his best to stay just in front of the foam for this reason.

    “He was a great/champion spring board diver, swimmer, tennis player, and painter (artist) too. An all around athlete and man.”

    For non-members, entrance into the PVSC club room was by invitation only. The club had a sargent-at-arms and smoking was verboden. In addition to coordinating surf sessions between members, the PVSC organized paddling races, paddleboard water polo matches, and surfing contests.

    “It started a little bit before I did,” remembered E.J. of the PVSC. “Adie Bayer and Doc Ball put that together. They started 9 months, maybe a year, before I got started… When I started surfing there [at Palos Verdes Cove], Tulie Clark was coming down and… we got along real well with Adie Bayer and Doc Ball and all the guys that were down there.

    “The club decided the first two new members would be Tulie Clark and me. So, we were the first members that weren’t charter members; the first new members taken in. That probably happened in 1936…”


    Early California Clubs

    The Palos Verdes guys were not the first Mainland surfers to group together, however. Because it organized the first annual Pacific Coast Surfing Championship in 1928, the Corona del Mar Surf Board Club was probably the first and undeniably “the largest club of this kind in America,” according to The Santa Ana Daily Register, July 31, 1928. Surfer Chuck A Luck” Ehlers claimed the honor for the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club, saying that it was the first surf club, forming in 1934. They had about 18 members, including Don Grannis and Ted Davies.

    The following year was “A banner year,” Chuck A Luck recalled of 1935, when, to the south, “the Palos Verdes Surfing Club was formed.”

    Johnny Kerwin, who had started Doc Ball off, got the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club going “a little after we formed,” Doc recalled. “… After that was Hermosa and then Manhattan and then Santa Monica. From there on it went up the coast and kept going after that.” Differences between the clubs? “Not especially, as far as I know,” Doc said. “They all had their little banquets here and there and times of celebration; same things we did, too, in our Palos Verdes [club].”

    Doc was being typically modest in his comparison of the PVSC to other surf clubs. The fact was that the Palos Verdes Surfing Club was more sophisticated and organized than any of the other clubs – virtually from inception. It’s organization would be impressive even compared to today’s standards. Importantly, Doc’s photography played a large part in establishing the PVSC as the dominant surf club of the 1930s.


    Hollows and Solids

    “In your article on Doc Ball,” E.J. corrected me about a previous biographical sketch I’d written on surfing’s first dedicated surf photographer, “you start out with all of us guys on planks [solid wood boards]. That wasn’t true. When I started surfing [1935], everybody – without exception, including Doc Ball – were riding paddleboards because there was no way to buy solid boards – you know – in that time. Pacific System Homes hadn’t gone into operation. We all rode paddleboards that we, ourselves, had made [from designs originated by Tom Blake].

    “Then, I think I was maybe the first guy – after a year or so riding paddleboards – to go to Pacific System Homes and buy a square tail balsa/redwood… It was 11-foot and it cost $21 dollars for this big, shaped and varnished board.

    “Anyway, I got that [board] and I got into the Cove, finally, and I couldn’t ride it! I didn’t know how to ride it! And Tulie Clark… Well, Tulie had had a little experience. So, he took it out and rode it for a week or two until I watched him and kinda got on to how to ride a solid board and then I took over from there.”

    “But, when we started down there [at Palos Verdes Cove] – without exception – Adie Bayer, Hornbeck, all those guys rode hollow paddleboards, not planks. The initial push, there at the Cove, was paddleboards.”

    “In fact, the few guys that would come down from Santa Monica and Long Beach all rode paddleboards. One exception was Pete Peterson. He was riding a solid board in those days, but… we didn’t see a whole lot of him. He’d only come down once in a while.”

    “So, any way,” E. J. continued, “then when I got my solid and the guys all tried it out, why, then somebody else got a solid and then somebody else. Finally, only about Adie Bayer and Cliff Tucker were the only guys still riding hollow boards. And they stayed with hollow boards.”

    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, hollowboard innovator Tom Blake helped reduce the average weight of a surfboard from between 125 to 150 pounds down to a lighter 75 to 100 pounds. Steering and stability were a problem, though, as the boards tended to “slide tail“ or “slide ass.”

    “Some of us used the Hawaiian word ‘huli’ to describe this unfortunate phenomenon,” E.J. remembered. “Roughly translated as ‘turn back’ or ‘turn around.’” 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.

    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 was a Palos Verdes Surfing Club member who surfed with Preston Peterson early on. 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.”

    “Well, of course,” E.J. Oshier acknowledged, “Pete Peterson… and Lorrin Harrison – Whitey,” were the top Mainland surfers of the day. “… they started 3 or 4 years before us guys. So, they were – you know – on the top of the heap; like Duke Kahanamoku would be in the Islands.

    “So, anyway, those were the two guys I looked up to. Boy, there were lotsa guys that I didn’t particularly look up to,” E.J.admitted, “because they were all contemporary with me and about the same stage of surfing ability. So, there wasn’t a question of looking up, it was a question of their being great guys and being good friends with them all, but not particularly looking up.

    “Pete was the best there ever was. He had such incredible timing and skill of judging waves an’ all. He was just incredible.”

    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. From the start, they 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.

    It was in 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.”

    “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.”


    San Onofre

    Due to Freeth’s exhibitions at Redondo Beach and Duke’s occasional visits to Santa Monica and Corona del Mar, Mainland surfing’s gestation began in these two areas of Southern California. After Freeth’s death in 1919, surfing activity shifted from Redondo further south to Corona del Mar. Before the breakwater was put in and the jetty taken out, Corona del Mar was considered to be “the surfing spot.”

    At a time when the entire Mainland surfing population numbered less than 50 guys and a few girls, it was San Diego surfer Bob Sides that lead the first charge to San Onofre, the surf spot that would become Mainland’s first true surfing capitol. Sides’ discovery of San Onofre was logical, according to Whitey Harrison, as “Sides traveled between San Diego and up here frequently… and he said, ‘Hey Whitey, there’s this neat spot down south where the waves break way out.”

    Bob Sides declared of Corona del Mar, in 1933: “They’re wrecking this place.”

    “So,” said Whitey of his first trip to San O, “we loaded up a whole bunch of people into touring cars… and we went down there and tried it out.” In addition to Sides and Whitey, the crew included George “Nelly Bly” Brignell, Ned Leutzinger, Joe Parsons, Lucien Knight, Winfred Harrison, Ethel Harrison, George Minor, Hubert Howe, Glen Bishop and Orly Minor.

    “We went clear down to where the atomic plant is now and surfed that spot,” continued Whitey. “Then we came back up the beach and tried it right where the main shack is now. That’s where we found it was always steadiest. The surf was always pretty good… We weren’t the first people to go down there, people had been going fishing down there for years and stayin’ all night. The ranchers [who owned the land] didn’t seem to mind. In fact, the first time we went there, they were making a Hollywood movie. They had built this big palm thatch house right on the beach. We slept in it the first night we stayed there. This was about 1933/34. By 1935, Corona del Mar was over with, and San Onofre was our main spot.”

    The shack was still there a year or so later when Charles “Chuck A Luck” Ehlers and friends surf safaried down San O way. The 1935 holiday road trip itinerary included the Long Beach Flood Control, Huntington Flats, Corona del Mar, Dana Point — in that order.

    It was the era of the big bands and surfers of the day were into big band music, big time “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.”

    Some sources say the sandy beach below sheer sandstone cliffs was named after the Egyptian Saint Onuphrius. 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.


    “Gay Ole Times”

    “It was a much wilder group down there,”E.J. Oshier said of the group that got going at San Onofre in the mid-1930s. “These guys were wonderful guys. Barney Wilkes, Doakes, Laholio, Nellie Blye, Joe Bush… a whole bunch of guys down there. They would tend to surf all morning and then, in the afternoon, there was a lot of pretty heavy drinking – wine; cheap wine. Party type, you know; hula dancers, singing and all that stuff. A lot of those guys [in the PVSC], like Hoppy [Swarts], didn’t care for that. So, they would come down once in a while - to Onofre - in the Summer, but I was there every weekend. Every weekend.”

    “They were ‘straighter,’” E.J. said of his Palos Verdes comrades, and they were also more serious. “A little of each, I’d say. They just didn’t care for – you know - like Barney Wilkes. Some of those guys would get real falling-down drunk. I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d get pretty loaded, myself, in the course of an evening. And it would get wild and loud. Nobody got hurt or anything. It was just a noisy, friendly, happy party time. Doc Ball and those guys just didn’t care for that. That’s their privilege, you know. They didn’t like it; they didn’t like it.”

    Some of the early San Onofre regulars included Lorrin Harrison, E. J., Barney Wilkes (became a dentist and friend of Don James), Dexter Woods, Vincent Lindberg (“‘Klotz’ we called him”), Charles Butler (Doakes), Laholio (Hawaiian for horse’s balls) Carol Bertolet, Benny Merrill, Frenchy Jahan, Dutchy Lenkeit, Joe Parsons (“We called him ‘Joe Bush’), Davy Tompkins (Keyhole), Nellie Blye (Nell for Brignell. “George Brignell. He was a guy whose eyes were so bad - like Hoppy’s - when we went surfing, he had to tie glasses with string around his head, so he could see the waves [laughs]. He was something else).

    “The San Onofre group,” E.J. continued, “as I said – they were pretty high livers and party people, but they really made no effort at all to have a club. They liked it just free as a breeze and no commitments. Contrary to the PVSC [which was] very formal and had definite meeting nights and rituals… ‘Nofre guys: all they cared about is you dive for a few abs – abalone and lobster – you get a jug of wine, surf all morning and then play guitars. And, I love that life, myself!”

    Who were the women around at that time? “Whoever we could get!” E. J. answered with a laugh. “I had several gals. Their parents were – I guess you could say – liberal; would let their daughters leave with me Saturday and come back Sunday night. It was kind of nice to have around the sleeping bag, you know, Saturday nights…”

    “The gals got quite a little group of their own. They call themselves – in fact, they got sweatshirts with this on the back – the San Onofre Surfing Wahines… and they had quite a little fun group. They’d go with the surfers. They weren’t really ‘groupies’ cuz they were nice girls. Maybe a little hanky panky, [but] not groupies in the sense that the rock and roll people have them.

    “They would go out [and surf], but they were pretty much beach wahines. A couple of them could get out on a board and get little waves. You know, those big boards, heavy boards – it just wasn’t too easy for a gal to get to the water, let alone paddle out.

    “There wasn’t a lot of tandem – except Pete Peterson and Lorrin used to do some. None of us guys did. It took too much strength and it took too much time out of our own surfing, so we didn’t do too much tandem stuff. It just wasn’t worth it. The girls would sit on the beach.”

    By the later 1930s, San Onofre 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, an early attendee. “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 was, E.J. Oshier agreed, a “… procession of parties and surfing.”

    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,” a later Nofre regular 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.”

    “Believe me,” emphasized E.J. Oshier, “Back before the war, at the Cove and at San Onofre, the Aloha Spirit was very prevalent. Everybody knew everybody. Your friends were out in the water with ya! There weren’t that many other people. And, so everybody got along, rode their waves and went in and got a jug of wine or a guitar or ukelele and that was a good day.”


    “A Different Approach”

    “Now, again, the Palos Verdes group were entirely different,” from the San O group, E.J. emphasized.

    “We [in the PVSC] used to have an annual dance, a ‘Hula Luau’ we called it… The San Onofre group would never do anything like that cuz they didn’t want to act as a group. They just wanted – they were all independent spirits and they didn’t want any part of an association type thing. Yet, they got along as well as the more formal PVSC guys. It was just a different approach.”

    “Well, you know, I’m the kind of guy – if I like somebody, I can make them like me pretty well. And I really, really liked the PVSC guys… But, also, I could switch over to that crazy ‘Nofre bunch which were pretty goofy, you know. There were a lot of wild things [that went on].”

    “I was really unique – in a true sense – being a pivot,” E.J. appreciated. “In the Winter, I’d be exclusively with the PVSC guys and have a wonderful time and love ‘em all. Then, when Summer came, I was down ‘Nofre and I was buddies with everybody down there and everybody loved me and I loved them. But, none of the other guys seemed to switch back – you know, have that ability to be right at home with both groups. That really was, I think, unusual… I got the best of both worlds.”


    Two Views From 1940

    San Onofre continued as “Surfers’ Mecca,” documented in a number of pages in Doc Ball’s book California Surfriders, 1946. He wrote and took pictures of 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, [Cliff] Tucker (first place), [Johnny] Gates and [Hoppy] Swarts.

    In Doc’s book, there’s a 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 in his roadster. “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, [Don] Okey, [Dorian] Pascowitz, [Jim] Bailey, [Whitey] Harrison, [Tom] Blake, [Pete] Peterson, VanBlom, [Rusty] 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.”

    According to Doc, tandem riding was more a common sight at San O than at other beaches. In “Tandem Rides Are Popular With the Boys,” Doc 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 Doc, noting surfers: Bud Andreason, Benny Merrill and wahini, Whitey Harrison & his outrigger; E.J., Mary Ann Hawkins, Ann Kresge and Gard Chapin.

    In “Soup And Sneakers,“ Doc 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.”

    Contrasting Doc’s camera and perspective on San Onofre was his look at the Palos Verdes scene the same year: “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, [Gene] Hornbeck, Johnny Dale, Harry Dunnigan and Bud Morrissey‘s [new] wife Mary Ann [Hawkins].

    “Jam-Up,” is a classic Palos Verdes photo of Tom Blake, Jim Bailey, Johnny Gates and Gard Chapin.

    “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!”

    “One thing that I remember that was really outstanding,” E.J. Oshier recalled of notable surf spots of the 1930s, “and we have pictures to prove it in Doc Ball’s book California Surfriders, is the day we all discovered – pretty much, to my knowledge, the first I’d ever done it – to go out and ride – the Ski Jump. That’s the north end of Palos Verdes Cove.

    “Well, it’s like Mavericks. You go months and months and never see a sign of a wave, but on a really big winter storm, you couldn’t ride the middle or main part of the cove, where you normally did, because it was just too big. You couldn’t get out. But, we paddled out into… Ski Jump. Boy, I’d never been in waves like that before! It was sort of a rainy, wintery, overcast kind of day, but we were all so excited about these giant waves.”

    In a humorous shot, Doc featured “Jim Bailey and His Surfing Cocker ‘Rusty’ — Frequent visitors to the cove are these 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.

    How often did the Palos Verdes crew surf?

    “Just on weekends,” answered E.J. Oshier. “We all were either working or going to school and we’d just get down there on Saturdays – first thing Saturday morning. Way back then, you could just bring a sleeping bag, if you wanted to, and sleep on the cliff there, just above the Cove, overnight, and bring something to eat. Get up early Sunday morning and surf.”

    “Remember,” E.J. continued, “Palos Verdes takes a winter swell; takes a north swell. During the Summer and a lot of the Fall [and Spring] there was no north swell… No particular surf at the Cove. That’s how we’d go down to Corona del Mar or around the Point to Flood Control, in Long Beach, or down all the way to San Onofre. Because, they caught the south swell.”

    So, most of the Southern California surfers would shift according to the seasons, much in the same way we do today. “I was especially that way,” E.J. said, “because some of the Palos Verdes guys that I knew I always thought they were a little ‘square.’ But, guys like Granny and Hoppy and Doc Ball – it was a little too lively a social life for them at ‘Nofre.”


    Santa Cruz, 1939-40

    The influence of the PVSC went far beyond Palos Verdes. “When the surf was flat there in Southern Cal,” Doc said of the surf safaris club members, “we’d make these trips out around, up the coast and down. One of them went up to Santa Cruz. They’d not seen that activity (surfing) up there [before]! Our guys were the ones who initiated it in Santa Cruz.”

    Of the PVSC crew, it was E.J. Oshier who was the main guy to help get surfing going again in Santa Cruz. He had left Los Angeles when he joined the National Guard, circa 1938-39. “Some of the kids there – they were high school kids. They all had big, long paddleboards. They were doing surfing on their own.

    “When I arrived there – there was a guy named Duke Horan… He was a good surfer. He was from Venice. He was going to San Jose State and he and I met on the beach at Santa Cruz one summer day. We got to talking, you know, [about] how we missed the surf down below [in Southern California]. We’d look at these kids on paddleboards and it didn’t look too good. We hadn’t seen any really good surf at Steamer Lane and Cowell’s.

    “Then, we finally saw some. Why, we got busy [then]! I built a paddleboard and he got hold of an old squaretail and we started surfing with the kids. But, we were infinitely better surfers than all the other kids. They were nice kids. We got along fine with them, but they just weren’t polished or quick. Their surfing was: just pick the wave up, stand up and go into the beach. There was no particular cutting right or left or anything.

    “So, anyway, the Duke and I – what we did to Santa Cruz was sort of grab it by its boot straps and pull it up into present surfing styles. You know, riding solid boards, turning with our feet – all the things the kids weren’t doing. We got along fine with the locals. We were sort of ‘gooners’ because we were so much better than anyone else around there. So, that was great! We loved it!”

    “1939 and 1940 was my two years surfing Santa Cruz a lot. I was living in Oakland, working in Oakland, and as soon as I got off work Friday night, I’d stow my sleeping bag and board in the car and head for Santa Cruz. We had a… barn down there, just above Steamer Lane, that one of the high school kid surfer’s mother owned. It was a falling-down thing, but we could sleep in it, you know. We used to be able to throw our sleeping bags down there and sleep there. You know, have something over our heads and a little privacy.”

    This building is not to be confused with the building the surf club had. The surf club building was right on the beach at the base of the pier. Its picture is in Doc Ball’s book and shows E. J., Jeep, Duke Horan and Art Beard. “Right there by the horseshoe course. They had a second one, in a different location, but that was after I’d gone. The barn was up on the cliff, about a block inland from the current surfing museum [lighthouse]. Buster’s mother owned it. Buster’s still around. He and Harry Mayo put in an afternoon, once a week, at the museum being curators.”

    Of the Santa Cruz kids, E.J. said, Harry Mayo and Buster Stewart were the best surfers. “Buster… he was probably the best surfer of the kids. He had a little more control of the board and a little more ability. But, Harry Mayo and a lot of those other guys, they were nice kids...”

    For E.J., it was every weekend to Santa Cruz during 1939-40. “Winter, Summer. And, boy, that surfing in the winter with no wetsuit and no leash was a little rough. But, hell, I was young and big and strong. I could do that.”


    December 7, 1941

    “In 1940, going into ’41,” E.J. explained, “it more and more looked like there’d be a war.” War was already underway in Europe and in Asia. “There was a couple of guys from Oakland that had started surfing, that I could go down with. They never got very good, but they were very good friends of mine. They decided they were going to enlist in the National Guard. At that time, you serve a year in the National Guard and you could get out and you’d served your time, right? Except it wasn’t right (laughs). I thought, that’s a good idea. I’ll get in with one night a week with the National Guard. So, I did that and everything was going fine until December 7, 1941 [the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor].

    “That day… was a beautiful day at Santa Cruz. I was out at the Rivermouth, where the San Lorenzo River empties out. There’s pictures of me in Doc Ball’s book taken at the Rivermouth.” Back in those days, the Rivermouth could get really good. “Oh, it was phenomenal!” praised E.J. “It was absolutely machine waves. In the winter, a big sand bar would build up off the San Lorenzo River, you know, sort of a narrow triangle and the waves would hit the peak of that triangle, out there at a good distance offshore and start to build. The shoulders would just taper off magnificently, like they were right out of a machine. There’d usually be a set of 3 or 4 waves, then a lull. You absolutely couldn’t go wrong.

    “I was out there having a wonderful time. I surfed a few hours and one wave I took close to the point. Some guy ran over and say, ‘Hey! You better get out of there and get back to your car and go back to San Louie Obispo” - where the National Guard armory was – “The Japs just bombed Pearl Harbor! Everybody gotta get back to their camps!’ Well, there went my ‘year.’ It ended-up five years in the army instead of one year [in the National Guard],” E. J. laughed about it. “I was surfing the day they bombed Pearl Harbor.”

    That must have been a vivid memory, I acknowledged.

    “Well, it is. It was such a good day. The sun was out, it was warm, and the waves were beautiful. And that was the last time I surfed Santa Cruz. Never had an opportunity to surf it, again. But, I had a lot of good surf there [during those two years].”

    From the National Guard, E. J. went to the Army and then to the Air Force, “but never went overseas,” he noted, explaining: “I don’t have a lot to say about my war experiences, because I really was never in a battle or anything.”

    E.J. was an MP in the infantry on the Mainland during WWII.


    POST WAR 'NOFRE

    As noted, after the Corona del Mar breakwater was put in, and even though there was much surf activity at Palos Verdes Cove, San Onofre became Southern California’s surf center prior to World War II. The culture that bloomed there between the mid-1930s and beginning 1940s was blown away when the war broke out and the military took over the area. What Doc Ball had referred to as “‘Nofre Days,” in his picture book California Surfriders 1946, fortunately returned following the war’s end, even though many of its protagonists did not. Even so, the golden days at San Onofre never fully got going again, in part due to the continued military presence in the area. A peaceful coexistence reigned between surfers and the Marine Corps, when events later on at Malibu would shift surfing’s focal point there.

    “I got a medical discharge out of the Army,” E. J. Oshier said. “I was pretty sick for a long time. So, my wife and I – I was married by then – we moved to Laguna Beach because I couldn’t hold a job because of my illness. I figured I might as well be where I was most happy. I could skin dive for abalone and lobster. I had enough strength for that, although I didn’t have enough strength to surf.

    “So, anyway… A couple of guys didn’t come back from the war,” E. J. understated. “I never went back to Palos Verdes… The same guys were never there, anymore. The enticement of the comraderie was gone, there. But, San Onofre was booming like crazy… When I felt well enough, I’d go down, although I really couldn’t [re-] start surfing, at that time, because I didn’t have enough strength for it… We still had the big, heavy planks – you know – then…”

    “After I got out of the Army,” E.J. continued of 1946, “for about 14 years, I was quite ill and it was a problem that couldn’t be solved, supposedly. So, I was in and out of the veteran’s hospital a lot of the time. I’d be in there, maybe, 3 weeks, maybe a couple of months. They’d pump me up and get me back to where I could be outdoors and then, after a month or two, things would collapse. It was just a bad scene. I was losing a lot of blood and I just didn’t have any strength… That’s why, with the heavy boards, I didn’t do much surfing. But, I was able to skin dive, which [at least] got me in the ocean. So, I was getting abalone and lobster, but I just wasn’t well.

    “I finally had a major surgical [operation] at the Long Beach Veteran’s Hospital and they pretty well corrected my problem so that I got enough strength back to where I got back deep and heavy into surfing again.”


    San Onofre Surfing Club

    About 1951, the Marines became concerned over the number of people using the beach within their jurisdiction. Ideally, they wanted less than 800 people on the beach at a time. As for surfers, all they wanted was “access to the beach,” explained Bill Vetter, an early member of the San Onofre Surfing Club. It was the San Onofre Surfing Club - with influential San Onofre surfers Dr. Barney Wilkes, Al Dowden, and Andre “Frenchy” Jahan - that lead the way.

    “Little Frenchy Jahan – Andre Jahan – he was a guy that went into the Marine Corps and wrote up the original papers to get the San Onofre Surfing Club accepted to where we could run the San Onofre beach,” E.J. remembered. “When the war ended and we all started going back to ‘Nofre, the Marine Corps had that all and owned it. They gave us a real bad time about surfing there, especially Trestle. They’d come down with jeeps and guns and arrest people and take them into the base and confiscate their boards. It was an unhappy situation!”

    “A lot of us guys – you know, Barney was a dentist and little Frenchy was a very successful stock broker – very devoted surfers, all of them. So, they got the idea: ‘Well, rather than fight the Marine Corps forever, let’s see if we can’t get a date with a general and see if we can’t put together a plan whereby we form a San Onofre Surfing Club and we take responsibility for the proper decorum and cleanliness and all of the San Onofre beach, there, in return for them letting us do without getting hassled.’”

    “So, Barney Wilkes and Andre had a couple of meetings with a general and he saw it our way. And so they set up a procedure whereby we would, you know, be responsible for keeping the beach clean… We couldn’t spend the nights, anymore. That was too bad. The Marines wouldn’t go for that. So, we had to be out by ten o’clock at night, which… is alright.”

    On April 24, 1952, the San Onofre Surfing Club held its first meeting at Old Man’s. “Barney Wilkes came down to the beach,” recalled Bill Vetter, “and was communicating with the Marine Corps, because they couldn’t keep us out. He started the roster. I signed up less than 10th.” The bylaws for the San Onofre Surfing Club ensured beach access, but mandated maintenance and rules of conduct. “Once the club was established,” said Vetter, “we had a lease with the Marine Corps for a dollar a year — a token thing.”

    “We were all still on solids at ‘Nofre, you know, E.J. retold. “There were rumors of this guy Simmons an’ all, but none of our guys had seen him… We all kind of pooh-pooh’d him. We heard he was kind of a nut and we just couldn’t care less. But then, once the foam [boards came out, we got into them quick.]… We were pretty conservative. We didn’t like to change a lot… Of course [when the foamies came out], we all realized how good the lighter board was and how much better surfing was with it – quicker turns and everything. So, we got on board.”

    According to E.J., dominant at San Onofre during the 1950s were: “Lorrin Harrison, Barney Wilkes [doing dentistry in San Clemente so he could be near ‘Nofre], Benny Merrill [San Clemente Van & Storage, pre-war], Opai [Tom Wert], Bud Morrissey – he was quite a guy. We were friends, but not close friends. He was a little different. He could have been in the Palos Verdes Surfing Club, but he just didn’t care to join. He was just a different type of person, but a nice guy!

    “He developed – right after the war – that parallel sides solid board that enabled him to slide at an angle across soup, which none of the rest of us guys could do on the big old boards. We just kind of marveled. A lot of guys didn’t like Buddy. I liked him, but a lot of ‘em didn’t because he was a little different – you might say ‘snooty’ in some respects [high brow, better than thou]. His father had been a Hollywood producer/director and had a lot of money and this kind of thing.

    “Anyway, Buddy Morrisey and Opai were very close chums and they’d be together at ‘Nofre a lot. And we’d all be out surfing together. Let’s see… Then there was a guy named Luton (loo-ton)… He was there a lot. Nellie Blye was there… John Levy… Don Cram started coming down. He’s the guy that got the Nobel Prize for chemistry five or six years ago. He’s my guitar student. He sings with our Bamboo Room Philharmonic group every Wednesday, down at the beach.”

    “So, anyway,” E.J. continued, “there’s Don, Doug Craig and a lot of ‘em. Let’s see… There’s so many guys. Johnny Waters… And, oh! Peanuts Larsen was a big part of the scene, for a lot of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Klotz was still there, off and on. Laholio didn’t come back. Dexter didn’t come back. Barney was there a lot. Tommy Gray was killed in the war. He didn’t come back. Bruce Duncan, who was my guru on guitar. He pretty much taught me a lot of the guitar stuff I know. He was down there…” Duncan, added E.J., was “A very bright guy, but like Barney, the booze finally killed him.”

    Brant Goldsworthy surfed San O in the 1950s, E.J. remembered, and “Gard Chapin was down there. Now, he was quite a guy. He was kind of an abrasive kind of guy, but I got along fine with him pretty well. Once, we had a little problem about boards running into boards out in the water…” Miki Dora’s step-father, Chapin probably passed on the attitude.

    “Yeah, that’s a good point to make,” E.J. agreed. “… That might very well have been. Gard was a bit strange, but a good surfer. Miki Dora was just a little kid then. And then Phil Edwards was coming up from down Oceanside way. He was just a little high school kid – I was always very aware of the two kids, but I paid no attention to them cuz they were just kids on the beach and, you know, hadn’t established themselves as great surfers – which they eventually did.”

    Before the war, E.J. told of one prank they played on Gard, “One time, Gard Chapin left the beach for some reason and went off to do something. He had his usual 12-foot solid board. We got shovels and dug about a 10-foot hole, deep in the sand, and put his board in it with just the nose sticking out, and filled it back up again. He didn’t like that, when he got back! But, none of us knew who did it…”

    Between 1952 and 1973, when the State of California took over management of the San Onofre beach area, the San Onofre Surfing Club was the glue that kept the scene together; all the while communicating with the Marines as the interface shifted more to the State of California.


    Family Beach

    The lifestyle at San Onofre had begun with surfing and then included beach partying and socializing. As the partiers grew older, they brought their emerging families with them. At that post-World War II point (mid-to-late 1940s), San O evolved into a family beach. “It’s a big, happy family down there,” E.J. declared. “… Everyone had a good time.” So, San Onofre developed early on as a beach that combined surfing with raising families. “It’s kind of been a family beach,” explained 2nd-generation San Onofre surfer Craig Ephram in 1993. “There are literally four generations surfing down there now.”

    “... this beach is still a family beach ,” concurred Bill Vetter. “You come down here today and 99% of the people are just families — it’s still basically like it always was.” “There are damn few days you can’t feel good about walking around and talking to eveyone,” confirmed Jim Gilloon, another long-time San O’ local. ”

    “We had our own mature group,” E.J. said, “to do our wine drinking and guitar playing and surfing…”

    “The same guys who are here now,” recalls Mike Evans, the youngest member of the group E.J. plays with today, “would be playing late into the evening [in the sixties], while us kids romped through the sand in our pajamas.”

    Growing up at San Onofre “was all so innocent and pure,” explains Don Craig. “It was a kid’s nirvana... I feel real lucky to have grown up in that lifestyle.” Doug Craig, Don’s father, who surfs San Onofre every day, agrees. “It’s a very social thing. Total family.”

    “Moms and Dads would let you off,” recalled Willie Wilson, “and you would go up and down the beach and different parents would offer you lunch. It was a neat deal.”

    “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.”

    “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.”

    The glue that has bonded San Onofre surfing culture has been the “common bond of a love for the beach and surfing and the camaraderie of it all,” declared Don Craig. “Guys like Pete Peterson and Mike Doyle , the numbers are too many to enumerate. There’s just people from all walks of life... it’s just a melting pot... There are no classes or differences. There are guys that are millionaires and there are guys that have nothing and they surf together for the love of surfing.”

    “The older guys who had learned to surf in Hawaii,” wrote Mike Doyle in his autobiography Morning Glass, “favored San Onofre because they thought it was a lot like Waikiki, with really long rides. Some of the younger surfers, though, didn’t care for the wave at San Onofre because it came at you from all directions. I called it billiard surfing because there were so many angles, so many banks. I always thought it was an interesting wave.

    “What I loved most about San Onofre, though, was the creative energy there. The older surfers made tiki huts along the beach out of driftwood and bamboo so they could get out of the sun when they wanted. It was great to park there and lie in the shade of the tiki huts with rows of colorful surfboards lined up against their sides. There were guys living in old panel trucks they’d furnished in Polynesian style, with tapa cloth glued to the ceilings and sea shells glued to the dashboards; even their beer can openers were carved from wood, wrapped with string and varnished. They made their own canvas hats and reinforced them with big brass grommets, then decorated them with bottle caps. Some of the guys stitched big corks to the tops of their hats and wore them surfing; if they fell off their boards, the hats floated. Anything that washed up on the beach would find its way into some kind of sculpture: carved tikis hacked out with an ax, huge seagulls and little windmills made out of driftwood and mounted on long poles. When you were at San Onofre, you felt as if you were part of an ocean culture that had its roots in Polynesia.”


    Nixon Years

    “So, anyway,” E.J. said of the maturing San Onofre scene, “then the San Onofre Surfing Club had it and, see, we ran a good ship. The Marines were pleased with us and every year we had to renew the license… It went on for years and years that way… up until three or four years before the club ended [its stewardship]. Why, I was in charge of beach maintenance… I’d hire a couple of high school kids – friends of surfers, friends of mine – and between us, we’d keep that beach spotless. In fact, people still say ‘the State never did the job you did!’”

    At that time, Richard Nixon was President and the State of California took over control of the beach. “There was a guy named Haldeman whose family surfed at ‘Nofre and were members of our club,” E.J. continued. “Haldeman was one of the top men [in the Nixon administration]. Haldeman did a lot of smoothing over of problems that might have arisen because he was so close to Nixon. So, we all thought Nixon was great! Then, Nixon turned around and finally agreed that a private club shouldn’t have the beach and it should be part of the [California] state [parks and recreation system]. So, the State took over and then we hated Nixon!”

    E.J. then worked for the State for a year, but “They didn’t know what they were doing,” he explained. They called him back for a second summer, but he declined. “The club continues. It’s only ten bucks a year,” E.J. added, emphasizing that the club still kept good relations with the head ranger and “have clout” because of the size of its membership.


    Surfing Since the 1970s

    “There’s only one way to describe it: every year,” E.J. spoke of the contemporary San O scene, “more and more boards show up, and more and more people, and more and more crowded parking.”

    Surf instruction like the Paskowitz surf school bring in a bunch of people, causing some resentment towards surf schools. “The biggest thing that’s gone wrong with ‘Nofre,” E.J. declared with a perspective of 65 some years, “is the crowds and every year it gets worse and worse. I don’t go down on the weekends. Not at all…” His favorite days to go down are Mondays and to play music on Wednesdays.


    Boards Remembered

    “That first paddleboard I built,” E.J. recalled, “so help me, was the world’s worst. There’s never been a worse board! It was absolutely dreadful! No sooner when I learned how to stand upon it, if you tried to go on any angle at all, the tail would slide out from under you and you’d huli (hoo-lee), just like a car in a skid (laughs). You’d go right off the board! It was terrible! Anyway, the second one I built – Tulie and Jimmy had started building deeper, sharper-tailed paddleboards. So [I adopted that improved shape]… The second one I built was a good one, because I’d followed the outline Jimmy and Tulie pretty much engineered.”

    “I think my wife’s white ‘Zombie,’ which is the one I built in Oakland [right before E.J. met his wife-to-be] and rode in Santa Cruz, was maybe my favorite board. It was a long… narrow paddleboard. It just worked great in Santa Cruz.

    “When I got back into surfing down here, why, I had a series of balsa/redwoods. Finally, when the ‘foamies’ were really in, I got rid of my last wooden board and got a Hobie – one of Hobie’s early foam boards.

    “When I get a board, it’s like a car. I just keep it and keep it. I’m happy with it, why go further afield? I’m real conservative that way. If I like something – like, my wife. I’ve been married 56 years to her and it’s been wonderful times. I like to stick with what I got.”

    E. J. met his wife Jo at a Presidio dance in San Francisco, in 1942. They then honeymooned at the Biltmore, in Santa Barbara.


    E. J. RECOGNITIONS

    “The ‘Good Morning America’ [morning national television program] people sent a crew down to ‘Nofre,” E.J. recalled. “They wanted me to go up to Malibu to join other old timers.” But E.J. didn’t want to drive up that far. So, they ended up shooting him at San Onofre (circa 1997-98).

    “I don’t ordinarily buy copies of surfing mags,” E.J. told me about an article Gary Lynch and I had written about Doc Ball in Longboard magazine, “but I bought that copy because of the way you handled it. I told my wife: ‘It sounds like Doc Ball is talking to me as I was reading the article.’ A lot of his personality, the way he used to talk and his speech patterns that I can remember – you know, I could get it out of the article! That was quite an experience!”

    “I enjoyed the article in Longboard. That made me think that somebody knew how things were.”


    Bamboo Room Philharmonic

    Following on the heels of Good Morning America, Huell Howser of Los Angeles public television KCET-TV interviewed and filmed E.J. and his fellow musicians at San Onofe in 1998.

    Surf writer Chris Ahrens wrote about the Bamboo Room Philharmonic in an article for The Surfer’s Journal. Published in 1999, “Wednesday Nights at ‘Nofre” gave a good glimpse into E.J.’s present lifestyle:

    “It was during the Depression years,” wrote Chris Ahrens, “a time that Oshier remembers gleefully, that he and his friends became interested in playing Polynesian music. ‘Nobody had any money, as so we’d go to Gene’s Hawaiian Village or one of the other clubs that played Hawaiian music around L.A., pay 25 cents for a pitcher of beer and milk it all night. We learned the music that way, from Hawaiian records and Hawaiian radio broadcasts. If you have a good ear, you can listen to music and pick it up. That’s what we did. In the mid-thirties and early-forties, Pua Kealoha, a graceful Hawaiian surfer who weighed about 300 pounds and had a beautiful voice, further helped us along. At first it was all Tahitian and Hawaiian. Eventually, we also learned some jazz, blues and country-western. In those days it was surfing, music, drinking and chasing ladies; not always in that order.’”

    “Seated in the inner circle are some men who have been around since the WWII years,” continued Ahrens, “veterans of San-O. Elder statesman, E.J. Oshier, with his vintage Gibson L7 and a smile you can’t get this side of 65; Bruce Myers, the inventor of the dune buggy; UCLA professor, Nobel laureate, Don Cram; Fred Thomas; Mike Evans, who at 44 years old, is referred to as ‘the boy’ by the others… Mike McCaffery (“the salt water songbird, our vocalist,” E. J. noted) , and a man known as Hedgehog.”

    “… The band plays Django [Rheinhardt]. Then, Tahitian, Hawaiian, ‘40s Jazz… this is a sound like no other, the mournful and joyful sound of San Onofre… Octogenarian, E.J. Oshier, is the unofficial conductor of the group, unofficially known as Bamboo Room. They play no gigs except for Wednesday night jams at San-O. There are no rehersals.”

    “It’s a completely informal gathering,” said one member of the Bamboo Room Philharmonic. “You never know who’s going to be there. But it’s structured enough that we know it’s on Wednesdays and starts about 4:00.”

    “Some of these men have been surfing and playing music together for fifty years,” continued Ahrens. “They have a history, stories to tell, but they’re not gathered to tell them. Instead, they play them in sentimental songs like Blue Moon or Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Not surprisingly, a large percentage of the songs like Daphne and Sweet Sue are named after girls. Many of the songs have deep Polynesian roots. Beyond the circle, a group of old friends talk and laugh while passing around a photo album. Some lie flat on the sand with heads bowed, remembering young love or fallen comrades, or a time when the lobster and abalone and corbina were so thick you’d gladly trade them pound for ounce for hot dogs.”

    “You know, we’re crowded at ‘Nofre,” E.J. admitted, “but there’s not a bad feeling like there is at so many beaches. People just get along and if somebody makes a mistake, nobody gets mad. It’s just a good environment.”


    No Secret Statement

    “To me, surfing hasn’t meant becoming a great surfer,” E.J. Oshier started to sum it up. “It hasn’t meant designing a great surfboard. It’s meant just having a good board, having friends, having surf to go to, paddling out and having a good time; riding and then the music side. Between the music and the surfing and the warm sun and nice water… There’s no secret statement to make about it.

    “The way my life has run: financially, I’ve been able to do what I’m doing. I never did make a lot of money. But, then I never spent a lot of money. So, I didn’t need a lot of money. I surf cuz it’s fun and I think it’s good for you to surf, too!”

    “I’ve heard many of the older guys talking about things like this,” E.J. continued, “and they say, ‘Well, I came down and it didn’t look too good. I sure didn’t want to get in. I didn’t want to have to put on that damn wetsuit’ and all that stuff. But, once you get in, you go out and get a wave. Your whole day brightens. You may have been bumming when you got there, but when you get out and ride some waves and come back in, you’re day’s picked up and it stays good the rest of the day!

    “Surfing’s fun! It’s not a serious study… and I love playing the music…”

    E.J. plays in the heat of the day, so his fingers move freely. Bamboo Room itself plays not far outside summer, also for comfort.

    Advice for the young’uns: “Treat it as fun, not as a battleground. I started in 1935 and it’s still fun today just like it was when I first started and it’s been fun all the time [in between].”

    Final statement: “I don’t have a lot to tell in the way of splendid happenings and tremendous situations. I just lived the life and had a good time.”


    Author's Note

    It means a lot to me that E.J. wrote, June 4, 2001, in his notations and corrections to the draft of this piece:

    “Dear Malcolm: “Kudos and accolades. Your treatment of your subject was superb. Especially the way you wove my story in with the rest of the sources. The action flowed right along and I believe the accuracy is about 100%.

    “I would love to have a copy of the finished product.

    “Call if I can be of further assistance.

    “And Aloha, E.J.”


    Some Sources

  • California Surfriders 1946
  • Charles ”Chuck A Luck” Ehlers
  • Chris Ahrens
  • Cliff Tucker
  • John "Doc" Ball
  • Dorian Paskowitz
  • E.J. Oshier
  • Gary Lynch
  • Longboard magazine
  • Lorrin "Whitey" Harrison
  • Mike Doyle
  • The Santa Ana Daily Register
  • The Surfer’s Journal
  • Tom Blake


    More Resources


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