A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated: 11 November 2006
Australia, California, Hawai'i
Jose Angel, Late 1950's. Courtesy of SURFER magazine.
Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS.
The surfing year 1959 was notable for the early days of foam boards, emerging Australian surfers, traditional California surf culture being replaced with a more Hollywood version via the Gidget and Beach Blanket movies, the end of the Velzy-Jacobs partnership, and the on-going surf scene on the North Shore of O'ahu.
Balsa Boards Down Under
The epicenter of surfboard shaping in Australia between 1956 and 1959 was Brookvale. "At one end of Brookvale," wrote Nat Young, "was Barry Bennett; at the other end, Gordon Woods; and in the middle, Bill Wallace. Bill Clymer was in a garage in Manly where he and Joe Larkin did some beautiful work, using stringers, nose blocks and tail blocks made from cedar and redwood to set off the blond balsa."
"Gordon Woods remembers the days of the bad balsa shipments only too well; he made it a rule to always inspect the load on the truck. On one occasion he found it all to be greenish, heavier style. He turned the shipment straight around, realising that one heavy board could ruin his reputation."
"In 1959 more than 1500 Malibu
balsas were produced in Australia. By now there were other manufacturers
in Brookvale. Greg McDonagh was building some light boards with styrofoam
and Scott Dillon and Noel Ward were having some success with the same material.
Competition between the manufacturers was getting more intense as surfing
gained in popularity. Every Saturday morning each manufacturer would
set out to deliver his orders to the prospective board riders who waited
anxiously at surf clubs all over the Sydney metropolitan area. Surfboard
building developed into a lucrative business in which agents could order
a quantity of boards for their area and come to Sydney once a week to pick
up a truckload. Mark Richards' father, Ray, started in the surfboard
business in this manner, taking thousands of boards to Newcastele in the
late 50s and early 60s."
JACK "BLUEY" MAYES, NIPPER WILLIAMS & MICK DOOLEY
"Jack 'Bluey' Mayes stands out in this period as one of the
best early hot doggers," wrote Young. "Bluey grew up in Bondi and
had been involved in surfboards right from the 16-foot 'toothpick' days.
His style reflected the changing design of his boards and he soon adjusted
to the manoeuvereability of the Malibus, or 'Okanui boards' as they were
called in those days. On the north side a couple of younger board
riders, Nipper Williams and Mick Dooley, were performing well on the new
Malibus. As was to be expected, their styles were a bit looser than
Bluey's but still a little stiff, especially in the front leg, which was
kept bent and in approximately the same place for the entire ride.
Mick and Nipper lad learnt to stand up on 'toothpicks,' where keeping the
feet close together and concentrating on balance was so important.
Like many other surfers of this period they made the transition by tucking
the back leg in behind the other to turn. This drop-knee style of
turn was a characteristic of all such surfers throughout the late'50s and
early '60s. Possibly the early Australian Malibu surfers misinterpreted
the poise and grace of Phil Edwards'
backside turns which came running across our silver screens in the early
days. What was really happening was that the turn was being loaded
up with the power of the surfer, who was bending his knees and pushing
the board through the turn. It had taken years for Phil and a handful
of California surfers to develop this power through their turns, and it
was not going to happen overnight in Australia."
"In 1958 Bud
Browne, the American surf-film maker," wrote Nat Young, "heard about
what was happening in Australia and filmed the start of the explosion down
under. One of the surfers he met was Bob Evans; he and Evans developed
a rapport and Bob agreed to show Bud's surf movies in Australia. The movies
gave Australians a window on the surfing world overseas and showed them
what had been happening just a few months ago in California and Hawaii;
soon local riders were making every attempt to emulate the action they
saw in the movies."
BOB COOPER (1960)
"The film Bud Browne shot in Sydney," continued Young, "was included in his new movie of '59 and it was inevitable that some of the more adventurous American surfers would see it and be turned on to Australia as a new frontier where a pure surfer could stay one jump ahead of the masses. Bob Cooper was virtually the first American surfer to do this. He came in late 1960, just as the lid was about to blow; in fact, just in time to see the premiere of John Severson's latest surf movie at Anzac House. For Cooper it was a flashback to all the very worst things about the surf scene he had just left. It seemed it was almost surfer instinct to go wild over the screaming of surf guitars and the pounding of huge waves at Sunset. As in California, the theatre proprietors and the public could not understand or tolerate this behavior, especially when a glass mural depicting the Anzacs in battle was smashed and seats were ripped out of the auditorium; the surfers were ushered out by numerous police. Many theatres still have closed doors to surfing movies as a legacy of the early 60s' larrikinism."
"Some time earlier," continued Young, "Sydney board-builder
Barry Bennett had sent a letter to the American manufacturer Dale
Velzy asking for information about blowing foam, so Cooper, who blew
foam for Velzy, knew there would be a job for him when he arrived in Australia.
He stayed a couple of nights with Bennett before settling into the Manly
surf scene in a flat with Mick Dooley and Wheels Williams."
Late '50s California Surf Spots
Although surfing was heating up in Australia and Hawai`i still
defined big wave surfing, surfing's center had moved to Southern California.
Once California surfing's epicenter, by the 1950s, San Onofre had become the state's first "classic" spots. "The older guys who had learned to surf in Hawaii," wrote Mike Doyle in his autobiography Morning Glass, "favored San Onofre because they thought it was a lot like Waikiki, with really long rides. Some of the younger surfers, though, didn't care for the wave at San Onofre because it came at you from all directions. I called it billiard surfing because there were so many angles, so many banks. I always thought it was an interesting wave.
"What I loved most about San Onofre, though, was the creative
energy there. The older surfers made tiki huts along the beach out
of driftwood and bamboo so they could get out of the sun when they wanted.
It was great to park there and lie in the shade of the tiki huts with rows
of colorful surfboards lined up against their sides. There were guys
living in old panel trucks they'd furnished in Polynesian style, with tapa
cloth glued to the ceilings and sea shells glued to the dashboards; even
their beer can openers were carved from wood, wrapped with string and varnished.
They made their own canvas hats and reinforced them with big brass grommets,
then decorated them with bottle caps. Some of the guys stitched big
corks to the tops of their hats and wore them surfing; if they fell off
their boards, the hats floated. Anything that washed up on the beach
would find its way into some kind of sculpture: carved tikis hacked out
with an ax, huge seagulls and little windmills made out of driftwood and
mounted on long poles. When you were at San Onofre, you felt as if
you were part of an ocean culture that had its roots in Polynesia."
By the end of the 1950s, one of the most famous surf spots "in California during that era," wrote Mike Doyle, "was Trestles, on the north end of the Camp Pendleton Marine Base," just north of San Onofre. "They called it Trestles because the train tracks crossed a lagoon there on a wooden trestle. It was a thick, heavy wave, a point break that was great for long boards. The marines, who used that area for amphibious training, tried hard to keep surfers out of Trestles. The penalty for being caught there was a $500 fine, six months in jail, or both; supposedly the FBI kept a list of violators. But no self-respecting surfer let the marines keep him out of Trestles. Great surf spots were gifts of nature, like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, and as far as we were concerned, the military had no claim to them."
Trestles, wrote Nat Young in his History of Surfing, "had two dominant points, named 'Uppers' and 'Lowers,' which not only had good waves but provided surfers with a challenge by forcing them to run the gauntlet of marine guards."
"The trick to getting into Trestles," continued Doyle, "was to drive to the bottom of a nearby arroyo, leave your car in the jungle of willows, then sneak down to the beach. If the marines came while you were in the water, you could paddle so far out they couldn't get you, then turn north and paddle to San Clemente State Park, where they didn't have the authority to arrest you. That really infuriated the marines. Several times after I worked that trick on them, they fired their automatic weapons in the water all around me. Sometimes the bullets would hit as close as ten feet away. Other times I would come back to my car and find that they had slashed my tires. It was a real war between surfers and marines, and it went on for years."
"One classic story," wrote Nat Young, "is about Jack Haley, who sneaked into Trestles wearing a Napoleonic officer's coat and sabre; the marines drove up with the intention of kicking him out, but Jack challenged them to a duel and they all left laughing. That was in the early days; the officers' patience wore thin as the number of surfers increased, and in the final years of the 1950s they would round up vanloads of surfers and escort them back to the camp gates, taking their names, confiscating their surfboards and sometimes even prosecuting them for trespassing."
"For a while," Doyle admitted, "I became obsessed with surfing at Trestles. I loved the wave, but I came to love the thrill of battling the marines even more. I bought an old 1946 Ford woody. The transmission only had two working gears, but I only paid twenty-five dollars for the thing, so I wasn't worried if the marines impounded it. I spray-painted the whole body in pre-hippie flower style and wrote on the side 'Trestle Special.'"
"One day," Doyle recalled, "I was surfing at Trestles with Mike McLellan, who was the fullback on the Orange Coast College football team. He probably weighed 220 pounds, and most of it was muscle. Mike was legendary for fighting the marines. As he and I were walking down the trail to the beach, carrying our surfboards under our arms, two marines dressed in jungle fatigues jumped out of the willows beside the trail. They pointed their guns at us, so of course we surrendered. They turned us around and started walking us back up the trail. There was a marine in front, then me, then Mike, and the other marine was bringing up the rear. All of a sudden, Mike jammed the tail of his board into the marine's chest, caved him in, then ran up and clobbered the other marine in the back of the neck with the nose of his surfboard. I was so surprised, I just stood there in shock. But Mike grabbed me, and we started running as fast as we could. I thought for sure the marines were going to fire on us. We knew about some side trails that we hoped the marines didn't know about, so we followed them back to our car, hopped in, and got out of there in a hurry."
"One time, though, I did get caught at Trestles," wrote Mike Doyle. "We were sitting on the beach when the marines came out of the willow jungle. I picked up my board and started running for the water, but one marine ran after me and grabbed the back of my board. They caught me and five other guys and marched us back to their van.
"They drove us to the base headquarters, which is about ten miles inland from the beach, then lined us up against the wall and asked us our names.
"I said, 'Mike Doyle.'
"The marine gave me a sarcastic look. 'Right, fella. The last twenty surfers we had in here were either Mickey Doyle or Mike Dora.'
"I laughed. In a way, I was flattered.
"None of us had any I.D., so the marines made us sit there for three or four hours worrying about what was going to happen to us; then they took our pictures and let us go. 'Next time we see you at Trestles, you're going to jail,' they said."
Nat Young told a similar story. "Around the time when
Dora was a surf star, and years after Micky had been the first lifeguard
in the area, he was apprehended for being on the base. Back in the
sergeant's office he gave his name and watched while the sergeant turned
from red to purple, his eyes popping. Reaching up, leaning over the
table, grabbing 'The Cat's' shirt, he pulled him closer for direct eye
contact and managed to shout at the height of his tantrum that he had had
two other Micky Doras that day, ten in the last week and over five hundred
in the entire summer. Every surfer who was picked up by the marines
was giving his name as either Micky Dora or Phil Edwards!"
"Right next door to Trestles," continued Young, "is Cotton's
Point, a tempting surf spot overlooked by the Cotton family's beautiful
Spanish-style villa, which was to become the western White House in President
Nixon's reign. In the early 1950s the local surfers had developed
a method of sneaking into the area by nosing their cars up to the guard
chain, pulling on the car emergency brake lightly, jumping out and holding
the chain up while the car coasted under; it only remained to drive up
the side entrance track and to stow the car in the bush for the 'sneak'
to be complete. There was only one guard but he was a fanatic; Mr.
Carney, hater of surfers and dedicated to protecting the estate with a
shotgun. He fired at surfers many times but nobody, fortunately,
was ever hit."
Another surf spot classified as "off limits," was the Hollister Ranch area, north of Santa Barbara, just below Point Conception.
"During this exploratory period of surfing in California,"
wrote Nat Young, "surfers discovered many new beaches and point surfs,
only to be kicked out by irate ranchers who insisted that the surfers scared
their cattle, broke their fences down and caused chaos to normal farm life.
The Hollister ranch north of Santa Barbara was one such discovery; John
Severson, who had turned his hand to movies as well as magazines [not until
1960], put together a 'surf safari' into this area in 1959. He and
his friends were given the boot from Government Point, at the most northern
end of the ranch, but they camped at the other end in Gaviota Park instead
and next day set off to explore the coast to the north. From the
top of one bluff all they could see was perfect point after point stretching
off into the distance, with off-shore winds holding up six to eight foot
barrels. They had found paradise! Young Mike Doyle was the
star of the day. A few other surfers made camping trips to this area
in 1959, including James Aurness and his son Rolf. Everywhere you
travelled there was a tremendous feeling of openness and adventure; it
seemed that around every bend there was a new surfing sport to name and
Malibu was great in the summer, but the surf doesn't usually break there in the winter -- at least not in the classic Malibu style," wrote Mike Doyle. "It took me a long time to figure that out. On the weekends after school started, I would lash my surfboard to the top of my Messerschmidt, drive up to Malibu and sit there on the windy beach all day long waiting for the waves to appear. They never did.
"Again, it was Dale Velzy who educated me. He said I ought to go to Rincon, up by Santa Barbara. 'On a north swell, the wave wraps around that point and you can get rides a half-mile long,' he said. 'In the winter, Rincon's the best wave in California.'
"Velzy was right, and before long Kemp Aaberg, Lance Carson,
Johnny Fain, and I were driving up to Rincon
almost every weekend. In those days it was nothing to drive 200 miles
looking for good surf. Gas was twenty-five cents a gallon, and the
highways weren't crowded. We used to drive from L.A. to Santa Barbara
and back down to La Jolla, on the old highway, all in one day, just checking
out the surf. There were only a few hundred really active surfers
on the whole coast, and you knew most of them, so if you passed a car with
a surfboard on top, that was a brother. You'd both pull over to the
side of the road and exchange information: Where you been?
How was the surf? Who'd you see? Who's hot this week?
Even if you didn't know them, you'd still pull over and chat, exchange
phone numbers, and end up being friends."
"Another place we loved to surf in the winter was Swami's," wrote Mike Doyle, "down in San Diego County. The place got its name after an Indian spiritual leader, Paramahansa Yogananda, built one of his Self-Realization Fellowship retreats on the cliffs there overlooking the ocean. The place had a pair of big gold domes out in front that fave it a mystical quality.
"Swami's was a thrill to surf because the swell came out of deep water, then jacked up on a reef 300 yards off the beach. It had a steep drop at the peak and a long, fast shoulder. On a good day, Swami's would get up to twelve feet. It was more of a Hawaiian-type wave than anything I'd surfed before."
"The local star at Swami's," Doyle continued, "was a freckle-faced kid named Rusty Miller, from Encinitas. I got to know him some then, and in later years he and I became close friends.
"In those days we parked our cars on Highway 101, then walked
through a big vegetable garden to a rickety old stairway that led down
the bluff to the beach. The devotees at the retreat grew their own
organic food, and they were always out there working quietly in the garden.
To raise money for the retreat, they had a little stand on the highway
where they sold mushroom burgers. We used to surf all day, then buy
a bag of mushroom burgers for the drive home."
Unbeknownst to the crew at Malibu, their life at the 'Bu was about to be irreversibly changed forever and the whole makeup of surfing around the world transform due to events set in motion on the beach of their favorite point surf.
The years of 1958-59 was a time when "Hot dogging was in,"
as Nat Young put it. "Nobody knows how the name arose, but everybody
knew what it was; fast, radical manoeuvres (for the time), nose rides,
hanging five, hanging ten, stalling, running to the nose, drop-knee cutbacks,
head dip, wave scratch, and much else. One of the kings was Dewey
Weber, who was into amazing arm gestures as well as having been a member
of Groucho Marx's Yo Yo team and in his youth, a model for Buster Brown
shoe commercials. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference in
the surf between Weber and Johnny Fain, the 'Malibu Lizard'; they were
both about 5'4" in height, with long blong hair and muscular physiques.
Johnny was younger and more or less took over Weber's role as the older
surfer got into raising a family and developing his surfboard business."
Another surfer showing promise was Mike Doyle, who had risen through the ranks at Malibu. As evidence of this, Doyle tells an interesting story of a point where he realized his progression and to some extent, the end of his innocense:
"I stopped by the Velzy and Jacobs shop in Venice to order a new board," wrote Doyle. "Watching Phil Edwards had changed my thinking about what kind of equipment I needed, and besides, I'd outgrown my old board. (I was seventeen, but all of a sudden I was six feet tall and still growing.) I told Dale Velzy and Hap Jacobs exactly what kind of board I wanted, and they listened patiently. Then I asked them how much a board like that would cost.
"Hap Jacobs put his arm around me and said, 'Well, Mike, I'll tell you what. We'll make you whatever kind of board you want, and it'll be from the best balsa we got. But we aren't gonna sell it to you. We're gonna own it. You can ride it all you want. When you decide it's time for a new board, you bring it back to us, and we'll make you another one.'
"I didn't get it at all. 'Why would you do that?' I asked.
"'Just trust us, Mike. This is something Dale and I want to do for you.'
"I still didn't get it. 'That's great! But why?'
"'Mike,' Velzy said, 'the way we hear it, you're getting to be one of the hottest young riders at Malibu these days. We just like to see the best surfers riding our boards.'
"I went home ecstatic that night and told my mother I'd won a free surfboard for being such a good surfer. I thought it was like winning a trophy in a contest.
"You might say that was the end of my innocense. For the next fifteen years, I didn't pay for another piece of surfing equipment and rarely paid for a plane ticket."
Another incident helped drive the point home to Doyle:
"I didn't surf at Manhattan or Hermosa Beach much anymore," admitted Doyle. "There were so many better places to surf, and besides, I had bad memories of the place." Doyle referred to being hassled, when he was younger, by the locals who surfed there. The 22nd Street Gang had put him down on many occasions and even made fun of his embracing Polynesian culture by calling him "Tiki Mike," after the tiki he wore. "And except for Dewey Weber," Doyle continued, "the 22nd Street Gang didn't make it up to n much. We never saw them at Swami's, Rincon, or San Onofre, either. They were all talented surfers, but they were afraid to leave their home turf, where they were unchallenged.
"But then one day, maybe as an effort to break out of their rut, the whole 22nd Street Gang showed up at Malibu. I could see how nervous they were. Maybe they were afraid they would be treated as badly as they had treated outsiders on their home turf. They just sat on the beach for a while and watched the Malibu regulars surf.
"I knew they were watching, so I showed off a bit. When I came out of the water, Henry Ford, who had always been their ringleader and mouthpiece, walked over to me and said, 'Are you Tiki Mike, the guy who we used to see down at Hermosa Beach?'
"I laughed -- nobody had called me Tiki Mike in years. I'd grown at least a foot and gained fifty pounds since the days when they'd made my life so miserable. I didn't look so gangly anymore (some girls were even starting to give the impression they thought I was attractive), and I had the self-confidence of somebody who had found his own place in the world. I said, 'Yeah, I'm Tiki Mike.'
"Henry got a pained look on his face, then said, 'Jesus, how'd you get to be so good?'
"I could see now how their tight little clique had retarded their growth. By being so cruel to me, they'd forced me to go out on my own -- they'd shoved me into evolution. 'I don't know, Henry,' I said. 'I've been working on it, I guess.'"
"In 1959," Doyle wrote, switching the subject to transportation, "my senior year in high school, my buddy Mike Majek and I started a business shaping balsa wood surfboards in my garage. Our major investment was a power planer. Foam surfboards had just started to come on the market, but their advantages hadn't been fully recognized yet. In fact, some surfers called foam boards 'speedo sponges' or 'flexi-fliers.' So Majek and I stuck with shaping balsa boards. Beginning with a balsa blank, we would plane and sand each board into the shape we wanted, then coat it with fiberglass and resin. We shaped about 150 boards that year and sold them all, which put a little spending money in our pockets and gave us some independence.
"One weekend, after Majek and I had each saved up a few hundred dollars, we flew up to San Francisco, then took a cab down to Burlingame, just south of the airport. There was a huge storage yard there filled with used ambulances and hearses: big beautiful Cadillacs with powerful V-8 engines and heavyweight suspensions. The mortuaries would buy new cars every year or so, no matter what condition the old ones were in; the cars had been well serviced, and hardly any of them had more than 15,000 miles, since they only went from the mortuary to the graveyard and back. There was almost no market for these cars -- who wanted to own a used death-mobile? -- but they made perfect surf wagons. So for $400 I bought a beautiful 1958 Cadillac with braided curtains and a burgundy velvet interior -- a beautiful piece of metal and chrome. I remember the interior smelled like dried flower petals.
"Majek bought himself a Cadillac ambulance, and together we cruised down the Coast Highway, through Santa Cruz and Big Sur, in our plush wagons with their big engines purring. We were only eighteen and had our own Cadillacs.
"As soon as we got home, I had my hearse painted canary yellow, and Mike had his ambulance painted fire-engine red. We liked to cruise side by side down Manchester Boulevard, in Inglewood, Majek in his ambulance and me in my hearse, while all the other cruisers in their lowered La Bamba '54 Oldsmobiles gave us angry stares. What thrilled us most of all, I think, was that we were thumbing our noses at the stifling Fifties mentality and getting away with it. We didn't have to act like square football jocks, and we didn't have to dress like tough cholos anymore. We had our own style now. The creative freedom and exhilaration we'd found in surfing was affecting our whole lives.
"I loved taking my hearse to the beach. I carried my surfboards and wetsuits on the chrome coffin rack, so when I pushed a button, the whole rack would come sliding out. In midday I could climb in the back of the hearse to get out of the sun, and I slept in it when we went overnight to Rincon or Swami's. The only bad thing about that car was going to pick up a girl for a date. One look at my bed on wheels, and no girl's father would ever let his daughter see me again. So I learned after a while to park around the corner."
"As my senior year in high school drew to a close," Mike Doyle wrote, "I had no thought of going to college. My mother didn't encourage me to go -- nobody in her family had ever gone. I was just waiting for high school to end so I could go to Hawaii.
"On the last day of high school, in June 1959, everybody in my English class had to stand up and talk about what he or she planned to do with the rest of his or her life. One guy described how his dad was going to get him a job selling life insurance. One girl said she was going to marry her boyfriend, the same guy she'd been going with since the ninth grade. Another guy was going to join the army and learn about radio repair.
"The teacher, Mrs. Tregeagle, was probably congratulating herself on how she'd helped these fine young people achieve adulthood. Meanwhile, all the other kids were listening nervously, trying to come up with stories good enough to outdo their classmates.
"I was sitting in the back of the class, trying to keep a low profile. But Mrs. Tregeagle eventually called on me. I walked to the front of the class, looked at my classmates, then at the teacher, and said, 'I'm gonna live on the beach at Malibu, and I'm gonna surf every day.'
"Mrs. Tregeagle was not pleased. 'Now, Michael, you know you can't make a living surfing.'
"'Well, I've thought about that,' I said. 'I'll collect Coke bottles.'
"The whole class started giggling, not sure if I was serious. Mrs. Tregeagle gave me her most severe look.
"'There's two guys down there doing it right now!' I said. 'Tubesteak and Harry Stonelake. They work at it every day, and they get just enough money to eat. It's perfect!'
"The other kids were really having fun now, watching me make a fool out of myself.
"Mrs. Tregeagle got up from her desk, walked over to my side, grabbed me by the arm, and dragged me out of the classroom and into the hall. She was furious. 'What do you think you're doing, trying to disrupt my class like that?'
"I said, 'I didn't do that to disrupt your class. That's really what I'm going to do.'
"Mrs. Tregeagle looked me directly in the eye and slowly began
to realize that I really was serious. She let go of my arm, stepped
back, and shook her head with disgust. 'You poor, poor boy,' she
CAL PORTER, MALIBU'S 1ST LIFEGUARD
As school was ending, summer was starting. Craig Stecyk describes the arrival of Malibu's first paid lifeguard, Cal Porter, on June 11, 1959:
"Cal Porter pulls up to Malibu in the county truck to assume his
post as the first lifeguard at Malibu. Having surfed for over thirty
years, Cal realizes the tremendous changes which have taken place.
He is ambivalent over the county's take over of the beach. In fact,
Porter quit surfing here back in '48, feeling that it was just too crowded.
The irony of a waterman from the solitary redwood era having to deal with
legions of post Gidget movie, spasmodic pretenders is acute. Cal
does this job by day and returns to his beachfront home in the ancestral
heart of Rancho Malibu to surf alone on the private beach each night.
Porter's lifestyle pattern becomes the template for the behavior of many
future Malibu guards."
"Beginning about that time, 1959," wrote Doyle, "Lance Carson started going through one of the wildest periods I've ever seen anybody go through. He refused to go back east to the military academy for his senior year, and he started acting up anywhere he could find an audience. He would go through a whole series of wild antics, rolling around on the ground and making bizarre sounds and faces, trying to see how silly he could get. His favorite trick was waving his bare ass at the world. After a surf movie at the Redondo High School Auditorium, while thousands of people were pouring out the doors, Lance stood at the bottom of the steps with his pants around his ankles, spreading his cheeks. After that his nickname became 'No Pants Lance.'"
"At first we though Lance was just trying to get us all to laugh," continued Mike Doyle, "but sooner or later he would push himself to the point that we wondered if he was going to lose control. He would punch his fist through a window or run out on the highway and see how close he could come to getting hit by a car. Another time Lance parked in front of Winchells Donuts and stood on the hood of his car with no pants on and a doughnut around his weenie, like a hood ornament. I thought it was beautiful -- a kind of performance art that made a mockery of people's fear of nudity.
"Years later I think it embarrassed Lance to be remembered
for the wild antics of his youth. But in some ways Lance was years
ahead of his time. He appreciated bizarre and outrageous situations,
and if he couldn't find them, he would create them. I think Lance
might have been the first punker."
Gidget: Kookdom's Boon, Fall 1959
On November 5, 1959, Rich Chrysler accompanied Lance Carson to the El Miro Theatre in Santa Monica to see the Hollywood film that had caused a sudden interest in surfing by non-surfers. Gidget, the fictionalized life of the Gidget they knew from the beach, had OK stunt work by those they knew, but the plot stunk. "In a little over one year," wrote C.R. Stecyk, "this cinematic effort will change their surfing life forever more."
A maverick spirit like the kind a Lance Carson could show you -- combined with a commitment to having fun -- has always been an integral part of surfing, from ancient Polynesia to present day.
In writing about the surfers who came out of World War II, Leonard Lueras, in his excellent Surfing, The Ultimate Pleasure, wrote that at least since the arrival of the missionaries to Hawai`i in the late 1770s, the word "Surfer" has always "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 [of World War II] were tough, solid and tested -- tested by waves as much as war."
"And it was their nonconformist lifestyles," postulated Lueras, "that influenced a new generation of young Turks born around the time of Pearl Harbor and destined to become legends. To a real degree," further philosophised Lueras, "the California surfer of the late 40s and early 50s, with his baggies and huarache sandals, with his penchant for crazed 'surfaris' to Mexico in search of waves, this self-made product of the tumultuous California gestalt who believed in something with an integrity that few understood, was a forerunner of major social phenomena. His rise paralleled that of the beatniks, Kerouac's and Cassady's transcontinental methedrine marathons; and predated Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, hippies, even Tim Leary's dictum to turn on, tune in, and drop out. Ahead of the curl and ahead of the pack."
"Very likely the surfer's significance in the early era," insightfully wrote Lueras, "has gone unrecognized because scholars of American history have always found it difficult to take seriously a subculture of mostly tanned, fit beach-dwellers who were noticeably free of existential angst, who pursued surf with great passion, and got laid a lot. They regarded surfers as having neither anything to say, nor the ability to say it... Surfers, it appeared, were relegated to California's flaky fringe... Finally, surfing's claim to historical legitimacy was torpedoed by Hollywood."
This subversion began with the first of many "beach movies,"
GIDGET, June 27,1956
"By the summer of 1956 the surfing craze was in high gear," wrote Nat Young. "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..."
"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,' who was the man responsible for naming Gidget. According to Tubesteak himself, 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.'"
"That was a statement," wrote Young, "which was to mean more than Tubesteak thought."
"After a few dues-paying summers," according to Leonard Lueras,
"Malibu's resident hotdoggers allowed little Kathy into their inner circle.
They took her out tandem surfing, regaled her with surf stories, and even
gave her a proper surfer's nickname."
GIDGET, THE BOOK, 1957
"In the evenings," continued Lueras, "after Kathy had returned home from daytime surfing adventures, she'd tell her family about her kookie Malibu friends and her role as the surfer girl named Gidget. Her father, Frederick 'Fritz' Kohner, an author, found his daughter's stories fascinating, so he dat down at his typewriter and whipped out a novel, Gidget, based on Kathy's beach experiences. Kohner's effort -- a first person narrative by Gidget, 'the little girl with the big ideas' -- was a best-selling success, and shortly thereafter he and Putnam Books sold the movie rights to Gidget to Columbia Pictures."
"Kathryn's father was a writer," echoed Young, "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
SHOOTING THE FILM, 1958-59
A few of the Malibu regulars made a little cash as surfing
extras when the shooting for the film took place at Arroyo Seco, north
of Trancas. It was the summer of 1958 when Mickey "Da Cat" Dora,
Johnny "Bottom Turn" Fain and Mickey "Mongoose" Muñoz did their
stunt riding for Gidget.
GIDGET, THE MOVIE, 1959
"With the highly-publicized screening of a first Gidget movie (1959)," described Lueras, "featuring chirp-chirp Sandra Dee in a frilly role opposite teen heart-throb James Darren, America's then preponderant youth culture -- of greasy hair, pegger pants and obliquely 'raked' cars -- got its first look at Southern California's sun-bleached surfing cult. Also, and some say unfortunately, the noble Hawaiian sport of surfing entered its most commercially successful, but cornball, era."
"... and suddenly," wrote Young, "everyone seemed to be going surfing. It was the 'in' thing to do."
"That first cutesy Gidget movie was such a success," Lueras
wrote, "it spawned successor flicks -- Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963) -- and a shortlived (1965-1966) ABC
television series. Later Gidgets, Gidget Grows Up (1970) and
Gets Married (1972), fidgeted their way into America's living rooms
as television 'Specials,' but it was Kohner's novel, and Columbia's first
two pastel and cream romances, that gave worlds beyond California and Hawaii
their first distorted view of surfing."
Elsewhere in California
Turns out Mike Doyle didn't live on the beach collecting soft
drink bottles. Instead, he both beat military enlistment and joined
the lifeguard services:
"One of the best things about being a lifeguard," wrote Doyle, "was that a lot of the older guys I'd idolized for years -- Buzzy Trent, Ricky Grigg, and Dave Rochlen -- also worked as lifeguards, and I got to see them almost every day.
"Buzzy Trent, who was about nine years older than I, had a tight muscular body, with short arms and legs, a tiny waist and a big chest. He'd grown up in Santa Monica back in the Forties; he and Matt Kivlin used to ride their bikes to Malibu. But Buzzy had a real craving for adventure and at some point decided he had to have bigger thrills than California surfing could offer. He started spending his winters in Hawaii and became one of the great pioneers of surfing on the North Shore of Oahu."
"The Hawaiians who developed the modern style of surfing in the early part of this century, Duke Kahanamoku's generation, had spent most of their time at Waikiki. Some of them worked at the hotels as professional beachboys, taking rich tourists out on tandem boards and outrigger canoes. They were fantastic watermen, but they had kind of a cushy life there, living off their tips and hustling the tourist women. They didn't want to go over to the North Shore of O`ahu, where the waves were so big and thunderous you couldn't even sleep at night.
"The next generation of surfers, which included Hawaiians, as well as haoles (whites), had been terrific watermen too, and they rode some big waves at Makaha, on the west side of the island, but they didn't have the equipment and the madman mentality to go after the biggest waves they could find.
"It was the California crazies in the Fifties who really pioneered big-wave surfing. They were the ones who discovered that a relatively short stretch (less than ten miles) of the North Shore was blessed with the biggest and best surf in the world: Sunset, Pipeline, Pupukea, Waimea, and Haleiwa. If the California crazies had anything in common it was a wild, restless, sometimes almost self-destructive energy. They had a bohemian lifestyle, some were hard drinkers -- always looking for that quick rush -- and they might have been considered misfits at any vocation other than riding big waves."
"But to me," Doyle confessed, "Buzzy Trent was a super-hero. I was thrilled just to know him, and every time I saw him I pumped him for information about the North Shore. 'What's Sunset like? When that big wave hits you, how long do you have to hold your breath?'
"Buzzy would say something like, 'Listen, you've surfed at Swami's when the surf was twelve-foot, right? Well, wait'll you surf Sunset. It's ten times as powerful as that. It would kill most California surfers.'
"It scared the hell out of me to hear Buzzy's stories, but
at the same time I couldn't get enough of them."
"The other lifeguard I admired a lot was Ricky Grigg," Mike
Doyle admitted. "Buzzy had taught Ricky how to surf at Malibu when
he was just a kid. Ricky wasn't a big guy, about 160 pounds, but
well built. He had blond hair that was already thinning and a great
big smile. He always looked comfortable in the water, and was absolutely
fearless. Ricky had already spent one winter surfing in Hawaii, and
everytime I asked him about it he encouraged me to go to the North Shore
and see it for myself."
VELZY & JACOBS DISSOLVE & THE SAN CLEMENTE SHOP GETS SHUTDOWN BY THE IRS
The summer of 1959 not only meant an end to the Malibu that once was, but it also marked the end of the first great surfboard manufacturing partnerships: Velzy and Jacobs.
"In 1959," Mike Doyle documented, "Dale Velzy and Hap Jacobs dissolved their partnership. They still kept the name Velzy & Jacobs on their surfboards, but Jacobs took over the shop in Venice, while Velzy moved his wife and family to San Clemente, about fifty miles south of L.A., and opened a new shop there.
"I bought a 1957 Ranchero that summer, and to help pay for it I started running balsa wood blanks down to Velzy's shop twice a week."
"San Clemente was a sleepy little beach town then," continued Doyle, "but I liked it so much I started staying down there and shaping boards for Velzy when I wasn't lifeguarding. There were three other guys working for him, Kimo Hollinger, Duke Brown and my old friend Kemp Aaberg. We all slept in a big loft above the shop; we were like Velzy's guard dogs, keeping burglars away at night. The loft was about three feet deep in balsa shavings left over from shaping boards. Balsa comes off the planer clean and smooth, and it smells wonderful -- not like Styrofoam and fiberglass, which are itchy and smelly. So we just threw our sleeping bags down in those balsa chips and slept like we were in surf rat heaven.
"Every morning at first light, we'd jump out of our bags, hop in a van, head to the doughnut shop for a quick breakfast, then hit Trestles at the crack of dawn. We'd surf the morning glass, then come back and work on surfboards during the middle part of the day. Later, we'd head back to Trestles for the evening glass. We didn't do anything except make surfboards and surf."
"Velzy didn't shape that many surfboards himself anymore; he just concentrated on keeping the materials coming in the shop on Monday and the finished boards going out on Friday. If there was an order for a racing board or a big tandem board -- something that caught his fancy -- he would shape it himself. But Velzy's real passion was cars. He always had a fast hot rod with a surfboard sticking out the back, or a sleek little Mercedes.
"Velzy paid us by the piece. If you shaped a board you got $5, if you sanded a board you got $3, and so on. We had a clipboard hanging on the wall, and every time we finished a job, we'd put a check by our name. Every Friday Velzy would add up the check marks, pull a big roll of cash from his pocket, and peel off whatever he owed us. For Velzy every transaction was always in cash -- no checks, no bookkeeping, no bother.
"We all thought Velzy was rich because he drove a Mercedes SL 300 gull wing and wore a big diamond ring. Anybody as slick as the Hawk had to be rich. But one day, late that summer, some guys in three-piece suits showed up at Velzy's shop. I didn't know who they were, but one of the other guys said they were from the IRS. I didn't even know what that meant. Whoever they were, they shut the place down and put a big lock on the door.
"After that, Velzy's shop was finished. He took off for
Montana, saying he was going to try his hand at gold mining. The
Hawk always had an eye for striking it rich."
The North Shore, 1959
While surfing was changing forever in Southern California's -- especially
at the 'Bu -- it was surfing as usual for the North Shore crew who remained
largely unaffected by the rapidly rising popularity of surfing on the Mainland.
MIKE DOYLE'S 1ST TRIP TO THE NORTH SHORE
"When that summer came to an end," Mike Doyle told Steve Sorensen, "I'd saved enough money to make my trip to Hawaii. Buzzy Trent, Ricky Grigg, and a few other California surfers had a place on the North Shore they rented every winter. They told me that if I flew to Honolulu, they would pick me up at the airport and let me stay at their place until I could get a place of my own. My plan was to spend all winter, and I was starting to get really excited about it. But at the same time, there was something scary about knowing my greatest dream was about to come true. If you put all your hopes into one thing and that one thing turns out not to be as wonderful as you'd thought, what do you do next?
"Also, the thought occurred to me that until now surfing had mostly been just for fun. But in Hawaii, there would be a very real element of risk. Every now and then we would hear reports through the grapevine of big-wave riders on the North Shore drowning, and for the first time I began to understand why so many of the great California surfers never gave the North Shore a try, or if they did, they came back home and never tried it again."
"In September," continued Doyle, "I bought my ticket on USOA -- United States Overseas Airlines. The price was only $80 round trip but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. The rumor was that USOA stood for 'Use Some Other Airline.' Their only plane was a rickety old DC-6, and they treated the passengers worse than they treated the freight...
"The plane was supposed to leave from the Lockheed terminal at the Burbank airport, but right after departure, one of the engines broke down. We had to wait at the YMCA in Burbank for two days while they pulled the engine out, repaired it, and got it back into the plane again.
"When the plane was finally ready to fly, they cancelled the tickets for about three-fourths of the passengers because they needed the space for a load of Avon cosmetics bound for Honolulu. I was lucky to get a seat...
"We landed at the Honolulu airport late that night... Buzzy Trent and Ricky Grigg were waiting for me... With them was Peter Cole, another Californian who now lived in Honolulu, where he taught at the Punahou prep school. He was thin, with a receding hairline, had a studious look, and was quieter than the others; but I knew he was a legendary big-wave rider. The winter before, 1958, he'd become the first haole to win the Makaha International, [then] the most important surf contest in the world."
"We grabbed my luggage and surfboard," continued Doyle, "and climbed in Peter's car. The war stories started immediately: 'You shoulda seen the wipeout Peter took at Sunset yesterday,' Buzzy said. 'God, it was horrible! We didn't think he was ever coming up again.'
"... Buzzy and Ricky lived in an old army barracks Quonset hut just a few feet back from the high-tide line. The place had one big room in front, a kitchen and bath, and some small bedrooms in back. There was no furniture except a few old smelly mattresses thrown down on the floor. The kitchen was piled high with dirty dishes and trash. They had a big sack of beans, a big sack of rice, and several cases of beer. It was the only house of surfers on the whole North Shore, and the guys rented it for something like $75 a month."
"Buzzy welcomed me to their house by saying, 'Doyle, you want my wife for the night?' Buzzy's wife, Violet, was a Filipino who grew up in Hawaii. She looked soft and dark and, I thought, beautiful.
"Buzzy didn't mean any harm -- it was just his idea of a joke. But I was so embarrassed, I just looked at the floor and pretended I didn't know what he was talking about.
"'Ah, come on, Buzzy, lay off him,' Ricky said. 'He just got here.'
"Well, then here, have a shooter,' Buzzy laughed, and handed me a glass of whiskey. 'Tomorrow we ride the big surf!'
"Buzzy and the others stayed up late that night drinking whiskey,
but I unrolled my sleeping bag on the floor and tried to sleep. I
couldn't, though. The impact from the waves made the floor of the
hut shake, and I kept thinking, What am I doing here with these madmen?"
BANZAI PIPELINE, SEPTEMBER 1959
"I was relieved when dawn finally arrived," continued Mike Doyle in retelling the story of his first trip to the North Shore. "As soon as I heard the others stirring, I got up and went outside. Right in front of the Quonset hut was the most incredible shore break I'd ever seen -- eight-foot barrels crashing on a reef. It was the fastest, tightest wave I could imagine, and I just stood there staring at it.
"When the others came out, they looked hung over. Buzzy scratched his belly, pointed at the shore break, and said, 'Well, this is it, Doyle. This is where we surf when Sunset's not breaking.'
"I looked at the shore break again, then back at Buzzy. 'Are you serious?' I asked. The place looked like death to me.
"'Yeah, some good lefts out there. Here, lemme show ya.' And he started pointing out the line-up. 'Now, you wanna paddle out right over there. It's a bit tight, sure, but get up on the nose right after takeoff, and you'll make it. We'll come out as soon as you get a coupla rides.'
"I took my board and paddled out, thinking to myself, This is way out of my league."
Doyle ended-up riding the spot, successfully, on a couple of rides. "I rode three or four waves before I noticed that none of the others were coming out to join me. They were standing on the beach watching me. So I paddled back in, thinking maybe I was doing something wrong.
"Buzzy said, 'Way to go, kid.'
"Nobody else said a word.
"I didn't find out until later I'd been surfing what they called the Banzai Pipeline. The bottom was shallow rock, with hollow caves where you could be trapped and drowned. It was considered [at that time] too dangerous to surf [although Fran Heath recalled that the hotcurl guys bodysurfed the spot back in the 1940's].
"In later years a lot of surfers claimed to be the first to
have ridden the Pipeline. I don't know who rode it first, and I don't
really care. I do know, though, that I did ride it then, in September
1959. And it was only utter ignorance that made me do it."
QUONSET HUT LIFE
"Meanwhile," Mike Doyle told the story of the life lived in and out of the Quonset hut, "back at the Quonset hut, Buzzy and Violet fought constantly. They loved each other a lot, but they expressed their affection in a way that I wasn't able to understand. Sometimes after they'd been fighting for days, Buzzy would take Violet to her mother's house on the other side of the island and leave her there. When he got back to the North Shore, he'd say to the rest of us, 'Now, let's surf!'"
"The whole situation at the Quonset hut made me nervous," admitted Doyle. "But after a couple of weeks, I was joined by another group of friends from the mainland who were closer to my age: L.J. 'Little John' Richards, Mark Portrif, Adrien Esnard, and a few others. I put down a deposit, and we rented a house from the Kahuku Sugar Plantation, which owned six houses at Kawela Bay, just northeast of Sunset. The house we rented cost #300 a month. That was a lot of money in those days, but we split the rent among eight guys and became only the second house of surfers on the North Shore.
"At first we all decided we would share the household expenses. We would go shopping together, cook our meals together, take turns washing the dishes, clean house together, and so on. That plan lasted about three days. There were constant arguments: Who took my bowl? Who got in my peanut butter? Who's turn was it to wash dishes last night? The house was a filthy mess, and nobody ever washed a dish. So we changed the rules: Everybody bought his own food, everybody put a lock on his own cupboard to keep the other guys out, and everybody washed his own dishes."
"There were no girls on the North Shore at that time," continued Doyle, "except for a couple of local Hawaiian girls, and they were off limits. If you messed with a Hawaiian girl, her big brother stomped your face. We didn't care about girls, though. We were dedicated surfers, there to ride the waves. If it had been girls we wanted, we'd have stayed in California. Too many times back home we'd seen one of our friends meet a girl, then the next morning he wouldn't answer the wake-up call. He couldn't go surfing because he had a new girlfriend. We felt sorry for him. None of that here -- our time on the North Shore was too precious to waste on girls."
Mike Doyle entered the Makaha International that December, but lost his board in the preliminaries and ended up not even qualifying.
Living not far away from him, also living at Kawela Bay, was Bud Browne, surfing's first commercial film maker. After five or six years actively making surf films and personally showing them, he was joined in the ranks by Greg Noll and John Severson. "He'd been a high school art teacher at San Juan Capistrano but had just recently started making surf films," recalled Doyle who met him that winter on the North Shore. "He was a very creative person, and kind of nervous. I remember he had large hands and feet, was kind of stooped in the shoulders, and he always had a great tan.
"Like Bud Browne, Severson followed
our little band of surfers around the North Shore, taking photos of us
all. He told us late that winter that he was going to start a glossy
surf magazine, and we were all pretty excited about that because there
had never been a magazine about surfing before."
The Older California Guys on the North Shore
With more and more newer Californians showing up on the scene, other Californian veterans like Buzzy Trent continued to ride to excellence with the locals.
Peter Cole, surfer, teacher and mathematician recalled -- in addition to Buzzy -- Greg Noll, Jose Angel, Kit Horn, his brother Corny Cole, Buffalo Keaulana and Henry Preece on the North Shore at this time:
"Greg has to have the most guts of anyone I've ever known. He'd fly in from California and head right for Waimea that same day. The biggest wave I've ever seen anyone take off on was at Waimea, and Greg was the one going for it. He had just flown in from California and had started hyperventilating like he always did in big surf. There was a huge wave coming and you could see there was no way he could get down more than a third of it, but he went for it anyway. I swear, he took off with his eyes shut. I asked Greg about it afterward and he said, 'You don't think I'd take off on a wave like that with my eyes open, do you?' I've been telling that story for years."
"I have more fun now than I ever had, surfing Sunset Beach with my son, Peter junior. I've really gotten conservative in my older years. I guess the kids out there today feel sorry for me -- they give me waves. Greg never gave me a wave in his life!"
"Greg, Jose Angel and I had a friendly competition going. Greg and Jose were always jockeying fot the inside position. You'd see them at Waimea, coming from way the other side of the point, streaking all the way across a wave. On some days, Greg would sit right in the middle of the rest of us. But on other days, his sixth sense told him there was a bigger wave out there. He'd paddle way outside and wait for it. I'd hear him start to hyperventilate. That was my cue that a big one was coming, so I'd paddle out and join him. Greg was my lineup."
"I started surfing in Santa Cruz in the fifties," Peter Cole
explained. "Kit Horn, Buzzy Trent and I were in grammar school together
and they got me started surfing. I watched Buzzy for years.
He beat me up about twenty times. I had an identical twin brother,
Corny -- Buzzy beat up both of us. What got me to the Islands was
seeing surf movies of Greg, Buffalo and Henry [Preece] coming down the
face of a perfect twelve-foot wave at Haleiwa, then he turns around backwards
on the board and throws the wave a kiss. I thought, 'That's it.
That's where I'm going.' I've been here ever since."
Dick Metz, surfer and founder of both the Hobie Sports stores and, much later the Surfing Heritage Foundation, recalled the pranks played on the North Shore:
"Greg was such a prankster. He loved to incite insurrections and then stand back in the corner and giggle while he watched the outcome.
"One of Greg's little games is to thump you on the head with his finger cocked like you would to shoot a marble. It hurts, especially if you aren't expecting it. One time, he and Pat Curren met for breakfast at the Stuffed T-Shirt in Newport Beach, a little back-street diner we all liked. They were sitting at the counter, eating breakfast. Pat's a man of very few words. Rarely looks you in the eye when he talks to you. So, he's sitting there, quietly eating his breakfast, with Greg on one side of him and a big gnarly-looking fisherman sitting on the other side. Greg reaches around behind Pat and thumps this fisherman on the head. The fisherman jumps, looks around, can't see anyone else near enough to have done it, so he lights into Pat.
"Pat hits the floor with the fisherman on top of him, ready to pound him into the ground. Greg is getting a big kick out of this, but finally decides to help out his buddy and pulls the fisherman off Pat. Exit fisherman. Greg helps Pat to his feet. Pat watches the fisherman leave, then turns back to the counter, shaking himself off and mumbling, 'Gee, I wonder what got into that guy.'
"Greg felt so guilty that he let years go by before he ever told Pat that he was the one who thumped the fisherman."
Greg Noll wrote about pranks played with Jose Angel, Ricky Grigg, Peter Cole, Buzzy Trent and George Downing, circa 1959:
"For quite some time, life for many of us was nothing more than trying to out-prank the other guy. Surfing wasn't big business. It was just pursuit of fun. We didn't take each other or ourselves very seriously. I got a real kick out of competing with other guys such as Jose Angel, Ricky Grigg, Peter Cole, Buzzy Trent and George Downing. They all were such interesting individuals. I would try to do goofy little things to catch them off-guard when we were in the water."
"Jose Angel," continued Noll, "who was probably the gutsiest of us all, was kind of a quiet guy. Didn't shout, scream or strut for the cameras. He took his surfing seriously. He loved the sport and the competition among the guys. One time, he and I were surfing at Laniakea. It was my last day in the Islands that season, and I had a plane to catch at one o'clock. I had it timed out so that I could stay in the water until the very last minute, then hurry in and change, drive to the airport and catch the flight.
"This giant wave came towards us. I knew I couldn't make it. It was a terrifying deal, but I couldn't resist it. I turned to Jose and calmly said, 'See you next year, Jose,' took about four strokes and disappeared down the front of this ridiculous wave. Somehow or other, I got down the face and, instead of losing my board like I thought I would, I smoked out in front of the wave just as it hit a deep spot and backed up into the whitewater. I came flying out of the soup and belly-slid in the rest of the way.
"The next year, as soon as I saw Jose, he said, 'What ever happened to you on that wave?' It had worked on him all year long, just like I had hoped it would. I always liked to leave him with something to screw up his mind. He couldn't believe that I would take off so late on a wave like that, and he knew the odds were way against my hanging on to my board. He said, 'I was waiting for your board to pop up and I never saw it. Then I saw you walking up the beach.'"
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Copyright © 1992-2006 by Malcolm Gault-Williams... Aloha Nui Loa!