WORLD WAR II SURFING
The Surfing World During World War II (1940-45)
Aloha and welcome to another chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS collection!
This chapter covers the intense period of 1940-1945 and a little afterwards -- basically, the years during
which World War II dominated planetary events in nearly every corner of Earth. Surfing, like everything else,
was greatly affected. There was a massive upheaval of people and how they spent their time. For most, surfing
was put on hold. But, WWII was also responsible for the continued spread of wave riding, as service men the
world over spread word about board riding.
I hope you enjoy this chapter and spread your stoke to others.
"The most exciting part of my social life was getting to meet the
famous Beach Boys -- being able to call them by first name and have them
know who I was."
-- Dorian "Pascal" Paskowitz
"All through the war I slept on top of the deck with my fins in my
pack and my arm through the pack straps. I figured if the ship got blown
up, at least I might have a chance. All I want is half a chance -- I might
be able to last longer with fins -- might even be able to take a couple
of guys with me."
-- Dave "Rocky" Rochlen
"I was in the Navy during the war and I came home to Santa Monica
on leave that year. Right after I got home, I drove up to Malibu to surf,
and though the waves were good that day, there were only three guys out.
One was a guy with a withered arm named Bob Simmons,
and the other two were kids named Buzzy Trent and Matt Kivlin."
-- Joe Quigg
"We lived next door to Hoppy Swarts and Leroy Grannis, two surfers
from the thirties. My dad made my first board off the design of their boards.
I was eight or nine at the time. Not long after he'd made it, I ran into
the pier on it and split it down the center. In those days, this would
happen quite a bit. We'd just glue it back together, bolt it and put a
cork in over the bolt. After you broke these boards a few times, they got
a little waterlogged, so you'd have to bring them in and reshape them.
That's what got me started shaping and designing boards... "It took a lot
of finesse to ride those old redwoods. They were like old Cadillacs on
a freeway -- a real smooth ride, and everyone got out of your way."
-- Dale "The Hawk" Velzy
"In the [early] '40s, the guys who ruled the roost were the Cross
brothers Jackie and Dicky, Wally Froiseth.
George Downing was a little punk like I once was. He used to get out there
a lot [Public Baths]. but the regulars were like Smokey Lew, Hyah Aki,
Louie Hema, Mongo Kalahiki and myself. We were about the first real good
hot curlers out there, guys used to watch us. One day we had a contest
to see who was the better one, and I'd get a wave and Rabbit would be the
best, then Smokey would come out and get a good one... then Hyah would
get a better one. We'd go for tubes. When Queen's was about five feet and
really good inside and the wall tapering all the way down, we'd see who
stayed in the tube the longest. I was a top rider. I'd trim high and go
flyin' across. That was my style. And those guys, they'd get down low in
the center of their boards. I'd ride there too but my style was up high,
trimming on the top of the wave."
-- Rabbit Kekai
"They were restless and hard to control, despite the years of army
-- Snow McAlister
"He's got a great attitude -- he calls everyone fucking pussies."
-- Dave Rochlen, talking about Bob Simmons
"And when the war ended -- Boom -- we were back in the environment.
It was devotion, like seeing a girl again... like, 'I'm never gonna leave!'
We gave ourselves over to it entirely. I think it was because we spent
four or five years in the war and we had survived. And it had all been
bad. Now there was no question about what had us by the throat. It was
the ocean. Everything else was secondary."
-- Dave Rochlen
"Perhaps the intervening years have dimmed the past a bit, but it
seems now that there were no winters then, only school and summers... We
were lucky to live in little 'ol San Clemente; post-war, pre-population
explosion, pre-sexual revolution, before, during and after puberty in that
kinder, gentler era."
-- Vince Nelson
Waikiki, Early 1939
World War II
.. California Surfers During The War
.. Flood Control's Demise
.. War Boards
.. UDT Suits -- 1st Wetsuits
Gene "Tarzan" Smith
Surfing's Spread to Peru and South Africa
.. Australia's Gold Coast
.. South Africa
San Clemente, 1945-49
.. Surf Mats
.. Red Ryder
.. Pier Culture
.. Late '40s San Clemente Surfing
1st Fiberglass Hollowboard, 1946
Origins of the "Existential Outlaw"
The surfing world -- basically Hawai`i and California -- was in the
midst of love affairs with hollow and redwood surfboard
combinations when World War II broke out. In the Land Down Under, surfing
was still pretty much the domain of the Surf Lifesaving Association of
Australia (SLSA) and hollow paddleboards were the standard. Back in California,
surfing was spreading along the West Coast with redwood, hollow and combination
redwoods boards all being viable vehicles. Hot Curl surfboards were virtually
unheard of outside Hawai`i, although they fostered the spread of Waikiki
Tavern surfers to the west and then the north shores of O`ahu. Even at
Waikiki -- the cradle of modern surfing -- Hot Curls
were not the norm, but the exception. The surf lifestyle continued in much
the same way as it had for the two decades previously.
Waikiki, Early 1939
The following is taken from Dorian Paskowitz' very excellent recollection
of the scene at Waikiki in 1939 and the characters that roamed its beach
at that time:
"In September , I bought myself a 'closed steerage' ticket
aboard the President Taft -- 25 males to the space -- and got to Honolulu
in time to catch the last summer fun.
"Real quick I found a job at the McDonald Hotel on Punahou Street,
working for another tiny little man by the name of Lum, tending desk and
being a switchboard operator.
"I signed up for three courses at the University of Hawaii, including
Dr. Charlie Moore's course in Philosophy and Mr. Fujimoto's 'Quantitative
Chemical Analysis.' He taught this complex subject in pidgin English and
I couldn't really follow what was going on half the time.
"Then and perhaps most important, I found a place to store my surfboard
at Waikiki. In that way I could go down to the beach early in the morning
on the trolley car which ran along Kalakaua Avenue, surf 'til I had to
go to school, and come back, sometimes by just hanging on the back of the
trolley, surf 'til sunset and then go to work at the hotel...
"I met Freddy Beckner, who bartended at the Blasdell Hotel downtown
and who would have given me free drinks if I drank; and Frank Donohue,
who let me in free to the King Theatre to see movies once a week. They
were both good surfers and lived right at Waikiki in a grass shack for
$15 a month.
"Surfing all the time at Queen's and Canoe's, I also met some of
the soldiers of fortune who came to Hawaii as beachcombers and went on
to become wealthy merchants -- like Tatebouet and George Brangier, two
Frenchmen. George, a dapper, thin-mustached man, would always slick the
sides of his hair back soon as he stood up on his surfboard heading for
shore, no matter how big the wave was. Later on, he became a founder of
the big aloha shirt business and Tatebouet became a big hotel and real
"The most exciting part of my social life was getting to meet the
famous Beach Boys -- being able
to call them by first name and have them know who I was.
"There was Duke Kahanamoku, who wasn't
really a true Beach Boy, but did take some parties out in the outrigger
canoes and some of the girls tandem on his over-sized surfboard. His brothers,
Louis, David, Bill, Sam and Sargent -- I got to know them also.
"Then there was Chuck Daniels and Turkey Love and Panama Dave and
Willy Whittle and Curley, as well as Sally Hale,
who was the captain of the beach...
"Waikiki Beach was ruled in those days by the hotels with their manicured
beaches, the surf with its world-renowned breaks like Queen's, Canoe's,
Popular's, and Public Baths and the Outrigger Canoe
"That posh and very exclusive beach club, no Orientals allowed, was
the zenith of social prominence in the Islands. This was the 'home' of
Beach Boys and the center of Hawaiian water sports activities such as outrigger
canoe paddling, surfing, racing, surfboard sport and contests and canoe
sailing -- not to mention the volleyball courts and the serious drinking
under the shade of the Hau Terrace.
"Waikiki Beach itself was a relatively small strip of sand (Would
you believe some of it imported from California and the East Coast of the
United States?). Its main event was the absolutely magnificent surf line
which stretched from Diamond Head to Honolulu Harbor. Surf that on historic
'Big Days,' lofted swells of up to well over twenty feet high breaking
far out to sea near the steamer lane.
"The focal point of that surfline and the wave riding connected to
it was the Outrigger Canoe Club. There, Agatha Christie and her husband
extended their stay in Hawaii so he could surf longer, and Jack
London and the Prince of Wales who abdicated his throne, and the King
of Persia, as well as Rudolf Friml, Doris Duke, Otis Chandler and Jim Arness
-- all suited up in the locker rooms to 'go surfin'' at Waikiki.
"The person I admired most in this ongoing carnival of surfing and
Hawaiian ocean sports was Duke Kahanamoku. He was like a great Hawaiian
chief but gentle, modest and a truly beautiful surfer.
"But after him my favorite was Young Steamboat Mokuahi -- lifeguard
in front of the hotels.
"'Old Steamboat' was a short, leathery old man with crinkled gray
hair at his temples." Sam "Steamboat" Mokuahi was, according to Patterson,
"as calm as a lake, sturdy as a rock, and gentle as a kitten... 'Steamboat'
has raised his family at Waikiki. 'Steamboat Jr.' is a carbon copy of this
handsome Hawaiian surfer."
"When he stood beside his son, Young Steamboat," continued Paskowitz,
"it was like Jack beside the Giant of the Beanstalk. He was over six-two,
thick and smoothly muscled, with calves as large as most men's thighs.
Old Man Steamboat was a seasoned general in the ranks of those who led
at Waikiki, while young Steamboat was a handsome warrior, slow to anger
and pressed into a service he managed well and with joy among the high
"In the morning from the Outrigger Club, Steamboat would paddle his
two-man canoe to his water station forty yards off the beach, climb the
unshaded platform, sit all day without hat or glasses watching the swimmers
and surfers, and in the late afternoon climb down, paddle in, pull the
small outrigger up high on the sand and shower and dress and go home.
"This he did day after day -- and I guess no day did he speak over
two dozen words to anyone. Young Steamboat, unlike his dad, was a quiet
man -- very much like Duke Kahanamoku, who I always felt 'The Boat' silently
"If Steamboat was a young bull, my next favorite among the Beach
Boys was an ox -- and that is what he was called -- Ox. Not 'The Ox,' just
Ox. He looked like an ox not only in overall size, but especially his head
-- a massive, fleshy crown which looked very much like the headpiece of
an ancient Hawaiian idol carved from the trunk of the coco palm with its
heavy browns and burly lips. While not more heroic than the huge Steamboat,
Ox was taller, broader, and heavier -- over 350 pounds. As Captain of Canoe,
with his enormous steering paddle, Ox was as agile as a surfer on a board.
"The Beach Boys knew how shamelessly I admired them and looked forward
to surfing or skin diving with them. So it was not too long before they
called me by name to fill out the missing paddles in a canoe party. I am
not the only surfer from the mainland who admired and respected the Beach
Boys so fully, many of the great surfers like Blake, Peterson and Harrison
felt the same way about them...
"So the days and months went by. My face became a familiar one around
the beach in front of the Outrigger. I even found that I could store my
board in their locker space. I crashed the grounds a lot of times, took
showers in their locker room, talked to and became friends with surfing
legends like Cecelia Cunha (one of the first modern women surfers who some
say 'Cunha's Break,' that wondrous left slide outside of Big Queen's was
named for). I got to know Dad
Center, who surfed in Queen Liliokalani's time, and that handsome part
Hawaiian (you couldn't tell if he was 36 or 66) Bill Hollinger, the uncle
of the little child, Kimo Hollinger, who was to grow up and become one
of the great North Shore big wave riders in good time."
World War II
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and suddenly
what had been the United States' material and psychological support to
counter worldwide imperialism and fascism turned into an active alliance
against the Axis -- Germany, Japan and Italy. Suddenly, also, as Lueras
puts it, "most of the beach boys who had hitherto spent their every bit
of free time on the blue became, by Executive Order,
World War II had profound effects on all of American society, including
surfers. As Solberg and Morris wrote in A People's Heritage, "Although
the United States was never totally mobilized for war, World War II produced
far greater government intervention in the nation's economic and social
affairs than during World War I or the depression.
As a result, the years 1941-45 altered radically the country's self-image,
restoring the self-confidence Americans had felt before the Crash. The
years between Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima were a time of ferment leading
to new values for the American people economically, socially, and in their
"World War II cramped surfing's style for long, too long," Duke
Kahanamoku told his ghost writer, Joe Brennan. "Most all of the able-bodied
young men who had been contributing to the fast development of the sport
wound up in the military service or in defense plants. It was a time of
vacuum for surfing."
Concertina wire strung along Waikiki beach and other beaches of Hawai`i
and California symbolized the shutdown surfing suffered during the ensuing
war years. Since surfing was considered impractical and self-indulgent
and most surfers were in the armed services -- mostly the Navy -- no surf
contests were held during the war years of 1941-1945.
We've noted some of the war stories told by Hot Culers like Fran
Heath, John Kelly and Wally
Froiseth. But what about other surfers -- especially those on the Mainland?
.. California Surfers During
Surf writer Craig Stecyk wrote of an incident that took place just before the
outbreak of war. The particular moment at Malibu, October 5, 1941, featured
a couple of heaviest of the period and tells a lot about the time:
"A confrontation is in progress. With only three guys in the water,
Gard Chapin has forced the altercation over a drop in. This is typical
behavior for Chapin, a gifted surfer, who turns and cuts alone in an era
when almost everyone else trims. Gard's verbose tactics alienate more than
a few and his radical board designs aren't really appreciated. One who
wasn't intimidated is Robert Simmons who bought his first surfboard from
Chapin. Eventually, Bob went to work in the Chapin wood shop and there
had his initial board building experiences. Other velocity-maneuverability
standouts in those dark age days were Bud Morrisey and Dave Sykes. Morrisey
contributed down-the-line shapes and was considered by many to be the first
to walk the board at Malibu. Topanga dweller Sykes' finely honed speed
lines and turning were years in advance of others. Sykes delighted in perfect
planing surfaces and placed 15 layers of hand rubbed lacquer over his boards
creating a hard shelled outer surface many years before the discovery of
fiberglass and resin. To this day, Chapin, Morrisey and Sykes occupy prominent
spots in the Malibu pantheon of innovators."
In addition to the likes of Gard Chapin, Bud Morrisey and Dave Sykes,
there were other guys around during World War II who had either achieved
legendary status -- like Pete Peterson -- or would
-- like Dave Rochlen:
"Nobody loved the ocean better than I did," testified Dave
Rochlen, in an interview done in the early 1960s. "All through the
war I slept on top of the deck with my fins in my pack and my arm through
the pack straps. I figured if the ship got blown up, at least I might have
a chance. All I want is half a chance -- I might be able to last longer
with fins -- might even be able to take a couple of guys with me."
Manhattan Beach local Dale Velzy joined
the merchant marines At one point, while stationed in Guam, Velzy scrounged
up some plywood and built a hollow paddleboard/surfboard. He both paddled
and rode it in Guam, Malaysia and Australia. On one memorable night of
darts, beer and Aussie "sheilas," Velzy gave the board away.
Another surfer wave-born in the 1930s and, like Velzy, would end
up making a significant contribution to surfing was Joe
Quigg. Although not dramatic, Joe Quigg's leave, in the summer of 1944,
presented Quigg with some of the key surfers who would end up affecting
not only him but most all California surfers by the early 1950s:
"I was in the Navy during the war," retold Quigg, "and I came home
to Santa Monica on leave that year. Right after I got home, I drove up
to Malibu to surf, and though the waves were good that day, there were
only three guys out. One was a guy with a withered arm named Bob Simmons,
and the other two were kids named Buzzy Trent
and Matt Kivlin."
Matt Kivlin had just been introduced to surfing by the husband of
his mom's sister. Preston "Pete" Peterson introduced
the 14 year-old from Santa Monica to the wonders of Malibu on July 2, 1944.
Peterson's doings are especially worth noting. One instance was documented
by Stecyk, about September 6, 1944:
"A ruler edged rolling seven foot south caresses the empty point
[Malibu]. Pete Peterson gazes longingly at the surf through the barbed
wire enclosure which surrounds the Malibu Point Coast Guard facility. This
government base is guarded 24 hours a day and impenetrable. Peterson resolves
to go elsewhere and turns to leave when he spies a lone surfer eagerly
running up the point. Dale Velzy, the patriot,
has somehow convinced the base commander to honor his merchant seaman's
papers as an access pass to the surf. Pete is incensed... after all, at
least when Don Grannis surfed there he was stationed there... but this
was an outrage. Peterson waves at Velzy and leaves laughing, admiring the
Hawk's superior artistry. Following his go-out, Dale manages to enjoy a
sumptuous repast of roast beef and ice tea, courtesy of the base mess hall.
Not bad in an era of severe rationing."
In recalling his beginnings as a surfer and a shaper, Velzy said,
"One of the first surfboards I ever used belonged to someone I didn't even
know. I found it sitting along the side of someone's house on 6th Street
in Hermosa Beach. I used it every day one summer, until my dad, who was
a lifeguard at Hermosa, agreed to help me make my own board.
"We lived next door to Hoppy
Swarts and Leroy Grannis, two surfers from the thirties. My dad made
my first board off the design of their boards. I was eight or nine at the
time. Not long after he'd made it, I ran into the pier on it and split
it down the center. In those days, this would happen quite a bit. We'd
just glue it back together, bolt it and put a cork in over the bolt. After
you broke these boards a few times, they got a little waterlogged, so you'd
have to bring them in and reshape them. That's what got me started shaping
and designing boards. I became real interested in design, in making the
boards work better, according to a person's weight and style.
"Eventually, other guys started asking me to make changes to their
boards. We didn't have fiberglass then. We didn't even varnish the boards.
We'd get splinters, but we'd just take them out and keep surfing. It was
a while before my dad would loan me his good tools to try my hand at shaping
balsa wood. My best board was the second redwood I made for myself. I was
in the Merchant Marines, and went off to the war in '44. I left my board
with a friend, Ed Edgar, and told him that he was the only person who could
ride it while I was gone. I came home to find out that someone had stolen
"It took a lot of finesse to ride those old redwoods. They were like
old Cadillacs on a freeway -- a real smooth ride, and everyone got out
of your way."
.. Flood Control's Demise
Along with human casualties, the war resulted in the destruction
of one of the favored surf spots of the 1930s -- Long Beach's Flood Control.
"In a rush of patriotism, defense planning and commerce during World
War II," wrote Steve Barilotti in a 1997 issue of Surfer
magazine, the Navy built a breakwater in San Pedro Bay, at Long Beach,
"effectively choking off south-facing Long Beach from swell action and
turning the once wave-rich waters of Belmont Shores into a placid, sometimes
stinking harbor dotted with oil platforms thinly disquised with fake palm
trees as tropical atolls."
Today, besides there no longer being any surf at Flood Control, the
area is high in pollution. "One of the major problems is that the Los Angeles
River empties out into Long Beach," explains Long Beach Surfrider Foundation
activist Robert Palmer. "The breakwater holds all the inland garbage and
scum that comes down the flood-control channel. You go west of 55th Street
toward downtown and the beach sand is marbeled with oil, Styrofoam, you
name it. You don't even want to walk on it."
Throughout the 1930s, Flood
Control had been a prime spot for surf. In California Surfriders,
Doc Ball, surfing's first photographer,
wrote glowingly of the waves at Flood Control. Doc
was not the only one to hold Flood Control in high regard. His buddy LeRoy
"Granny" Grannis explained:
"Flood Control was an excellent right that used to break where the
Queen Mary is now on any good-size swell," LeRoy remembers. "It was rideable
up to 15 to 20 feet. In September of 1939 we rode a huge chubasco-driven
swell that was pushing over 15 feet. Ted Sizemore (an excellent surfer
of the time and a Long Beach lifeguard) said that on a good south swell
they had more rescues along parts of Long Beach than anywhere else on the
Southern California coast. But during the war we all went away and they
built the breakwater. There wasn't much we could do about it."
"The Army Corps of Engineers built the Long Beach breakwater from
1942 to 1949," continued Barliotti, "to house the Pacific Fleet along 'Battleship
Row,' south of Palos Verdes and north of Seal Beach. At two and a half
miles, it is the world's longest breakwater."
.. War Boards
In one of the stranger chapters of surfing's history, it was toward
the end of the Second World War that surfboards were seriously considered
for use as an instrument to advance military objectives.
After the United States Marines suffered over 50% casualties in the
taking of Iwo Jima in the summer of 1945, the Navy brought several Naval
Combat Demolition (NCD) teams to Camp Pendleton to learn how to use surfboards.
It has been proposed that the Navy was also inspired by Gene "Tarzan" Smith's
travels between the Hawaiian Islands on his paddleboard, unassisted.
As mentioned in previous chapters, Fran Heath
credited his fellow Hot Curler John
Kelly with the idea of using surfboards militarily. Both became members
of the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) during the war. "We considered
using surfboards for reconnaissance missions," recalled Fran. "That was
Kelly's idea. But, boards are too easily spotted from low-flying aircraft
and there's no protection if you're spotted, so that idea was scrapped."
Naval Combat Demolition teams were different from the UDT's which
were more sabotage/espionage oriented. The NCDs were "created when the
Navy realized how many casualties were being caused by landing craft grounding
on unchartered reefs and other underwater obstructions during Pacific island
invasions," according to Larry Kooperman. The NCD teams consisted of 30
highly trained frogmen. The job of the NCD's was "to swim in to the beaches
of Japanese-held islands in the dead of night, reconnoiter the reefs and
other obstructions, chart them or blow them up and swim back to their ship
or submarine before the sun came up. The NCD teams never gained the fame
enjoyed by the Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams, the parent of today's
Navy Seals. Perhaps the reason for this is the NCD teams spent all their
time swimming, whereas the UDT's, like the Seals, did some of their best
work above the high tide mark."
"The Navy perfected the NCD surfboard in the summer of 1945," Larry
Kooperman documented. "Its first mission was to be the reconnaissance off
the coast of Japan in preparation for the invasion of the Japanese homeland
by units of the United States military. These Warboards were hollow wooden
surfboards built of a thin layer of redwood over a wooden frame. They were
about 14 feet long and weighed about 60 pounds. They were camouflaged so
as to be almost invisible in the night-dark water. Built into these boards,
between the frames, was a depth sounder. Each board was to be equipped
with a two-way radio that was used to relay the depth sounder's readings
to the mother ship."
In late summer 1945, the NCD teams were "ready to paddle to war."
However, the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima on August 6th and on Nagasaki
three days later preempted the need of the Warboards and they were never
.. UDT Suits -- 1st Wetsuits
A more lasting war technology that was to effect surfing profoundly
was the development of the neoprene wetsuit. According to Bev Morgan, the
neoprene wetsuit was invented by Hugh Bradner for Underwater Demolition
Team (UDT) use during World War II.
With masks, fins and now wetsuits, underwater sabotage became a reality.
Although short-lived, another technological advance was the Lambertson
Lung. This "most primitive self-contained rig," as Fran Heath put it, "enabled
you to swim underwater without leaving the telltale string of bubbles typical
to the scuba."
Gene "Tarzan" Smith
One of the outstanding characters to inhabit Waikiki during the war,
before and after was a surfer who was better known for his paddling --
"Of all the transplanted California surfers," wrote Otto Patterson
in his 1960 publication Surf-Riding, Its Thrills And Techniques,
"'Tarzan' has accomplished the most fantastic feats of performance." Patterson
wrote this approximately 20 years after Tarzan's paddleboard trailblazing!
Under the chapter heading of "World Surfing Greats," Patterson went on
to relate that after Tarzan came to Waikiki in the middle '30s, "he regularly
paddled his board out of Waikiki Bay into Steamer Lane and disappeared
from sight, just for the pleasure it gave him. During these years... he
paddled to the island of Molokai in November 1938 and later to the island
of Kauai, almost 100 miles away. Although others have paddled to Molokai,
none have attempted to match his crossing to the island of Kauai."
Eventually, Tarzan paddled to all the islands. In the Summer of 1945,
he "paddled his surfboard across the forty mile channel between Hawaii
and Maui... bringing to an end his epic voyage through the Hawaiian Island
chain by surfboard."
Duke Kahanamoku added that Tarzan, "alone
set a record that will be long in being beaten. In 1939 he paddled a hollow
paddleboard from Oahu to the island of Kauai, a back-breaking one hundred
miles. And to make it doubly fantastic, he did it solo, with no one helping
him in any way, and without navigational guidance of any kind; just dead
reckoning." Duke asked, in the late 1960s, "Where is there someone to match
Dorian Paskowitz' recollections of the characters
and scene at Waikiki, just before the United States entered World War II,
focused on the unique person Tarzan was:
"I had been in the Islands about three and a half months [approximately
December 1939], when one day I was talking to Captain Sally Hale at his
small station alongside the beach entrance into the Outrigger's locker
room when Sally looked up over my head like he was looking at a street
"'Hiya, Tarzan, Aloha,' Sally said, forgetting about me.
"'Where ya been, we haven't seen you at Waikiki for quite awhile.'
"'Around,' Tarzan replied.
"If Ox were big as an ox, then Tarzan was equally as big as Tarzan.
"Here was this giant of a man, more than six-five or six-six in height,
a rangy build, and a sharp face with a set jaw, which reminded one of a
steel trap that had already been sprung. He reminded you of Abe Lincoln,
the rail splitter, but more powerful.
"I moved off to one side out of earshot so the two of them could
talk, personal. This Tarzan never smiled once.
"Tarzan turned abruptly and left. Sally watched him carefully.
"'Who's that guy?' I asked Sally. 'He's taller than Ox.'
"'That's Tarzan Smith,' Sally said.
"'Gene Smith?' I asked.
"'Yeah, Gene Smith, everybody calls him Tarzan. I don't know if he
likes the name, but it stuck.'
"... It didn't take... Tarzan long to get back into the swing of
things at Waikiki. I'd see him paddling a canoe -- not steersman -- or
surfing at Canoe's or just stalking up and down the beach like a man possessed.
He hardly would talk to anyone, and he always had an unfriendly look on
"One day after he passed by, I asked the surfer I was sitting on
the beach with, 'Keone, what about this guy, Tarzan Smith?'
"'What about him?' he replied.
"'Well, do you know anything about him?'
"'I know he paddled a surfboard all the way from the Big Island to
Oahu, over 250 miles. Imagine being out in that channel between Maui and
the Kahala side of Hawaii, all alone at night? The swells are 20 to 30
feet, and the wind's always blowing 25 knots.'
"'He really did that?' I asked.
"'Not only that,' Keone went on, 'he had a plan to paddle from Oahu
to Kauai -- 90 miles, with no islands in between. But he couldn't get a
sponsor or whatever.'
"Another time out in the water I asked another surfer if he'd heard
of Tarzan Smith.
"'Hell, yes,' he said, 'everyone on the beach knows him. He used
to be a cop on the Honolulu City and County Police Force. But they say
he got pissed at another cop and flung him right through a plate glass
window. Almost killed the guy. So they canned Tarzan.'
"There was a lot of talk about his getting thrown into jail, often,
for brawling. And each story played on the number of big Hawaiians it took
to subdue him and get him in the paddy wagon.
"Several weeks later I was talking to one of the kids who belonged
to the Outrigger Club, Jimmy, and I brought up the subject of Tarzan Smith.
In his words was finally the explanation to me as to why Gene was so mad
all the time -- and why they called him Tarzan.
"'Evidently it all happened right after he got to Hawaii. Gene thought
he'd just go down to Waikiki, get a job on the beach, rent some of his
surfboards and maybe give a few surfing lessons,' Jimmy explained.
"'It didn't work like that at all. Guys got killed for less at Waikiki.
You just didn't muscle in on the one all-Hawaiian profession -- the Beach
Boys' "Kahuna" monopoly.
"'Well, Gene didn't see it that way. He kept boring in. Then one
night walking home from the Kalakaua Bar, a bunch of Hawaiian guys jumped
"'They beat the B'Jesus out of him -- put him in the hospital for
weeks -- broke his ribs, kicked him in the face, almost fractured his skull.
"'Who these guys were -- nobody ever named names. It just stopped
there. Everyone went back to his daily chores knowing one more "coast haole"
had been taught a lesson. Nobody -- but, no body -- was in on the Beach
Boys' concession, but them's that have come up the ladder the hard way,
rung by rung, running errands as little beach rats, to get stew and rice
from the Oasis Inn, then "raking beach" in front of the hotel for a few
years, finally helping paddle canoe loads. After that, and only after that,
you got cut in on the relatively meagre take which the Beach Boys got from
catering to and at times even risking their necks for visitors to the Islands.
"'Finally -- when you started at 14 and you're now past 25, you can
take a formal exam for Canoe Captain. And if you pass, as only few did
-- then you can say you're a full-fledged beach boy with all the privileges
that went along with the title.
"'But to just walk up the beach and hustle surfing lessons or board
rentals -- no way. That's what Gene Smith found out the hard way.
"'When Gene got out of Queen's Hospital, everybody thought he'd pack
his bags and go back to the mainland. But for a man who paddled a surfboard
in the black of night across a wide expanse of violent ocean -- alone --
running away wasn't easy, or likely.
"'Gene didn't run away back to California. He nursed himself back
to health -- surfing a lot, paddling his big, heavy board for miles on
end, and walking, walking, walking -- Gene loved to walk. He got back into
better shape than he was before he got beat up.'
"Jimmy finished his yarn, he seemed like he really admired Gene.
Oscar Teller, the old veteran of the Tavern Side of Waikiki, told me the
rest of the story. Oscar loved to ride Big Castles on his beat-up old paddleboard.
He was a real great guy.
"'Gene came back down to the beach, as if nothing had ever happened,
even though you could still see some of the scars on his face. He didn't
accuse anybody of anything, made no complaints, and even said hello and
passed the time of day with some of the very guys who'd done him in.
"'No hard feelings showed, no boards were rented, no surfing lessons
"cockaroached." Gene was a tamed giant, or so everyone believed.
"'Then slowly and systematically, Gene Smith one by one beat the
shit out of every one of the bunch that had ganged up on him. A few of
the guys were hospitalized and one almost died. The fella still has scars
all over his face.
"'When that was done, the situation calmed down. People began calling
Gene "Tarzan." He rented his boards, took visitors out for surfing lessons
and helped paddle canoe on loads booked for the Beach Boys from the Outrigger
Club. Nobody hassled him.
"'Tarzan became the only haole or white Beach Boy.'
"... From time to time... I'd pass him on the sand on Waikiki Beach.
I'd say, 'Hi, Gene.' He'd nod, never smile and off he'd go. Never said
a word to me.
"And then one Saturday, maybe after three or four weeks had gone
by, I was surfing at Queens with the Kekai brothers, and after a long session,
I came in and looked for a place to get out of the wind and warm up. I
found it behind the wall at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The waist-high pink
wall that separates the grass from the exclusive beach site. Course, I
wasn't allowed in there, not being a guest at the Royal, but Chuck Daniels
and Panama that watched over that area of beach didn't care. I wasn't doing
any harm. I always looked presentable, even in just board shorts, and I
was mannerly and kept to myself.
"While I was there, Tarzan went by, taking long, fast strides as
if he were on his way to get someone. He looked madder than usual. When
I said, 'Hi, Gene,' he didn't even turn his head. He seemed hell-bent for
election as my dad used to say.
"This time I didn't have to ask someone for explanations. I knew
exactly what was troubling him. The scuttlebutt was all over the beach:
'Tarzan's really pissed.'
"Two weeks previously the City and County of Honolulu had put on
a big Hawaiian watersports festival at Honolulu Harbor -- canoe races,
swimming races and a big paddleboard race. In addition to the cups and
medals, the winner was to get a free trip to California to compete in a
national paddleboard championship in Santa Monica. The festival was a great
success except for one black spot... evidently Tarzan had paddled his heart
out -- he wanted that chance to get back to the mainland -- and had won,
with Jack May getting second, and I believe Turkey Love was third and one
of the Kahanamoku brothers was fourth.
"Gene got the big trophy, but somehow Jack May, even though he came
in second, was chosen to go to the mainland and represent Hawaii.
"Just why that switch was made, no one knew, but a lot of people
felt that the city fathers weren't about to let someone as 'antipatico'
and as belligerent as Tarzan Smith represent Hawaii. Their logic was, I
assumed, 'we're choosing somebody to personify the Islands, not just to
be in the race, so we'll choose a friendly, part-Hawaiian like May to typify
our water sportsmen.'
"Gene was fit to be tied. He was furious, as only he could get furious.
"As I sat there in the bright, warm sun, the aquamarine and blue
water of Waikiki Bay glistening with diamonds in front of my eyes and feeling
like a million dollars from over two solid hours of surfing, I could not
possibly imagine that wheels had already been set to turning which would
make me a mate to Tarzan's fury and plans of mayhem.
"Here he came back along the same beach path, more determined than
"What I didn't know is that he had called a meeting in his room at
the Waikiki Tavern and Inn to once and for all have this mainland trip
business straightened out. In fact, at that very moment, May was in his
room waiting for him to return. But whoever he was looking for he hadn't
"The giant strode almost abreast of me, stopped, turned to face me,
and bellowed, 'Paskowitz, come with me.' I didn't even know he had remembered
who I was, much less to call me by name.
"I jumped up and fell in behind him, having to walk-jog to keep up
with him as he headed down the beach, past the Moana Hotel, past Judge
Sturier's house with its big concrete pillars right in the water, and onward
toward his room at the Waikiki Tavern.
"At the Diamond Head end of Waikiki Beach, just before you got to
Kuhio Beach and the Big Banyan Tree where Robert Louis Stevenson would
sit in the cool shade and read to the beautiful and frail Princess Pauhi,
there leaned and creaked a very old building of faded, chipping green paint
-- half tavern, half inn. In its day it was something special, and, as
a matter of fact, unbeknown to all, in the years to come, once again it
would ring out with prosperity and customers before finally being swept
away by the demands of tourism. But on this day it was a haven for beachcombers,
those down on their luck, and the heavy drinkers that were warp and woof
of the beach crowd.
"It was so close to the water, high tide waves would splash into
some of the first floor rooms. I myself, before it was razed, occupied
one of those rooms and often had crabs from the sea and 'limo,' seaweed,
on my floor when I awakened in the morning at dawn to check the surf.
"This day its most important feature was that Gene
'Tarzan' Smith lived there, as did Ox and Turkey Love.
"Tarzan bounded up the stairs, with me just behind him. He turned
in the dimly lit corridor to his room, kicked -- not pushed -- the half
open door, and, feet wide apart, made this explosive and to me horrifying
"'OK, you bastards, we're going to get some answers right now or
we're going to kick the shit out of someone.'
"I was struck dumb by this blatant use of the word 'we're,' but at
that instant he nudged me aside, slammed the door shut, and locked it with
the key that was in the door. Thanks to a beneficent almighty, he left
the key there where it was.
"It took me just one terrifying instant to realize what I was into
here. Almost 1,000 pounds of some of the most ructious and warlike men
in the Territory of Hawaii -- one or two well 'oked up' on booze they had
brought -- were sitting around. Chuck Daniels was on the bed, listening
to a threat against their lives. A threat backed up by the fact that Tarzan
Smith had me to help him clean up on them -- them being Ox, Steamboat Mokuahi,
Chuck Daniels, Turkey Love and Jack May... I was a copartner to an aggressive,
hostile lunatic who was demanding a showdown. Now.
"Well, I can tell you that the next several seconds were critical
for me. Here I was being asked to help put away five men -- any one of
whom could have torn me limb from limb -- three of whom I had spent months
making friends with. Steamboat was capable of destroying the room and all
of us in it. Ox could have just stood up and started swinging and kicking
with an ultimatum like that.
"I looked over at Chuck Daniels, he was a hot-tempered man and his
beer-reddened eyes were glowing at Tarzan with rage.
"Chuck stood up.
"Christ. This is it, I thought. But before Chuck got fully off the
swayback bed without sheets, Jack May grabbed both of Tarzan's arms about
where his biceps were.
"'Tarzan,' he said rather calmly, at least not shouting, 'OK, we'll
talk this out with you but just calm down...'
"'Calm down!' Gene shouted at the top of his lungs -- you could feel
the floor give a bit -- 'Calm down... When you sons-a-bitches...'
"'Oh, oh,' I winced. That's a poor choice of words.
"'Not me -- the committee -- not me -- I got nothing to say about
any of this...'
"For an instant Tarzan was speechless. Chuck had gotten up. Turkey
Love was on his feet. Gene was like a pole-axed sheep -- because he was
ready to start brawling, and now somebody had slapped him in the face with
a glove of logic, of reason.
"I knew exactly now what I must do. Get the hell out of there at
"Ox now stood up. His great presence seemed to put everything on
"'You got us guys ovah heah to talk -- OK -- so talk -- no need to
beef right away.'
"Again Tarzan's mind seemed staggered -- like a clean blow to the
mid-section. This wasn't going exactly like he had thought it would. Fighting
he could understand; talk, no. He had come back here with me to clean up
on these bastards and then talk -- now that straightforward plan was off
"One second I took a smile at 'Boat' -- he just looked right through
me. As the half-seconds and seconds ticked off, I was backing toward the
door and that blessed key.
"Now Turkey Love, under the influence of no small amount of Primo
Beer, half lunged for Tarzan, stumbled, and actually fell into his arms.
Gene had to catch him. Now everyone was on his feet, posturing, getting
ready for the action. It was all I needed.
"Quick as a mongoose, I twisted the key, pulled open the door, slid
through it, re-shut it and was on my way to the stairs. A quick, clean
maneuver, just like at times when I'd sneak into the Tremont Movie Theatre
when I lived on Galveston Island.
"As I was going down the stairs three at a time, I heard the first
window break and some wood splintering. You could hear the shouts down
to the street. Up the stairs I'd leaped off of roared two of the thugs
who helped out with the trouble at the Tavern Bar.
"I stepped into the beautiful sunlight at the back of the Tavern,
at water's edge, feeling how great to be alive, free and not up there in
"For weeks after that I didn't speak to any of those Beach
Boys. When I did, I still was treated friendly -- like it wasn't really
me that had been up in Tarzan's room. No one ever mentioned a thing about
"I didn't see Gene for a couple of months. Then I saw him on Diamond
Head walking toward Waikiki. I said, 'Hi, Gene,' but he didn't even look
"Over the years I saw Gene a few times more.
"I'd always say, 'Hi, Gene,' and he'd just pass me by. I thought
it was because of what happened at the Waikiki
Tavern that afternoon. But when I told this to Wally
Froiseth, who had been a friend to Tarzan, Wally said Gene didn't acknowledge
anybody who said hello to him.
"In 1974 I saw Gene Tarzan Smith for the last time. He was walking
on the Pacific Coast Highway by Malibu... He was still lean, muscular and
Wally Froiseth told me that Tommy Zahn
was the last surfer to see Tarzan as he walked into the desert, never to
"In the [early] '40s," recalled legendary surfer Rabbit
Kekai, "the guys who ruled the roost were the Cross brothers Jackie
and Dicky, Wally Froiseth. George Downing was
a little punk like I once was. He used to get out there a lot [Public Baths].
but the regulars were like Smokey Lew, Hyah Aki, Louie Hema, Mongo Kalahiki
and myself. We were about the first real good hot curlers out there, guys
used to watch us. One day we had a contest to see who was the better one,
and I'd get a wave and Rabbit would be the best, then Smokey would come
out and get a good one... then Hyah would get a better one. We'd go for
tubes. When Queen's was about five feet and really good inside and the
wall tapering all the way down, we'd see who stayed in the tube the longest.
I was a top rider. I'd trim high and go flyin' across. That was my style.
And those guys, they'd get down low in the center of their boards. I'd
ride there too but my style was up high, trimming on the top of the wave."
"My first board was about five feet with 60/40 rails, with the 60
on the bottom and flat," recalled Rabbit Kekai.
"The width was about 18 inches wide with a nose like Takayama's noseriders
with a little concave in the front. We had twin channels in the bottom
in the early thirties. You get that V back there, that boat bottom, and
you step back on that and you're using it like one fin and you can really
pull it around. In our days, we'd practice riding up forward and slide
ass, doing sideslips and making the waves."
"One day we had a contest at Queen's to see who was the better one.
We'd go for tubes, take the drop and see who could stay in the longest.
Smokey would do something, then Hyah would do something else, then I'd
go. Each time we'd say, 'That's it, that's the best.' But you could never
tell. Each ride would be better than the last."
George Downing recalled a particular incident that was not uncommon.
"Back then you couldn't get into Queen's if you were an outsider. The only
way in was if a local got you in. Now some of the boys learned to shape
fast. This one fella who shaped a lot of his own boards was known for being
real quick. Once this guy on a good redwood plank drifted into Queen's.
The guys saw it was a nice piece of wood, so they let him catch a wave.
Right away they shoved him off and the board floated inside.
"On the beach there were concessions and a lot of local activity.
They had this one area where they kept the drawknives, saws and all the
tools necessary to carve a board. So anyhow, this uninvited visitor's board
floats in, and by the time he swam in, the real quick guy had already cut
a new outline shape and had turned one rail. When the owner walked up,
the speed shaper was pulling his drawknife down the other rail. Now the
outsider is a little suspicious and he asks the shaper if he's seen his
lost board. Then he goes, 'Hey, that board looks like my board.' The answer
came back, 'No way brah, I've been here working on this for weeks. Your
board's probably caught in the rip. I'd go look down at Publics.' So the
guy walked off looking for it."
"I think we have been deprived of the opportunity to see the Hawaiian
race in its fulfillment," emphasized Downing, "to where we also could get
involved in it. It's only through certain things that we did, that we even
got a glimpse of what they had going. One example would be the Hawaiian
ideas on the canoes. Every time that we'd get to a place where we'd think
that our ingenuity had given us some kind of unique knowledge, we would
find that they had already been there before us, they knew exactly, and
we were just trailing, hanging on the tail of something that had already
Surfing's Spread to Peru and
Before World War II, surfing was practiced basically in only three
areas on the planet: Mainland U.S.A., Hawai`i and the Gold Coast of Australia.
By war's end, Peru and South Africa were added to the list.
.. Australia's Gold Coast
Australia was an important contributor to the Allied effort in World
War II. Ever since Duke Kahanamoku had introduced
surfing to the Land Down Under in 1915, our sport grew steadily there.
Its growth was fostered by the burgeoning life saving movement in that
Growth occurred in numbers, but to some degree, surfboard evolution
was somewhat stunted because, as Kent Pearson pointed out, "board design
was biased towards the interests of SLSA
[Surf Life Saving Association] requirements and the interests of their
members, concerning paddling speed rather than wave-riding performance."
"Board paddling in Australia became a form of athletic competition,"
wrote Pearson in Surfing Subcultures of Australia and New Zealand,
"which was in direct contrast to the more expressive and playful activity
of wave riding itself. Thus, board design development was in complete accord
with the central aims and official SLSA ideology. Stressing, as it did,
the benefits of competition for rescue work, the official position also
seemed to parallel general societal values on achievement and performance."
"World War II had several major repercussions on surf life saving,"
Pearson noted. "At an international level, Australians posted overseas
introduced local life saving methods to other countries. At home, club
memberships were depleted by both voluntary drafting for overseas service
and home conscription. Sydney beaches were barb wired and manned by troops.
As a consequence, surf life saving activities declined."
When the war ended, surfing changed dramatically in Australia, as
it did also in Hawai`i and the Mainland U.S.A. "There was a big change
in the manner of the members after the War," wrote Snow
McAlister of Aussie surf life saving members. "They were restless and
hard to control, despite the years of army training... It was something
the clubs never recovered from, cars were becoming available and in 1948
petrol rationing was lifted (during the war we had been limited to four
gallons a month) giving a new freedom to youth. Suddenly the youth were
able to get mobile and were no longer anchored to the club."
Thus, in addition to this mass release and new freedom, there were
technological advances, increased mobility and greater consumer affluence
that helped characterize the post-war period in Australia.
"Pre-war board riding had generally been restricted to surf life
saving club members," wrote Pearson, "who based their activities at a particular
beach. There were practical reasons for this..."
"Boards were kept at club houses for the good reason of weight,"
McAlister noted. "They were secured upright on club verandas and fixed
with a hasp and staple fitting with lock attached to the wall, both for
reasons of safety and because this was a good position to let the water
drain down to the bottom of the board -- redwood soaked up water like a
The upright position was also beneficial for hollow boards -- all
of which had plugs at the end so that they could drain. Hollow paddle boards
were quite popular in Australia due to the emphasis on rescue and paddling
rather than freestyle surfing. Invented by Tom
Blake in the late 1920s, hollow boards -- particularly of the pointed
nose and tail paddleboard variety -- grew in popularity through the 1930s
and '40s. "By the 1950s," Pearson noted, "the hollow boards had become
very popular in Australia but were difficult to ride on waves."
"The style of riding," continued Pearson, "dictated by these boards
was basically straight line surfing and turns were awkward and slow. Good
surfing was seen as taking a wave standing, and travelling in control of
the board in the same direction as the wave... In spite of the difficulty
of using these boards for wave riding, they were being used more and more
for just this purpose before the introduction of the wave-riding malibu
board [in 1956]."
Peruvian artifacts show that the native people of Peru, before the
Spanish invasion -- the Incas -- were surf-conscious and practiced a kind
of surfing on reed mats in the surf at Mira Flores, near Lima. True surfing
was introduced and surfing was reintroduced to Peru by Carlos Dogny, a
Peruvian, upon his return from Hawai`i.
"In the 1930s," Finney and Houston elaborated, "a Peruvian visitor
to Hawai`i, Carlos Dogny, fell in love with the ancient sport. When he
returned home from one of his several visits to Honolulu, he brought a
board with him, and Peruvians have been surfing [on boards] ever since."
Board surfing's beginnings in Peru was unlike anywhere else, although
it had similarities to what might have occurred in ancient
Hawai`i under the ali`i. "Due to the country's
economic conditions," is how Finney and Houston explained it in 1996, "participation
has been limited to the wealthier class. Although surfboards cost no more
there than elsewhere they are too expensive for the average Peruvian."
"The young men of Peru's well-to-do class," continued Finney and
Houston, "already interested in beach recreations, quickly took up surfing
and have continued to support it. Today Peruvian surfing is characterized
by a luxury found nowhere else in the surfing world. Most surfers belong
to the swank Club Waikiki on the beach at Miraflores, only fifteen minutes
from Lima. It was founded in 1942 by Dogny and three other surfing Peruvians.
Much like a yacht club in appearance, the club is equipped with fish ponds,
gardens, a squash court for winter recreation, a kitchen, bar, and clothes-changing
facilities. It also provides members with the services of 'board-boys'
who fetch and carry surfboards to and from the water."
.. South Africa
At least one area along Africa's Ivory Coast is documented as having
an indigenous type of bodyboarding as early as the 1800s. However, stand-up
surfing did not come to Africa until right before World War II and even
then it was in the form of the surf ski.
"In the beginning," explained Finney and Houston, " South Africans
had only a rough sketch of an early ski, brought back by a swimming coach
from the 1938 Empire Games at Sydney. The Surf Life Saving movement was
already established, and a local lifesaver named Fred Crocker followed
the design and built the country's first surf-ski: twelve feet long with
a boarded deck, flat bottom, and heavy enough that two men were needed
to handle it in the surf. Schoolboy Junior Lifesavers, however, learned
to ride it, and the unwieldy craft was used for surfing until after World
In Europe, the Allies landed on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944.
Nearly a year later, on May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. "V.E. Day" ended
all war in Europe on the following day.
Ending the debate amongst the Allies on the best way to end the war
in the Pacific by having to invade Japan, the United States dropped atomic
bombs on two Japanese cities in early August 1945. The Japanese government
subsequently surrendered and the world breathed a collective sigh of relief
-- followed by memorable celebrations. The total cost in human life during
the five year period of Axis (Germany, Japan, Italy) attempt at world domination:
approximately 35 million combatants, plus ten million Nazi concentration
What war's end meant for many soldier surfers was the return to surfing
itself. For their friends, it was the gradual return of their surfing brah's
to the lineups. Significantly, the end of World War II set the stage for
technological advances in surfboard design and a slow but gradually increasing
stream of Mainland surfers on surfari to Hawai`i.
After World War II ended and the surfer servicemen, "started coming
back in late '45 and early '46," Duke Kahanamoku
recalled, "surfing once again took an upturn. But it was slow, for the
military returnees were occupied with finding jobs or returning to their
interrupted education chores." Many Southern California surfers went back
to school on the G.I. bill.
One of those returning to formal education was Tom
"Opai" Wert. Born in 1924 and a founding member of the San Onofre Surf
Club, Opai had gotten into surfing while body surfing with newly-invented
swim fins at San O. At 'Nofre, he saw "older" guys riding boards. He borrowed
one and was soon hooked. His new love was interrupted when he was called
up for military service. During his service years, 1942-45, Wert recalled
that all he could think about was surfing. After the war, Opai moved to
San Clemente and took advantage of the "GI Bill" by enrolling in Orange
Coast College in 1948. He went on to become a school teacher so that he
would have enough time to surf.
Many other surfers more or less dropped out after the war, opting
to continue what had been interrupted.
One of this later crew was Dave Rochlen. On April 3, 1946, after
serving as a Marine in the South Pacific, Rochlen showed up at Malibu and
was particularly taken to a surfboard made by "some crippled guy named
"He's got a great attitude," said Rochlen of Simmons, "-- he calls
everyone fucking pussies." About Simmons' board shapes, "Rocky" Rochlen
noted, "There's something different going on here, the guy talks about
particulated molecular masses moving up the face of the wave." At Simmons'
house, on June 15, 1946, Simmons showed Rochlen and Joe Quigg his 12th
creation. It was a redwood and he credited influence from Gard Chapin and
Bud Morrisey. On the way home, Rochlen commented to Quigg that, "Yes indeed,
something remarkable is afoot."
"And when the war ended -- Boom -- we were back in the environment,"
Rochlen recalled. "It was devotion, like seeing a girl again... like, 'I'm
never gonna leave!' We gave ourselves over to it entirely. I think it was
because we spent four or five years in the war and we had survived. And
it had all been bad. Now there was no question about what had us by the
throat. It was the ocean. Everything else was secondary."
"What fueled Rochlen's, and others', great passion," postulated John
Grissim in his book Pure Stoke, "was their new independence, and
an unwillingness to drop back into a regimented social system. The stance
was not angry, it was go-it-alone, laissez-faire, unconsciously romantic,
and a bit escapist. But that life was based on a clear, clean, passionate
vision that was attainable -- as were the waves. Whenever and wherever
the swell was up, there was always plenty of room."
During the war, California waves had been left to beachcombers, kids,
vagabonds and civilian locals who worked in defense-related jobs.
One gremmie missing the war was Rennie Yater who, by the mid-1940s,
was riding a Pacific Ocean Ready Cut Homes board.
"I picked up one of those Pacific System Homes boards, probably -- I'll
say '46," recalled Rennie. "The board was the classic one with the nose
blocks and red pinewood rails, balsa center -- what they called the kettle
bottom round, flat deck. Tiny little fin. The Swastika model they made
was a little thinner board than that. It wasn't as big and bulky. It was
smaller, thinner. I didn't see those until later.
"The guy that had that business surfed San
Onofre, apparently, and had the ability to make those things, along
with the house projects. I don't know how many of those things they made.
A hundred? Two hundred? I have no idea. A hundred boards then was a lot
"Then I started going down and riding Doheny. You know, my dad would
take me down there. I had to make a rack on the back of the car to get
it in there. He'd take me and this other kid who lived up the street. We'd
go down there, right straight off. Probably did that for a couple of years...
mostly in the summer, because the winter really didn't have much surf there."
San Clemente, 1945-49
San Clemente was an a-typical Southern California beach town after
the war. It would later become best known as the center of the surf publication
"Ahh, San Clemente," recalled local Vince Nelson. "Perhaps the intervening
years have dimmed the past a bit, but it seems now that there were no winters
then, only school and summers... We were lucky to live in little 'ol San
Clemente; post-war, pre-population explosion, pre-sexual revolution, before,
during and after puberty in that kinder, gentler era."
.. Surf Mats
Vince Nelson and the Severson brothers first rode the San Clemente
pier area on Bud Gable's inflatible mats -- "'Surf Tans'... that's what
was stenciled on them," remembered Jim Severson. "We lived on those mats,
and learned a lot about surfing as we went; angling, timing, shooting the
green, turning back, shooting the pier. We put on a pretty gutsy show,
but the pier fishermen weren't our biggest fans. We'd be ducking lead weights,
and worried about getting hooked."
"Just as I saved for and dreamed of my first pair of Churchill's,"
recalled Nelson, speaking of the early swim fins, "I lusted for my own
surf mat. In the meantime, we all took turns (working) at the rental concession
so we could use the mats. No money was exchanged (since we had none). We
would pump those beauties up to the limit to get them hard enough to kneel
and stand on. They had an odd seam-busting defect in that one chamber would
break and then the mat would have a fat side to it. Lousy for surfing,
but the tourists didn't seem to mind too much (we were off sliding on the
hot one's). The staff was in the water more than in the concession, and
Buddy complained there were not enough mats for the cash customers."
.. Red Ryder
"We discovered S.C. in a great kid way," Jim Severson said. "You
could walk anywhere. There were trails across fields, through eucalyptus-lined
canyons and up and down the bluffs to the beach...
"Bikes were kind of scarce right after the war. Some of us had them,
but it was often simpler to walk because of the difficulty of getting bikes
through the canyons. Bob Sickafoose used to ride his bike to school; missed
the 2" x 8" bridge at the bottom and sung the crossbar blues for a few
days. Ouch! Also, we were big on throwing rocks. Just throwing to see what
we could hit. I don't want to say exactly what we threw at because there
might still be a few unsolved cases. We weren't bad, but everything was
magnified because it was such a small town. The cops loved us because they
tired of just writing traffic tickets. Bruce "Red" Crego was famous for
giving tickets to anyone, regardless of status. His favorite time was Del
Mar Racing season when he took great joy in nailing speeding stars. They
named him 'Red Rider.' He was also the juvenile watchdog. He hated Walter
Ryan and me because we built a tree house right over the spot he used to
park with a certain local schoolmarm. Then there was the time a big dog
was hit by a car and was flopping in the road. Walt and I watched as Red
Rider came flying up, siren screaming, and as city pound master, pulled
his revolver to dispatch the poor creature. 'Stand back, stand back!' he
ordered. Point-blank he shot and missed three times, before a lucky shot
mercifully ended it for the pooch. We spread the word of 'sure-shot' all
over town, further endearing ourselves to him. But somehow, we felt a lot
safer after that."
.. Pier Culture
"The pier; fishin', swimmin', bodysurfin', surf mats and exposure
to the lifeguards and surfing dentist Barney Wilkes, and proximity to the
surfing beaches led us on the natural progression to becoming Surf Kings.
(Or was it beach bums?)," remembered Vince Nelson.
"When the surf was good," added Jim Severson, "we'd get one of our
girl friends to watch the concession while we matted. We had fun with anything
"There were other kids in our gang," added Jim Severson. "Early on
it was Walter Ryan, Jim Coberly, Larry Jones, and later, Terry (T-Street
Terry) Miller, Ted Tafe, Bill Taylor, Tun Morgan, Tony Forster and the
crowd slowly grew."
"Before we could easily get to the surfboard meccas," noted Jim's
brother John, "we started making plywood bellyboards. They were about 2'
x 3' with rounded noses, varnished and usually had some distinctive painting.
Mine had a surfing gorilla. They would rip, compared to mats..."
"As we got older," Jim Severson said, "we needed more money to support
cars and girl friends, and got jobs washing dishes and pumping gas, but
the ultimate was... LIFEGUARD! Surfing lifeguards, with an emphasis on
the surfin'. But it was to be years before we ever had a cash surplus again."
.. Late '40s San Clemente Surfing
"Surfing was on my mind from the moment my sister Jane took me to
San Onofre with her date Tom 'Opai'
Wert, and I saw how gods walk on water." Jim Severson continued: "Before
we could drive, it was tough getting to Doheny and San Onofre where we
could learn. We'd hitch or get a lift and then borrow a board, usually
the worst 'dog' on the beach. Doheny lifeguard Dave Tansey was one of our
main sponsors. His redwood-balsa weighed over 100 pounds and we probably
didn't. Dave taught us to stand the board up and then lean it back into
the cradle of our arm, resting on our shoulder. We could get it there but
then couldn't lift a leg to walk. We'd just sway awhile until we sunk,
dodging the falling board. We ended up dragging it to the water.
"You'd paddle like mad and pretty soon the board would start moving.
Same with catching a wave. To get an angle, I'd stick an arm and a leg
in the water, drag into a turn, and then stand and ride for the green.
At the end of the wave, we eventually learned how to turn."
1st Fiberglass Hollowboard, 1946
The war had generated increased industrialism and advancements in
technology. In the economic boom of post-World War II society, California's
gains were especially significant. For example, between 1940 and 1944,
more than $8 million was invested in new industial plants alone. For surfers,
new materials like styrofoam, resin and fiberglass would mean fundamental
changes in surfboard composition, design and characteristics.
Fiberglass, resin and styrofoam came directly out of the World War
II technological boom. Preston "Pete" Peterson
was the first to utilize the new materials to make a 100% fiberglass hollow
board. He was assisted by Brant Goldsworthy, who had a plastics company
in Los Angeles which supplied component parts for aircraft during the war.
The board was constructed of two hollow molded halves joined together with
a central redwood stringer. The seam was sealed with fiberglass tape.
Origins of the "Existential Outlaw"
The origin of what Hollywood would later portray as the "existential
outlaw" of the 1950s lay in the return of the Allied combatants of the
Second World War.
Back in 1934, the total number of surfers in California was estimated
at approximately 80, most all in Southern California. "Because the number
of surfers was still relatively small," wrote Carin Crawford, "in the 1930s
and early 1940s, the arrival of each new participant was duly noted --
it was a period in which surfers would stop to greet each other when passing
on the road." One newspaper report estimated that within ten years after
World War II's dramatic ending there were, "as many as 1500 surfers in
Southern California." In his History of Surfing, Nat Young wrote,
"The surfing population grew to 5,000, with little colonies of dedicated
surfers springing up at Windansea, Oceanside, Laguna, Huntington Beach,
the South Bay, Malibu, Santa Cruz and good old San Onofre. They were all
aware of each other's existence through the movement of lifeguards up and
down the coast. These lifeguards formed a strong, prestigious movement
which had begun with Freeth [the first professional lifeguard] at Redondo
and spread to other places; they were responsible for patrolling the surfing
beaches of California from towers erected every mile or so along each beach.
In the early years they were State-controlled; later the county took over
their administration. Because the job paid well, and it put them right
where they wanted to be, most of California's finest surfers were lifeguards
at some stage of their careers."
"Most surfers, however," continued Young, "stayed in their own area
surfing with friends under conditions that were uncomplicated and loads
of fun. When the surf was up, they went surfing."
Buzzy Trent and Matt
Kivlin were two such. On October 12, 1946, they were doing their usual
hitch-hike to the beach. "The presence of their ungainly boards is enough
to prevent most from offering them a ride," wrote Craig Stecyk. "Fortunately,
today Joe Schecter is driving back to his colony house. Among local kids,
Joe is considered the ultimate ride, because not only will he haul your
timber, he'll drive you right into the beach at Old Joes. Today the gods
have favored our boys and they will catch it on the perfect tide."
"When the surf was down," continued Nat Young, surfers "hung around
the beach listening to surf stories. It was on these occasions that they
got to hear what was going on in the other surf spots. A few older surfers
traveled everywhere telling tales whenever they stopped." Bob Simmons had
been one of these traveling prophets until his death in 1954. Others included
Tom "Opai" Wert, Jim Fisher, Lorrin "Whitey" Harrison,
Barney Wilkes, and a bunch of the old San Onofre regulars. Doc
Ball was another of these. He published his landmark surfing book in
1946, originally entitled California Surfriders.
He also made a 16mm movie which was shown to friends and lent to surfing
clubs. The stories from this group of surfers often included tales of Malibu
and "how good the waves were up there," wrote Young, "and how it seemed
that the centre of California surfing had moved from San
Onofre up to Malibu
and was part of the search by surfers for a more challenging wave on which
the new style boards could be ridden."
With real insight, author John Grissim wrote that, "surfers of this
era possessed... a maverick spirit, combined with a commitment to having
fun," which, "pervaded the surfing community. 'Surfer' suggested a natural
bohemianism, an outlaw subculture that was daring, adventurous, sexy, and,
if not exactly illegal, at least on occasion illicit. As important, these
early veterans were tough, solid, and tested -- tested by waves as much
Some sources used:
A People's Heritage
Dave "Rocky" Rochlen
Dorian "Pascal" Paskowitz
Finney and Houston
History of Surfing
LeRoy "Granny" Grannis
Lorrin "Whitey" Harrison
Preston "Pete" Peterson,
Solberg and Morris
Surf-Riding, Its Thrills And Techniques
Surfing Subcultures of Australia and New Zealand,
The Surfer's Journal
Tom "Opai" Wert
TOM BLAKE: The Journey of A Pioneer Waterman
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