The Year in Surfing History
Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY
In surfing, the year 1958 was dominated by
events on the North Shore of O`ahu and the opening up of Mexico as a full-on
surf destination. Waimea had just been reopened the year before and gringos
began making their way down into Mexico to explore that country's surf
potential. Back in Southern California, Malibu was seeing its last season
before the "Gidget" onslaught.
On Kaua`i, the island's first surf club was
well underway. Yau Yau (aka George Mique) writes about those days at:
Please bear with whatever redundancy you notice
in this chapter. Many of the events of 1958 are also written up in the
individual chapters on guys like Greg Noll, Mike Doyle, Miki Dora, Bud
Browne, Dewey Weber, Phil Edwards and Pat Curren.
Ride the 1958 wave and, if you have time, share
with me any of your thoughts on the subject. Mahalo!
At the beginning of the year 1958, Cuban nationalist revolutionary Fidel
Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara were leading an all-out guerrilla war
against the corrupt U.S. backed Batista regime. Nikita Kruschev was rising
to power in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the communist
government that ruled Russia and its republics. The Nobel Prize for literature
went to Russian Boris Pasternak -- not exactly a communist sympathizer.
This same year he would write the novel that would be re-titled
Zhivago. The influence of the Beat Poets, centered in San Francisco,
grew so big that a "Beatnik" movement spread across the country and into
Europe. Films like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (adapted from the play
by Tennessee Williams), starring Elizabeth Taylor, played across North
America. It was the beginning of the first artificial earth satellites
like the USSR's Sputnik III and the USA's Explorer I.
Much less known events were brewing within the surfing community. These,
however, were of more interest to the surfers, themselves. Significant
during this time were the advances being made in
polyurethane foam board development. Even so, while foam and fiberglass
surfboards were being refined and slowly introduced into the surfing marketplace
-- mainly in California where they originated -- surfers in places like
the island of O`ahu were still riding fiberglassed balsa boards with wooden
skegs -- and with much success. It was boards like these, in the hands
of mostly "Coast Haoles," that ruled
the big surf of the North Shore. And, as far as big waves were concerned,
the North Shore was the focal point of the surfing world at that time.
Waimea, January 10, 1958
What many would recall as the biggest day of the year at Waimea, January
10, 1958 was similar to the biggest day of the year before (November
5, 1957), when Waimea "was broken open" by the likes of Greg
Noll, Mike Stange, Mickey Muñoz and Pat
Curren. Three years later, Peter Cole told this story of 1958's epic
morning started with the surf just barely big enough to ride, and then
by later afternoon, waves 25 feet and higher were hitting, with more water
in them and more size than I have seen since I've surfed.
"The surfers that day included Pat Curren, Mike Diffenderfer, Jack Webb,
Byron Keough and Paul Gebauer, plus two who tried the biggest stuff for
one of the first times -- Fred Van Dyke from Santa Cruz (now a Hawaii school
teacher) and L.J. Richards of Oceanside, as fine a surfer as you'll find
"This was the big day," continued Cole, "and everyone could sense it,
and the air was filled with excitement. The lines were more definite than
at any time during the year and Makaha was reporting its only point surf
of the year.
"The surf was inconsistent, with only one or two waves per set, but
each was at least 10 feet in size. Diffenderfer took off on the first big
one and dropped straight to the bottom.
"Then Gebauer, who rode more waves than anyone that day because of an
almost inhuman aggressiveness, took off way inside on a 20-foot-plus wave
and Van Dyke on his outside rode extremely high and made the wave as Paul
'souped out' at the bottom.
"Curren was the next rider, planing the monster perfectly, making it
after doing everything right. Webb took off on the same wave closer to
the point than anyone I've ever seen and took a terrible wipe-out immediately
after reaching the bottom of the wave. Pat came back screaming of the size."
"The next big one," Peter Cole went on, "supposedly the wave of the
day and of the year, was one in which I took off on the inside, Pat on
my side and Byron on Pat's outside. The wave seemed large, but Waimea never
seems as large to the rider as it does to the spectators on film.
"On the wave, Byron's edge caught and he fell over both Pat and me.
The last I remember was seeing Pat ahead of me on the way out of a gigantic
curl, while I was completely inside of the curl knowing that I didn't have
"Amazingly, Pat made the wave for probably the best ride ever attained
at Waimea Bay. The wave in pictures measures 25-28 feet and has become
a much-talked-about wave. Byron's board came out with a crack down the
middle. I was not aware of the power of the soup, as I got air right after
the impact of the soup which saved me from having a bad wipe-out."
Waimea Bay is a small bay surrounded by low
rocky cliffs. It opens up into a wide valley with a waterfall in the rear.
The waves in the Bay are almost flat for about 90% of the year. But, when
the surf comes up in the wintertime, the build-up at Waimea is both rapid
and sizable. A "wave which is only 8 to 10 feet when it hits the reef may
rise to 25 feet in a few seconds," wrote Desmond Muirhead in his book Surfing
In Hawaii, published in 1962. "The surf also comes up very fast, and
when it does, the shore break is enormous. Occasionally a big wave will
'close out' the bay, and surfers caught in the crush will be lucky to escape
with their lives."
This swell that hit Waimea was part of a million-square-mile storm that
also threw giant surf towards Makaha...
Makaha, January 13-14, 1958
Three days later, Makaha was going off.
"... thirty foot plus surf," wrote Fred Van Dyke, "wound its way around
Kaena Point for three days. The surf was so large that the regular lineup
had moved out another quarter mile, near the drop off into deep water.
The bowl had disappeared..."
"There are places in the world today," Van Dyke continued, "that have
a wall type surf, such as Rincon,
Laniakea, or Malibu. Most wall type surfs have
sections, which should not be misinterpreted for a bowl break. Each break
has its own separate characteristics. In a sectioning surf like Rincon
there is no radical change in the bottom structure. In a bowl surf the
bottom conditions get shallow abruptly, causing a horseshoe bend effect
in the wave, which in turn causes a throwing out effect in the top portion
of the wave. The most respected and difficult bowl break in the world today
During this particularly memorable swell, "The best surfers in the world
had tried on those days, and only a very few made waves," wrote Van Dyke.
These were: "George Downing, Wally
Froiseth, Pat Curren, Buzzy Trent, Kimo Hollinger,
John Severson and a few others."
"Point waves become impossible to make after the waves moved into deeper
water," recalled Van Dyke. "The whole wall exploded over at one time from
point to channel in one giant cataclysmic nightmare.
"Only after John Severson nearly lost his
life on a straight up and down thirty-foot takeoff did the surfers finally
realize that they had to ride differently."
Fred Van Dyke would also write, in the into to John Severson's 1964
publication Modern Surfing Around The World, that it was January
13th that Severson rode "one of the biggest, if not the biggest wave ever
known at Makaha... For the first time was far as the records go, the surf
at Makaha closed-out with waves of over thirty feet pounding the reef...
A wave estimated as high as a three-story building."
"They discovered that by taking off in front," Van Dyke wrote in his
autobiography, "where the bowl was normally, you could make waves. This
surf had jazzed those who had failed on the point takeoff to try again,
the new Makaha, bowl-less."
When George Downing and Buzzy Trent talk about that day," Peter Cole,
writing in Surfer magazine would later write of January 13-14, 1958,
"their eyes glaze over and they just look into the sky and shake their
Surfers from California had been regularly going over to the Islands for
about a decade. Other locations were now being explored and sought. Being
adjacent to California and mainland USA, Mexico was a logical next-pick.
Whitey & Edwards
Phil Edwards, in the company of legendary
surfer Whitey Harrison, were two of the
first known surfers to explore Mexico in 1957. But, as Edwards' description
aptly points out, they were far from the first:
"In Mexico," Edwards wrote, "I... served as a crewman aboard another
boat, a 30-foot sloop. Then the owners took off for home; leaving the boat
with Harrison and me -- with the agreement that we could take three months
to bring it home, providing we got it there intact.
"Naturally, we surfed our way back, stopping and anchoring wherever
the surf looked good, taking our time in the lazy, hot waters off Mexico.
"One day we found the island.
"It lay uninhabited, a humpback of pure desert, 150 miles off the Mexican
coast -- three degrees north of our charted course -- somewhere off Mazatlan.
On the east face of it, waves were breaking in perfectly. A million miles
of waves, each with a tube slicing across the top, each with the light
shining through like turquoise, glittering. Alone in the world.
"We dropped the anchor, got our boards, got out of our clothes and over
the side in one blur of motion. It was perfect: the waves were eight feet
and we began to cut patterns where no man had ever surfed before, kicking
up plumes of green and white diamonds.
"Then, jazzed, we fell on the beach to rest. And we found the sign.
It was a crude thing, hand lettered on an old board and jammed into the
"'Mel Ross surfed here,' it said, and gave the date. 'The surf was 10
feet,' it said.
"You should have been here a year ago."
Noll & Company in Mazatlan
Less than a year later, Greg Noll and fellow surfers made a major surf
surfari to mainland Mexico going the overland route. Beverly Noll recalled
this 1958 trip her husband Greg and troupe took to Mazatlan; one of the
very first into mainland Mexico:
"I started out in first class on the bus from Los Angeles to San Diego.
I got impatient waiting for my connection to Mexicali or wherever it was
I was supposed to go next. I decided to take another bus that I was told
ended up in Mazatlan, but via a different route.
"I'll say. This bus took off across the desert and then just stopped
in the middle of nowhere. At one stop, two bandoleros, guys wearing bullets
across their chests and guns on their hips, got on. They didn't pay, even
though everybody else had. They rode for a while, then the bus stopped
and they got off in the middle of nowhere again.
"I was the only gringa on the bus. Quite an experience. Something I
wouldn't even consider doing now. But at age twenty it was an adventure.
"Greg had a room at Senora Enrique's for about two dollars a day, including
breakfast and tortillas... She rented out rooms in her home. Everyone had
breakfast together out on the patio. We lived there for six months, with
all of our worldly possessions in the Studebaker..."
Greg Noll wrote of Beverly, Sonny Vardeman, Rick Stoner, Reynolds Yater
and Bruce Brown as all being part of the
"In 1958 I went to Mazatlan. I was supposed to meet another guy down
there to do some fishing and monkeying around. He never showed up... The
Mazatlan trip turned out to be another first. The Mexicans thought surfing
was pretty far-out. I found a real nice spot and made friends with one
of the local boys who spoke English. He liked to watch me surf. One day
I was riding a wave towards shore with the intention of coming in for the
day. As I walked up onto the beach, I saw this old Mexican guy and his
burro there, standing in front of me. The old man slowly backed up, making
the sign of the Cross, his eyes bulging. The Mexican kid tried to calm
"'What's the matter with him?' I asked the kid.
"His eyesight is poor and he saw you coming across the water. He didn't
realize that you were on a surfboard. He thought you were walking on water.'
"The poor old fart thought that his day of reckoning had come and Jesus
was going to take him to his deliverance. We finally got the old man to
come over and touch my board. Eventually he came back to reality and thought
it was all pretty neat, riding a wave like that. I think he was more relieved
"The first day I went out surfing in front of the Freeman Hotel in Mazatlan,"
Noll continued, "I didn't think anything about it. I just pulled up, took
my board off the car and went down to the beach to wax up. The Chiclets
kids started to gather 'round, full of curiosity. I take surfing for granted,
but it's a hell of a thing for people who've never seen the sport.
"The surf was three- or four-foot get-wet stuff, catch a couple of waves
and goof around, have a good time. No big deal. But by the time it was
over I had created a minor sensation. People came out of the hotel. A crowd
of about three hundred people gathered on the beach. Every time I caught
a wave or made a turn, they'd cry, 'Ole! Ole!' It was fun, but over the
next few days it got a little tiring, so I looked for less populous places
to go out."
"I spent several months down there, surfing..." Noll recalled. "I wrote
letters back to my friends -- Sonny Vardeman, Rick Stoner, Reynolds Yater,
Bruce Brown... On one postcard, I wrote, "The difference between Mazatlan
and Hawaii is the difference between night and day. It's so beautiful down
here you can't believe it. Beats the Islands to hell." I'd say anything
to get them stoked so I'd have some company.
"They all came down... We made a side trip to surf San Blas, another
first. Everywhere we went we broke new ground for surfing."
Bruce Brown vividly recalled that Mexico trip:
"I remember the trip to Mazatlan very well because I had a '50 Kaiser
and Greg had a '47 Studebaker. My buddies and I caravaned down there and
met Greg. He was making his first surf movie. At that time I hadn't even
started making movies.
"Greg's Studebaker broke down in a melon field during one of our excursions.
He found some Mexican guy who had a hammer and chisel and was willing to
work on it. It looked to us like Greg was going to be stuck there for a
few days, so we drove on with plans to meet him later.
"The big deal then was to be the one to name a new surf spot. Greg was
real pissed because we got there first and named Cannon's Point [after
Del Cannon], among others that we ran into between Mazatlan and San Blas.
Greg liked to name them himself."
"I thought I would become a watermelon king and spend the rest of my
life in Mexico," continued Noll. "Invested my whole life savings -- then,
a hundred and fifty dollars -- in watermelon seeds. The Mexicans planted
them, but when the watermelons were ready to be picked, they ate them instead
of picking them or harvesting them for sale.
"I had an old Studebaker that was going to become my melon wagon. I
went by myself to some ungodly place to fill it full of melons and ended
up losing the timing gear. I was stuck there for ten days. Totally wiped
me out. That was the end of my career as an agricultural baron."
The Nolls in Cabo San Lucas
Continuing her recollection of the 1958 trip to Mazatlan and then Cabo
San Lucas, Mexico, Beverly Noll remembered, "One night we met a couple
of guys from California in a bar. By two in the morning, we were all great
friends. They had just finished a race to Acapulco and were getting ready
to sail back to California. They had no crew, so Greg volunteered to crew
as long as they also took me. I was to do all the cooking. Neither of us
knew a thing about crewing, but Greg figured we could pick it up in no
"By six that morning, we had packed all of our possessions in the Studebaker
and stored it in the police yard in Mazatlan. Then we joined our new friends
on their thirty-eight-foot sailboat. We didn't know these people from the
man in the moon, but away we sailed.
"I was deathly ill the whole way... Greg did the cooking and took turns
on watch. I was green. We got as far as Cabo San Lucas but the weather
prevented us from going on around the point. In Cabo, our newfound friends
decided that they needed to go home to do their income taxes. They offered
us the boat for as long as we wanted to use it.
"Cabo San Lucas was beautiful then. This was long before the Baja Highway
was completed. There were about eight thatched huts on the beach and that
was it. An oil truck came in once every two weeks by ferry from La Paz.
There was plenty of food on the boat, and we fished every day.
"We found an old skiff and used it to explore different, untouched beaches.
The big, hundred-and-twenty-foot-long tuna seiners were all coming back
up from their runs. Since the weather also prevented them from getting
around the point, Cabo became one big party scene. We were invited over
to different ships for dinner, to play cards. The big Eldorado yacht was
down there. It had been Eisenhower's yacht at one time and was now a corporate
yacht for Northrop Aviation. We partied on it for two or three days. A
couple from England tried to sail around the point one night and ended
up on the rocks. We had to rescue them.
"I'll never forget that time in Cabo. Here were all these wealthy, middle-aged
men attempting to have a good time and talking about the good-old days,
about what a good time they used to have, instead of dealing with today.
That really registered, left an impression with me that you've got to make
every day really count. You don't want to end up down the road, looking
back and saying, 'Gee, remember the good ol' days...'"
"Greg and I..." Beverly began, then continued: "It seems we lived ten
lifetimes in the time we were together. I look at other married couples
and I realize that we did anything and everything that came along. There
was always a new adventure in the works. I would never have embarked on
half the things we did without Greg. Greg always made everything O.K. If
he was there it was O.K.
"We built empires, tore them down and rebuilt them, then tore them down
again. We fell down the big ladder so many times that it became no big
deal. We'd just get up, brush ourselves off and say, 'Here we go again.'"
Search For Surf
Greg Noll was now shooting film footage of surfing, joining the tradition
begun by Bud Browne at the beginning of the decade. Bruce Brown, who would
go on to become surfing's best-known filmmaker, recalled Noll's movie making:
"Greg's surf films were just as good or better than anyone else's at
that time. Beverly took a lot of the movies and stills while Greg was out
"When we were in Hawaii one winter, and both of us were making movies,
I asked Greg what f-stop he was using. Greg said, 'What's that?'
"'You know, the lens setting.'
"'I don't know,' Greg said. 'The guy at the store where I bought the
camera set it up for me and I just left it there.'"
"As a photographer," Brown went on to say, "I'd feel a little reluctant
to pump up a guy to go out in big waves at places like Waimea, Pipeline
or Kaena Point, just so I could photograph him. What if he ended up maimed
or killed? Since Greg's movies often starred himself at these places, it
was a perfect setup for him.
"I remember the time Greg came in at the end of the day with the first
footage of Waimea Bay. We all gathered together at the Seaview Inn in Haleiwa
and watched it, frame by frame, on Greg's portable viewer. One sequence
featured Mike Stange free-falling down the face of a gigantic wave. It
was unbelievable to look at, but Greg thought it was great. He kept pounding
Mike on the back, saying, 'Unbelievable! Shit, Mike, how'd ya feel after
"In 1965," Brown went on to say, "the
year after I released
The Endless Summer,
Greg stopped making movies to concentrate on his surfboard business. That's
when he built his fabulous surfboard factory on a dump site in Hermosa
"The Endless Summer was my last movie [until its sequel, ES2,
in the early 1990s]. I had made about six by then. People used to tell
me, 'Now that you're making movies, you ought to move to Hollywood.' I'd
say, 'Bullshit.' Like many other surfers, I'd found something I was good
at, something that earned me enough money to keep surfing.
"As kids, none of us would ever have imagined that we could make money
surfing. Our goal was to find some way to make money so we could go surfing.
Like Greg, many of us were able to make a business out of what we loved
doing. And although there was an air of competitiveness among us, we also
admired each other. There was no jealousy."
Buffalo Keaulana recalls Greg Noll's
movies this way:
"Greg tell me, 'Go to movies with me. We in movies. I take you.' So
I go. Movie come on. See me and Greg on wave. 'Dere me!' I shout. Me pau.
'Dere Greg!' I shout. Next wave, 'Dere Greg!' And next wave, dere Greg.
Next wave, dere Greg, dere Greg, dere Greg. I no go to movies afta dat."
Beverly Noll spoke to the beginning of Greg's and her movie making period,
also mentioning Bud Browne:
"I remember many times, lying in bed in the middle of the night, listening
to the surf building at Waimea. I knew Greg heard it, too, but I never
said anything. It wasn't a time to say anything. We would get up at the
break of day and drive to Waimea Bay. He'd look and sometimes we'd make
several dry runs, but there was never any conversation. The tension coming
off Greg was extreme. He would ask me, 'Do you have the cameras? Do you
have extra film?'"
"When it was time, we'd get situated," Beverly continued. "I'd always
go out on the point, next to Bud Browne. Bud would
have his cameras there and I would have mine and we'd shoot film all day.
I ran both the movie camera and the still camera. Greg always took the
time to get me set up. Then he'd go back and get his board and it was like
another person who would walk back by, on his way to the water. Everyone
on the beach would ooh and aah. The crowd was there and I had all this
confidence in this man.
"I knew that when he went out in the water that morning, it was going
to be near dark before he came back in. Everyone else would be coming and
going and Greg would sit out there. He would surf all day and never come
out of the water. I watched him go under a couple of times on big wipeouts
and I wondered if he was ever coming up. I would get nervous, pace a little.
But Greg told me to never take my eye out of that camera, so, as nervous
as I might have been, I was still ready to film whatever happened. I knew
I'd get my butt chewed if I missed anything."
"The first time I joined Greg in Hawaii," continued Beverly, "was when
he came back from Australia . We lived in
a van, cruised around to the different surf spots and camped out. We often
camped out wherever we went and in whatever vehicle we had at the time.
When we showed films, we traveled up and down the California coast and
always slept in the back of our vehicle or crashed as somebody's house.
I'd sit for hours with Greg, going over his dialogue with him. Or I'd time
him while he held his breath for two-and-a-half and three-minute stretches.
He'd practice for hours."
LeRoy Grannis, surfer and surf photographer,
also recalled Greg Noll's film making and stardom:
"You knew you were going to get some action whenever Greg went in the
water. He pushed himself. He'd get as far back in the wave as possible.
Maybe too far. He liked being on the edge.
"Greg and Jose Angel were alike in the way they approached riding big
waves. They blew each other's minds and the minds of the spectators on
"I became a surf photographer in 1958. I had developed an ulcer and
was told by my doctor to find an occupation less stressful than the one
I was in. I'd been surfing in Southern California since the thirties, so
the photography angle seemed a natural extension for me.
"I was down at the Manhattan Beach Pier in the early sixties, fooling
around with a new camera that had a big, three-hundred-sixty-millimeter
lens. Greg happened to be out surfing that day. The backwash hit the wave
he was on and bounced Greg off his board and into the air, level with the
top of the pier. It was a fantastic image and I had him in the viewfinder,
but by the time the shutter went off, Greg had disappeared. That's when
I learned that a slow camera was going to be no good for surf photography."
"Greg did the same thing with Warren Miller," Sonny Vardeman said, referring
to the pioneer snow ski movie maker, "as he did with Dale Velzy. Greg got
interested in making movies and hounded Miller to death, asking how he
made these damn films, what kind of equipment did he use, how did the camera
"Bruce Brown actually became interested in making movies after watching
Greg do his stuff in Mazatlan," continued Vardeman. "John Severson also
got into movie-making for a while. But the pioneer of the surf movie was
Bud Browne. Bud was a lifeguard with us, too. For years, surfers would
come from up and down the coast to congregate in Santa Monica a couple
of times a year to see Bud Browne's latest surf movie. You'd see all the
people you'd meet that year at different surf spots along the coast.
"The turnout was tremendous. People cheering in the aisles, hooting
and howling. Greg sees the light and decides to make his own surf films."
"Greg took films in Australia when he was there for the paddling contests,
and also in Hawaii," Vardeman went on. "When he went to Mazatlan in '58,
that turned out to be another movie. The title and format of each movie
became Search For Surf. Each year became a sequel to the previous
"When Greg told me and Rick Stoner about the surf in Mazatlan, we hitched
up a teardrop trailer to my '47 Ford, strapped our surfboards on top and
took off to join him. We spent nearly three months down there, traveling
up and down the coast from Mazatlan, with Greg taking pictures. We went
as far south as San Blas and Zihuatanejo. We had to go inland through Guadalajara
and then back out to the coast to get there.
"Mexico turned out not to be a big-wave spot. There were a few days
of twelve-to-fifteen foot waves, way outside. These were very rare, though.
Most of the time the surf was small, two to four feet.
"When we can home, we all helped Greg edit his film. Greg designed his
narration after Warren Miller's, which was done live. Greg rented the Pier
Avenue Auditorium, which became the mecca of surf films for a while. Rick
Stoner, Mike Stange, other friends and I helped pass out fliers, sell tickets,
"I mean to say, that first Search For Surf from the Australian
and Mazatlan trips created a mob scene," recalled Sonny Vardeman. The auditorium
held three hundred people, but there were at least four hundred. The aisles
were packed and the fire marshall was having a fit. Greg cranked up the
Hawaiian music, got the film rolling and everyone quieted down to watch
and listen. It was a hype job and it worked. He'd run the movie two or
three nights in a row. Charged a buck a person and filled the auditorium
to overflowing every night."
"One night," told Vardeman, "people were lined up around the block,
waiting to get in. I went outside and sold tickets to people who had exact
change. My pockets were full of dollar bills. We had no idea how many tickets
we were selling. The fire marshall would come and raise holy hell, threaten
to close the place down.
"From the proceeds of that movie, Greg bought himself a new Volkswagen
van. He was the talk of the town in his new van.
"A year or two later, Greg rented the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium,
which held about five thousand people. We had a pressure-packed, raucous
crowd the first night. Greg had the music going before the film started.
People got even more worked up. Prior to the film, Greg would usually go
up on stage, introduce himself and tell a little about where the film was
taken. This evening, the crowd was just going crazy, and Greg was up on
stage, getting pelted by beer and soft drink caps. He finally retreated
and turned on the film and, again, everyone settled down at once.
"Greg made surf movies for six or seven years. When he got into the
big time with his surfboard factory [circa 1964], he stopped making movies
and devoted all his time to the business."
Malibu Before the Hollywood Invasion
Back on the Mainland, the surf culture that emanated from Malibu that had
begun in the mid-to-later 1940s, was now reaching its peak. Surfers like
Mike Doyle were there as witnesses and participants...
Mike Doyle at Malibu
"The summer between my junior and senior years at Inglewood High," wrote
Doyle, "my stepfather, Walt, started working at the Point Mugu Naval
Air Station, way up the coast, halfway to Santa Barbara. He'd leave every
morning at six and drive up Highway 1, passing right by Malibu.
So every morning, a few minutes before six, I rolled out of bed, grabbed
my surfboard, and rode along with Walt.
"I used to love passing through Venice in the morning. Not only was
it interesting in an architectural sense, but there were so many strange
characters coming out of the walls: winos waking up and blowing their snot
on the sidewalk, women with tattoos, men with wigs and make-up, bikers,
beatniks, artists, musicians -- weirdos of all kinds. The place looked
kind of rough compared to my own neighborhood, and very rough compared
to the clean, quiet, high-rent area around Malibu, but I was fascinated
by Venice because it was a place where it was okay to be a little bit different
from everybody else. I could see that being different in Venice wasn't
a liability, it was an asset."
"Walt would drop me off at Malibu at seven or so," continued Doyle.
"I'd collect enough Coke bottles to buy a quart of milk and a big package
of Barbara Ann rolls. I'd eat the whole gooey dough ball, then I'd climb
on my surfboard, paddle out, and stay out until almost dark. My feet would
never touch dry sand for twelve hours. When Walt came to pick me up, I'd
flop out in the back of the car and sleep all the way home. The next day
I'd do it again."
"Malibu was a magical place in those days," Doyle reminisced. "It was
a beautiful beach, the wind blew side-offshore, the water had a crystal
clarity, and it had the most ruler-perfect wave in California. It had the
movie stars, and it had the surfing stars, and it was only a few minutes
from downtown L.A., the center of wealth and power on the West Coast.
"There were guys living on the beach at Malibu, building shacks and
collecting Coke bottles to buy food. Nobody hassled them. Malibu wasn't
that popular with beachgoers then, mostly just surfers, so the place was
rarely crowded. When a good swell came up in the summer, there would be
ten, twelve, maybe fifteen surfers out in the water."
"All the little surf grommets like me," continued Doyle, "whose parents
dropped them off at the beach, tried to make Malibu our own turf. We called
ourselves 'the judging panel,' and we would lie there in the sand where
we could see everybody who came down the stairs. To get by us, you had
to pass our inspection, and it wasn't easy getting by the panel. We called
you a 'valley kook,' a 'hodad,' and a 'cowboy,' but if you took the roasting
with good humor, eventually you were accepted into our club. We challenged
you in the beginning -- out in the water we might even shove you off a
few waves -- but if you hung in there and took it, you got in.
"When we weren't surfing, we used to sit there in the sand and work
each other over, just to stay in practice: 'You know something? You got
a nose like an anteater.'
"'Yeah, well, the bigger the nose, the bigger the hose.'
"'Yeah, I've seen your hose. It looks like a little pink jellybean.'
"'That's not what your sister said.'
"'I don't even have a sister, you goofball.'
"Then we'd slobber all over our faces like idiots and roll in the sand
like happy puppies."
Mike Doyle's recollections of the Malibu that existed prior to the release
of the first Hollywood beach movie Gidget shows Malibu in the zenith
of its purity as the ultimate California surf break and surf scene:
"Across the street from Malibu," Doyle wrote, addressing the issue of
basic substinance, "was a road that led up into the hills to a Catholic
retreat. Along that road was a grove of orange trees with the best oranges
any of us had ever tasted. Every now and then, one of the guys would say,
'Let's go make an orange run.' We'd wait until there were no cars going
up the road to the retreat, then we'd charge across the highway, hop over
the gate, and sneak up the road a ways. There was a little cabin there
where the caretaker lived, and the grove was kept perfectly manicured all
the time. Under the trees, every leaf was kept raked, yet we never saw
a soul. The place had a mystical quality about it -- we imagined that monks
came down in the moonlight to care for the grove at night. We'd pull off
our T-shirts, tie the sleeves in a knot, and fill them up with big ripe
oranges. Then we'd run back to the beach to share the booty with our friends.
After being out in the sun all day, and with salt water in our mouths,
those juicy oranges tasted wonderful."
"Malibu was where I first started making a reputation for myself as
a surfer," Doyle went on. "I was a goofy foot when I first started there.
Malibu, like a lot of the great surf spots in California, breaks from left
to right (as viewed by the surfer facing the beach.) So a goofy footer
at Malibu has his back to the wave -- a disadvantage. In my case, the wave
kept hitting me in the butt over and over, until one day I decided I'd
better switch my stance to left foot forward. From that day on, my surfing
ability began to improve dramatically."
Matt Kivlin at Malibu
"Like all young surfers," Mike Doyle admitted, "I began by imitating the
style of the older surfers, and one of the older surfers I admired most
was Matt Kivlin. He was a very handsome
man, and in the water he had a very casual style, very polished, with his
board always in perfect trim with the wave. He surfed like a dancer, and
out of the water he carried himself the same way. He was an outstanding
waterman, an intelligent guy, and very well respected."
Mickey "The Mongoose" Munoz at Malibu
"Another surfer I admired a lot," Mike Doyle wrote, "was Mickey Muñoz,
'the Mongoose.' He was about three years older than I, short, dark, with
a hatchet nose. Muñoz invented a lot of the stock poses we used
in those days: El Teléfono, Quasimoto, El
Spontanéo. They were sort of like compulsory exercises in gymnastics
-- every surfer had to master them in order to prove he'd reached a minimum
level of skill.
"Everybody was into nose riding in those days, and Muñoz had
a board he called the duckbill. He'd extended the nose of the board with
a piece of wood about a foot long; then he'd nailed a go-ahead (a rubber
thong) onto it. Muñoz would walk all the way to the end of the board,
then stick his foot out and slip it inside the go-ahead. That really impressed
Lance Carson at Malibu
"We were judged by our surfing ability," Mike Doyle wrote, "-- nothing
else -- and my surfing ability had improved to the point that I rated some
"One of my buddies at Malibu in those days was Lance Carson. We called
him 'Jet Pilot' because he had a perfectly pointed nose. Lance was from
a wealthy family in Pacific Palisades, and every winter his parents sent
him back East to some private military school. But in the summer he spent
all his time at the beach. He was at a big disadvantage in some ways, because
every year by the time he got out of school, the rest of us were already
tanned and surfing really well, while Lance would still be all white and
educated. But by the end of summer Lance would be surfing as well, or better,
than any of us.
"Besides having a very smooth, clean style of surfing, Lance became
one of the greatest nose riders of all time. While most surfers could only
run up to the nose and pose there for a few seconds, Lance could stand
there almost indefinitely and in total control -- he could actually maneuver
the board from the nose."
Kemp Aaberg at Malibu
"Another good friend in those days was Kemp
Aaberg," Mike Doyle wrote. "Kemp was a great surfer and was always
in top shape. He also grew up in Pacific Palisades, and was the oldest
of three boys. Kemp's little brother, Denny, later wrote a fine novel about
surfing, Big Wednesday. I mostly remember Denny as a little beach
rat hanging around his big brother, but later, after I read his book, I
realized he'd been paying attention to everything we said and did."
Tom Morey at Malibu
One of the not-so-regular surfers at Malibu in the late Fifties was a guy
named Tom Morey," recalled Mike Doyle. "I remember the first day I saw
him at Malibu. He drove up to the beach in a new car and stepped out wearing
a shirt and tie. He was very clean-cut but carried himself in a relaxed,
slump-shouldered way. He pulled out a board he'd made himself, stripped
off his suit and tie, and pulled on a pair of trunks. He was all white,
like he didn't get out in the sun enough, and we expected him to be a real
kook in the water. But Morey surprised us. He was a very smooth surfer,
with a relaxed style and a light touch. He did beautiful cutbacks and had
perfected a move called the standing island pullout, which some of us had
never seen before.
"We found out later that Morey worked for Douglas Aircraft as some kind
of aeronautical engineer and he liked to play the drums in jazz bands on
the side. He never really mixed with the crowd. He was kind of quiet and
only showed up once in a while. But almost every time he came to the beach,
Morey had a different surfboard -- always something experimental, always
something we had never seen before."
Joey Cabell at Malibu
"Another surfer I used to see at Malibu from time to time," wrote Mike
Doyle, "was Joey Cabell. He would pull
up in a Volkswagen van with several surfboards on top. He was about six
feet tall, thin in his upper body, and very wiry. He had penetrating blue
eyes, clear skin, and a surprisingly quiet voice, but was high-strung and
difficult to talk to.
"Joey had been born in Hawaii and started surfing at Waikiki in 1946
when he was only seven. His first balsa board had been fashioned from an
old army life raft. For spending money, he used to weave grass hats to
sell to the tourists. Rabbit Kekai, a legendary
surfer who had been the head beachboy at the Outrigger
Canoe Club at Waikiki, recognized young Joey's talent and took him
surfing all over Oahu. When I first saw Joey, he was on the mainland going
to school at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. He was a couple of years
older than I, which was a lot at that age, so we weren't close then. But
I could see that he was a very talented athlete and a great waterman."
Tubesteak at Malibu
"One of the wonderful Malibu characters from that era was Tubesteak,
who was in his early twenties. He lived on the beach with another guy,
Harry Stonelake. Everybody else came and went, but those two were always
right there, taking life easy, surfing every day, and collecting Coke bottles
to buy food. Tubesteak always wore cutoff pants with his big gut hanging
over the waist, and he ate roasted hot dogs for every meal, which is how
he got his name. The beach life suited Tubesteak perfectly, and he was
always fat and happy."
Mickey Dora at Malibu
"But the unrivaled king of Malibu in those days," wrote Mike Doyle, "was
Dora, 'Da Cat.' He was about seven years older than I, or twenty-five
at this time. His full name, which he had printed on his business cards,
was Miklos Sandor Dora III. His father was a wine importer, and Mickey
always had bottles of fine wine with his father's import label on them.
Mickey's parents divorced when he was six, and he'd spent a lot of his
youth in military schools.
"It was Mickey's stepfather, Gard
Chapin, who started taking him to the beach, at San Onofre. Gard Chapin
had been one of the great California surfers of the 1930s and '40s, and
a regular at Malibu. I think Mickey idolized Gard, and for a long time
he went by the name of Mickey Chapin. Gard was a great waterman, but his
personality put people off because he was arrogant and cocky. Gard Chapin
later died under mysterious circumstances: The way I heard the story, he
and some other people were on a yacht in the harbor at Cabo San Lucas.
There had been an argument, Gard left angrily in a small dinghy, it flipped
over, and he drowned. But I've also heard people who knew Gard say that
version is ridiculous because Gard could swim extremely well. At any rate,
Gard Chapin disappeared during the night and was later found dead.
"Mickey used to say that his stepfather had been murdered, and when
Mickey changed his last name back to Dora, he said it was for his own protection.
I don't know if all that was true, or if it was just part of the mystery
Mickey liked to wrap himself in."
"One day," continued Doyle, talking about Dora, "I happened to notice
that when Matt Kivlin
was out surfing, Dora watched him very carefully, studying every move Kivlin
made. I realized then that Dora had imitated a lot of Kivlin's surfing
style. Later I heard Dora refer to Kivlin as a genius of style. Because
so many surfers, including me, imitated Dora, and Dora imitated Matt Kivlin,
I think Kivlin had a much greater influence on the direction surfing took
than many people realize today."
"Dora had such charisma and style, and, like everyone else," admitted
Doyle, "I couldn't help but be very impressed with him. He wore full-length
trench coats and drove around in classic old Dusenbergs and Bentleys, as
if he were some European playboy enjoying his leisure at the beach. He
had graceful mannerisms and expressions -- the way he would touch his sunglasses
with just his thumb and forefinger, like a movie star, and smile at you.
Every kid on the beach was going around doing Mickey Dora imitations. We
drew iron crosses on the bottoms of our surfboards, and scrawled 'Kaboom!'
and 'Kazam!' across the front of them. We didn't know what it meant, but
we knew Mickey Dora did it, so it had to be cool."
"Dora was always troubled by the world situation. I think he paid too
much attention to the news. One day when I was going up and down the beach
collecting Coke bottles to get gas money, Dora told me, 'Buy gold, Doyle.
The entire world economy is going to collapse. Buy gold.'
"I didn't have the vaguest idea what he was talking about. 'Forget gold,'
I'd say. 'Let's go surfing.'"
"And Dora hated surf contests," Doyle continued. "He was always talking
about how surfers were selling their souls for a few cheap trophies. One
of his favorite tricks was to sign up to compete in a surf contest just
to get everybody talking -- 'Is Dora really gonna show?' -- then he would
never appear. Or else he'd show up at the contest with an 11' 6" tandem
board and just goof around on it while everybody else was competing, making
a mockery of the whole thing.
"Looking back on it now, I can see that Dora was manipulating the system
to bring attention to himself. Dora was a promo man, and his favorite promotion
was Mickey Dora. But everybody who knew him when he was in his prime had
to admit that Dora was a genius. He stimulated everybody's imagination,
and an awful lot of what became California surf culture was pure Dora."
Labor Day Weekend, Malibu
C.R. Stecyk tells this story of a Malibu party on Labor Day weekend:
"Another Malibu funraiser. The assembled dignitaries blast off at a
borrowed house. On the dance floor all restraint has broken loose as the
16-year-old daughter of an Orange County politician is entertaining the
troops. The word spreads as the party is being busted and the cops are
at the door. The Malibu Matador quickly calculates, knowing that fifteen
will get you twenty, and that naked underage politician's daughters might
even get you dead. An alternative scenario is quickly improvised as a matter
of survival. With great bravado, the Matador procures a sheet and instructs
Miss Jail Bait to get down on all fours. He covers the young girl with
the sheet and places a bowl of soggy potato chips on her back. With that,
the boys pull up chairs and begin playing poker upon the girl turned table
at the exact instant that the sheriff enters the room. The heat, unable
to prove any major crime, departs leaving the card players to their own
The Guayule Kid
"The greatest surfer in the late Fifties and early Sixties," credits Mike
Doyle, "was Phil Edwards. He lived down
in Oceanside and had grown up surfing at Terramar, where the power plant
in Carlsbad is today. His nickname was the 'Guayule Kid.' (Guayule was
the name of a nearby rubber manufacturing plant.) Edwards had seen Mickey
Dora surfing at San Onofre and was so impressed with Mickey's creativity
and innovative style that he spent one whole summer surfing with Dora and
copying every move Dora made. Later Edwards developed his own, totally
"For years I'd heard about Edwards doing things on surfboards that were
phenomenal, but I'd never seen him surf myself. Everything I knew about
him was by word of mouth. Other surfers told me he was a brilliant style
master. They said he had one old board he'd been riding for about six years,
and he loved it so much that when it would get all beat up, he'd carefully
peel off the old fiberglass and reglass it. Everybody knew he was the best
surfer in California, and probably the best surfer in the world, but his
entire reputation in the surfing world was based on the respect of his
peers, because Edwards usually wouldn't have anything to do with surf contests."
"Every now and then," continued Doyle, "we would hear rumors: 'Edwards
is coming up to Malibu. He's gonna show this weekend.' I was always at
Malibu, so I didn't have to worry about missing him if he did show. But
I was always disappointed.
"And then one day we got a huge summer swell at Malibu, and surfers
from all up and down the coast showed up -- from La Jolla, Oceanside, San
Onofre, and Dana Point. That was one day I stayed out of the water,
just so I could watch all these guys. There was Joey Cabell, with his perfect
timing and gazelle-like moves; Mickey Dora, with one arm in the air, nose-tweaking
and side-slipping up and down the wave; Dewey Weber,
now known as the 'Little Man on Wheels,' running to the nose, then frantically
backpeddling to the tail, slicing right, then cutting back again to the
left; Lance Carson posing forever on the nose with his arms outstretched
like a crucified Christ.
"But the most impressive of all that day was Phil Edwards. What an inspiration
it was to watch him at work! He'd do these totally original movements that
weren't always functional but were expressive. He'd run up to the nose
and stand there posing; then he'd snap out of it and run back. When the
wave would start to break, he'd lean forward to let it him on the chest.
He'd counter-rotate his lower body, as if he were winding up for a turn.
He'd change his pace, like syncopated dancing. I thought his style was
"One of Phil's moves that day," Doyle went on, "absolutely astonished
me: He took off on a big wave, but instead of turning right, he turned
left, then backpedaled, planted his rear foot on the rail, swung the board
all the way around to a full right, and immediately walked to the nose.
I had never even imagined doing anything like that -- but Edwards pulled
it off so smoothly!
"After watching Phil Edwards surf for the first time, I realized that
all of us at Malibu had been imitating each other for so long, we'd become
inbred and a bit stifled. From then on, my mind was open to new possibilities
of what you could do with a wave."
Cat On A Hot Foam Board
Phil Edwards was becoming so well known as a surf stylist that he now was
recruited to star in a surf film. It was in this way that, Edwards made
his second trip to the Islands -- this time in style and funded.
"Bud Browne was then the Matthew Jack Brady
of surf photography," wrote Edwards. "Browne planned an epic to be called
on a Hot Foam Board... By epic, I mean I was actually to get paid for
it. My fee: plane fare to Hawaii. (Later, when the movie was exhibited
on the great high school tour -- a pubescent Minsky's Circuit for the underground
movies of that day -- I was to collect a little more money from it. Nothing
wildly profitable; Browne was kind enough to give me some of the action
in a couple of small towns where he showed the film.)"
"Still," Edwards continued, "I was poised for a first starring role
in a movie, with Dewey Weber, another surfer, which began to indicate that
a life devoted to surfing was not exactly a misspent youth. Remember, youth
spent in pool halls can only make a hustler of you. There is no way to
hustle anyone on a surfboard...
"Hot Foam Surfboard under my arm -- everything I owned in a small suitcase
-- I headed for Hawaii. But not by plane.
"I pocketed the money Browne had given me and signed on as a crewman
aboard an 83-foot sloop that was to be delivered to Hawaii."
"There is something well-ordered about a yacht; everything is in its
place," Edwards went on, "and in moments of high wind and serenity, it
lies bellied over in the water, slicing up perfect bow waves, and you can
look out beyond the spinnaker and feel at peace with the world. The blue
sky lies like a bowl all around you and the sloop has a bone in its teeth
and bites along with a fine, clean hissing sound. Then, there are storms.
"Midway across the Pacific we found one. The sloop became a pitching,
tossing prison. Dishes and utensils became flying weapons. The bilge backed
up, the toilets overflowed. The crewmen were powerfully sick: throwing
up, then working on in their stained clothes, trying to keep the ship under
sail and on top of the ocean. There was the frightening snap! of canvas
when the winds would change, and I remember sitting on the long bench in
the wardroom, my legs braced out somewhere in the middle of the floor --
not sick, but thinking, 'If anyone else aboard gets sick, I'm going to
have to do everything myself and there is no way.' Crash. Then a dish would
come skittering by me and I would look at its pieces dancing on the floor
and think, 'Hot damn! We'll be eating out of our hands by Hawaii.'
"But we ran clear of it. Sloops do. And we spent a few hurried days
putting the thing back in order.
"Seventeen days after we had left California, I met Bud Browne on the
dock, surfboard still intact, ready for the movie."
The Lure of the Islands
Starting their winter season in the Islands early, Greg Noll, Bill Stonebraker,
Skipper Fats Harwood and Ricky Young arrived on O`ahu at Summer's end,
August 30th. With them came their latest experiments: short (for those
times) 8-foot "Blob" boards. "Short, ugly and designed for maneuverability,"
wrote C.R. Stecyk, "the boards are generally ignored." While innovative,
these boards did not work well in the Hawaiian conditions.
Ricky Grigg & Jim Caldwell: Out to Sea
After the Fall had passed and in a dramatic and almost fatal illustration
of how bad the Waimea Bay rip tide can get, California surfer Jim Caldwell
was swept out to sea behind the line of breakers, at the beginning of the
winter season, 1958-59.
Ricky Grigg went out to help him
and suffered the same fate. Unable to negotiate either the currents or
the heavy surf, the two were eventually rescued hours later by local firemen
with an Air-Sea Rescue helicopter.
Sheppard's Loaner Trunks, December
On the lighter side, Greg Noll recalled an incident, on December 14, 1958,
involving Bob Sheppard and his surf trunks:
"One day in December '58 a friend, Bob Sheppard, let me borrow a pair
of his trunks while we were surfing at Haleiwa. I got hit by a board and
broke two ribs. Buffalo had to bring me in. At first, Buff thought I was
kidding. The board knocked the air out of me, and all I could do was say,
in a squeaky voice, 'Buff, help me.' He finally came over to see what was
wrong and paddled me in.
"They took me to the hospital. Sheppard was there, tugging at my trunks.
'Give 'em to me, you bastard, before you croak.' I got my ribs taped up
and decided to fly home that night, since the broken ribs ended my winter
"About three months went by, then I get this letter from Sheppard: 'On
December 14, 1958, you willfully and without permission, removed and donned
one pair of blue trunks from Robert Sheppard's car. You were unfortunately
the victim of a slight accident while surfing that day and while being
treated for the acquired injury, you undoubtedly saved much money as the
doctor had at one time been an Outrigger Canoe Club member. Not wishing
to inconvenience you more, you were allowed to keep the trunks only with
the understanding that they would be left with Paul Swanson upon your departure
to the Mainland. I have now been informed that you have ungratefully skipped
out without returning those irreplaceable and highly valuable trunks. I
am bringing this to your attention and I am sure you will immediately airmail
the trunks to the above address, you kook.'
"I ignored the letter and wore the trunks for about five more months
until they were just a pile of threads. Then I wrapped what was left of
them with some bricks and put them in a box. Sent them airmail special
delivery, C.O.D., to Sheppard in Hawaii. Probably cost him about $25.
"I'm sure that before he opened the package, Sheppard thought, 'Well,
Greg is going to be good-hearted and send me something really bitchin'
for the use of my trunks.'"
Sources Used In This Chapter:
Beverly Noll, Bruce Brown, Bud
Browne, C.R. Stecyk, Desmond Muirhead, Fred Van Dyke, John
Severson, LeRoy Grannis,
Gault-Williams, Mike Doyle,
Surfing Around The World, Peter Cole, Phil
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