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LEGENDARY SURFERS Facebook

Seems like everyone's either on Facebook or declared never to get on. I'm enjoying it, easily sharing surfing history and culture along with others who also share at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/286655204768554/


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"Encyclopedia of Surfing" Online

Matt Warshaw has put his "Encyclopedia of Surfing" on line and is updating it even as you read this... It is a great resource and Matt's having fun with it. Please visit:

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SURFING


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Surf Music History





Aloha and welcome to this chapter link to SURF MUSIC HISTORY.

The original LEGENDARY SURFERS chapter on "Surf Music" covering primarily the 1960's is at: http://files.legendarysurfers.com/surf/legends/lsc212.html

Another excellent resource is Emile Marine Bogrand's 2011 M.A. thesis, "The Sound of Surf" covering the roots of surf music in Polynesia and Hawaii through the 20th Century at:

http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2013/08/the-sound-of-surf.html


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"The Sound of Surf"

“The Sound of Surf” is the M.A. Thesis of Emile Marine Bogrand for the Annenberg School of Communication, published in July 29, 2011.

It is a great resource that covers "surf music" from its very roots, in Polynesia on to the beginning of the 21st Century. 

The author refers to it as "a chronological examination of music surrounding and associated with American surf culture over the course of the twentieth century. I also explore the roots of surf music starting where surfing first began: Hawaii. I examine ancient Polynesian cultures and surf-related music from a social standpoint as well as a more technically musical standpoint. I discuss key figures and events that are responsible for the popularization of Hawaiian culture on the American mainland and investigate what fell and falls under the categorization of surf music over the consequent decades. I have organized my research so as to simulate a historical journey through the places where surfing and music intersected."

Emile Marine Bogrand's thesis is 27 pages, with an additional 12 reference pages, and is available in digital format via the University of Southern California Digital Library (with a link also at the Digital Public Library of America):

http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll127/id/643270

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Allan Byrne (1950-2013)

Surfer and surfboard design legend Al Byrne ("AB") has passed on, after suffering injuries from a motorcycle crash in Bali. I'm collecting what others have written about him at the LEGENDARY SURFERS Facebook page.
Links include:



"Vale Al Byrne" Video of AB talking about some of his boards: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153056689105136

8 August 2013 - JC at Transworld Surf, with recollections of AB's friends: http://surf.transworld.net/1000164090/photos/rest-in-peace-allan-byrne







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George Freeth

George Freeth was the foremost of the haoles during surfing's "revival" at Waikiki in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Not only would he be instrumental in helping to popularize surfing at Waikiki, along with the likes of Alexander Hume Ford and Jack London, but he would go on to introduce surfing to the U.S. mainland, become the first recognized professional ocean lifeguard, and one of the great watermen of the first two decades of the 1900s.

Inspired by the biography of Freeth that Arthur C. Verge had published back in 2001 -- and which is still freely available online, here, thanks to Arthur -- I gathered together everything I could find on George Freeth, "The Father of California Surfing," and included it in LEGENDARY SURFERS Volume 1. Due to requests I have had over the years, I am now making that chapter available as a stand-alone ebooklet which can be ordered at:

Lulu Press: "George Freeth: Bronzed Mercury"

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TOM BLAKE, 2nd Edition

Croul Publications has released a softcover trade re-issue of the original hardcover version of "TOM BLAKE: The Uncommon Journey of a Pioneer Waterman." which has been sold out and out of print now for more than two years.



It's only $40 bucks... To order, go to: 

http://croulpublications.com/product/tom-blake-softcover-trade-edition/

I was proud to work with Gary and others on this definitive study of Tom, his life, and his contributions to surfing. He lead the way in so many ways.

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Long Beach 1930s Photos

Some neat pictures of Long Beach in the 1930s and some detail on the Breakwater at:

http://www.seventhwavesurfshop.com/long-beach-surf-history.html


That period of time captured here: http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2013/05/late-1930s.html


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Late 1930s


As the decade progressed, hollow boards gave way to solid planks built of hard redwood and soft and lighter balsa. These boards were considered progressive for their time and Chuck Allen was one member of the Palos Verdes Surfing Club who had transitioned to one by 1938. It was a varnished solid California redwood and balsa board, 11-feet, 6-inches by 22-inches.[1]
Allen had built and also used two paddleboards in 1936. In 1937, while attending a shop course at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he built an almost-solid cedar wood board that weighed only 140 pounds. It floated “under the water,” he remembered. He sold it and then built a lightweight nearly-all-balsa board. It was all balsa except for two 3/8-inch redwood strips added for structural integrity,[2] which was quite a bit more balsa and a lot less redwood than the boards coming out of Pacific System Homes.

Everyone “pooh-poohed” his 35-pound balsa board, so he quickly sold it, took a week off from school during 1938 and worked at Hammond Lumber for the plank used for his redwood/balsa board. He shaped the plank at home, using hand tools. This board is more typical of the 1938-42 era, weighing approximately 88-pounds and measuring 12-feet long. The board rammed some rocks once and 6-inches were chopped off the tail. The balsa was actually added on for two reasons. Besides reducing the weight, the balsa provided a soft spot for the knees while paddling.[3]

Hot Curl surfer Wally Froiseth got a balsa/redwood for tandem riding at Waikiki. For his own surfing, Froiseth preferred his pintail redwood Hot Curl surfboard he had helped develop. With the balsa/redwoods, he tried cutting down on the tail and shaping a V into the tail, but, “it just didn’t work that good. Because it was too buoyant. Even though the tail was narrow, it was thick and wouldn’t sink in. It floated too high. I owned about the sixth or seventh balsa board in here [on the Hawaiian Islands]; I got it for tandems. We’d walk up the beach, ask some girl: ‘Hey how about going surfing tandem?’ In those days everybody would go out... we never asked for any favors... we just wanted people to enjoy the sport. So I had my solid redwood and I had this balsa for tandem, you know.”[4]



“September 1936,” remembered Chuck A Luck of a landmark moment in SoCal publishing, “Surfing made the Brown Section (Rotogravure) in the L.A. Times.”[5] This might be the same article Doc Ball noted as “Surfboards, Ahoy!” by Andy Hamilton.[6]
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the surfers in Southern California, the Hot Curl guys were getting underway in the Honolulu/Black Point area, on O’ahu, making the first great move out of the Waikiki area and into other areas of the island in search of big surf.[7]

“This is Big Surf,” wrote and photographically documented Doc Ball of March 13, 1937. Pete Peterson “of Santa Monica” is identified riding the “wave of the day.” Also featured were LeRoy Grannis and Jean Depue.[8]

Hermosa – “Twenty Footers Roll In... Turkey Day, 1937. Identified surfers: Doc Ball (having deserted his Graflex) and Kay Murray.[9]

“Storm Surf of December 12th, 1937” shows a photo “Taken during a drizzling mist... shows the cove in the throes of a zero break. Johnny Gates vowed ‘he’d get a ride on one of those or else.’ Credit is hereby extended him that he did reach the half way point, only to be wiped out by a monstrous cleanup and forced to swim in through devastating currents, rocks, etc., to retrieve his battered redwood plank. Purple hardly described his color when he finally got out of that freezing blast.”[10]
“Zero Break at Hermosa. Perhaps twice a year this remarkable surf will hump up a good half mile offshore and keep all ‘malininis’ on the beach. Strictly for the ‘kamaaina,’ this stuff comes upon one out there with a long steamy hiss, and fills him at first with the apprehensive thought of, ‘Mebe I better wait for the second one.’”[11]

Other surfers and notaries identified:  [Adie] Bayer, [Cliff] Tucker, Fred Kerwin, Johnny Gates “the Smokehouse Kid,” “Rusty” Williams (Captain of the Los Angeles County Lifeguards – photo caption: “Worry is registered on the Williams ‘puss’ as he watches the antics of the surfers in the heavy seas.”), Cliff Tucker, Gene Hornbeck (December 16, 1937), John Kerwin, Ed Edger, Dave “Black Bass” Perumean, Dale Velzy, Bill Edger, Fenton Scholes, [Bob] Landes and Big Bob Johnson.[12]
Williams would go on to taste Hawaiian waters, as well as Velzy who was to become one of surfing’s great shapers.[13]

Covering the surfing scene at Hermosa Beach, Doc Ball pointed out Hoppy Swarts and  featured him in photogenic rides on January 7, 1938 and January 5, 1939.

January 7, 1938 was “The day when the newsreel boys came down to shoot the damage done by the big seas – packed up and left when we came out with our surfboards.” Other surfers identified: “Tulie” Clark, Pearson, Al Holland, Adie Bayer and Leroy Grannis.”[14]

“Hoppy, LeRoy, Pasqual, Blackie, Fred and John Kerwin, Tule, Tom Horton, myself and others built 3” X 18” X 6’ identical hollows,” recalled Chuck A Luck. “We made 6 of them with both ends round and held ten tournaments of paddle board polo in the Olympic swimming pool at the L.A. Coliseum. There were nets at each end and you could not leave your board unless you jumped on a guy with the ball, played like water polo.”[15]

In covering Venice, “Home of the Venice Surfing Club,” Doc identified surfers like: “Wes” Gireau and “Porky” Corcoran. In Doc’s photo collection, he has a photo of the Venice Half Mile Open Paddleboard Race of 1938.[16]

In “Picture of Two Worried Surfers,” taken on the Palos Verdes area, Doc spotlighted two surfers – Gard Chapin and Bud Browne – who would go on to have a significant impact on wave riding. The photo shows Johnny Gates and Gard Chapin “coming out of the hook” and “watch with apprehension the course set by Bud Browne on the ‘paddlewhacker.’”[17]

“Riding Cove Storm Swell,” October 29, 1938. Doc photographed the riding of Fenton Scholes and Jean Depue.[18]



Crocker Surf Ski


At this time, Dr. G.A. “Saxon” Crackanthrope, a stalwart of the Manly Club, N.S.W., Australia, invented the surf ski.  “It probably evolved out of the use of canoes in the surf at North Bondi,” guessed Nat Young. “Because you paddled the ski with an oar, sitting down, it was easier to ride than a board. Originally the skis were 8’ long and 28” wide and made of heavy cedar planking, but this gave way to plywood over a light timber frame. Surf club competition drew the skis out in length and eventually another man was used to gain more speed and make it more of a team sport; this led to the standard two-man double ski, a sort of tandem bike on water. In contrast to the surfboard, the surf ski was quickly adopted by the Surf Life Saving Association as official lifesaving equipment. Surfboards, however, were tolerated by officials because so many loyal club members used them, displaying their club badges printed on the decks together with the club’s colors running in pin stripes around the rails. The surf club was a tremendously prestigious institution during this period. Australian girls liked the idea of going out with one of those ‘bronzed gods’ and the surf club ranks swelled to reach 8,454 members in 1935.”[19]

The original design was 8 foot x 28 inches x 6 inches thick with 12 inches of tail lift, solid cedar planks and a double bladed paddle and footstraps.[20]

On his second trip to Australia, Duke Kahanamoku brought back a surf ski, the first to reach Hawaiian shores. Nobody expected to be impressed by something from Australia, but Hot Curl surfer Wally Froiseth admitted, “Yeah, it impressed us. It was something new, something we’d never seen. It was great. You know, my thinking is... every area has contributed something. I don’t care where they are, these guys have contributed. Nobody can say that they did the whole thing. There’s just no way. Nobody’s got all the brains. Nobody can think of all aces. It’s good.”[21]

Other Australian claims to the invention of the surf ski include: Bill Langford at Maroubra, pre-World War II; a 1934 design recalled by Denis Green of oil impregnated canvas stretched over a timber frame, again at Maroubra;[22] a type of ski used by two brothers at Port Macquarie N.S.W. on their oyster leases, and occasionally in the surf around 1930;[23] and a “first appearance on Newcastle beaches during the twenties, and came to Deewhy about 1932;”[24] as well as 1933, Jack Toyer of Cronulla.

Despite the competing claims, it was Saxon Crackanthrope who was the one to register and received the patent for the surf ski.[25]

It was quickly adopted in South African waters following its debut in “The Empire Games,” in Sydney in 1938. A rough sketch brought back by a well-known South African swimming coach, Alec Bulley, was then modified by Fred Crocker of the Pirates Surf Lifesaving Club. He built a surf ski from the plans and Peter Forster of the Durban Surf Club constructed two more a little later. Crocker’s prototype was twelve feet long and two feet six inches wide, tapering back and front. A wood finish over the deck and flat bottom made the craft very heavy and required two men to handle it.[26]



“Three Mile


In Doc Ball’s California Surfriders, 1946, California surf spots in the 1930s – listed from south-to-north – went like this: Windansea [San Diego coastal spot], San Onofre [between San Diego and Los Angeles], Dana Point, Corona del Mar, Long Beach, Palos Verdes, Hermosa Beach, Venice, and Malibu. Up north in the Santa Cruz area were marked Paradise Point and River Hole. Further north Pedro Valley, south San Francisco, was the furthest point north. Places like Santa Barbara weren’t even marked on the surfing map.

That’s probably because the foremost of California’s surfers were only surfing between Malibu and Windansea. If they surfed up north, it was all the way up to the cold waters of Santa Cruz in the summer, and that was basically at Pleasure Point. Nevertheless, others who got into surfing started hitting the breaks near their homes. The first guys to surf Rincon, south of Santa Barbara, were prime examples. Coming from the lifeguard tradition, these Rincon pioneers were never amongst the most noted of that era. In terms of historical significance as the first to surf Rincon, however, their contributions and exhibit of the surfing lifestyle in the Santa Barbara area are significant.

Gates Foss (1915-1990) was the first person known to surf Rincon. The point break was originally called “Three Mile,” because it was three miles from the Carpinteria train depot.

“According to his son Bob,” wrote Lori Rafferty in an article entitled “Rincon Memories” for Santa Barbara magazine, “Foss discovered Three Mile driving down the coast from Carpinteria one day in the mid-1930s. It simply looked like a good place to surf.”[27]

John Severson, the founder of Surfer magazine and a surf movie maker of the 1960s, in his book Modern Surfing Around The World (1964) confirms that “Gates Foss was the first local Santa Barbara surfer to ride the Rincon. In the late thirties he rode on planks with Mike Sturmer, Bill Muller, and others.”[28]

“Foss had come out from Arizona to attend Santa Barbara State College,” continued Rafferty. “Gates was the college boy chauffeur for my grandma that I fell in love with,” recalled his widow, the former Isabella Bradbury. “After they were married, Foss worked as a ranger at Gaviota Beach, head lifeguard in Carpinteria, manager of Los Baños Pool in Santa Barbara, and coached at Santa Barbara High School for 25 years.[29]

Bill Muller grew up as a “beach rat” in Santa Barbara in the 1930s.[30] “My mom would drop us kids off at the beach in the morning with lunch and not come back to pick us up until late afternoon,” Muller recalled, probably referring to the Santa Barbara beaches close to Sterns Wharf and the harbor area. “Body surfing in the shore break near the East Beach bathhouse led to a summer job as a lifeguard,” wrote Rafferty, “and Muller remembers the day the city pool, Los Baños, opened in 1938. Through the lifeguarding network, many friendships were formed, and the guys would paddle their rescue paddleboards over to the sandbar [Sandspit] and ride the little waves or use the boards as platforms to dive from for lobster and abalone. Soon enough they were looking for more challenging waves, and they heard about the break at Three Mile from a fellow lifeguard in Carpinteria.”[31]

That Carpinteria lifeguard was most likely Gates Foss.[32] The boards they rode were typical of the day; a mixture of 14-foot plywood decked hollow paddleboards and slightly shorter redwood planks.[33] Of course, it was well before wetsuits.
“Back then,” Bill Muller reminded, “there were no such things as wet suits. What we did when it was really cold was to use navy wool underwear. When you were sitting out on the board and it got real cold, you could take that wool sweatshirt off and wring it out real good and then put it back on, and it felt pretty good. But when you got dumped it felt like you were going to drown, because they were so damn heavy. We would stay out 45 minutes to an hour at a time and then come in and warm up by the fire.”[34]

“My dad used to think I was nuts out there in that cold water, riding those stupid boards,” Bill Muller continued. “But hell, it gets in your blood – you know how it is, you just gotta do it. If it’s there, you gotta do it. I’d like to have a dime for every mile I ran up and down this coast looking for waves.”[35]

For the next couple of years before the war, Gates Foss, Mike Sturmer, Bill Muller, and Gene Nagle rode Three Mile “whenever the surf was up.”[36] “Mike Sturmer lived up on the hill back behind Carpinteria,” explained Bill Muller, “and when he saw the outside Carpinteria reefs breaking with lots of white water, he knew there was surf. Mike would call Gates, and Gates would call me, and we’d all get excited and meet in Carpinteria to go down to Three Mile.”[37]

“Rincon was perfect for plank surfing,” Mike Sturmer declared. “It had a nice ‘eye,’ you could get in the hook just right.”[38]
“Riding down to Rincon in Foss’s ‘38 Chevy sedan, Muller, Sturmer, and Nagle became pioneers of California’s perfect wave,” continued Rafferty. “Long before the Malibu hotdoggers popularized the sport after World War II, they had Three Mile virtually to themselves.”[39]

“These fellows,” continued John Severson, “were around for the big surf in 1939, and like most of the other old-timers, they maintain that nothing since has approached the size of that surf.”[40]

There’s a classic photo of Mike Sturmer on a wave at Three Mile during the big swell of 1939. It rivals, in size, the famous one taken of Rennie Yater, at the same spot, 30 years later.[41]

“You could only catch three or four waves,” remembered Sturmer, “because it was so big and so hard to get back out. I’m six-four so that wave must be a 15-footer [wave face measurement]. I knew it was a huge swell because I counted 13 breaks from the shore all the way out to the Carpinteria reef. It was the biggest surf any of us had ever been in. This photo was taken by a guy on the beach with a 16mm movie camera. When we came out of the water, he came over to talk to us ‘idiots.’ I asked him if he’d cut out a frame and send it to me. This is what I got.”

“… those memories are etched firmly in my mind,” Sturmer declared.[42]

Rincon saw a second group of surfers begin to hit it, John Severson noted, “After the war” when “a couple of young surfers from the Malibu area – Bob Simmons and Matt Kivlin – ‘discovered’ Rincon and began to make winter runs there. They brought back reinforcements and by the late forties the Rincon was ridden occasionally by surfers Mickey Muñoz, Bobby Patterson, Joe Quigg, Billy Meng, and a few others.”[43]




Santa Cruz


Hawaiian surfing had originally been brought to the Mainland in the late 1800s, most notably in Santa Cruz. Hawaiians David Piikoi, Kupio Kawanakoa and Edward practiced their native sport near the Santa Cruz river mouth as early as 1885.[44] While others in the area took up the sport, Santa Cruz surfing did not begin to flourish, however, until over 50 years later.
What is generally considered the true rebirth of surfing in the Santa Cruz area took place around 1939, lead by Richie Thompson, Ted Pierson, Doug Thorn, Quintin Tavares, Dick Keating, Ced Shear and Chuck Foley.[45]

Doc Ball documented other notable surfers surfing Santa Cruz, including: Johnny Dale on December 2, 1939 and April 9, 1939; Art Alsten and Jim (Burhead) Drever “coming out of a fast breaking hook, December 16, 1939;” and, also, “‘Granny’ Grannis.”[46]

“By this time,” Doc wrote about surfer nicknames, “you’ll no doubt have noticed that surfers possess some odd nicknames. We quote a few for your pleasure: ‘Red Dog,’ ‘Black Bass,’ ‘Burhead,’ ‘Hammerhead,’ ‘Bird Dog,’ ‘Button Nose,’ ‘Gooseneck,’ ‘Whitey,’ ‘Scobblenoggin’ and ‘Nellie Bly.’ Ain’t they somepin?”[47]

By 1940, Santa Cruz had its own surf club and became “Home of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club.” Wrote Doc:  “Paradise Point is capable of dishing out rides of a half mile length when the surf is big.” Paradise Point was officially named, as such, on May 25, 1940. Hoppy Swarts and E.J. Oshier were identified riders this day.[48]

Their surfing in Santa Cruz was testimony to the influence of the PVSC well beyond the confines of Palos Verdes. “When the surf was flat there in Southern Cal,” Doc said of their surf safaris, “we’d make these trips out around, up the coast and down. One of them went up to Santa Cruz. They’d not seen that activity (surfing) up there [before]! Our guys were the ones who initiated it in Santa Cruz.”[49]

Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is true that the Palos Verdes guys stoked the locals into stepping it up a bit. Of the PVSC crew, it was E.J. Oshier who was the main surfer to help get surfing going again in Santa Cruz.[50] He had left Los Angeles when he joined the National Guard, circa 1938-39. “Some of the kids there – they were high school kids. They all had big, long paddleboards. They were doing surfing on their own.

“When I arrived there – there was a guy named Duke Horan… He was a good surfer. He was from Venice. He was going to San Jose State and he and I met on the beach at Santa Cruz one summer day. We got to talking, you know, [about] how we missed the surf down below [in Southern California]. We’d look at these kids on paddleboards and it didn’t look too good. We hadn’t seen any really good surf at Steamer Lane and Cowell’s.

“Then, we finally saw some. Why, we got busy [then]! I built a paddleboard and he got hold of an old squaretail and we started surfing with the kids. But, we were infinitely better surfers than all the other kids. They were nice kids. We got along fine with them, but they just weren’t polished or quick. Their surfing was: just pick the wave up, stand up and go into the beach. There was no particular cutting right or left or anything.

“So, anyway, the Duke and I – what we did to Santa Cruz was sort of grab it by its boot straps and pull it up into present surfing styles. You know, riding solid boards, turning with our feet – all the things the kids weren’t doing. We got along fine with the locals. We were sort of ‘gooners’ because we were so much better than anyone else around there. So, that was great! We loved it!”

“1939 and 1940 was my two years surfing Santa Cruz a lot. I was living in Oakland, working in Oakland, and as soon as I got off work Friday night, I’d stow my sleeping bag and board in the car and head for Santa Cruz. We had a… barn down there, just above Steamer Lane, that one of the high school kid surfer’s mother owned. It was a falling-down thing, but we could sleep in it, you know. We used to be able to throw our sleeping bags down there and sleep there. You know, have something over our heads and a little privacy.”

This building is not to be confused with the building the surf club had. The surf club building was right on the beach at the base of the pier. Its picture is in Doc Ball’s book and shows E. J., Jeep, Duke Horan and Art Beard. “Right there by the horseshoe course. They had a second one, in a different location, but that was after I’d gone. The barn was up on the cliff, about a block inland from the current surfing museum [lighthouse]. Buster’s mother owned it.” [51]

Of the Santa Cruz kids, E.J. said, Harry Mayo and Buster Stewart were the best surfers. “Buster… he was probably the best surfer of the kids. He had a little more control of the board and a little more ability. But, Harry Mayo and a lot of those other guys, they were nice kids, but they really never got their hooks into real surfing. Don’t quote me on that, cuz I wouldn’t want to hurt Harry’s feelings. But, I’m sure he would admit that it’s true.”

For E.J., it was every weekend to Santa Cruz during 1939-40. “Winter, Summer. And, boy, that surfing in the winter with no wetsuit and no leash was a little rough. But, hell, I was young and big and strong. I could do that.”[52]

A little further north, Pedro Valley is noted as a surf spot in Doc Ball’s book. It was “Where the Strawberries Meet the Sea.” Doc noted of this cove 17 miles south of San Francisco that it was “Home of the Pedro Mountain Surf Club.”[53]

Another notable break in the area was Shelter Cove. Doc identified the surfers in these areas as: Quintin Tavares, Tony Sanchez, Teddy Pearson, Sylvio Giuliani and Dick Keating.[54]



Longbeach’s Flood Control


Doc Ball photographed and wrote about 1939-1940 surf culture mostly in Southern California, though, and one of their favorite spots, when the surf came up there, was Long Beach’s Flood Control:

In a section entitled “Palos Verdes Surfing Club at the Long Beach Surfing Contest,” Doc wrote that at this contest, the Hawaiians even sent over a team. PVSC members, left to right were: Hornbeck, Reynolds, Humphreys, Scholes, Huber, Pearson, Gates, Alsten, Oshier, [Adie] Bayer, Depue, Allen, [Hoppy] Swarts, Grannis, Pierce, Landes, Clark.
A photograph of Long Beach’s Flood Control in action “shows the tremendous size of one of its famous humpers.” Al Bixeler declared that day: “I believe I have ridden a tidal wave.”[55]

“Flood Control Was Spectacular,” wrote Doc, of the spot before the bay was mostly enclosed by the building of the outer jetties. “Charles Butler in a portrait of action plus! This young man, more intimately known as ‘Doaks,’ was a promising medical doctor when he enlisted in the United States Navy and was sent to the South Pacific theater of operations. It is understood that he went down with the destroyer Edsal during an early engagement with the Japanese. The surfers lost a good friend, the people lost an excellent doctor.”[56]

“The Convention City” was how Long Beach businessmen used to refer to their metropolis. One of the early surf breaks to disappear due to human engineering, “Flood Control,” at Long Beach, was a primo break.[57]

“When this place ‘boomed in’ and we mean just that, it was no place for the malihini. A long speedy ride was to be had and the power behind those giant walls of soup was second to none.” Flood Control also was famous for its “sneakers.” Hoppy Swarts rode one on November 7, 1939.[58]



SoCal


 “Most every surfer would ride under the pier,” testified Chuck A Luck about the Manhattan Pier of 1940, “and through the pilings, sometimes worrying the people watching from the pier.”[59]

Doc Ball has a shot of storm surf of February 6, 1940.[60]

Malibu – “Waves here are fast and crack down like dynamite. We understand that the free gangway to this beach is now enjoyed by any surfer who so desires to enter it. In former days one had to sneak in through a hole in the fence and run the risk of having that hole nailed shut before he could get out.” Photos by John Gates of Los Angeles. Surfer identified: Gard Chapin.[61]

WindanSea (Pacific Beach, San Diego area). Surfers noted by Doc Ball: John Blankenship, Buddy Hull, Don Okey.[62]

In other photographs with notations, Doc Ball featured “Sliding Left.” It identifies Trux Oehrlin, Hal Peason and Don Grannis. “At least half the fun in surfing is had by watching fellow surfers turning in a masterful performance on a fringing giant,” wrote Ball, “or getting wiped out in the impossible, when boards and bodies are tossed about in reckless abandon.”[63]

In Addition to Flood Control, another key surf spot of the 1930s that is no longer with us was Killer Dana – Dana Point, before the harbor was expanded. In a section entitled “It’s Humping Up At Dana,” Doc featured the riding style of George “Nellie Bly” Brignell.[64]

In “Dana Killer Surf,” Doc presented two photos, one of “Peanuts” Larsen and the other of “Whitey” Harrison “on the angle to avoid the rocks and the break as ‘Doaks’ pulls up and over to see what’s coming next. Times have been when many a man has come to the top of just such a crest and looked straight into the maw of a bone-crushing monster.”
Other photos of Dana Point were those taken on May 15, 1940 and July 9, 1939. Johnny Gates and Hal Landes featured, respectively.[65]

In Doc’s book, “Fun at the Cove” identifies Fenton and “Dixie” Scholes riding tandem, January 14, 1940 at Palos Verdes Cove. Also there in those days were “Tulie” Clark, Hornbeck, Johnny Dale, Harry Dunnigan and Bud Morrissey’s wife Mary Ann.[66]
“Jam-Up,” is a classic Palos Verdes photo of Tom Blake, Jim Bailey, Johnny Gates and Gard Chapin.[67]

“We Make the Local Sunday Magazine,” wrote Doc about an article by Andy Hamilton, “Surfboards, Ahoy!” which appeared in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, August 1941. Doc’s got a picture of the article being held up and looked at. Identified surfers at that time: Reynolds, Oshier, Clark, Mary Ann Morrissey, Bud Morrissey, Woods, Landes, Pearson and Grannis.[68]

“The Mighty Ski Jump Roars in – December 22, 1940” shows “Al Holland, Oshier, Grannis and Bayer riding the 30-foot grinders that arrive here on an average of twice a year and rattle windows over a mile inland with their heavy concussion. This picture published in an Australian magazine, made its appearance in far away Noumea, New Caledonia. Was discovered there by a very surprised Doc Ball... Adie Bayer bites off more than he can handle and his 14-foot board can be seen sticking up in the crest of this colossal sea. The Doc and his camera had a bad few seconds also!”[69]

“One thing that I remember that was really outstanding,” E.J. Oshier recalled, “and we have pictures to prove it in Doc Ball’s book California Surfriders, is the day we all discovered – pretty much, to my knowledge, the first I’d ever done it – to go out and ride – the Ski Jump. That’s the north end of Palos Verdes Cove.

“Well, it’s like Mavericks. You go months and months and never see a sign of a wave, but on a really big winter storm, you couldn’t ride the middle or main part of the cove, where you normally did, because it was just too big. You couldn’t get out. But, we paddled out into… Ski Jump. Boy, I’d never been in waves like that before! It was sort of a rainy, wintery, overcast kind of day, but we were all so excited about these giant waves.” [70]

“Winter Days at Palos Verdes,” in Doc’s book, identifies Grannis, Alsten, [Hal] Landes, Hornbeck, [Johnny] Gates, Bailey and [Gard] Chapin.[71]

Miscellaneous: Tom Blake, Bud Morrissey; Tule Clark and Patty Godsave tandem; Tule with sea lion pup; kid scraping lots of tar off lower body (they even had it back then); “Pre-war device for warming up in a hurry what gets coldest while shooting these pictures,” showed a surfer squatting over a small burning tire on the beach.[72]

In “Tom Blake, Author, Inventor, Beachcomber” Doc ball zooms in on Tom Blake, “beachcomber by choice, is shown here, whiskers and all, enjoying a surf ride at the cove. Tom is currently to come out with another book, Royal Hawaiians.”[73]
How often did the Palos Verdes crew surf?

“Just on weekends,” answered E.J. Oshier. “We all were either working or going to school and we’d just get down there on Saturdays – first thing Saturday morning. Way back then, you could just bring a sleeping bag, if you wanted to, and sleep on the cliff there, just above the Cove, overnight, and bring something to eat. Get up early Sunday morning and surf.”

“Remember,” E.J. continued, “Palos Verdes takes a winter swell; takes a north swell. During the summer and a lot of the fall [and spring] there was no north swell… No particular surf at the Cove. That’s how we’d go down to Corona del Mar or around the Point to Flood Control, in Long Beach, or down all the way to San Onofre. Because, they caught the south swell.”

So, most of the Southern California surfers would shift according to the seasons, much in the same way we do today. “I was especially that way,” E.J. said, “because some of the Palos Verdes guys that I knew I always thought they were a little ‘square.’ But, guys like Granny and Hoppy and Doc Ball – it was a little too lively a social life for them at ‘Nofre.”[74]

Notable Palos Verdes days: December 3, 1939; April 14, 1940; January 18, 1942.[75]

In a humorous shot, Doc featured “Jim Bailey and His Surfing Cocker ‘Rusty’ – Frequent visitors to the cove are these two, when the waves are running high. So captured by this picture was Joe Chastek, owner of the Los Angeles night club ‘Zamboanga,’ that he immediately procured a copy and had a 3 by 5-feet enlargement made for the adornment of his bar.” Note the water-sled shaped board.[76]

“Nightclubs near Santa Monica Bay reflected a rich musical interchange,” wrote Craig Stecyk in his introduction to Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume, 1936-1942: Photographs by Don James, published in 1996. “Surfers tended to congregate at clubs like the Hula Hut, the Club Zamboanga, the Hawaiian Paradise, Sweeny’s Tropicana, the Coconut Grove, and the Holo Holo that specialized in true Hawaiian music. The Matson Steamship Line brought scores of Island players to the Los Angeles area… They interacted with the local surfers, and it was a rare gathering that didn’t have self-provided musical entertainment. Some members of surfing’s elite who performed as musical professionals were Panama Dave Baptiste, Pete Peterson, Tom Zahn, Chick Daniels, Alfred Apaka, Splash Lyons, Squeeze Kamana, and Pua Kealoha.”[77]



Surfers’ Mecca


In the late 1930s, San Onofre continued as “Surfers’ Mecca,” as documented in a number of pages in Doc Ball’s photo book California Surfriders, 1946. He wrote and took pictures of an epic contest day there, in 1940: “The competition was keen, the spills were frequent, and the spectators roasted on the beach. The boys come from within a hundred and fifty mile radius to participate in this activity.” Winners of the 1940 trophies included: Eyestone, McGrew, [Cliff] Tucker (first place), [Johnny] Gates and [Hoppy] Swarts. In Doc’s book, there’s a famous shot of 17 riders on a wave, “h—- bent for a trophy. The boards fly and they pile up in droves but somehow out of the mess comes the new champ.”[78]

Cliff Tucker said that in the 1940 PCS championship meet, held at San Onofre, “I won by switching boards at the proper times. I rode an ‘ultralight,’ a hollow, 50-pound plywood board, in the morning, and then when the chop came up later in the day, I switched to a heavier, 120-pound spruce. Once enough people were eliminated, and I didn’t need the extra weight for personal protection, I went back to the more maneuverable ultralight (known in surfing circles as a ‘Slantwise’). In those days, I could build myself a spruce plywood ‘ultralight’ with about five dollars worth of materials.”[79]

In covering the San O event Doc Ball has a classic overhead shot of Gard Chapin blastin’ into the beach in his roadster. “Gard Chapin arrives late. Down the dirt road at 60 per, spots parking space, cramps wheels and slides in.”[80]

In “‘Nofre Days,” Doc has a photo showing “Pete Peterson and Bob Sides, two strictly ‘Kamaaina’ boys, having some pre-contest fun. Both of them could tell some hair-raising tales of Corona del Mar Days.”

In another photo of the contest held right before the outbreak of war, summer 1941, “Pete Peterson wins the 1941 ‘Nofre sweepstakes. He is seen here as the proud possessor of the perpetual cup. Left to right: McBride, Lindberg, [Don] Okey, [Dorian] Pascowitz, [Jim] Bailey, [Whitey] Harrison, [Tom] Blake, [Pete] Peterson, VanBlom, [Rusty] Williams.”[81]

Photographs showed the beach scene. “A couple of guitars and a ‘uke’ will always draw a crowd,” wrote Doc, also including a photo of the ‘Nofre crew still sleeping. “Six A.M. of a ‘flat’ day and everybody still in the bag. Had the surf been humping they probably would have stayed up all night.”[82]

“… savvy guys used to pitch their tents in the eel grass and ice plant so they wouldn’t get sand in their sleeping bags.”[83]
“Hawaiian music and dance were extremely popular at our surfing beaches in the thirties and forties,” wrote Doc’s photographer/surfer contemporary Don James. “Everyone wanted to go to the islands and experience the culture firsthand…”[84]

James noted, too, that “… Doc Ball designed surf trunks… afforded freedom of motion and were as durable as all get out. The mass-produced ‘swimming trunks’ that were sold during the period could not withstand the thrashing that surfers subjected them to. Ball showed us the pattern and we all stitched them up.”[85]

According to Doc, tandem riding was more a common sight at San O than at other beaches. In “Tandem Rides Are Popular With the Boys,” Doc showed a picture of “Benny Merrill and wahini slicing along neat as anything. Most of the female sex, however, prefer to sit on the beach.”[86]

“A lot of familiar faces and a goodly stand of timber,” continued Doc, noting surfers: Bud Anderson, Benny Merrill and wahini, Whitey Harrison & his outrigger; E.J., Mary Ann Hawkins, Ann Kresge and Gard Chapin.[87]

In “Soup And Sneakers,” Doc showed: “This big sneaker came in with a frightful blast and nipped off the unbeliever who had just inquired ‘whatinell you doing way out there?’”[88]

“Two Kamaainas Take Off” shows “‘Frenchy’ Jahan and ‘Nellie Bly’ Brignell whip out on a ‘screaming left.’ Brignell’s eyesight demands that he wear glasses even when surfing. He fastens them on with a piece of inner tube but on occasions they get lost and he has to come in without them. This accounts no doubt for some of the daredevil rides this guy has gotten away with. He simply could not see the size of the monster he was choosing to ride.”[89]




Churchill Fins


The beginning of the 1940s marks the emergence of the modern swim fin. The man most responsible for it was Owen Churchill.

Churchill was born to a wealthy Los Angeles family, and graduated from Stanford in 1919. His mother steered him away from flying and toward yachting, where he was a major figure on into the 1950s. Churchill was the captain of the U.S. Yachting team in the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Olympics and was a member of the gold medal team in the eight-meter class aboard The Angelita in 1932.[90]

“After a disappointing performance at the 1936 Olympics, Owen Churchill leased a Tahitian island for two years and, while there, he was intrigued by the crudely fashioned fins which the natives used for diving.”[91]

Churchill “saw some boys wearing swim fins shaped like the tail of a fish and made of soft crepe rubber stiffened by metal bands,” according to the History of Underwater Exploration by Robert F. Marx. “Albeit crude they enabled the boys to swim almost as fast as Churchill. The fins captured Churchill’s imagination, and on his return to the United States, he applied for a patent on swim fins, only to discover that Corlieu already had one. So he went to see Corlieu and arranged to license Corlieu’s fins for manufacture in the U.S. Churchill’s own swim fins, made of hard rubber, were introduced in 1940, but skin diving was so little known in America that his sales for that year were a mere 946 pairs. During the war period, when the usefulness of fins in frogman operations was recognized, he sold more than 25,000 pairs.”[92]

Churchill filed his patent claim on September 27, 1940, claiming:

“My invention relates to a novel type of swim-fin which is attached to the feet and is used as an aid in swimming, water treating, life-saving and in other aquatic pursuits.

“My invention more particularly relates to improvements in swimming devices, which are work on the feet of the person engaged in aquatic activities and whereby the swimming speed is materially increased. My invention, in the experience of aquatic experts, instructors and professional swimmers, represents an efficient and practical improvement in swimming means. It has been approved and is being regularly employed by professional swimming instructors, coaches, swimmers, life guards and the like.”

In the patent application, Churchill argued that his innovation was an improvement on the swim fins patented by Louis de Corlieu:

“I am familiar with and in fact am the exclusive licensee under United States Letters Patent 2,099,973, dated November 23, 1937, granted to Louis de Corlieu, for Life... Without minimizing the  efficacy and scope of the invention to be an improvement and to have many advantages there over, some of which may be enumerated as follows…”

Churchill’s fins had no metal reinforcement, with decreased weight and increased flexibility which was desirable for walking in the fins “or in riding surf boards and the like.” He also replaced crepe rubber with “other forms of rubber or synthetic rubber.”
Churchill’s patent was granted three years later, on June 8, 1943.

Surf photographer Don James wrote a little about what a plus swim fins were at the beach:

“Owen Churchill had come down to the beach at Santa Monica [1938] and had gifted us with his newly invented swim fins. These amazing devices suddenly enabled a weak swimmer to out-speed a champion. Churchill’s handy fins found great favor during the war with the military. These pliable prewar natural rubber models,” depicted in a Don James photograph of 1938, “were highly prized, as the later war-issue ones were made from a stiff synthetic rubber that did not float.”[93]

The invention of the “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus” (SCUBA) by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan, circa 1942-43, greatly added to the use of swim fins also.

“Owen Churchill was a friend of sporting champions and film stars and married the former Norma Drew, who had appeared in the early Laurel and Hardy films.”[94] He was a member of the international sailing jury at the 1952 Olympics, and he is something of a legend in southern California and international sailing circles. According to Wikipedia, “Churchill was also a lifetime member of the Los Angeles Yacht Club, where memorabilia of his exploits is on display to this day. During the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, special recognition was given to Churchill by Peter Ueberroth for his lifelong efforts to promote sailing. Churchill’s Star Fleet yacht, The Angelita, was fully restored for the occasion and re-christened at the time in Los Angeles harbor.”




British Isles


While they regularly rode Santa Cruz, circa 1890, during the time they were going to school in California, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Piikoi and his brother Prince David Kahalepouli Kawanaankoa Piikoi, also took a trip to the British Isles and apparently surfed there briefly; allowed by their tutor – believed to be John Wrightson – on holiday in Bridlington.

Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Piikoi and David Kahalepouli Kawanaankoa Piikoi, along with their English guardian, went surfing at the resort of Bridlington, in Yorkshire, in September 1890, marking the first time stand-up surfing was known to occur in the British Isles.

A letter, believed to be the earliest report of the sport in Britain, was uncovered by Hawaiian historian and author Sandra Kimberley Hall in 2011. Pictures of the trio and details of their vacation are on display at the Museum of British Surfing in Braunton, North Devon.

“The fact that not only do we now know that Hawaiian royalty surfed while being educated in England in the late 1800s, but also that they chose a relatively obscure surfing destination like Bridlington on the east coast to paddle out and catch a few slides is just fantastic,” declared Peter Robinson of the Museum of British Surfing.

“This is the earliest proven instance of surfing in Britain so far – previously we had thought it was the 1920s in England and the Channel Islands – but this blows our history right out of the water.

“The Victorian locals must have been incredulous at the sight of these Hawaiian princes paddling out, and riding back into shore most likely standing on large wooden planks, their dark skin and hair glistening in the North Sea waters.

“I only wish I could have been there to see it.”

In a letter to consul Henry Armstrong from Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Piikoi, the prince wrote that he and his brother, Prince David Kahalepouli Kawanaankoa Piikoi, were allowed by their tutor – believed to be John Wrightson – to holiday in Bridlington.

The pair were given the reward for good work in their studies in schools at colleges around Britain. They had been in England furthering their education for almost a year.

On September 22, 1890, a joyful Kuhio could not restrain his enthusiasm in his letter to Armstrong:

“We enjoy the seaside very much and are out swimming every day. The weather has been very windy these few days and we like it very much for we like the sea to be rough so that we are able to have surf riding.

“We enjoy surf riding very much and surprise the people to see us riding on the surf.

“Even Wrightson is learning surf riding and will be able to ride as well as we can in a few days more. He likes this very much for it is a very good sport.”

It is thought the Hawaiian princes, the orphaned nephews and heir to Queen Kapiolani, would have made their surfboards from timber acquired from a Bridlington boat builder.

The princes were cousins of surfer Princess Victoria Ka‘iulani, the half-Hawaiian, half-Scottish heir to the Hawaiian throne who was educated in Brighton in 1892.

Sandy Hall pointed out that it is possible “She may have been the first female surfer in Britain, but the only tangible evidence – so far – is a letter in which she wrote that she enjoyed ‘being on the water again’ at Brighton.”[95]

Stand-up surfing did not catch on, however, and it was not until the 1920s that bodyboarding became popular at some beaches.[96]

Although Edward Windsor, the Prince of Wales and future king Edward VIII, surfed at Waikiki in 1920, there are no known efforts to bring the sport back to Britian.[97]

However, two years later, in 1922, his friend and famous crime novelist Agatha Christie became one of Britain’s earliest stand-up surfers.

Christie spent her teenage years on the south coast of England, around Torquay, where “sea-bathing” was commonplace by the early 1900s.

After the First World War, her husband Archie was offered a position to help organize a world tour to promote the British Empire Exhibition scheduled to be held in London in 1924. The couple left England in January 1922, leaving their baby daughter in the care of Agatha’s mother and sister. They arrived in Cape Town, South Africa in early February and soon took to “sea-bathing” at Durban. There, they were introduced to prone surfing at the popular Muizenberg beach. Two years later, she wrote about her surfing experience in her novel The Man in the Brown Suit.

“Surfing looks pretty easy,” Agatha Christie wrote. “It isn’t. I say no more. I got very angry and fairly hurled my plank from me. Nevertheless, I determined to return on the first possible opportunity and have another go. Quite by mistake, I then got a good run on my board and came out delirious with happiness. Surfing is like that. You are either vigorously cursing or else you are idiotically pleased with yourself.”

Agatha Christie and Archie continued their promotional tour to New South Wales, in Australia and New Zealand before arriving in Honolulu on August 5, 1922. They quickly hit the beach and were soon taking up stand-up surfboard riding at Waikiki, as Prince Edward had done two years earlier.

The larger boards and real surf were difficult for them to handle, at first. Also, like most Westerners, they had problems with sunburn. Cut feet from standing on coral also proved a limitation. At one point, Agatha’s silk bathing dress was almost swept off her by the Waikiki surf. To protect their feet, they bought soft leather boots. Her flimsy bathing suit was replaced by “a wonderful, skimpy emerald green wool bathing dress, which was the joy of my life, and in which I thought I looked remarkably well!”

Waikiki beach boys would swim the couple out through the break, help them select a wave to ride on and then retrieve their boards when they got away from them.

“I can’t say that we enjoyed our first four or five days of surfing –” Agatha wrote, “it was far too painful – but there were, every now and then moments of utter joy. We soon learned too, to do it the easy way. At least I did – Archie usually took himself out to the reef by his own efforts.”

“Most people, however, had a Hawaiian boy who towed you out as you lay on your board, holding the board by the grip of his bit toe, and swimming vigorously. You then stayed, waiting to push off on your board until your (beach) boy gave you the word of instruction. ‘No, not this, not this, Missus, no, no wait – now!’”

“At the word ‘now’ off you went and oh, it was heaven! Nothing like it. Nothing like that rushing through the water at what seemed to you a speed of about two hundred miles an hour; all the way in from the far distant raft, until you arrived, gently slowing down, on the beach, and foundered among the soft flowing waves.”

“It is one of the most perfect physical pleasures that I have known. After ten days I began to be daring. After starting my run I would hoist myself carefully to my knees on the board, and then endeavor to stand up. The first six times I came to grief, but this was not painful – you merely lost your balance and fell off the board. Of course, you had lost your board, which meant a tiring swim, but with luck your Hawaiian (beach) boy had followed and retrieved it for you.”

“I learned to become expert, or at any rate expert from the European point of view. Oh, the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right into shore standing upright on my board!”

“In fact, on a rough day I enjoyed the sea even more.”

Agatha and Archie stayed in Honolulu from August until October, 1922.

It’s not known whether she continued surfing or not, later on returning to the United Kingdom. She had a writer’s retreat built at Burgh Island, Bigbury, South Devon, in the 1930s and that spot overlooks some small but very beautiful surf.[98]

Later on in the 1920s, Australian surfer “Snow” McAllister visited England and surfed at several locations.

Charles “Snow” McAllister is considered to be the “Father of Australian Surfing” who not only was one of the first stand-up surfers in New South Wales, but also became a championship swimmer and surfer.
In 1928, Snow gave a demonstration of surfing on his way home from the Olympics held in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he had been competing.

By this time, surfing prone on short wooden body boards had become popular at some of the beaches that held consistent surf.[99] But, like Duke Kahanamoku had done in Australia the decade before, when Snow first got his start, demonstrations of stand-up surfing really captured peoples’ imagination. Not only that, but Snow had perfected surfing while doing a headstand. This, no doubt, amazed all onlookers.

The Daily Mail reported on September 12, 1928, that McAllister intended to “popularize surf board riding, described as the most thrilling sport in the world, at English seaside resorts.” It’s not known how many Snow visited, but he almost certainly visited Newquay. Years later, he told Tracks magazine about how, at one spot, the locals called the police when they saw him heading into sea because they thought he was going to drown, and the police escorted him from the beach for his own safety.[100]

A year later, in 1929, Lewis Rosenberg and three friends traveled by train from London to Newquay, in Cornwall, after Rosenberg saw film footage from Australia of surfing there and carved his own homemade balsa board.[101]

Rosenberg and his friends Harry Rochlin and brothers Fred and Ben Elvey were part of a close-knit group of Jewish immigrants, who lived in London and Hove, who had been riding their four-foot long wooden bodyboards in the West Country and Channel Islands for almost a decade. But in 1929, inspired by the Australian newsreel, they built a balsawood longboard, wrapped it in linen sheets, and took it on a steam train from London to Newquay, the most popular surf destination of that era.
Not only did they try to teach themselves how to surf standing on their board, they also filmed their exploits. This rare footage laid untouched in a Cambridgeshire loft for many years before it was brought back to life.

“When Maxine Elvey visited one of our exhibitions,” Peter Robinson, founder of the Museum of British Surfing said, “and told us she had film of her father’s surfing exploits on a wooden longboard in 1929 we were totally blown away. We took the reels of fragile 9.5mm stock to the local film archive for them to be preserved and transferred to digital tape – it’s a national treasure.”

It was then that the full beauty of the film became apparent, as this group of friends enjoyed a surfing life on deserted British beaches – sometimes riding the waves naked, and dancing the Hula wearing costumes made from seaweed.
Lewis even made a waterproof housing for his video camera, which was innovative for its time in Great Britain.

Maxine Elvey said her father Ben Elvey recalled they surfed in 1928 or 1929, but that it could have been as late as 1931. “They also saw a film called ‘Idol Dancer’ which showed Hula dancing in Hawaii – they copied this as well and made grass skirts from seaweed and danced and sung the lyrics ‘Goodbye Hawaii, my island paradise, we’re bound to meet again someday,’ on the Cornish beaches.”

“We interviewed three of the old boys who were part of the surfing gang, and they were totally stoked on what they were doing,” said Robinson. “They were in their mid 90s when we filmed them, but as soon as we spoke about surfing and their beach lives, their eyes lit up and their memories came flooding back. It was truly emotional.”

Speaking in 2006, Harry Rochlin recalled that “We swam out and when the waves came in, my friend Lewis tried to stand on the board, like they did in Australia. After a lot of practice, we managed to do it. It was incredible, it really brings back memories. It was really thrilling, to be able to stand on the board and go on to the beach.”

Sadly the group’s surfing fun was cut short by the Second World War, and the eight foot board which had been lovingly shaped from a solid piece of wood was stolen from Lewis’s home in London – it’s unlikely the thief would have known it was a treasured surfboard.

“I had no idea my father’s surfing would turn out to be so special,” said Lewis’ daughter Sue Clamp. “We knew the films were important but mainly because they showed the build up to World War 2 and the racial and political tension. It’s fantastic the lives of Lewis and his friends is being remembered in this way.”[102]

The earliest British surfers we have detailed information about are Jimmy Dix and Papino Staffieri.

In 1936, Nuneaton dentist Jimmy Dix summer vacationed with his family on the north coast of Cornwall at Newquay. There, local people and visitors had been prone surfing on thin, flat plywood boards for well over a decade. The sport had originally been imported by World War I veterans returning from France, with tales of its practice on Durbans’ beaches in South Africa.
Jimmy liked bodyboarding, but was intrigued by an encyclopedia photo-picture showing “Hawaiians gliding shoreward standing on boards, as if Gods, propelled by the waves.”

“This looked worth a try, but it needed a real board,” Jimmy recorded.

In his resolve to try Hawaiian-style surfing Jimmy penned a letter to  some one or some organization in Honolulu. He explained his predicament and requested the dimensions of a board that he might be able to ride standing up. It was his intention to build one for himself. It is possible he sent the letter to the Outrigger Canoe Club, but this cannot be verified.
He had a long wait for his reply, which in that era before international airfreight had to cross two oceans and one continent.
What eventually arrived at his front door in Warwickshire in 1937, was a large box containing a true Hawaiian surfboard of the time. It was a 13 foot long hollow wooden surfboard of the Tom Blake design, weighing 30 kilograms and signed by him with a hand painted map of the Hawaiian islands upon its deck.

Jimmy, thereupon built a smaller replica of this board for his wife, and in the summer of 1938 headed to Newquay in his Alvis to holiday and experiment with riding the two boards.[103]

Papino Staffieri was born August 3rd in 1918, a son of an Italian family who moved to Newquay at the beginning of the century in order to pursue the ice cream business there.

“Pip,” as he was known to his friends, grew up in Cornwall overcoming a minor disabling of his left leg through polio at two years of age. He evolved to become very much a local boy in Newquay, with a love of the water and some prowess as a long distance swimmer.

He had watched the Pathe newsreels in the Pavilion cinema above Towan Beach in the mid-30’s. These had shown him the great Australian surfboats in races with their epic wipeouts whilst being surfed to shore. He connected the surf in Australia with his own local waves; the same raw material rolling into his home beaches.

After surfing prone on the local flat surf-planers, Pip’s first opportunity to ride waves in a different manner came with a group of local boys who had taken to building canoes. George Old, who lived further down the street had perfected their construction with canvas stretched on a wooden frame. He was also the most skillful canoeist in the ocean and led the experimentation with wave catching amongst the group, which Pip managed to join for a while.

Unfulfilled by this experience, he dreamed of the picture of men surfriding off Waikiki beach, with Diamond Head in the background. This was from the 1929 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, that he had seen at the dentist’s office as a youngster. It remained only a dream until the day he arrived along the sand with his pony and trap to sell ice cream to the holiday-makers at the Harbour. Two surfing-boards lay on the sand side by side. It was 1938 and Jimmy Dix and his wife had come to the beach at Newquay. He didn’t meet them, but the real life vision of their surfboards was sufficient to stir him to action.

That day, he left the beach with his own mental blueprint of a working design for a board. Pip was a skillful, innovative craftsman and pursued the construction of his own hollow wooden longboard with some variations on the Tom Blake model:
His board was 13’6’’ long, with greater width than the Blake board. Its construction was of 3/8’’ Deal strips screwed to oak frames by brass screws  and the whole shell was sealed with a varnish finish. Dry, it weighed 112 lbs. with a nose drain plug to empty absorbed water. Most significantly, at a later date (circa 1941), he added a 3’’ deep fin for greater directional guidance. It is not known whether this was and original thought or one picked up.

Dix and Staffieri never actually surfed together. August was a busy time and Pip, the worker, spent all day selling ice cream before taking to the water in the long summer evenings. This was when Jimmy, the professional man, normally retreated to the hotel for dinner with his family.

Jimmy, in the summer of 1942, hearing of another man with surfing board visited Pip and took him out for a drink and chat. During their first time together, Jimmy showed Pip some simple box camera pictures of Jimmy and his wife standing, riding white water near the beach.

Dix and Staffieri would meet again over a few intermittent summers; but for Jimmy it was only an annual two weeks holiday flirtation with fun and antics in the ocean.

The mantle of “the true beginner” would fall squarely on Pip’s shoulders as he had devotedly built his own board in 1940 and then learnt to ride it “blind”, with no example to follow, in the summer of 1941.

Pip’s favourite surfing spot was off the point between Great Western and Tolcarne beaches. Here, he would surf evenings, alone, working out his strategies for success and having fun. Over time, he learnt to paddle and swim-push his board out through bigger swells to ride larger green rollers.

Pip continued to surf his board enthusiastically until about 1943, after which his seasonal involvement started to wane. The war had truly arrived and the world was in upheaval. During the war, Australian Air Force officers on a reprieve from active service found themselves on “R&R” (rest and relaxation) break and lodged at the Great Western hotel overlooking Newquays’ surf beaches. They found opportunities to borrow Pip’s board for paddling and wave riding. Pip, in turn, was inspired by these men from the Australian surf life-saving tradition and subsequently devoted himself to body surfing.

Years later, as a man of 85, Pip reminisced humbly of his stand-up surfing: “I don’t want you to think I was a great surfer – nothing like all the acrobatic stuff young people do on waves today. Some waves I’d ride lying down or on my knees part of the way, in between standing.”[104]

Another noted early British surfer was James Millar

James Millar, from Wrafton, surfed the local North Devon beaches Saunton and Croyde with his brother John, first on holiday with his parents, but later moved there on his own. He distinctly remembered August 1939 and the weeks just before the outbreak of World War II in Europe:

“Our boards were solid ash and made by the famous cricket bat manufacturer Grays of Cambridge (now Gray-Nicolls). They cost 15 shillings from a shop in Caen Street in Braunton.”

“Surfing was always a fun thing to do, quite magical with few people about. The dunes at Saunton were heavily mined, with barbed wire defenses, but the first 200 yards of beach was still open to the public.”[105]




[1] Santa Monica Heritage Museum, “Cowabunga!” exhibit, February 1994. Board courtesy of Chuck Allen, Escondido, with thanks to the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum.
[2] Santa Monica Heritage Museum, “Cowabunga!” exhibit, February 1994. Quotes are Chuck’s.
[3] Santa Monica Heritage Museum, “Cowabunga!” exhibit, February 1994. Quotes are Chuck’s.
[4] Young, 1983, p. 59.  Wally Froiseth quoted.
[5] Ehlers, 1992, p. 47.
[6] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 48-49.
[7] See Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “Legends of the Hot Curl.”
[8] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 42-43.
[9] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 26-27.
[10] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 50-51.
[11] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 28-29.
[12] Ball, pp. 20-38.
[13] See Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “Dale ‘The Hawk’ Velzy.”
[14] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 20-21.
[15] Ehlers, 1992, p. 47.
[16] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 16-17.
[17] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 52-53. Must be Summer 1938 or later, as that’s when Bud Browne started surfing, according to his own recollection. See Gault-Williams, “Bud ‘Barracuda’ Browne.”
[18] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995.
[19] Young, 1983, p. 51.
[20] Maxwell, 1949, p. 245; Bloomfield, p. 69; Harris, p. 56.
[21] Young, 1983, p. 60. Wally Froiseth quoted.
[22] Galton, p. 43.
[23] Wells, p. 160.
[24] Thomas, E.J. The Drowning Don’t Die – Fifty Years of Vigilance and Service by the Deewhy Surf Life-Daving Club, 1912-1962, ©1962, p. 31. Published by the Deewhy Surf Life Saving Club. Printed by the Manly Daily Pty Ltd. Hard cover, 54 pages, 33 two-tone photographs, executive officers 1912-1962.
[25] Wells, p. 155.
[26] www.surfski.com viewed in 2010.
[27] Rafferty, Lori. “Rincon Memories,” Santa Barbara magazine, Summer 1996, p. 38. See Rincon overview, picture taken in the 1920s, p. 39.
[28] Severson, John Hugh (1933-). Modern Surfing Around The World, ©1964, Doubleday, Garden City, New York.
[29] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 38. Isabella Bradbury Foss quoted.
[30] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 38. The term they gave themselves, as kids.
[31] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 38 & 40. See photo of Muller with fellow lifeguards, 1940, p. 39.
[32] Rafferty, Lori. “Three Mile Recollections,” Longboard magazine, Volume 4, Number 2, May/June 1996, p. 51. See photo of Gates Foss and Mike Sturmer, with boards on the beach, p. 50. Foss’ board is a plywood hollow paddleboard and Sturmer’s is a redwood stringered surfboard that appears to be pine or balsa.
[33] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 38.
[34] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 39. Bill Muller quoted.
[35] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 40. Bill Muller quoted.
[36] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 38.
[37] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 39. Bill Muller quoted.
[38] Rafferty, Longboard magazine, 1996, 51.
[39] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 40. See photo of “Gates Foss at Three Mile, December 14, 1944, shot with a box camera from a paddleboard,” p. 38.
[40] Severson, 1964.
[41] See Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 38 and Longboard magazine, 1996, p. 51.
[42] Rafferty, Santa Barbara magazine, 1996, p. 40. See also Rafferty, Longboard magazine, 1996, p. 51.
[43] Severson, 1964.
[44] See Gault-Williams, “Surfing’s Darkest Days,” Volume 1 of LEGENDARY SURFERS.
[45] Severson, 1964.
[46] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 62-63.
[47] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 54-64.
[48] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 8-10.
[49] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with John “Doc” Ball, January 10, 1998.
[50] Lynch, Gary. Notes on draft of Doc Ball, Early California Surf Photog, May 1998.
[51] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with E. J. Oshier, October 10, 1998.
[52] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with E. J. Oshier, October 10, 1998.
[53] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 2-3. Date unknown.
[54] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 2-6. Date unknown.
[55] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 70-71.
[56] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 72-73.
[57] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 66-67.
[58] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 68-69. Malihini -- stranger, froeigner, newcomer, tourist, guest; one unfamiliar with a place or custom
[59] Ehlers, p. 47. Chuck A Luck went on to ride Refugio, above Santa Barbara, with Ed and Bob Harris, in 1943.
[60] Ball.
[61] Ball, pp. 12-13. Date unknown.
[62] Ball. Date unknown.
[63] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 58-59.
[64] Ball. 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 76-77.
[65] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 76-77.
[66] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 44-47.
[67] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 46-47.
[68] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 48-49.
[69] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 52-53.
[70] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with E. J. Oshier, October 10, 1998.
[71] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 54-55.
[72] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 56-57.
[73] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 60-61.
[74] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with E. J. Oshier, October 10, 1998.
[75] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 58-59.
[76] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 54-55.
[77] James, Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume, 1936-1942, ©1996, pp. 14-15.
[78] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 80-81.
[79] Lueras, 1984, p. 109. Cliff Tucker quoted. The “Slantwise” was also called a “Slantcher.”
[80] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 80-81.
[81] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 82-83.
[82] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 82-83.
[83] James, ©1996, p. 128. Don James written caption to image on p. 54.
[84] James, ©1996, p. 127. Don James written caption to images primarily of Eleanor on p. 50 and 51.
[85] James, ©1996, p. 128. Don James written caption to image of Peanuts Larsen on p. 54.
[86] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 84-85.
[87] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 86-87.
[88] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 90-91.
[89] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 92-93.
[90] Ben Marcus’ notes for an exhibit for the Surfing Heritage Foundation, 2008.
[91] Sports Reference website.  www.sports-reference.com viewed in 2008.
[92] Marx, Robert F., History of Underwater Exploration.
[93] James, ©1996, p. 128. Don James written caption to image on p. 57.
[94] Sports Reference website.  www.sports-reference.com
[95] Western Morning News, 11 April 2012.
[96] See http://files.legendarysurfers.com/blog/2009/03/bodyboarding-in-england-1920s.html
[100] See http://www.museumofbritishsurfing.org.uk/2010/08/13/the-australian/
[102] See http://www.museumofbritishsurfing.org.uk/2011/06/30/standing-proud/ - It may have been Maxine Elvey who first contacted the museum in 2004.
[103] Ben Marcus’ notes for an exhibit for the Surfing Heritage Foundation, 2008.
[104] Ben Marcus’ notes for an exhibit for the Surfing Heritage Foundation, 2008.
[105] See http://www.museumofbritishsurfing.org.uk/2011/10/25/james-millar-surfing-ww2/

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