Surfing After World War II
Aloha and welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY
After World War II, as the title suggests, takes us back to the years after the Second World War,
specifically the years 1945-1949.
spread the stoke, and -- if you have the time -- let me know how I'm doing.
Photo circa 1948,
courtesy of Doc Ball and Family
"The Island kids
were doing amazing things on all kinds of their finless boards, but no
one ever gave them credit..."
-- Joe Quigg
"The first time
I rode Makaha it was about an 8' day. One time it got big and Georgie [Downing]
and them, they went out, and they came back and said, 'Hey Rabbit, try
there, breaking big, the point.' So that's when we'd go. We used to ride
the point a lot. Woody Brown, Wally [Froiseth], George, Henry Lum... they
were what you call the regulars, and I used to tag along. And after you
go there a couple of times you just get the bug."
Rabbit Kekai, talking about Makaha, later 1940s
"That was the
only trouble with the old boards,. They were fast -- my boards were faster
'n hell -- but, oh, you couldn't turn it. I couldn't use my boards in small
waves, with other guys out, cuz I'd just mow everybody down."
Woody Brown on the Hot Curl
"It was the late
1940s. That's when the first migration of what you call the haoles came.
That was Joe Quigg, Tommy Zahn, Matt Kivlin, a guy they called Melonhead
and Dave Rochlen. They were the first guys that brought down what we called
the potato chip boards; the Simmons."
Kekai on the Californians going Hawaiian
"The first hard-core
surf guys to hit Waikiki that I knew of, consisted of Pete Peterson, Lorrin
Harrision and Tom Blake who went there before the war... In the next crew
were Matt Kivlin, Joe Quigg, Dave Rochlen and Tom Zahn in about 1948 and
we were right after them."
-- Walter Hoffman
on the Coast Haoles
"... the fellas
would build a bonfire on the beach. Throw old discarded car tires [on the
fire]. And they got to stink, but -- anything to keep warm!"
Russ Takaki, on Surfari on the Mainland, 1949
Even after World
War II ended, wars and threats of war pervaded the post-war period.
Civil wars raged in many areas, the Soviet Union was militarily forcing
Eastern European countries to go communist, most of Asia was moving towards
communism, and what came to be called "The Cold War" descended upon most
of the world split between democratic and communist countries.
the post World War II period included things like the U.S. testing atomic
bombs in one of the world's most beautiful areas of the world -- the South
Pacific; the supersonic breaking of the sound barrier; flying saucers were
reported over the United States for the first time; the Dead Sea Scrolls
were discovered; Bell laboratories invented the transistor; and by 1947,
more than one million war veterans had enrolled in colleges under the U.S.
"G.I. Bill of Rights." Notable books published included The Diary of
Anne Frank (1947), Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care (1946),
Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Mickey
Spillane's I, the Jury (1947).
was a popular song of the time and could be said to represent the prevailing
surfer attitude. The surfer view certainly wasn't on the Cold War, but
rather on riding waves and exercising personal freedom. Possibly the only
noteworthy international news that surfers could relate to was Thor Heyerdahl's
sailing of a raft, in 1947, from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days. It was
like how Dave Rochlen put it:
"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."
in his book Pure Stoke, explained with some insight that "What fueled Rochlen's,
and others', great passion, 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."
In Hawai`i, use
of Hot Curl surfboards had risen to the
point that it was the board of choice amongst surfers wanting a piece of
the big stuff. Hot Curl usage continued through the 1940s and on into the
"Hot curls were
difficult to get started (paddling)," George Downing remembered, "but once
you got going, you'd really move along. Down the line you'd go fast. Your
limitations were that once you got locked into it, you could just ease
down and back up again and still maintain a lot of forward momentum. In
'51 when I built my first glassed balsa with a much flatter bottom and
with a skeg... the only thing it allowed me to do different was I could
go for the top and trim down a lot easier, and the transition to getting
back on the rail again was real quick, you had enough forward speed and
you could climb back up into the hook. Whereas on the redwood hot curl
board, once you'd drop, you'd have a hard time coming back up. The board
just wanted to stay there."
Around the same
age as George Downing, or at least in the same younger peer group than
the primary Hot Curl guys -- John Kelly, Wally Froiseth,
Heath and Woody Brown -- was Rabbit
Kekai. "Rabbit really started this style that they call hotdogging,"
said Californian Joe Quigg, who moved
to the islands a little after the war. "In the summer, Queen's would get
overhead and Rabbit would be inside of the tube hanging five with no fin
and his back arched. All you would see was this flying green blur visible
through the lip of the wave. He'd do it over and over again, always with
"The Island kids
were doing amazing things on all kinds of their finless boards, but no
one ever gave them credit," underscored Quigg. "Rabbit would come flying
out of the section, stomp on the tail real hard and stand the board straight
up on its tail and bring it down on a different angle and then run to the
nose and take off in another direction. I can remember paddling out at
Makaha in point conditions and pushing up through the lip on a big set
wave. Right at the top, as I'm about to punch through, I looked down and
there was Georgie [Downing] standing there smiling, going faster than hell
on his redwood. He was just streaking along in impossible situations and
making it because of positioning and all that inertia. Downing pioneered
the riding of really big, nasty waves."
"Rabbit and I
traded boards one day at Queen's," continued Quigg. "Rabbit was really
skinny when he was young and probably didn't weigh much at all, so I got
on his board and it just sank. I could stand on it in chest-deep water
and his hot curl would press to the bottom and lay right on the reef."
"We got our board's
length coming down, really trimmed with four inch tails and pointed nose,
and brought in to like 18 or 19 inches. They were pointers like the modern
day gun, that's how we had our boards. Redwood plants with a V tail. for
the big ones at Makaha, where we used to go a lot, we'd go out with the
width to 20 or 20 1/2 inches. At Makaha, you'd drop in, point and go...
make it through the bowl and do cutbacks and S turns on the inside. At
Queen's when we used to, ya know, get the hotdog deal going, my board was
like 7 or 7 1/2', sometimes up to 9'. I used to write 'Chi-Chi Bobo' on
that the various crews were surfing not just in the Waikiki and Makaha
areas, but on the North Shore, particularly Laniakea and Paumalu (later
renamed Velzyland or V-land, after Dale Velzy):
and everybody had a surfin' safari," recalled Rabbit of one particular
North Shore assault. It "started at Diamond Head right around the whole
island, every surf spot you can think of. That was back in the '40s."
Rabbit added that
they were even surfing Pipeline "way before" 1951. "Yeah, board surfing
Pipeline. We had a family home down on PaumaLu. We used to stay out there,
in like a big army barracks, you know, our family place. And in the back
there was a kitchen and outside there was a bath house, it was a big property
out there. During the weekends the family went out there. So during weekdays
Richard Kau, Squirrely, all us guys, we buy bread, pork and beans, sausage,
whatever we could afford and we stay down there in the place and we surf
all the places down there. Out in front close to where we lived there,
we used to surf that place every day, they call that V-land now. That's
the whole district by Sunset. The kids talk about V-land and I say we used
to surf there, it's a left, not a right.... In those days the reef on the
left made for a big, long wall, and we'd mow the left. We used to like
the left because we were used to going left at Publics, and we'd get good
surf, no reef problem. Now, hey you got rocks overe there on the left,
look how shallow it is. It's a big, steep break goint to the right. But
try to go left over there somedays, and the thing just collapse on you."
"At its apex in
the mid-1940s," wrote C.R. Stecyk, "there were around thirty-five top flight
practitioners of the art of hot curl surfing. Names which still inspire
respect among the cognizant include: Mongo Kalahiki, Richard Kauo, Blackie
Makahena, John Kelly, Jr., Rabbit Kekai,
Smokey Lew, Hyah Aki, Louis Hemma, Squirrely, Fran Heath, Jonah Hemma,
Snookie Whaley, George Downing, Black Dan, Eugene Kaupiko, Blackout Whaley,
Wally Froiseth, Small Sam, Woody Brown, Dickie
Cross... The complete absence of any surf media during the hot curl period
was further compounded by the Island's remoteness and World War II, all
of which served to make the movement invisible to a greater audience. Furthermore
the hot curl aficionados favored restricted entry (i.e. clan controlled)
surf spots and often frequented the jucier breaks which were located farther
"A later key participant
in this crucial cross-pollination ritual," continued Stecyk, "was Tommy
Zahn who arrived in Honolulu in 1947. He in turn immediately lured
Joe Quigg, Dave Rochlen and Matt Kivlin to come down soon after. All were
armed with provocative, finned balsa Malibu
chip surfboards. These wide tailed boards were immediately suspect.
Quigg remembers a recurrent phrase of the day being repeatedly uttered,
'Oh, all that balsa, what a waste.' Rabbit who personally befriended the
Malibu set, rode their boards, but at that point, characterized them as
'mushers.' The varnished balsa pintail with pine center stringer sported
by Quigg employed a dead flat bottom, 50/50 rails and a turned down hard
rail in the tail. On his way back to the mainland aboard the S.S. Lurline,
Joe decided to cut the center out of his pintail and reattach the rails,
thus making a narrower board. Kivlin and Quigg returned to Malibu where
they reported the virtues of finless hot curl sliding to a skeptical public.
The 1948 arrival on the mainland of Downing, Froiseth and Russ
Takaki demonstrated to many doubters the viability of the finless,
hot curl surfing. It was on this trip that the Hawaiians met Bob Simmons
who introduced them to his concepts of composite material construction
using foam, wood and fiberglass. In '49, Quigg returned to the Islands
with his pared down balsa quiver. Additionally he personally investigated
hot curl theory while building a couple of boards for himself in Wally's
shop. Kivlin and Rochlen were also in and out of the scene with Dave hooking
up an occasional old redwood plank which could be reshaped by himself,
Matt or whoever, into a suitable hot curl.
"Back on the coast,
Quigg built a couple of demonstrator hot curls around 1949/50, 'just to
prove the point.' One Kivlin project from this period, a redwood replica
of Rabbit's board was an absolute sinker. Joe remembers it as being 'unpaddleable...
at least for us.' This board was then recycled into a trophy -- hence the
birth of the 'Malibu Perpetual Surfboard.' Around '51, Kivlin gave Rabbit
a sleek, pulled-in, red colored, finned, balsa chipper which he had originally
built for his wife. Kekai rode this board for several years winning both
at Makaha and Peru. During this same period, Downing incorporated his high-speed,
hot curl theories into a finned, fiberglassed balsa gun. For this board
he created an experimental removable fin unit which allowed him to test
fin shapes and placement. Wally Froiseth went on to become one of the pioneers
of the surfing industry in Hawai`i, creating guns as well as a series of
innovative paipo boards under his Surf Shop Hawaii label."
Search for Big Surf & the Move to Makaha
As long as there's
been surfing, there's been the quest for the longest ride and the biggest
wave. Although we don't know much about pre-European
contact Polynesia, we do know that in mid-1800s Hawai`i, Chief Abner
Paki rode only when the swells were larger than normal. "The Father of
Duke Kahanamoku, shortly
after 1900, was riding huge honkers off Waikiki. Later, Tom
Blake and others would do the same. That said, however, the quest for
big surf and nothing but big surf really began with the birth of the Hot
Curl surfboard in 1938 and progressed from there.
A half decade
after the development of the Hot Curl, Dickie Cross' death and Woody Brown's
near demise while surfing Sunset and trying to get in at Waimea, on the
North Shore of O`ahu, was like a shock wave throughout the small community
of island surfers riding big waves. For the first time, a surfer was lost
during obvious big surf and swell conditions. There was a point that could
be reached where what once had been a rideable wave was no longer. Or,
still, could big Waimea be ridden? What was the biggest wave that could
be ridden? No one knew for sure. In fact, we still don't know. But, following
Dickie Cross' death at Waimea on December 22, 1943, one thing was for sure:
the North Shore of O`ahu became like voodoo.
After the North
Shore of O`ahu became hexed, "with Wally and them, we went to Makaha,"
on the west side, recalled Woody Brown. "We found that place there and
that was better. It had big waves -- 25 feet -- but, they were out on a
point. Makaha had a nice wall across the bay and a nice shoulder you could
make all the way across. It even had a channel to go in and out. So, you
can't beat that. The shore break was awful. Oh, God! The shore break was
so bad, 8-10 feet on the bare sand! You just threw your board away and
swam in. You weren't about to go in with your board, you know?"
I asked Woody
when the actual gravitation to Makaha took place. "Oh, after that episode
with Dickie Cross over there on the other side of the island," Woody replied.
"Wally and them said, 'Well, there's a good place at Makaha. Come on, we'll
go over there.' So, we went over there. That's when we started surfing
there. They had surfed there a couple of times. At least they knew about
it. That was good surf; that was really good."
During the war,
Woody became part of the first group of surfers to actively seek big waves
wherever they might be. This group included Hot Curl riders Wally Froiseth,
John Kelly, Fran Heath, Doug Forbes and a little
later Russ Takaki, and George Downing.
"You see, in those
days, you didn't have the numbers of surfers you have today," Fran Heath
told me. The small group of Hot Curlers, who had been driven to improve
their boards for riding big surf, slowly began to look outside their realm
of Honolulu for surf spots that would challenge them further -- unknown
places. "The idea, then," Fran summed up, "was to get the biggest wave
you could; to get in the curl; to get in the tube."
They had first
started surfing Makaha around 1938, shortly after the first Hot Curl was
cut. Yet, it wasn't until after the war that they got into it in a big
"We started going
to Makaha all the time," Fran remembered. "We'd try to bring other guys
out with us, but one of three things would happen. If the surf was good,
they might go out with us and have a helluva hard time out there. If it
was really good, they'd usually end up sitting on the beach. Of course,
if it was flat, they'd give us a hard time about our 'exaggerations.'"
For pilot, sailor
and surfer Woody Brown, Makaha "was a better surf than the North Shore.
We had nice, long lines! Again, it broke out on that point. There's a peak,
see, and then you could slide all the way across the bay.
"I've seen 25
feet, there, and you could make every damn one! In fact, we were making
every one. We kept moving more over to the point, more in the bone yard.
We kept moving over and still we were making 'em! Move further; still make
'em! And, move waay 'till we were way out in front of that point and: still
make 'em across!
"And I've seen
other days when you couldn't make one, no matter where you sat. It all
depends on the angle the waves come in; how they hit the shallow water.
That determines the shape of it, mostly. Size is up or down. Naturally,
if it's in further, the shape of the reef's different than it is out, but
mostly it's the angle they come in at."
I asked Woody
about the North Shore. How long after Dickie Cross' death was it that people
began to surf there again? "Oh, a long, long time. Nobody surfed there
for another 5, maybe 8, 10 years," Woody answered.
"We went Makaha,
see. Everybody went Makaha, first. Then, the guys started going the North
Shore. Then, there was Makaha and the North Shore. But, Makaha was first."
"The first time
I rode Makaha it was about an 8' day," recalled Rabbit Kekai. "One time
it got big and Georgie [Downing] and them, they went out, and they came
back and said, 'Hey Rabbit, try there, breaking big, the point.' So that's
when we'd go. We used to ride the point a lot. Woody Brown, Wally [Froiseth],
George, Henry Lum... they were what you call the regulars, and I used to
tag along. And after you go there a couple of times you just get the bug."
Rabbit Kekai was
asked who of the moderns it was to ride the North Shore and he answered,
"Nobody used to go out there. Then the town guys started to go. The pioneers
I would say would be George Downing, Wally [Froiseth], Henry Lum, Woody
between the Hot Curls and the redwood/balsa planks that preceded them was,
according to Rabbit Kekai, "A plank was mostly for down the wall -- straight.
Like at Cunha's [off Waikiki] we had what we'd call a ten second curl where
[with a Hot Curl] we'd go a hundred yards in and a thousand yards across.
We had it set up with buoys. So your time would tell you what kinda speed."
This was around 1948-49 and the speed was between 30 and 40 mph. "We'd
shoot across the whole wall like that and come out smiling," added Rabbit.
In the late 1940s,
the crew at Makaha was accompanied by a slowly growing number of Mainland
haoles. "Makaha point surf... [was] the ultimate challenge," for Hot Curl
riders and non-Hot Curlers, attested Peter Cole who came after the initial
crew at Makaha, in the 1950s. "When these waves wrap around Kaena Point
from the north, they reach their peak in the bowl and are nearly impossible
Brown... He was a big wave rider only!" Recalled Walter Hoffman, who
came over in 1948. "The biggest wave I ever saw ridden was by him at Makaha
in the early days. God, that wave was fabulous! He... lived right above
the Tavern with his wife Ma Brown -- to this day a really neat guy, a real
As for another
Makaha regular, Henry Lum, recalled Woody, he "was such a "skinny Chinaman
and so frail; couldn't have weighed more'n a hundred pounds. He'd go out
in those big waves. Boy, he was so weak and skinny, you know. Wally and
I said, 'Well, I guess we're not gonna see Henry again.' Twenty foot waves!
He convinced us he wanted to go out. He could surf alright, but, you know,
he was so frail! But, he always seemed to live through it. We rescued him
acoupla times. In the white water you get exhausted, eh? But, he did alright.
He kept going. I give him credit, boy; a lot of guts, that guy."
George Downing's Slot Board
had finally caught on, "allowing surfboards to be much shorter and lighter."
I mentioned to Woody that it seemed like it took a long time for the skeg
to catch on. "Yeah," he admitted. "In fact, I didn't want a skeg. I rebelled
against it. We had shaped boards so they wouldn't slide ass, you know.
And I said, 'What the hell do you want a skeg for?'
"'Oh,' they said,
'It makes it better.' So, I rode a board with a skeg on it and it didn't
seem to make a difference. So, then George Downing and I made a super board
for big waves at Makaha. We had learned to flatten out the rumps a bit.
See, you have to have a V. If you don't have a skeg, you gotta have a V
or a round tail and then it won't slide ass. That holds it. But, the shallower
you make the V, the faster it is! The trouble is, you flatten the V, then
it gets loose and then it wants to slide ass.
"So, we made one
with a pretty flat back end, with little curves on the sides. And so Georgie
said, 'I'll make a slot, so we can put a skeg in or take it out. We can
try it and see the difference.' So, we went Makaha. They were about 15
foot peaks that day. He went out there without the skeg, first, and he
rode it. It rode beautiful; fine. Oh, just no trouble at all. Georgie came
in and said, 'Well, let's put the skeg in and just try it, anyway. See
the difference. See what it's about.' So, he puts the skeg in and went
"It looked like
he was riding the same, but he came back in and said, 'Hey, Woody, it's
much better with a skeg.' So, from that point on, he started putting skegs
on 'em. I asked, 'How is it better?' He said, 'Well, it's not any faster,
but it's more solid and you can turn it real easy with a skeg,' which we
couldn't do before. Our boards were real stiff turning."
"That was the
only trouble with the old boards," Woody continued. "They were fast --
my boards were faster 'n hell -- but, oh, you couldn't turn it. I couldn't
use my boards in small waves, with other guys out, cuz I'd just mow everybody
down. Once I set it in at just kind of an angle like that, I couldn't turn.
All I could do was drop down or climb up a little bit. But, as far as turning,
I couldn't turn it. So, you couldn't ride small waves with it. But, it
had the speed on the big waves! Man, I could get across where nobody could
get across! Which sounds right. Nobody wants to get caught in 20 feet of
While at Makaha,
George Downing developed a patent dismount. "George's technique of bailing
off the tail of the board," commented Peter Cole, "diminished any chance
of being hit by the board."
Waikiki Surf Club, 1947
No two ways about
it, World War II had interrupted the lives of most everyone in the "civilized"
world and, in the case of surfing, put a lot of things on hold. Following
the war, however, there was resurgent interest in and some changes in how
surfing was organized in its traditional early 20th Century capitol, Waikiki.
By the end of
1946, the two main original Waikiki surf clubs had changed considerably.
The native Hui Nalu had limited its activities
mostly to outrigger canoe racing. The haole-influenced Outrigger
Canoe Club had become more of an exclusive prestige-type establishment,
"with a wide range of social and athletic interests." So, in 1947, the
Waikiki Surf Club was formed for the same reasons that the other two had
originally been put together. "Its purpose," wrote surfing historian Ben
Finney, "was to promote surfing as well as other Hawaiian water sports.
It provided board lockers and clothes changing facilities near the beach,
for anyone who could pay the small initiation fee and monthly dues."
It was obvious
that the Waikiki Surf Club filled a void, when, under the leadership of
John Lind, it enrolled 600 members in three months -- some of whom were
California surfers that were just starting to come over to the Islands.
"We had [island local] members like George Downing, Wally Froiseth, Russ
Takaki," recalled relocated California surfer Walter Hoffman. "The Outrigger
was down the beach, at $200 per month -- a rich guy's club, very exclusive,
you had to be voted in. Our club was for the regular guys who surfed, so
it was a great place to meet everybody -- where all the transplant Californians
"The club was
downstairs in the basement of this house... and consisted of some lockers,
showers and a place to leave your board." A local guy named Taka was club
attendant around the time Walt Hoffman and Ted Crane first came over in
The Waikiki Surf
Club was followed by other newer clubs and the ongoing health of the older
ones, but much of the post-war growth of surfing at Waikiki was, undoubtedly,
due to the existence of the Waikiki Surf Club. The club did more than just
provide a place for surfers to hang and keep their gear close to the beach.
The club also initiated and sponsored several surfing and watermen events
that stimulated public interest and fostered competition. Among these were:
the Diamond Head Surfboard Championships, the Molokai-Oahu Outrigger Canoe
Race, the Makapu Bodysurfing Championships, and what was to become famous
as not only the first big wave surfing contest, but the first truly international
surf contest: the International Surfing Championships
gathering place for O`ahu surfers "was the Waikiki Tavern," recalled Walter
Hoffman, "-- watering hole, hangout and 'cultural center' for the transplant
surfers from California."
or "coast haoles," increased in number in the late 1940s. Tommy
Zahn kicked it off, in 1947, bringing
Matt Kivlin and Dave Rochlen over on his glowing reports of the surf.
These were followed by Walt Hoffman and Ted Crane, in 1948.
The Tavern's hey
day as surfer sanctuary spanned, perhaps, no more than the decade of the
1940s. Certainly, by the beginning of the 1950s, the Tavern was history.
Kekai said that, "when the Tavern went, everything went. They had a
bar they called the Merry-go-round Bar. It was like a boxing ring, fights
every night. The Waikiki Surf Club was upstairs and next to that was Woody
Brown's house. They tore it all out at the same time and left flat beach,
that's where the Duke statue now stands."
Woody Brown, his
second wife Rachel -- aka "Ma Brown" -- and their two kids "lived over
the Waikiki Tavern," continued Rabbit. "The Waikiki Surf Club was down
on the side, where Woody, Wally, myself, John Linn were charter members,
everybody was there. So, he [Woody] used to stay up there and he used to
take care of us kids, my brother Jamma and I. In certain ways we took care
of him and in certain ways he and Maw took care of us."
Wave of Coast Haoles, 1947-48 -- Zahn, Quigg, Kivlin & Rochlen
If we consider
people like Tom Blake and Sam Reid being
the "first wave" of mainland surfers to come to Hawai`i, during the 1920s;
and if we consider Preston "Pete" Peterson, Lorrin
"Whitey" Harrison, Gene "Tarzan" Smith and their peers being in the
"second wave," during the 1930s; then the "third wave" of Californians
to surf Hawaiian waters was comprised of the likes of Joe Quigg, Tommy
Zahn, Matt Kivlin, Melonhead (Porter Vaughn) and Dave Rochlen in the late 1940s.
"It was the late
1940s," remembered Rabbit Kekai. "That's when the first migration of what
you call the haoles came. That was Joe
Quigg, Tommy Zahn, Matt Kivlin, a guy they called Melonhead and Dave
Rochlen. They were the first guys that brought down what we called the
potato chip boards; the Simmons."
surfboard design back on the Mainland in the period after the war, Bob
Simmons was the man and his boards were thee machines. Quigg and Kivlin
were associated with him and so it was natural that they were riding his
designs. Both Quigg and Kivlin were shapers, themselves, and Quigg went
on to become one of the greatest surfboard shapers in history. He and Kivlin
and the others would be largely responsible for the emergence of the "Malibu
board," which popularized the sport throughout the 1950s. But, at war's
end and the beginning of the closing of what Churchill, in 1946, labelled
the "Iron Curtain," Quigg and Kivlin were still the apprentices, while
Simmons was the master.
"We were amazed
to see them on those boards," continued Rabbit, "they were just standing
at the back end on them because they had those wide tails with just one
skeg in the center or concave tails with twin fins. Rochlen and Quigg had
twin fins. Kivlin had one of his own single finned boards with a narrower
Rabbit was asked
if the Hawaiians quit using the Hot Curls in favor of the Simmons boards.
"No," he replied. "We still used our own boards, but we tried those potato
chip boards, and... my opinion was... they were mushers. Yeah. That's what
the Simmons were. They had concaves or were wide and flat in the back,
with big bellies and kick in the nose. We tried 'em, but they were mushers...
good for doing slow turns and maneuvers. But... (chuckling) no speed."
A major factor
in surfing's post-war growth was this migration to Hawai`i of hard-core
surfers from California. The previous two waves of mainland surfer migrations
to Hawai`i, prior to the war, had been mild compared to this third. And
the third was small compared to subsequent waves that occurred following
the distribution of the first big wave photograph over international press
services in 1953. Once the mid-to-late 1940s Californians, "rode the great
north swell at Makaha, northwest of Waikiki," wrote Ben Finney in 1960,
"the rush from California really began. Since 1949 many Californians, as
if proving Jack London's prophesy, have taken up permanent residence in
Hawaii, to be on hand when the surf is running. Many others make the 25000-mile
trip annually to spend a month or so riding the towering fall and winter
waves on Oahu's north shore. This flow of Californians bringing new board
designs and fresh riding techniques made a terrific impact on the Hawaiian
sport. After the war, in fact, Hawaiian surfing was spurred by the combination
of its enthusiastic internal growth with this stimulus from its nearest
The reality was
even more Spartan. "I befriended Matt and Rochlen," told Rabbit. "Then
we got to know the rest of the guys and hang around together. A lot of
times you wouldn't believe it. No money. They'd come around shoe string,
like with about 25 dollars apiece. For housing, they rented a garage from
Dickie Cross. I think it was like ten dollars a month. This was Matt Kivlin,
Melon, Joe Quigg, Dave Rochlen, Tom Zahn. They built bunks out of 2" X
4"s and kept their boards under their bunks and that's where they lived,
in that one little garage."
varied by surfer, but most all revolved around the beach. "In those days,"
recalled Rabbit Kekai, "I had the board rental.
How I got it was this man had put on an aquacades show at the Natatorium
and they had painted all the surfboards florescent and after the show the
guy was stuck with these twelve boards. So he wanted to sell 'em and nobody
had money but I had bucks then because I was... (Rabbit makes a dice throwing
motion)... so I told him, 'OK, a hundred bucks,' and he said, 'Sold!' So
I put them down at the banyan tree and we used to rent 'em for like a dollar
an hour. And I used to get bucks, boy. Quigg and the guys, if they'd like
a dollar to go eat, I'd tell 'em, 'Rent three boards, gimme two, you take
one.' Matt Kivlin and those guys they'd just make the bucks enough to eat
and that's it. I used to live high on the hog off those boards though.
I told everybody, 'You need a dollar to go movie or somethin' to eat, you
know, rent three boards.' We had a good trick in those days. [The rental]
Boards were hollow and we used to put corks in the drain holes. We used
to tell 'em when they'd rent the board, 'Don't lose that cork or water
will fill it up.' And they'd say, 'Oh, OK.' And when you'd push 'em out,
you'd shove the damn thing and pull the cork out (laughing). And they'd
paddle out but come right back in cause the board was so heavy. Shave the
time. That's how we'd do it."
were equally colorful. Again, Rabbit provides a somewhat less than honest
example. "I used to rent a place down by where Sonny Cunha lived, and on
weekends I'd have about 15-16 guys all over the floor. Sometimes I'd come
home and couldn't find room on my bed. They'd sleep on top, under, on the
floor, in the closet, in the bathroom, in the bathtub, all over. So I'd
go over to my friends place and sleep there. My take off each day was about
$70 or $80 [from the surfboard rental business] and I'd take about $20
and take all the guys I could to the Tavern for the $1.25 all-you-can-eat.
And the other guys that don't have any money they'd sit on the outside
and we'd fill up da plate and pass 'em over the wall. Ahhh, we had fun."
Wave, 1948 -- Hoffman, Crane, et. al
and his friends comprised the next wave of Coast haoles to come to O`ahu,
after Zahn, Quigg, Kivlin and Rochlin.
Hoffman had started
surfing Malibu in 1946 when he was going to school at Hollywood High. "Walt's
father," wrote Steve Pezman
in The Surfer's Journal, "was in the printed fabric business, was
selling to George Brangier and Nat Norfleet Sr. of Kahala (one of the original
Hawaiian aloha shirt makers), who sent surfing pictures of Hawaii to young
Walter. Also stimulating Walt's interest in Hawaii were early conversations
with Lorrin Harrison at San Onofre who had gone there in the '30s to surf."
"The first hard-core
surf guys to hit Waikiki," from the Mainland, declared Hoffman, "that I
knew of, consisted of Pete Peterson, Lorrin
Harrision and Tom Blake who went there
before the war... In the next crew were Matt Kivlin, Joe Quigg, Dave Rochlen
and Tom Zahn in about 1948 and we were right after them."
Hoffman and crew
became, in essence, the Fourth Wave of Coast haoles to go Hawaiian in 1948.
Walter Hoffman and Ted Crane arrived in Waikiki in the Summer of 1948,
having come across on the S.S. Lureline.
"Waikiki was about
the only place anybody surfed in the islands at the time," told Hoffman.
"The day we got off the boat the surf was first break. Huge! George Downing
took us out to outside Public's."
return to O`ahu each summer until he enlisted in the Navy and then stationed
"Over the years
during the summer months," Walter Hoffman wrote of the period 1948-49,
"I rented different houses all over Waikiki and lived with different guys
-- had great times and adventures with them all."
of the big events of 1949, Walter Hoffman said the 4th of July paddle race
that year, "was one of the big confrontations in George Downing's life!
'Big Jimmy' had been the paddling king of Waikiki until young George beat
him in a sprint from the Outrigger Canoe Club to down the beach in front
of the Waikiki Tavern. Big Jimmy refused to accept that George was faster,
claiming that it was the equipment -- that George had used a faster board.
So Downing offered to switch boards and go again. According to George,
on that second race he stayed close behind Big Jimmy on his left flank
-- then moved to his right, then passed him at the finish line. After that
race, Big Jimmy reportedly quit paddling."
Hanging out with
Walt Hoffman and friends at the Waikiki Surf Club in those days was Kui
Lee, Reno Abellira's uncle. Kui Lee, "was a young renegade kid who later
became a famous song writer ('I Remember You,' 'One Paddle, Two Paddle'),"
recalled Walter, "but at the time just a kid who would surf with us and
sang and played Hawaiian music with Chubby Mitchell. He died at a young
age from cancer and became a legend bigger than life."
"When I first
got to the islands," Hoffman recalled, "I heard about Makaha. So I started
going out there in the winter and found out that, shit man, the place got
really big. Dave Mojas and myself were the first two California guys really
actively surfing it three to four times a week for the entire winter. That
was the year I took movies (which I still have). I also sent still pictures
to Flippy (brother Phillip) and Buzzy telling
them to get over here -- it's bitchin. And Burrhead saw those and all those
guys came the next year for the winter, ans we camped on the beach at Makaha.
From then on for the next few years we would rent houses near Makaha for
the winter and in Waikiki during the summertime."
Curlers Surfari California, 1949
The second summer
Hoffman and crew rented digs in Waikiki, Wally Froiseth
and friends turned the travelling tide by making a sailing surfari to the
Mainland. In a sort of surfer mutual exchange, on August 9, 1949 Wally
Froiseth, George Downing and Russ
Takaki took an historic surf safari to the Mainland, where, as Wally
put it, "We made kind of a sensation with our boards."
arrived by sailboat, crewing from O`ahu to San Diego, then bought a Model
A Ford and surf safaried between Windansea, and Santa Cruz.
Downing and myself," took the trip, explained Russ Takaki, "and there was
two other guys and the skipper and a cook.
"We didn't sail
back. I didn't have that long of a vacation. It took 15 days to sail out
to San Diego and then we -- ah, um -- we had our sleeping bags and we bummed
up and down the coast a couple of weeks, maybe more. Then, we had to fly
Stopping at Malibu,
the three renewed friendships with watermen Pete Peterson, Matt Kivlin,
Dave Rochlen, Buzzy Trent and others. While there,
the waves were unseasonably small and the water colder than usual. Pidgin
parlance summed it up: "It no wave sho 'so no can go." Russ, in his modest
manner, not wanting to put the Coast waves down, merely described: "Fair
surf at Windansea and a little bit at Malibu."
Russ shifted from waves to water. "When Wally, Geo'ge Downing and I sailed
dat yacht to San Diego, we never had any wet suits. Nobody had wet suits.
At that time. And, you know, with our redwood boards -- you know, they
didn't float that high [off the surface of the water]. But, when you're
young, you know, you don't mind that much. Never freezing, but we got to
"... the fellas
would build a bonfire on the beach. Throw old discarded car tires [on the
fire]. And they got to stink, but -- anything to keep warm!"
has a number of classic photographs taken of this trip, that can be seen
in Nat Young's History of Surfing. I asked Russ about some of the
other surfers I saw in Wally's photos.
"We got off [the
yacht] and got to know all the guys who surfed," Russ said about who the
Hawaiians hung out with. "After all, we slept on the beach."
"You could do
that in those days," I said.
"Yeah, those days
nobody bothered [you]."
"Several of the
California surfers," Russ added, "would trace our boards on large sheets
of paper and did a fair job of imitating our boards."
Adding to Russ'
recollections of the Mainland trip, Wally Froiseth mentioned they had gotten
to see surfing's first photographer Doc Ball and that they stirred up a
lot of interest among California surfers to go Hawaiian.
"Yeah, well, see,
after we made this trip to the Coast," Wally told me, "guys started comin'
down, little by little; send pictures back and go back with stories of
their own. At one point, I got a letter from [Pete] Peterson. He writes
me, telling me, 'Hey, Wallace, this guy here says you guys are out surfing
Barber's Point in 60-foot waves -- that right?'"
Some sources used:
Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz
History of Surfing
Lorrin "Whitey" Harrison
Porter Vaughn (Melonhead)
Preston "Pete" Peterson
The Longboard Quarterly
The Surfer's Journal
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