People grow old. With age comes reminiscence. An old soldier touring Normandy, where 50 years earlier he had fought to save the world from the Nazis, said, “The older I get, the more I think about the past.”
I know that’s happened with me, and I suppose it happens with many others. People assess their lives and wonder if anything they did will have lasting significance. They want to tell their stories whether other people are interested or not. Some with a literary bent write their stories. Some without a literary bent write their stories. All hope at least a few others will read the stories, find themselves in them and maybe even gain something.
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Even the most piddling life is of momentous consequence to its owner.
— James Wolcott
Fish, you ought to write a book.
— Bruce Valluzzi
No one would care.
— Eileen R. Fiske
We can’t return
We can only look
Behind from where we came
And go ’round and ’round and ’round in the circle game
— Joni Mitchell
|Waikiki surfing as it was about the time I first saw daylight.|
1940s & 1950s
On August 6, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. On August 9, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.
On September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrendered to the US, ending World War II in the Pacific. Germany had formally surrendered to the Allies on May 8, ending the war in Europe.
I grew up on an island. OK, Long Island, but it is an island!
We were always a beach-going family. I don’t know how that came about because both my parents were born and grew up in the Bronx, one of the five boroughs of New York City. In January 1946, when I was two and my brother, Ken, was four, my parents had the good sense to move our young family to Hempstead, Long Island. If they hadn’t done that and, in 1957, moved our still young family to Massapequa, Long Island, I would have had an entirely different life. While living in Massapequa, I discovered surfing, and that more than anything else determined my course.
One of my earliest memories is of a brown, cedar-shingle hotel in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, New Jersey, where my parents took Ken and me on vacation for a week or two when we were tiny kids. I had oatmeal for breakfast in a dining room with a view of the white sand beach and the ocean. Why my parents chose New Jersey rather than a Long Island beach town, I don’t know.
|Ken, me, Mom. Beach Haven, N.J., summer 1947. Dad's best photo. photo: Rudy Fiske|
|Ken and me boldly charging into the surf, Beach Haven, summer 1948. photo: Rudy Fiske|
|Having second thoughts about boldly charging into the surf. photo: Rudy Fiske|
On October 1, 1949, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China.
On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for passing secret information about US atomic weaponry to the Soviets.
On July 27, 1953, an armistice ended the Korean War. It had begun three years earlier.
The first time I saw anything that even vaguely resembled a surfboard was at Point Lookout, which is on the west side of Jones Beach Inlet on Long Island. The local lore was that Charles Atlas had a summer house there. Maybe that’s where a big guy kicked sand in Atlas’ face when he was still a 100-pound weakling.
From April 22 through June 17, 1954 during hearings in the US Senate, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy accused army officials, members of the media and other public figures of being Communists.
On May 17, 1954, the US Supreme Court handed down its unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision. It stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
On April 12, 1955 after three years of field trials, Dr. Thomas Francis announced the success of Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. Following a mass March of Dimes immunization campaign, the number of US polio cases plummeted.
I saw that board during a summer in the mid-’50s when we were still living in Hempstead and going to Point Lookout, Jones Beach or Long Beach. The board wasn’t a surfboard, it was a totally flat paddleboard. It was hollow, built of plywood and painted. It had brass carrying handles on the rails out of arm-stroke range. It was literally the shape of an ironing board but about twice as wide and long. Obviously, it intrigued me because I remember the details.
On July 9, 1955, Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and His Comets became the first rock ’n’ roll record to hit number one on Billboard’s pop chart.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the colored section of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white passenger after the white section was filled.
On January 27, 1956, RCA released Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis Presley’s first single on a major label. Elvis exploded on the national scene and became the most influential popular culture figure of the 20th century.
|Me, sister Valerie, Mom, Ken, Jones Beach, L.I., Easter 1956. photo: Rudy Fiske|
On June 29, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law. It authorized construction of the Interstate Highway System, which has been called the “greatest public works project in history.”
On September 24, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce integration of black students.
We moved to Massapequa in September ’57. That put us in the Town of Oyster Bay and made us eligible to go to Tobay Beach. It’s east of Jones Beach and between Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. “Tobay” is an acronym for Town of Oyster Bay. Residents pay an annual fee, get decals for their car or boat windows and have yearlong admission to Tobay.
On October 4, 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik into Earth orbit.
On May 1, 1960, an American U-2 spy plane was hit by a surface to air missile over the USSR. Its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, ejected and was taken into KGB custody. The Soviets canceled the Paris Summit between the US and USSR.
On April 20, 1961, a CIA-sponsored 1,400-man paramilitary group called Brigade 2506 surrendered to Cuban armed forces under the direct command of Fidel Castro near the Bay of Pigs.
In May 1961, Freedom Riders traveled on buses through the South to protest racially segregated interstate bus facilities.
On February 20, 1962, Lt. Col. John Glenn became the first US astronaut to orbit Earth.
The first time I saw surfing was summer ’62 when I watched lifeguards riding waves that broke on a sandbar formed by the wreck Rhoda out in front of the Tobay pavilion. That instantly drew my attention and fascinated me. Only lifeguards were permitted to surf at Tobay, and it was prohibited at Jones Beach. Up to that time, I had ridden waves on my belly and had seen others do the same.
My friends and I went to Tobay on summer days. They spent nearly our entire time there on the beach talking about I don’t know what. I went in the water as soon as we got to the beach and stayed there pretty much till we left.
I first saw skateboarding that same summer at Tobay. A guy rode down the concrete slope that led to the pedestrian tunnel under the causeway. A skateboard was then a roller skate nailed to the bottom of a long, narrow piece of wood.
In October 1962, the US and USSR barely avoided global nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In summer ’63, between my sophomore and junior years at Gettysburg College, Ty Rose — a friend and fraternity brother — and I took his mom’s ’62 Chevy convertible on a 13,000-mile jaunt to the West Coast and back. When I recall that, I’m amazed his mom lent us her car and that my parents let me go. I was 19. Ty might have already turned 20.
|Ty and me in Massapequa prepping for our California trip, summer 1963. photo: Rudy Fiske|
|Me petrifying the Petrified National Forest, Az., summer 1963. photo: Ty Rose|
|Ty in a long row of Chevies and Fords, summer 1963. photo: Me|
|Ty lighting up bigtime, Disneyland, summer 1963. photo: Me|
On July 20, 1963, Jan & Dean’s Surf City was the first surf single to hit number one on the Billboard charts.
Ken had dropped out of Blackburn College in ’61 to enlist in the Marine Corps. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton on the Pacific in San Diego County, California. That was a destination for Ty and me.
San Onofre, a surf break some have called Southern California’s Waikiki, was on Camp Pendleton. The waves break on a cobblestone reef that extends a long way out from shore. Ken had two surfboards — a very beat up, discolored old thing that was probably about 9-10, and a new 10-2 Duke Dana that he had bought in a San Diego shop.
|Me with Ken's 10-2 Duke Dana, San Onofre, August 1963. photo: Ty Rose|
Ty and I had gotten onto the base legitimately but rather than leaving at night as we were supposed to, Ken set us up to sleep a night or two in a shed near his barracks. He had to work during the day, so Ty and I stood his boards upright between the front and back seats of the Chevy convertible and took off for a day of surfing at San Onofre.
It was August. There was a big south swell running. I’d now guess six to eight feet. The waves broke on the outer reef, and high walls of whitewater rolled across the cobble bottom toward the sandy shore. Ty and I were blissfully unaware of the waves’ power.
We launched the boards and, as first-time surfers usually do, lay way too far toward their tails as we paddled out. The boards’ noses were probably close to a foot above the surface. We were pretty far outside when the first wall of whitewater hit us. It lifted our boards, spun us around 180 degrees and catapulted us toward shore. I was lying prone, hanging on for dear life and ecstatic, screaming, “Holy shit! Holy shit!” I was instantly and forever hooked. I don’t think Ty was affected the same way.
That moment set the course of my life. If the surf had been flat that day, I would have taken a wholly different path.
Later, during our stay at Pendleton and at Ken’s womanfriend’s place in Manhattan Beach, we did a day trip to K38 in Baja. Ken was stand-up surfing, of course, but Ty and I were still on our bellies and trying to get our footing. The K38 trip was my first time in Encinitas. More about my adopted hometown later.
In summer ’63, the I-5 freeway stopped at the south end of San Clemente, probably at the Orange County-San Diego County line. South of that point, the road was Pacific Coast Highway. Like San Onofre, Trestles was on Pendleton and accessible only to surfers who risked getting arrested by Marines and having their boards confiscated. There was a Spanish-style church at Church, which is how that break got its name. My vague memory is that there was also a gas station and store where the road from Pendleton to San Onofre went under PCH.
On August 28, 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech before a crowd of 200,000 during a civil rights march on Washington, D.C.
When I got home near the end of the summer, I found that two of my friends — Walt Colleran and Joe Murphy — had chipped in to buy a 9-8 Shark popout. It had seams on the rails and a simulated redwood stringer that was actually a long strip of colored paper. Nevertheless, surfing had come to Long Island, and its popularity was growing.
I had been bitten by the surfing bug at San Onofre, so summer’s end and getting back into school mode in Pennsylvania was tough.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
On February 7, 1964, the Beatles arrived in New York City.
On March 6, 1964, Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad renamed him Muhammad Ali.
In spring ’64, three fraternity brothers and I arranged for summer jobs at Thatcher Glass in Saugus, California. Our plan was to rent an apartment halfway between Saugus and
the beach. We would work nights and spend our days surfing. Halfway turned out to be North Hollywood in the dreaded San Fernando Valley. The company couldn’t put the four of us on the same shift and we had only one car, so our days and nights became driving back and forth between our garden apartment and Saugus. In two weeks, we never made it to the beach. That was not at all how I wanted to spend the summer, so I quit the job and caught a ride to Long Island with a North Hollywood neighbor who was moving back to Connecticut.
I had missed any opportunity for a summer job at home, so I spent the summer painting the exterior of our Massapequa house. Walt worked as a World’s Fair night guard in Flushing Meadows, Queens. He bought a 9-6 Hannon, made on Long Island by John Hannon. It was poorly shaped. The rocker was off, and that made it plow rather than glide through the water. Paddling it was a chore, and the bad rocker must have affected its ride, so that put Walt at a disadvantage. Joe bought a Jacobs, and I inherited the Shark popout. Walt and I became dedicated surf buddies. None of our other friends took it seriously or stuck with it.
I had a blue ’54 Buick Special two-door, and Walt had a red VW convertible. I had painted “Pseudo Woodie” above the fake portholes behind the front wheel wells on both sides of the Buick. I removed the upright of the back seat so I could slide our two boards through the trunk diagonally to rest on the tilted-forward passenger-side front seat. Walt sat wedged between the boards and the window on the driver’s side of the back seat. When we went in his VW, we stood the boards upright between the front and back seats. On our way home from the beach in the VW one day, a guy in the lane next to us at a red light asked, “Are those for sale?” Without missing a beat, Walt shot back, “No, they’re for surf!”
|Me with my '54 Buick Pseudo Woodie, Carlinville, Il., spring 1962. photo: Kris Glintborg|
|Heading for County Line, L.I., in Walt's VW. photo: Steve Crown|
That summer, the ocean had arranged the sand so the waves broke really well at a spot we called County Line. It was the line between Nassau and Suffolk counties at the eastern edge of Tobay Beach. We went either there or to Long Beach, which is one barrier island west of Tobay.
But Tobay forbade surfing, and you couldn’t get into the parking lot with a board, even at dawn. So our routine was to illegally pull off the causeway onto the shoulder at County Line, jump out, unload the boards and have the passenger run with them over the dunes. Then the driver whipped an illegal U-turn, drove back to the Tobay parking lot, went to its east end, and ran down the service road and across the causeway to the surf.
When we weren’t in the water, Walt and I sat on the beach to watch Bobby Lambert surf. He was a Tobay lifeguard, the younger brother of a classmate at Massapequa High School and a good surfer. The guy was a natural. He learned and got good very quickly. He faced the incoming waves, swiveled 180 degrees as a wave approached, often did no-paddle take-offs, and rode with skill and grace. We were stumped by how he did the quick swivels. We eventually realized he was circling his leg underwater from the knee down as he pulled the board around by gripping the rail with his hand.
|Bobby Lambert, County Line, L.I., summer 1964. photo: Al Stefanik|
It was often difficult and sometimes impossible to get Walt out of bed in the pre-dawn darkness. I’d go to his house, which was about a half-mile from mine, expecting him to be up and ready, but that was almost never the case. For some reason, he didn’t always sleep in the same room, so I would go into his backyard, pick a window and throw pebbles at it. That usually woke one of his sisters, not him. She would come to the window, say good morning and then go wake Walt.
On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
Because of Walt’s sleeping habits, I sometimes went to Long Beach or County Line solo. That complicated getting into Tobay. Rather than having Walt to run two boards over the dunes, I had to jump out of the Buick, unload my board, run it into the dunes, sprint back to the car and complete the parking-and-return circuit myself.
My contemporary account of surfing County Line on July 30, 1964:
Very strong southwest winds on the 29th — stormy big surf. Thunderstorms from the north created offshore winds. Arose at 5 a.m. on the 30th. Should I go back to bed or down to the beach? I ate breakfast, loaded the board, stopped for gas and was in the surf at 6 a.m. just as the sun got up over the horizon. No wind — fantastic, beautiful, at least 6-foot walls coming in in consistent sets. Long, green never-ending lines. The wind started up at about 8 a.m. — straight offshore, directly from the north, creating unbelievable hollow tubes. Bob Lambert showed up at about 8:30. He picked up great nose rides. Two other guys showed up and did the same. Tide was low at 6 — coming in all morning. Got rides all the way in, in the curl, no soup from as far out as the wreck — all the way in to the beach, I even kicked out. I got at least 30 beautiful, long, clean, green rides, no pearls, no unnecessary wipeouts. Left at 10 a.m. when the tide was in. Undeniably the best day yet. •
In summer ’64, there was a steady diet of surf movies at the Plattdeutsche Park Restaurant in Franklin Square. It was an odd venue for anything surf related because it was in the middle of the island south to north, near Belmont Park race track and almost in Queens.
|Poster and cartoon by Carl T. Herrman|
|Bud Browne, Oceanside, Ca., circa 1970|
The biggest surf movie of the year, however, was The Endless Summer. Bruce Brown brought the 16 mm version to the Chaminade High School auditorium in Mineola. Brown toured the East Coast with Hobie Alter, who traveled in a motor home to visit his dealers and set up new ones. With Alter and Brown were Phil Edwards, Mike Hynson, Joey Cabell and Corky Carroll. Brown showed the film, narrated in person and played the accompanying music on reel-to-reel quarter-inch tape. Surf stars had come to Long Island. Walt and I were awed.
|Hobie Alter, Bruce Brown, Phil Edwards, Joey Cabell, Corky Carroll, Mike Hynson, 1964.|
On August 7, 1964, an overwhelming majority in the US Senate approved President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution authorized Johnson to expand the war in Vietnam.
That Labor Day weekend, we drove to Montauk in Walt’s VW. Relatives of mine had a summer place at Ditch Plains, which is a left point break when the swell comes from the southeast. We lucked out. Not only was there a four-to-six-foot swell running, but the wind blew gently offshore all day.
Ditch Plains is about 100 miles from Massapequa. Back then, Montauk was a remote, almost unknown outpost. Even on a holiday weekend, the traffic was light. We were in the surf about two hours after we left home. Not only were we in the surf, we were the only two guys out — all day. Four to six feet, offshore wind, perfect point-break waves peeling into a sandy cove. It’s still one of the best surf days I’ve ever had.
A few days later, it was back to Gettysburg College for my senior year. During the ’64-’65 school year, I discovered that a newsstand in town carried surfing magazines. I was very grateful for that inexplicable marketing decision. Surfing magazines at a newsstand in inland Pennsylvania? What’s up with that?
|Me on my 9-8 Shark popout, Ocean City, Md., summer 1964. photo: Bill Bush|
I subscribed to Surfer and bought whatever other surfing titles showed up on the newsstand. During that cold Northeast winter, I virtually memorized those magazines. I cut out photos and whole pages and tacked them to the walls of my room. I mounted a sunlamp on the mirror above my dresser so I could bask in its artificial rays. I regularly went to the workout room at the school’s pool to practice my paddling, lying prone on a narrow table and using pulley weights.
|Artificial UVs, Gettysburg, Pa., fall 1964. photo: Me|
|Surf-crazed college student's room, Gettysburg, Pa., fall 1964. photo: Me|
On Sep 27, 1964, the Warren Commission released its findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
On October 16, 1964, China became the world’s fifth nation to develop a nuclear weapon.
When spring ’65 rolled around, Gordon & Smith Surfboards in San Diego offered a special deal in Surfer: free laminated nose and tailblocks on any board ordered within a certain time period. I sent for their brochure and ordered a 9-6 with a two-inch balsa stringer and free nose and tailblocks. I had no idea how G&S would get the board to me.
One fine spring day in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when the trees were just starting to bud new leaves, an 18-wheeler stopped in front of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house on West Lincoln Avenue. By chance, I was on the front porch at the time. The driver jumped down from the cab, came around back and opened the big, swinging doors of the trailer. He pulled out a very long cardboard carton. It had something pointing up from one end that was heavily taped and protected with extra cardboard. I said, “Oh my God, it’s my G&S!” and went bounding down the stairs and walkway to accept the shipment and sign the paperwork.
|An 18-wheeler delivered my G&S here, spring 1965. photo: Me|
I unpacked the board on the porch and beheld it. It was a thing of great beauty. All shiny and glossy, completely unmarred, a two-inch balsa stringer and those absolutely fabulous laminated mahogany-and-blond nose and tailblocks. The iconic G&S logo glowed red, white and black in all its splendor on the deck about a third of the way up from the tail.
|Brand loyalty. photo: Me|
I somehow made or bought a pair of plywood board hangers, mounted them on the longest wall on my side of our room and hung the G&S there, with the indulgence of my roommate, Bob Gygax. He, like my other fraternity brothers, probably thought I was totally nuts. The G&S would hang idle on my wall till spring break.
|The ever-accommodating Bob Gygax, circa 1963. photo: Me|
On March 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers attacked peaceful demonstrators led by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as they tried to cross the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
I had a marketing class that spring semester. For my class paper, I decided to research where to locate a surf shop on the southeast coast. I did the book and library research before spring break. When the break came, I was ready for the field research. Walt came to Gettysburg in his mom’s Chevy sedan with his Hannon on roof racks. From the moment he saw my G&S, he called me “Gordon.”
The water was still cold up north, so the first place surfing became a possibility was the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We found no waves there or elsewhere in North Carolina, little waves in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and none at Hilton Head or in Georgia, so it was on to Cocoa Beach, Florida, which we had seen covered in surfing magazines. We stayed at the Winslow Beach Apartments north of Canaveral Pier and got little waves there.
|Walt checking the rip at Sunset Beach, N.C., spring 1965. photo: Me|
|Walt's Hannon and my G&S, Hilton Head Island, S.C. photo: Walt Colleran|
|Me getting 10 in the Hilton Head shorebreak. photo: Walt Colleran|
|Walt's stretch 5 in the Hilton Head shorebreak. photo: Me|
|Walt's mom's Chevy, some vagrant's Ford wagon, Cape Canaveral, Fl. photo: Me|
With my book and field research completed, I decided on Myrtle Beach as the best location for a surf shop. About that time, Ron DiMenna chose Cocoa Beach and opened the Ron Jon Surf Shop where the 520 causeway meets A1A. By drawing Florida tourists to buy mostly surfing related clothing, accessories and souvenirs, Ron Jon’s became the biggest, most lucrative surf shop in the world.
|Ron Jon Surfing Shop, Cocoa Beach, Fl., 1967. photo: Joseph Neves|
|Ron Jon Surf Shop, Cocoa Beach, Fl., 2009. photo: Me|
Later that spring, Lorraine Berghaus, the cook in my fraternity house, told me her brother-in-law had a wooden station wagon that he wanted to sell for $150. It was stored in his barn. A woodie for 150 bucks?! I had to have it.
When the owner opened the barn doors, I thought I must be dreaming. Inside was a gorgeous oak woodie that a custom builder in New York State had built on a ’48 Chevy half-ton pickup chassis. Low miles, perfect condition, dark green on the metal parts. The owner came down to $125 for an impoverished college guy.
|Excellent cook Lorraine Berghaus serving the vittles, spring 1965. photo: Me|
|1948 Chevy woodie, Jones Beach, L.I., rainy day at parking lot No. 6. photo: Me|
I soon dinged a rail on the Bunger and went to Bob Hawkins’ shop on Merrick Road in Massapequa to find out how to fix it. During Bob’s quick lesson, he used the word “glue.” I naively asked, “What kind of glue?” He meant resin, of course. By that time, surfing had become popular enough that many younger kids in my neighborhood took it up. I became their go-to guy for ding repairs. One of the kids was Jeff Kopelson. He lived straight across the street from us. He’ll reappear briefly later in this tale.
|Bob Hawkins was one of the first guys to make surfboards on Long Island.|
Surfing East magazine’s first issue appeared that summer. Its format was small, just a bit bigger than the Reader’s Digest. I bought a copy at Pete Lutz’s surf shop in Amityville. I was thumbing through it at home and came upon a photo of Walt’s VW taken from behind as we headed to Tobay. The photo didn’t show us, but it showed our boards standing between the front and back seats and, in the background, the Jones Beach tower. I went totally manic, jumped in my woodie and sped to Walt’s house. “Walt, Walt, our picture is in a surfing magazine!” He didn’t get anywhere near as excited as I was.
|Surfing East photo of Walt and me, summer 1965.|
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices.
From August 11 through 16, 1965, 35 people died and 883 were injured during riots in Watts, Los Angeles, California.
One of our surf adventures that summer was paddling across Fire Island Inlet to see if there were good waves at a jetty near the end of the sand spit. There weren’t. Paddling across the inlet and back was no easy feat. Now there’s a huge bridge across the inlet to Robert Moses State Park and the ocean. The jetty is still there. When a swell is running, there’s a good left.
When summer ended, Walt went to Vietnam with the Counter Intelligence Corps. He broke his right leg badly in a Jeep accident. It was poorly set, didn’t heal properly and wound up shorter than his left. He was 22 then. He’s had a bad bow in the leg and a limp since. Sadly, no more surfing for Walt.
I enrolled in what was then called SUC New Paltz, New York, to learn how to be an elementary school teacher. I found an off-campus garage in town to protect the woodie from the elements.
At New Paltz, which is in upstate New York across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie, it took just a few weeks for me to grow tired of the inland location and to hunger for surfing. I arranged to transfer to San Diego State University. On the day after Christmas, I started a cross-country drive with my 9-6 Bunger and all my stuff in the back of the woodie.
I rented a one-bedroom apartment and garage on Opal Street in Pacific Beach. I walked down the alley to surf at Tourmaline Canyon and PB Point daily. The apartment was furnished but lacked kitchen stuff, so I went to a nearby Alpha Beta and bought two of everything — plates, cups, saucers, knives, forks, spoons, etc.
As of January 1, 1966, US cigarette packs had to carry the warning “Caution: cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.”
Paying for that apartment and garage solo was tough, so I found a roommate and we moved to a one-bedroom place on West Point Loma Boulevard near its intersection with Nimitz Boulevard on the outskirts of Ocean Beach. The downside was no garage for my woodie.
My roommate, Dave Capron, didn’t surf. I met a surfer at the beach who had an old Studebaker and wore a US Army fatigue jacket. I don’t remember his name. We became surf buddies. He and I alternated driving to surf spots in San Diego County and Baja. Among our favorites were 15th Street in Del Mar, Cardiff Reef, and Swami’s and Beacon in Encinitas. This was spring ’66. I remember an overcast six-foot day at Swami’s when the only other person in the water was a guy on a surf ski. When I had trouble paddling into waves at Cardiff Reef, a guy there suggested taking off over the boils. That worked.
|Dave Capron changing the oil in his TR-3, Mission Bay, San Diego, spring 1966. photo: Me|
At that time, very few East Coast surfers had surfed Southern California. It was looked upon with a kind of mystical reverence. Every time I surfed a new spot, I drew a cartooned postcard — for example, “Bunger Conquers Beacon” — and mailed it to Charlie Bunger’s factory on Long Island.
On March 4, 1966, speaking of the Beatles, John Lennon said, “We’re more popular than Jesus.”
On March 31, 1966, 25,000 anti-Vietnam war demonstrators marched in New York City.
That spring, Barry Mirandon and David Kay (his dad founded Kaypro Computers) showed their surf film, Another Wave, in the Pacific Beach Junior High auditorium. My Studebaker surf buddy and I went. The film was terrible, but the place was packed. I said to myself, “Geez, if these guys can put something this bad on a screen and fill a school auditorium, I can certainly do at least as well.” I left the show determined to make a surf film.
When David Kay interviewed me for a graphic arts job in May ’93, I told him that story. It had no effect on him. He didn’t even acknowledge hearing it.
|Unintended consequence: It inspired me to make an East Coast surf film.|
As it turned out, aside from the surfing, I didn’t much like Southern California. The water was cold, the weather was monotonous, there were few cumulus clouds and not many trees. I came to know what semi-arid meant.
I transferred back to SUC New Paltz. My last final exam at SDSU was in the evening. I packed my Bunger and the rest of my stuff in the woodie, drove to campus, took the test and drove east for Long Island. I was eager to get home, so I forced myself to stay awake and drive. When I started hallucinating — huge dragons jumping from the roadside out in front of my Chevy — I figured it was time to pull over and get some sleep.
On June 13, 1966, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Miranda decision made informing an arrested suspect of his rights mandatory.
Walt was in Vietnam in summer ’66, none of my Massapequa friends were into surfing, so I had no surf buddy. I pumped gas at night and surfed early almost every morning, more often in Long Beach than at County Line. I could park at the end of nearly any street, walk across a short stretch of sand and paddle out into the surf.
I bought a Petri 35 mm SLR camera, a 450 mm Soligor lens and a tripod. That equipment choice was governed by how much money I had. I didn’t know photography well enough to gather more money and buy better equipment.
I shot B&W photos of two young surfers in Long Beach — Roger Gengo and Doug Herman — who surfed between the same two jetties where I usually went. I sent my good shots to Ed Greevy at Competition Surf magazine. It was the best of three East Coast surfing magazine startups in the New York metro area in ’65 and ’66. Competition Surf published two of my photos. I got $12. I had hit the big time!
|Roger Gengo riding, Doug Herman paddling, Long Beach, L.I. photo: Me|
|Roger Gengo casually dropping in on the nose, Long Beach, L.I. photo: Me|
|Four feet, hollow, unridden, Long Beach, L.I. photo: Me|
Early that summer, I went by Charlie Bunger’s factory, which I think at the time was in Lindenhurst, Long Island. I was very surprised to find all the spot-conquering postcards I had anonymously sent from California tacked to a wall near the entry. I told Charlie I had sent them and he loudly announced, “Hey, here’s the guy who sent the postcards!”
On July 1, 1966, Medicare went into effect.
On July 14, 1966, Richard Speck systematically tortured, raped and murdered eight student nurses in their Chicago dormitory.
On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman killed 16 people and wounded 31 others in Austin, Texas.
During summer ’66, I developed a plan for how I would become the Bruce Brown of the East Coast. The plan began with getting a teaching job in Florida. I would return to SUC New Paltz for the fall quarter and immediately apply for teaching jobs on the Atlantic coast of Central Florida. By the end of that quarter I would have had two New Paltz quarters of instruction, observation and a few trial runs in sixth-grade classrooms, and a semester of instruction and student teaching at SDSU. I thought that might be enough to get me a teaching job and certified in Florida.
|My apartment window, New Paltz, N.Y., fall 1966. photo: Me|
On October 6, 1966, California became the first state to declare LSD illegal.
My first choice was Brevard County, which is where Cocoa Beach is. I wrote to the superintendent of public instruction, Woodrow Darden, there and to other superintendents in Volusia and Indian River counties, which are one county north and south, respectively. On a Friday afternoon toward the end of the New Paltz quarter, I got a phone call from Florida. The voice on the line said something like, “This is Dr. Bob Shaeffer, principal of Gardendale Elementary School on Merritt Island in Brevard County. I have a fifth grade teaching position open in January, I’ve seen your records, and I’m calling to offer you the job.”
OK, pick me up off the floor! At that time in my life — I had just turned 23 — everything fell into place just as I wanted it to. I moved with ease through what for others seemed to be a mine field. I bounced around, plans or not, and things went my way. I was too naive to know my life wouldn’t always be such a cruise.
On December 8, 1966, the US and the USSR signed a treaty that prohibited nuclear weapons in outer space.
I said goodbye to New Paltz and Massapequa and, on the day after Christmas, with my Bunger, all my worldly possessions and a cat named Mephistopheles, headed for Florida in my Chevy woodie. Meph, as he became known for short, lay uncomplaining atop the seat-back curled across my neck and shoulders for the whole drive.
|Mephistopheles during his kitten days, New Paltz, N.Y., fall 1966. photo: Me|
In Cape Canaveral, I rented a studio at the Winslow Beach Apartments, the same place Walt and I had stayed during our spring ’65 trip. I had an appointment to meet Dr. Shaeffer at Gardendale Elementary before New Year’s Day. School would start a few days later.
I drove to Merritt Island — Madras plaid sport coat, solid blue Madras tie, dark gray slacks, black wing-tips — and turned onto Grove Boulevard, the street that led to the school. A blue 1960 Ford four-door sedan turned onto Grove immediately behind me. Checking the rearview mirror, I figured that must be Dr. Shaeffer. I drove very slowly and was careful to use my turn signal well before the left into the school parking lot. I met Dr. Shaeffer, he showed me my classroom and the rest of the school, and I started teaching fifth grade on Monday, January 2, 1967.
On January 27, 1967, a cabin fire in the Apollo 1 command module during a launch rehearsal killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
At first, I surfed mostly at Canaveral Pier because it was a short beach walk from my apartment. Florida waves are usually small, slow-moving and often sloppy because of onshore winds. The water is typically a pale, murky green. It stays fairly warm in the winter, which is when cold fronts from up north bring swells that wrap around the cape. Close to the cape, the configuration of the land mixed with the swell direction keeps the waves small. The farther south in Brevard County you go, the bigger the waves in the same swell get.
Pelicans are one of the most memorable things about surfing in Florida. Especially when the wind is offshore, surfers see long, single-file lines of pelicans coming from north or south. As the sets approach the beach and the waves successively wall up, the pelicans swoop down in graceful, drawn-out lines to glide on the updrafts just above the feathering lips. When one wave breaks, the pelicans ascend, then swoop down to continue their aerial ballet as the next wave in the set stands up and catches the wind.
I got to know people in the surfing community by hanging out at Ron Jon’s, which was then a one-story storefront in a strip mall on the east side of A1A just south of its intersection with the 520 causeway. Ted Lund, manager of Ron Jon’s, became a good friend. He told a story about sharing a joint with a buddy while duck hunting. As they sat in a blind with their shotguns ready, a flock of ducks rose from the water and flew across in front of the hunters. Ted pointed and said, “Hey, look at those ducks!”
I met Pat O’Hare, who was making boards and had a shop near the center of town in Cocoa Beach. A short time later, I bought one of his boards, a 9-10, no color, two thin stringers.
On March 28, 1967, UN Secretary General U Thant made public proposals for peace in Vietnam.
There was no such thing as a manual on how to make a surf film. In fact, I couldn’t find a guide for how to make any kind of movie. The closest I came was a Kodak booklet on industrial films. There was a camera store in Cocoa, which is west of Cocoa Beach, across the Banana and Indian rivers. In the glass counter case there one day, I saw a 16 mm Bolex movie camera with a three-lens turret. I recognized the Bolex as the camera Bruce Brown and other surf film makers used. It was for sale on consignment. The owner was Klaus Wilckens, a photographer for NASA contractors. I bought it.
I then bought a good fluid-head tripod and two Century telephoto lenses. The lenses were C-mounts that screwed into the Bolex’s turret. I first bought pre-packaged, 100-foot reels of Kodak film. I thought it was Kodachrome, but Bill Yerkes, a friend then and still, and now a surf shop owner in Satellite Beach, Florida, tells me the film stock was Ektachrome Commercial. Later, to economize, I bought what were probably 300- or 500-foot reels and spooled them onto 100-foot reels, using a projector in a windowless room at my school. Each 100-foot reel ran for three minutes at 24 frames per second in the hand-wound Bolex.
A guy who consistently shows up at surfing beaches with a camera, long telephoto lens and a tripod draws attention. A guy with a professional-looking movie camera set-up draws even more attention. That was a good way to meet surfers, other photographers and curious people.
Part of my grand plan was to have writing and still photos published in East Coast surfing magazines as a way to become known and, later, to promote my upcoming surf film. Other filmmakers had done that in surfing magazines published in California, so I had a model to follow. I stayed in touch with Ed Greevy, editor of Competition Surf, and I contacted Paul Chapey, editor of Atlantic Surfing. By that time, after nine issues, Surfing East had ceased publication.
Every Easter weekend, there was a surf contest and what amounted to a festival at Canaveral Pier. Surfers came from all over Florida, and many surf-starved northerners came from as far away as Maine. Ed and Anita Greevy came down from Byram, Connecticut, in the Competition Surf Dodge van. The van had become iconic because Ed and his brother-in-law, Jim Joiner, who was the magazine’s art director and co-publisher, had faked and published a photo of the van doing a wheelie. They jacked up the front end, put wheel stands under the axles and shot the photo. Then Jim airbrushed the stands out of the print and added smoke around the rear wheels to authenticate the wheelie.
|This faked photo produced a huge demand by terrifying gremmies to "Wheel out!" photo: Ed Greevy|
|An excellent but short-lived magazine, 1966-67.|
On April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali refused induction into the US Army and was stripped of his World Heavyweight boxing title.
By that spring, I had moved out of my studio and was sharing a two-bedroom Winslow Beach apartment with fellow teacher Jim Capper. The Greevys came to that apartment for our first face-to-face meeting. To cover the Easter surf contest for Competition Surf, I wrote an article titled “This Is Your Pier Speaking.” It detailed the event from the pier’s point of view. The issue was short of space, so Ed gave the article one page — text topped by a collage of tiny photos. One shot was of a phenomenal 12-year-old surfer named Benjie McRoberts. He and his older brother, Tommy, an extremely smooth and stylish surfer, were stand-outs at the pier.
|Jim Capper, Cape Canaveral, Fl., spring 1967. photo: Me|
|Tommy McRoberts riding my 9-10 Bunger, Canaveral Pier, spring 1967. photo: Me|
|The board Tommy is riding in the photo above. photo: Me|
Among the hot Cocoa Beach surfers of that era were Gary Propper, Claude Codgen, Bruce Valluzzi and Mike Tabeling. Gary had won just about every East Coast contest and title in existence. He was a surprising, dynamic, almost acrobatic surfer. Claudie was a graceful goofy-footer, the kind of surfer who made every move look easy. Bruce was a power surfer, destined for bigger waves and greater adventures. At a lean, lanky 6-4, Mike stood out but really didn’t fit the small Florida waves. He needed and found bigger, faster surf. All four were recent graduates of Cocoa Beach High School.
The mid- and late-’60s were the signature model surfboard era. Hobie made the Gary Propper signature model, the best-selling of all time. Con made the CC Rider. Claudie still shapes them at his Sunshine Surfboards today. Greg Noll made the Bruce Valluzzi model, and Dewey Weber made the Mike Tabeling model. The 1,500-mile, heavily populated East Coast was the biggest surfing market in the world.
In spring ’67, I was seeing Priscilla, a woman who lived in the Winslow Beach Apartments a block or two north of Jim’s and my place. One weekend afternoon, as Jim and I were sitting at the table near the front window, Jim looked out and said, “Is that Prissy I see walking this way with Claude Codgen?” It was. Claudie was looking for somebody to take a head shot of him for an article Surfer magazine was doing on him and Mike Tabeling. I was happy to oblige. I shot a roll of B&W and mailed the undeveloped film to Brad Barrett, who was then Surfer’s photo editor. For some mysterious reason, the photo didn’t appear till the September ’68 issue. I think I got $10. I had hit the big time again.
|Claude Codgen, Cocoa Beach, Fl., spring 1967. photo: Me|
On May 19, 1967, US planes bombed Hanoi, North Vietnam.
I began planning how to shoot film of good surfers as I traveled up the coast during the summer. I sold my Chevy woodie for $500 and bought a ’62 VW bus. I built beds and storage compartments in the back. I talked with Tommy and Benjie McRoberts, their parents and Pat O’Hare, the brothers’ sponsor, and arranged to travel north with two McRoberts. Pat helped finance the trip.
|I gave up my '48 Chevy woodie for this wreck of a '62 VW bus, Cocoa, Fl., spring 1967. photo: Me|
Before we left Florida for weeks on the road, Benjie asked the question that all traveling surfers must answer: “Where do we rinse off?” We got as far north as Rhode Island, found some waves but nothing worthy of much film.
|Tommy McRoberts, Azores, Long Beach, L.I., summer 1967. photo: Me|
On June 1, 1967, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album went on sale in the US.
When the McRoberts brothers returned to Florida in late summer ’67, I met up with Ed Greevy and Long Island surfer Jim Hanley for a surf trip to Nova Scotia in my VW bus. We got there midday under clear skies and bright sunshine. We found a very California-like point break northeast of Halifax. Three- to four-foot glassy waves peeled right through deep blue-green water over a cobblestone bottom. We named it Artillery Point because the promontory looked as if it had been heavily shelled. I shot film of Ed and Jim. Ed shot stills and got a good one of me.
|Me on my 9-10 O'Hare, Artillery Point, Nova Scotia, summer 1967. photo: Ed Greevy|
|Jim Hanley, Point Loma, San Diego, circa 1971. photo: Me|
The next morning, we awoke to pea-soup fog. It lingered for several days, making surfing or even finding the ocean impossible. We took to driving in what we thought was the direction of the ocean, stopping, turning the engine off, listening for breaking surf, then heading in whatever direction it seemed to be. In one location, we discovered we were driving on a golf course. At another, we came to a beach that was so raw, so wild and so heavily strewn with driftwood that Ed said, “This looks like the place where the elephants come to die.” After several unsuccessful days of fogged-in surf searches, we returned to Bar Harbor, Maine, via the ferry from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
On August 30, 1967, the US Senate confirmed Thurgood Marshall as the first black justice of the Supreme Court.
The surf on the East Coast is generally not as big nor as consistent as on the West Coast. That’s not because the Atlantic Ocean isn’t big and wild enough to produce big, fast surf. There’s plenty of world-class surf on the Atlantic coasts of Ireland, France, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Brazil and several West Africa countries. The relatively small, slow, less powerful East Coast surf is due to the seaboard’s wide, shallow continental shelf. It reduces the waves’ size, power and consistency. Those geographic facts make producing an East Coast surf film particularly problematic. To get the picture-perfect combination of swell, sun, wind, tide and surfers at a good break anywhere is rare. It’s especially tough on the East Coast.
Today, more than 50 years after surfing first became popular on the East Coast, people still question the very existence of surf there. That skepticism and the characteristics of the surf and conditions give East Coast surfers a bit of an inferiority complex. We relate to surfers from better surf places like Canadians relate to Americans. All this makes it deliciously ironic that Kelly Slater, 11-time world champion as I write this and one of the best surfers who’s ever lived, was born and grew up in Cocoa Beach. He still calls it home.
In the mid-’60s when California board manufacturers began to seriously exploit the East Coast market, they saw indigenous board makers as a threat. A loyalty and a plight-sharing spirit grew among East Coast surfers. Greg Noll warned his fellow California board makers of “East Coast nationalism.” There was humor in that warning, but Noll didn’t mean it only as a joke.
For the ’67-’68 school year, I shared a house on North Azure Lane in Cape Canaveral with fellow teacher Joe Shamet. I spent my free time surfing and trying to find good waves and surfers to film. My long-range plan was to finish production of my surf film in time to premier it during the Easter ’69 Canaveral Pier contest.
|I watched Saturn 5 launches from the roof of this Cape Canaveral house, fall 1967. photo: Me|
In autumn ’67, the Cocoa Drive-In ran the 35 mm version of The Endless Summer for a week or two. Although I had seen it at least twice, I went several times. I left the speaker on its post, kept my windows closed and watched the film in silence. I watched how Bruce Brown shot and edited the film. I took notes. I timed the scenes and sequences. I looked at the composition of the shots, the camera positioning and movement, the use of establishing shots, medium shots and close-ups, and the impression the people photographed made. I absorbed the pacing and flow. His film was why mine was pretty much a travelogue and had many of the elements I included. But his structure and style really didn’t transfer well to an East Coast surfing film.
That winter, I started laying the groundwork for what I would do in ’68. If I was going to have a finished film by Easter ’69, ’68 had to be a major production year.
On January 31, 1968, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive with coordinated attacks on more than 100 South Vietnamese cities and towns.
On March 16, 1968, American soldiers killed 300 Vietnamese villagers in the My Lai massacre.
On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek another term.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots or unrest erupted in more than 100 US cities.
Probably in spring ’68, I got some good footage of Gary Propper, Fred and Norm Grosskreutz and Sam Gornto on nice little waves alongside the remains of Patrick Pier north of Satellite Beach. Offshore wind, good light, good color, good surfers. That’s likely what established my contact with Gary. I arranged to travel north with him, Joey Twombly, Dick Pollock and David Boyd in early summer. I bought a new ’68 VW van and outfitted it with a convertible bed, a large, lockable storage compartment and interior carriers for two boards. The other boards went on roof racks. I had a sign painter emblazon both front doors with “Fiske Films” in black Egyptian Bold Condensed caps. That was the first time I identified and specified a particular typeface for any use.
Atlantic Surfing published “Long Island Ritual” in the summer ’68 issue. The article encapsulated the dawn patrol routine I had followed in the summers of ’64, ’65 and ’66. It opened with a color shot I had gotten of Tommy McRoberts in Long Beach when traveling with him and Benjie the previous summer. Despite my taking Paul Chapey, the magazine’s editor, to task for flopping the photo and making Tommy look like a goofy foot, the article firmed up contact with him. Florida surf photographer Roger Scruggs took a head shot of me for the contents page.
|In my '62 VW bus for Atlantic Surfing, spring 1968. photo: Roger Scruggs|
In summer ’68, my traveling companions and I were in the midst of the transition from long to short boards. The short board revolution had started in ’66. Australian Nat Young had won the World Contest in San Diego on a 9-4 he called Sam. A 9-4 wasn’t all that short, but many other surfers were riding boards in the 10-foot range. Boards got progressively shorter, the first longboard era and the noseriding era wound down, and surfing styles underwent a radical change.
On June 5-6, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles, California.
Like the previous summer, picture-perfect waves and conditions were scarce. Dick Pollock now tells me that Gary and I missed the best day of surf during our trip when he and I left Long Beach for the day to go into New York City to check out a nightclub called Electric Circus. So it goes when patrolling for surf. If you slack off for a day, that’s when it gets good. My guess is the line “You should have been here yesterday,” which was repeated for comic effect in The Endless Summer, came about because Bruce Brown, Mike Hynson and Robert August missed some good surf days.
When the first shift of surfer traveling companions returned to Florida, I met Claude Codgen in northern New Jersey at what people there call “the shore.” Claudie had been in Manhattan for a promotional event and took a cab to our meeting place. He sat casually in the back seat with his CC Rider sticking out the window. We checked several extremely restrictive New Jersey beaches and found tiny waves at a few.
|You will obey! Very uptight about surfing in New Jersey, summer 1968. photo: Me|
We headed north and somewhere along the way met Bruce Valluzzi and then Bob Moser, who was a traveling sales rep for Hansen Surfboards in Encinitas. Bob was with Jacksonville, Florida, surfer Dick Rosborough. We stashed my van in a garage under a surf shop in Rhode Island and headed for Massachusetts in Bob’s van. We took the ferry to Nantucket Island, where we got some decent waves at a place called Cisco.
|"You take photos of other people, I'll take one of you." Nantucket ferry, summer 1968. photo: Claude Codgen|
Between August 26 and 29, 1968, what a national commission later termed “a police riot” erupted during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
After watching me ride my Bunger V-bottom at Cisco, Bruce told me I surfed like Mike Hynson. How could I not love the guy?!
Ferried off Nantucket, Claudie, Bruce and I headed south in my VW for the East Coast Championships in Virginia Beach. On the way, we stopped to visit a college friend of mine in Hawthorne, Westchester County, New York. He shot a memorable photo of the surf crew.
|Me, Claude Codgen and Bruce Valluzzi displaying our shit-eating grins. photo: Basil Salvo|
The Virginia Beach contest proved to be yet another tiny wave event. At its close, several surfers and I did a blitz drive to Cocoa Beach. We stopped only for gas. My companions assigned me to drive and, to help me along, supplied several little white pills. All but one companion slept. One of those who took a turn in the passenger seat and kept me talking so I would stay awake was a young blond woman named Pam. She had fabulous teeth, a great smile and a happy, outgoing manner. She had two equally irreverent, wild, non-conformist friends in Cocoa Beach named Jackie and Valerie. They occasionally stopped by the studio apartment I rented on South Fourth Street.
When Halloween came around in the fall, the wild trio came by my place in hilarious, outrageously creative costumes. I said I was due at a Halloween party at a house a few blocks away that was shared by three female teacher friends. I suggested the trio should follow me there, let me go in, wait a few minutes then trick or treat at the door and greet me when they saw me inside. Keep in mind that the three costumed women were about 20 years old.
They rang the bell, one of the teachers answered, the trio screamed “Trick or treat!” in high-pitched unison, then, with Oscar-level performances, looked inside at me and squealed “Fish!” The teacher stepped back in shock, turned to me and incredulously said, “You know them?!”
I set up a simple manual film-editing system on a cafeteria table in my apartment that fall. I mounted left- and right-hand reel cranks at bent-elbow distance from a centrally placed viewer. Light from within the viewer below the film plane projected the images onto a tiny screen. The best I or any editor with that system could do was to simulate an electric projector’s 24 frames-per-second speed. I cut and spliced the film with a little manual splicer. I applied the glue to join the ends with a sable-hair artist’s brush. I didn’t A&B roll to make the splices invisible because I didn’t want to spend the money for the equipment, and I was intimidated by the technique. That was a dumb move.
As best I can recall, as I shot 100-foot rolls of film, I sent them to a Kodak lab for processing. When it came time to assemble the raw footage so I could make workprints for editing, I chose a lab in Fort Lauderdale. Because that lab screwed up royally, as I’ll relate below, I later switched to a lab at a Tampa TV station. This was in the era of “film at 11.”
One day that fall, I was in the parking lot out front of Ron Jon’s. A short guy with a salt-and-pepper goatee and a big belly approached me. He introduced himself as Toby Annenberg, the black sheep of the Annenberg family. He said he was managing director of International Surfing, which Adrian Lopez, a newsstand magazine publisher in New York City, had bought several months earlier from Petersen Publications. Toby and I talked for a while, then he offered me the job as the magazine’s editor. I declined, saying I was teaching school and making a surf film.
On October 31, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered bombing of North Vietnam stopped.
The World Surfing Contest was coming up in November ’68 at Rincon, Puerto Rico. The best surfers on the planet would be gathering there to compete. I had to go. But I had a conflict. It was during the school year, and I was teaching sixth grade. I doubted I could get a leave of absence, so I engineered the most deceptive thing I’ve ever done.
To start, I borrowed $500 from the teachers’ credit union. I bought a round-trip plane ticket from Miami to San Juan. When the school day ended on Monday, November 4, I drove home, called the principal and excitedly told him my dad had had a heart attack in New Jersey. I said I had to go there immediately to be with him and my family. I had already enlisted my mom in the scheme. I had sent her a letter in a sealed envelope, written and addressed to the principal. It explained my father’s status and when I would return to school. I had instructed my mom to mail it the following Friday. I had also taken a fellow teacher, Judy Stevens, into my confidence and sworn her to secrecy. She ran interference for me when I was gone.
On Tuesday, I drove to my grandparents’ house in Hollywood, stayed overnight, left my van there, and caught a cab to the Miami airport for the flight to Puerto Rico. I was hauling still photo and movie equipment and my personal stuff but no surfboard.
By sheer chance, I sat next to a guy named Jerry Bujakowski on the plane. He explained that he was the sole member of the India surfing team. He asked me to be his coach. I accepted tentatively, saying I would check with the Eastern Surfing Association’s Cecil Lear to see if Jerry and his claims were legitimate. Cecil confirmed they were, so I became an official surf coach.
If Bujakowski doesn’t sound like an Indian name, it’s not. Jerry’s Polish dad had worked building oil refineries in India, and Jerry had become a naturalized citizen. That qualified him to be the India surfing team. At the time of the contest, he was a student in San Diego, where he lived and surfed. He was also the India skiing team in the 1964 and 1968 Winter Olympics. Go Jerry!
We landed in San Juan. This was before airports had telescoping tubes that attach to the plane’s exit door and provide passengers an enclosed ramp to the air conditioned terminal. Back then, an open staircase was rolled up to the plane’s door. I remember thinking as I exited, “Wow, and I thought Miami was hot and humid!”
My being Jerry’s coach entitled me to live and take my meals in the Olympic Village, so to speak. One day I was making a fake-anxious phone call to my elementary school principal, two days later I was eating a family-style dinner at a huge table with the world’s best surfers. At one of the meals, California surfer Mike Purpus called Jerry and me out as frauds, apparently not realizing we were sitting at the same table. Purpus loudly said something like, “The guy who wears sneakers in the surf says he surfs in India, and the guy with him is some jerk from Florida.” Nobody paid any attention. Purpus was right about the sneakers. Jerry wore them for protection from urchins.
The preliminary heats were held at a right point break called Domes. The spot was named that because two nuclear power plant domes sat on the point. During the free surf before the contest started, glassy, four-to-five foot, deep blue waves wrapped around the point and broke in perfect sequence into the cove. Australians Nat Young, Midget Farrelly and Wayne Lynch stood out. Farrelly was a surf photographer’s dream. He was a blond bronzed Aussie in white trunks on a red and yellow board beautifully surfing deep blue waves. Prime talent and primary colors.
|Midget Farrelly in the trunks and on the board he rode in Puerto Rico, fall 1968. photo: Unknown|
After a day or two of preliminary heats, Jerry became dissatisfied with my coaching and fired me. I hadn’t coached him at all. I was shooting movies and stills of the top surfers riding great waves under perfect conditions. I had my Bolex set up on my fluid-head tripod and my 35 mm SLR and telephoto perched on another tripod a step away. I happened to switch from the movie to the still camera when Aussie goofy footer Wayne Lynch exploded backhand off the lip of a five-foot wave. I caught him crouched, both feet on the tail of his board just as he smacked the pitching lip. I used the shot on the posters for my film.
|Wayne Lynch, Domes, Puerto Rico, fall 1968. photo: Me|
On November 5, 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president by a plurality of 43.4 percent and a margin of 0.7 percent over his opponent, Hubert Humphrey.
After Jerry fired me, I had no place to stay. I first moved to a house Mickey Gose had rented from locals who had vacated the place so they could earn money from visiting surfers. Mickey had his wife and several tiny kids with him. That made staying with them difficult. Shortly after moving in, I went into the bathroom and found one of the kids not on the toilet seat but sunk down and stuck in the hole sound asleep. Mickey had told the boy to sit on the toilet till he pooped, and he had done the best he could to oblige.
I moved across the street to a little one-bedroom wooden house that Claude Codgen and his womanfriend had rented. Its front was at street level, but it was on a ridge atop a steep hill, so the rest of the house was on stilts. Far below the screenless window at the end of the kitchen area was a small pigpen occupied by a huge pig. Kitchen scraps weren’t dropped to the pig but on the pig.
I slept on a daybed in the main room. Claudie and his friend slept in the only other room in a four-poster bed enclosed in mosquito netting. There was cold water plumbing in the kitchen. I remember eating a lot of flan.
|Rincon, Puerto Rico, house complete with unusual garbage disposal, fall 1968. photo: Me|
Before the World Contest, Rincon was a tiny, virtually unknown town isolated on the tip of a peninsula near the island’s northwest corner. “Rincon” translates to “corner.” The contest and the surfing invasion it spawned changed the town forever. For the most part, the locals were awed by the presence of so many gringos. As several of us walked from the beach toward our houses one afternoon, a school bus drove slowly by. The kids crowded to our side of the bus, stuck their heads out the windows, pointed at us and shouted, “Mira! Mira! Mira!”
As the contest continued, I met Brit/Aussie surfer Rodney Sumpter in town one afternoon. I had been to Charlie Bunger’s huge new surfboard factory on Long Island the previous summer and knew that A&P grocery heir Huntington Hartford was financing the development of a motorized board Bunger had named SurfJet. I also knew Charlie needed a surf star to promote the board. I called him from a phone booth in the Rincon town square, suggested he might want to talk to Sumpter and handed Rodney the phone. Bunger and Sumpter sealed the deal right there.
Some surfers, many media people and others stayed at the Mayaguez Hilton. By car, Mayaguez is about 14 miles south of Rincon. It’s on a bay at the west end of the island. Filmmakers Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman showed surfing footage there one evening. The hootmeter went off the dial. I was sitting next to Jim in the lobby when I mentioned I had been in Puerto Rico about a week, was running out of clean T-shirts and had to do laundry. Jim knew there was a coin laundry in the hotel and said, “Let’s go do it!” Many months later, after seeing my Puerto Rico footage, Jim turned to Greg and said, “Doug’s footage is better than ours.” Another guy I had to love!
As I sat in the Hilton lobby that same evening, Toby Annenberg came in and sat across from me. He was still looking for an editor for International Surfing. A few minutes later, Paul Chapey came in. Shortly before coming to Puerto Rico, Paul and his partner, John Gundersen, had stopped publishing Atlantic Surfing. I introduced Toby and Paul, they spoke, Toby offered Paul the editor’s job, and Paul accepted.
As the contest moved into the semi-finals at Domes, the surf came way up, big enough to eventually close out the break. I moved closer to the point and up from the beach. That gave me a point of view pretty much straight out on the take-offs, then behind the surfers and down the line of the waves as they peeled and I panned. I remember Joey Cabell on a narrow pintail repeatedly taking off on the biggest waves then driving and pumping on big, fast, vertical walls, trying to make the waves before they closed out in shallow water.
With Domes closing out, the men’s final heat was moved to Rincon, another right point break. Before the move, 16-year-old Margo Godfrey from Santa Barbara, California, won the women’s title at Domes.
|Women's world champion Margo Godfrey, Domes, Puerto Rico, fall 1968. photo: Me|
|All-time great surfer Joyce Hoffman, Domes, Puerto Rico, fall 1968. photo: Me|
For the men’s final, the surfers were Midget Farrelly, Nat Young and Russell Hughes from Australia, Reno Abellira and Fred Hemmings from Hawaii, and Mike Doyle from California. Of the finalists, only Abellira rode a board that would be considered short by today’s standards. It was a sliver. Notes I made at the time say it was 6-6, 16 inches wide. A website that reconstructed the contest says Reno’s board was 6-10, 17 inches wide. Either way, I was amazed he could paddle it. His style was fast, squiggly and entirely different from the others in the final.
The Aussies rode boards in the 7 to 7-6 range. Farrelly and Young carved, while Hughes was more of a stand up straight and cruise rider. Hemmings had the longest board, probably about 8-6, and rode in the old style. Doyle’s board was about 8 feet, and he surfed powerfully in something between a longboard and shortboard style.
The waves were head high to overhead, ranging from about six to eight feet. Unlike at Domes, the water was green. The wind was light and offshore to sideshore. Everybody on the beach thought Midget Farrelly won the heat hands down. He surfed masterfully. It was a beautiful performance to watch and film. On one of Hemmings’ waves, the preceding wave blocked him from view, and I lost him as I panned.
ABC Wide World of Sports covered the final heat from the beach and a helicopter. When the time elapsed and the six surfers exited the water, I happened to be standing close to ABC’s Bill Fleming as he approached Farrelly, extended a microphone and asked, “How did you do?” Midget was dripping salt water and looked as if he was off in a dream world. He said, “Oh, I don’t know, mate, I was just lost on the waves.”
The judges tallied the scores and announced a tie between Farrelly and Hemmings. A recount gave the win to Hemmings by a slim margin. I swear almost everybody on the beach groaned. There was no question that Midget had out-surfed the others by far, but the win went to Hemmings.
|Men's world champion Fred Hemmings, Rincon, Puerto Rico, fall 1968. photo: David Singletary|
With the contest over but the surf still pumping, I borrowed Pete Smith’s board and paddled out. I got totally tubed on my first wave — green room all the way. On my next wave, I wiped out and lost Pete’s board. There were no leashes back then. The waves carried the board into the rocks, where it got dinged up. Pete was justifiably upset, and I was sorry.
I got badly sunburned in Puerto Rico. When I got back to school in Florida, my face was peeling. If anybody noticed, they didn’t let on. About a week later, a fellow teacher asked how my dad was. I was momentarily caught off guard and replied, “Huh?” I quickly recovered and said he was OK, but I think the teacher was at least suspicious. The friend I had asked to cover for me said everyone was convinced my story was legit when the principal got the letter my mom had mailed from New Jersey.
The previous spring, I had met a surfer named Frank Grasso. He, his wife and young child lived a few blocks north of me in Cape Canaveral, literally steps from the ocean. Frank worked in a NASA contractor’s art department at what everybody called “the Cape.” Later, he did the title cards for my film, appeared in three sequences, helped with others and was one of my sounding boards. He had a framed print on his living room wall that cautioned “Ego Fills the Talent Cavity.”
After the film’s premiere during Easter weekend ’69 in Cocoa Beach, a guy Frank didn’t know approached him on the street and said, “You’re the guy who ate the bread!” That recognition came from a slow-motion scene I shot of Frank kneeling in the sand and stuffing himself with a loaf of Wonder Bread. I hope the scene had comic effect, but I suspect the only reason I included it was to demonstrate that I knew how to shoot slow motion.
In fall ’68, I had Frank shoot a B&W photo of me in my official surfer outfit with my Fiske Films van, Bolex, long lens and tripod set up in the frame. I chose a clear afternoon for its good light and the end of Frank’s street for its lack of background interference.
|Note the Sperry Topsiders, Cape Canaveral, Fl., fall 1968. photo: Frank Grasso|
On December 3, 1968, the Elvis Comeback Special aired on NBC-TV.
On one of my summer visits to Charlie Bunger’s factory, I had met a guy named Kevin Kelly who worked with Charlie. After Puerto Rico and hooking Rodney Sumpter up with Bunger’s SurfJet, I had some kind of cooperative promotion thing going with Bunger through Kelly. He wanted to see my Puerto Rico footage. I did a rough edit, assembled the footage on one large reel and sent it to the Fort Lauderdale lab with instructions to make a workprint, send it to Kelly on Long Island and to return the original to me. The lab got it backwards. They sent the workprint to me and the original of the most valuable footage I had to Kelly. He then proceeded to torture me for weeks while refusing to return the film. He eventually did and, needless to say, I ended any deal between him or Bunger and me. I also stopped using the Fort Lauderdale lab.
On December 24, 1968, Bill Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell were the first humans to orbit the moon. Anders captured Earthrise above the lunar horizon. Lovell called Earth “a grand oasis in the vastness of space.”
|Earthrise as seen by American astronauts orbiting the moon, December 1968. photo: Bill Anders|
By a month or two after Puerto Rico, Paul Chapey was firmly established as editor of International Surfing. Adrian Lopez’s other employees called Paul “the blond kid who does the surfing book.” He had grown up in Brooklyn and was completely comfortable working in a brownstone in lower Manhattan. We discussed my writing about my summer ’68 travels for the magazine and contributing accompanying photos. We struck a deal to trade my work for advertising space. I titled the article “East Side Story.” Paul used it in the April/May ’69 issue, which was on sale in February and March and preceded my film’s premiere. Many people came to think the article title and the film’s title were the same. Maybe they should have been.
|"East Side Story" opening spread, International Surfing, spring 1969.|
I included Frank’s photo of me and a B&W conversion of the Wayne Lynch Domes shot when I sent the materials to Paul for my ad. When I talked with him later by phone, I said something about the color not being faithful in duplicates I had made of the Lynch slide. He asked incredulously, “That was a slide?!” I said of course it was, and he asked me to send it to him for publication. He used it in the June/July ’69 issue.
On January 25, 1969, US-North Vietnamese peace talks began in Paris.
As winter progressed toward spring, I was very busy editing film, gathering and transferring music to tape, writing the narration, setting up show dates in Florida and up the coast to Maine, getting artwork and printing done for posters and tickets, shooting non-surfing footage and title cards, and composing ads to appear in International Surfing.
In early ’69, I recruited Roger Bakst to help with the shows. I had met him through Ed Greevy. Roger wrote and shot photos for Competition Surf. Ed was impressed that Roger meticulously cleaned his lenses before each photo session. Roger was far more social than I was. He would go into a convenience store for a juice and come out with three new friends.
|OK, what's your number? Roger Bakst modeling his phone in a Ford Cortina. photo: Ed Greevy|
On Feb 9, 1969, the Boeing 747 made its first test flight.
I had a hard time coming up with a good title for the film. I had three criteria. I thought it was necessary to have explicit eastern and surfing references in the title. I also wanted it to say that the film was comprehensive. Obviously, I couldn’t call it Atlantic Surfing or Surfing East. The title I settled on, The World of Eastern Surfing, was the worst marketing decision of my life. It fit my criteria, but it was way too long, and it sounded lame. However, I learned a lesson that would benefit me and others. More on that later.
Easter weekend in ’69 was April 5 and 6. I set the premiere for Saturday night, April 5 in a big auditorium in Cocoa Beach. I had bought a good projector and a huge portable screen. I had one very large speaker set in a free-standing wooden case. The music was on quarter-inch tape on a reel-to-reel machine. I had timed it to the film, but the tape didn’t run synchronously with the film. As I narrated live, I had to retard or advance the tape depending on how it fell out of sync with the film.
I made a deal with the Cocoa Beach Jaycees to promote the film during the Easter contest at Canaveral Pier in return for a small chunk of the take. The Jaycees organized and got sponsors for the contest. The emcee announced the showing of the film so many times during the contest and urged people to see it that it became embarrassing.
Margo Godfrey, then the women’s world surfing champion, was in Cocoa Beach for the contest. As show time approached, she volunteered to sell tickets at the door and collect the cash. I was thrilled. I did two shows that night. Attendance was 960 people at $2 each. That was far and away the best night I would have, but I didn’t know that at the premiere.
|The title is one of those things I wish I could do over.|
After the shows, I went with friends to a popular Cocoa Beach restaurant for a late dinner. Bill Feinberg, owner of Oceanside Surfboards in Cocoa, came in with a group of people. He stopped at our table and, in a sympathetic way, said, “Well, it was realistic. There was a lot of driving.”
Later, two Jaycee guys came by my apartment, drunk. Having seen the big turnout for the show, they demanded more money. I turned them down.
On May 9, 1969, the New York Times revealed massive secret bombing of neutral Cambodia by the US.
The film was 90 minutes long. From a surfing standpoint, about a third of it was good. Regardless of where a surf filmmaker shoots but more so on the East Coast, it’s very hard to fill a feature-length film with good surfing. The necessary elements don’t come together all that often. You can’t shoot only one or a few breaks, or the same few surfers. You have to shoot, edit and show within a short time frame, or the earlier footage becomes dated. The World Contest in Puerto Rico saved me. Without it, I would have had very little good surfing footage.
Roger and I did 25 shows from Miami to Maine. The only major mishap was in Fort Lauderdale when the projector chewed up several feet of film. The Fort Walton Beach, Florida, show happened to coincide with Mike Doyle’s being there to promote Hansen surfboards. Mike, Roger and I were guests in the same house. At one point, Roger said, “All I want to do is surf!” Mike replied, “Then what are you doing here?”
One of the New Jersey shows was in Beach Haven. My parents and another couple came. Talk about coming full circle, wow! My parents had taken my brother and me to Beach Haven as little kids. One of the tour’s most satisfying moments was at that show. I had shot a sequence called “The Day They Robbed Ron Jon’s” at the store in Cocoa Beach. The original Ron Jon’s location is in Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island, just north of Beach Haven. When the title card for that sequence came on the screen, the cheers were so loud that bats flew out of the rafters.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to walk on the moon.
Another New Jersey show was in the American Legion hall in Asbury Park. I’ve always wondered if Bruce Springsteen came to that show. He was into surfing at that time. Years later, he said, “Besides music, the only things I ever cared about were surfing and cars.”
My goal was to show the film to 10,000 people, gross $20,000, pay my debts and have enough left over to make another film in the Atlantic islands of the Caribbean. Its title was to be Euphoria, A Portrait of Pure Surfing. Instead, 5,000 people saw the film, I grossed $10,000, paid my debts and didn’t have enough left over to finance another film.
But fate had changed my course anyway. When on Long Island, I got a message at Emilio’s Surf Shop in Levittown that Paul Chapey wanted me to call him at International Surfing. As I stood in a phone booth, he asked if I wanted to become the magazine’s advertising director when I finished my film tour. The job would require my moving to Southern California. Before accepting, I met Adrian Lopez and Paul at the publishing company’s offices in Manhattan. I was then 25.
On August 9, 1969, Charles Manson and some of his devotees committed the Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angeles.
From August 15 to 18, 1969, about 400,000 young people gathered on Max Yasgur’s farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains for the Woodstock “Aquarian Exposition.”
I wrote to my school principal from up north that I would not be returning to teach for my fourth year. If I had returned, my salary would have been $7,000. In 2017 dollars, that’s $46,218.
Back in Cocoa Beach, I cut and discarded everything in the film that had no lasting value from any standpoint. I spliced the remaining footage together in one no-continuity stream. That left about 45 minutes on one large reel. I sold all the movie-making and -showing equipment. I sold the Fiske Films van and bought a new ’69 Chevy Suburban panel delivery truck. It had only the driver’s seat. I gathered my teacher clothes and deposited them in a Goodwill bin. I packed everything else in the back of the Chevy and took off for Encinitas. I didn’t know it then, but I had made one of the best decisions of my life.
On the way to California, I stopped at the preview of the grand opening of Big Surf in Tempe, Arizona. The technology was basically an enormous toilet tank that, when flushed, produced a ridable wave in a large pool. I met the photographer Life magazine had sent to Big Surf. Of thousands of photos he shot, including many from a helicopter, Life used one aerial as a two-page spread.
|Mike Wilson, Big Surf, Tempe, Az., spring 1970. photo: Me|
In the Encinitas area, I rented a studio apartment with a picture-window view of Cardiff Reef. The rent was $90 a month. I was worried I couldn’t afford it because my rent in Cocoa Beach had been $85. I walked down the hill to the surf.
|My first California apartment was a studio behind this Cardiff house when it was a cottage. photo: Me|
I chose Encinitas because, three years earlier, I liked the town and surfing there. I realized later that from an ad sales standpoint, I would have been better off locating in southern Orange County. It was and still is centrally located within most of the surfing industry’s geography. Encinitas is close to the southern end, which made driving to and calling on the bulk of shops and manufacturers a long haul.
My competitors were Surfer and Petersen’s Surfing. Both had been around awhile, were high quality and sold more copies than International Surfing. Advertisers saw the other magazines as better places to put their ad dollars. International Surfing had had four owners in five years, inconsistent quality, and our editorial office was in New York City. It was a tough sell. I was at a disadvantage I couldn’t overcome. After a few months of trying, I began a campaign to convince Adrian and Paul to move the editorial office to Southern California. I think anybody in my position would have done the same because being located in the heart of the action was the only way to compete.
I repeatedly called on virtually every company in or trying to be in the surf business between San Diego and Santa Monica. Some wouldn’t return my phone calls. Surfer had many locked in as advertisers. I called the ad sales process “cruising the coast and selling space.” I wasn’t suited to sales. I couldn’t maintain the relentlessly upbeat demeanor required, and I couldn’t handle the rejection.
|Sculpted by Ed Shumpert. He shaped boards without templates. He just carved the foam. photo: Me|
Everybody I talked to gave me bits and pieces of information, so I started writing a column I called “Back Fence” because the content was basically gossip. I later changed the title to “At Random.”
Outside of ad sales prospects, LeRoy Grannis and Walt Phillips were among the first people I met. In December ’64, Grannis was one of International Surfing’s founders. When we met, he had been the magazine’s principal photographer for nearly five years. He lived in Hermosa Beach, and his real job was with the phone company. Walt had made several surf films, had published and edited Surfing Illustrated and had done a TV surf show. He was a good surfer. Soon after we met, Walt moved to Encinitas, and we became surf buddies and close friends. I heard through the grapevine that Grannis characterized me as a good kid who had gotten in with the wrong crowd. By that, he meant Walt.
|Walt Phillips, K38, Baja, spring 1970. photo: Me|
On November 10, 1969, Sesame Street premiered on PBS-TV.
I rented Box 444 at the Encinitas post office as my and International Surfing’s West Coast address. One autumn day, there was a guy picking up mail from Hansen Surfboards’ post office box as I was gathering mine. I asked, “Are you the guy who does Hansen’s ads?” That was Richard Dowdy, incongruously known as “Slick.” To his great professional and personal benefit, fate had struck. More on that later.
During my time as International Surfing’s sole representative in California, Paul and I had frequent hours-long transcontinental phone conversations. Of course, they appeared on Adrian’s bill, and he clamped down on us. We found ways to continue our conversations but on Ma Bell’s dime, so to speak.
I want to clarify a story about me that circulated when I was the magazine’s advertising director. Nancy Katin told people that when I visited at her Surfside shop I wore different color socks. Let me boldly state here and now that I did not wear different color socks. I wore different color shoes. They were green, red and white bowling shoes, size 12, as clearly marked above the heels. I had bought them used at a bowling alley in Oceanside. They were extremely comfortable.
On November 25, 1969, John Lennon returned his Order of the British Empire award to protest the UK’s support of the Vietnam War.
On December 1, 1969, the US government held its first draft lottery since WWII.
In December ’69, Walt and I were at a friend’s house in La Jolla, sitting on the floor and practicing yoga postures. I demonstrated a full lotus. My right knee popped so loudly that the sound echoed off the walls. I didn’t know it, but I had set the knee up for a torn medial meniscus.
Early in February ’70, I took my first trip to Hawaii. As the plane approached Oahu, I was stunned to see a brown-orange cloud of air pollution hovering over the island. That didn’t fit my romantic image of Hawaii. It prompted me to write a short article titled “Environmental Awareness” that Paul published as the cover story in the magazine’s July/August issue. It was a call to attention and action. I urged surfers to be environmentalists. The sport we loved, after all, was in nature. The waves we rode, the beaches we frequented, the weather we watched were elements of nature. The article was probably the first of its kind published in a surfing magazine.
On January 19, 1970, UCLA fired Angela Davis from its faculty for being a Communist.
A few years later, as Surfing’s editor, I assigned writers in Hawaii and on the East, Gulf and West Coasts to be the magazine’s beach preservation and environmental watchdogs. They wrote the “Keep Surfing” department. I also ran a feature series titled “Who Controls the Beaches?” It was, as its title suggests, about maintaining beach access and surf spots on mainland coasts and in Hawaii. I had “Keep Surfing” buttons and stickers made and sold them by mail through the magazine. Today, I half-seriously say the Surfrider Foundation is my legacy.
|Some people still don't get the double meaning.|
Surf breaks have been threatened and destroyed since surfing’s origins. Fast-forward for a moment to the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center’s (SHACC) January 2015 newsletter:
“The SHACC TV Channel is an extension of our effort to preserve, present and promote surfing’s heritage for the appreciation and education of current and future generations . . . Some of these videos have captured significant parts of history like footage of big waves being ridden at ‘Killer Dana’ in Dana Point before the harbor was built. Or road trips taken to surf spots before many of them were ruined by construction and land development.”
Back to the chronology: When my plane descended through the brown-orange cloud over Oahu, Ed Greevy met me at the Honolulu airport, and I stayed with him and his wife, Anita, in their high-rise condo. We toured Oahu and got in some surfing and hiking. Fred Windisch, a San Francisco surf film maker, and I took a side trip to Kauai. This was early 1970, before major development invaded the Garden Isle. The island, especially Hanalei Bay, was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.
|Me deplaning in Honolulu, first time in Hawaii, February 1970. photo: Ed Greevy|
Back in Encinitas and surfing Swami’s, I rode a wave in and, as I began to paddle back out, put my weight on the top of my right foot so I could pivot to shift my position on my board. My knee separated sideways but painlessly. I knew something was wrong, so I climbed the long staircase. As I stood beside my Chevy Suburban, my right leg radically hyperextended. This time the movement was extremely painful.
On March 25, 1970, the Concorde made its first supersonic flight at 700 mph.
On April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney officially announced the Beatles had split up.
On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guard members fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students.
I had torn the medial meniscus. The injury was repeatedly misdiagnosed and incorrectly treated by a general practitioner who was standing in for the doctor a nurse friend had recommended. In the following months, my right thigh atrophied until it was three inches thinner than my left. In June, I saw an orthopedic surgeon. He examined my leg and said, “It’s a mess.” Arthroscopic knee surgeries had not yet been developed. I had open surgery that month. I was on crutches for a while, then began an exercise regimen to restore the strength in my knee and thigh.
|Mom, landlady Mrs. Martin, me post-surgery, sister Vivian, June 1970. photo: Rudy Fiske|
While recovering, I bought an oceanview house on Orpheus Avenue in Encinitas. From there, I could walk across an open field, alongside an elementary school, across the railroad tracks and PCH to a beachbreak called Stone Steps. Mike Doyle lived a few blocks away, and another well-known surfer named Mike Dobransky lived around the corner.
|Selling this Orpheus Avenue, Leucadia, house was one of my dumbest moves. photo: Me|
|Leucadia neighbor Mike Doyle, a man ahead of his time.|
|Leucadia neighbor Mike Dobransky in my Orpheus house. photo: Me|
Dick Rosborough visited at my Leucadia house in late spring ’70. Doyle shaped a board for him. Dick and I drove in my Chevy Suburban to pick the board up in Del Mar, where Tony Channin had glassed it. On the way back, Dick’s board lay bottom up on the floor crosswise behind the bucket seats. Dick suddenly jumped up, slid between the seats, dropped his pants and humped his board, saying, “I love my new board! I love my new board!”
|Leucadia visitor Dick Rosborough, spring 1970. He later rode big Pipeline backside. photo: Me|
In late July ’70, Mike Doyle, Walt Phillips, Tom Gillen and I chartered a bus for a trip from Encinitas to Hollywood for the premiere of MacGillivray-Freeman’s Waves of Change. There were 39 seats on the bus. We thought we could fill them, thereby dividing the substantial cost among that many surfers. We called everybody we knew in the surf business in coastal North County and got as many commitments as there were seats. But then only 31 showed up.
We started from the La Paloma theater. By the time we got to Hollywood nearly two hours later, our minds were significantly altered. Some distance from the theater, we saw spotlights scanning the night sky. We never imagined the filmmakers had actually rented spotlights, but that turned out to be the case. As we de-bussed, Mac/Free’s Ed Litchfield, dressed in a tux, greeted us with, “Ah, yes, the bus trip. The people from Encinitas. Come right this way” and escorted us to a velvet-roped section down front. Greg and Jim knew our group would create buzz and that I would review the film for International Surfing, so we got comically exaggerated VIP treatment.
One prominent member of the North County surfing community spent most of the return trip throwing up out the window. Ballplayers have nothing on surfers for decorum. Gillen, MacGillivray and I wrote, and Jim Evans illustrated, a spirited account of our Waves of Change bus trip for the magazine’s December/January ’71 issue.
|Tom Gillen shopping for furniture in Baja, spring 1970. photo: Me|
|Leucadia visitor Paul Chapey, summer 1970. photo: Me|
On November 3, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon promised gradual troop removal from Vietnam.
On January 1, 1971, cigarette advertising was banned on television.
On January 12, 1971, All in the Family premiered on CBS-TV.
The magazine’s editorial office moved to Southern California in early 1971 but not under the circumstances I had been urging for more than a year. Don Thomas entered the picture. He had been Surfer’s advertising director for many years. He and Don Kremers, the advertising manager, were a powerhouse sales team. In late ’70, Thomas secretly contacted Adrian Lopez and suggested that he would leave Surfer and become publisher of International Surfing at offices Thomas would establish in southern Orange County. Adrian accepted, told Paul, and Paul told me by phone. Neither of us knew Thomas. We had been blindsided. Paul would remain as editor and move to California with his new wife, Karen, in February ’71. I would become associate editor.
On March 8, 1971, Radio Hanoi broadcast Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner.
Thomas had long been John Severson’s subordinate at Surfer. His move to International Surfing put him at the top of the masthead. The problem with Thomas as publisher was he didn’t have Severson’s brains, instincts or talent. One of his few good moves was to rent office space close to the I-5 freeway in Laguna Niguel. He hired a lousy art director. Things went downhill from there. I objected to Thomas and his art director. He fired me in June. During his 18-month tenure, Thomas lost $80,000 ($470,000 in 2017) of Adrian’s money. His big try at being Severson failed miserably. The best thing he did was hire Rus Calisch as ad director.
|Rus Calisch. My guess is he was in a wedding party. photo: Unknown|
On April 10, 1971, the US Ping-Pong team arrived in mainland China.
On April 20, 1971, the US Supreme Court upheld the use of busing to achieve racial desegregation.
We did an article on artificial reefs for the August/September ’71 issue. It was the last issue I worked on before Thomas axed me. We produced it from mid-April to early May. Hoppy Swarts and others had been experimenting with building artificial reefs of flat, rectangular sand bags. I called to talk with him about the project. One of my questions had to do with the arrangement of the bags on the bottom. Swarts replied, “They’re in the shape of an” — very long pause — “isosceles triangle.” He paused because he knew he was talking to a surfer, most of whom are not known for their book smarts, and he wasn’t sure if I would know what an isosceles triangle was.
On May 3, 1971, more than 7,000 anti-war protesters were arrested in Washington, D.C.
Somebody once asked Malibu surfer Johnny Fain to describe a typical surfer. He replied, “Well, start with a low IQ.” That’s not fair. Few people who make a life and/or a career of surfing are known for their academic ability. They’re not what Claude Codgen called “college guys.” But to conclude they’re not intelligent is wrong. Anybody in surf media would rather be one of the guys they’re covering. I’d take the intuition, reflexes and athletic ability of the guy deep in a Pipeline tube, taking the drop at Sunset or ripping at Cloudbreak over book smarts any day.
On June 13, 1971, the New York Times began publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, classified documents on the long history of US involvement in Vietnam.
Bruce Valluzzi stayed at my house in Leucadia in summer ’71. I interviewed him for Surfer. The editor, Steve Pezman, called it the best interview they had ever published. It wasn’t an interview in the traditional sense. I asked Bruce questions, he inserted some of his own, he wrote his answers, and I edited them. I shot the accompanying photo of Bruce in my backyard. It made him look like a conquering hero, a blond god.
|Leucadia visitor Bruce Valluzzi, summer 1971. photo: Me|
|The proof sheet the shot above was chosen from. photos: Me|
On June 28, 1971, the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned Muhammad Ali’s draft evasion conviction.
Things took a bad turn. I tore the lateral meniscus and severed the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee. The right knee surgery had been a year earlier. The new injury revived the previous one. By radically overdoing the exercises to strengthen and stabilize my knees, I crushed a disk in my lumbar spine and dislocated a sacroiliac joint. I was in very bad shape. Those injuries ended board surfing for me. After a long recovery, I became a Boogie boarder and bodysurfer.
On July 15, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon announced he will visit the People’s Republic of China.
On October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World opened in Orlando, Florida.
On October 25, 1971, the United Nations expelled Nationalist Taiwan and admitted Communist China.
In November ’71, I went to my parents’ house in New Jersey to recover. I stayed till the following July. During those nine months, Paul sold my Chevy Suburban for me, and I sold my Leucadia house. With help from other friends, Paul and Karen moved the house’s contents into their garage in Carlsbad. About April ’72, as Don Thomas continued to progressively ruin the magazine, Paul quit his job as editor.
From February 21 through 27, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon visited China.
On May 15, 1972 in Laurel, Maryland, Arthur Bremer shot and paralyzed Alabama Governor George Wallace, who was campaigning for the US presidency.
I returned to California in July ’72 with Suzanne, a woman I had met in New Jersey. Our plane was delayed in Chicago and Paul couldn’t wait hours at the airport, so he left his VW bug there for me to drive to Carlsbad. We got off the freeway at Genesee Avenue in La Jolla and drove the rest of the way on PCH. As we rolled down the Torrey Pines hill and hit the flats by the state beach, a huge orange sun sat on the horizon touching the Pacific. It was one of the sweetest sights I had ever seen.
Suzanne and I stayed in Paul and Karen’s guest house while we waited for Slick, his wife, Monica, and their son, Richard, to vacate a cliff cottage so we could move in. They were moving to Solana Beach. Within a day or two of my arrival in Carlsbad, Adrian called Paul. He explained his financial losses and reported that Thomas was gone. He said the magazine was in limbo but he wanted to continue publishing it, and that Rus Calisch was in the Laguna Niguel office wondering what was next. Adrian asked Paul to return to International Surfing and to work with Rus. To his everlasting credit, Paul said OK but on the condition that I return too. Adrian agreed.
|Every time I came home to this shack on the bluff, I said, "I can't believe I live here," circa 1972. photo: Me|
Paul, Rus and I were probably the smallest staff that ever produced a surfing magazine. Paul was editor, I was associate editor, we both did the art direction and production, and Rus sold the ads. Three full-time guys, that was it. By full time, I mean 12, 15, 18 and sometimes 24 hours a day. Those were the first all-nighters I had pulled since college.
In July ’72, I began to learn how the surfing magazines I had been memorizing for about seven years were made. I had gotten my feet wet producing ads, but putting the whole magazine together was a much more complex process. It was hands-on and labor intensive. It was a massive feat of orchestration. The saying “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” applied.
Because days were chaotic — phones ringing, contributors and vendors coming to the office, assigning and editing photos and writing — we always did the hands-on production work at night. The women in our lives wondered, “What are you guys doing together so late every night?”
On August 11, 1972, San Antonio, Texas, celebrated Cheech & Chong Day.
On August 12, 1972, the last American ground combat troops left Vietnam.
For their audience appeal, authenticity, circulation size and advertising revenue, surfing magazines are very much dependent on surf photographers. The words matter but nowhere near as much as the photos. Editors and art directors are largely tied to inside work at the offices, so they depend on photographers, writers and the surfers themselves to keep them in touch with the surfing world. Dave Gilovich, a subsequent Surfing magazine editor, wrote an editorial titled “Caught Inside.” It wasn’t about a surfer being caught inside by an incoming set. It was about a surfer being caught inside by the painstaking, detailed work of making a surfing magazine.
|I adapted this face from a Coney Island Steeplechase ticket for a late 1972 subscription ad.|
Among the prominent International Surfing photographers who came to the forefront during that period were Dan Merkel, Allan Margolis, Warren Bolster, Craig Peterson, Larry “Flame” Moore and Scott Preiss.
Merkel was an ironman who worked almost exclusively in Hawaii. We bought what we called “bricks” (shrink-wrapped blocks of 20 rolls) of Kodachrome film at ANA, an Orange County discounter, and mailed them to Merkel. He had the exposed film processed at the Kodak lab in Honolulu, culled anything worthless and mailed the rest to us. He consistently produced great action shots, almost all from the water. He shot from a mat, with his 35 mm SLR in a waterproof housing. He was one of the first of the new generation of surf photographers to master water shots.
Margolis was in Florida and shot exclusively from the beach, usually with a Century 650 mm lens. His shots were amazingly sharp, almost impossibly sharp. He sent his slides in sleeves that held 20 photos each. He knew that anybody who grew up in the US with English as his first language would first look at the top left of a sleeve of slides, so he always put his best shots there. They would knock our socks off and positively influence our impression of the other shots in each sleeve.
Warren Bolster was new to surf photography and took to it like the proverbial duck to water. He lived on Point Loma in San Diego, so when he started shooting, his photos were from Sunset Cliffs north to D Street in Encinitas. His first published shot made the cover. It was a Jeff Crawford lip-on-the-head ride at Big Rock, a shallow ledge just south of Windansea. Warren started shooting from the water before relatively injury-proof housings became available. Like many others, he used a housing made for SCUBA divers. More than once, he came to the office with patched dents in his forehead from where the levers on the back of the housing had been driven into his skull by breaking waves.
Craig Peterson specialized in shooting empty waves from the inside out. He often shot in late afternoon when the low sun made the waves look like liquid amber. He was from Orange County, a pioneer water photographer and, later, a world traveling surfer with a camera.
We first saw Larry Moore’s work when he sent samples to International Surfing by mail. He got good shots so consistently that we asked him to stop by the office. He lived nearby so that was easy. He became our darkroom man when we converted a tiny back hallway and bathroom into a photographic darkroom for black-and-white film developing and printing. He shot a lot of terrific water shots at Salt Creek in southern Orange County. I gave him the nickname “Flame” for two reasons. First, he had a full head of glorious, wavy red hair. Second, he was boffing Buffy, then the magazine’s secretary. He was her flame. “Flame” became his photo credit and what everybody called him. Later, and for decades, he was the magazine’s highly respected photo editor.
|Flame in Surfing magazine's tastefully appointed offices, spring 1975. photo: Me|
Scott Preiss was the boy wonder. He was a pioneer water photographer and barely out of his teens when he started contributing photos to International Surfing. He was building a keeled sailboat in his parents’ backyard. He had long, thick, kinky, sun-bleached hair that covered his head like a tent. He built fiberglass camera housings specifically designed for surf photography. They didn’t ding heads as divers’ housings did. Surf photographers gave their equipment to Scott for a day or two, he made a mold, returned the equipment, then built a custom housing with layers of fiberglass. The housings had rubber seals and recessed knobs and levers. As an ace water photographer himself, Scott knew what his fellow surf shooters needed.
LeRoy Grannis was from the previous generation of surf photographers. His career was winding down when the others I’ve mentioned were amping up. During that time, he shot mainly, if not exclusively, from the beach. We were encouraging water photography and demonstrating our preference for it by publishing as many good water shots as we could get. Earlier, Grannis had tried the 2¼ square format as a substitute for 35 mm. That proved impractical because the larger format required enormously long lenses. Further, waves and surfing were horizontal by nature, so there was no advantage to a square frame. When the superfluous foreground and background and the drooping shoulders of the waves were cropped out, the action area remaining was little bigger than a 35 mm frame.
Grannis was tight with Nancy Katin. They were about the same age and saw themselves as the moral overseers of the magazine. They were frequently upset with and complained about some of the topics and language we published. It was only because of Rus Calisch’s superb diplomatic skills that Nancy Katin kept buying ad space.
After resigning as editor of Surfer about two years earlier, Drew Kampion came to International Surfing as a contributing editor in mid-’72. That title, applied to Drew or anybody else, was misleading. Drew was a contributing writer. Editors decide what’s in a magazine and how it’s presented. Writers write. Drew wrote — very well. Much of his work for International Surfing, and in the early years after the title became Surfing, came from winters on the North Shore of Oahu.
|John DeMarco illustrations for "Eye Sight" by Drew Kampion, fall 1972.|
Drew had conducted Surfer’s transition from the straight, stodgy “Bible of surfing” to a hip publication that reflected and influenced the era. He made the magazine much more exciting and edgy than it had been. Everybody looked forward to the next issue of Surfer. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, people in surf media recognized Drew as a magnitude of intellect the industry hadn’t seen before. At the time, however, I thought he imposed his personal tastes and too much Dylan on an audience that was primarily teenagers and 20-somethings. I thought he should be writing for Rolling Stone or another counterculture publication. There was a risk he would out-intellect Surfer’s readers.
On June 17, 1972, five employees of President Richard M. Nixon’s reelection campaign were caught breaking into the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.
Drew and I first met in the redwoods above Santa Cruz. Earlier that day, someone had given me a pinner joint. When I broke it out to share it with him, Drew said, “Either you’re a grass Jew, or that’s really good weed.” I hope it was the latter.
Drew sat for at interview with me in his San Francisco apartment for Surfing’s December/January ’75 issue. His approximately 10-year affiliation with a magazine that was once his rival was mutually beneficial. He contributed in a big way to the Surfing Comedy Annual ’74. More on that later.
On September 1, 1972, Bobby Fischer of the US defeated Boris Spassky of the USSR to become the world chess champion.
On September 4, 1972, US swimmer Mark Spitz became the first athlete to win seven Olympic gold medals.
|Dr. Agfa made sure the slides we used were in focus, fall 1972. photo: Paul Chapey|
Shortly before the November ’72 presidential election when George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon, Paul and I borrowed a print of Five Summer Stories from Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman and did two shows on one night at the La Paloma theater in Encinitas as a benefit for the San Diego County McGovern campaign. The only promotion we did was on the theater marquee and on flyers we tucked under windshield wipers at local surf spots a few days before the shows. We had no idea how many surfers would show up. When we got to the theater with the film in a can under one arm, there was a thick line around the block. We were stunned.
We had each chosen and taped music, and made up slide shows with published and unpublished magazine photos. I chose Prayer Song by Paul Siebel because it was pretty, dreamy, had a yearning sound and great water imagery. “Wind, keep on blowing / Blow the waves upon the ocean.” I had some Art Brewer photos of Barry Kanaiaupuni — a great surfer who combined precision, power and grace — in my show. Paul chose Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock ’n’ Roll by Long John Baldry. That song starts with a long spoken intro ahead of the music. Paul’s show went first. He had some ultra-radical Pipeline drops as his first slides. Baldry played solo piano and spoke as the audience entered and got seated. We could almost hear people wondering, “What’s this about?” As Baldry’s band exploded into the wall-of-sound opening of the song, an Art Brewer sequence of Sam Hawk dropping backside into a huge Pipeline wave burst onto the screen. Three hundred surfers roared in unison. It was unbelievably thrilling. Here’s the YouTube video of Baldry doing that song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj_lZ4hkJd8
Check it out at top volume, especially the dramatic transition from the talking part to the explosive opening.
After Paul’s slides and Baldry, my slides and Siebel were a big anti-climax, despite my Barry K shots. I didn’t look forward to doing them again for the second show. Five Summer Stories went over extremely well. It had come out earlier that year, was very popular then and for years to come. We charged $2 per ticket and filled the theater with 300 surfers twice. The next day when we handed the McGovern people $1,200, they were stunned speechless.
On November 7, 1972, Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern by a popular vote margin of more than 23 percent in one of the biggest presidential election landslides in American history.
When Paul, Rus and I began resuscitating International Surfing in mid-’72, Paul designated me as the caption writer. I quickly learned that captioning surfing photos was not as easy as it seemed. First, whatever was going on in the photo was obvious, so repeating it in the caption was pointless. Even if I found inventive ways to say, for example, “in the tube,” “off the lip” or “in trim,” I could use those words only a few times before they got stale.
The rise of localism was also a constraint. Captions had traditionally named the surfer and the spot, but locals everywhere protested naming their breaks and rejected visitors to the point of vandalizing their cars or thrashing them in the water or on the beach. Naming surf spots in captions became taboo.
On November 14, 1972, the Dow Jones Industrial Index closed above 1,000 for the first time.
Photos unaccompanied by text were more problematic than photos within articles. The latter’s captions often grew from and complemented the text. Photos in purely photographic sections were there only because they were good surf shots. As the caption writer, I started with just the surfer’s name and often without it because the photographer hadn’t provided the name.
I was heavily into music and lyrics at the time, so I began using lines from songs in captions. If I had the surfer’s name, I coupled it and maybe something about the wave or action with a phrase or line from a song. Nobody objected to the technique, so I kept doing it.
On December 18, 1972, the US began its heaviest bombing of North Vietnam.
On December 29, 1972, Life magazine ceased weekly publication.
On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy with its Roe v. Wade decision.
On January 27, 1973, representatives of North and South Vietnam, the Viet Cong and the US signed a cease-fire agreement in Paris.
In April ’73 when I lived in the cottage on the cliff in Encinitas, Claude Codgen came to visit. At his suggestion, we went to see Elvis in concert at the San Diego Sports Arena. Our seats were up close, to the side of the stage and good for both sound and view. Elvis was in great shape and looked and sounded terrific.
On April 3, 1973 in New York City, the first portable cell phone call was made.
When Claudie left, he took the train north. That was long after the Encinitas railroad station closed for service but before a commuter rail station was built about two blocks north. The passenger trains between Los Angeles and San Diego stopped at the Encinitas station only if the prospective rider stood between or beside the rails and flagged the train down. A small red flag with a short handle was provided for that purpose. Claudie flagged the train, boarded and was off to L.A.
|If you wanted to ride, you flagged the train to stop here, circa 1971. photo: Me|
For our secretary/receptionist’s birthday sometime in ’73, we bought a box of See’s chocolates. The box was glossy white and had an embossed cameo of the grandmotherly Mrs. See in the bottom left corner. As I walked by the front desk while working late that birthday night, I noticed some tiny scribbling next to the Mrs. See cameo on the box. I picked it up and read Paul’s chicken-scratch handwriting: “Stop putting dirty words in the magazine!” A goof on the moral overseers Nancy Katin and LeRoy Grannis.
On May 17, 1973, the US Senate began the Watergate hearings.
|We monitored the Watergate hearings gavel to gavel, John Dean screen shot. photo: Me|
To better understand what preceded and follows about surfing magazines, readers have to know more about how magazine publishing works.
As in any business, different people have different ethics. Some magazines are basically conspiracies between the publisher and advertisers to exploit the readers. Others hold the trust between the editors and readers as inviolable. In those publications, the content is never chosen or skewed to please advertisers.
As the editor of Surfing and other magazines, my approach was “If we build it, they will come.” By that I meant if we make a magazine that people value, we’ll sell more magazines, and that will lead to selling more advertising at higher rates.
Circulation is the basis of magazine economics. The bigger the circulation, the more revenue from selling copies, the higher the rates for ad space and the more advertisers want to buy space. The magazine reaches the market for their products. As far as I was concerned, if the magazine provided the audience, there was no justification for yielding to advertiser pressure to tilt the content their way. Yielding was a slippery slope that could lead only to forsaking the readers and betraying the trust that should exist between them and the editors.
As an editor, I didn’t believe in writing content. I thought the content should be by a variety of writers, photographers and illustrators because the audience was a variety of people. If I had written a lot of content, I would have been narrowing the magazine’s appeal and limiting its audience. I wanted the audience to be as big and wide as possible. My voice was in what I assigned and chose, not what I wrote.
During my tenure, International Surfing, which became Surfing in December ’73, was owned by Adrian Lopez, a long-time newsstand publisher in New York City. A newsstand publisher sells magazines primarily, if not exclusively, on stand-alone newsstands and other newsracks in retail stores, as opposed to by subscription. The revenue sources are those single-copy sales and some advertising. The overall focus of the business is on single-copy sales. The cover price must pay the retailer, the national and local distributors who get the copies to the retailer, the printer, and the publisher’s production costs and staff, while still leaving a profit margin. Whether the publisher sells 100 copies or 100,000, the up-front costs are fixed, so making good money depends on selling a lot of copies.
Adrian, like any newsstand publisher of his generation, had a certain mindset about making and selling magazines. Part of it was keeping costs low and going for volume sales to the masses. If that sounds like Walmart’s business model, it was. World Color Press in Sparta and Effingham, Illinois, printed Adrian’s magazines.
Printers of nationally distributed magazines were located in the Midwest because it was cheaper to ship from the middle to all points than from any coast to all points. World Color was a low-cost, low-quality, high-volume printer. The plant in Sparta was so big, the tracks for the railroad cars that brought the huge rolls of paper for the heat-set web presses and took the palettes of printed magazines to their regional destinations ran inside through the building.
We busted our butts to make the best-looking magazine we could because we knew that a surfing magazine’s success very largely depended on good surf shots and the quality of the photo reproduction. One of the most frustrating things about the job was to consistently have our and our contributors’ very good work compromised by cheap paper and World Color’s low pre-press and printing standards.
Adrian’s national distributor was Kable News. He called Kable “the worst distributor in the business.” That, of course, prompted the question, “Why don’t you switch?” Eventually, he did switch to Independent News Distributors. It took Adrian awhile to accept that a surfing magazine was unlike his newsstand magazines. The two could not attain business success by the same means. A surfing magazine’s revenue sources are advertising, subscriptions and single-copy sales in surf shops and on newsstands. All that depends on the quality, authenticity and immediacy of the issues.
During my time with the magazine, Adrian consolidated his various corporations into one: Lopez Publications. “A Lopez Publication” appeared on the covers. That had an unintended consequence. In the ’70s, Gerry Lopez was untouchable for the grace, beauty and ballsy nonchalance of his surfing, especially at Pipeline. He was one of the best surfers of all time. Many surfers assumed “A Lopez Publication” meant a Gerry Lopez publication. We were amused by that and never discouraged the perception.
|Walt Phillips and Gerry Lopez, Cardiff, Ca., spring 1970. photos: Me|
Adrian had made, lost and re-made a couple of fortunes. He was a sober Alcoholics Anonymous member. When Paul, Rus and I were in our late 20s and early 30s, Adrian was in his 60s. The writer Barry Lopez is Adrian’s adopted son. Had Adrian not bought the moribund International Surfing from Petersen Publishing in early ’68 and tenaciously stuck with it, the magazine would have died an unceremonious death. He correctly said, “No one can edit a magazine better than the people participating in what the magazine is about.”
Adrian was a good man. Without him, the Surfing magazine that ceased publication in early 2017 wouldn’t have lived past 1968. He died in 2004 at age 97.
The magazine was a bi-monthly during my tenure. We did six regular issues and one annual per year. The regular issues each carried a two-month cover date. The newsstand on-sale period was the two months preceding the cover-dated months. That way, even at the very end of the on-sale period, the newsstand issues still looked new. Our hands-on production period was three weeks, as was the pre-press, proofing, printing and distribution period. That meant, for example, that we started producing the December/January issue in mid-August. The calendar was confusing for us at the time, baffled the readers and now makes reconstructing what happened and when difficult. When I started in ’69, the cover price was 75 cents. When I left in ’75, it was $1.25. When publication ceased in early 2017, the monthly issues were $6.
By mid-’73, Rus was selling so many ads that Paul and I didn’t have enough time to produce them and the editorial content of the magazine. We decided to hire a part-timer to do nothing but produce ads. I had introduced myself to Richard Dowdy (Slick) nearly four years earlier in the Encinitas post office. We had become friends and had shared countless experiences, many of which were so hilarious they were painful. In July ’72, I had inherited what was little more than a shack on the cliff in Encinitas from him and his wife when they moved to Solana Beach. I knew him and his work, and suggested him as our part-time ad guy. He started in August ’73 as best I can reconstruct.
On September 20, 1973, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a battle-of-the-sexes tennis match.
An editor is always on the lookout for talent. At about the same time Slick started, we were getting partial-page hand-drawn black and white cartooned ads from Ocean Beach, San Diego, for fish surfboards built by Steve Lis. The cartoons were very well done in a distinctive style. There was obvious talent behind them. The artist was Tom Threinen. I asked him to stop by the office. Shortly thereafter, we got a mailing piece about a nostalgia surf show called “At the Stomp” that a promoter was putting on in Los Angeles. At my suggestion, Paul assigned Slick and Tom to cover the event as a writer/illustrator team, and we published the result as a two-page spread in the December/January ’74 issue. More about Tom Threinen later.
In October 1973, the first oil crisis began. It caused gas shortages, long lines at stations, theft by siphoning and soaring prices at the pump.
About two years before, Paul had started a men’s clothing company called Country Scruffs. Earlier, I had bought an indigo-dyed, tastefully and colorfully embroidered long-sleeve work shirt at Jay Stone’s Blue Cheer Surf Shop in Santa Monica. Paul liked the shirt, and it was part of his inspiration to start Country Stuffs. I half-facetiously called it “the shirt that launched Country Scruffs” and, later, gave it to Paul for its historic role.
By mid-autumn ’73, Paul was importing embroidered men’s shirts from Mexico. Country Scruffs had grown to a point that he and Karen could no longer run it as a part-time enterprise. Paul announced he would soon leave the magazine, and he would suggest me as his successor. I was burned out and wanted to leave too. He convinced me to stay as editor and lead art director. I reasoned, OK, I know every aspect of making and marketing a surfing magazine, but I’ve been the second banana. If I stay for a while as the guy at the top of the masthead, I’ll know the process and business better, I’ll be regarded differently by others in the publishing business, and I’ll be better equipped for other jobs or ventures. I stayed for a year and a half, and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew pleaded no contest to tax evasion charges and resigned. Two days later President Richard M. Nixon chose Congressman Gerald R. Ford to replace Agnew.
At about the same time, Rus decided to leave his job as advertising director. That meant two-thirds of the full time staff was moving on. Because I would be working with whoever replaced Rus, it became my responsibility to interview prospects and decide whom to hire. It came down to two people. I decided on Paul Gillane because I thought his background and skill set made him more suitable. He began as advertising manager and did an apprenticeship under Rus for about two and a half months. He would become ad director in January ’74 when I became editor and lead art director.
|Paul Gillane in his Surfing magazine office, spring 1975. photo: Me|
|Paul Gillane ready for the links, Xmas 1973. photo: Me|
When Drew left Surfer and was somewhat adrift in the larger world, he told me that having been editor of a surfing magazine hadn’t brought opportunities knocking at his door. At the time, and probably still, few people outside the surfing community took surfing magazines seriously. The great majority of people have no idea what goes into making a surfing magazine or, for that matter, any magazine. They don’t know and therefore can’t appreciate how complex the process is and what demands it makes on the people who do it. Many people think that when you work at a surfing magazine, you go surfing all day. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Nationally distributed magazines with circulations near 100,000 usually have large staffs among whom the tasks involved in running, making and marketing the magazine are divided. Aside from writing, photographing and illustrating the content, although we did some of that too, the only thing Paul and I didn’t do was sell the ad space. Rus did a great job at that. Paul and I were the editors, art directors, photo editors and production people. Adrian was 3,000 miles away in New York. He trusted us and gave us a loose leash. That was an amazing show of faith and confidence that we didn’t regard as misplaced.
On October 20, 1973, in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned after refusing to obey President Richard M. Nixon’s order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. As acting head of the Justice Department, Solicitor General Robert Bork then followed Nixon’s order and fired Cox.
Whether Tom Wolfe’s take on a subculture within a subculture was right or wrong, he brought a lot of attention to surfing with his publication of The Pump House Gang in book form in 1968. In October ’73, I thought it would be cool for International Surfing to send Wolfe to Hawaii and have him write about the winter surf season on the North Shore. I made the offer to him in a letter on magazine stationery. A short time later, I got a reply in elaborate calligraphy — the letter and the envelope. The calligrapher politely declined my offer. I was so taken aback by the form that I called Lynn Nesbit, Wolfe’s literary agent, to be sure the letter wasn’t a prank. I described it and she replied, “Yep, that’s Tom!”
|Two keepers from Tom Wolfe, October 1973.|
In late ’73, Gordon Clark of Clark Foam asked Steve Pezman, editor of Surfer, Ray Allen of the Western Surfing Association and me as the editor-to-be of Surfing to join him in forming the California Coastal Zone Committee. The goal was to ensure preservation of surfing beaches by the California Coastal Commission — created through a state ballot initiative the previous year — and by whatever legislation would extend the commission’s mandate. That turned out to be the California Coastal Act of 1976. At one of our first meetings, Clark said, “Organizing surfing is like forming an air-breathing society.”
Clark commissioned the National Surf Life Saving Association to survey California’s beaches from Santa Cruz to the Mexican border and rate their value for surfing. The Coastal Commission had no way to know one beach from another from a surfing standpoint. Rating them assured that, for examples, Rincon, Malibu and Trestles were inviolable. It didn’t mean, however, that surfers were willing to sacrifice any beach. To point out the vulnerability of surf spots, I wrote that Dana Point Harbor’s elimination of Killer Dana was a “tragic loss.” That term was repeated — I thought disrespectfully — in writing by bureaucrats who read my report.
Before one of our meetings, Pezman and I were sitting in my car outside Clark’s house. Steve had just gotten an advance copy of a new issue from Surfer’s printer. As he sat in the passenger seat paging through the magazine and I looked on, he repeatedly groaned. I said, “Steve, what’s wrong? It looks pretty good to me.” He replied, “When it’s your own work, you only see the zits.” I’ve said or cited that countless times since.
|Gordon Clark deserves a great deal of credit.|
Our committee produced the Ocean Recreation and Conservation Conference at a hotel near LAX. We invited organizations, businesses and individuals who had an interest not only in ocean recreation but in preserving the California coast and making it accessible to the public. I recruited Dr. Paul Saltman to speak. He had grown up surfing Malibu and in mid-’74 was vice chancellor of the University of California, San Diego. Saltman pointed out what all surfers know: The general public has no knowledge or appreciation of surfing. He said the public thinks of surfers as a cross between “Gidget goes Hawaiian and aquatic Hell’s Angels.”
On November 16, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon signed legislation that authorized construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
On November 17, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon assured the American people that “I am not a crook.”
About mid-November ’73, as we started production of the April/May ’74 issue, I suggested we drop “International” from the title. I said International Surfing had too many syllables, and was hard to say and remember. Many people called it “International” or “ISM,” neither of which was a good identity. I knew all that because I had made and marketed The World of Eastern Surfing. I had learned from my mistake. I looked into the legal aspects of becoming Surfing and found no barriers. The magazine became Surfing in December ’73 and kept that title till early 2017.
I had never liked any of the magazine’s various logos. About the time Paul announced his departure, I was experimenting with a new logo design. Even without the difficult word “international,” the word “surfing” always presented problems for a logo designer. In lowercase type, the ascender of the “f” was awkward, as was the descender of the “g.” In caps, the characters in the word “surfing” fit together well, but there were few typestyles that made a distinctive logo. One that came close was Helvetica, but it was too plain, too utilitarian and too common to make a unique logo.
I had always liked Avant Garde. Originally, Herb Lubalin designed only the characters in the words “Avant Garde” as the logo for a magazine of that name published by Ralph Ginzburg. Later, Lubalin designed the remaining characters in the alphabet in upper and lowercase, the numerals, punctuation marks, etc. He also designed fonts in weights ranging from extra light to extra bold. Avant Garde was a sans serif typeface based on the forms of Helvetica, but it had more style, and that made it more distinctive. I was experimenting with Avant Garde medium caps, but I hadn’t devised a way to make a unique logo for Surfing.
One day that autumn, Slick and I took one of our periodic trips to Los Angeles to immerse ourselves in art and popular culture that just didn’t exist in San Diego. While there, we visited Todd Everett, a friend Slick had worked with years before at Capitol Records. Todd reviewed records and had thousands of them on shelves in his place. While he and Slick caught up with each other’s doings, I looked at album jackets. One of them was a Rod McKuen LP. The jacket designer had set Helvetica Bold caps characters slightly overlapping or almost touching each other, depending on what the pairs were. That was an a-ha! moment for me. I had the technique to make Avant Garde Medium a stylish, distinctive logo for Surfing.
|Stylish, distinctive Avant Garde Medium logo.|
|The Xmas 1973 incarnation of me. photo: Not sure|
I became publisher, editor and lead art director of Surfing in early January ’74. I chose Slick, who was still producing ads part time, as associate editor and second art director. I gave myself the publisher title because I was on Clark’s committee with Steve Pezman, whose title at Surfer was publisher/editor. As his competitor, I wanted to hold an equivalent title.
On January 2, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon signed a national 55 mph speed limit into law.
My first issue as editor, etc. of Surfing was June/July 1974. We started production about mid-February. We were extremely fortunate to have gotten a great batch of North Shore photos from Dan Merkel about that time. Among them was a sequence of Sam Hawk surfing big Sunset. As usual, Merkel had gotten a good surfer, good waves, good action, good color and good focus from the water. I chose a shot from the sequence that sized and cropped perfectly for the cover. Bronzed blond surfer, orange trunks, yellow board, blue water. I made the new logo red and the cover blurbs yellow to complete the primary color scheme. The gods blessed us for that cover. It was a combination of skill and luck — Sam Hawk’s, Dan Merkel’s and mine.
|The gods were with us for this cover, June/July 1974.|
With Slick no longer producing ads, we needed somebody to replace him. We already knew Tom Threinen from his Steve Lis fish ads and his “At the Stomp” illustration. I asked him to come by the office to talk about becoming our ad production guy. On the day he was expected, our secretary came to the inner sanctum and said, “There’s a Tom Shriner here to see you.” I first said, “Who?” and then, “OK, tell him to come back.” In walked Tom Threinen, which sent us into convulsions of laughter. I hired Tom and from that point on he was known as “Shriner.”
Shriner was a very quiet, humble guy. He seemed so innocent we wondered if he and his wife, Cher, knew how to do it. Shriner was a deeply and broadly talented artist. Whatever we asked him to do, he did with consummate skill — ad design, cartooning, hand lettering, clay sculpture, illustration, kitsch art, anything. Whenever an unusual need arose, we said, “Oh, Shriner can do it.” He was a huge addition to our small staff.
|Shriner and Slick many years on. photo: Unknown|
|Shriner's caricature of me.|
On March 1, 1974, a Washington, D.C. grand jury indicted seven former aides to President Richard M. Nixon for conspiring to hinder the Watergate investigation. Nixon was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
For the June/July ’74 issue, I was still using song titles and lyrics in captions. In that issue, we published an article by Reno Abellira about professionalism in surfing. At the time, some well-known surfers were down on competitive events. One who was outspoken about not being a big fan of contests was Barry Kanaiaupuni. We included a photo of Barry K below a feathering lip at Rocky Point. I captioned it “I would not trade a fortune for the lovin’ of the game.” Perfect fit. It was a line from The Lovin’ of the Game by Pat Garvey.
Soon after the issue went on sale in April, we got a letter from Garvey’s attorney threatening a copyright infringement lawsuit and demanding compensation. Adrian’s attorney somehow defused the situation, then told me to stop using song lyrics in captions. That ended a technique I liked.
By spring ’74, I had been accumulating ideas for a lampoon issue of Surfing for about a year. I got the lampoon idea because I had seen a dead-on parody of Time magazine by the Harvard Lampoon, and many issues of National Lampoon, which was very popular then. I knew Slick’s and my sense of humor could produce a lampoon issue. Then I discovered that Harvard Lampoon owned and licensed the “Lampoon” name. That killed the title Surfing Lampoon Annual ’74, so our issue became Surfing Comedy Annual ’74.
I had seen photographically realistic oil paintings by Los Angeles artist Jack Jones. Slick and I went to Jones’ studio to see if what I had in mind was possible. I gave him a Sunset Beach slide and asked if he could precisely duplicate the shot in oils with one exception: Substitute a chimpanzee wearing a beanie with a propeller on top for the surfer. The idea was to make the cover so realistic looking that anybody glancing at it from a few feet away might think a chimp actually surfed Sunset. It didn’t quite achieve the effect I was hoping for, but it came close. To reinforce the surfing chimp idea, we went to Lion Country Safari in Laguna Hills for a staff photo — labeled “The Staph” — complete with a chimp named Higgy in my arms.
|I hadn't laughed so much before it, nor have I since.|
We wedged production of the Comedy Annual between two regular issues. Producing a regular issue every two months was hard enough. Making a complex special issue between two regular issues without extra help proved to be impossible. When it became evident we couldn’t meet our deadlines, I called Drew and asked him to come from up north to help out for about a week. He created a cap-and-gowned character named Dr. W. Z. Zinger, M.D., Ph.D., D.V.M., etc. and wrote “The Solution to All Your Problems” under that byline. Zinger used phony physics to explain the dynamics of surfing. The photo captions were fake quadratic equations. Drew also wrote “Farewell Dynamic Uno,” an article revealing that filmmakers Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman were fused at their spines.
Drew wrote sitting at our secretary’s IBM Selectric in the reception area of our offices. I was astonished that he produced nearly finished copy on his first run straight out of the typewriter.
Within the parody that was the Comedy Annual was another parody, Surf Scene, a goof on teeny-bopper magazines. Its cover asked the burning question, “Is Surfing Good for Your Complexion?” We designed Surf Scene as a separate magazine but for readers to make it such required some tricky work with the three staples that bound it within the Comedy Annual and held both magazines together. We had to devise a way to instruct readers to unbend the three staples, lift Surf Scene out of the Annual’s centerspread, remove the center staple from the Annual’s spine, carefully insert that staple in the tiny middle holes in Surf Scene’s center crease, and re-bend it and the two staples remaining in the Annual’s center crease so both free-standing magazines would be held together. Sound complex?
We came up with the idea to do the staple instructions as a parody of the classic Charles Atlas ads that had a beach bully kicking sand in the face of a 100-pound weakling who was then transformed into a he-man by following Atlas’ Dynamic Tension muscle-building course. Our 100-pound weakling was transformed into a he-man by turning one magazine into two. Slick wrote and Shriner drew an hilarious parody of the Atlas ad. One of the panels had a mallet smashing the center staple into place.
On April 30, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon released edited transcripts of Watergate tape recordings.
We used Atlas’ body as it was in his original ads, but we couldn’t use his face or name. Weeks earlier, Slick and I had gone to the Pike, an arcade in Long Beach. We had sat in a photo booth, dropped coins in the slot, made silly faces as the flash photos were automatically shot and waited for the machine to emit the strip of photos. When they came out, the photos weren’t of us. They were of a guy who looked like Boston Blackie, complete with pencil-thin mustache. We had taken the photo strip back to the office, told our colleagues the Pike story and pinned the strip on a wall where there were already hundreds of other strange finds and mementos. As we were puzzling over what to do about Charles Atlas’ head and name, the inspiration came to use the Boston Blackie lookalike in place of Atlas and to name him A. B. Gomez. That was a goof on Adrian B. Lopez, the owner of the magazine.
|Doing tricky staple work builds strong bodies and makes men heroes.|
|Surfing's editorial/art/production department, spring 1975. photo: Me|
|Slick in the same inner sanctum shown in the shot above this one. photo: Me|
We were very big on parodies. After all, the title we couldn’t use was “Lampoon.” In the centerspread and previous two pages of Surf Scene, we did a parody of Playgirl, which was then a popular magazine that featured a naked man in its centerspread. Surf Scene’s centerspread combined the naked man with the teeny-bopper theme. In the previous months, we had been running goofy letters from readers like Malibu Barbie and Donna from Hermosa who were, we supposed, real teeny-boppers ogling the cute surf boys. We recruited Mike Purpus to be Surf Scene’s naked man centerspread and set up a perfectly accessorized fake beach scene in an apartment on Grandview Street in Leucadia for a photo. Jeff Dawber photographed Mike writing picture postcards of himself to be sent to his teeny-bopper admirers. We discreetly arranged Mike and the props so his private parts didn’t show. After the shoot, I offered anybody in the room the opportunity to take Mike’s place in the scene and be photographed for posterity. Only I took me up on the offer.
|Teeny boppers loved Mike Purpus as Surf Scene magazine's August 1974 pen pal.|
For the Comedy Annual, our advertising sales department — Paul Gillane as director, Brad Dawber as manager — persuaded every company that advertised to do a comedic ad. Gillane somehow talked Nancy Katin into donning a cowgirl outfit, brandishing a six-shooter and mounting a stuffed horse at Knott’s Berry Farm for her ad headlined “Rustlin’ Up Some Katins.” Dave Carson and Mike Purpus knelt in the foreground dressed in cowboy outfits branding the Katin little man logo on surf trunks. Jeff Dawber shot that photo too.
Brad set up a classic “Listen Vinny . . .” greaser ad for South Shore Surfboards in which he and five friends looked like Sha Na Na members about to hot-wire a ’50s Hudson in a back alley.
The back cover of Surf Scene was a fake ad for Cavity Cola, a brand we invented and Shriner hand-lettered a Coca-Cola lookalike logo for. Alongside the prominent surf photo in the ad was a photo of Shriner’s wife, Cher, with her front teeth blacked out, holding a bottle of Cavity Cola. Weeks after the Annual went on sale, a guy stopped Cher on the beach and said, “Hey, you’re the Cavity Cola girl!”
The editor’s column in the Comedy Annual was called “Backwash.” The graphic at the top was 1940s clip art of a writer tapping away on a typewriter. We added an overhead wave about to crash on the guy’s head. The text type of the column was Greeking. It’s random Greek alphabet characters set in word-like groups and lines as if real words and lines of type. It’s used in mock-ups before the real text is available.
Anybody who looked closely at the “Backwash” Greeking found these real English words scattered in sequence through it: Is the door locked? It was probably no secret to Surfing readers of that era that the issues were produced under the influence of that dreaded evil weed, marijuana. When business hours ended at 5 o’clock and our secretary left for the day, it was time to light up and start the production work. Before we did that, one of us would always ask, “Is the door locked?” We also asked that poignant question in a credits box on the masthead page.
Chuck Dent was a colorful character of that era. He and I first met in his Main Street Huntington Beach shop shortly after I got to California. When we met, he was eating an avocado that didn’t look like an avocado. I asked, “What’s that?” He replied, “It’s an avocado” in a tone that said I was the dumbest guy on the planet.
Dent thrived on creating controversy and putting himself at its center. He wrote “Buried Alive on Main Street” for the Comedy Annual. As we progressed with the issue’s production, I called him to ask how his article was coming along. He said, “Not well. Writing for you guys is easy. For me, it’s not.” I replied, “No, writing is never easy for anybody.”
The “Buried Alive” lead photo was originally Dent in a floppy hat and Kiss-like makeup crucified on a cross of surfboards. I wanted to use the photo as it was shot because it fit what Dent had written about himself. In the end, I decided to crop his extended arms at the shoulders because I didn’t want to incur general wrath, but specifically from our reborn Christian readers. I now regret that decision. Elsewhere in the article was a photo of a shirtless Dent sitting against a psychedelic mural. The caption read “I sold the first pair of bell bottoms in Orange County.”
“Back East Can Get Hot” was another goofy feature article in the Comedy Annual. I wrote it in a rudimentary style under the byline Joe Doaks as an account of a surf day on the East Coast. The photos were fantastic waves on the North Shore — size and quality never found Back East. The centerspread gave the article an “Is this for real?” aspect. It was a Merkel shot of Florida surfer Dick Rosborough surfing big Pipeline backside.
From July 27 through 30, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended to the full House that President Richard M. Nixon be impeached on grounds of obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress.
On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States.
On September 8, 1974, President Gerald R. Ford granted Richard M. Nixon an unconditional pardon.
On September 25, 1974, scientists reported that freon gases from aerosol sprays were destroying the ozone layer.
For the October/November ’74 issue, I revived a practice we had tried a year earlier when Rus Calisch suggested it. That was binding a folded, removable 16 X 22-inch poster in the center of the magazine. Part of the one-year delay was waiting months for the distributor’s final figures to tell us whether or not including the ’73 poster boosted newsstand sales. It turned out it did.
The December/January ’75 poster was a classic Rincon shot by Steve Bissell. At the time, it was one of the most memorable surf photos ever. He got it by trespassing on the Bates Ranch mountainside above Rincon on a bright winter day when a northwest swell was wrapping endless lines around the point. It’s still an admired and popular shot today, more than 40 years later.
|The shot available from Surfline today has the oil platforms Photoshopped out. photo: Steve Bissell|
In the mid-’70s, there was a surge of interest in stained glass windows. I commissioned big wave surfer Roger Erickson to make one for the cover of Surfing’s February/March ’75 issue. Erickson was a big, powerfully built guy. He was an ex-Marine who had served in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. He reminded me of Roger Holden, another mountain of a man I had known in Harvey Cedars, New Jersey. In ’76, Erickson and a few other big wave surfers were the first to ride Kaena Point, something formerly thought to be impossible.
Erickson had a work space in Marina del Rey. I gave him the dimensions of the cover, said the window had to be proportional to them and left the design and execution up to him. He created a stunning work of art. To say it knocked my flip-flops off isn’t enough.
The design included a rendering of the logo in stained glass. It hadn’t occurred to me that Erickson would do that. I didn’t even know it was possible. I was already a little nervous about a stained glass window as the cover because of Adrian’s focus on newsstand sales and his persistence in wanting contents blurbs on the cover as assumed sales boosters. That issue was to be on sale in December and January, so I dismissed my own concerns by saying the stained glass would be seen as Christmassy. I agonized over the logo in glass and finally decided to crop it out and top the glass design with the logo in type. I’ve regretted that decision since. I did use the entire window for the magazine’s 1974 Christmas card, however. Erickson offered me the original piece for $100. I turned him down because I didn’t have the money.
|Stained-glass art by Roger Erickson, winter 1974-75.|
On December 31, 1974, Popular Electronics showed the Altair 8800 computer on the cover of its January 1975 issue.
On April 4, 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
On April 23, 1975, in a nationally televised speech, President Gerald Ford declared an end to the Vietnam War and all US aid. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese on April 30.
In late ’75, the Orange County Art Directors Club chose Surfing and Erickson’s stained glass window for its Best Magazine Cover of the Year award. In mid-’76, the movie Lifeguard came out. Sam Elliott played the title role as lifeguard Rick Carlson. In one of the scenes, the camera panned slowly through Carlson’s apartment. Hanging from the rafters in its wooden frame was Erickson’s stained glass window, complete with the Surfing logo in glass.
During my years at International Surfing and Surfing, everybody who worked there or contributed was stoked to be doing it. We wanted readers to be as stoked as we were, so we did as many participatory things as possible. We encouraged free-lance contributions, subscriptions, and letters that expressed various points of view. In the August/September ’74 issue, we introduced the Magazine Freak Award. We invited readers to submit accountings of their magazine collections. After sorting through the entries and choosing the top contenders, we promised to send a representative to check the collections and to bestow the Magazine Freak Award on the winner.
The winner was Richard Safady, a collector from Torrance, California. Slick and I stopped by his place to check his astounding collection of hundreds of surfing magazines. We featured Safady and the runners-up in the December/January ’75 issue and showed the Magazine Freak Award itself in the two following issues. It was a clay sculpture that Shriner created and fired in a kiln.
Editors at a popular surfing magazine see thousands of surf photos. Many come unsolicited by mail. The photos submitted quickly reveal if the photographer has invested enough money in equipment, knows surfing and has put in the practice time to get good before sending his best photos. During the ’73-’74 North Shore winter season, we started getting photos from Bob Mignogna. He was no Dan Merkel — for one thing, all his photos were from the beach — but he showed promise. We used a few of his shots in Comedy Annual ’74. Because the staff members took goofy names and assigned them to contributors for the Annual, we needed one for Bob. He became Filet Mignon. As production of the annual progressed, that became Phil A. Mignon.
In late summer ’74 as we had the Magazine Freak Award competition running, one of the top contenders was in Garden City, Long Island. Phil A. was on Long Island, so I asked him to check the collection. That was a necessary step in the competition, and it was a convenient way to test Phil A.’s reliability and the quality of his work. He did a good job.
We published several of Phil A.’s photos from the ’74 East Coast Championships at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. On his way to the North Shore for the ’74-’75 winter season, he stopped by our Laguna Niguel office. He wore an aloha shirt, a big smile and had an outgoing manner. Shortly thereafter, Brad Dawber left as ad manager. Phil A. took his place in fall ’74. He went on to set the unchallenged longevity record for a Surfing staffer — 29 years!
|Bob Mignogna answering a knock at his door, spring 1975. photo: Me|
|Carol Farris trimming Bob's curly locks, summer 1975. photo: Me|
The audience judged individual issues of surfing magazines mostly on the surfing value of the photos. The articles mattered but only if they were accompanied by hot photos. For the surfing value of the photos to come across well, they had to be good technically — sharp, good composition, true color, crisp contrast if black and white. Black and whites were virtually always conversions from color. That process itself compromised the crispness.
The best shot the editors had on hand usually became the cover photo. It didn’t have to relate to inside content, but it was good if it did. The cover format is vertical, while surfing is mostly horizontal. A 35 mm frame is more horizontal than vertical. Fitting a horizontal photo on a vertical cover was often a problem. So the qualifier was the best shot that cropped well and fit became the cover. A mediocre cover shot was usually a tip-off that there weren’t a whole lot of good shots inside. A collage or artwork on the cover was also often an indicator of a weak issue photographically.
Issues in production during or shortly after the North Shore winter season almost always had an ample supply of hot photos for the cover and inside. Hawaii shots were the foundation of many good issues, while hot photos from elsewhere were supplements that added variety. Travel features with good surfing and ambience photos were always popular. Readers could vicariously go to the places shown.
As avid surfing magazine readers, countless others and I removed our favorite photos and mounted them on walls, ceilings, schoolbooks, inside our vans, in public places — anywhere there was space. That practice applied especially to centerspreads because they were always good surf photos and were on one continuous sheet of paper. I used to hang out at newsstands and in surf shops and secretly watch what people did with a surfing magazine. Invariably, they flipped through it and looked at the photos. They might dwell on a caption or headline here or there, but mainly they flipped and looked.
Nick Charney, who was one of the founders of Psychology Today magazine, protested his distributor’s demands by saying, “Never mind that we have something important to say, can we stand up under the rigorous demands of flippership?” Distributors’ revenue came solely from single-copy sales, so they always maintained that a magazine had to “flip well.”
Especially with a surfing magazine, flippership could not be ignored. It’s what motivated Surfing to become primarily a photo book. It was behind Paul’s “Moments” photo section. It brought about Rus’ idea for the poster insert and my revival of it. In spring ’75, the photo and centerspread facts generated my idea to do an annual that was, in effect, 50 centerspreads. We chose our best 50 horizontal photos, printed them on both sides of 25 continuous sheets of paper and bound them through the spine with two staples. Having 50 centerspreads required removing the staples. Shortly after that annual went on sale, a magazine art director in Los Angeles called to tell me that our printer had bound the magazine wrong — when he opened it expecting to find single pages in turning sequence, he didn’t. I gently told the caller he had missed the point.
|So rare I don't have a copy. I had to lift this photo from the website shown.|
In mid-’75, that issue netted $40,000 with no ad revenue. In 2017 money, that’s $182,802.
As editor, I conceived and sought provocative content. Pablum doesn’t prompt interest, engage readers and sell magazines. I had expressed that thinking in a subscription ad in the February/March ’73 issue of International Surfing. Its headline was “No Pablum!” The photo was a friend’s young son sitting in his high chair and dumping Pablum on his head.
My last issue as editor, etc. of Surfing was August/September ’75. We produced it in April and May, it was on newsstands in June and July. A pictorial feature in that issue asked the question “Where Are the Hot Californians?” I recognized that global surfing was no longer dominated by Californians as it had been since the 1950s advent of foam and fiberglass surfboards. Australians, Hawaiians, South Africans and others had displaced Californians as the most prominent surfers in the sport.
Because I detached from the surf business in mid-’75, I didn’t know if “Where Are the Hot Californians?” stirred the pot. In January ’15, while writing what you’re now reading, I Googled the article title and found it cited on a website called Ghetto Juice and in The World in the Curl: An Unconventional History of Surfing by Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul. The authors used The World in the Curl as a textbook in a popular history and environmental studies course they taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Nearly 40 years later, I was gratified that “Where Are the Hot Californians?” was acknowledged.
|Me driving the southern contingent of Surfing's staff to work, June 1975. photo: Richard Dowdy|
When I left Surfing in June ’75, I designated Slick as my successor. Like Adrian when Paul chose me to succeed himself as editor, I had reservations about the choice. The truth in both circumstances was there was no alternative. In that era, the guy at the top of Surfing’s masthead had to be an editor, writer, art director and photographer, and had to have enough business sense to run a magazine from an office light years removed from the owner’s headquarters. That’s a rare set of skills. Surfing’s success grew from three top dogs in succession — Paul, me, Slick — having or developing those skills.
It takes talent to recognize talent. Paul recognized mine and, as a good editor doing his job, knew I would make a positive contribution to International Surfing. He taught me how to make magazines and enabled my becoming publisher/editor/lead art director of Surfing in January ’74. Holding that position until June ’75 put me in good stead for every job I had or entrepreneurial opportunity I pursued for the rest of my working life. I taught Slick what Paul taught me, and Slick was on staff for close to eight years.
Among the Big Lessons I learned at Surfing:
• Things always take longer and cost more than expected.
• We stand on the shoulders of those who preceded us.
• Set good policies and stick to them.
• It takes talent to recognize talent.
• Work only with professionals.
• You have to do what works.
In mid-’75, I was 31. I was getting too old to be the editor of a surfing magazine. I was looking for professional growth. My significant other, Carol, and I loaded our earthly possessions into a shipping container and moved to the Big Island. Among our belongings was my Toyota Land Cruiser. Gordon Clark said I didn’t want to be at Clark Foam when his employees boosted the Toyota into the container with a forklift. I went along with his suggestion.
|Carol gleefully moving our stuff to a container bound for Hawaii, summer 1975. photo: Me|
|Carol and me on one of our last days at the Encinitas bluff shack, summer 1975. photo: Me|
There isn’t much ridable surf on the Big Island. The windward side — the Hamakua Coast — is mostly high cliffs and where it’s not, the surf is almost always blown out. The leeward side — the Kona Coast — is mostly in the swell shadow of Maui and the other islands. Being a surfer on the Big Island requires a lot of faith, driving and persistence. I lasted nine months. Looking back on that experience, I say, “All I really needed was a vacation.”
|Paul, Karen and Deva Chapey, Upolu International Airport, Big Island, November 1975. photo: Me|
|Deva & Paul Chapey and me fulfilling the long, skinny legs requirement. photo: Karen Chapey|
Carol and I were in the Arakaki store east of Kapaau in the North Kohala District on the Big Island one day when I heard a woman talking with a Long Island accent. I approached her and learned that not only was she from Long Island, she was from Massapequa and grew up about a half mile from my family’s house there. Her name was Tina. She invited us to the nearby house she and her husband were renting. We were sitting in the kitchen when her husband and a visiting friend came in. They sat down, joined the conversation, and the friend proceeded to stare at me relentlessly. After a long period of discomfort, he said, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I said, no, I don’t. He identified himself as Jeff Kopelson, one of the neighborhood kids whose dings I used to fix in Massapequa. Knock me over with a feather! What are the odds of such a coincidence?
|After an all-nighter shooting catalog photos, Kapaau, Hi., winter 1975-76. photo: Me|
|Man on the land, Kapaau, Hi., spring 1976. I liked foraging for wild food. photo: Me|
On October 11, 1975, Saturday Night Live premiered on NBC-TV. George Carlin was the host.
Back in Encinitas in April ’76, I resumed my surf habits. At that time, Tom Morey was still making and perfecting Boogie boards. He hadn’t yet sold to Kransco, and the boards were not in mass production. He lived near Tamarack in Carlsbad. I knew him from when he used to come to Surfing’s office to produce the ads he placed in the magazine. He made me a Boogie board that was a bit longer than the standard model. I rode it for years. When it was stolen, I didn’t replace it but took up bodysurfing instead.
On April 1, 1976, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne founded Apple Computer in Los Altos, California.
In early ’77, Mike Mann and Allan Margolis asked me to come to Indialantic, Florida, to help them with Surf magazine. They had done one issue and found they were in over their heads. I retained a national distributor, Midwest printer, color separator, typesetter and network of freelance contributors. I set up a production room and began to acquaint Mike and Allan with the process of making a magazine. As Mike was standing in the production room one day after things had begun rolling along, he looked around and said, “You know, there’s really something to this.”
|"You know, there's really something to this." Indialantic, Fl., spring 1977.|
On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died in Memphis, Tennessee.
On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones and more than 900 members of his People’s Temple committed mass suicide in Guyana.
1980s & Beyond
On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorists crashed passenger airliners into both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, causing their collapse, and the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia. A fourth airliner crashed into a Pennsylvania field when passengers tried to overcome the terrorists. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives.
On March 20, 2003, coalition forces led by the US and UK under, respectively, the George W. Bush and Tony Blair administrations invaded Iraq, ostensibly to depose Saddam Hussein and eliminate the weapons of mass destruction he supposedly had. In the end, at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians died. Costs to the US were 4,491 military personnel dead and about $2 trillion.
It’s now mid-2017. I’ve been detached from the surf business for more than 40 years, a fact that astonishes me. Many surfers I knew in the ’60s and ’70s have gone to that perfect point break in the sky. Some who remain are into remembering and commemorating the good ol’ days. The stories get better with each retelling. As long as there are old guys left or anybody else wants to listen, none of us will reject the attention.
I live a two-minute walk from the beach. I’m in the water almost every day the ocean is 63 degrees or warmer. Colder than that, I go stiff. Since retiring in ’09, I’ve been to many of my roots surf places on the East Coast for the first time since leaving Florida for California in late summer ’69. I’ve spent the better part of five winters in Hawaii — two on the Big Island, one on Maui and two on Moloka‘i.
|Incongruous in Clear Lake, Iowa, but big in rock 'n' roll history, summer 2009.|
|Reggie Love in the tube at Tobay Beach, L.I., summer 2009. photo: Me|
|Dick and Tom Rosborough, Fort George Island, Fl., summer 2009. photo: Me|
|Rozo's backyard, mouth of St. Johns River, Fl., summer 2009. photo: Me|
Here are accounts of two surfing experiences from recent years:
Surfing With Dolphins
June 21, 2008
Spectacular weather and southwest surf yesterday and today. Hot, humid, bright sun, no wind. Glassy surface, consistent, long-period waves, indicating the storm that produced them happened very far away several days ago, and that they had traveled across probably a thousand or more miles of open ocean before reaching Doug’s Beach. Each wave was extremely long horizontally, maybe a thousand yards, another indicator of their having traveled very, very far.
I was treading water facing an oncoming set of waves. A dorsal fin sliced the surface, then another. I recognized them as dolphin fins by their shape. A 5-foot wave caught up with the dolphins and feathered 30 feet in front of me. Four dolphins rode within the wave, going right, three stacked close together, another a few feet in front, all backlit and haloed by the sun, fully visible bottlenose to tail. Thrilling, deeply, elementally thrilling. •
Aug 31, 2011
Executive summary: Elderly man ventures forth into unbelievably big surf, gets hammered, is happy to get back to ankle-deep water alive.
Gory details: As I walked on Neptune toward Beacon, I could hear the surf pounding. I knew it was big. Before seeing the breaking waves, I smelled their salt spray.
It was the same swell that pummeled Teahupo’o a few days ago. At medium tide yesterday, the normal sets were eight feet at Doug’s Beach. There were four guys sitting way outside. I knew it was unridable for me, but I like being out among the monsters, just to be awed.
The waves were breaking really hard, top to bottom, long lines closing out hundreds of feet across. I had done this plenty of times before: I watch, then start swimming out after a set, knowing I can swim through and dive under the interim waves, and get beyond the impact zone before the next big set comes.
The waves were ripping huge growths of kelp up by the roots. It was strewn all over the beach and floating in the surfline.
It’s my habit when waiting outside to watch the board surfers cause they’re sitting two to three feet higher than I am and can see farther outside better. If they start paddling for the horizon, I swim, usually breastroke cause it’s most powerful, trusting that there’s a big set coming.
The board surfers quickly lay prone and started paddling frantically west. That was my cue to swim hard in the same direction.
The first wave in the set was already feathering when I got to it and it to me. I swooped up the face and punched through the lip. The force launched me completely out of the water head to toe. The next wave was bigger and already feathering outside when I started swimming again. It had to be 10 feet, but it’s hard to tell when only your head is above water, and you’re looking straight up at a moving wall.
It broke outside of me, I dove deep, it ripped my right fin off and drove me into the bottom. As I struggled up, I got tangled in kelp. It spiraled around me, trapping my arms near my sides. One fin, limited arm power, still underwater, big trouble.
I got to the surface, gasping for air, lungs feeling constricted, trying to free myself from the kelp. The second wave in the set — the one that drove me to the bottom — had carried me back farther into the impact zone. Another huge wave, then another pounded me. More struggling for the surface and gasping for air.
I got out of the kelp and said to myself, OK, don’t panic, as long as you can get enough breath, the surf itself will carry you inside, and you can duck under the whitewater and swim until you get away from the danger zone. That worked.
Of the four guys who were board surfing when I first swam out, one caught a ride as soon as I reached the surfline and stayed on the beach. The other three — all twentysomethings — got caught and hammered by the same set that got me. They beat me to the beach. We acknowledged each other there and agreed on 10 feet for the big set.
I patrolled a long stretch of beach back and forth for about a half hour, hoping to find my lost fin. Fins float so unless it somehow got trapped on the reef, the surf had to carry it to the beach, probably north of where I lost it cause the swell was southwest. I had an intuition I would find it, and on my fourth pass, I did. Red and black, lying on the wet sand amid the piles of green kelp. A welcome and regenerative little sight.
Fin found, elderly man intact. I might wait till tomorrow to go out again. The swell is supposed to be a bit smaller by then. •
In summer 2011, I looked into spending most of the following winter in Costa Rica. The trip fell through, but planning it put me in touch with a Central California surfer who owned a beachside house there. When we were negotiating the price to rent his house, I thought it might earn me some points to play the magazine card, so I told him I had been editor of Surfing in the ’70s. He said the magazine had been very important to him as a young man. He said, “You were a great editor!” It was gratifying to know I had reached at least one surfer.
In late ’13, I got word from Bill Yerkes that Paul Chapey, Ed Greevy, John Gundersen, Carl T. Herrman, Richard Van Winkle and I were to be inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in the newly created Media Pioneers category. To be frank, that seemed both silly and an honor at the same time.
In late ’14, Surfing magazine’s 50th anniversary came along. That commemoration and the Hall of Fame induction revived my interest and put me in touch with several people I had had no or minimal contact with in decades. The two events and the contacts they generated prompted me to write the personal history you’re reading.
The events also motivated me to get in touch with Mike Tabeling. We had known each other in Cocoa Beach, and International Surfing had published Warren Bolster’s interview with him in our August/September ’73 issue, but we hadn’t spoken in decades. In February ’14, I organized a cross-border excursion to K38 in Baja to visit Mike and his lovely and loving wife, Nancy. When giving directions to their place, Mike said, “We’re just past the colossal Jesus.” Indeed, they were.
|Colossal Jesus indeed! Baja, spring 2014. photo: Me|
|Los cuatro amigos: Me, Mike Tabeling, John Carlson, Carl T. Herrman, K38, spring 2014. photo: Nancy Tabeling|
Mike bluntly told his visitors what we already knew — he was dying of kidney cancer. That’s not an easy thing to hear, let alone say or live with. Mike had compiled and posted his East Coast Surfing History website, a huge task. When I got home, I researched and wrote brief histories of four East Coast surfing magazines — Atlantic Surfing, Surfing East, Competition Surf and Surf — and sent them to Mike for the site.
After a long, courageous protest, Mike passed away on December 20, 2014.
In July ’14, Ed Greevy was in Southern California, so I organized what I half seriously called an “historic lunch” in Encinitas. The surviving East Coast Media Pioneers — Ed, Paul Chapey, John Gundersen, Carl T. Herrman and I (Richard Van Winkle passed away in the early ’90s) — attended. It was the first time some of the pioneers had met the others.
|East Coast surfing Media Pioneers, clockwise from left: Me, Carl T. Herrman, John Gundersen, Paul Chapey, Ed Greevy, Encinitas, Ca., summer 2014. photo: Our lovely young waitress|
Surfing is the most beautiful, the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s been the core of my life since a wall of soup catapulted me toward shore at San Onofre in August 1963. It’s been a great ride, and it’s still peeling.
“But my absorption in surfing had no rational content. It simply compelled me; there was a profound mine of beauty and wonder in it. Beyond that, I could not have explained why I did it.”
— William Finnegan, “Off Diamond Head,” The New Yorker, June 1, 2015
And so these things, these forces of nature, these bitchin’ rocket bombs from Japan, born of wind days or even weeks before, these coils of energy, these spirals, these dynamic bumps, these liquid lines roll across hundreds or even thousands of miles of open ocean to me at my beach. They feel the bottom, they rise, the wind sweeps their faces and tickles their lips, they crest, and I join them. They tumble and carry me. I glide within their power for a few moments. I smile, I am gleeful, I am a carefree child.
|With my imaginary wahine, Cardiff, Ca., December 2015. photo: Me|
That’s all, folks! Aloha and keep surfing.
Thanks to Steve Bissell, Rus Calisch, Paul Chapey, Claude Codgen, Brad Dawber, Ed Greevy, John Gundersen, Drew Kampion, Greg MacGillivray, Bob Mignogna, Walt Phillips, Dick Pollock and Bill Yerkes for their help in compiling this history.
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Chapters to come, not necessarily in this order:
MUSIC, CARS, FAMILY, WORK, SCHOOL, ANIMALS, PLACES, STORIES, PHOTOS, etc.