A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated: 1 July 2007
Surfing Year 1961
(Poster art of the original "Big Wednesday," courtesy of John Severson)
Aloha! And welcome to the surfing year 1961, a chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS!
Many of the most notable 1960s surfers were already well underway by 1961 and their escapades document their emergence. The pre-foam surfers had lost their waves to those who made the transition to the new technology. Surfing was becoming extremely popular as board weight went down and the number of beach-themed Hollywood movies went up.
"Return with us, now, to those thrilling days of yester year..."
Mike Doyle in Santa Barbara
"Halfway through that winter," wrote Mike Doyle of the Winter of 1960-61, "just before I turned twenty, I came back to California and enrolled at Cabrillo Junior College in Santa Barbara... After the excitement of surfing twenty-foot waves in Hawaii, everything in college looked pretty tame to me. I had way too much restless energy, not nearly enough self-discipline, and I didn't have even the vaguest idea how to go about studying.
"Going to college didn't mean I was ready to give up surfing. In fact, one reason I chose to go to school in Santa Barbara was that I knew how good the surf was at Rincon, just down the coast a ways."
Mike Doyle went on to talk about that time in his life when he lived close to Hammonds and Rincon: "I... rented a house on Butterfly Lane with four other guys: Garth Murphy, Bill Engler, Lance Carson, and Kemp Aaberg, who were also attending Cabrillo. It was a beautiful, Tudor-style house owned by the Music Academy of the West. They had about ten houses that were supposed to be for gifted music students, but we talked the academy into renting it to us anyway -- a decision I'm sure they came to regret.
"Each of the guys staying there at the Butterfly Lane house had a whole pack of friends who came up from the South Bay every weekend. They weren't in school; they just wanted to surf Rincon, hang out, get drunk, and act crazy.
"Something gets into young people at that age -- a real craving for the outrageous and absurd. Maybe it's a normal and healthy reaction to two decades of education. I don't know what it is, but you see it today just like you did in those days."
No Pants Lance
"Another time at the Butterfly Lane house," Mike Doyle told of Lance Carson from that time when he lived in Montecito, not far from Hammonds, "when Lance had an audience of maybe thirty people, he went into some kind of self-induced fit. He started breathing deeply, hyperventilating, until the veins in his neck bulged out. Then he smashed his fists into the walls and started breaking windows with his bare hands, yelling, 'I'm gonna kill myself! I'm gonna do it this time!' Lance didn't really want to kill himself. It was just a strange mood he used to get into from time to time.
"Just then we heard the train coming down the tracks toward our house. Lance's eyes opened wide, and he started chanting, 'I'm gonna throw myseld in front of the train! ... I'm gonna throw myself in front of the train!'
"The train track was only about sixty feet behind the house. Lance dashed out the back door and ran to meet the train. A bunch of people who didn't know Lance's mood ran out after him, shouting, 'No Lance! Don't do it!' A bunch more of us followed, mostly just curious to see how far Lance would take it this time.
"With his audience all in place, at the very last second, Lance threw himself in front of the train.
"From our perspective, it looked awfully close. Maybe Lance made it all the way across the tracks, or maybe this time he became the victim of his own joke. At any rate, there was nothing we could do until the train had passed. So we stood there for two or three minutes, saying, 'Should we call the ambulance, or do you think he made it?'
"'I don't see how he could have!'
"As the last car finally rattled on by, we were ready to dash across the tracks and rescue whatever was left of our mangled friend. But instead of blood and gore, what we saw was even worse. Lance had his pants down around his ankles, and he was bent over showing us his hairy butt, using both hands to spread his cheeks as wide as they would go."
"One of Lance Carson's biggest rivals when it came to wildness was a guy named Jim Wicker," Mike Doyle wrote. "He had a beautiful old woody that would be a real collector's item, today, but Wicker had no regard for it at all. It was really embarrassing to drive with him. One day when we were coming back from the beach, Wicker knocked down a stop sign, drove over the curb and down a whole block of yards, across fences and hedges, peeling over lawns and rose gardens, smashing sprinklers and tricycles. When he got to the end of the block, he drove over the curb again, then continued driving slowly down the street without even looking back to see the damage he'd done."
"One time," continued Doyle, "Wicker went into a little market to buy a Coke. When the cashier, an Asian woman, told him how much it was, he reached into his pocket for the change, but his pocket had a big hole in it. He reached through the hole, grabbed his weenie and pulled it out of his pocket. 'No,' Wicker said, 'that's not the right change.' And he stuffed it back into his pants."
"Another time three of us were riding in Wicker's woody to Baja," Doyle went on, "where we were going surfing for the day. We passed a carload of girls, so all three of us lined up against the rear window and gave them a bare-assed moon shot. We laughed and laughed, thinking what a wild bunch of guys we were. But a few minutes later, the carload of girls came roaring by us, and all of them except the driver had their pink little butts pressed up against the windows. We didn't think it was funny -- in fact it kind of scared us to think there were girls that crazy driving around on the highway.
"We pulled in at the Long Bar, in Tijuana, which was a mandatory stop-off for surfers. Inside the bar was a guy who had a hand generator -- you would hold two wires while the guy cranked the handle, and a meter showed how many amps you were getting. It was a macho thing to see who could take the biggest shock. Wicker held onto the wires so long he fell over and passed out. I don't know if it was cardiac arrest or what, but we just poured a little beer on his face and shook him for a while until he came to."
It was a unique time in America. Politically, it was known as the "Camelot" years, when President John F. Kennedy was in the White House and anything seemed possible. Although narrowly beating Richard Nixon in the 1960 elections, Kennedy became an extremely popular president -- at least in the northern and urban parts of the country. His attractive wife Jacqueline and the rest of the "Kennedy clan" were likewise well thought of through much of the country. Publicly unknown at the time, however, Kennedy was having an affair with film star Marilyn Monroe. Surf writer Craig Stecyk has it as February 20, 1961 when "Peter Lawford, a female companion, Marilyn Monroe and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of U.S. hang out at Malibu, accompanied by Secret Service."
Second & Third Editions of The Surfer
The second edition of John Severson's The Surfer was distributed a year after the first one. The Spring 1961 5,000 copy pressrun sold out in less than three months. "Without pause," wrote Matt Warshaw, "Severson's creation went from upstart to institution."
A masthead appeared in the third issue, with three names below Severson's. "About two magazines into this boom," Severson recalled, "I realized that I was a publisher and an editor, by the accident of success. At this time, I was committed to filmmaking, and that was already full time. Now a parallel career was unavoidable.
"Although graphic arts was my strong suit, and I could manage as an editor, publishing was a mystery... If there was any hidden traps, I figured I'd find them as I went along.
"They found me. Problems with distribution, mailing, personnel, taxes, printing, finances, politics, competition, advertising pressure, ad infinitum marched into my life -- and not one at a time."
"Editing was fun in terms of putting the package together," continued Severson. "As for words, I managed to get more in all the time, running roughshod over syntax and spelling. What the magazine lacked in polish it made up for in enthusiasm, and our young audience was stoked. Teachers were astounded when surfers read. School libraries subscribed to Surfer. The editor was encouraged.
"I can't even use the editorial 'we' for the first quarterlies, because there wasn't a staff. I ran around California and Hawaii showing my latest movie. I would film, shoot stills and surf, not necessarily in that order. My wife, Louise, also shot stills, and we took most of the magazine photos. I wrote the articles and laid out the magazine in the garage. I had help with the ad sales and a secretary who worked after school. By the third issue we were out of the garage and into an office in downtown Dana Point. Dale Cole came on as full-time manager and advertising salesman. A staff was born. Which was lucky, because the first quarterly print run of 5,000 boomed to 55,000 a year later when we went bimonthly."
"I was at a little surfing contest in Doheny one day," recalled Mike Doyle, "talking to Benny Merrill. Benny had been surfing since the early Thirties and was one of the San Onofre regulars I admired most. I knew he had done some tandem surfing back in his younger days, and I told him, 'You know, that tandem looks like fun. Some day I'd like to give that a try.'
"The next thing I knew, Benny had me out in the water on a tandem board with his daughter, Linda."
"Linda Merrill was about five-foot-two, with an hourglass figure. She was a very good surfer and paddler, and she was able to help me maneuver that big board into the waves. Also, she was a goofy foot, so when she stood up it was easy for me to reach around her arm and lift her into a shoulder swan.
"Linda and I had a great time that day, and we even managed to learn a few of the traditional tandem moves. The last event of the contest was the tandem, so Linda and I entered it. We finished dead last, but we didn't let that discourage us. We made a promise to each other that we would keep practicing tandem surfing together as often as we could."
"The next tandem contest Linda and I entered, we placed fourth, which we took as encouragement. By now I was beginning to discover how talented Linda really was. Not only was she extremely agile and graceful, but she was fearless. When she did one-legged shoulder stands, she kept her composure and trusted me to hold her. And when the surf got large, then we really excelled. In eight-foot surf, when the wave broke, she didn't panic; she would dive off, I'd ride the board through, then I'd come back to get her. So we were able to catch more waves than most tandem teams.
"I had a few natural talents at tandem surfing, too. I was bigger than most surfers -- about 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds -- which made it easier for me to do the lifts. I was a strong paddler, I appreciated the ballet-like grace of tandem, and I got along well with the girls. There weren't a lot of surfers my age who would compete in tandem contests. Tandem wasn't macho enough for them. But that's exactly what I liked about it. Tandem surfing was a good excuse to get away from the chest-pounding guys and go play with the girls for a while.
"Linda and I kept practicing our tandem surfing, and in our third tandem contest, at San Clemente, we placed first against top competition. After that, she and I won almost every tandem event we entered."
"In those days," continued Doyle, "top competition in the tandem meant Pete Peterson. Pete, who had a number of tandem partners over the years, was in his late fifties by this time. He was bald and very fair skinned -- neither are great assets for anybody who spends all his time in the sun -- but he was a brilliant all-around waterman. I really admired Pete, and it was my goal to keep surfing as long as he had. He'd been a legend as a surfer before I was even born and knew far more tandem moves than I could ever learn. The only way Linda and I could beat Pete and his partners was to rely on our youthful strength."
"Another great tandem competitor in those days," Doyle went on, "was Hobie Alter, who had a very successful surf shop in Dana Point. Hobie was a good friend of Phil Edwards, and was an important innovator in surfboard design. Hobie was a bit small for tandem, but he was wiry and strong. He could pick up girls as big as himself and press them over his head. Oddly, Hobie was a chain-smoker. In his van the ashtrays were always full and spilling over onto the console, seats, and the floor. He smoked Kents, the ones with the fiberglass filters. Just the smell of them reminded me of the sanding room in a surfboard shop. I couldn't believe anybody who made surfboards would inhale something that smelled like that. But Hobie was a great tandem surfer, and some people credit him with revitalizing tandem surfing in the Sixties."
"I used to drive an old hearse in the Islands," began Greg Noll, in recollections about his friends Mike Stange, Jim Fisher & the other North Shore Hall of Famers in his autobiography DA BULL, Life Over the Edge. "When we went to the North Shore to surf, we'd sleep in it. You'd have to roll up all the windows and plug up every hole to keep out the mosquitoes. We'd get cotton balls and try to plug up every potential entryway we could find before we'd even dare try to sleep. But the little buggers would find a way -- they'd get under the hood and belly-crawl up the accelerator pedal and get us every time..."
"Airfare to Hawaii was always the biggest outlay for surfers," Noll continued. "Once you got there, there was usually someone you knew to stay with, or several guys would rent a place together.
"For a few years, surfers used an airline called U.S.O.A. It was founded by an old lobster fisherman, Frank Donohue. The airfare was cheap, something like $75 one way, and the flight was horrifying. Those old DC-6s looked and sounded like they had been glued together with flour paste. It took forever to get to Hawaii. Guys would be crapped out in the aisles. You'd spend a week recovering from one of those flights.
"I was publishing a surfing annual at the time. I gave Donohue an ad and he gave me a free ticket. I'm not sure now if that was a fair trade. I had to wait two days in the airport for the flight to take off. It wasn't so much that the flights were unscheduled -- Donohue just wouldn't take off until there were enough passengers to make it worth it..."
First Retail Surf Shop on O`ahu
"In the early sixties," recalled Dick Metz of the embryonic surf industry, "there weren't that many retail surf stores anywhere. Most of the guys making boards sold them where they made them, so the common surf shop was also a surfboard factory. Hobie Alter's first store in Dana Point was like that, until he moved the board-making operation down the road a ways and converted the store to retail only.
"In 1961 I opened the first retail surf shop in the Islands, Hobie Sports, in Honolulu. There was another surf shop there at the time, Joe 'Kitchens' Kuala's Inter Island Surfboards, but this was also a factory. At the Hobie Sports shop, you could order a custom board, but most of the inventory was ready to go.
"Over the next couple of years, as different surfboard manufacturers from the Mainland came to the Islands, they saw how well Hobie Sports was doing and decided that they wanted to do the same. Some of them asked me to carry their boards in my shop, but since it was called Hobie Sports and specialized in Hobie Surfboards, I thought it might be a conflict of interest.
"To solve that problem and also to be able to do business with other surfboard manufacturers, I opened a second store called Surf Line Hawaii and acted as a distributor for various Mainland board makers, including Reynolds Yater, Dewey Weber, Don Hansen, Bing Copeland, Gordon & Smith and Greg Noll. This gave kids in Hawaii access to all the major California surfboard manufacturers. I took in a partner, Dave Rochlen. Soon afterwards, he and his wife started the Jams surf trunk craze and devoted all their energy to the clothing end of the business. So we brought over Freddie Schwartz, a friend of Dave's from Santa Monica, to run the shop."
Aussies on the North Shore, 1st Time
Bob Cooper was blowing foam for Dale Velzy when The Hawk got a letter from board builder Barry Bennett, in Sydney, Australia. Bennett wanted info about the foam making process. Cooper wanted to checkout Australia, so he went over knowing there would be work for him when he arrived. "He stayed a couple of nights with Bennett before settling into the Manly surf scene in a flat with Mick Dooley and Wheels Williams," wrote Nat Young. "He had seen Bud Browne's movies of local surfers at Manly and thought he knew what to expect, but there was one young surfer around who was head and shoulders above the rest: Bernard 'Midget' Farrelly. Cooper was astounded at his natural ability and go-for-it attitude, and recognized that Midget was already mastering the Californian (Dora and Edwards) style of surfing. Cooper encouraged the young surfer and kept him informed of what was happening in the United States; Midget and his mates even began wearing American-style board shorts and adapting themselves to the American surf image. Cooper also kept pumping Midget on how good the waves were over in the Islands. So, in 1961 Midget and a group of other surfers... Charlie Cardiff, Dave Jackman, Bob Pyke, Owen Pillon, Mike Hickey, Mick McMann, Tank Henry, Gordon Simpson, Nipper Williams and Graham Treloar... booked passages on the Oriana and, for the first time, Australians set out to ride the waves of Hawaii. Bob Evans went along too, to film the action for his first surf movie and to take a few pictures for the first issue of Surfing World."
"That first year was a barrel of laughs," continued Young. "It was whispered by Californians and Hawaiians that in Hawaii in 1961 you could spot the Aussie by his cozzy, and in the ninth international surfing championships at Makaha that was true. Australia didn't do too well in the contest, but the experience gained from the first year was invaluable."
Hot Doggers vs. Big Wave Riders
"With more and more Californians coming to the Islands," wrote Nat Young, "two distinct factions had become apparent: small wave riders were the majority, made up of newly arrived Californians and local kids who only surfed in town; and then there were the prestigious big-wave riders, made up of older Hawaiians and the very best of the Californians. Some Hawaiians and Californians could perform in both big and small surf, and these were the real heroes: Buffalo Keaulana, Conrad Cunha, Paul Gebauer,Pat Curren, Mike Doyle, Phil Edwards, Joey Cabell, L.J. Richards, Mickey Dora, Ricky Grigg and Paul Strauch."
Mickey "Da Cat" Dora
"No one surfer from the fifties and sixties has managed to create the kind of mystique that surrounded, and continues to surround, Mickey Dora," began Greg Noll in his recollections of this other legend. "Dora worked hard to create a legendary persona for himself. This persona enabled the real Dora to hide from the rest of the world.
"Different people who knew Dora have described him as sensitive, crazy and erratic. He was a colorful, unpredictable guy who loved a good caper. And he was more. Despite what anyone thought of him as a person, as a surfer, Dora was a genius. He was a tremendous athlete who surfed with a beautiful, smooth, natural style. Dora's influence can be seen in every surfer from that era who ever dared to invade Dora's home turf of Malibu. Every surfer, and even kids who didn't surf, tried to copy the way Dora walked, talked and surfed. To this day, Dora is a Malibu legend. The famous wall at the beach there always has Dora's name on it, or some saying about Dora, such as 'DORA LIVES.' The county comes along now and then and paints over all the graffiti on the wall, and the next day somebody has spray-painted Dora's name there again.
"In fact, a couple of years ago, Laura and I and our two children... were on our way back from a trip and we drove by Malibu. The kids had never been there and wanted to stop. It was a winter day, nobody on the beach. I pulled over to let the kids walk along the beach. We went to take a look at the wall, and noticed Dora's name among the graffiti. In one place, it also said, 'DA BULL,' and in another it said, 'DA CAT IS KING.'"
Noll went on to talk about the surfboard he and Dora collaborated on and which, in the mid-1990s they reissued: "Over twenty years have gone by since Dora and I made that board together, and somebody still remembered [Da Cat model surfboard]."
"Dora was a rebel. The freedom of the surfing lifestyle suited him perfectly. Although he agreed to let me make a signature board for him in the mid-sixties, he hated the surf industry, which he felt had ruined the purity of the sport. Even though I made my living making surfboards, I had to agree with him on that point."
"Dora was a bright guy," continued Noll, "and had a very quick mind, but it was all turned toward the con. I talk about the capers we all loved to pull on each other -- they were pretty harmless diversions. Dora's thing got so bad, so far out in the wrong direction, that the capers became reality and his whole life turned to conning people to get by. It was rumored that he got caught writing bad checks, using stolen or forged credit cards. Some people said that he'd get into Hollywood parties by passing as an actor and then things like fur coats and valuables that had been left in the coat closet would disappear... along with Mickey, slipping away into the mist. I don't know if that was ever proved. With Dora, it's hard to tell which part of his story is myth and which part is truth. He did leave the country in the early seventies to avoid arrest. The mystique surrounding the guy never dies."
"I think Dora is known more for what he didn't do than for what he did," Noll said. "He was the kind of guy who would create a situation, like a surf contest in his name, and then not show up. He'd organize all the players in a situation, then sit back and watch the outcome. I think he liked to create chaos.
"This happened with a girl Dora liked. As far as I knew, it was the closest thing that he ever came to seriously getting involved with a girl. Dora was going to the Islands, and he asked this friend of his, Frenchy, who was a maitre d' at a Hollywood restaurant, for some help in getting this girl on the same airplane. Dora thought it might be nice if he and the girl could spend some time together in Hawaii.
"Frenchy spends a lot of energy putting this thing together. Then Dora gets on the airplane and finds this girl sitting in the seat next to him, and he becomes totally enraged. 'What are you doing here?' he shouts at her. 'You're going to ruin my trip to the Islands!'
"When Dora found himself getting into a situation where he might be forced into a closeness with someone, he backed off. He couldn't handle it. He walked off the plane, told Frenchy that he never wanted to speak to him again."
"Dora had a funny sense of humor and had a lot of quirks," Noll went on. "He'd talk with various phony accents, use his hands to gesture while he was talking or surfing. He cared about things you wouldn't think he'd care about. When I was building his signature board, he'd get fan mail every day. Sometimes we wouldn't see him for a couple weeks. When he'd finally come in the shop, there'd be a stack of fan letters waiting for him. He'd go off in a corner and read every letter, then write a reply to every one of them. He really cared."
The Banzai Pipeline
"I remember one day in 1957," Fred Van Dyke wrote of the North Shore's Banzai Pipeline, "when Pat Curren and I were camped on the lot where Warren Harlowe, another pioneer, lives now. The huge surf was washing under our trucks, and we'd climbed a tree to watch the shorebreak which is now called Pipeline.
"Pat said, 'Yeah, maybe in 2000 years this place will be surfed.'"
Phil Edwards: 1st Filmed Pipeline Ride
"Anything over 18 feet is not surfing," wrote Phil Edwards about size of surf.
"It is a Rite of Manhood," he corrected. "The fun has suddenly been separated from the serious business and it is you, alone, against the world. You are wearing a big-gun board -- say an 11-footer -- under your feet and you find, on top, looking down, that it is pitifully small against the water. But it is a thing you must do...
"Which brings us... to the Banzai Pipeline.
"It was the winter of 1961. Bruce Brown and I were on the north shore, on the Hawaiian leg of Surfing Hollow Days. We had shot some footage at Sunset Beach, where the surf was crashing in fearfully. And all was going well. Still, I could see from the top of Sunset's humped-up waves that something was happening at the beach next door..."
"For one thing, the waves were perfect. The surf was rolling in 15 feet high. Running along the top of each wave was an enormous curl. More than a foot of spray was zinging off the top in the wind -- and from the beach I could hear it sizzle. The curls were bending over to form tubes. Holland Tunnels, the sort of tubes a man could actually get inside. If he was lucky. No. If he was crazy.
"Bruce and I walked over and sat on the beach and watched the thing, each with our eyes squinted, taking imaginary rides on the sets as they came hammering home. And each time, mentally, we wiped out.
"'Shall I?' I asked Bruce.
"'If you want,' he said. 'But I can't ask you to do it for me. The thing is clear murder, old buddy.'
"I agreed and we went back to Sunset. Still, the perfect wave kept sucking me back. And I would stand along the shoreline, alone, and stare into it. And it would stare into me until we were at a standoff. I began to ask around about it. Casual. Wild-eyed.
"'Yeah,' they all said. 'We know', 'Uh-huh.' And, 'Great sets,' they all said, nodding at it wisely. 'But it turns out you can't surf them. Turns out the reason they're so sneaky and perfect like that is that the bottom shoals up very quickly there. Makes for a pure, motherless curl, all right. But what you don't know is that the bottom is full of coral; I mean full. Whoo-eee. And it lies less than five feet under the water. You fall off your board there, you get cut all into little old pieces. As simple as that.'"
"But I was getting, deep inside my stomach," continued Phil Edwards, "that pre-pumped feeling about it. Kept looking down into that tube of water. It was making me miserable. Not only does misery love company, it also is pretty fond of more misery.
"'I'll tell you what,' I said. 'I'll go ride the thing if you guys will come along. And I'll go first.'
"No takers Then, next day, the water was calm and flat and I picked up my Gun and went back to Banzai. I paddled out into it and looked down into a sort of blue-green coral horror. They were right: there were miniature spires and jagged fingers of coral sticking up just below the surface. I kept looking down into it and thinking, 'Oh, Jesus, and I've got to do it, too.' I lay down, sun baking into my back, and explored the entire area. On one end, where the water rushed off toward Sunset Beach on the northeast, there was a stretch of pure sand. Which meant: if someone could make it intact across the coral, he could get off there.
"If he could make it across the coral."
Sounds pretty exaggerated, reading it today, eh? Thes ridden every day it produces a wave. Untold thousands have ridden it and while there have been injuries, Edwards' melodrama seems a bit much. Even for then. After all, had ridden it successfully two years before, on his first trip to the Islands, September 1959. Before him, some of the Hot Curl bodysurfers like Fran Heath had ridden the place. And, who knows who else?
"I went back and looked at Bruce; he looked at me and he knew that I was committed," continued Edwards. "It had become a thing I had to do. Bruce decided to shoot the picture. We started to get ready.
"Next day, on schedule, the wind changed and Banzai came up again, viciously. It began to slam and hammer in about 18 feet high and we sat there on the beach and studied it.
"'I think this,' I told Bruce. 'I think that even if the lousy bottom is do damn bad -- that if you plan the ride right -- the wave is so perfect, you just might make it.'
"Bruce agreed, looking at it. 'You just might,' he said. 'Of course, you just might not, too.' He still had his camera in the car, back up on the cliff. I took a deep breath.
"'I'm about ready to go,' I said. He started back up the path to get the camera and tripod to shoot the thing.
"It was midday, the sun was directly overhead, and the water danced with shimmer. Well, hell, clubbers, it is time to go. I threw the board into the water and started out into the surf."
Phil Edwards' caution was well founded, as the bottom is notoriously dangerous. Caution surfing a spot for the first time -- even one known to have been surfed before -- is the prudent approach for any surfer. And, at this point, as far as Edwards knew, he was the first to go out at what was soon to be known as the Banzai Pipeline.
"High on the path," Edwards continued, "Bruce was walking back down, the camera already fixed on the tripod, the whole apparatus over his shoulder. He had figured that I had planned to take a little longer studying the surf. (Well, I had planned to take a little longer. But everything suddenly took on a tremendous immediacy.) He saw me plowing into it, rising up at the crest of each wave to look farther out, and he began to run down the beach, swinging the tripod around and holding it like a three-pronged spear in his arms.
"Out in the sea I saw the wave I wanted, and I took a deep breath and kicked the board around to let it surge up behind me. As it rose, I glanced over at the beach to check my lineup and began to paddle. It rose higher -- then higher -- and the big kick of it started to come on. I swung the tip of the board straight out into the air and stood up.
"I hadn't counted on the view. The view at my feet. A guy can't think of everything. Here I was, 18 feet aloft on the crest of the wave -- and at the bottom of it, where the water was sucked away, lay the jagged teeth of a jillion coral spires. 'Hot damn!' I thought, fleetingly, and rode straight down into them."
"Ashore," Edwards went on, "Bruce had run to one end of the curl. He had no time to set up the tripod he began to shoot from the hip, holding down the button and running, crouched over, along with the wave.
"The wall was vertical. I took it to the bottom and then stepped back and dropped one knee; the coral was surging up. Then the board came around, smoothly, and suddenly I was parallel. Together, we were racing, the wave and I. Now it hunkered high up over me, hissing and singing, and I turned and looked up at it.
"The tube lay up there, all curled over. White and boiling. Moving faster than anything I had ever seen.
"Here I come, ready or not. I cranked the board into a tighter turn and began the climb back up the face of the wave. I hunched my shoulders and slashed through into the tube. It closed completely around me.
"My God! It was perfectly dry in there. You could have driven a truck through it. The pipe was swirling thinly on top and it was a burst of green crystal with shafts of sunlight coming through it. It was like a whirling cathedral, yet, immense, overpowering, somehow quiet. Only the inside edge of the board was dug into the water and we raced along together."
"At one point," Phil Edwards continued his personal recollection of the first time he rode the Banzai Pipeline, "fighting for balance, I wheeled and leaned back against the wave. It held me up. Bitching! Then, suddenly, it began to collapse behind me and the curl started to dissolve. It folded up all at once.
"I could feel a sudden surge of strong water spurt through between my arms from behind me, and then between my legs. And the wave, as easily as it had swallowed me, spit me out the far side.
"I was out of it. And I knew I was over the sandy stretch of bottom. I was so jazzed I just went limp -- blaaaaaaah -- and fell off the board.
"The Banzai Pipeline. I named the thing.
"On shore, Bruce looked at me, quietly, and we both turned and walked back up the path to the car. Nobody said anything; at such a time, nobody speaks. Bad form. It is a ritual, I suppose. At the car, wiping my face with a towel, I muttered, 'Let's get the hell out of here,' and Bruce nodded. Then we turned and looked back at the Pipeline.
"There were -- I promise you -- three or four guys out there, ready to ride it. Surfing is like that. It shall ever be thus."
In his book illustrated with the photographs of Ron Church, Ricky Grigg wrote this about Pipeline two years after Edwards broke it open: "It isn't difficult to understand how the Banzai Pipeline got its name. Probably, the most top to bottom waves in the islands can be found here. More often than not, a surfer follows this exact sequence -- from top to bottom and over the falls. An abrupt change in the depth of the reef causes large waves to break in extremely shallow water. Sometimes an eighteen-foot wave will tower over a coral bottom only five feet down. Pity the poor surfer who falls on such a giant where bottom contact is inevitable and sometimes permanent. The inside tube is sheer suicide and cannot be recommended for even the most expert rider. Occasionally, a northwest swell will find the outside reef and provide a long, well-formed left slide. Good rides are the rule, but don't let it be forgotten to pull out before the shorebreak! The only way to paddle out is to wait for a lull, as there is no channel. While fighting the waves to paddle out, a roaring current between the break and the beach can transport a surfer up the beach a half a mile in a matter of minutes. Hence, it's better to wait on the beach for a lull. On second thought," Grigg added in 1963, in an era when the break was being regularly ridden for the first time, "maybe it's better to wait on the beach -- period."
Shortly after Phil Edwards opened the Banzai Pipeline up, and it became regularly ridden, eyes turned to the outside reef at Pipeline...
"The years 1961 and '62," wrote Fred Van Dyke, "were huge for surf. The Pipeline was officially filmed and ridden for the first time in January 1962. Rick Grigg, Peter Cole, Butch Van Artsdalen -- who later became known as 'Mr. Pipeline' -- Bob Pike, one of the first from Australia, and Jose Angel rode Outside Pipeline at 15 feet plus.
the ride of the day. It was a goofy foot's answer to a perfection wave.
There were now Sunset surfers and Pipeline surfers. Rarely would the two
mix, and this spread some of the great surfers out a little."
Sources Used In This Chapter:
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