A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated: 29 FEbruary 2008
(Image Courtesy of Bud Browne)
Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS. The surfing year 1963 was an exciting one. Surfing was now popularized through Hollywood movies (mostly for the worst) and the surfer lifestyle was being defined by the emerging surf media. Veteran surfers were giving way to younger rising stars and surfing competition was helping fuel surfing's popularity and spread worldwide.
Enjoy placing yourself back in 1963, get a sense of what was going on in the surfing world at that time... and pass the stoke on!
discovered surfing. For historians of the sport, this brief, hectic
period might as well be known as the Annette Funicello Era of Surfing.
The Gray Days, really... And every time the plot would lag -- which was
most of the time -- someone would run on camera and yell, 'Surf's up!'
You remember the cry, of course..."
"... when you
catch a wave, You'll be sitting
on top of the world."
The year 1963 was the heigth of a fairly innocent period in American society. Although barely winning the 1960 election, the country was lead by a high-profile and mostly popular president. In the world of surfing, Killer Dana and Doheny had yet to be paved over and the Mac Meda Destruction Company was hosting outrageous parties near La Jolla's infamous Pump House. But, the veterans and old timers who had a sense of surfing's roots were fast being run over by the new crop of surfers whose only reality was foam and fiberglass, fed by the popularization of the sport by Hollywood.
industry happened upon surfing in 1959, when
the first Gidget movie came out...
Beach Movies, 1959-67
The movies Hollywood made that had surfing as their hook are better termed "beach movies." Although they helped to popularize the sport in a major way all across America, they were mostly discarded by real surfers.
"... most Southern California surfers cringed when the [Gidget] movies premiered," admitted Leonard Lueras in his book Surfing, The Ultimate Pleasure, "and they saw how their sport was interpreted by filmmakers. The Gidget films were undeniably geeky, but Gollywood was onto a favorite chase -- a hypable and marketable trend -- so during the next ten years the public was assaulted by so-called 'beach movies' with bizarre and kitschy surfing themes."
The Gidget movies of the late 1950s and beginning 1960s -- Gidget (1959), Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963) -- were huge successes from the Hollywood perspective. They made money. Lots of it. They were the first of the "beach movies," but just the beginning of a whole genre of film that appealed to non-surfing teenagers for nearly a decade. The titles of these movies reflect their fanciful nature: Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pajama Party (1964), Ride the Wild Surf (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965), The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965), Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), and Don't Make Waves (1967).
"Surfers and non-surfers now laugh at the almost nauseating naivete of those early beach movies," wrote Lueras, "but Hollywood producers remember them as commercial monsters -- that is, as great money-makers. Beach Party, the trend-setting 1963 American International Pictures (A.I.P.) movie that cast teen idols Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello as young surfers in love, set box-office records nationwide soon after its release. The spectre of these pasty and dark-haired Italian-Americans (singer Avalon and Mouseketeer Funicello) cast as Southern California surfers was ridiculous, but the movie quickly grossed some $3.5 million, a tidy sum in those days."
"There were the pretend surfers," remembered Phil Edwards, "chaste cleavage and guitars, on their endless film beaches, with the ample Annette plumply jammed into a swimsuit. And every time the plot would lag -- which was most of the time -- someone would run on camera and yell, 'Surf's up!' ... And then the camera would do closeups of Sandra Dee and the kids lurching into the surf with their boards -- and faraway shots of them slicing down the big water. Dramatic footage. On the faraway shots, the stars were doing bold crisscrosses and fancy footwork..." Edwards added that on 1963's most popular beach movie Ride The Wild Surf, "My friends and I were the ones on the faraway shots."
"The plots woven into those early Hollywood 'surfing movies' were unbearably thin," underscored Leonard Lueras. "In Beach Blanket Bingo, for example, Frankie (Avalon), Dee Dee (Funicello) and fellow Hollywood surfers found themselves in yet another party-crashing confrontation with Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his notorious motorcycle gang, the Rat Pack. Yes, fans, West Coast Story, or as one will fondly recall, a Greasers versus Surfers stand off. Meanwhile, somewhere between a lame watusi dancing scene and stand-up shticks by Don 'Big Drop' Rickles, Buster Keaton and Earl Wilson (as themselves), one of the surfers, Bonehead, is rescued from drowning by a beautiful mermaid named Lorelei (portrayed by Marta Kristen). It was high surfside camp at its best (or worst?)."
Teen idols Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello would, over twenty years later, reprise their roles in for the sequel Back To The Beach, in 1987.
"As such surfing-related themes began to appeal to the mass consciousness," wrote Lueras of the early 1960s, "several other L.A. production companies began spewing out beach movies. Hollywood's scriptwriters gazed out of their Malibu Colony bungalows, rolled paper into their salt sprayed typewriters, and surged into second surfing gear.
"Remember Don't Make Waves (Filmways, Inc. and Reynard Productions, 1967), that steamy little surf epic starring Tony Curtis, Claudia Cardinale and the late Sharon Tate? In that zinger the sultry Miss Tate portrays a surfer-skydiver (Malibu) who saves a visiting tourist (Carlo Cofield, played by Curtis) from drowning off Malibu Beach. The Tate-Curtis mouth-to-mouth resuscitation scene is a classic is surfing heroism. The movie is saved, however, by its theme song, 'Don't Make Waves,' written and performed by Chris Hillman and Jim McGuinn of the then fledgling Byrds."
"As has been true of many teenybopper genre movies since, it was the 'background music' that usually saved the beach blanket movies and made them worth their then $1.50 admission price. Beach Party, as an example, marked th first nationwide appearance of Dick Dale (The 'King of the Surf Guitar') and his reverb-ridden Del Tones. Some sound track debuts, though historically important, went virtually unnoticed. In small print at the bottom of a poster advertising Muscle Beach Party is a small credit line 'Introducing Little Stevie Wonder.' In yet another musical adventure -- Paramount Pictures' Beach Ball (1965), starring Edd 'Kookie' Byrnes of '77 Sunset Strip' television fame -- bikinis coexisted with guest star appearances by The Supremes, The Four Seasons, The Righteous Brothers, the Walker Brothers and The Hondells. 'Nothing Bounces Like "Beach Ball,"' proclaimed a period press release. 'They're Surf Ridin'... Skin Divin'... Sky Jumpin'... Drag Racin'... Beach Bashin' Boys and their Bikini Beauties... In a Blast of a Beach Brawl!'"
In December of 1964, a New York Times film critic, Peter Bart, traveled west, observed the making of a California beach blanket movie at Leo Carrillo Beach, and reported that this mutant cinematic form "has created a rather idyllic way of life for the young people who are regulars in the beach pictures.
members of the teen-age surfing set around Santa Monica before being 'discovered'
by American International. They are thus living out a bizarre adolescent
fantasy -- making a great deal of money without ever leaving their beloved
surfboards," Bart wrote. "The various members of the beach set,"
he added, "have grown so accustomed to their moviemaking routines that
they can grind out a new 'beacher' in less than three weeks."
Ride The Wild Surf
"Perhaps the most archetypical and ambitious of those beach blanket wonders," wrote Leonard Lueras, "was Columbia Pictures' Ride the Wild Surf (1964), starring 'Turn Me Loose' pop singing star Fabian Forte as big wave rider Jody Wallis. Also case into this cinematic backwater were blond heart breaker Tab Hunter (as the surfer 'Steamer Lane') and pop star Shelley Fabares (as the foxy surfer girl Brie Matthews). Splashing about in supporting roles were Barbara Eden (as Augie Poole), Peter Brown (as Chase Colton), Susan Hart (as Lily Kilua), and James Mitchum (as the surfer 'Eskimo')."
Ride The Wild Surf was filmed in 1963 and distributed in 1964. The thing that sets the film apart from all others of the beach movie genre is the fact that there is actually some good big surf footage in the film. This was due to two factors. One, the plot took place in Hawai`i, unlike most of the Hollywood beach movies whose location was Southern California. The other thing was particularly environmental at the time of shooting.
"... in November and December of 1962," wrote Fred Van Dyke, "Waimea broke constantly. The jet stream had altered its course temporarily, and we kept getting these huge west swell surfs. They kept up, sporadically, clear through February '63. That was when the Columbia film company came over to make the movie Ride, Ride The Wild Surf."
"My friends and I were the ones on the faraway shots," told Phil Edwards. "Mickey Muñoz, a boy, was Sandra Dee. I am lovable, charming, bushy-haired, youthful Tab Hunter or James Darran on the long lens, in the blue surf trunks. In the closeups, in the same blue trunks, the real star is sprayed with a salty hose in some studio back lot in Hollywood."
Another stunt man for the film was Mickey Dora. "He was hired to do stunt riding in the movie RIDE THE WILD SURF," Greg Noll recalled. "He wasn't a big-wave surfer, but they were paying him and he told them he could do it. The waves were really pumped up that day at Waimea. He didn't like it. Although I hadn't been hired to do stunt riding, I was out there surfing anyway.
"Being unfamiliar with Waimea, I could see he was using me for his lineups. At Malibu, he and Johnny Fain had a running battle to see who could come up on the other guy first on a wave and grab his ass or push him off his board. With Fain, it was kind of a fun thing. With anyone else, Dora wasn't kidding. You didn't take off on his wave. He'd push you right off or try to cut you off at the knees when he kicked out of the wave.
"So here we are at twenty-foot Waimea and I see my chance to get Dora. There is a picture of us that shows me coming down behind him on a twenty-foot wave. What happened was I came rolling up beneath him on my board and grabbed him by the ass. Surprised the hell out of him. All day, I made sure I was always behind him and in the pocket, just to rattle him. In one of his funny accents, he'd say, 'Jeez, every time I turn around, you're on my ass! I can't get away from you!'
"The funny this is, these were probably the biggest waves he had ever ridden in his life. That day, he had made a jump from five-or-six-foot Malibu waves to twenty-foot Waimea. He was shaky, but he did it. The guy really had ability. I can't think of anyone else who could have made that sort of transition."
"But you can't beat real art," Phil Edwards humorously noted of the money-making aspect. "I was browned into an appropriate Hawaiian color, tainted filthy rich -- I had perhaps $150 in my wax pocket." Which was a lot of money for most surfers hanging out on the North Shore at the beginning of 1963.
"We all made money surfing and doing fill-ins for the actors," acknowledged Fred Van Dyke. "They went so far as to duplicate Greg Noll's famous black and white striped bathing suit. That Hollywood film started an avalanche of new surfers to the North Shore..."
"A promotion for the movie," wrote Leonard Lueras, "-- 'Actually filmed in the "wild waters" of Hawaii!' -- explained that Steamer, Jody and Chase had 'come to Oahu Island to ride the world's biggest waves and compete against surfers from all over the world. Steamer Lane falls in love with Lily Kilua, whose mother objects to the romance because she considers surfers to be "beach bums"...'
"In a particularly memorable scene, Chase generates monster waves at a flat Waimea Bay by diving into a pool beneath nearby Waimea Falls. According to a Columbia Pictures press release, Chase was invoking an ancient Hawaiian legend that says, 'if big waves fail to come in at Waimea Bay, a dive into the pool by one of the surfers will start the waves coming...' At triumphant moments in the movie, new Liberty Records singing stars Jan and Dean sing the movie's title song, 'Ride the Wild Surf,' written by Jan Berry (of Jan and Dean), Brian Wilson (chief songwriter for another new group, The Beach Boys) and Roger Christian.
"In an attempt to give surfing a sportive credibility, Columbia Pictures promoted the film with testimonials from former collegiate and pro football star Frank Gifford. 'See the spills and thrills the champ surfers take in Ride the Wild Surf. It packs as big a wallop as anything I've ever run across on the football field!' blurted Gifford in national radio, television and telephone publicity spots."
razzle-dazzle above marked a strange time in surfing history," noted Lueras,
"but during that same care-free period -- as the Greasy Fifties segued
into the Sunny Sixties -- true surfers remained hundreds of miles away
from the glitter and dreck of Hollywood. Throughout and despite all
that big screen embarrassment, California's surfing society continued to
develop a character all its own. It evolved into an aloof cult that
produced its own movies and music, discovered and annointed its own heroes,
communicated intelligence about the surfing life in its own idiomatic way,
and established a sense of 'surfer style' and ritual that endures to this
SURF MUSIC Does Not Equal SURFER MUSIC
"In 1963," Mike Doyle noted in his autobiography published in 1993, "almost overnight it seemed, everybody in the whole country wanted to be a surfer. Or, failing that, to look like a surfer. That has always been a great mystery to me, why people who had never even seen the ocean before would want to bleach their hair, put on a pair of baggies and blue tennies, and tell everybody how stoked they were. You could say it was all just a California fad, maybe one of the first California fads, but it's been going on for thirty years now, and a billion-dollar clothing industry has grown up catering to nothing but the average American's desire to look like a surfer."
"I remember the first time I heard the Beach Boys song 'Surfer Girl.' I was riding in my car with Kemp Aaberg. When we heard that whiny, cornball music, we started hissing and hooting because we thought it was so hokey. It was a rip-off. The Beach Boys were stealing our culture. And they didn't even know how to surf!
"To be fair to the Beach Boys, I have to say that when I hear their music today, I like it because it takes me back to that era. I think they really did capture some of the fun of surfing in their music, and I think the way they portrayed teenagers growing up in Southern California during that period was accurate: the cars, the beach, the awkward love, the obsession with being accepted by your peers. But at the time, we felt like our territory was being violated. The Beach Boys were pretending they had already made it down the stairs at Malibu, when we knew they hadn't."
"Of course," Doyle continued, switching from music to the movies, "the Beach Boys were geniuses compared to the dolts who made the first beach movies. Muscle Beach Party was probably the most ridiculous of them all: everybody dancing on the beach at Malibu, wearing bun-hugger swim trunks; all of a sudden somebody yells, Surf's up! Everybody grabs his surfboard and runs out to Waimea Bay breaking with twenty-foot sets."
"Those beach movies," Doyle went on, "were the first glimpse most people in the country had of the surf culture, and I think because the movies were so badly made, so phony and just plain dishonest, the image of surfing, at least in the mainland U.S., was forever stamped as being silly, adolescent, and superficial. There were authentic surf movies being made, too -- by Bud Browne, John Severson, and Bruce Brown -- but they were never distributed outside the relatively small beach communities of California, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey, and were rarely seen by anyone who wasn't a surfer."
Most real surfers -- like Mike Doyle -- knew the difference between what was being portrayed and what was really happening. "The true surfiati," confirmed Leonard Lueras, "were at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium hooting at real surf movies -- flicks such as Bruce Brown's Surfing Hollow Days, John Severson's Surf Classics and Bob Evans' The Young Wave Hunters. Or they were moving up and down in the tribal motions of the 'surfer's stomp' at dance venues of the time -- places like the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, Harmony Park (off the freeway in Anaheim) and even 'inland' at Riverside's cavernous National Guard Armory."
"That summer," Mike Doyle continued, "we started hearing rumors that Bruce Brown was working on a new surf movie that was going to be something special. Bruce had made his first surf films with a 16-millimeter camera while he was in the army in Hawaii. Later, when Bruce spliced those home movies together, Dale Velzy showed them at his surf shop in San Clemente, charging surfers twenty-five cents admission. I remember Bruce as short and wiry -- he probably never weighed over 130 pounds -- very blond and very fair skinned; he was always stoked, and he always smoked like a fiend.
new surf film, Bruce had taken a couple of well-known surfers, Robert August
and Mike Hynson, and was travelling all around the world with them -- to
Japan, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and
Tahiti -- in pursuit of the perfect wave. Based solely on the rumors
we heard about the movie, we couldn't wait to see it."
Dana Point Mafia
To meet the popularization of surfing, the "sense of 'surfer style'" not only had 16mm films other surfers were making for their fellows, but it was also reinforced by the addition of surf mags on the scene.
John Severson had started The Surfer in 1960 with an idea and $3,000. A decade later, Surfer magazine was a slick monthly with a paid circulation of nearly 100,000. In 1970, The Los Angeles Times called Surfer "the only magazine of national consequence published in Orange County."
Located between Los Angeles and San Diego, Orange County "is more well known for its right wing Republicanism and Disneyland," noted Leonard Lueras, than for its surfing. Yet, the coastal portion of Orange County evolved into an important surfing center. "Both historically and politically," wrote Lueras in 1984, "it is renowned in contemporary surfing power circles as 'the unofficial surfing capital of the world.'"
This was in large part due to the physical location of the surf publication industry. "Orange County," continued Lueras, "is the editorial headquarters (at Capistrano) of surfing's two most important publications, Surfer and Surfing." At one time, "the sport's two most successful and influential filmmakers, Bruce Brown (The Endless Summer) and Greg MacGillivray (Five Summer Stories) live there (at Dana Point and South Laguna)." The area was also home to "Gordon 'Grubby' Clark, long the world's leading manufacturer of foam board blanks, and Hobie Alter, surfing's first commercially successful board-maker," both of whom "got their starts in and have remained in the county (in the San Clemente-Dana Point area). Also based in Orange County are surfwear manufacturers Walter and Phillip 'Flippy' Hoffman and surfing's greatest 1960s 'star,' Phil Edwards."
"Because these influential businessmen-surfers were traditionally headquartered on or near Beach Road in the San Clemente-Dana Point area," continued Lueras in Surfing, The Ultimate Pleasure, published in 1984, "they became known to other people in the surfing trade as the 'Dana Point Mafia.' According to popular myth, this group of good ol' beachboys has the commercial surfing world sewn tightly into its money-filled wax pockets."
"All are friends of more than 25 years," wrote Norman B. Chandler of The Los Angeles Times. "All were among the first surfers in this country. All have beach-houses next to each other worth up to a million dollars each... they also comprise a successful group of businessmen who are leaders in exporting various components of beach living."
"All of the above surfioso were caught up in a commercial surfing swell that hit California's shores in the late 1950s," continued Leonard Lueras. "but unlike many who wiped out -- or burned out -- early on, they rode this surfy trend to personal success."
recognized some magical ingredient in the Southern California lifestyle,"
noted The Surfer's Journal editor and former Surfer editor
Steve Pezman, and they "took a part of it, and made it their own."
Contests & Surfing's Spread
Along with the growing surf media, interest in surfing contests was at an all-time high and would only peak around 1966. Contests spread to other parts of the world, along with surfing itself.
For the first time, there was a world invitational held in Peru. "Two Australian surfers, Bob Pike and Mike Hickey, happened to be in Hawaii," wrote Nat Young, "... and with a host of Californians and Hawaiians were invited to compete in the first surfing contest in Peru."
Surfing had hit Japan in 1962 and France, too. "After the contest," continued Young, "Bob [Pike] returned to Australia but Mike [Hickey], who had met two French surfers in Peru and had heard about the waves of Biarritz, on the French coast, went off to Europe. The next thing everyone knew Mike Hickey had become the first European surfing champion."
"Surfing had reached Britain," too, "where a small band of dedicated boardmen rode summertime waves in Cornwall and the Channel Isles."
"South Africans," wrote Young, "had taken up surfing and had picked up on the country's amazing wave potential; a few years later they were to produce a world champion."
contests were really happening," continued Young. "The east and gulf
coasts of the US were well into the second year of serious competition,
with two major events and numerous small inter-club competitions.
In California the west coast surfboard championships had been held annually
since 1960 at Huntington Beach, where shooting the pier was an important
manoeuvre to qualify for the final. The surfing clubs were very big;
some surfers would travel hundreds of miles to be a member of a particular
club with an impressive stable of good surfers. The Windansea Surf
Club and the Long Beach Surf Club were the two biggest clubs in California;
they were involved in competition every weekend, either between clubs or
with surfers competing against one another. Most of the talented
surfers to bounce off this platform went on to win the prestigious Huntington
contest: Mike Doyle, Corky Carrol, David Nuuhiwa, Ricky Irons and
Rusty Miller. All these surfers were also sponsored by surfboard
manufacturers; what with their club contests and competition between rival
companies they had very little time for anything else. If you were
too young to surf you probably rode a skate board, and the competition
associated with this craze was just as fanatical as in surfing."
1st Surfer Magazine Poll
Not all surfers saw the move to increased competition as a good thing. Most surfers endorsed competition, but even those that did had reservations about how accurate they were in deciding who was the best. In its third year of publication, Surfer magazine "came up with an interesting idea," Mike Doyle recalled. "It probably came out of the frustration almost everybody felt about the Makaha and other so-called international surf contests, which always seemed to favor the local heroes. The idea was, instead of having another surf contest, why not just ask the surfers themselves who they thought were the best surfers in the world? Most surfers had seen the surf movies, which tended to highlight the best surfers giving their best performances on the world's best waves. By letting the surfers decide for themselves, you could eliminate the hometown advantage, inexperienced or senile judges, and ridiculous rules. In fact, you could do away with contests altogether."
conducted its first Surfer Poll," Doyle continued, "and the results that
year pleased just about everyone. The winner was Phil
Edwards, the California style master whose smooth, understated way
with a surfboard and a wave had inspired every surfer in the world.
What made the award seem even more just and fitting was the fact that Edwards
had rarely participated in surf contests, believing they were irrelevant
and meaningless. Edwards had won the poll entirely on his reputation
among other surfers."
Even though the surf scene was changing -- as evidenced by Hollywood movies, surf music and even the sports own magazines and movies -- the veterans were still around and still making major contributions. One veteran still shaping away was Hap Jacobs.
Jacobs took up surfing in the Hermosa Beach area, in the late 1940s.
"In the early '50s," Jacobs recalled, "it looked like they were going to draft me and send me to Korea, so I decided to beat them to the punch. I'd been hanging around Hermosa Pier long enough anyway, working the California Surfrider raft rental concession. The recruiter for the Coast Guard said if I signed right then, I could go to Hawaii, and I took them up on it. Some of the finest experiences of my life. I worked on a buoy tender, so I was sailing much of the time. It was danerous work, but we didn't have to wear uniforms, and that appealed to me. No shoes, no shirt, sailing around the islands. And there was the surfing, of course."
"George Downing was a big influence, and a good friend," Jacobs continued. He was out there day in, day out, on 'Pepe,' his favorite board. Spent a lot of time surfing First Break (Waikiki). Wally Froiseth, Walter Hoffman, Woody Brown... they were the crew... Alan Gomes and Bing Copeland. We'd get balsa and muslin from Hickam Field and build boards, surf around town."
After Hawai`i, Hap Jacobs returned to California and went in on a wetsuit and ocean sports company called Dive N' Surf with Bev Morgan. Shortly thereafter, Morgan and Jacobs sold Dive N' Surf to the Meistrell brothers and Jacobs went into partnership of a surf shop with Dale Velzy. "Together," wrote Scott Hulet for a 1996 profile of Jacobs in Longboard magazine, "Jacobs and Velzy opened a shop in the apropos shadow of a Venice oil derrick. Like the crude rig, the So. Cal. post-war economic landscape was pumping, and the boys reveled in their initial custom order list of 13 boards."
"Working with Velzy was memorable," Jacobs recalled of their startup in 1953. "I'd shaped for a year before we got together, and I credit my learning to the function of a surfboard, pertaining to shape, to him. And of course he was a pure salesman."
"You know how our most famous design came to be?" Jacobs asked about the Velzy-Jacobs pig board. "In the balsa days, there was a lot of sawing involved, and Velzy wished we could just leave the tails blocky to save the trouble. Well, on one board, he just left the tail fatter than anything and had her glassed. When he saw the finished board, he shook his head and said, 'It looks like the ass end of a pig.' Muñoz tried the thing out at the pier, and it went great."
The Velzy-Jacobs partnership lasted from 1953 to 1960 and during that time, the two shapers became surfing's pre-eminent design team.
"Velzy was a bit looser than I was," explained Jacobs. "If he sold two or three boards, he figured that was enough for a run to Hawaii, so off he went. Overall, we got along real well, though. We're still great friends. Not many ex-business partners can say that."
"Hap has just been a wonderful man as long as I've known him," Velzy said of Jacobs. "He was a good partner and a great friend, honest as they come. Bev and the Meistrell's wanted both of us at Dive N' Surf, but I said, 'Bullshit! Surfers will never wear those damn wetsuits!' Finally, I convinced Hap to join me in a partnership. It was just a matter of good timing. In all those years, the only time I ever saw him get pissed off was when I sold his board to Peter Viertel. I got him $125.00 for it! Hell, I thought he'd be happy."
"I would have been," Jacobs returned, "if I'd ever seen the money!"
In 1960, when the Dale Velzy and Hap Jacobs partnership ended, Velzy packed up his Gullwing Mercedes and moved down to San Clemente. Jacobs remained in the South Bay, forming Jacobs Surfboards and competing with Bing Copeland, Greg Noll, Dewey Weber and the smaller outfits. The Jacobs shop was cranking out 125 boards a week in its hey day. In addition to Jacobs, the more notable members of his shaping staff included Wayne Land, Al Nelson, Larry Felker, Donald Takayama, Dick Mobley and Kenny Tilton.
They worked in multiple shifts and there was an unspoken competition for the piecework. Various nefarious methods were employed to assure that certain shapers got their quota. "One of my shapers was a notorious drinker," Jacobs said. "So if a guy was running low on work, he'd just put a fifth of whiskey in the guy's shaping room, and we wouldn't hear from him for a few days. The guy who planted the bottle would get all the work."
Jacobs boards grew in popularity because of their quality, the surfing boom at the time, Jacobs' team of region-specific sponsored riders, and two of the most popular signature models ever created: the Lance Carson and Donald Takayama models.
"I always thought of Donald as one of the most talented shapers I had the pleasure of working with," Jacobs remembers. "And Lance was just an incredible surfer, and also extremely loyal. Other companies were always trying to pull him away, and he wanted nothing to do with it. He's a meticulous, thoughtful worker. He's very quiet, but also very opinionated. He was responsible for a lot of Jacobs boards in the Malibu area. In fact, that's how I laid out the surf team. I liked to have the best surfer in any given area riding my boards."
"The team format was hugely successful," wrote surf writer Scott Hulet, "and Surfboards by Jacobs remained one of the two or three breakaway successes of the nascent surfboard industry. The Jacobs diamond loomed huge on Robert August's board in Endless Summer, and Hap's savvy use of early product placement paid off in spades."
point of the team era, for me," Hap said, "was right around 1964.
The guys riding my boards at that point were Donald [Takayama], Lance [Carson],
[Robert] August, Mike Doyle, Rusty Miller, Mickey Dora (of course, I never
knew if he was actually riding them or selling them), Rick Irons, and David
Hap Jacobs & the Big Label Meltdown, 1969
Hap Jacobs had his shaping scene going strong until 1969.
"It was Dewey Weber offering Net 30 terms to the East Coast dealers," Jacobs said, that started the industry collapse, beginning in 1969. "They dumped just about every builder in favor of Weber. Boy, we were steamed. He was aggressive! You know, I honestly think he invented the concept of pre-Christmas sales before the big department stores did. Back then, you didn't need to drop prices, especially before Christmas. I mean, that's the one time when your orders are all but guaranteed! He was something."
The fact that the shortboard revolution was in process, at the time, also must be factored in.
things got weird," continued Jacobs, addressing the counter-cultural movement
among young people then in full bloom. "I'd have 16-year-old kids
all psychedelic-ed out scheduling 'shaping appointments,' and I just decided
'That's it -- I'm going fishing.'"
Hap Jacobs -- Fishing in the 1970s & Return
A number of surfboard industry leaders went fishing during the shortboard revolution. In addition to Hap Jacobs, others included Greg Noll, Mike Stang, Bruce Brown, Harold Walker, Rennie Yater, Mark Martinson and Dewey Weber. They all worked as commercial fishermen. "The art of chasing huge billfish held the most allure," wrote Scott Hulet, "and with dry land mophing into a place that was feeling stranger and stranger, the deep blue of the Catalina channel seemed a likable proposition."
"It's easy to get addicted to sticking swordfish," said Jacobs. "It's quite exciting, really. They're large and powerful. The deal is this: you have a boat with a long plank sticking off the bow. You have a guy in an airplane fly your route, and he radios in when he finds a fish. Once you've found a fish, you hang out on the plank and have the driver run up at the thing. Then you stick it with your harpoon. They sort of loll on the surface. There's really nothing in the ocean that they fear, so if you're lucky, and the water's murky enough that they don't see you, you can get right on top of them. When you stick them, that's when it gets interesting."
"A lot of great stories came out of that period," Hap Jacobs recalls, "and, as usual, a lot of them are based on Dewey. He was just such a go-getter, so aggressive. Just like he'd compete and snake waves, he was the same way as a fisherman. We (the South Bay swordfish fleet) sort of had a gentlemens' agreement: we all tried to stay out of each other's way. But Dewey, boy, he'd just free-range.
"So I decided to take care of him. I built a boardfish. Got a piece of lumber. I nailed on a dorsal fin and a tail, then floated it in my fishing lane. Sure enough, Dewey spotted the thing and came up on it, full steam. He was up on the plank, all excited, and at the last minute, he saw it. We were watching in the binoculars, just busting up. He wasn't so pleased. For weeks, everywhere he went people asked him if he'd nailed any boardfish. Dewey was a classic."
Hap Jacobs fished commercially from 1970 to 1985. He owned the fuel dock at King's Harbor for a period. In 1991, he accepted an invitation from Donald Takayama to attend the Oceanside Longboard Contest. Takayama greeted Jacobs on the beach with a coffee can full of nuts, bolts and brushes. Jacobs asked what was with the coffee can.
"It's a Skill 100," Takayama beamed. "You need to get shaping again. And while you're at it, here's a template."
"It was a little intimidating at first," Jacobs admitted. "Things had changed quite a bit since I had last shaped. The foam's different, for one thing. A local guy, Matt Calvani, helped me get used to it. Dennis Jarvis brought me up to date regarding things like the tucked-under edge. Between those two, I got up to speed fairly quick.
"As far as getting back up to date on the business side of things, Mike Eaton was very important. Every couple of months he loads up his van and a trailer, and drives all the way up the California coast, servicing his board accounts. I went on a couple of those trips, and met the shop owners, sort of checked out what was going on. And, of course, we'd take plenty of time for surfing... hitting 38th St. in Santa Cruz, things like that."
By 1996, Hap Jocobs was regularly in the shaping bay at Hermosa Beach's Shoreline Glassing, looking "like he never missed a beat," wrote Scott Hulet.
"Blowing off the dust from his final screen pass with an air hose, he reaches for a sheet of rice paper. He pins the red flared diamond of the Jacobs logo to the deck of the shaped blank, ready to be clad in resin-impregnated Volan-finish 'boat cloth.'"
"He's a perfectionist," his glasser Dennis McGivern said. "It can drive you crazy, working with Hap. I mean, he pretty much monitors every phase of the process, and if he sees something he doesn't like the look of, you hear about it."
"My 422," christened in honor of his original Hermosa shop at 422 Pacific Coast Highway, Jacobs said, "is a better board than the original. It's just more functional. Turns better, and the steps aren't as Art Deco and curvy; they release the way they're supposed to now...
"I'm getting to the point where I'm questioning how involved I really want to be. The demand surpasses what I can build without just going crazy. My goal was to just get back into the enjoyment of shaping, but it's starting to go beyond that. Part of me wants to turn down these big orders and just go surfing.
I'm just going to try and keep things balanced. I'm really enjoying
my surfing. Tyler Hatzikian is responsible for a lot of that.
He's just so pumped, you know? We'd be working together, trying to
keep on top of things, and he'd just be squirming, 'Come on, man, I know
Malibu's good right now!' So he's dragged me all over the place,
keeping me out there."
The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
By November 1963, Mike Doyle had transferred to El Camino College, in the South Bay. He did this to be in the same proximity of his "on-again, off-again" girlfriend, long black-haired Marsha Bainer, one of the stunningly beautiful women surfers of the period. "She and I were both too restless to settle down yet," Doyle explained, "but we really liked each other a lot, and continued to spend time together. Marsha had adopted a lot of my training regimen -- working out every morning, eating a low-fat diet, yoga -- and she had grown into a healthy, vibrant, fun-loving young woman.
"One morning, Marsha and I were in the parking lot of the college, fooling around in the back of my VW van. I had the radio tuned to a jazz station, and turned down softly. Suddenly, there was an interruption, and the announcer said to stand by for a special bulletin. Then we heard the words everyone in my generation would remember for the rest of their lives: 'President Kennedy has been shot.'"
Most everyone who was around in those days remembers where they were, what they were doing, and how they heard the news that fateful day of November 23, 1963. "Mickey Dora used to say that a curse fell over this country when President Kennedy was assassinated," Mike Doyle mentioned. "... Mickey was becoming sort of the gloomy prophet of Malibu, and sometimes it was hard to tell how serious he really was... But in spite of his eccentricity, Dora could be very perceptive at times, and I think he was correct in foreseeing the end of an age of innocense."
to admit that I shared many of Dora's views about the commercialization
of the sport," Greg Noll affirmed. "... By the late sixties, a lot
of the fun and camraderie of the early days had been wiped out by the hordes
of aspiring surfers and the ever-present click click click of the surf
photographers' cameras, followed closely by the lads with their notebooks
Dave Rochlen's Jams
"In December of 1963," Mike Doyle began the story of Dave Rochlen's invention of jams, "I was back in Hawaii again, getting ready for that year's Makaha. The morning of the contest, I was surfing at a little beach break at Pokai Bay (south of Makaha), just warming up before heading over to the contest. As I came out of the water, Dave Rochlen came walking down the beach. Dave, who was about fifteen years older than I was, had been a lifeguard at Santa Monica, was a respected big-wave rider and somebody I'd always looked up to. He'd been kind of a playboy in his younger days (he dated Marilyn Monroe before she became a famous movie star), but when he went to the islands he fell in love with a Hawaiian woman. I remember him telling me that when he saw her surfing one day, he just knew he had to have her. He ended up marrying the woman, having kids and settling down there in the islands."
Dave Rochlen had been a key element in the development of the Malibu Board in the late 1940s and start of the 1950s. Along with Joe Quigg, Matt Kivlin and Tommy Zahn, Rochlen had been a major influence in the surfing world and would continue to be so, but in different ways.
"Anyway," continued Doyle, "what really caught my attention on this particular day was that Rochlen was wearing these great big, floral-patterned surf trunks, like big baggy sacks with a draw string. They were like a cross between a Hawaiian muumuu, and extra-large boxer shorts. I liked them right away -- they really made me laugh. So I called out to him, 'Dave, what the hell are you wearing?'
"Rochlen looked at me, then down at his baggies. He had a funny way of talking with gestures -- rolling his head, squishing his neck, tilting his shoulders -- like he had to feel every word before he could let it out. 'These are my new jams!'
"I'd never heard the word before -- jams. 'Well, those are really cool,' I said.
"Dave acted surprised. 'You really think so?' He stripped them off right there -- he had a pair of briefs on underneath -- and handed them to me. 'Here, they're yours. First pair I ever made.'
"I wore Rochlen's jams around for a long time. They were comfortable, and they were so wild they made an anti-fashion statement, which I believe was the beginning of surf fashion.
after that, Dave created one of the first surfwear companies, and called
it Surf Line Hawaii. He registered the trademark, Jams, and came
out with an entire line of his floral baggies."
Joey Cabell Wins the 11th Annual Makaha Championship
Even though Australian Midget Farrelly had won the Makaha International the year before, judging rules stayed static. Judges Dick Brewer and Buzzy Trent were removed, in part because of their judging of the Australian win in 1962.
"The contest was organised by the Outrigger Canoe Club," wrote Young, which by the early 1960s, "was mainly a social club with strong surfing affiliations; the members were involved in traditional paddle boards, outrigger canoes and, to a lesser degree, board riding. To the Outrigger's contest committee the senior men's was the most important part of the competition, but the tandem, girls, and paddle board races were of significance also."
"There was a nasty feeling on Makaha Beach in December 1963," continued Young. "Many talented Californians and Australians had failed to qualify and a showdown was avoided only because the contest was won by the well-respected causasian Hawaiian, Joey Cabell, who rode the biggest waves in a hot dog fashion to go on to win what was then considered the world championship. One of the problems was that the Outrigger was not aware of the importance attached to the contest in the rest of the world. They were doing their best to make it a good function: they were excellent hosts, extending guest privileges in their luxurious club to all international competitors, and any judging bias that may have taken place was unintentional. But the Hawaiians were somewhat over-protective about outside talent excelling in their inherited sport, especially as they had only a few outstanding surfers right then in senior men's competition. Fred Hemmings was still a junior and Barry Kanaiaupuni was still surfing in town, lacking the experience to excell in big waves."
won the Makaha that year," reiterated Mike Doyle, "continuing the tradition
of a Hawaiian, either white or native, always winning there. Nobody
could deny, though, that Joey surfed brilliantly and deserved to win.
Linda Merrill and I won the Makaha tandem event, in what some people told
us later was one of the best tandem events they'd ever seen."
Nat Young -- from Collaroy to Hawai`i
"About this time," wrote Australian and future world champion Nat Young of the years 1962-63, "I was surfing down at Collaroy beach, on the north side of Sydney harbour, and getting into more trouble than I managed to keep out of. My mother bought my board registration sticker for me (it cost 10 shillings) because, like most surfers, I thought the registration system was a rip-off; getting my board confiscated for two weeks didn't help. A few friends and I formed the Collaroy Surfing Association, which had 17 paid-up members, about 10 hangers-on, and about the same number of girls who just hung around the beach looking beautiful at weekends or before the bus left for school on weekdays. The 'association' had its clubhouse on the beach or in my bedroom; we also had our own social club which held parties and organised fund-raising activities. At school all we thought about was the latest surf equipment and what pigment we'd use on our new boards, and to further establish our identity we carried our board shorts hanging out of the back pocket of our jeans. And we thought about sex. Most of the girl surfers we knew were into the sun and stomp, and some of them became serious boardriders later on, bust very few of them engaged in sex. So sexual intercourse became a group activity, involving several surfers and one of the more promiscuous girls who hung around the scene: Grunter, Brenda the Benda, Sally Apple Bowels, and others. These girls weren't well-respected in the normal sense of the word, but some strong ties did develop between them and the surfer dogs who chased after them. At the same time the local gremmies were busy peroxiding their hair to make it look as bleached as possible, tuning up on American slang, and trying to get enough cash together to buy a surfer van."
"Two older members of the Collaroy crew, Robert 'Kenno' Kennerson and Ian 'Wally' Wallace, managed to purchase an old bread wagon. They had the artist of the mob, Denis '10 foot' Anderson, paint their favourite character all over the wagon: his name was 'Murphy the Surfie' and he came via Surfer Magazine, the surfers' bible that came out of California four times a year (someone's 'with-it' mum would get one for her son at Christmas, or for his birthday, and the magazine would end up in pieces on his bedroom wall.) When the wagon was finished it looked fantastic and now, by sharing the petrol money and arriving before dawn at Kenno's, the crew could chase waves all up and down the coast. No longer would they have to build trolleys to carry the boards behind their bikes over the hill to Long Reef. Finally they were free."
Nat Young was among the group of Australian surfers on the North Shore of O`ahu during the winter of 1963-64, when the Banzai Pipeline was being broke open. "The Banzai Pipeline was originally called 'Banzai' by Flippy Ho [Hoffman]," Young wrote, "because it seemed an impossible wave to ride; the 'Pipeline' was added later because the waves looked like a pipe when they broke. It represented a new frontier. Butch Van Artsdalen from San Diego, and John Peck, a stylish flamboyant surfer from California were the first to meet the challenge head on. In the winter of '63 both these surfers broke down the barriers by surfing so deep inside the curl that on rare occasions they actually disappreared. The Australian contingent was really impressed by the wary of the Pipeline. Midget told the rest of the team that surfing the Pipeline was like committing suicide, because of the way the waves pounded onto shallow live coral heads. When Peter Troy had to be rushed to hospital for numerous stitches, the Australians made sure they took off a long way outside Peck and Van Artsdalen."
in Hawaii," explained Young, "was the result of taking off first prize
in an Australian open men's contest at Bondi in November, 1963. The
prize, presented to me by Duke Kahanamoku
himself, was a first-class air fare to Hawaii and California. The
ticket and expenses were provided by Ampol Petroleum and the Sunday
Telegraph newspaper, and the man who organised such impressive sponsorship
was none other than Bob Evans. As well as his movies and surf magazines
Bob found time, together with John Witzig, Ross Kelly and Ray Young, to
put the Australian Surfriders' Association on a firm footing. Me,
I was just pleased to get to Hawaii for the first time in my life and to
have a chance of copying my heroes, Phil Edwards and Midget Farrelly, on
the best waves in the world."
Kit Horn at Lunada Bay
Back on the Mainland, Greg Noll tells the classic story of Kit Horn at Lunada Bay, in what I guess to be Christamas-time 1963:
"We usually threw a shop party on the day of Christmas Eve. One winter, just before I was scheduled to leave for my annual trip to the Islands, people were getting out of their jobs early and stopping by the shop for a little Christmas cheer. Kit Horn came by to see if I would be available to go to Lunada Bay in the next couple of days. Lunada Bay is off the Palos Verdes Peninsula and breaks only on a big winter swell. It's a big, steep wave with a fast takeoff. Under the right swell conditions, the place could become very hairy. In 1963, we got several days over fifteen feet. The bay was rock-rimmed and enclosed by a hundred-and-fifty-foot cliff from point to point, with only one small trail down to the water.
"Not many people have heard of Kit Horn. He was a good friend and schoolmate of Buzzy Trent's. And a frustrated big-wave rider. If you had asked the guy what he wanted to do when he grew up, he would have said that he wanted to go to Hawaii and ride big waves.
"Horn was a bitchin' guy, but he worked at some terrible goddamn engineering job at Northrop -- wore a suit and tie and large-rimmed glasses. A tough guy, he spent all his free time running, pumping weights and getting in shape for the day that he would find himself in the Islands surfing big waves. He never made it, though. He never really had enough time. The couple of times he did go over there he would miss the big surf and come home totally frustrated by the whole deal. He wanted it so badly."
"So, at the shop, we got to drinking wine -- Horn wasn't a big drinker -- and talking about Lunada Bay. It was breaking at about fifteen feet. By this time it was about three in the afternoon and we were getting pretty shit-faced. I told Kit that I had a special workout for getting in shape for big waves. What you did, I said, was tie yourself into a big truck tire innertube, paddle out at Lunada Bay, get yourself right in the impact zone, then try to catch a wave backwards. There, with your wine bottle and your innertube, you drink and wait for a wave to break on you. If you lose your bottle of wine or if you quit drinking, you're automatically disqualified.
"Kit had drunk enough to believe me. And I was far enough along to be stoked on the idea. So we did it. We got two big truck tire innertubes and two fresh gallons of Red Mountain wine and went to Lunada Bay. It was near dusk as we ran down the trail. We were fired up and the whole situation turned competitive.
"We paddled out in our tubes and sat right in the impact zone. A fifteen-foot set comes through and pounds the living shit out of both of us. We're laughing anyway, having a great time. Kit loses his inner tube, but holds onto his wine bottle. I'm getting a little concerned about him, but he just laughs. He had drunk about half his wine. I think the only thing keeping him afloat was the half-empty bottle.
"By the time we decided to go in, the sun had gone down and I couldn't find Kit on shore. I'm walking along the beach, and it's pitch dark. I finally find him in a tide pool. He'd drug himself there and was still lying face-down, his head pointing towards the ocean. He was real screwed up, his face and body were a mass of bloody cuts. The tide was coming in and he was barfing as his head bobbed up and down in the tide pool.
"Kit was a big man, weighed a couple hundred pounds. I tried to roll him out of the tidepool but couldn't. The best I could do was grab him by the ankles and drag him up the rocks, just to get his head out of the water so he wouldn't drown. I carried over a couple of big rocks, rolled one under each of his armpits and told him I was going for help.
"I climbed up the path to the road and hitchhiked to a phone. I called Horn's house and somehow the message got through that Kit was lying face-down in a tide pool at Lunada Bay. His wife just went beserk. She thought he'd drowned. At this point, the cops were called in.
"In the meantime, Kit comes to and starts walking up the trail. In the process of doing this, he slips and falls in some dog crap. So now he has blood and crap all over him, and he remembers that a friend of his lives at the Point at Lunada Bay. All he can think of is looking up this lifelong friend. After all, it's Christmas Eve. He stumbles into the guy's house and collapses on the couch, looking -- and smelling -- like shit. They call his wife, and she comes to pick him up."
"For years afterwards, if the name of Greg Noll was spoken in Kit Horn's house, the woman would go into a total rage. I haven't seen the man since, and that happened in the early '60s.
ago, I was at E.T. Surfboards, a shop in Hermosa Beach owned by Eddie Talbot,
a young guy who once worked for me and who became like a son to me.
While I was there, a kid came up and asked me if I would tell him the story
about Kit Horn at Lunada Bay. I guess it's become one of those surf
stories that gets carried on from one surf generation to another."
Sources Used In This Chapter:
-- Fred Van Dyke -- Greg Noll -- Hap Jacobs -- Leonard Lueras -- Longboard
magazine -- Los Angeles Times -- Mike Doyle -- Nat Young -- New
York Times -- Norman B. Chandler -- Peter Bart -- Phil Edwards -- Scott
Hulet -- Steve Pezman -- Surfer Girl -- Surfer
magazine -- Surfer's
Journal -- Surfing magazine -- Surfing, The Ultimate
Surf Shop, Online Store and/or Donations
Have stories to share? Corrections? Please email
Copyright © 1992-2008 by Malcolm Gault-Williams... Aloha Nui Loa!