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Virginia Beach


THE SURFING LIFE
By Stewart Ferebee
Virginia Living Magazine - 8/4/2011 (updated/corrected by Stewart on 1/27/2014)
John T. Ferebee, Virginia Beach 1944

Boards in arm, three teens in their twenties go cycling along the feeder road leading into the low-rise suburban sprawl of the Northend, past the balmy low-slung Live Oak grove and the frilly bejeweled Mimosa, speeding by, on windless endless days of summer. Light northwesterlies now hone clean the aquatic corduroy of an oily slick daybreak Atlantic, countering sideways with sideways, wind for swell. Drawing lines in their heads as they pedal in anticipation; there already in psychic momentum before they've ever even touched the water. This is what we pray for.

The story of surfing in Virginia Beach is one of dedication. Because in the grand scheme of things its not a place known for its quality surf by the world class standards of California or Hawaii, Australia, South Africa or Indonesia. The culprit is a 300 mile wide energy-sapping joy-killer of swell-reducing shallows known as the Continental Shelf which mockingly insinuates itself off much of the East Coast. Virginia Beach may not have the best waves but surfing here has a history—a formidable one that goes back 100 years and comprises multiple generations. And there is a story to go with the tradition—one of dedication by a handful of intrepid thrill-seekers in the early decades of the 20th century, and now, by modern throngs seeking their own stoke or recognition. Surfers here assiduously seek those small windows when the conditions are right; where light opposing winds compliment a maximum swell at optimum tide. And then just hope you don't get busted for missing work, skipping school or backing out of those plans you made with your sweetheart.

As surf journalist Matt Warshaw points out, “The jaded and enervated surfers sprinkled throughout California are nearly impossible to find on the East Coast, where waist-high waves are often treated as a gift, not an insult.” Marty Keesecker, a Virginia Beach surfer and surfboard shaper of nearly 50 years, is even more pragmatic: “There is something to be said for tenacity,” he says. “If you put the time in, and you drive enough, you’ll find something to ride. If you’re patient and you don’t expect a lot, you’ll have fun and it’ll be enough to keep you in the water for an hour or so. In Virginia Beach, you can’t expect it come to you, you have to go to it.”

Not a great deal is known about the strange, imported coffin-like parcel Walter F. Irvin brought back east from Hawaii in 1912 that would signal the coming phenomenon known as surfing. Irvin’s consignment, which must have flummoxed terminal baggage handlers upon his disembarkation in Tidewater, was a 9-foot-long, 110-pound redwood olo, Hawaiian for longboard. It was a gift for Irvin’s young nephew, James M. Jordan Jr.  According to brothers Jimmy and Shep Jordan in their 1974 book Virginia Beach: A Pictorial History, it was the first board of its kind on the East Coast: James M. Jordan Jr. was their grandfather. While the 1912 board was unique, it wasn’t the first hint of the sport of surfing. In the essay “A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki,” published in a 1907 issue of The Lady’s Home Companion, adventure writer Jack London detailed the aquatic feats of early surf pioneer George Freeth and brought news of the Hawaiian art of wave riding to the new-century masses, writing: “I saw him tearing in on the back of a wave standing upright, with his board carelessly poised, a young god bronzed with sunburn.” Word spread.

In the following years, James Jordan would become locally famous for his exotic arm-paddled water-craft and wave riding abilities. For most eastern Victorians however, many of whom did not even swim, the spectacle must have all been taken with a novel whimsical shrug. Only as time moved along would the fact begin to resonate so thoroughly on a local level, that it was Jordan’s flag planted which might very well stake Virginia Beach as the birthplace of East Coast surfing. Imagining the vast spaces of that era’s oceanfront, imagining the scene; the place, the pace, the parcel itself; a lithe young man, soaked from the Gulf current’s warmed brine, hauling shoulder-hoisted the deftly balanced olo proudly in a terse and yet aloof sand-scrinching, midday jaunt, from waterline back up to cottage line. Toweling off, considering the tides; ‘Perhaps another go-out later,’ he winces through the a.m. glare. Victorian ladies stroll by the grassy beach-lined lawns sheltered beneath parasols, palming their hats gaily in the summer breeze. Genteel glances and leisurely nods; the casual elegance of a time which moved to a different time. ‘Come Josephine, In My Flying Machine’ crackles warped and softly from a distant Victrola.

In the 1920s and 1930s, amidst the cedar shake grandeur of the Virginia Beach cottage-hotel era, each little redoubt had its own stationed lifeguard. During that time, enterprising individuals like Babe Braithewaite, Hugh Kitchin, Dusty Hinant, John Smith and Buddy Guy would be the first to organize a formal beach service of lifeguarding and chair/umbrella/float rentals along theVirginia Beach oceanfront. The occupation known as “beach bum” was a long way off, but essentially those guys were pioneers of the surfing and beach subculture that would become a craze in subsequent decades, culminating in the cheesy fun of the late 1950s to mid-1960s “Gidget” era.

Thanks to the design innovations of paddleboard maker Tom Blake, surfing was attracting new devotees. Blake, a Wisconsin native who moved to Hawaii in the mid-1920s, revolutionized surfing by making hollow boards that were much lighter than the traditional, solid redwood and Olo boards, the kind Irvin brought from Hawaii in 1912. These new boards were much easier to carry and transport than the old ones, thus spawning surfing’s first micro boom. “Blake changed everything,” former Surfer Magazine editor Drew Kampion wrote in 2000. “He almost single-handedly transformed surfing from a primitive Polynesian curiosity into a 20th century lifestyle.”

And it wasn’t long before a new crop of lifeguard/surfers and fun addicts began heading to the oceanfront from Norfolk and various rural Princess Anne County communities. One of them was a Chesapeake Bay harbor pilot, Capt. Robert Barrett Holland, who would head one of the most prodigious surfing families the sport has ever known. His son Bob Lee has been a prominent member of the Virginia Beach surf scene for more than 70 years—from the 1930s to the present. Now in his 80s, Bob Lee Holland is still surfing—and most notably not on “logs,” or the traditional longboards that are the preferred gear of the “old guys,” but on contemporary shortboards.

Bob Lee Holland’s children, Bobby, Johnny and Honey, all followed in their dad’s footsteps and set the bar for surfing performance and competition at the beach from the mid-1960s through the 1970s and beyond. Mary Sydney Barker, a niece, recalls that when she was very young, in the mid-1960s, “My grandfather, Capt. Holland, said to me, ‘When you can stand on an inflatable mat and ride the waves in, I will buy you your own surfboard.’ I surfed on the mats for a few years and when I was 12 he bought me my first surfboard—a 9-foot-2-inch Hobie. There weren’t many girl surfers around then; Becky ‘Bobby’ Mellot and I surfed at the North End with a girl named Leslie Thurston. We would surf in the mornings before the wind came up.”

In contrast, modern surfboards are very thin, short and relatively inexpensive—about $500 to $600. Contemporary surfers buy new boards fairly regularly. Jordan Brazie, a 23-year-old surfer-shaper who has been surfing since he was 12, owns 11 boards and uses all of them—“whichever is the most functional for the waves of that day,” he says. “You have to have a quiver if you want to surf all year.”

But in the early days of the sport, boards were cherished items—hand-made and regarded more like boats. Surfers personalized them with artistic touches much like airmen created nose-art for World War I-and-II-era planes. Hugh Kitchin whitewashed the name “Hugh Boy” across his board from rail to rail. Capt. Robert Holland’s board was emblazoned with the twin flags insignia of the Chesapeake Bay Harbor Pilot Association.

My late father, a Norfolk native, was an avid Virginia Beach surfer from the mid-1940s through the 1980s. He hand-painted the French word coquette (flirt), on his board in a two-tone gothic script. He began surfing when he was 15 then became a lifeguard at the Cavalier Hotel and Beach Club on 43rd Street. The majestic old structure, the most iconic landmark of the entire oceanfront, was built in 1929 (the same year brewery tycoon Adolph Coors threw himself from an upper floor), and of course it still stands today. One prays it always will.

Legend has it that my fathers introduction into surfing concerned one blustery December morning during the august years of World War II, following a saturday night which got so late it became the next day. A night which concerned pipes and tobacco, Lucky Strikes and Stan Freeberg records. And powerful, clear, amber liquid poured over ice into tall glasses. Fellow Norfolk native Mason Gamage of Algonquin Park was onboard for that weekend’s oceanfront festivities. Gamage, several years older than the rest, fresh out of the Coast Guard, was an outdoorsman and sailor, and already surfed. Nursing a hangover and yet full of bravado, Gamage and my father both paddled out into the cold stormy brown Atlantic conditions on two 13 foot wooden boards. In this modern world of high tech neoprene, the winter protection for a surfer, it is almost impossible to even begin to comprehend this anecdote, decades before the wide spread use of the now vitally indispensable cold water wetsuit. Nevertheless, a seed was planted; and as veteran surfer Mike Clark points out, "Once you get salt water in your veins, it is hard to stay away from it."

In 1950, my father forsook his beloved beach boy lifestyle in Tidewater to fly F-86’s out of Kimpo in Korea. He returned about five years later and began his career in the insurance industry, resuming his surfing on weekends. He met my mother, Ann Meredith Stewart, in 1956 and they spent their first date sanding old varnish off his Tom Blake surfboard at a place near Rudee Inlet on the oceanfront’s south end, near the Sandbox—a café and home for years to the annual and infamous Subway party. It was an epic, if charming, first-date faux pas.

“At that time,” says Mike Clark, “there was no inlet and no pier at the south end. We could walk over to Croatan at low tide. Later, in the 1950s, I remember the building of the Steel Pier 15 blocks south of the wooden pier. You can tell a real native when they say Wooden Pier; that is how we referred to them—steel and wood.” Clark adds, “Shooting the pier was a hoot. My dad bought our first board from Dawson Taylor at Fuel Feed Hardware, a Hobie. It was before the Smith & Holland shop opened. My brother and I shared the board.” Norfolk native Scott McCasky, a competitive surfer for more than four decades, also has fond recollections of the south end’s golden, post-war era: “Every day you were there, surfing at the steel pier gave you the undeniable feeling you were in the right place at the right time.”

Pete Smith, age 71, is a mid-century “grom”—an old-timer who still retains a youthful stoke. In recent months he has shared with me many anecdotes about the early days of surfing in Virginia Beach and the ways in which the scene has changed. Looking at photos from the 1960s, he can name practically every individual who surfed in that decade. In a shot taken in front of the erstwhile Mariner Hotel, Smith points out the different types of boards displayed by the diverse group of surfers in the picture: The first generation of wooden hollow boards are held by the guys in the back row, and the new fiberglass boards are held by the guys kneeling in the front row. Three Hollands are in the photograph, along with Scott Taylor, Frank Butler, Skip Rawls, Snooker Turner and Babe Braithwaite’s son, Forbes. Says Smith: “The early years were amazing, because there was just so much community stoke and you knew everybody. It was a really good vibe. There weren’t any crowds; you’d be looking for people to surf with just to have someone to hoot and holler with. It was that transformative era where the old wooden boards were still around but the modern fiberglass boards were starting to show up. It was just a really special time.”

Significantly, a Californian named Les Arndt, then stationed at Fort Story, is also in the group picture. According to Forbes Braithwaite, Arndt was from Malibu and worked for top board maker Hap Jacobs before coming east for his military duty. “Arndt was driving past one day with another soldier,” says Braithwaite, “and saw me going surfing, carrying Scott Taylor’s balsa-wood board. He yelled, ‘Hey kid where’d you get that surfboard?’” Arndt himself recollects that Forbes was about 12 at the time, and was walking across Atlantic Avenue at 49th Street. The chance meeting prompted Arndt to spend two years with Virginia Beach surfers, especially Bob Holland and his family, during which time he helped to get “modern Malibu surfing started in Virginia Beach,” according to Arndt.

How? Thanks to Arndt’s West Coast connections, the group started importing and selling what was at that time a rare and exotic item—modern fiberglass boards from California. The group stored them in a garage owned by Forbes Braithwaite’s mother. In 1963, Pete Smith and Bob Holland opened the area’s first dedicated surf shop—Smith & Holland—one of the first businesses of its kind on the East Coast.

Not long after, Smith wrote a letter to Surfer Magazine, in California, trumpeting the burgeoning surfing scene inVirginia Beach. He wrote the note on the letterhead of the Golf Ranch Motel on Laskin Road, which was situated on the southeast end of Birdneck golf course and owned, along with the Mariner, by Pete’s uncle, John Smith. Pete worked there. John Severson, then editor of Surfer Magazine, showed the letter to Hobie Alter who was the top California board maker at that time. Some months later, Alter showed up at the Golf Ranch Motel on a day when Pete was working. For Virginia Beach surfing, that was a monumental moment. Alter was on the East Coast pushing his boards, and he negotiated a deal with Smith and Holland to carry his boards exclusively.

The early 1960s were a pivotal time in modern surfing. In addition to the new availability of Hobie Alter’s boards on the East Coast, the first East Coast surf contest was started in 1962 on Gilgo Beach on Long Island. Bob Holland drove a group of Virginia Beach surfers to New York for the event, including Butch Maloney, Gary Rice and an 11-year-old whirlwind talent named Ronnie Mellot, a future Golden Gloves Army boxing champ, local board shaper and all around wild man. Many of the VB guys took trophies at Gilgo—they dominated the field. In 1963, with cooperation from the local chamber of commerce, Holland, Maloney and Pete Smith managed to move the pro-amateur surf contest to Virginia Beach, re-naming it the Virginia Beach Surfing Festival. Two years later they changed the name again, to the East Coast Surfing Championships (ECSC). 2012 will mark the event’s 50th year, drawing high-ranking surf talent from around the globe. While ever-increasingly upgrading its carnival-bling to include many non-surf stage-draws such as BMX biking, Jet-Ski antics, and even Cornhole contests (beanbag), presumably in hopes of enticing more diverse and consequently larger audiences, such distractions on the other hand, threaten a diffusion of what is still implicitly touted, according to what it’s very initials imply, as a surfing championship. Prophetically harking back to 1972 and Chuck Dent’s antic rant-alogue from MacGillivray Freeman’s classic surf film, Five Summer Stories, surf-culture and surfing itself often find themselves at curious odds. A hallowed tradition to some, a three-ring spectacle to others; the ECSC is the East Coast’s longest running surfing competition.

Even from its very early years, the ECSC attracted world-class surfers such as David Nuuhiwa, Corky Carroll and Mike Tabeling, along with the best locals. Near the old Cue South, Pete Smith would preside from atop a simple lifeguard stand at the Steel Pier site with nothing more than a clipboard, a visor and a microphone, uttering witty, surf-speak-laced Southernisms in his consummate, slow-mo Tidewater accent. “It was just a special time in those early days of the ECSC,” recalls Smith, “when some of the real hot West Coast and Floridian surfers started coming to the contest. It was such a thrill meeting some of those guys we’d seen in all the magazines, and getting to see them surf.”

By the middle of the 1960s, the West Coast-informed surf boom was fully realized here in the East. In 1965, the Academy Award nominated documentary surf film “The Endless Summer” opened at the madly mod, and very much missed, Buckminster Fuller-designed Virginia Beach Dome; the tragically decommissioned and dissected artifact of what would nowadays be considered a world-renowned tourism-draw of exemplary Mid-century modernism. Filmmaker Bruce Brown traveled with the movie in those early days and narrated live over a speaker system in his laconic west coast  style, as the mellow twang of The Sandals soundtrack played from a reel-to-reel tape machine. My mother and father were there on opening night. My mother recalls Bob Holland’s youngest son, Johnny, zooming around barefoot on his skateboard, the newest must-have accoutrement of 1960’s surf culture. Johnny would become a standout competitive surfer, one of the most gifted wave riders this area ever produced, competing in the World Surfing Championships in California in 1966 going neck to neck along the way in preliminary events with many of this areas best surfers such as Billy Foote, George Desgaines, Fred Grosskreutz, Jimmy Parnell, Bobby Chenman, Billy Almond and Nat Meakins.

In June of 1968, Sports Illustrated did a cover story titled “Surfing’s East Coast Boom.” The cover photo, taken from the steel pier looking south, shows visiting California and Hawaii legend Phil Edwards gracefully negotiating the micro-curl of a fun-looking right-hander breaking in the once sacred, now mythical, 75-yard zone between the north side of the First Street jetty and the south side of the pier. (Roughly 10 years later, the rickety Steel Pier would catch fire and be demolished, prompting locals to rename the popular surfing spot as The Jetty or simply First Street. Surfing Magazine once referred to the area as a “a two-block surfing insane asylum.”) Edwards is quoted in the article, speaking to the core of what surfing is really all about—beyond the contests, sponsorships and commercialism: “I think maybe the best surfer in the world right now is some little kid whose name nobody knows. . . who is riding out there by himself; locked in some curl somewhere, having the ride of his young life. God, it’s the neatest thing.”

Almost as quickly as the change in surfboards took place as the post-war 50s entered the Pop era, so did the Longboards begin to obsolesce at the dawn of the speed-conscious mind shift which presaged the shortboard revolution. Spearheaded on a local level by pioneer board shaper Bob White and his Wave Riding Vehicles quiver of space-aged teardrop foils, lines would be defiantly be drawn in the sand denoting stances in style and of generation gaps; and drawn in the water in ways hitherto unimagined. The area’s first nationally recognized surfer of the new high performance generation, was a lithe, flame-haired, scat-talking wild child named Jimbo Brothers. Something of a prodigy, a beach-blanket ragamuffin of Dickensian proportions, Brothers would dominate local and interstate competitions of the late 60s and early 70’s; a sponsored team rider since the 7th grade, profiled in Surfer magazine by the time he was 10. “One year the newspaper published a picture of me with my trophies and I was struggling to hold up the silver bowl and the wooden plaque at the same time,” says Brothers, now in his late 50’s. “And the caption read, ‘Jimbo had more trouble with his loot than he did with the waves.’"

As the swinging 60's dwindled and the existentially ambiguous 70's reached cruising altitude, the contemporary Shortboard milieu would dominate the kinetic surfing scene at both the Steel Pier and the Wooden Pier, as well as on early pioneering ventures to the sometimes world-class conditions of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. As my brother Terry Ferebee would always point out, “You can’t really talk about surfing in Virginia Beach without talking about OBX.” Even for Norfolk boys Gregg Bielmann and his brother Brian, a future world-class, Hawaii-based surf photographer, early-era Hatteras road trips were instigated fairly often in hopes of scoring ‘Hassle-less’, crowd-free, proper surf. As the kaleidoscopic decade of changes pressed on, standouts such as Marc Theriault, Joe Marchione, Chucky Charles, Ed and Chip McQuilken, Bill Frierson, Ronnie Mellot, Ray Shackleford, Bennet Strickland, Allen White, Kurt & Tim Schmalz, Jeff Duff, Paul Darden, Ed Townes and Christian Binford would set the performance bar as surfboards would go smaller and more spearishly radical. Through Marshall McLuhan’s rear-view mirror, decade’s stack up in idyllic compression like so many Smithsonian diorama’s, where diverse transformations occur in time-lapse, all at once, both cultural and technological. Tail-ending the 60’s and front-facing the 70’s, a revolution in both surfboards and wetsuits will transpire; both, ironically, the by-products of the very military-industrial complex so derided by the inner circles of Vietnam War era surf culture bohemia. A cast of characters straight out of Tom Wolfe’s Pumphouse Gang rule the Steel Pier parking lot, that sacred ‘our turf’ zone consisting of stray dogs, ramshackle vehicles, surfer drop-outs, and fishermen-widowers. Al’s Surfshop beneath the ramp of the pier smells of resin, bloodworms, incense and wax; and nearby foosball tables rattle and clatter with roll-fake's, shout-out’s, shut-up's and crank-shots. While Trampled Under Foot by Led Zeppelin blares from the Jensen Tri-axles of Jeff Duff’s forrest green Karmann Ghia as it sputters its way off the Loop road towards fifty-cent tacos at Speedy Gonzales at Great Neck and Mill Dam. Dusk soothes everything, and in the days before video killed the radio star, BYOB surf movie nights at the ironically designated FOP hall (Federation of Police Hall) rounds out nicely the any-day of all-days, of the seemingly never-ending ever-present summer of the early-mid-late nineteen-seventies.

The most notable stylist and competitor of the late years of the decade’s new guard, was a 6-foot-4-inch paddling machine named Wes Laine who brought serious recognition to Virginia Beach and East Coast surfing in general. Laine placed ninth in the world on the pro tour circuit in both 1983 and 1985 competing in line-ups as far flung as Hawaii and South Africa. “Wes was the first Virginia Beach guy to make it in the big time,” says Tim Sullivan, a local surfer turned guitarist for the New York City-based surf music band, Supertones. “He paved the way for other East Coasters, and even 10-time world champ Kelly Slater.” Through Wes, vicariously, directly, or otherwise, The Free Ride generation found one of its exemplary representatives right here at our own beach-breaks. A local lineup was never more proud.

While competitions are one aspect of surfing, they do not figure extensively in the lives of most surfers, who simply surf for the sake of surfing—art for art’s sake as it were. “Are there any soul-surfers still among us; still expressing the original vision?”, as free-thinking local legend Chip McQuilkin once ruminated on the ever-encroaching influence of commercialism on surfing. “For without soul,” he warned, “there IS no vision.” Still, owing to Laine’s pro-circuit success, there was a sharp rise in competitive intensity among surfers at the beach in the 1980’s and 1990’s. By then it was not at all unusual for local surfers to explore Hawaiian-alternative big-wave training grounds such as Puerto Rico and Barbados, following in the footsteps of early 1970’s pioneers like Marc Theriault and Ronnie Mellot. Adding also to the area’s distinct identity was a continuing tradition of local surfboard making—niche-specific wave-tools better suited to the corporocity of Virginia's swellular vernacular than many of the imported shapes built in California or Hawaii. The same tradition is alive and well today, noting talented young shapers such as Jordan Braizie and his Valaric label, and Austin Saunders at Austin. Throughout the golden era of the shortboard revolution, Bob White, Rosi, Con, America, WRV, Westwind, Bearcraft, Seasoned, and Hotline all bore the local standard. The surfer-shaper reigns in the days before automation. 

As another era exerts itself inexorably towards the future, and another checkered decade comes jangling to a close—another balmy Tidewater day at the Oceanfront wanes, as Allen White smooths another wave to pieces.

As the 80s forced its way in on the preceding decade, some people stuck with the beach music program. With the pinks, the greens. And the Shag. Others moved on. Others still, never went there in the first place. Punk rock changed everything. So did the Thruster. The revolutionary three-finned board developed by Australian surfer-shaper Simon Anderson would hegemonistically dominate surfboard design for the next two and half decades.

The 80s new modernity was exemplified locally by the enigmatic, freeform genius of Pete Smith’s son, Pete Jr., known colloquially in surfing circles as simply “young Pete Smith.” As Les Shaw, the owner of Wave Riding Vehicles, says, “You gotta understand, the most unsung raw talent to ever come out of this area was young Pete Smith, with that stream of consciousness surfing style he had. He was just light years beyond everyone else in his approach.” Of the Blaster era and the early Quad, there were other dynamic standouts as well: Jon Klientop and Charles Kirkley dominated local ESA (Eastern Surfing Association) contests as well as ECSC events. Other notables of the era included Jay Monroe, Lad Swain, Rich Rudolph and Tommy Rainwater, as the culminating decade of the millennium would introduce a whole new crop of competitive upstarts, including Chris Culpen and Jason Borte who would go on to dominate in contests, both locally and nationally.

And what of today’s young surfers? Interestingly, a free-thinking new crew of stylists would seem to at least potentially defy Oscar Wilde’s maxim that youth is wasted on the young. Theirs is a teen milieu which seeks retrieval from the past in order to move flowingly into the future; its creed ingrained by a reverence to history, tradition, and for the old guys. Semi-pro longboarder Cam Fullmer, who is 17 and a senior at Norfolk Academy, for example, grew up at the Northend and was taught by resident local Bud Easton, whose daughter Kate is—like Fullmer—a team rider for Freedom Surfshop. Fullmer and his tight circle are primarily longboarders, a neo-retro discipline which leaves many diehard Thruster-era types in a state of bemused stupefaction. That’s because the longboard is, to all appearances, an aquatic reversion to the horse and buggy. But given the consistently modest surf at Virginia Beach, it is a tool which is actually both efficient and functional. And there are other implications—both philosophical and cultural—that reach down into the very core of the user. “It’s less jock-like, maybe,” says Fullmer of the longboard wave-riding technique. He often uses the word ‘motionlessness’ to suggest what it is he is after in his surfing. Of a slight generational gap past Fullmer, fellow Freedom Surfshop team riders Sam Cocke and Mikey Hansen likewise exemplify the super-soulful and stylish aesthetic of the new sincerity, ever-touting the merits of the old-school.

Contrary to some prior generations' nonchalance towards their predecessors, Fullmer speaks reverently about local, old-school veterans like Bob Holland, Mike Clark, Mike Kalana and Bobby Holland Jr.: “Mike is—what?—like in his 70s?” says Fullmer. Gesticulating with glancing, flat-hand motions the way all real surfers do, he adds: “I mean, he can crank a turn; he can cross-step to the nose; he can ride in the pocket and work it with his knees and just ride a wave like its supposed to be ridden…ride a board like its supposed to be ridden. Those guys are always the best ones to talk to. I’d rather talk to them than 99 percent of the surfers my age. They always have something good to say about surfing or about life.” Glancing around at the radically changing psychic contour of the ever-developing oceanfront, he says: “Old Virginia Beach must have been just the coolest thing.”

He would get no disagreement on that point from Dave Shotten, who opened Freedom Surf shop in 2005. Shotten, who by his own admission is an eternal grom in a 44-year-old body, laments the fact that contemporary surf culture has become homogenized. “It’s been diluted with Orange County propaganda that caters to a naive young audience who want conformity.” Freedom Surf sells imported boards yet sports a community vibe, selling gear relevant to the area’s surf conditions. “We are the new kids on the block,” says Shotten. “But at the same time we’ve been gifted a legacy and tradition that has been handed down from some of the original pioneers who put boards in the water in Virginia Beach. Our vision is to look back into the past and celebrate what a surf shop means. We’re about taking a different path.”

In truth, surfing at Virginia Beach has always been something of a different path. We’re not on the map of world-class surf spots, and never will be. But surfers here show their sincere respect for the sea, possess a core dedication to the art form we love, and stay ever vigilant for conditions that produce the best waves.

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1957


“I talked my mom into buying my first board… a nine-foot, six-inch Velzy and Jacobs balsa board with thirty-two ants in the glass job.  Velzy told me the ants wouldn’t hurt anything and I believed him.  I remember my mom’s words: ‘This board is probably just like everything else you want.  You’ll use it for a week and throw it away.’
“I showed her!  We still laugh about it.  Mom painted a totem pole on that first board and later I sold it to the real Gidget for fifteen bucks...”
-- Mike Doyle [1]

“Nobody taught me.  Does anybody teach anybody?  It’s kind of like learning how to ride a bike.  Somebody gives you a push, then watches you crash into a pole.”
-- Pat Curren [2]

“There’s no way to express the look on the owner’s face when he came the next month to collect the rent.  Needless to say, Meade Hall was short lived.”
-- Fred Van Dyke [3]

“I named Velzyland when I first began making movies in ‘58… I also named Pipeline, and Severson came along and renamed it Banzai Beach.  As a compromise, it became Banzai Pipeline.  Now it’s Pipeline again.”
-- Bruce Brown [4]

“In the fifties, the North Shore was a dream.  It was all so new.  And so cheap to live there.  You’d find every way you could to stretch a hundred bucks.  The deal was, who could get the cheapest house and get the most people in it?  You could rent a house then for sixty to seventy dollars a month.  With twelve guys sharing the rent, that hundred bucks went a long way.”
-- Bruce Brown [5]

“It used to be that all the guys who rode big waves were good watermen -- good swimmers, sailors or paddlers who knew the ocean, the currents tides.  You could get into a lot of trouble, get sucked to the wrong side of Waimea Bay, if you didn’t know what you were doing…”
-- Bruce Brown [6]

“There was fierce competition -- on a friendly basis, of course -- among the big-wave riders: Peter Cole, Pat Curren, Mike Stange, Jose Angel, Ricky Grigg, Buzzy Trent, George Downing and myself.  This was the nucleus of guys during my time who really enjoyed riding big waves.  Each guy had his own personality and his own deal.”
-- Greg Noll [7]

“‘Yeah.  Got any wax?’“
-- Mike Stange [8]

“I’d love to say something heroic.  I’d love to say we made history.  But basically it was a bunch of guys parked around the Bay there, and somebody grabbed a board and went surfing, and it looked so good the rest of us guys said, ‘Hey, we got to get in on this.’“
-- Greg Noll [9]



The years 1956-58 were pivotal in the further development of the modern surfboard – the board that Bob Simmons had primarily ushered in, along with the help of Joe Quigg.  These were the years of experimentation with polyurethane foam as the primary floatation factor.  The use of “foam“ and fiberglass would replace balsa and fiberglass; just like balsa had replaced redwood/balsa planks; just like redwood and balsa strip combination boards had replaced redwood which had replaced koa.[10]
The year 1957 was the last official year of the balsa era.  Even so, it is good to keep in mind that much of the technological advance with foam and fiberglass occurred somewhat clandestinely while balsa still reigned.  Sure, we can say that 1956-58 was the development of the polyurethane foam board.  At the same time, we have to keep in mind that the rest of the tribe didn’t catch up to these changes until a year or two after it was a fait accompli – a done deal.  That puts it more at the beginning of the 1960s than the end of the 1950s.
Although foam did not immediately replace balsa, by late 1958 and 1959, it became evident to most of those on the inside that this was the way surfboard manufacturing was to go.  Leaders in this new technology included Doug Sweet, Hobie Alter and Grubby Clark.
No one knew, during 1957, that the year would mark the end of an era and that surfing would change radically because of foam.  The primary technology on most minds that year might have been rocket and satellite science, as it was then that what was the U.S.S.R. -- the Soviet Union -- successfully launched Sputniks I and II, the first artificial earth satellites.  The fact that the Communist Russians had done it first was threatening to the western democracies.
By the time the year was over for surfers, the big news was Waimea.  Since Dickie Cross‘s death there in 1943, there had been a voodoo associated with the place.  Not to say that people no longer surfed the spot; just that those who did were few and far between.  It took transplanted Californians like Greg Noll and Buzzy Trent to add Waimea to the list of big wave surf spots.  It was in November of that year that the old spell was broken and a new one begun.
Meanwhile, in the Land Down Under...


Oz Malibu’s


A year after Tommy Zahn, Bob Moore, Mike Bright and Greg Noll left their “Malibus“ behind in Australia,[11] Ampol Oil films of the Americans’ surfing demonstrations were still being shown throughout the urban areas of Australia.  The viewings at surf lifesaving clubs Down Under caused a revolution in Australian surfboard design and marked the beginning of contemporary Australian surfing.  In addition, Greg Noll’s movies of the trip helped spark interest in Oz.  As testimony of the impact that the Americans made in Australia, in 1956, and the ensuing change in Aussie board design, even today, longboards in Australia are still often referred to as “Malibus.”[12]
Several of the Australian surfboard manufacturers wrote to companies in Equador in attempts to import the necessary balsa wood.  “They were instructed to contact Arthur Milner,” wrote Nat Young, “who came to Sydney to discuss exactly what size timber was required for the expected boom.  Business arrangements took a long time in those days and it wasn’t until the summer of ‘58 that their first shipment arrived.”  The local shapers then began to learn the unique properties of balsa wood.  “The lightest planks were the whitest,” continued Young, “with flecks of dark gray grain running through them; the hardest, but heaviest, were the greener, darker ones.  Selection of the planks was an intricate part of the process; you used the lighter ones down the center, the heavier, more durable ones towards the rails.  A scarf joint to give lift was the same as Simmons had devised 10 years earlier.  As most of South America’s good quality balsa was going to the USA, Australia was sent some pretty scratchy shipments.  By 1958 the established manufacturers had moved out of Sydney’s densely-populated eastern suburbs to the northside and the recently opened industrial suburb of Brookvale.  At one end of Brookvale was Barry Bennett; at the other end, Gordon Woods; and in the middle, Bill Wallace.  Bill Clymer was in a garage in Manly where he and Joe Larkin did some beautiful work, using stringers, nose blocks and tail blocks made from cedar and redwood to set off the blond balsa.
“Gordon Woods remembers the days of the bad balsa shipments only too well; he made it a rule to always inspect the load on the truck.  On one occasion he found it all to be greenish, heavier style.  He turned the shipment straight around, realising that one heavy board could ruin his reputation.”[13]


The Mainland


What would become a surf music standard in the beginning of the 1960’s, 1957 produced a song by the Champs called “Tequila.”[14]  It is still often heard, today, on “the Oldies” radio stations.
Dale Velzy introduced the “7-11“ series.  Named for their length, these boards caused a minor sensation for a couple of years and then disappeared.[15]
Wetsuits were still under development, although dry suits had been available in kit form since after World War II.  Bev Morgan is generally credited with first introducing surfing wetsuits via Buzzy Trent in 1953.[16]
To deal with the cold factor involved in surfing California waters, fires were generally made on the beach to warm bodies between go-outs.  “Typical burnables at Malibu,” wrote C.R. Stecyk, “included boards from the big fence; flotsam and jetsam like boxes, automobile tires and tree branches.”
On a foggy March 8, 1957, a burning “mistake” was made when “Dale Velzy is horrified to find Mickey Dora burning his new wooden camera tripod, carrying case and several reels of just-shot movie films.  Dora ran from Velzy, claiming innocence.  ‘Jesus, Hawk, I thought the stuff was just driftwood.’“[17]
Another Malibu incident occurred several months later, on September 30th:

Velzy-Jacobs


“Ever since the days of Simmons and his aggro bicycle race challenges, the sporting life has flourished at Malibu.  Today’s combatants are the ever humble Miki Chapin Dora, driving his clean Iron Mountain-bodied wood 1949 Ford station wagon, and Hap Jacobs, who will pilot his brand new premiere issue 1957 Ford Ranchero.  The course will be the Malibu drag strip (which to outsiders might be better known as Highway 101).  Side by side, the drivers sit waiting for the start signal.  Many observers wonder if Miki has any chance against Hap’s newer, sleeker car.  Local lore relates that the stakes are two cases of Dundee Scotch against a new Velzy-Jacobs surfboard.  As they come off the line Hap lunges ahead, but as he slams into second, the old woodie screeches into the lead leaving Jacobs in the dust.  No contest.  Later, Dora’s car provides a couple of clues as to just how this upset victory was accomplished.  Velzy notices that as Miki revs up the engine, there is such immense power transfer and torque that the entire car twists and flexes.  This bending of the old woodie is so severe that the half inch bolts which hold down the specially treated phenolic resined wood panels are actually coming loose during acceleration.  A pop of the hood confirms all suspicions, for grafted into the engine compartment is a new Briggs Cunningham prepped V8 392 Chrysler Hemihead, featuring over 400 horses of brutal acceleration.”[18]
On December 11, 1957, “A television mogul wearing a stiff, pin-striped suit barges into the shaping emporium of Velzy and Jacobs,” wrote C.R. Stecyk of another incident that year.  “The stranger’s aggressive behavior and peculiar speech mannerisms instantly launches Hap into hysterical laughter.  Dale, always ready for a good joke, pumps the interloper for info.  An executive from a popular TV show says, ‘Babe, the man Steve-O Reeno needs a hep cat surfboard custom built immediately, it will make you both famous.  The guys and dolls will break down your door begging for boards just like it.’
Jacobs is now incredulous.  ‘You mean Steve Allen surfs?’ he asks.  Velzy is no longer amused.  (Being more famous than he cared for already, and being 80 board orders behind... well.)  The TV man realizing that he’s being shut out, quickly changes tactics.  He begins sobbing, ‘Come on guys it’s my job, you’ve got to help me, I’ll pay anything.’
Hearing these words, Dale, ever the humanitarian, especially if you’ve got the cash, says, ‘OK, maybe we can work this out.’  Hap and Velzy now spend days trying to figure out how to construct a surfboard that can be ridden in a TV studio by a kook that cannot even stand up.  Their ingenious answer -- a full sized balsa, South Bay shape, complete with hidden roller skate wheels allows Steve Allen to ‘surf’ across a sound stage pulled by a rope.  The bit will be exhibitioned 35 years later by the Museum of Broadcasting as art.  Velzy and Jacobs don’t recall ever being paid for this job.  Later, some wag was heard to ponder whether this was truly the first televised occurrence of skateboarding?”[19]

Mike Doyle’s First Surfboard


Mike Doyle‘s first board was bought around 1956.
“I talked my mom into buying my first board then,” recalled Doyle, “a nine-foot, six-inch Velzy and Jacobs balsa board with thirty-two ants in the glass job.  Velzy told me the ants wouldn’t hurt anything and I believed him.  I remember my mom’s words: ‘This board is probably just like everything else you want.  You’ll use it for a week and throw it away.’
“I showed her!  We still laugh about it.  Mom painted a totem pole on that first board and later I sold it to the real Gidget for fifteen bucks.  At the time, my father was in the Navy at Point Mugu.  He drove past Malibu every day -- a great deal for me!  I became ‘Malibu Mike’ and was at Malibu during the sixties, during the renaissance era of surfing, when Mickey Dora, Gidget, the Beach Boys and all the excitement of surfing was coming on strong.  In those days, when the Big South started pumping, every hot surfer on the coast would come to Malibu, the true proving grounds.”[20]


Coast Haoles Takeover the North Shore


By 1957, surfers surfing the North Shore were predominantly visiting Californians and California transplants.  “In the winter of 1957,” wrote Nat Young, “the Californian surfers in Hawaii included Greg Noll, Mike Stange, Mickey Muñoz and Del Cannon.  Some Californians had already made the move permanently:  Ray Beatty, Bob Sheppard, Jose Angel, Fred Van Dyke, Pat Curren, Peter Cole, John Severson, Bruce Brown, Jim Fisher, Buzzy Trent and a few others...”  Yet more waves followed as “Still more Californian surfers began leaving the mainland, with a dream of riding giant island waves:  Kemp Aaberg, Mike Diffenderfer, Al Nelson, Little John Richards...”[21]


John Severson’s Patriotic Waves


“Both John Severson and Fred Van Dyke had come to the Islands through their enlistment in national service,” wrote Young.  “‘Silvertongue’ Severson had been clever enough to persuade the army to let him start a surf team of which he and Van Dyke were the first enlistments.  On strict orders to go out and surf for their country, they proceeded to ride waves all over Oahu.”[22]
“An unknown but aggressive surfer, John Severson, appeared in 1957,” wrote Fred Van Dyke.  “I think he was one of the first to hot-dog big waves...
“He was in the army, an artist, and salivating profusely at the thought of riding Hawaii.  As a hobby, he took 16mm surf films and painted watercolors of island seas, especially abstract surf impressions.  John used to sit at Waikiki on weekends, and sell a watercolor of a surf scene for two dollars.  It paid for film to shoot surf and for gasoline from Waianae to the North Shore.”[23]
“Severson remembers his first brush with big waves only too well,” Nat Young continued.  “He paddled out at Makaha on perhaps the first big swell of the year.  Perfect ten to twelve feet, glassy bowl surf with no-one out.  After pushing back all the adrenaline induced by steady doses of Fred Van Dyke‘s scrapbook and Fred’s stories of Waimea Bay closing out, being sucked into a lava tube, and being dragged out to sea by rip tides, John finally found the line-up.  A big blue glassy peak showed about half a mile out and he paddled around to a take-off position, trying to keep his appointment with his first big-wave experience.  Without knowing about the infamous Makaha bowl, John stood up just as the wave was leaping up to form the bowl.  The board and John parted company, John falling through space until he hit the wave again and was pitched over the falls.  Eventually he came up very alone and a long way from shore.”[24]


Pat Curren’s Meade Hall


“Pat Curren was a classic character as well as an amazing surfer,” credited Nat Young.  “He camped on a vacant lot near Pipeline so he could go surfing whenever he wanted to.”[25]  But Curren was a surfer long before the North Shore.  He had begun in Mission Beach and later La Jolla:
“I grew up bodysurfing and belly boarding in Mission Beach,” Pat Curren told Steve Yarbrough in 1993.  “In World War II guys started with balsa-redwood boards.  In the early ‘50s I moved to La Jolla and got really serious about it.  At Wind ‘n Sea Buzzy Bent, Towny Cromwell, Buddy Hall and the Eckstrom brothers were riding 10-11 foot planks.  Buzzy was one of the first to ride the Quigg chip, a fiberglass and balsa surfboard nine feet long, 22 to 23 inches wide, turned-down rails, trying to get rocker with a pretty flat bottom.”[26]
“To be a La Jolla surfer in the ‘50s,” wrote Bruce Jenkins, “meant you never held back:  in your drinking, your partying or especially your surfing, where the test of skill was a double-overhead day at Windansea.  Nobody savored that life, or typified it more, than Patrick King Curren.
“Everyone... in California knew there was something different about the La Jolla guys:  Curren, Mike Diffenderfer, Wayne Land, Al Nelson, the Eckstrom brothers, Ricky Naish, Buzzy Bent, Tiny Brain Thomas, Billy Graham, Butch Van Artsdalen.”[27]
“The most rebellious group of people I ever met,” said Fred Van Dyke.  “I’m sure some of them came from rich families, but they rejected that kind of life, ridiculed it.  If a guy made some money, he’d go out and buy everybody food and drink, and the next day he’d be scrounging for a cup of coffee.  They were like wild animals.”[28]
“With the Mexican border beckoning,” continued Jenkins, “groups of them would go on blind-drunk Tijuana rages for days, waking up on some roadside without a clue where they were.  Pranks and daredevil stunts were the very essence of their lives.
“They all surfed big Windansea -- out of sheer determination, if not raw talent -- and when the first films and still photos arrived with big wave images of Hawaii, nearly all of them made the pilgrimage.  Curren didn’t even start surfing until 1950, the year he turned 18, but by 1955 he was among the first serious wave of California surfers to take on Makaha and Sunset.”[29]
“Nobody taught me,” Curren said.  “Does anybody teach anybody?  It’s kind of like learning how to ride a bike.  Somebody gives you a push, then watches you crash into a pole.”[30]
“Curren was a little older than the rest,” wrote Jenkins, “and with his lifestyle honed by the La Jolla days, he set the tone for North Shore living.”[31]
“He molded it into a state-of-the-art lifestyle,” recalled Greg Noll.  “He had this terrible old ‘36 Plymouth, probably the shittiest car of all time, and the cops gave him a bunch of crap about having the front windshield knocked out.  Pat always had this way about him, getting from Point A to B in the shortest distance, without getting real complicated.  So he just jerked out one of the side windows and wedged it onto the driver’s side, and he got away with that for a couple months.  That was his idea of a windshield.”[32]
The North Shore was mostly just farmland back in those days, “and you basically had a bunch of local people growing food, raising pigs and chickens,” recalled Noll.  “When Pat and I went on patrol, there wasn’t a chicken or a duck that was safe.  I can still see us running down the beach at Pupukea with a big fat chicken in each hand, calves burning in the soft sand with a couple of pit bulls on our ass.  We’d barbeque ‘em up later and have a hell of a dinner.  Pat was also a pretty decent fisherman and a great diver.  So between the ocean, the chickens and the ducks, he got along pretty good.”[33]
“I started shaping boards in 1956-57,” Curren said.  “I was walking down the beach at Waikiki and a guy at a rental board place asked me who had made the board I was carrying.  I said I did.  He asked me to make 20 rental boards.  So I rented a shop in Haleiwa and got into it.”[34]
“They lived out of cars and panel trucks,” surf writer Bruce Jenkins continued his description of North Shore surfer life in the mid-1950s, “slept on the beach when all else failed, and occasionally got to rent an actual building.  In a truly inspired moment, Curren created a surfer’s palace that came to be known as Meade Hall.”[35]
“It was mostly Pat and the La Jolla guys -- maybe 10 guys altogether,” said Fred Van Dyke.  “It was a three-bedroom, fully furnished place for $65 a month across from Ke Iki Road.  Pat went in there like always, checked it out, didn’t say anything.  Then he lined up everybody for a meeting and the plan unfolded.  Two days later, they had completely gutted the place.  Just tore the insides out of it.  With the leftover lumber they built surfboard racks along the side and a giant eating table down the middle.  Pat got the Meade Hall idea from the old King Arthur books.  That was the meeting place for all valiant gladiators.”[36]
“Ala King Arthur,” Van Dyke wrote, “the Knights of the Round Table and the meeting place known as ‘Meade Hall,’ Curren proceeded to convert [the] place in like fashion.  He took on a number of roommates, mostly surfers from La Jolla, California, like Mike Diffenderfer, Al Nelson, Wayne Land and others.  They razed all the inside separating walls, except the bathroom.  With the lumber, they constructed surfboard racks from ceiling to floor, and built a huge rabble with connected benches on both sides.  It stretched the length of the one big room.
“When it was finished, Pat stood back.  ‘I think this will do; I’m going surfing.’  With that, he strolled into the backyard, picked up a machete, and hacked a couple of branches from a Hale Koa tree.  He tied these to the top of his battered car and secured his board to the new rack.  Pat disappeared in a cloud of fumes, headed toward Sunset.”[37]
Ricky Grigg said Curren would sit at the head of the table, often wearing a mock Viking helmet, “and he’d pound on the table, going, ‘Ahh!  Eat!  We hungry!  Gotta surf big waves tomorrow!  Take wife and pull her by hair into room!’  Just totally joking around.  I mean, the most Pat would ever say in a day was about eight words, and I just said all eight of ‘em.”[38]
“There’s no way to express the look on the owner’s face when he came the next month to collect the rent,” wrote Van Dyke.  “Needless to say, Meade Hall was short lived.”[39]


The Challenge of Waimea


“I named Velzyland when I first began making movies in ‘58,” Bruce Brown -- surfer and surf photographer -- said.  “Velzy sponsored me and made my boards, so I named this spot on the North Shore after him.  John Severson, who founded SURFER magazine, was also making movies at the time and named the same place, only used a different name.  But Velzyland is the name that stuck.  I also named Pipeline, and Severson came along and renamed it Banzai Beach.  As a compromise, it became Banzai Pipeline.  Now it’s Pipeline again.
“In the fifties, the North Shore was a dream.  It was all so new.  And so cheap to live there.  You’d find every way you could to stretch a hundred bucks.  The deal was, who could get the cheapest house and get the most people in it?  You could rent a house then for sixty to seventy dollars a month.  With twelve guys sharing the rent, that hundred bucks went a long way.
“As Greg developed as a big-wave surfer, he’d work on all these schemes that were supposed to help a guy survive a wipeout in big surf -- miniature aqualungs, tiny breathing devices.  No one ever tried them out, but we all talked about it a lot.  You weren’t sure what would happen in an extreme situation, other than that you would most likely drown.  Getting out into the lineup during big surf was a big part of the battle.  No one would have thought of using a boat to get out, or a helicopter to get in.” [40]
“It used to be,” Bruce Brown continued, “that all the guys who rode big waves were good watermen -- good swimmers, sailors or paddlers who knew the ocean, the currents tides.  You could get into a lot of trouble, get sucked to the wrong side of Waimea Bay, if you didn’t know what you were doing.  If you get caught in a rip at Sunset Beach you can almost do laps trying to get in.  The rip runs along the beach, sucking you with it.  If you know what you’re doing, you can aim your board out to the break and the rip will propel you out there towards it.
“At Waimea, the surf would come up fast and make real serious sounds.  I remember one night when it made the windows in our house rattle.  That same night, the surf covered up the telephone poles with thirty feet of sand.  This tells you Waimea is closing out.
“A lot of people have surfed big waves once or twice, then ended up preferring smaller waves.  Greg became such a dominant big-wave rider that I can’t even remember how he surfed little waves... even if no one had been buying boards or shooting pictures, Greg still would have been out there.  The same holds true today among big-wave riders.  Their enthusiasm never dies.  They’re eternally stoked.
“Surfing won’t ever die, because people get too stoked on it.  I worry about the guy today who starts surfing later in life.  Like a kid, this older guy wants to surf every single day.  Pretty soon, he’s got no wife, no kids, no job.  He’s living out of his car.  Every surfer seems to go through those first couple of crazy, devoted years, like we did as kids, surfing every day because you never get enough of it...
“I don’t think Greg Noll is aware of the legend he created.  A few years ago he called me after he had taken a trip back to the North Shore.  He said, “Guess what?  People remember me!”  I said, “Noooo shit!”[41]
“There was fierce competition,” wrote Noll, “on a friendly basis, of course, among the big-wave riders: Peter Cole, Pat Curren, Mike Stange, Jose Angel, Ricky Grigg, Buzzy Trent, George Downing and myself.  This was the nucleus of guys during my time who really enjoyed riding big waves.  Each guy had his own personality and his own deal.”[42]



Waimea Bay, November 5, 1957[43]

In Greg Noll‘s DA BULL, Life Over the Edge, Noll recalled the first time Waimea Bay was “successfully” ridden by surfers following the Hot Curlers of the 1930s and ‘40s.  It was November 5, 1957.[44] It was the beginning of Pat Curren’s enduring reputation as “King of The Bay.”
“Downing and Trent had helped establish Makaha as the No. 1 big-wave or any-size-wave spot in the Islands,” Noll wrote. “Up to this time, the winter of 1957, no one had ever ridden Waimea.”[45] This was not entirely correct. Waimea had been surfed by the Hot Curl surfers in the late 1930s and beginning 40’s, but after Dickie Cross’ drowning there in 1943, the spot was considered voodoo and rarely -- if ever -- surfed.
“For three years I had driven by the place,” continued Noll, talking about Waimea, “on my way to surf Sunset Beach. I would stop the car to look at Waimea Bay. If there were waves, I’d hop up and down, trying to convince the other guys, and myself, that Waimea was the thing to do. All the time, I was trying to build up my own confidence.
“At that time the North Shore was largely unexplored territory. We were kids who had heard nothing but taboo-related stories about Waimea. There was a house that all the locals believed was haunted. There were sacred Hawaiian ruins up in Waimea Canyon. And of course, the mystique of Dickie Cross dying there. We’d drive by and see these big, beautiful grinders... but the taboos were still too strong.”[46]
“The forbiddenness of the place is what made Waimea Bay so compelling. I wanted to try it but didn’t have the balls to go out by myself. So I kept promoting the idea of breaking the Bay. Buzzy Trent, my main opponent, started calling me the Pied Piper of Waimea. He said, ‘Follow Greg Noll and he’ll lead you off the edge of the world. You’ll all drown like rats if you listen to the Pied Piper of Waimea Bay.’
“One day in November, we stopped at Waimea just to take a look…”[47] What the crew saw intrigued them, but Noll and company continued on to check Sunset, only later to return when they heard it was being ridden.
It was “Harry Schurch, a mild-mannered history teacher [and lifeguard] originally from Seal Beach,” Steve Pezman reminded me, who “actually rode the first wave that day. The story goes, he was maybe 10-15 minutes behind the Noll/Stang group that had stopped, checked the Bay, and then drove on to check Sunset. He, too, stopped to look at the Bay, but he had to get to work, and instead of leaving, he decided it looked doable and paddled out, rode a couple, came in and left. Didn’t think that much of it. “The guys at Sunset heard someone was out at the Bay, from someone who had driven by, and hurried back, arriving just as Harry left. The rest has become history.”[48]
“I was following Noll, Stange, Curren, Al Nelson, Mike Diffenderfer... and Mickey Muñoz...” wrote Fred Van Dyke, about the group that returned, after Schurch had left. “We always checked it because it looked so glassy and clean, but then [usually] drove on to Makaha. That day we stopped and got out of our cars. ‘Neat break, but a board racker,’ said Nelson.
“Muñoz mumbled, ‘It didn’t look too big anyway.’
“‘Too peaky, no wall,’ said Curren. Noll was jumping up and down. His wife, Bev, was trying to calm him.
“‘I’m going to paddle out and just look at it,” said Greg. Noll was always the stoker, the initiator, and Stange usually followed suit.
“‘Yeah,’ said Stange. ‘Got any wax?’”[49]
“Mike went with me,” continued Noll. “We were the first [of our group] in the water. I was the first to catch a wave. I had paddled for one outside and missed it, so I took off on a small inside wave. By then the other guys had come in too. Pat Curren and I rode the next big wave together. And that was it. It was simple. The ocean didn’t swallow us up, and the world didn’t stop turning. That was how Waimea got busted. By me, Mike Stange, Mickey Munoz, Pat Curren, Bing Copeland, Del Cannon and Bob Bermell.”[50]
... and Harry Schurch.
According to Van Dyke, “They all hit the water and Munoz was first to paddle by the deep spot where the point swings in on top of you and it looks like a mountain ready to break, and then it heads back to the point because of the deep spot. Munoz practically fainted when he saw the size of that first wave up close. What had appeared as a small peak from half a mile away now loomed as a gigantic 20 plus wall. Munoz went off first on a 20 footer and dug a rail half way down.
“Greg screamed. ‘Jeez, it looks like a mountain.’ Curren ended upside down on a late takeoff. Stange and Noll got the wave of the day, Stange taking a cannonball spin out from inside of Greg, coming up 100 yards inside of where he wiped out.”[51]
To Curren’s recollection, no one really made a wave successfully that session. “We thought it was maybe 12 feet. We got a big surprise when we got out there. I don’t think anybody made a wave.”[52]
“Within minutes,” wrote Greg Noll, “word spread into Haleiwa that Waimea Bay was being ridden. We looked across the point and saw cars and people lining up along the road watching the crazy haoles riding Waimea Bay. There must have been a hundred people -- a big crowd for that time.”[53]
“I’d love to say something heroic,” Noll admitted in Surfers, The Movie, “I’d love to say we made history. But basically it was a bunch of guys parked around the Bay there, and somebody grabbed a board and went surfing, and it looked so good the rest of us guys said, ‘Hey, we got to get in on this.’“[54]
The guy who first grabbed his board this November 5, 1957 was Harry Schurch. Next, it was Greg Noll and the “rest of the guys.”
“The irony of it all was,” Greg Noll remembered, “it wasn’t a very big day by Waimea standards. Just nice-shaped waves. I spun out on one wave and wrenched my shoulder. It’s still screwed up from that first day at Waimea. We were using ridiculous equipment, boards that we had brought over from the Mainland. Definitely not made for big waves. We had a long ways to go in big-wave riding and big-wave-board design.”[55]
“When we first surfed Waimea,” Noll continued, “we weren’t conscious of making history, other than on the level of that particular time. For me the excitement came from competing with the other guys and from riding as big a wave as I was capable of riding... The irony was, at the end of the first day, when we were all sitting together rehashing our rides, everybody wondered, ‘Why the hell have we been sitting on the beach for the past three years?’ It wasn’t a huge break that day. Waimea was just trying to be itself. Later we were introduced to the real Waimea.
“To be Waimea, the waves have to break fifteen to eighteen feet before they start triggering on the reefs. To be good, solid Waimea, it has to be the type of break that rolls around the point, with a good, strong, twenty-foot-or-bigger swell. A lot of big-wave riders disagree on a lot of things, but I don’t think any of them would disagree about this: to be good Waimea, it has to have more than size. It has to have a certain look and feel. A little bit of wind coming out of the valley, pushing the waves back, holding them up a bit.”[56]
Fred Van Dyke remembers the waves that day being much bigger and went on to write about surfing Waimea Bay back in the late 1950s, in general:
“Even though I love ‘The Bay,’ I admit, deep down, the best part of surfing Waimea on a huge day -- one over twenty feet, which is not very often -- is when you are walking up the beach, thinking back over the waves, the wipeouts, the rip that takes you toward the huge boulders and threatens to smash you upon those boulders if you don’t make shore before the other side of the rock the kids dive from in summer. Yes, for me, walking up that beach, safe for another day -- alive -- is the payoff.
“Many years ago, when Sunset Beach closed out, we packed up our boards and headed for Makaha. I remember that we would drive by Waimea Bay, stop, and look at the wave breaking off the point. The consensus, since nobody had surfed ‘The Bay,’ was that it wasn’t big enough, and who would want to surf such a narrow peak? Besides, it looked as though it broke exactly on the rocks, a definite board racker.
“Greg Noll was the first to paddle out [from the group that had returned after Schurch left]. Whenever a place was tried for the first time, Greg usually stoked us to go out. On this particular October day in 1957, ‘The Bay’ was challenged for the first time by a group of Californians. Al Nelson, Pat Curren, Mike Diffenderfer, Mike Stange, Mickey Munoz and later, after school, by me.
“‘The Bay‘ won, but a new surf spot was opened for exploration. The takeoff was nearly impossible, jacking up ten feet after you dropped in, and the wipeout in deep water so thick that you were held down long periods and pushed along for a hundred yards in thick soup.
“One thing we found out on that first day -- it being over twenty feet -- was that when you lost your board most of the time it popped out in the rip and drifted right back to you. We also found that our boards were totally inadequate. A new design had to be created to handle ‘The Bay.’”[57]
“After that first day in ‘57,” Greg Noll concluded, “Waimea Bay joined Sunset Beach, Noll’s Reef and Laniakea as accepted North Shore surf spots. Pipeline, at that time, was still a ways down the road. All the great spots that are still the great spots today were established within our first four years in the Islands. After that, surfers surfed and named every ripple along the North Shore.”[58]
And that was how the thirteen year old tabu associated with surfing at Waimea was broken in mild (by Waimea standards) 12-to-15 foot surf. But, as Noll declared many years later, “There were some hairy days to come.”[59]
Greg Noll is most often given credit for being the first one to ride Waimea after Dickie Cross died there and Woody Brown nearly ate it there. This is in good part because Bud Browne was there to film Noll’s crew riding Waimea and crowds of people watched from the road. Similar to how Phil Edwards is credited for being the first to ride the Banzai Pipeline because it was shot on film. Steve Pezman is quick to point out that the generally recognized history of that first day is “not the real story. What Greg and Harry’s versions do agree on was that it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe a 15’ day, just beginning to crumble on the outside. The real heroics there would come later —- with a lot of the same players, except for Harry, who after riding it first in the modern era, got out of the service, went home and never came back. Until...
“On one of the years I was introducing the invitees to the Eddie at Waimea, I invited Harry to join me on the trip (at Quiksilver’s expense) and introduced him at the opening banquet to all the current day heroes. After he told his story they stood and gave this older scholarly looking gentleman a standing O, then the evening wound down, the crowd went home, and that was that.
“Except that for Harry, who had been overlooked all those years, it was closure. He didn’t care about the act itself, called it overrated, no big deal, but, being a history teacher, it bothered him to hear the inaccurate versions go into the books.
“It was Munoz who answered, ‘Actually, it was a guy named Harry Schurch!’, when I long ago asked him who took off first. Knowing Mickey, that figures.” [60]

                “For many years Waimea was surfed only on those few days of the year when everywhere else on the North Shore was closed out,” Fred Van Dyke wrote, bringing the story of The Bay up to present day.  “Now, the cord [leash] makes it possible to surf it from hot dog size all the way up the scale.  This creates a false impression, by some, that they have ridden ‘The Bay.’
                “... [big wave rider] Ken Bradshaw put it succinctly.  A young kid came into Karen Gallagher‘s surf shop across from Kammie’s market and bragged to Bradshaw and others that he’d just ridden Waimea.
                “Bradshaw looked at him and said, ‘Waimea hasn’t broken in four years.’“[61]


[1] Noll, Greg and Gabbard, Andrea.  DA Bull: Life Over the Edge, ©1989 by Greg Noll and Andrea Gabbard, pp. 19-20.  Mike Doyle quoted.
[2] Jenkins, 1995, p. 76.  Pat Curren quoted.
[3] Van Dyke, 1989, p. 33.  Van Dyke places Meade Hall in 1957.
[4] Noll, 1989, pp. 77-78.  Bruce Brown quoted.
[5] Noll, 1989, pp. 77-78.  Bruce Brown quoted.
[6] Noll, 1989, pp. 77-78.  Bruce Brown quoted.
[7] Noll, 1989, p. 75.
[8] Van Dyke, 1989, pp. 31-32.
[9] Surfers, The Movie, circa 1990.  Greg Noll quoted.
[10] See Gault-Williams, Legendary Surfers website at http://www.legendarysurfers.com
[11] Bob Burnside was with them, but didn’t bring along a board, like the others had.  See “Malibu Boards Seed Down Under,” in previous chapter.
[12] The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 43.  C.R. Stecyk.
[13] Young, Nat.  The History of Surfing, ©1983, 1987, Palm Beach Press, 40 Ocean Road, Palm Beach, NSW 2108, Australia, pp. 89-90.
[14] Other notable songs, although not linked with surf music, included, in order of popularity: “It’s All In The Game,” by Tommy Edwards; “To Know Him, Is To Love Him,” by the Teddy Bears; “It’s Only Make Believe,” Conway Twitty; “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” Everly Brothers; Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu,” Domenico Modugno; “The Purple People Eater,” Sheb Wooley; “Chantilly Lace,” Big Bopper; “Twilight Time,” Platters; “Topsy, Part 2,” Cozy Cole; “Lonesome Town,” Ricky Nelson; “Get A Job,” Silhouettes; “Tears On My Pillow,” Little Anthony & The Imperials; “My True Love,” Jack Scott; “(At) The End (Of A Rainbow),” Earl Grant; “Book of Love,” Monotones; “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” Jimmie Rodgers; “Secretly,” Jimmie Rodgers; “Whispering Bells,” Dell-Vikings; “Over The Mountain; Across The Sea,” Johnnie & Joe; “Young Blood,” Coasters; “Shangri-La,” Four Coins.
[15] The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 52.  C.R. Stecyk.
[16] The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3.  C.R. Stecyk.
[17] The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3.  “Humaliwu,” by C.R. Stecyk.
[18] The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3.  “Humaliwu,” by C.R. Stecyk, p. 49.
[19] The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, pp. 46-47.  C.R. Stecyk.
[20] Noll, Greg and Gabbard, Andrea.  DA Bull: Life Over the Edge, ©1989 by Greg Noll and Andrea Gabbard, pp. 19-20.  Mike Doyle quoted.
[21] Young, 1983, p. 79.
[22] Young, 1983, p. 79.
[23] Van Dyke, Fred.  Thirty Years Riding the World’s Biggest Waves, ©1989 by Joseph Grassadonia, Ocean Sports International Publishing Group, Inc., 204 Poo-Poo Place, Kailua, Hawai`i  96734, p.31.
[24] Young, 1983, p. 79.  See also Gault-Williams, “Pat Curren, King of the Bay,” Volume 2 of Legendary Surfers.
[25] Young, 1983, p. 79.
[26] Surfing magazine, August 1993, “Legend:  Pat Curren,” interviewed by Steve Yarbrough, p. 34.  Name spelling corrected.
[27] Jenkins, Bruce.  “Father, Son, Holy Spirit,” Surfer magazine, Volume 36, Number 3, March 1995, p. 76.
[28] Jenkins, 1995, p. 76.  Fred Van Dyke quoted.
[29] Jenkins, 1995, p. 76.
[30] Jenkins, 1995, p. 76.  Pat Curren quoted.
[31] Jenkins, 1995, p. 76.
[32] Jenkins, 1995, p. 76.  Greg Noll quoted.
[33] Jenkins, 1995, p. 76.  Greg Noll quoted.
[34] Surfing magazine, August 1993, “Legend:  Pat Curren,” interviewed by Steve Yarbrough, p. 34.  Name spelling corrected.
[35] Jenkins, 1995, p. 76.
[36] Jenkins, 1995, pp. 76-77.  Fred Van Dyke quoted.  See also Van Dyke, 1989, p. 33.  Fred says the house was “near Sunset, on Kam Highway.”
[37] Van Dyke, 1989, p. 33.
[38] Jenkins, 1995, p. 77.  Ricky Grigg quoted.
[39] Van Dyke, 1989, p. 33.  Van Dyke places Meade Hall in 1957.
[40] Noll, 1989, pp. 77-78.  Bruce Brown quoted.
[41] Noll, 1989, pp. 77-78.  Bruce Brown quoted.
[42] Noll, 1989, p. 75.
[43] This section taken from “PAT CURREN: King of The Bay,” updated July 2011.
[44] Date as marked in Surfers, The Movie.
[45] Noll, 1989, pp. 75-76.
[46] Noll, 1989, pp. 75-76.
[47] Noll, 1989, pp. 75-76.
[48] Pezman, Steve. Email to Malcolm, May 10, 2011.
[49] Van Dyke, 1989, pp. 31-32.
[50] Noll, 1989, pp. 75-76.
[51] Van Dyke, 1989, pp. 31-32. Fred has this opening up of Waimea in October of 1957.
[52] Jenkins, 1995, p. 80. Pat Curren quoted.
[53] Noll, 1989, pp. 75-76.
[54] Surfers, The Movie, circa 1990. Greg Noll quoted.
[55] Noll, 1989, pp. 76-77.
[56] Noll, 1989, pp. 76-77.
[57] Van Dyke, 1989, pp. 84-85. Fred has it in October, but it was November 1957.
[58] Noll, 1989, p. 77.
[59] Surfers, The Movie, circa 1990. Greg Noll quoted.
[60] Pezman, Steve. Email to Malcolm, May 10, 2011. This section taken from “PAT CURREN: King of The Bay,” updated July 2011.
[61] Van Dyke, 1989, pp. 84-85.

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