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SoCal After WWII

In Europe, the Allies landed on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944 to begin the push on to Berlin. Nearly a year later, on May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. “V.E. Day” ended all war in Europe on the following day.

Ending the debate amongst the Allies on endinb the war in the Pacific by having to invade Japan, the United States dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities in early August 1945. The Japanese government subsequently surrendered unconditionally on August 15, 1945. The world breathed a collective sigh of relief – followed by memorable celebrations. The total cost in human life during the five year period of Axis (Germany, Japan, Italy) attempts at world domination: approximately 35 million combatants, plus ten million Nazi concentration camp victims.[1]

What war’s end meant for many soldier surfers was the return to surfing itself. For their friends, it was the gradual return of their surf buddies to the lineups. Significantly, the end of World War II set the stage for technological advances in surfboard design and a gradually increasing stream of mainland surfers on surfari to Hawaii.

After World War II ended and the surfer servicemen “started coming back in late ‘45 and early ‘46,” Duke Kahanamoku recalled, “surfing once again took an upturn. But it was slow, for the military returnees were occupied with finding jobs or returning to their interrupted education chores.”[2] Many Southern California surfers went back to school on the G.I. bill.
  

Flood Control’s Demise


Along with human casualties, the Second World War resulted in the destruction of one of the favored surf spots of the 1930s – Long Beach’s Flood Control.[3]

“In a rush of patriotism, defense planning and commerce during World War II,” wrote Steve Barilotti in a 1997 issue of Surfer magazine, the Navy built a breakwater in San Pedro Bay, at Long Beach, “effectively choking off south-facing Long Beach from swell action and turning the once wave-rich waters of Belmont Shores into a placid, sometimes stinking harbor dotted with oil platforms thinly disquised with fake palm trees as tropical atolls.”[4]

Today, besides the fact there is no longer any surf at Flood Control, the area is high in pollutants. “One of the major problems is that the Los Angeles River empties out into Long Beach,” explains Long Beach Surfrider Foundation activist Robert Palmer. “The breakwater holds all the inland garbage and scum that comes down the flood-control channel. You go west of 55th Street toward downtown and the beach sand is marbeled with oil, Styrofoam, you name it. You don’t even want to walk on it.”[5]

From the 1910s and throughout the 1930s, Flood Control had been a prime spot for surf. In California Surfriders, 1946, Doc Ball, surfing’s first dedicated photographer, wrote glowingly of the waves at Flood Control.[6] Doc was not the only one to hold Flood Control in high regard. His buddy LeRoy “Granny” Grannis loved the spot and explained:

“Flood Control was an excellent right that used to break where the Queen Mary is now on any good-size swell. It was rideable up to 15 to 20 feet. In September of 1939 we rode a huge chubasco-driven swell that was pushing over 15 feet. Ted Sizemore (an excellent surfer of the time and a Long Beach lifeguard) said that on a good south swell they had more rescues along parts of Long Beach than anywhere else on the Southern California coast. But during the war we all went away and they built the breakwater. There wasn’t much we could do about it.”[7]

“The Army Corps of Engineers built the Long Beach breakwater from 1942 to 1949,” continued Barliotti, “to house the Pacific Fleet along ‘Battleship Row,’ south of Palos Verdes and north of Seal Beach. At two and a half miles, it is the world’s longest breakwater.”[8]



Malibu


During the 1940s, Malibu began to be ridden on a daily basis. Within a decade it would eclipse all other California surf spots as the epicenter of surf culture.

Before Europeans settled the area, the Chumash Indians had lived along the beach at “Malibu Surfrider Beach” for thousands of years. They called it Humaliwo, loosely translated as, “where the surf sounds loudly.” They were there in 1542 when Juan Cabrillo sailed his ships into the cove in search of fresh drinking water. He called the cove, “Pueblo de las Canoas,” village of the canoes. They were still there in the 1700s when the Spanish arrived and attempted to “civilize” them.

As for the first surfers to ride Malibu, it was in the year 1926. The riders were Tom Blake and Sam Reid; both lifeguards then, at Santa Monica Beach. Back then, there were armed guards at the Rindge Malibu Ranch and Blake and Reid had to evade them in the process of breaking open the new surf break. There were a few others that came after them, but Malibu was difficult to reach until the State of California opened the highway through the Rindge Ranch a few years later, in 1929, after a long fight with the owners.[9]

“The 1930’s brought surfers, but not many,” remembered Cal Porter. “If you didn’t want to surf alone you brought friends with you. My first experience there was in the late 30’s and five or so surfers at one time was a pretty good crowd, and that was on a good summer day with a decent south swell running. Early morning was best when there was no one in the water. The Adamson House was there on the point as it is today, having been built in 1929 for the daughter of the Rindge family and her husband. It is now a museum open to the public. The famous Malibu Wall where we leaned our boards was built in 1932 and is still there in part. It once ran almost down to the pier. The old two lane highway ran alongside the wall and is now a parking lot. 

The Malibu pier had been there since 1905, built as a shipping wharf. Before 1938 a surfer’s goal was to reach the end of the pier at the conclusion of the ride, but that took a very large wave. After 1938 that became impossible when the pier was extended to its present length of 780 feet. A storm in 1943 wiped out the end of the pier and it was rebuilt to what we see today. There were no businesses or restaurants near the area in the 1930’s. The Malibu Inn that has been across the street for so many years was at that time located on the old Malibu Road across from the Colony.”[10]

World War II made it difficult to surf Malibu. With reports of Japanese subs off the coastline, the U.S. Coast Guard established a headquarters in the pool house of the Adamson estate, and the pier was used as a lookout post. Barbed wire went up and the beach was under constant surveillance. Dale Velzy made it out a time or two but not many more did. Malibu was blacked out at night with no house or car lights allowed. Long military convoys passed Malibu Surfrider almost daily.

At the end of the war in 1945, as many as ten surfers were seen in the water at one time. The crowd steadily increased and then in the mid-1950s “Gidget arrived and attendance soon after exploded. It increased so much that the State of California took over the beach and asked the County of Los Angeles to operate it. 
Before this time, life at Surfrider Beach was free and easy. You could camp and sleep on the beach, build shelters, light fires and cook dinners, rent out surfboards, drink a beer or two, and pretty much do as you pleased. What the surfers didn’t want was supervision, beach rules and a lifeguard. So there I was on June 11, 1959 assigned as Malibu Surfrider’s first lifeguard. I think the idea was that I knew a lot of the guys there, I was an older lifeguard by then, and maybe they wouldn’t beat me up, at least not too badly. But it all worked out, lifeguards have been there almost fifty years now, running a tight ship, and protecting the thousands of swimmers and surfers at one of the most popular beaches on the California Coast.

“… The Point still faces due south and cranks out some of the best waves anywhere. A nice summer south swell works best, but first, second and third points are all ridden year around.”[11]

Craig Stecyk wrote of an incident that took place just before the outbreak of war. The particular moment at Malibu, October 5, 1941, tells a lot about the surfers there at the time:

“A confrontation is in progress. With only three guys in the water, Gard Chapin has forced the altercation over a drop in. This is typical behavior for Chapin, a gifted surfer, who turns and cuts alone in an era when almost everyone else trims. Gard’s verbose tactics alienate more than a few and his radical board designs aren’t really appreciated. One who wasn’t intimidated is Robert Simmons who bought his first surfboard from Chapin. Eventually, Bob went to work in the Chapin wood shop and there had his initial board building experiences. Other velocity-maneuverability standouts in those dark age days were Bud Morrisey and Dave Sykes. Morrisey contributed down-the-line shapes and was considered by many to be the first to walk the board at Malibu. Topanga dweller Sykes’ finely honed speed lines and turning were years in advance of others. Sykes delighted in perfect planing surfaces and placed 15 layers of hand rubbed lacquer over his boards creating a hard shelled outer surface many years before the discovery of fiberglass and resin. To this day, Chapin, Morrisey and Sykes occupy prominent spots in the Malibu pantheon of innovators.”[12]
  

Pete After the War


Even though the war ended on all fronts, it took many servicemen a while before making it back home. For Pete Peterson, it took him over a half a year to return.

On the way back, at one of the islands the U.S.S. Pandemus visited, Pete bartered for an outrigger canoe that he was allowed to keep on the fore deck of the ship’s cargo hatch. In his off-watch hours, when other crewmen relaxed in their bunks smoking, reading or playing cards, Pete would lower the outrigger overboard and sail around the various lagoons, diving and trading odds and ends to villagers in exchange for breadfruit and coconuts.

It took the U.S.S. Pandemus seven months to finally return to its homeport of New Orleans. Pete was discharged with $142.01 separation pay, of which $99.65 went to bus fare to get back to Santa Monica. Fortunately, his old job as Lifeguard Lieutenant on the beaches of Santa Monica was still waiting for him. Finding housing was a different story. With thousands of G.I.’s returning home before him, local housing was nearly nonexistent.

Captain of the Santa Monica lifeguards, Cap Watkins again came to his rescue. He offered the use of one of Santa Monica’s rescue boats so that Pete would not only have a place to stay, but also be able to bring his son John under his wing again. John, then eight years old, had been staying with family friends since 1943. Now, father and son reunited in a new home, albeit small. They had tiny berths in the rescue boat’s cabin, a tiny galley and showers at the lifeguard headquarters.

Even though gasoline was no longer rationed, automobiles, like housing, were hard to get. No matter, Pete was still able to score a clean 1941 Plymouth coupe. It did not take father and son long to utilize it to hit favorite surf spots and rekindle friendships amongst those who were lucky enough to make it through the war alive. When Pete got together again with Whitey Harrison, his surfing shifted more to the south, with San Onofre being a focal point. It was not long before Pete was surfing San Onofre with Whitey and his group on a regular basis on weekends when Pete and John could stay overnight.[13]

Pete eventually found a small house for himself and his son. Even though it looked like their lives and those of their friends were getting back to normal, there was no returning to the good old days of the 1930s. They had been lean years and ones where people often had to make do with what they had, but they were pristine years for surfing. The post-WWII period was markedly different than the pre-World War II era. The Depression was a thing of the past and its passing was understandably regretted by no one. But something of high intangible value was lost as the productivity fostered by the war continued unabated. The United States became not only the leading country on the planet, but also the richest. In California, this was clearly in evidence by the state’s population explosion and sprouting of buildings and highways everywhere. The spirit of the 1930s was replaced by a more materialistic culture that rode on the crest of an unprecedented period of prosperity.
  

Plastic Board, 1946


World War II had not only bread American prosperity, but introduced many new technological advances. One new wartime technology that would have a great impact on water sports was the development of “plastics” – specifically fiberglass, phenols, mono and polyester resins that had begun during the war and had already significantly aided the war effort. Pete found himself on the inside track of the use of these materials in the repair and making of surfboards due to his friendship with engineer Brant Goldsworthy.

Brant “had been a wartime aircraft parts sub contractor. Goldsworthy had developed a practical working knowledge about resins and fiberglass application and had been in touch with the marketing departments of chemical firms such as Owens-Corning, who had patented ‘Fiberglas’ (one ‘s’) in 1936, and Dupont’s chemical engineer Carleton Ellis, who had patented the first polyester resin the same year.”[14]

All over the country, large corporations like Owens-Corning and Dupont were converting their industrial facilities from wartime production into civilian. Market research indicated to Owens-Corning and Dupont that fiberglass and resin would sell the best to the building industry, commercial aviation, and the small boat industry.[15]

“Brant Goldsworthy is certainly the ‘godfather of fiberglass’ in the world,” attested Hobie Alter who, in the late 1950s, became the key man in the development of the polyurethane foam surfboard for mass production. “He is looked at as the ‘godfather’ of reinforced plastics.”[16] 

Goldsworthy and his partner Ted Thal would, a little later on, become the first ones to sell fiberglass and resin for surfboard construction.

Tom Blake protégé, champion paddler and legendary lifeguard Tommy Zahn said of the Brant Goldsworthy/Pete Peterson connection that Pete and Goldsworthy were more than just acquaintances. “Pete had been a lifetime friend of Brant Goldsworthy’s.”[17]

Pete recognized the potential for lighter boards using fiberglass. Before the war, he had made balsa boards to that end. These had to be coated with varnish to keep them from getting water-logged. Varnish, however, while flexible and organic, succumbs to ultra violet rays, breaking down in sunlight and lacking in tensile strength.[18] Not so with fiberglass and this is how Pete’s famous “Plastic Board” came about:

Working with Goldsworthy, Pete used a release coat on an existing paddleboard, laying up two halves in a clamshell configuration. They pulled the two parts off and used these to create a female mold. The subsequent male molds were then bonded to an inch-and-a-half redwood stringer, sanded and glass taped to seal the joint.[19] The seam was then sealed with fiberglass tape.[20] The result was the first hollow fiberglass paddleboard. Hollow board creator Tom Blake was so impressed he soon drew up board plans for “all fiberglass construction” of his own designs.[21]

Pete’s first fiberglassed board was constructed in June of 1946. Brant Goldsworthy helped and Joe Quigg ‑ along with Pete ‑ tested it out in the water.[22]

“Pete had two boards,” at the time he made his fiberglass paddleboard, recalled Tommy Zahn. “One was ‘The Pete Board’ and the other was this [prototype of the hollow fiberglass] board, which was redwood/balsa… It was just balsa wood with redwood rails. It wasn’t ‘The Pete Board’ ‑ which was balsa with a redwood deck. And this prototype, which was wood, was the one he used in big waves. He didn’t use ‘The Pete Board’ in big waves.

“And so, when the fiberglass first came out, he thought, ‘hey, it would be a real neat idea to reinforce the nose of all these boards with fiberglass’ and [he] started doing that. Then he covered the whole [prototype] board with fiberglass. Then, he said, Brant talked him into making an all-fiberglass board. So he used it [the redwood/balsa big wave board] for a male mold and pulled that – this board [the ‘plastic’] off that one; then, put a center dividing strip of redwood, here, and nailed it on and glassed over that. Then, the whole board was effectively fiberglass except for this dividing strip – you could see light through the whole board.”[23]

It is possible that the first fiberglass paddleboard or surfboard could have an even earlier start date. Twentieth Century surfing innovator Tom Blake told his biographer Gary Lynch that “Before the war [World War II] started… [noted swimmer Jim Handy] had sent a board back East and had it fiberglassed… that’s what Tom swears. I’ve asked him three times about it, cuz everyone says it couldn’t be true. But, he said that before World War II, Jamison Handy already had a fiberglass board. I don’t know why he’d tell me that if it wasn’t true.”[24]

Early surfboard shapers who used fiberglass – guys like Hobie Alter ‑ tend to dismiss this East Coast connection, maintaining that fiberglass was developed on the West Coast for the war effort. Sending a board back to the East Coast to have it fiberglassed would not have made any sense.[25] However, it is true that the Whitmans, in Florida, were early on into fiberglass. It is possible that they got a hold of some before the war, after it and resin were invented in 1936.

Irrespective of Pete Peterson being the first verified surfer to completely fiberglass a board, this innovation went virtually unknown among surfers of the day. Even Hobie Alter admitted, “I always thought [Bob] Simmons was the first guy to use fiberglass on a surfboard.”[26] Anyway, Pete did not produce further fiberglass boards in any number that would have been noticed.[27]
  

Whitey After the War


After the war, board experimentation and manufacture continued its shift from Waikiki to Southern California. Materials-wise, besides the addition of balsa, the innovation of the skeg and the introduction of new materials like fiberglass helped propel development. As far as shaping was concerned, the scoop nose and use of rocker had long term effects on improving board design.

The Hot Curl design had proven effective in Hawaiian waters, but not functional for non-reef breaks like most all of California. At one point, SoCal surfer and fisherman Whitey Harrison erroneously adopted the design for California waves. “A lot of guys – like Whitey Harrison – when they came down and saw what our boards could do at Castle him and Pete Peterson cut their tails down – right there on goddamn Waikiki Beach!” Hot Curl surfer Wally Froiseth told me. “They cut their tails down. Of course, when they went back to the Coast, they took their boards with ‘em.”[28]

In 1946, at age 33, Whitey married his second wife, Cecilia Yorba, who came from one of California’s pioneering Spanish families. Cecilia was “a descendent of the Yorba family that originally owned one of the largest Spanish land grants in old California,” wrote Whitey’s daughter from his first marriage, Rosie. “She lived with her grandmother in the adobe Pryor homestead one half mile inland from Doheny. When her grandmother died, the house, which was built before the San Juan Capistrano Mission, was willed to her along with some acreage. I remember first meeting her. I thought she was very beautiful…”

“The Yorba family had an inherent fear of the ocean,” continued Rosie. “Cecilia didn’t even swim when my dad talked her into going surfing with him. That first ride resulted in a wreck. She fell on the board and cut her lip with her front teeth. But it didn’t stop her. She and my father were married in 1946 and went to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Where else?”[29]

Whitey recalled: “When I met Cecilia, she was walking down the beach at Doheny with her cousin, and I came ridin’ in on this board right to where she was standing. That had to be about 1945. She said, ‘That looks like fun.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’ve gotta try it.’ So I spent a week talkin’ her into going surfing with me. She said, ‘Well, I don’t know, they’ve had such awful drownings in my family, nobody wanted to go near the ocean.’ So I said, ‘I’ve worked lifeguard for five years, I’m not gonna let you drown.’ A fella named Voss Harrington was surfing with me at the time I was going with her. We were in the abalone business together. Voss, Fritz and Burrhead worked abalone with me all up and down the coast of California... I talked her into coming over and helping trim abalone at the cove. Then I got her to go surfin’ with me at Doheny. Voss had this 11’ board. I caught a wave with Cecilia and he was on the shoulder and jumped off when he saw us coming tandem. I was standing up, and his board flipped right over, hit on top of her head and shoved her teeth through her lower lip. So that’s how we started. Since then she got so she could ride real good.”[30]

Whitey and Cecilia raised their family in the Yorba family’s historic 200-year-old adobe in San Juan Capistrano. The adjacent “Lorrin’s Barn” – built around 1890 – became an important Southern California “research and development center” for experimentation with various watercraft in the 1930s and more after the war. Experimental designs covered a broad range of equipment, included diving gear, paddle boards and outrigger canoes, as well as surfboards.[31]

“When I came here [to Capistrano beach] we kept horses in [the barn] for the kids,” Whitey recalled. “Later I converted it into a surfboard shop where Fly and I built two hundred and sixty rental boards for Steamboat over in Waikiki. I’ve probably built twenty canoes here altogether. I built five that were 44’-11’’ long, right here in the barn.”[32]
  

Doc Ball After the War


After the war, “It just kinda exploded, again,” California pioneer surfer John Heath “Doc” Ball said about Southern California surfing. “Guys’d get back and they’d been hungry for surf. It’d come natural that you’d want to get back… The ones who survived – we had an outlet and surf was it.”

“Thank goodness for that,” I said.

“You better believe it,” Doc affirmed.[33]

Surfer servicemen “started coming back in late ‘45 and early ‘46,” affirmed Duke Kahanamoku.[34]

“… when the war ended – Boom – we were back in the environment,” Malibu legend Dave Rochlen recalled. “It was devotion, like seeing a girl again… like, ‘I’m never gonna leave!’ We gave ourselves over to it entirely. I think it was because we spent four or five years in the war and we had survived. And it had all been bad. Now there was no question about what had us by the throat. It was the ocean. Everything else was secondary.”[35]

Doc Ball and his brood was just one of many families to regroup and attempt to restart life where it had been put in hibernation since 1941. Doc opened a dental office in Hermosa Beach and, rejoining his wife Evelyn, concentrated on raising their two sons, “Norman (man of the sea) and John (God has been gracious).”[36]

It didn’t take Doc long to get back to his surf photography, either. “Demand was still so great for Doc’s surfing photographs,” Doc biographer Gary Lynch wrote, “that he published the book, California Surfriders 1946. The idea behind this was to satisfy the California surfers, giving many a portrait in the book as well as showing the major surfing locations.” California Surfriders 1946 was first published in a limited edition of 510. “Original cost for the first edition,” Gary noted, “was $7.25 a book. Doc kept a complete and detailed list of who bought his book. This list still survives and provides an astonishing array of Who’s Who in the world of California surfing at the time. Names only hard core surf historians would recognize such as Bob French and Jamison Handy to other more familiar names like Preston Peterson and Peanuts Larsen fill the pages.”[37]

Eventually, the fifth and final edition of California Surfriders 1946 published by Doc went out of circulation. In 1995, Ventura’s Jim Feuling copied the original, publishing it under the title of Early California Surfriders.[38] The images used for this latest edition were shot from the pages of Doc’s first edition and then enhanced by computer.[39]

“He did that without my permission,” Doc admitted to me with a laugh. “That’s a classic. It’s patented. So, I told him as much as he’d printed it, we needed to get the message out for surfers, anyway, and keep it going [knowledge of the California surf heritage]. And, so I said, ‘I won’t sue ya or anything.’ So, he sends me a royalty, now.”[40] That kind of reaction, on Doc’s part, was typical of the man. As surf historian Gary Lynch put it, Doc was the quintessential “troubadour of good will.”[41]

“By the mid 1940s,” Gary wrote, “Doc Ball’s photographs had been published world wide. National Geographic (September 1944), Encyclopedia Britannica (1952), photography magazines, news magazines, art galleries, and newspapers were among the places a Doc Ball photograph could be found.”[42]

An example of this is an image Doc labeled “The Mighty Ski Jump Roars in – December 22, 1940.” It showcases one of the best surf days of the year. “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.” Doc, writing in 1946 in the third person, added, “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.”[43]
  

Granny After the War


“Immediately,” after World War II was won, Palos Verdes Surfing Club standout LeRoy “Granny” Grannis recalled, “my first week back [September 1945], I went to Malibu. We were walking along the beach and looked out and saw probably around 12 guys out. I turned to the guy [I was with and said], ‘Jeez, the place is ruined.’

“Before the war, you’d call somebody before you went to Malibu because you didn’t want to surf alone… What we considered to be a crowd, back then, would be a beautiful day, today.”

“Our old club members got together,” after the war, Granny continued. “We all got together again. We all got married and we all had to have jobs. About once a month, we’d get together and have a poker party or something like that. A lot of the guys joined the San Onofre Surf Club [in the 1950s] and that became our common meeting point after that, for most of us – in the summertime, anyway.”[44]

Even though he now rode the South Bay and San Onofre only on occasion and was, in essence, on sabbatical from surfing, LeRoy remained well known amongst SoCal surfers. As late as 1948, most all Southern California surfers still knew or knew of each other and surfboards were still pretty much of the redwood & balsa variety.

A case in point of how Granny was remembered by others even after the war was Greg Noll. In his autobiography Da Bull, Noll recalled, “When I first started surfing… there was Matt Kivlin and Joe Quigg riding redwoods at Malibu. Doc Ball and the guys at the Palos Verdes Surfboard Club. Velzy, Leroy Grannis, Ted Kerwin, the Edgar brothers at Hermosa and Manhattan. Lorrin Harrison, Burrhead and the guys at San Onofre. A few guys down in La Jolla. The entire surfing population consisted of maybe a couple hundred guys, most of them riding redwood boards, paddleboards and balsa/redwoods.”[45]

Another example of LeRoy’s status and regard is how he and Doc Ball were looked at by waterman Mike Doyle in the mid-1950s. Doyle wrote in his autobiography, Morning Glass:

“One of the older surfers down at Manhattan Pier told me about a book called California Surfriders by Doc Ball. It focused on surfing in the 1930s and ‘40s… I took Doc Ball’s book home and studied each picture for an hour at a time, scrutinizing each grain in the black-and-white photos, the way the water flowed over the board, the way the wave was breaking – every detail – until I could feel what it was like trimming across a wall of water. I studied each of the surfers’ styles, their hand movements, the way their feet were placed on the boards, and I came to understand that each surfer in that era ‑ Hoppy Swarts, LeRoy Grannis, Pete Peterson – had his own individual style.

“I saw that the surfers in the book had a wonderful camaraderie that I didn’t have in my own life. They were healthy and joyful, and they enjoyed being with each other. I could see a community spirit there that I wanted to be a part of.”[46]
  

Opai, Rocky and Yater


One of the surfer servicemen returning to formal education after the war was Tom “Opai” Wert. Born in 1924 and a founding member of the San Onofre Surf Club, Opai had gotten into surfing while body surfing with the newly-invented swim fins of Owen Churchill, at San O. At ‘Nofre, he saw “older” guys riding boards. He borrowed one and was soon hooked. His new love was interrupted when he was called up for military service. During his service years, 1942-45, Opai recalled that all he could think about was surfing. 

After the war, he moved to San Clemente and took advantage of the “GI Bill” by enrolling in Orange Coast College in 1948. He went on to become a school teacher so that he would have enough time to surf.[47]
Many other surfers more or less dropped out after the war, opting to continue with their surfing at all costs.
One of this later crew was Dave Rochlen. On April 3, 1946, after serving as a Marine in the South Pacific, Rochlen showed up at Malibu and was particularly taken to a surfboard made by “some crippled guy named Simmons.”[48]

“He’s got a great attitude,” said Rochlen of Simmons, “— he calls everyone ‘fucking pussies.’” About Simmons’ board shapes, “Rocky” Rochlen noted, “There’s something different going on here, the guy talks about particulated molecular masses moving up the face of the wave.” At Simmons’ house, on June 15, 1946, Simmons showed Rochlen and Joe Quigg his 12th creation. It was a redwood and he credited influence from Gard Chapin and Bud Morrisey. On the way home, Rochlen commented to Quigg that, “Yes indeed, something remarkable is afoot.”[49]

“What fueled Rochlen’s, and others’, great passion,” postulated John Grissim in his book Pure Stoke, “was their new independence, and an unwillingness to drop back into a regimented social system. The stance was not angry, it was go-it-alone, laissez-faire, unconsciously romantic, and a bit escapist. But that life was based on a clear, clean, passionate vision that was attainable – as were the waves. Whenever and wherever the swell was up, there was always plenty of room.”[50]

One gremmie missing the war was Rennie Yater who, by the mid-1940s, was riding a Pacific Ocean Ready Cut Homes board. “I picked up one of those Pacific System Homes boards, probably – I’ll say ‘46,” recalled Rennie. “The board was the classic one with the nose blocks and red pine wood rails, balsa center – what they called the kettle bottom round, flat deck. Tiny little fin. The Swastika model they made was a little thinner board than that. It wasn’t as big and bulky. It was smaller, thinner. I didn’t see those until later.

“The guy that had that business surfed San Onofre, apparently, and had the ability to make those things, along with the house projects. I don’t know how many of those things they made. A hundred? Two hundred? I have no idea. A hundred boards then was a lot of surfboards.

“Then I started going down and riding Doheny. You know, my dad would take me down there. I had to make a rack on the back of the car to get it in there. He’d take me and this other kid who lived up the street. We’d go down there, right straight off. Probably did that for a couple of years... mostly in the summer, because the winter really didn’t have much surf there.”[51] 

Newport Beach, 1930-42


The post-war growth of Newport Beach was typical of the changes that took place at all Southern California beach towns. Like other Southern California coastal towns, it had fared better than the rest of the country during the economic depression of the 1930s. “The Depression” had impacted Newport growth, but expansion of Newport Harbor had kept development more or less continuous.

Around 1931, the major effects of the stock market crash of 1929 started to hit Newport Beach. The area’s economy struggled to survive, with fishing being the mainstay of the community. A fleet of fishing boats operated from the protected harbor. Large plants on-shore prepared the fish for food or as fish oil or fertilizer.

Throughout The Depression, Newport managed to hold its famous Tournament of Lights parade. The parade had originated in 1908 when Venetian gondolier John Scarpa staged a small illuminated parade in Newport Bay with eight canoes and his gondola. In 1919 the city took over the idea and created the much larger Tournament of Lights extravaganza.

A review of some selected press clippings from the decade give a first-hand look at what was going on in the 1930s, in Newport Beach. They have been edited from their originals:


Press-Telegram, February 19, 1930

RECEDING TIDE LEAVES SHIP HIGH ON SAND

“Forging through presumably open sea in a dense fog early this morning, the big British motorship City of Lille crashed onto the beach about two miles north of Newport Beach. Receding tides left her almost high and dry on the beach late this morning, with her crew of forty men aboard.

“Tugs were rushed to the scene from San Pedro, lines were attached and an effort was to be made to pull the big ship off at high tide this afternoon, but the hope of doing this without lightening the 10,000 ton cargo was considered slight.

“The big ship went aground at 3 a.m. on a wide stretch of sandy beach. Lights from oil field derricks at Huntington Beach may have confused the watch of the ship.

“The unusual sight of the huge vessel nosed into the sand of the shoreline attracted a large throng of spectators and the highway was jammed with automobiles throughout the day.”[52]


Press-Telegram, July 13, 1930

LONG BEACH CHAMBER WINS FIRST PRIZE IN TOURNAMENT OF LIGHTS

“Judged by six prominent members of the Laguna Beach art colony, Long Beach Chamber of Commerce won first prize in the civics class with its entry at the Newport Bay Tournament of Lights last night. The tournament was declared to be the most brilliant spectacle of its kind ever witnessed on the South Coast. One hundred and six floats, yachts and other craft took part in the parade and many other yachts and motorboats, decorated and illuminated, were at anchor in the background.

“The big water spectacle, the twelfth to be held in the history of the harbor and the largest ever held here, formed off Balboa Island and proceeded slowly toward the head of the bay in front of the Corona Del Mar bluffs, then turned and passed down the Balboa side of the bay to Newport Beach, thence doubling back to the ferry landing. The Tournament of Lights began as a small local event sponsored by the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. This year commercial floats were a new feature making the tournament the crowning aquatic spectacle of Southern California.”[53]


Press-Telegram, September 1, 1930

GROYNES ADVOCATED TO PROTECT OCEAN AND NEWPORT BEACH

“Installation of groynes along the oceanfront near Thirty-sixty Street to assist in building up the beach at that point is the only remaining objective of the West Newport Improvement Association.

“Six major objectives set up last year by this body have been completed. The group wished the West Newport pool improved and made into a park, which has recently been done. Streetlights have been installed in various portions of the district and many more year-round residents have been secured for the district.

“Two of the most important improvements achieved in the area have been the launching of a dredging program which will result in much of the swampy land in the area being filled and deeper channels made where boats may travel, and the cleaning up of the old oil wells and sump holes which for many years were a detriment to the district.”[54]


Despite the tough economic times throughout the country, Newport was still able to attract funds for development. A case in point was local businessmen George Rogers who took it upon himself to travel to Washington D.C. and lobby for federal funds to further dredge and improve Newport Bay. He succeeded in getting all but $640,000 of a $1,835,441 harbor project. Back in Orange County, Rogers and city engineer Richard Patterson convinced Orange County voters to finance the balance. On May 23, 1936 the new harbor opened. It is this continued work and realigning of the harbor entrance that effectively killed Coronado del Mar as a major surf spot in Southern California:[55]


Press-Telegram, December 31, 1930

NEWPORT BALBOA – BAY CITY OF THE SOUTH COAST

“The 1930 season saw no depression in the Newport Harbor section. A new $200,000 harbor improvement was completed; a new $410,000 high school plant built on a fine 25-acre site in Newport Heights; a record-breaking $1,700,000 improvement project completed on Lido Isle, and modern development enterprises consummated in West Newport, El Bayo Balboa Tract and in other sections of the city. Building for 11 months of 1930 was $164,105 - greater than for all 12 months of 1929, which was $117,685 greater than 1928.”[56]


Press-Telegram, January 28, 1932

RECORD GROWTH IS MADE BY NEWPORT IN PAST TWO YEARS

“The Newport Bay communities, in spite of the ups and downs of Wall Street in the last two years, have seen their greatest advancement in that same time. More building, real estate sales, homes, all-year residents, yachts and other pleasure craft in the improved harbor, school facilities, better highways and transportation facilities --- more of all things that make life worth while is the story of the Newport-Balboa area in the last two years.

“During the past year widening of the Coast highway from Long Beach to Newport Beach was completed, within a year it is expected to be completed past the San Diego County line.”[57]


Press-Telegram, January 2, 1934

NEWPORT BAY

“On December 19, 1933 the voters of the County carried a $640,000 bond issue, to be added to $1,195,441 to be supplied by the Federal Government to complete a $1,835,441 plan. This will provide a channel from the harbor entrance to the northwest corner of the bay, 20 feet deep at low tide and varying from 200 to 500 feet in width, a turning basin 15 feet deep at low tide, an anchorage basin of the same depth, and dredge the remainder of the entire bay to a depth of 10 feet at low tide.”[58]


Press-Telegram, May 20, 1936

NEWPORT HARBOR TO NOTE OPENING

“Headed by a picturesque Spanish adventure ship, a parade of more than 1000 yachts and pleasure boats representing all ports of the Pacific Coast will stream into Newport Harbor Saturday (5/23). The great parade of boats will enter the harbor on a signal received from President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Washington. A Coast Guard cutter will fire the signal guns, which will start the parade at 1 p.m. Two divisions of boats, one including small craft, cruisers and sailboats, and the other including big yachts will form the water caravan which will wend its way into the harbor.

“The Spanish ship San Salvadore, under command of Juan Rodriguez-Cabrillo, discoverer of California, and Vasco Nunez de Balboa, discoverer of the Pacific will anchor in the Balboa Basin. Aboard the boat will be Father Neptune and the royal court made up of the prettiest girls of twelve Southern California cities. City and County officials of Southern California communities and Governors of three States and Lower California will board the boat and welcome Father Neptune to the port.

“A daylight fireworks display at 2 p.m., the firing of an official salute to Governor Frank F. Merriam at 3 p.m. and an official inspection tour of the harbor by the Governor will complete the afternoon program. Batteries of Army searchlights will illuminate the harbor district starting at 8 p.m. and at 9 p.m. a second fireworks display. the celebration will continue Sunday with another big parade of boats.”[59]


Press-Telegram, July 7, 1938

CAGNEY IS PURCHASER AT BALBOA

“One of the largest real estate transfers made here for some time took place yesterday when James Cagney, Hollywood motion picture actor, bought Collins Island from C.A. Price, Arcadia race horse owner.

“Cagney, along with Preston Foster, Richard Arlen and other motion picture stars have been keeping their private yachts here for several years, but Cagney is the first of the top-flight stars to purchase property here.

Collins Island is one of the show places on the bay area. It was first built and owned by W.S. Collins, one of the original developers of Balboa Island. Completely surrounded by water and with all of the lawn and shrubbery enclosed within a high wall, the island home is a complete villa with small cottages for guests.

“Price paid was said to be $45,000.”[60]


By the beginning of the 1940s, Newport had her new harbor, three canneries on the Rhine (the arm of water between the Lido and Balboa Peninsulas), and the yachts of movie stars Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, James Cagney and Leo Carrillo. Soon World War II would come, beaching the dory fleet and confining yachting to the bay. At the end of the war there would be tremendous postwar expansion with housing developments such as Shore Cliffs and Harbor Heights taking over what vacant land still surrounded the bay.


Press-Telegram, January 2, 1940

NEWPORT-BALBOA DESTINY LINKED WITH NATURAL ADVANTAGES

“The destiny of Newport Beach is tied up with the natural advantages offered by the Pacific Ocean and land-locked Newport Bay. Recognizing this fact, leaders now are busy, with construction of two new ocean piers at a total cost of $130,000.

“The city is divided by the bay and channels into seven different areas, all unique and presenting individual attractions, yet united into a harmonious civic unit with a central government.”[61]


Press-Telegram, February 11, 1940

BLIND PELICAN GETS FAT

“Fishermen built a fire on the sand near the Newport Pier, and they stood around the fire swapping stories. A big pelican was standing behind them and suddenly it started beating its wings and running on its tiptoes towards the fire. Just before it ran into the middle of the hot coals, one of the fishermen grabbed it by the wings and pulled it back.

“The pelican is named Bill and is completely blind. Some alleged sport demonstrated his marksmanship by shooting the bird through the head with a .22 rifle, severing its optic nerve. The pelican lay on the beach for three days afterwards and then it got up and started walking around, bumping into the little open dories that fishermen park on the sand near the pier.

“One of the fishermen gave the bird some fish and let it sleep inside his boat. The next morning it tried to fly away, but it flew against the front of a store building and fell down on the sidewalk.

“A pedestrian moved it back on the beach, where it sulked for a couple of days while all the dogs in the neighborhood took turns barking and snapping at it. Tom Phegley finally found the bird again, and he fed it and kept his eye on it. The pelican didn’t try to fly any more, but stuck pretty close to the fishermen’s boats near the pier.

“Phegley protected it from the dogs and the children whom kept throwing sand on it or trying to ride on its back. He built it a box to sleep in at night. It has become very fat and appears contented. It amuses itself on the beach without getting into much trouble. It can hear exceptionally well and comes when called.

“People are always wanting to take the pelican home for a pet, but Phegley tells them that Bill has to have his fish fresh, which means not more than a few hours out of the water. He refuses anything but whole fish, and likes mackerel weighing about two pounds. When the weather is too bad to go out fishing, the fishermen go over to the market when the big boats come in and buyfish for the pelican anyway.”[62]


Press-Telegram, April 13, 1940

MOVIE IS MADE AT NEWPORT

“Just as the man poised on the high mast of the Lottie Carson, ready to plunge down into the shallow water along the north bay shore, and everybody had a sinking feeling in the stomach waiting for him to dive, just then the man below yelled, ‘Hold it! We have to wait for the sun.’

“They were filming ‘The Sea Hawk,’ and the high dive in shallow water was part of the story. Two cameras were focused, one to catch the dive from the mast, and another to catch the splash in the water. Looking on were about 100 extras, 200 spectators, and Victor McLaglen, Frances Farmer, Olympe Bradna and Jon Hall, stars of the production.

“After the sun came out and the stunt man finally took the dive and came out unhurt except for a raw place on his chest where he scraped bottom, everybody on shore applauded. The palatial homes of the north shore of Lido Isle were in the background, but they will be cut out of the film.”[63]


Press-Telegram, October 3, 1940

NEWPORT NAVY BASE SITE TO BE INSPECTED

“Facilities of Newport Harbor for use as a possible base for secondary craft of the United States Navy will be inspected on Saturday. Local leaders long have argued that the local sheltered harbor is ideal for a secondary naval base for the southern coastal sector. Basing of submarines or patrol units of the fleet in these waters has been proposed as a huge possible future project.”[64]


Press-Telegram, October 17, 1940

NEWPORT MAY GET U.S. SUB BASE

“Establishment of a $30,000,000 United States Navy submarine base and training ship center at Newport Harbor was believed virtually assured. Newport’s upper bay, has long been discussed as a possible submarine and light craft base. The federal government a few years ago spent $2,000,000 dredging the main bay and constructing jetty protective works at the harbor entrance, and has since spent $15,000 or more a year on maintenance.”[65]


Press-Telegram, October 23, 1940

NEWPORT VOTES AGAINST NAME CHANGE; PROPOSED SHIFT TO BALBOA LOSES

“Proposal to change the name of the city of Newport Beach to Balboa was overwhelmingly defeated two to one in a special city election held were yesterday. Complete returns show unexpectedly heavy balloting with 1585 votes being polled. “No” votes totaled 1014, while the measure was favored by 581 Newport-Balboa folk.

“Proposal to change the name of the city to Balboa was made by Earl W. Stanley, prominent civic leader and chairman of Selective Service Draft Board 171 for this area. He circulated petitions, obtained approximately 1150 signatures and presented them to the City Council, resulting in a special election being called.

“Following the defeat of his proposition, Stanley made a plea to residents and civic leaders of all sections of the city to co-operate and work for the progress of the harbor community under the name Newport Beach.”[66]


Press-Telegram, March 16, 1941

ACTORS TO BUILD

“Permits for the construction of summer homes for Richard Powell and James Cagney, motion picture actors, were issued today.

“Powell’s home will be of six rooms, and cost $7000, and be of wood-frame construction. The Cagney place is to be of five rooms, but of two story, and costing $8500. They will be adjoining improvement at the Bay Shore subdivision just off Coast Highway and the north lagoon channel at Newport Harbor, directly opposite Lido Isle. Both actors are frequent visitors to Newport Beach, and Cagney maintains a yacht there.”[67]


Press-Telegram, October 16, 1941

PROFILE OF NEWPORT

“Owners of 250 Newport homes also have homes in Pasadena; 597 homes are owned by Los Angeles folk; 90 by San Marinas; 50 by Alhambrans; 98 by those of Riverside. A total of 2077 homes in this beautiful bay are owned by people who cannot vote here.”

“Now in the offing: a $10,000,000 Naval Academy branch of Annapolis seems a certainty for location on the upper bay. More than $2,000,000 in contract for the Navy is now under construction at the South Coast Boat Works, where boats and minesweepers are being built. A program of the Orange County Harbor Commission calling for the expenditure of $548,000 for dredging and improvements in the bay area to care for pleasure craft.”[68]


Press-Telegram, April 3, 1942

NEW SHIPYARD LEASES LAND AT NEWPORT

“Acquisition of 12 acres of land with a 1500-foot frontage on Newport Bay was announced by Standard Shipbuilding of Long Beach. This will bring to three the boat building companies working in the Newport Harbor area. Largest is the Hobbard’s South Coast Company, which has completed more than a million dollars in contracts and has just received another contract aggregating more than $1,000,000 for the construction of naval mine sweepers. The Reyton Company is preparing ways now on the bay from of the Coast Highway for the construction of wooden hulled ships, and it contract is supposed to reach near the half-million dollar mark.”[69]


Press-Telegram, April 10, 1942

NEWPORT GETS CENTER STRIP ON PENINSULA

“Acquisition of the Pacific Electric Railway Company’s right of way which bisects the Balboa Peninsula from McFadden Place opposite the city hall to “Be” Street in Balboa is virtually complete. Only thing holding up the proceedings is the paying of $33,000 for the property by the city.

“A bond issue is expected to provide the money for the purchase and the center strip along Central Avenue, now just a sand trap. It will be partially paved with possibly a center parkway. Some time ago the traction company sold the city its steel poles which hold the street lights and removed all of its other overhead facilities along the right of way with the exception of a short switching track from McFadden Place to Court Street.”[70]

San Clemente, 1945-49


San Clemente was more typical of a Southern California beach town than Newport Beach, as it really did not experience sizeable developmental growth until after the war. A little over a decade later, it became best known in surfing circles as the center of the surf publication business.

“Ahh, San Clemente,” recalled local Vince Nelson. “Perhaps the intervening years have dimmed the past a bit, but it seems now that there were no winters then, only school and summers... We were lucky to live in little ‘ol San Clemente; post-war, pre-population explosion, pre-sexual revolution, before, during and after puberty in that kinder, gentler era.”[71]

Vince Nelson and the Severson brothers first rode the San Clemente pier area on Bud Gable’s inflatable mats – “‘Surf Tans’... that’s what was stenciled on them,” remembered Jim Severson. “We lived on those mats, and learned a lot about surfing as we went; angling, timing, shooting the green, turning back, shooting the pier. We put on a pretty gutsy show, but the pier fishermen weren’t our biggest fans. We’d be ducking lead weights, and worried about getting hooked.”[72]

“Just as I saved for and dreamed of my first pair of Churchill’s,” recalled Nelson, speaking of the early swim fins, “I lusted for my own surf mat. In the meantime, we all took turns (working) at the rental concession so we could use the mats. No money was exchanged (since we had none). We would pump those beauties up to the limit to get them hard enough to kneel and stand on. They had an odd seam-busting defect in that one chamber would break and then the mat would have a fat side to it. Lousy for surfing, but the tourists didn’t seem to mind too much (we were off sliding on the hot one’s). The staff was in the water more than in the concession, and Buddy complained there were not enough mats for the cash customers.”[73]

“We discovered S.C. in a great kid way,” Jim Severson said. “You could walk anywhere. There were trails across fields, through eucalyptus-lined canyons and up and down the bluffs to the beach...

“Bikes were kind of scarce right after the war. Some of us had them, but it was often simpler to walk because of the difficulty of getting bikes through the canyons. Bob Sickafoose used to ride his bike to school; missed the 2” x 8” bridge at the bottom and sung the crossbar blues for a few days. Ouch! Also, we were big on throwing rocks. Just throwing to see what we could hit. I don’t want to say exactly what we threw at because there might still be a few unsolved cases. We weren’t bad, but everything was magnified because it was such a small town. The cops loved us because they tired of just writing traffic tickets. Bruce “Red” Crego was famous for giving tickets to anyone, regardless of status. His favorite time was Del Mar Racing season when he took great joy in nailing speeding stars. They named him ‘Red Rider.’ He was also the juvenile watchdog. He hated Walter Ryan and me because we built a tree house right over the spot he used to park with a certain local schoolmarm. Then there was the time a big dog was hit by a car and was flopping in the road. Walt and I watched as Red Rider came flying up, siren screaming, and as city pound master, pulled his revolver to dispatch the poor creature. ‘Stand back, stand back!’ he ordered. Point-blank he shot and missed three times, before a lucky shot mercifully ended it for the pooch. We spread the word of ‘sure-shot’ all over town, further endearing ourselves to him. But somehow, we felt a lot safer after that.”[74]

“The pier; fishin’, swimmin’, bodysurfin’, surf mats and exposure to the lifeguards and surfing dentist Barney Wilkes, and proximity to the surfing beaches led us on the natural progression to becoming Surf Kings. (Or was it beach bums?),” remembered Vince Nelson.

“When the surf was good,” added Jim Severson, “we’d get one of our girl friends to watch the concession while we matted. We had fun with anything that floated.”[75]

“There were other kids in our gang,” added Jim Severson. “Early on it was Walter Ryan, Jim Coberly, Larry Jones, and later, Terry (T-Street Terry) Miller, Ted Tafe, Bill Taylor, Tun Morgan, Tony Forster and the crowd slowly grew.”

“Before we could easily get to the surfboard meccas,” noted Jim’s brother John, “we started making plywood bellyboards. They were about 2’ x 3’ with rounded noses, varnished and usually had some distinctive painting. Mine had a surfing gorilla. They would rip, compared to mats...”

“As we got older,” Jim Severson said, “we needed more money to support cars and girl friends, and got jobs washing dishes and pumping gas, but the ultimate was... LIFEGUARD! Surfing lifeguards, with an emphasis on the surfin’. But it was to be years before we ever had a cash surplus again.”[76]

“Surfing was on my mind from the moment my sister Jane took me to San Onofre with her date Tom ‘Opai’ Wert, and I saw how gods walk on water.” Jim Severson continued. “Before we could drive, it was tough getting to Doheny and San Onofre where we could learn. We’d hitch or get a lift and then borrow a board, usually the worst ‘dog’ on the beach. Doheny lifeguard Dave Tansey was one of our main sponsors. His redwood-balsa weighed over 100 pounds and we probably didn’t. Dave taught us to stand the board up and then lean it back into the cradle of our arm, resting on our shoulder. We could get it there but then couldn’t lift a leg to walk. We’d just sway awhile until we sunk, dodging the falling board. We ended up dragging it to the water.

“You’d paddle like mad and pretty soon the board would start moving. Same with catching a wave. To get an angle, I’d stick an arm and a leg in the water, drag into a turn, and then stand and ride for the green. At the end of the wave, we eventually learned how to turn.”[77]
  

Dana Point


Another favorite surf break in the 1940s was Dana Point, “California’s premiere big water spot,” according to Don James. “Later Dana Point was commercially developed in concert with governmental agencies. The effects of this alteration of coastline are still being felt. Extreme shoreline erosion, storm surf property loss, severe pollution, and the virtual disappearance of the local fishing industry are only a few of the results. The point was named after author Richard Henry Dana, who immortalized the place in his book Two Years Before the Mast. Interestingly, Dana’s documentation of the early California hide trade, makes reference to an adobe-walled structure that is located near the break. This house is the ancestral home of the family of Cecilia Ortega,” who married Lorrin Harrison. The pioneer surfer and his Spanish land grant descendant lived together there for many years. Above where Lorrin built canoes and surfboards there hung in the overhead rafters, old cow hides, which dated back to the time of Dana.[78]

“Killer Dana was one of the greatest big wave spots on the West Coast. The combined talents of the Army Corps of Engineers and a contingent of Orange County developers reduced this majestic natural wonder into a permanently stagnant pond in just a couple of months. The Dana name lives on at the boat harbor, but this perversion of commerce bears no resemblance to the incredible original resource.”[79]

Before that section of coastline was reworked, a memorable moment was written down by Don James:

“We were down south filming an ‘Unsung Heroes’ motion picture short with Pete Peterson. Pete was out diving for the crew’s dinner while we surfed. Before the building of the pier and harbor, Dana Point was a great abalone site. Peterson was an incredible fisherman and no great conservationist. He used to take hundreds of abs a day from San Clemente reef week after week. I’m ashamed now that we didn’t know any better, but there wasn’t anyone around to tell us not to decimate the lobsters, abalones, and fish except for the Fish and Game Department wardens, and we used to elude them.”[80]
  

San Onofre, 1946-47


Throughout the 1930s, San Onofre had been the beach party spot, encouraging loner surfers and others who did not go in for the formality of belonging to a surf club, but still appreciated camaraderie as well as San O’s waves. Ned Jacoby was around when more formal efforts were made to secure San Onofre as a surf spot, circa 1946-47:

“In the years during WWII,” recalled Jacoby, “I was in the USAAF, living in Laguna Beach… and surfing at San Onofre whenever I had the chance. After the war ended – and still living in Laguna Beach – I surfed at San Onofre a lot. Mostly with Thayer Crispin and Ralph Kinney. Occasionally with George (“Peanuts”) Larson. Some of the regulars like Lorrin Harrison, Eddie McBride, Jim (“Burrhead”) Dreever, Opai and Fritz (“McGitz”) Watson, I knew, but not well. I wasn’t that good a surfer and they were pretty much our models.

“Back then, when you drove in to San Onofre you turned off the Coast Highway, crossed the railroad tracks by the old train station, turned left  and drove past a little shack before driving on down the dirt road to the grass hut – the area now called ‘Old Man’s.’

“There was usually a guy in the shack who would ask for something like a 50 cent entry fee. Sometimes he was asleep, drunk or both and we’d just drive by without paying. Nobody seemed to know who he represented or how he got there.

“However, when the war ended the Marines began to get more organized at Camp Pendleton. Then, one day there was a Marine enlisted guy in the shack. He wasn’t very friendly and wanted to know what we were doing there before reluctantly letting us pass. It seemed like a warning sign. If we didn’t do something soon it looked like we might shortly get closed out of ‘our’ San Onofre beach as simply a liability nuisance to a huge military reservation.”[81]

“Finally I decided to chance putting in a call to the Commanding Officer at Camp Pendleton – the legendary General ‘Howlin’ Mad’ Smith. After hearing why I was calling, General Smith’s aide-de-camp gave me an appointment to come out to Pendleton and present the case for continuing to use our San Onofre surfing spot.

“George Larson and I collected a folder of news articles and photos about San Onofre surfing and we drove out to Camp Pendleton to meet the colonel who was Gen. Smith’s aide. We didn’t get to meet General Smith but the colonel gave us at least a good half an hour. To our surprise he understood the situation immediately and was very interested. It turned out the Marine staff had no knowledge of surfing at all and didn’t realize why that particular location at San Onofre was so special and what a long surfing history it had. Nor what it meant to so many people.

“We heard nothing for several weeks. Meanwhile the rutted dirt road leading down to the grass hut had become almost undriveable. Run-off from the bluff canyons had cut deep into the road in several places. Surfers placed logs and boards to bridge the shallow ditches but the car tires were constantly slipping off and getting stuck.

“One morning we drove down prepared to negotiate the ditches and discovered to our surprise that the road was now beautifully scraped and filled! Not only that but the Marine at the entrance shack cheerfully waved us through.

“Eddie McBride was at the shack already and we asked him what had happened. Eddie told us that a few days earlier several Marines in a jeep had driven up and asked them where they wanted the road to go! The road scrapers got to work immediately! Then, a few weeks later the Marines extended the road and built some small beach huts maybe three hundred yards south of our grass hut. Soon Marine officers started to use the huts for a beach headquarters and some of them even began learning to surf – with help from the San Onofre regulars.

“Because of having to finally start work in Los Angeles that was the last I saw of San Onofre for many years. I never knew the early days when the San Onofre Surfing Club was formed; who the guys were who put it together, how it was done or whether the Marines were part of the deal. Still, I like to think that the visit we had with General Smith’s aide that day… kept us from getting fenced out then and might even have helped lay the groundwork for the future club’s acceptance.”[82]
  

Hot Curl Surfari, 1947


At the Ventura County Museum there is an archive of photos taken by Malibu resident John Larronde from the 1930s to the 1950s, and from San Onofre to Ventura. One of the photos shows George Downing, Russ Takaki and Wally Froiseth standing in front of their surfboards, on the beach somewhere. The boards all look to be under 10 feet, with pointed noses and outlines that have a hint of modernity.

When George Downing saw the photo in Hawaii, he had a good story: “Okay that was in 1947, I am positive. Me and Russ and Wally sailed from Honolulu on a Trans Pac yacht. We ended up in San Diego first, and got good waves at Windansea and those places. We bought an old car and headed up the coast and we also got good waves at Malibu. The board I am standing with, that was Pepe and one of my favorite boards. I rode that on a good day at Malibu and ran into the pier. I dinged the nose of my board and was pretty upset because I didn’t think it could be fixed. I got to the beach and saw Bob Simmons there and he said he would fix my board. I said, ‘How you gonna do that?’

“And that was the first time I saw fiberglass and resin.”[83]

This surf safari ran in the opposite direction of most trans-Pacific trips. “Switching the pattern that had developed over the previous 30 years or so of Mainland surfers coming to Hawaii – Wally Froiseth, George Downing and Russ Takaki took a surf safari to the mainland. Dates for this event vary from 1947 to 1948 and 1949, depending on who is remembering. Irregardless of the year, as Wally put it, ‘We made kind of a sensation with our boards.”[84]

The Hawaiians arrived by sailboat, crewing from O’ahu to San Diego, then bought a Model A Ford and surf safaried between Windansea, and Santa Cruz.[85]

“Wally, George Downing and myself,” took the trip, explained Russ Takaki, “and there was two other guys and the skipper and a cook.[86]

“We didn’t sail back. I didn’t have that long of vacation. It took 15 days to sail out to San Diego and then we – ah, um – we had our sleeping bags and we bummed up and down the coast a couple of weeks, maybe more. Then, we had to fly back.”[87]

The three hot curl surfers renewed friendships with Pete Peterson, Whitey Harrison and Doc Ball. They also met Bob Simmons, Matt Kivlin, Dave Rochlen, Buzzy Trent and others. While at Malibu, the waves were unseasonably small and the water colder than usual. Pidgin parlance summed it up: “It no wave sho ‘so no can go.”[88] Russ, in his modest manner, not wanting to put the Coast waves down, merely described: “Fair surf at Windansea and a little bit at Malibu.”[89]

“Just imagine,” Russ shifted from waves to water. “When Wally, Geo’ge Downing and I sailed dat yacht to San Diego, we never had any wet suits. Nobody had wet suits. At that time. And, you know, with our redwood boards – you know, they didn’t float that high [off the surface of the water]. But, when you’re young, you know, you don’t mind that much. Never freezing, but we got to shivering.

“... the fellas would build a bonfire on the beach. Throw old discarded car tires [on the fire]. And they got to stink, but – anything to keep warm!”[90]

Wally Froiseth had a number of classic photographs taken of this trip that can be seen in Nat Young’s History of Surfing.[91] I asked Russ about some of the other surfers I saw in Wally’s photos.

“We got off [the yacht] and got to know all the guys who surfed,” Russ said about who the Hawaiians hung out with. “After all, we slept on the beach.”

“You could do that in those days,” I said.

“Yeah, those days nobody bothered [you].”[92]

“Several of the California surfers,” Russ added, “would trace our boards on large sheets of paper and did a fair job of imitating our boards.”[93]

Adding to Russ’ recollections of the Mainland trip, Wally Froiseth mentioned they had gotten to see Doc Ball and stirred up a lot of interest among California surfers to go Hawaiian.

“Yeah, well, see, after we made this trip to the Coast,” Wally told me, “guys started comin’ down, little by little; send pictures back and go back with stories of their own. At one point, I got a letter from [Pete] Peterson. He writes me, telling me, ‘Hey, Wallace, this guy here says you guys are out surfing Barber’s Point in 60-foot waves – that right?’”[94]

Wally said the waves of mainland surfers coming over to O‘ahu were welcomed warmly, but that some of the new breed “lacked aloha,” meaning that the kind of brotherhood the Hot Curl and Waikiki guys had shared together was not automatically adopted by the visitors. Wally gave me an example of food. Where he and the Tavern People would share whatever food they had with anyone, that wasn’t always the case with some of the Coast Haoles who came after 1948.[95]

Another thing Wally brought up was ego.

“Well, this one guy [from the Mainland] – what happens, see – he came down to the Tavern, there. We’re all sitting down in my little junk car. We’re talking about, ‘Oh, tomorrow, we’re going out. North Shore’s supposed to be big... Makaha, too, might be big.’

“So, he says, ‘Hey – ‘

“You know – he’s a neat guy, now, but at that time – he said he’s ‘the best up the Coast’ and all that kind of stuff.

“‘Good, I’d like to see.’ Maybe we could learn something from this guy.

“‘When you guys going?’

“‘We’re going tomorrow. You wanna go? Be down here 6 o’clock in the morning and we take you out.’

“So, we did. Next day, we took him out. We’re going to Makaha, but we look at Barber’s Point. So beautiful, so glassy and the waves were just so beautiful. ‘Hey, let’s check this out!’

“So, Woody Brown, Georgie, me and a couple of Hawaiian kids who were kinda small at that time... we go out there. We go by the lighthouse; paddle out. After we got out, we paddled way down to get the biggest peak. But, they started to get bigger and bigger and bigger. By and by, we kept getting moved back closer to where we were when we started. It was beautiful! Just glassy, just so perfect. They were so big, that we were taking off on different ends – long peaks – and you’re just passing each other in opposite directions.

“And this guy, he never caught one wave! He just sat there! Couldn’t believe it!

“So, he’s the guy who talked to Peterson. They were big, but 60-foot? Nowhere’s close.”[96]

As previously mentioned, George Downing has their trip as 1947 and Russ Takaki stated it was in 1949. Most historians cite 1948. I favor Downing’s date.[99]





[1] Grun, 1991, p. 524.
[2] Kahanamoku, 1968, p. 45.
[3] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “Redwoods, Hollows & Redwood Combos.”
[4] Barilotti, Steve. “Casualty of War,” Surfer, Volume 38, Number 8, August 1997, p. 54.
[5] Barilotti, 1997, p. 54. Robert Palmer quoted.
[6] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “Redwoods, Hollows & Redwood Combos.”
[7] Barilotti, 1997, p. 54. LeRoy Grannis quoted.
[8] Barilotti, 1997, p. 54.
[9] Gault-Williams, LEGENDARY SURFERS Volume 2: Early Twentieth Century Surfing and Tom Blake, ©2007.
[10] Cal Porter blog post, August 25, 2008.
[11] Cal Porter blog post, August 25, 2008.
[12] Stecyk, C. R., Sufers Journal.
[13] Lockwood, 2005-2006, p. 59.
[14] Lockwood, “Waterman Preston ‘Pete’ Peterson,” 2005-2006, p. 62.
[15] Lockwood, “Waterman Preston ‘Pete’ Peterson,” 2005-2006, p. 62.
[16] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Telephone interview with Hobie Alter, October 10, 2001.
[17] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Tommy Zahn, 27 July 1988. Tommy Zahn quoted.
[18] Holmes, Paul. Dale Velzy is Hawk, © 2006 by Paul Holmes, p. 50. Pete’s first balsa dated as 1936.
[19] Lockwood, “Waterman Preston ‘Pete’ Peterson,” 2005-2006, p. 62. See also “The Malibu Board,” and “From Wood to Foam,” chapters in the LEGENDARY SURFERS collection.
[20] Young, 1983, p. 61.
[21] Lockwood, “Waterman Preston ‘Pete’ Peterson,” 2005-2006, p. 62. See also “The Malibu Board,” and “From Wood to Foam,” chapters in the LEGENDARY SURFERS collection.
[22] Young, 1983, p. 61.
[23] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Tommy Zahn, 27 July 1988. Tommy Zahn quoted.
[24] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Tommy Zahn, 27 July 1988.
[25] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Telephone Interview with Hobie Alter, October 10, 2001.
[26] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Telephone Interview with Hobie Alter, October 10, 2001.
[27] Gault-Williams, LEGENDARY SURFERS Volume 3: The 1930s, ©2012. Chapter on Pete.
[28] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996. This section on Whitey primarily drawn from LEGENDARY SURFERS Volume 3: The 1930s.
[29] Clark, Let’s Go, Let’s Go! © 1997, p. 24.
[30] Stecyk, The Surfer’s Journal, Winter 1993-94, p. 38.
[31] Surfer, Vol. 35, No. 1, January 1994, p. 30.
[32] Stecyk, The Surfer’s Journal, Winter 1993-94, p. 42.
[33] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with John “Doc” Ball, January 10, 1998.
[34] Kahanamoku, 1968, p. 45.
[35] John Grissim, Pure Stoke, 1982, p. 20. Dave Rochlen quoted.
[36] Lynch, Gary. “Biograhical Sketch of Dr. John Heath Ball,” February 2, 1989. Also Doc’s Notes on the Draft, May 19-21, 1998.
[37] Lynch, Gary. “Doc Ball, Legendary Lensman,” April 10, 1990. In his Notes on the Draft to this chapter, Doc noted about the $7.25 price: “hardback, yet!”
[38] Ball, John “Doc”. Early California Surfriders, 1995, reissued California Surfriders 1946, 1946, 1979. Published by Jim Feuling, 1995, Pacific Publishing, 2521 Palma Drive, Ventura, California 93003.
[39] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Surfing, Volume 32, Number 10, October 1996, p. 64. Book review.
[40] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with John “Doc” Ball, January 10, 1998.
[41] Lynch, Gary. “Doc Ball, Legendary Lensman,” April 10, 1990.
[42] Lynch, Gary. “Biograhical Sketch of Dr. John Heath Ball,” February 2, 1989. The NG piece ran eight pages, entitled “Surf-Boarders Capture California,” September 1944.
[43] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 52-53.
[44] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[45] Noll, Greg. Da Bull, p. 93.
[46] Doyle, 1993, pp. 26-27. See Gault-Williams, “Doc Ball, Father of Surf Photography.”
[47] Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation.” Internet Paper focusing on Southern California’s surf culture in the post-World War II period. URL:  http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/wavesof.html..  See also carin_crawford@qm.salk.edu. Opai is currently an instructor of American Government courses at Orange Coast College.
[48] Stecyk, Craig. Surfer, Volume 33, Number 12, p. 41.
[49] Stecyk, Craig. The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 41.
[50] Grissim, 1982, p. 20.
[51] Gault-Williams, interview with Rennie Yater, March 24, 1994.
[52] Press-Telegram, February 19, 1930.
[53] Press-Telegram, July 13, 1930.
[54] Press-Telegram, September 1, 1930.
[55] Gault-Williams. LEGENDARY SURFERS Volume 3: The 1930s.
[56] Press-Telegram, December 31, 1930.
[57] Press-Telegram, January 28, 1932.
[58] Press-Telegram, January 2, 1934.
[59] Press-Telegram, May 20, 1936.
[60] Press-Telegram, July 7, 1938.
[61] Press-Telegram, January 2, 1940.
[62] Press-Telegram, February 11, 1940.
[63] Press-Telegram, April 13, 1940.
[64] Press-Telegram, October 3, 1940.
[65] Press-Telegram, October 17, 1940.
[66] Press-Telegram, October 23, 1940.
[67] Press-Telegram, March 16, 1941
[68] Press-Telegram, October 16, 1941.
[69] Press-Telegram, April 3, 1942.
[70] Press-Telegram, April 10, 1942.
[71] The Surfer’s Journal, “Sentimental Journey,” A recollection of growing up in the late forties and early fifties by the “San Clemente Surfers,” Jim and John Severson and Vince Nelson, Volume 4, Number 3, ©Fall 1995, p. 92. Vince Nelson quoted.
[72] The Surfer’s Journal, “Sentimental Journey,” Fall 1995, pp. 92-93. Jim Severson.
[73] The Surfer’s Journal, “Sentimental Journey,” Fall 1995, p. 93. Vince Nelson.
[74] The Surfer’s Journal, “Sentimental Journey,” Fall 1995, p. 94. Jim Severson.
[75] The Surfer’s Journal, “Sentimental Journey,” Fall 1995, p. 95. Vince Nelson and Jim Severson.
[76] The Surfer’s Journal, “Sentimental Journey,” Fall 1995, pp. 96-97. Vince Nelson, Jim and John Severson.
[77] The Surfer’s Journal, “Sentimental Journey,” Fall 1995, p. 97. Jim Severson.
[78] James, Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume, 1936-1942, ©1996, p. 132. Don James written caption to image on p. 71.
[79] James, Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume, 1936-1942, ©1996, p. 132. Don James written caption to image on p. 73.
[80] James, Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume, 1936-1942, ©1996, p. 132. Don James written caption to image on p. 72.
[81] Emai from Ned Jacoby to Spencer Croul, October 7, 2003. Lorrin incorrectly spelled “Loren” in the original.
[82] Emai from Ned Jacoby to Spencer Croul, October 7, 2003. The story of the San Onofre Surf Club and the preservation of San O as a surfing spot is continued in Volume 5 of LEGENDARY SURFERS.
[83] Marcus, Ben. Interview with George Downing, date unknown but sometime around 2010. George was so adamant about the date, that I have gone from 1948 to 1949 (Russ’s recollection) to 1947. Makes sense that this began the “Coast Haole Migration.”
[84] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[85] Young, Nat. The History of Surfing, Palm Beach Press, Palm Beach, NSW, Australia, ©1983, p. 67. Lueras has Woody Brown in this group, but by Woody’s own recollections to this author he didn’t return to California after 1940 until 1993. See also  Stecyk, C.R.  The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 54.
[86] Stecyk and Pezman, “Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story,” 1994. Steve Pezman has this event in “the postwar late 1940s,” in a special “Surfer Style” issue of Surfer magazine, 1983.  Noted in Lueras, Leonard.  Surfing, The Ultimate Pleasure, Workman Publishing, New York, NY, ©1984, p. 117. Lueras has Pezman as one of the early Californians to venture over. In the Surfer article, Pezman refers to himself the same way, writing, “They tasted Malibu as we had tasted Castles surf.”
[87] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Russ Takaki, March 16, 1997.
[88] Stecyk, C.R. The Surfer’s Journal, ©1992, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 54.
[89] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Russ Takaki, March 16, 1997.
[90] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Russ Takaki, March 16, 1997. Russ remembered the year of the trip as 1949.
[91] See Young, 1983, pp. 66, 67 & 72.
[92] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Russ Takaki, March 16, 1997.
[93] Russ Takaki, in notating the draft of the interview, July 1997.
[94] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[95] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[96] Gault-Williams. Interview with Wally Froiseth, April 3, 1996.
[97] Stecyk, C.R. The Surfer’s Journal, ©1992, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 54. Russ told me he remembers it as “around’ 1949,” but was very specific, when correcting my draft of the interview, that it was 1949.
[98] Stecyk and Pezman, “Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story.” Pez has this event in “the postwar late 1940s,” in a special “Surfer Style” issue of Surfer magazine, 1983. Noted in Lueras, Leonard. Surfing, The Ultimate Pleasure, Workman Publishing, New York, NY, ©1984, p. 117. Lueras has Pezman as one of the early Californians to venture over. In the Surfer article, Pez refers to himself the same way, writing, “They tasted Malibu as we had tasted Castles surf.”
[99] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Russ Takaki, March 16, 1997.

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