The Golden Age of Malibu
Malibu Point art courtesy of Bob Merson.
"You have it all. There's nothing better around;
you did a lot of homework. It's great stuff; makes it seem like it was
yesterday and not 43 years ago."
comments on this chapter, April 1999
Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY
SURFERS. It was a time when Malibu replaced San Onofre as the center
of surfing in California. A different surf culture was developing in the
era of the "Cold War" and Malibu was at its heart. While many of the stories
from the pre-Gidget period of Malibu's Golden Age still remain to be written
and documented, please enjoy the following sampling...
San Onofre, Mainland Surfing's 1st Capitol
Malibu's Chumash Origins
Malibu Riders 1926-46
Malibu's War Riders
Simmons' Testing Site
Brave New World
The Existential Outlaw
Tom "Opai" Wert & Terry "Tubesteak" Tracy
Malibu Surf Culture
Tubesteak Tutors Kemp Aaberg, May 21, 1956
Gidget, the Girl Midget, June 27, 1956
Malibu's 1st Annual Luau, Summer's End 1956
Sources & Resources
George Freeth, Father
of Southern California Surfing, had brought the sport over from Hawai`i
in 1907. Due to his influence at Redondo Beach
and Duke Kahanamoku's periodic presence along
the beaches of Southern California, surfing got underway on the U.S. Mainland
just a little over a decade after it was revived in Hawai`i. Some of the
Hawaiian culture surrounding wave riding came afterwards, with the visits
to the Islands of surfing innovator Tom Blake
and Sam Reid. However, the Aloha Spirit was not infused into Mainland surfing
until the cross-pollination of surfers like Preston
"Pete" Peterson and Lorrin "Whitey" Harrison
who, more than anyone else, was responsible for Polynesian culture's presence
at the Mainland's version of Waikiki - San Onofre.
Mainland Surfing's 1st Capitol
Due to Freeth's exhibitions at Redondo Beach
and Duke's occasional visits to Santa Monica and Corona
del Mar, Mainland surfing's gestation began in these two areas of Southern
California. After Freeth's death in 1919, surfing
activity shifted from Redondo further south to Corona del Mar. Before the
breakwater was put in, Corona del Mar was considered to be "the surfing
At a time when the entire Mainland surfing
population numbered less than 50 guys and a few girls, it was San Diego
surfer Bob Sides that lead the first charge to San
Onofre. This was logical, as "Sides traveled between San Diego and
up here [Corona del Mar] frequently and he said, 'Hey Whitey, there's this
neat spot down south where the waves break way out." Bob Sides declared
of Corona del Mar, in 1933:
"They're wrecking this place."
"So," said Whitey Harrison
of his first trip to San O, "we loaded up a whole bunch of people into
touring cars... and we went down there and tried it out." In addition to
Sides and Whitey, the crew included George "Nelly Bly" Brignell, Ned Leutzinger,
Joe Parsons, Lucien Knight, Winfred Harrison, Ethel Harrison, George Minor,
Hubert Howe, Glen Bishop and Orly Minor. "We went clear down to where the
atomic plant is now and surfed that spot," continued Whitey. "Then we came
back up the beach and tried it right where the main shack is now. That's
where we found it was always steadiest. The surf was always pretty good...
We weren't the first people to go down there, people had been going fishing
down there for years and stayin' all night. The ranchers [who owned the
land] didn't seem to mind. In fact, the first time we went there, they
were making a Hollywood movie. They had built this big palm thatch house
right on the beach. We slept in it the first night we stayed there. This
was about 1933/34. By 1935, Corona del Mar was over with, and San Onofre
was our main spot."
By the mid-1930s, San Onofre was firmly established
as the Mainland's counterpart to Waikiki. In Dorian "Pascual" Paskowitz's
it was "the meeting place for surfers up and down the California coast...
Friday and Saturday nights were gay 'ole times, with Hawaiian guitar, Tahitian
dances and no small amount of boozing." During the days, long hours were
spent in the surf of what is now known as "Old Mans." San O would dominate
the next decade as surfing's cultural centre, focal point, and meeting
Well to the north of San Onofre, before it
became Mainland surfing's Mecca, Tom Blake started
building surfboards in Santa Monicain the mid-1920s. One of the first people
to own a Blake surfboard was Sam Reid. It was Reid and Blake who were the
first ones to ride Malibu Point on September 1926.
Originally home to the members of the Chumash
and Gabrielino tribes, Malibu had been inhabited for approximately 7,000
years. The word "Malibu" is a corruption of the Chumash word Maliwu, the
name of the Chumash village located at the mouth of Malibu Canyon, near
Following the area's takeover by the Spanish
in 1805, 13,316 acres of shoreline and adjacent mountain land were granted
by the Spanish government to Jose Tapia, a former soldier. The land was
included as part of what became Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit.
Frederick and May Rindge purchased the ranchland
in 1887, following the American takeover from the Spanish. The Rindge family
soon began an intense struggle with the new state of California to seclude
Malibu by preventing construction of the intended public highway to run
along the coast - what is now known as Highway 1, or the Coast Highway.
"The story of Malibu is very interesting,"
noted world champion surfer Nat Young, in his 1983 History of Surfing.
"Rancho Malibu had been handed down to Rhoda May Ringe [sic] in 1905 when
her husband Frederick died. She built her own railroad from the pier in
Malibu to the northern end of her ranch at the Ventura County line. In
1926 Rhoda May Ringe was forced to give up." Before she did so, she had
gone as far as hiring armed guards to keep out trespassers and dynamiting
highway construction attempts. She eventually exhausted her financial resources
in court battles, which she lost. The state opened the highway through
Malibu in 1929. First known as the Roosevelt Highway, it is now what we
all know as "Highway 1," or the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
"She had fought a battle with the authorities,"
continued Young, writing of Rhoda May Rindge, "for 17 years," to preserve
her 26 miles of coastal land, "had been ridiculed by the press for standing
in the way of progress, and had gone four times to the California Supreme
Court." In the process, "She completely exhausted her considerable fortune."
What became known as the "Malibu Colony" began
when May Rindge began leasing her shoreline property to writers and entertainers.
The exclusive community is now inhabited by movie stars, musicians and
other celebrities. "It's interesting to consider," pondered Young, "that
had [she] gone along with government access to her land she would probably
have been able to keep her ranch and thus all the coastal land from Topanga
to the Ventura County line."
It was at the end of Rhoda May Rindge's battle
with the State of California, in September 1926, that Tom Blake and Sam
Reid made their foray into Malibu to become the first surfers ever to ride
Sam Reid vividly recalled the day Malibu was
"Visualize, if you can, a beautiful September
day in California. On this day, the first wave was ridden at what was then
Malibu Ranch, stretching from Las Flores Canyon to Oxnard, and owned by
Samuel K. Rhindge. The coast hiway was then a two lane road, dirt most
of the way. Tom Blake had stopped by the Santa Monica Swimming Club to
pick me up. In those days, cowboys with guns and rifles still rode the
Malibu Ranch, and the gate at Las Flores Canyon had a 'Forbidden -- No
Trespassing' sign on it. We took our 10' redwoods out of the Essex rumble
seat and paddled the mile to a beautiful white crescent-shaped beach that
didn't have a foot print on it. No buildings and, of course, no pier! There
was no audience but the seagulls."
Tom Blake recalled that, "the Malibu Ranch
had recently opened-up. Sam and I drove up there. The road was black topped.
I had previously noted surf there. The day we arrived, the waves were about
3' high. The area was deserted except for seagulls and pelicans and the
Rhindge house. To be the first to ride it, I caught a 3-foot wave. We played
around in it for an hour or so. Real exclusive riding."
The boards ridden that day were of varnished
solid California redwood. A rockerless plank, Reid's board dimensions were
10' 1" x 22". The nose was later laminated with post World War II fiberglass
and is on display at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.
By the following year, additional surfers were
joining in what Malibu had to offer. "In 1927," confirmed Charles "Chuck
A Luck" Ehlers, "Dilly Perrine and Spud Moorman head about surfing at Malibu.
We three rode in a rumble seat car with 3 boards sticking out. We met Tom
Blake and Cliff Tucker from Redondo while in Malibu riding perfect, long
right slides on glassy water with very shark peaks. We left early, for
it was a narrow road and a long way to home."
Thereafter -- and documented in
Ball's Early California Surfriders printed in 1946 -- surfers
periodically surfed Malibu, even during the era when San Onofre was Mainland
surfing's Number One spot.
World War II turned
surfing upside down. Following the war, the personnel on the breaks significantly
changed. More importantly, wartime technology caused a shift of the center
from San O - between Los Angeles and San Diego -- to Malibu, just slightly
north of LA.
Those surfing Malibu before, during and after
World War II included Gard Chapin, Bob Simmons,
Bud Morrisey, Dave Sykes, Pete Peterson, Dale
Velzy, Don Grannis, Dave Rochlen,
Joe Quigg, Joe Schecter and kids like
Matt Kivlin, Kit Horn, Buzzy
Trent, and Peter and Corny Cole.
Chapin, Morrisey and Sykes formed an early
shaping triumvirate at the 'Bu. Bud Morrisey was a down-the-line shaper
who was considered by many to be the first to walk the board at Malibu.
Dave Sykes lived in Topanga and "delighted in perfect planing surfaces,"
documented Leonard Lueras, "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."
Gard Chapin was a gifted surfer/shaper who
turned and cut in an era when almost everyone else just trimmed. His verbal
abuse tended to alienate most people and his radical board designs weren't
really appreciated, either. Thing started to get interesting when Bob Simmons,
a relatively unknown surfer, teamed up with the well respected but not
greatly liked Chapin. Simmons bought his first surfboard from Chapin and
eventually went to work in the Chapin wood shop. There, Simmons learned
how to build boards.
Kit Horn was a youngster at Malibu during the
early days of World War II. He remembered the first time Simmons showed
up at the "Bu." He swam a huge board out, with his left arm on the board.
Simmons was 8-to-10 years older than the kids at Malibu. Most everyone
his own age was either in the military or in production during the daytime.
By 1944, Simmons was already making a name
for himself as a wave rider, despite a physical handicap related to one
of his arms. Joe Quigg, on leave in the summer of 1944, recalled years
"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
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 was the greatest all round
surfer of the 1930s. He was still a standout in the 1940s and continued
to excel on into the 1960s. A memorable moment surfing Malibu was on September
"A ruler edged rolling seven foot south caresses
the empty point," C.R. Stecyk wrote of surf conditions at Malibu that day.
"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."
After World War II ended, many of the technological
developments used to help win the war came out on the open market. "Most
important to Simmons and the surfboard," wrote
Simmons biographer John Elwell, "was a publication by one of the finest
US naval architects, Lindsey Lord, a PHD from MIT who did an intensive
study on planing hulls. Most of the work was done in Hawaii, with the initial
phases using simple shapes looking like bodyboards. Surfboards were used
also. Simmons had somehow acquired a copy. Lord's study was remarkable.
The Navy had sought an ideal width and length shape for quick lift, maneuverability
and speed. Lord maintained the study was solid information and a new, not
previously known, naval science.
"Simmons must have been delighted," continued
Elwell. "The book was full of graphs, complex equations and recommended
a new material to strengthen lightweight planing hulls; fiberglass and
resin. The form developed was simple parallelism, with an ideal length-width
ratio number called aspect ratio, used in wing design...
"One of the problems, Lord relates, concerned
the ideal shape. It was not attractive, but could be. He mentions that
pointed sterns produce the most drag, extreme lightness is dangerous, and
planing hulls are complex. He warned that a few weird things work, but
don't be fooled... everything modified to get something else... is a compromise.
All things were considered and applied for the ultimate goal of superlative
speed; such as the nature of water, skimming on it, Newton's Laws, Bernoulli's
Law of Lift, resistance, load, attack angles, rudder designs and center
of gravity. The book was the mother lode for Simmons. Many surfers saw
it in Simmons' possession, but couldn't understand it, much less apply
it to surfboards. Simmons told me he went to a boat show and a salesman
for fiberglass showed him the material and described its application and
use. He located an outlet and purchased the material downtown. He was quite
matter of fact about it. The materials were being marketed all over the
At this point, both a decisive technological
advance took place and things got ugly. A little while after getting his
hands on Lord's planing hulls study, both Simmons and Chapin were modifying
their planks with nose applications of fiberglass. Out in the surf, they
were overtaking and passing everyone else, "proclaiming planning hull design,"
Elwell wrote. "Those who got in the way and did not heed their abusive
warnings were rammed. Chapin evidently got away with it. Simmons was dunked
and beaten up in Malibu, punched down at San Onofre and stoned on the trail
to Palos Verdes Cove. He returned in the evening with an axe" and drove
it into some paddleboards that were lying around; ostensibly belonging
to the stoners. "Vandalism to the boards on his car by Palos Verdes surfers
occurred in retaliation." It's interesting to note that Mickey Dora, who
became well-known for shoving people out of his way later on at Malibu,
may have learned his attitude from his step father Gard and Bob Simmons.
Surfers who were open to Simmons' first significant
contribution to surfing -- the scarfed nose -- acknowledged that the nose
lift helped keep boards from pearling. "As you can see by the photographs
of that era," notes Nat Young, "many surfers were reluctant to give up
their old San Onofre-type boards." Those who saw the wisdom in Simmons'
modifications would have him "scarf another piece on the nose and fair
it in to create nose lift."
"If anybody was ever to get the credit of being
the 'Father of the Modern Surfboard," noted Santa Barbara shaping legend
Rennie Yater told me, "I would say it would have to be Simmons. He changed
board design in a shorter period of time than anybody has before or since.
When his boards started showing up at San Onofre, they couldn't believe
it. Such a traditional place. Everything had to look the same, ride the
same, pose the same... Simmons' boards weren't welcome at San Onofre. See,
his influence was more at Malibu. He could care less about the San Onofre
area. He always went up and tested his stuff at Malibu or Palos
"To go back a little farther," continued Rennie,
"Simmons worked for Gard Chapin. He had a garage door business, as I remember.
So, Simmons had access to a lot of different materials. They used plywood
a lot for garage doors. Simmons finally came up with this -- probably the
first production line other than Pacific Systems -- the first production
line surfboard that had a foam [expanded polystyrene] core, balsawood rails,
and plywood deck. He came up with that idea probably because of all the
influence he had from plywood... mahogany veneers on the outside to get
them even lighter. He did incredible things for the time he did 'em in,
compared to today. He's also fortunate to come out of the Second World
War. Fiberglass was a revolutionary product to come out of the war. See,
here comes this material on the open market. So, he now had access to that."
In addition to Simmons' untimely death in 1954,
Simmons had a falling out with Quigg and Kivlin over their development
of what would become known as "The Malibu
Board." As a result, he suddenly closed up his Santa Monica shop and
moved down to Imperial Beach in 1950.
His move down south marked the beginning of
the end of the "Simmons Era." Rennie Yater recalled, "Simmons went on down
to live in Imperial Beach. People kind of forgot about him after he left
the Malibu testing grounds. Surfboard evolution went on, but surfboards
weren't as radical. They were pretty conservative; with natural rocker,
the way balsa wood came; with about an inch of deck rocker, with very little
heavy rocker in the bottom of the board. That went on for a long time,
into the Velzy era and Hobie
era; didn't change much at all 'till foam came around. Then, you weren't
restricted by the dimensions of balsa wood. Even the balsa wood boards
didn't have much rocker, except for the ones in Hawai`i, where they started
to put kick in the nose because of the big waves."
"Simmons was like a missionary who traveled
the coast promoting his ideas," recalled Joe Quigg. "He was a catalyst
for all of us. I loved Bob Simmons and deeply wish he was here, I miss
talking to him. Matt and I both built boards with Simmons and occasionally
he'd get upset over how we did things or the personal boards we'd build.
My concepts deviated from Bob's so much that there was a time when he quit
speaking to me. If we did anything, we helped evolve a board that worked
all around. The Malibu boards weren't San Onofre boards nor were they planks
or hot curls. One thing is certain, after we pulled in the tails, got the
weight down and the fins right, no one ever built monolithic planks again."
"The wartime use of technology... sowed seeds
for great change in post-war America," wrote Solberg and Morris in A
People's Heritage. New technologies "also profoundly changed post-war
America. Such innovative developments as radar, prefabricated housing,
atomic power, frozen foods, diesel power, and the catalytic cracking of
crude oil were crucial to military success and contributed to an abundant
life in years of peace." Fiberglass and
resin could be added to this list.
"The brave new world dangling before them promised
the world's highest living standard," continued Solberg and Morris, "and
they pursued it with a vengeance. America was now in the midst of what
has been called 'galloping capitalism'; in just a few years, the U.S. was
producing half of the world's goods... After years of austerity caused
by the depression and the war, Americans eagerly revived their spending
spree of the 1920s...
"Nowhere was the surge of spending more evident
than in the American love affair with the automobile... [amongst other
effects, both positive and negative was that] more than one-fourth of Los
Angeles' 463 square miles came to be occupied by asphalt: streets, freeways,
bridges, ramps, overpasses, gas stations, garages, and parking lots."
The American Dream finally seemed to be within
the grasp of ordinary citizens. "After World War II the home became child-centered,"
Solberg and Morris went on. "The age of first-married was plummeting, and
family size was on the rise. One sociological study reported in the late
1940s that 55,000 married men reached 137,000 sexual climaxes weekly, resulting
in an impregnated wife every seven seconds... In 1954 McCall's coined
the word 'togetherness' to describe the new commitment to a close family
life centered around children... America was becoming the Land of the Young."
"The high priest of this new child-centered
suburban society," explained Solberg and Morris, "was the renowned pediatrician
Benjamin Spock, whose book Baby and Child Care, first published
in 1945, revolutionized the philosophy of rearing children. Insecure as
they faced the uncertainties of a rapidly-changing world, young parents
nervously thumbed through Dr. Spock's handbook for advice on everything
from breast-feeding to childhood diseases. In his chapter on 'permissiveness,'
Spock counseled: 'Doctors who use to conscientiously warn young parents
against spoiling are now encouraging them to meet their baby's needs, not
only for food, but for comfort and loving.' No longer would strict rules
and nursing schedules be prescribed for infants; kids should not be told
what to do. Guilt-ridden parents who had experienced the deprivation of
the depression and the war were determined that their offspring should
have opportunities denied them during their childhood.
permissive spirit dominated the white, middle-class home during the post-war
years. Pampered youth became a powerful bloc of consumers, spending billions
of dollars for faddish fashions, dominating 43 percent of phonograph record
sales, and 53 percent of movie admissions. Earlier values like thrift were
casually discarded as American teenagers spent one-third of a billion dollars
annually on toiletries. This permissiveness was also reflected in the schools...
This cult of the young spawned a generation of Americans... [that] came
to be called the 'silent generation.' Whereas generations of the thirties
and forties had held to sturdy social values from their youth, their self-confidence
or 'inner-directedness' gave way after World War II to an anxious generation
no longer sure of itself. Memories of the Depression, and fear of Communism
and the atomic bomb ('better dead than red') contributed to this mood.
Safety and security seemed to be the new norms. In his book The Lonely
Crowd sociologist David Riesman now spoke of 'other-directedness,'
whereby the driving need was to avoid 'rocking the boat,' and instead,
to conform to the group. Eager for the approval of others, young people
were as sedate and conservative in their values as their parents. One observer
wrote that the 'dedication of bourgeois America to personal security' had
produced 'a generation with strongly middle-aged values.'"
In amongst the conformists and the rest of
the Silent Generation, surfers didn't quite fit in. Although traditional
Hawaiian surfing had been thoroughly integrated in that society prior to
European contact, the surf culture that came over after surfing's revival
at the beginning of the century was outside mainstream America. Mainland
surfing in the 1920s and '30s attracted the same kind of rogues, rascals
and rebels that it continues to attract today. This trend continued through
the 1940s and on into the 1950s, even though the nature of American society
had significantly changed from the Depression to the affluent conformity
of the 1950s. By the mid-1950s, surfers were still often called "surf bums"
and categorized with the other non-conformists of the era.
"During the 1950s," agreed Carin Crawford,
in "Waves of Transformation," a 1993 paper on Southern California's surf
culture in the post-World War II period, "the economic forces unleashed
by post-World War II development produced an affluent, disenchanted youth
population which included beatniks, surfers, and rebels without a cause."
Historian James Gilbert, in A Cycle of Outrage:
America's Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s, introduced
the concept of the "existential outlaw" - which surfers could be classified
as -- emerging in the 1950s.
Bob Simmons was one
of surfing's foremost "existenial outlaws" of the post-World War II period.
"Simmons was an anomaly in a society generally characterized by 'organization
men' who were motivated by the promises of affluence and professional development,"
Crawford continued. "Simmons' love for surfing always made him an unreliable
participant in the cold war's notion of responsibility to professionalism
and domestic security. Simmons would quit work when the surf came up and
live in his car, travelling to various breaks between Malibu and Baja California.
Bob Simmons' passion can be seen as an avenue of escape from the stifling
'conformity' of the 1950s."
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 as war."
The best cinematic portrayals of the existential
outlaw, of course, were in the works of James Dean and Marlon Brando. Dean
personified this image in Rebel Without A Cause (1955). Two years
before, in The Wild One (1953), Brando depicted youthful rebellion
in the image of outlaw packs of motorcycle hoods modeled after the Hell's
Angels. "The emergence of the figure of the 'existential outlaw' in Hollywood
films," continued Crawford, "takes place against a background of popular
writing and argument about the nature and degree of 'conformity' within
the dominant social structure of that period."
"Opai" Wert & Terry "Tubesteak" Tracy
"Two of the most best known surfing places
in the Cold War era," wrote Crawford, "were the beaches at Malibu and San
Onofre. Interviews with representative members of these surfing enclaves
provide a picture of how Southern California surf culture came to be located
within the discourse about conformity, work and leisure that was taking
place during the 1950s. Tom Wert and Terry Tracey, better known locally
by their nomes de surf, 'Opai' and 'Tubesteak,' describe themselves as
a type of outlaw, or 'rebels without a cause' who built shacks on the beach,
avoided military conscription, and spent more time surfing than pursuing
career goals. In society's view they were 'surf bums.'"
"Opai," Crawford wrote,
"recalled that in the 1930s, before the Cold War, surfers were not considered
counter cultural icons. Early surfers were known as 'watermen,' or people
who had a multi-dimensional relationship with the ocean: swimming, diving,
fishing, boating, and beachcombing. 'Watermen' lived by the ocean and had
an intimate knowledge of tides, currents, and weather patterns because
their livelihoods usually depended upon it. Before the era of wetsuits
and the surfboard industry, Opai's generation surfed in cutoff Levi's and
handcrafted their own surfboards. It was during the post World War II period
that surfers came to symbolize a 'laid-back' style of life that contrasted
with the affluence, anxiety, and consumer contentment of the early Cold
War era. Opai states: 'Surfers evolved into a countercultural, James Dean
sort of thing, a sign that you were different.' According to Opai, this
identity lasted till the late 1950s, when, he felt, commercialization started
to obscure surfing's subversive meaning."
As for Terry "Tubesteak" Tracy, he later held
other nicknames like "Kahuna" and "Pit Commander." Interviewed in 1993
by Matt Warshaw for his 1998 book
Above The Roar: 50 Surfer Interviews,
Tubesteak told how he got his nickname: "One summer I was really broke,"
Tracey told Warshaw, "so I got a job across the street, right next to the
Malibu Inn, at a place called Tube's Steak and Lobster House. And people
would say to me, 'Hey, you still at Tube's Steak?' Then it just went to
Tubesteak. But people have always been confused about what it meant. A
lot of people think that Tubesteak meant... ah, some kind of cylindrical
piece of meat."
Crawford wrote, "whose hero and mentor Opai represented the 'older' generation
of surfers at San Onofre, rode his first waves there in 1950 when he was
15 years old. Tubesteak recalled "seeing these old Sourdoughs out of the
army on the beach surfing and playing ukelele." The romance of San Onofre's
scene captured Tubesteak's imagination. Later, he went to Malibu, along
with surfing partners Mickey 'Da Cat' Dora, Mickey Munoz, and Kemp Aaberg
and attempted to recreate at Malibu the atmosphere they admired on the
beach at San Onofre."
Yet, this may not be entirely correct. When
interviewed in 1993, at the age of 59, Tubesteak sounded a bit contemptuous
of the San Onofre lifestyle and its surfers. He certainly held much pride
over the Malibu lifestyle over the traditional San Onofre. Warshaw asked
"Did the Malibu guys spend any time with, say,
the San Onofre guys?"
"No," Tubesteak replied. "That Sano thing -
it's archaic now and it was archaic then. That group hasn't changed. Just
sitting around with their ukuleles and the Hawaiian music. Nah. Malibu
was the place."
"Before Tubesteak became dedicated to a surfing
life-style on the beach at Malibu," Crawford wrote, "he attempted to follow
the more conventional path of working as an underwriter for Home Insurance
Co. Tubesteak (19 at the time), described how he and Mickey Dora clashed
with 'all these Spring Street executives, the Wilshire Blvd., Pacific Stock
Exchange types.' After a couple of miserable days on the job, both young
men were fired from Home Insurance Co."
"It was after this adventure in social conformity,"
Crawford continued, "that Tubesteak became a full time surfer. Broke and
unemployed, the night after he was fired from his job, Tubesteak decided
to sleep on the beach at Malibu. The next day he hiked up Malibu creek
with his surfboard, collected palm fronds, and floated them down stream
using the surfboard as a barge. With help from friends, he built a beach
shack, and fashioned a way of life at Malibu that was radically different
from the image of life centered in the Gold Medallion home."
Tubesteak was asked about his living at First
Point. How long?
"For thee or four months a year, in summer,"
Tracy answered. "Actually, there were two shacks. The first one got burned
down; the cops tore the second one apart in 1957. In the winter I lived
in Santa Monica canyon, at a place called the Sip 'n Surf."
Tubesteak," Crawford wrote, "commenting generally
about surfers' attempts at social conformity, suggests that 'surfers tried
to do what people wanted them to do, but they didn't fit in.' 'We didn't
care about money; it didn't cost money to live on [the] beach.' Tubesteak
and others spent summers living on the beach, but during the winter months
when the weather was too cold, they got jobs like the 'jerks with expensive
"Tubesteak recalled that during the 1940s and
1950s," wrote Crawford, "surfers did everything possible to stay out of
the draft. However, their resistance was not for ideological reasons, 'they
just wanted to go surfing.' In the summer of 1956, Tubesteak recalled 'the
Feds were after me,' so he had to fly to Arizona for a military physical
exam. Because of the calcium deposits which formed on his feet and kneecaps
from prolonged kneeling on a surfboard, Tubesteak was unable to wear shoes.
He was declared ineligible for the draft, and went back to the beach in
Malibu. Tubesteak's story sparked Opai's recollection that 'a lot of surfers
actively cultivated surf bumps' and many successfully evaded the draft
'with all kinds of subterfuges.' However, Opai remembers there was no political
coherence to their resistance to the draft, the surfers just wanted to
stay on the beach."
By decade's end and the beginning of the 1960s,
the surf culture that developed at Malibu would become popularized in Gidget,
the 1957 book and, then, the 1959 movie. Yet, by the time Frederick Kohner
started writing about some of it, the lifestyle at Malibu was already well
established. In the minds of many who were there, the real glory days for
Malibu was during the mid-1950s, before its popularization at the end of
"A new breed of American beach boys developed,"
is the way Nat Young put it, "a sort of later equivalent of the Hawaiian
beach boys who had become professional surfers in the years before World
War II. The new breed spent their time lifeguarding, surfing and just having
fun; music, parties, waves, boards, girlfriends. They began wearing brightly
colored baggie trunks and, in winter, wetsuits developed from Navy frogmen's
outfits. There was little smog in those days, huge kelp beds just off the
Californian coast kept the waves glassy much of the time, and surfers found
they could surf all year round. It wasn't long before surfing had developed
from sport to culture to -- cult."
The epicenter of American surf culture had
clearly shifted from San Onofre to Malibu.
Tutors Kemp Aaberg, May 21, 1956
"A goofy foot struggles to learn to surf at
Malibu by attempting to ride the entire wave from outside to inside in
an awkward, backslide stink bug squat," wrote surf historian Craig Stecyk
of a notable day in Malibu history. "Watching this painful exercise is
more than Tubesteak can tolerate, so he invites the earnest lad into his
own private barb wire fenced beach domain and offers a few words of advice,
'Look kid, when you ride a wave that's a perfect right slide, I think your
life would be a lot easier if you turned and faced the wave.' Enough said,
the youngster immediately made the switch. Following this reorientation,
Kemp Aaberg becomes one of the consummate point stylists and is forever
after welcomed to join the other elite inside the fence."
the Girl Midget, June 27, 1956
June 27, 1956 was a day destined to change
Malibu history forever. This day, a girl who wanted to surf made her way
into the Malibu domain where she was acknowledged almost immediately.
"Probably it was the Gidget movies, books and
magazines," suggested Young, "that did as much as anything to bring surfing
to the masses. Malibu had become a prestige area, and many sons and daughters
of the wealthy people who lived along the coast became involved in surfing...
and the 'surfers' who went with it. At the time these included Dewey Weber,
Mickey Munoz, Kemp Aaberg, Bob Cooper, Mike Doyle, Jim Fisher, Micky Dora,
Johnny Fain, Tom Morey, Robert Patterson and 'Tubesteak.'"
"I remember the first time Gidget came down
the stairs at Malibu," wrote Mike Doyle. "She was only about five feet
tall, weighed less than a hundred pounds, and was carrying a borrowed surfboard
that was so big, one end of it was dragging in the sand. She really caught
our eye because there weren't a lot of girl surfers then. Tubesteak said,
'Gee, here comes a girl.'
"Somebody else said, 'God, she looks like a
midget to me.'
"'Yeah, a girl midget - a gidget.'
"Somebody else started giving her a hard time,
saying 'Whatta ya think you're doing? Don't you know girls can't surf?'
"Gidget (whose real name was Kathy Kohner)
stopped halfway down the stairs, practically in tears. Tubesteak, who had
a soft heart and needed a girlfriend, went over and said, 'Hey, it's okay
if you surf. Come on down.'"
So, Tubesteak was the guy who first named Gidget.
"According to Tubesteak himself," wrote Young, "about the last week in
June 1956 he, Mickey Munoz and Micky Dora were standing on the incline
above Malibu, checking out the waves, when a young surfer in a baby-blue
ski parka pulled a new Velzy/Jacobs board from the rear of a Buick convertible
and headed off down the path.
"'Hey,' shouted Dora, hassling the new arrival.
'Go back to the valley, you kook!' shouted Munoz. The stranger got such
a shock he stumbled and the board tumbled to the rocks below. Tubesteak
told the others to shut up and went to help and discovered the new arrival
was a girl. A very short girl!
"'For Chrissake,' mumbled Tubesteak, 'it's
a midget, a girl midget, a goddamn gidget!'
"The girl was not amused. 'I'm not a gidget,'
she yelled. 'My name is Kathryn -- and you can keep your filthy hands of
me, you creep.'
"Tubesteak laughed. 'Hey Gidget, see you around.'"
"Gidget never did become a very good surfer,"
Doyle noted, "but she learned to take our roasting in good humor, and eventually
she was accepted into the crowd because all of us could appreciate somebody
who tried as hard as she did. Like me and a few others in that Malibu crowd,
Gidget was the kind of person who didn't really fit in back in her own
neighborhood, but instead of feeling sorry for herself, she bought an old
Buick convertible and a surfboard, and found her way to the beach. I really
admired her for that.
"I thought Gidget was cute," continued Doyle.
"She had dark hair, fair skin, and nice legs. One day I told Gidget that
the board she had was way too big for her, that she would have an easier
time learning to surf if she used a smaller board. She asked me what kind
of board she needed, and I said, 'Why don't you let me find one for you.'
After looking around, I found a board that was just right for her. I got
her a deal on it, too: fifteen dollars. Gidget and I became friends after
that. I'd take her to the movies or just for a walk along the beach. But
there were other guys taking her out during the same time, so we never
had anything very serious going."
"That," wrote Young of Tubesteak's reception
of Gidget into the Malibu fold, "was a statement which was to mean more
than Tubesteak thought. Kathryn's father was a writer, and he wrote a book
about his daughter's summer adventure which became a bestseller. Columbia
made the first of its Gidget movies, glamorizing the West Coast surfing
life, and suddenly [after 1959] everyone seemed to be going surfing. It
was the 'in' thing to do. [But} By the summer of 1956 the surfing craze
was in [a more natural, eveolutionary stage of] high gear. Surfers had
built the two famous grass shacks at Malibu which appear in the Gidget
films, one in the pit and another out on the point. The offshore santana
winds blew regularly all that summer and there was a consistent glassy
swell. It was a time when Dora could be seen flying across the face of
a five-foot wall, executing a perfect 'el spontaneo' while the crowd on
the beach went wild. Munoz might be next up with an immaculate Quasimodo,
followed by Cooper with an 'el telephono' from point to the pit. And then
came the first annual luau."
1st Annual Luau, Summer's End 1956
"It was the end of summer," wrote Nat Young,
"first Monday in September, and everyone who surfed in California seemed
to have heard about the party. All the regulars came, plus Mike Diffenderfer,
L.J. Richards, Ole, Jack Haley, Hap Jacobs, Allan Gomes, Chick Edmondson,
Hobie, Hynson, Rusty Miller (later to settle down at Byron Bay on Australia's
east coast), Tim Dorsey and Robert August. The air was filled with good
vibes and loud music. A bonfire was lit, and out of one of the Malibu grass
shacks came the legendary 'surfer girls': the gorgeous Linda Benson, luscious
Juicy Lucy, ravishing Ramona from Pomona, and then Sally from the Valley,
Marion the Librarian and finally, to the most applause, Shirley from Temple
city, Gidget and Mandos Mary. Tubesteak put a torch to the grass shacks.
The first annual luau was drawing to a close and so was an era in American
Sources Used In This Chapter
A Cycle of Outrage, A People's Heritage, Baby and Child Care, Benjamin Spock
History of Surfing
Margan and Finney
Nomads of the Wind
Solberg and Morris
Terry "Tubesteak" Tracy
Tom "Opai" Wert
Waves of Transformation
TOM BLAKE: The Journey of A Pioneer Waterman
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