Aloha and welcome to the LEGENDARY SURFERS chapter on surfing as it was in 1954.
Disclaimer: I've tried my best to pin-point surfing events and stories that took place in 1954, but realize there may be some inconsistencies in the chronology.
Rick, Mike, Sonny and Bing, 1955. Photo by Velzy.
Miki and Mickey
The Death of Simmons
Greg Noll Hits the North Shore
Makaha Quonset Huts
A Haole in Waipahu High
Pau Malu = Sunset Beach
Henry “Hanalei” Preece
The Hike Around Kaena Point
Makaha International Surfing Championships
Last Days of the Hot Curl
In the United States, it was the time just before the birth of Rock ‘n Roll. Popular tunes contained no hard edges, but no real excitement, either. “Ebb Tide,” “Stranger in Paradise,” “Fernando’s Hideaway,” “Mr. Sandman” and “Young at Heart” were the typical U.S. radio fare. Television was still new, with penetration into 29 million American homes. The country contained only 6 per cent of the world’s population, but had 60 per cent of the planet’s vehicles, 58 per cent of all telephones, 45 per cent of all radio sets, and 34 per cent of all railroads.8
Politically, two events took place that would have significant effect in the decade following. In Vietnam, the Dien Bien Phu valley was taken by Vietnamese Communists, from the French. Their resultant takeover of Hanoi resulted in a split of that Southeast Asian country. Closer to home, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation by color in public schools was a violation of the 14th Ammendment to the Constitution.9
The political year of 1954 is probably best known in the United States, however, as the end of the “Era of McCarthyism.” Senator Joseph R. McCarthy continued his witch-hunting activities and these culminated in a nationally televised hearing seeking to prove communist infiltration into the U.S. Army. In so doing, McCarthy went too far even for arch conservatives. His formal censure and condemnation by Senate resolution soon followed.10
Beach music – the surf music equivalent in the winter of 1953-54 – came in the form of Ralph's Beach Boys. They featured Hawaiian music and comprised the likes of Ralph Kolsiana, Pete Peterson and Tommy Zahn. They headlined at Sweeny's Tropicana, in Culver City.11
But surfing’s vortex still remained the Hawaiian Islands and more specifically, O`ahu’s breaks along Waikiki. Stand-out surfer in early 1950s Hawaii was George Downing, protégé of Hotcurl surfer Wally Froiseth...
George Downing was big on O`ahu during this time. Although the Coast haoles often got more of the glory in the budding surf media (Bud Browne's surf movies began in 1953 and there was always the occasional photo), Hawaiian surfers like Buffalo Keaulana, Henry Preece, Rabbit Kekai, Hot Curl legend Wally Froiseth and Wally's protoge, George Downing regularly rode O`ahu's biggest waves year 'round.
Beginning surfing during World War II, under the tutelage of Wally, George Downing surpassed his teacher in the 1950s.12
"George is a world champion surfboard paddler and winner of the International Surfing Senior Championship for the years 1954 and 1955," wrote O.B. Patterson in a work published in 1960. "He also won the six-mile Diamond Head race on December 26, 1955, setting an almost unbelievable time of forty-six minutes twenty-three and three-tenths seconds. He went to Lima, Peru, in 1954 where he won honors, and in 1956 he paddled in the Catalina Island-Manhattan Beach race, a twenty-six-mile course."13
On the Mainland, north of San Diego in the Oceanside area, Phil Edwards continued to make a name for himself amongst the California surfers.
"In the seventh and eigth grades," wrote Phil Edwards, telling of how most all his schoolmates were into football and basketball, but not him, "I would make it down to the beach at 6:30 a.m. I would have made it earlier but (1) I wasn't old enough and (2) my mother wouldn't let me.
"I would surf each morning, riding fast to keep from freezing to death, until I saw our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen, drive up the hill on their way to work. They would give me the high sign -- which helped, since Mrs. Kitchen was my home-room teacher. It meant I had exactly time for two more rides. I would wave back, swing around and paddle out to sea like mad for the first of them. Then I would stash the board back in the lifeguard tower, change into my school clothes right there on the beach, jump on the bike and pedal to beat hell for school. Each day, when I pulled up short in home room, my hair was still wet..."14
While Edwards admitted that school offered one kind of learning, he also wrote, "we learned a great deal that books cannot teach you. Surfing's lessons: On the biting cold days, old automobile tires make a fine fire to surf by. The rubber burns easily -- once you get it started -- and throws off a rich, black heat that warms you between runs. It also makes a hell of a smear across the sky. In those days anyone on the California coast knew where I was by looking for the plume of black smoke. We would gather up the tires, drive to Swami's Point, sit shivering in our cars until the surf came up -- then roll the tires down over the cliff onto the beach.
"Naturally, you can't do this any more. There is a regulation against everything now...
"Swami's Point -- as every surfer knows -- is a point break not far from Oceanside. We called it Swami's because there is a Self Realization Fellowship there. Its members were reaching self-realization their way, by meditating, I guess, and we were finding it our way.
"Another lesson: You understand about wet suits... But I began in the days Before Wet Suits."15
Closer to L.A., Mike Doyle – younger than Edwards -- was just starting out in the Manhattan Beach / Long Beach area.
"Once I'd discovered there was such a thing as surfing," wrote Mike Doyle in his autobiography Morning Glass, "I began plotting my chance to try it. I used to stand out in the surf and wait until one of the surfers lost his board. The boards then were eleven feet long, twenty-four inches wide, and weighed fifty or sixty pounds. When they washed in broadside, they would hit me in the legs and knock me over. I would jump back up, scramble the board around, hop on, and paddle it ten feet before the owner snatched it back -- 'Thanks, kid' -- and paddled it away.
"One day in 1954, when I was thirteen, I was down at Manhattan Pier watching a guy ride a huge, old-fashioned paddle board -- what we used to call a 'kook box.' It was holllow, square-railed, made of mahogany, about fourteen feet long, maybe sixty-five pounds, and had no skeg (or fin). It was the kind of paddle board lifeguards used for rescues; they worked fine for that purpose, but for surfing they were unbelievably awkward. When the guy came out of the water, dragging the board behind him, I asked if I could borrow it for a while. He looked at me like, 'Get lost, kid.' But when he sat down on the beach, I pestered him until he finally shrugged and nodded toward the board."16
"I'd watched enough surfing by then to have a pretty clear idea of the technique involved," Doyle continued. "I dragged the board into the water and flopped on top of it. After a while I managed to paddle the thing out beyond the shore break and get it turned around. To my surprise, after a few awkward tries, I managed to get that big clumsy thing going left on a three-foot wave. I came to my feet, right foot forward, just like riding a scooter. I had no way of turning the board -- paddle boards are so awkward even expert surfers can barely turn them -- but for a few brief seconds, I was gliding over the water.
"As the wave started to break behind me, I looked back, then completely panicked. I hadn't thought that far ahead yet! My first impulse was to bail out, so I jumped out in front of the board, spread-eagled. That massive paddle board hit me right between the legs. I washed up on the beach, dragged myself onto dry sand, and lay there groaning. Within minutes my left testicle had swelled up to the size of a grapefruit..."17
The small bands of mainland surfers coming over to Makaha and the North Shore of O`ahu to surf was now getting some attention from the Hawaiian media. At the beginning of 1954, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin described the surfer lifestyle in these locations: "If you asked the average Islander to point out Makaha to you, you'd probably run into a lot of inaccurate pointing... But a small band of Californians have found Makaha without any trouble. They are content to go without the usual luxuries of modern day living, just so they can surf there. Three Californians arrived about 10 days ago to join a hardy band of some 15 ascetics living in a shack about two blocks from the surf. The new arrivals have taken a cottage across the street -- for $10 a month each -- and have scattered swim fins, spears, and surfboards around their new house-with-kitchen -- the kitchen being a Coleman stove."18
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter went on to write: "Overhead, surfboards hang by rope so they can be let down with ease, while swim fins hang on chairs scattered in between seven beds, bunks and cots." The article was accompanied by a photograph with the caption: "From California to Makaha." It showed the current crop of mainland haoles which included Buzzy Trent, Flippy Hoffman, Chuck McClelland, Junior Knox, Jim Fisher and Ted Crane. Buzzy was quoted by the reporter as saying, "We have a garden, we spear our fish -- yesterday Junior Knox got us a 65-pound turtle -- and we have salads, stews and things. It's a community thing. We are over here strictly to surf, and corny as it may sound, the surf over here is terrific. It's the best."19
There's this mid-February 195420 photo of "Walt, Mojas and Hap Jacobs patching boards in front of the Tavern. In those days, even more important than the availability of cocktails at surfs edge, was a belly full of food for a hungry surfer. Recalls Walter, 'The Tavern had a great $1 salad bar where we trained for M's Ranch House, the infamous South Shore restaurant that offered the truly daunting challenge of eating a 4 1/2 lb. steak and all the trimmings in one hour for free, otherwise it was 9.95'" This was accomplished by Walt, Tommy Zahn, Tom Moore, Carter Pyle and Buzzy Trent (who broke the record by eating everything in 20 minutes "to the horror of the proprietor"). Bud Brown's got part of it on film.21
Later that year, Walter Hoffman said, "Buzzy and I stayed in this little house on Kaiulani Avenue in Waikiki during the Summer of '54. It didn't have a kitchen, just a place to wash and sleep for $35 a month -- which we split."22
Miki and Mickey
By the beginning of 1954, two surf gremmies by the name of Mickey Munoz and Miki Dora were doing a thriving business patching boards. Dora's step father was Gard Chapin.
As for Munoz, his grandfather died and left behind a large stash of fine gin and Cuban cigars. Thus, the pair worked "through the summer toking Cubans, knocking back gin lemonades and listening to Chico Sesna records," wrote surf historian Craig Stecyk. "At the end of summer, using their hard earned cash, the boys will venture to Hawaii with Michael Donovan and Jimmy Fisher." The 15-year-old Munoz left behind a note for his mother: "Dear Mom, gone to Islands, Love Mickey. Will write."23
Nat Young tells it a different way, with another combination and a year later: "Mickey Chapin/Dora was another hot kid that travelled the [California] coast in that era," wrote Young. "It was inevitable that he should run into Phil [Edwards] and the two of them used to cruise around together, putting on displays of fancy turning and fast footwork."24 According to Young, Dora and Edwards "both made the journey [to Hawai‘i] in 1955."25
There's a picture of Tom Carlin standing behind Simmons' rusted out 1937 Ford Tudor that was taken in La Jolla, January 9, 1954. The photograph hints at some things. You can clearly see that the back windows were painted out, which became a Simmons trademark. What you don't see is what's inside: the back plywood deck with just a sleeping bag thrown over it. Located elsewhere inside the '37 Ford were hydrographic charts, cans of beans and boomerangs. Carlin's checking out the day's 20' storm surf. Tijuana Sloughs was closed out. Simmons couldn't get out there on his double-slotted, all balsa 11' concave twin fin with rope handles which is clearly visible on top the Tudor. So, Bob Simmons had come to La Jolla to give it a go. What the photo doesn't show is that Simmons studied the La Jolla surf break all across the outer kelp beds. During a lull, he dashed in. Witnesses say that half way out a big set hit which he attempted to roll through, holding on to his rope handles. He disappeared under a massive wall of soup and ended up under his board, on the beach, still hanging on.26
Nine months later, the end of the "Simmons Era" came to an abrupt end when Simmons died surfing at Windansea. Robert Wilson Simmons, age 35 -- the "father of the modern surfboard"27 -- died surfing on September 26, 1954. How he died, exactly is unknown. Greg Noll said Simmons, "Got slapped on the head by his own board and that was it."28 One of the guys hanging out with Simmons that day says other surfers on the beach last remember him diving underwater to avoid a collision with one of the riders.29
Bev Morgan told Dewey Schurman about the day. "It was another one of those deals with Simmons banging on my door at three in the morning. My wife just put a foot in the middle of my back and shoved me out of bed. 'Go, you bastard,' she said.
"We headed south. We parked somewhere and sacked out. In those days, you just pulled over anywhere you wanted and threw out your sleeping bag. Simmons always slept in his car. He had his '37 Ford, all the windows [in the back] painted out. So we went to La Jolla. Windansea was about 10 feet. I watched him get a few, and then he got wiped out. I watched him go in and get his board a couple of times. I didn't lose my board too much in those days.
"Finally, I got a little hungry for lunch and went in. His board was sitting up against the shack. So I stacked mine up there and went to the car to get some lunch. He usually had a sack of oranges.
"Everybody had been talking about Bird Rock, and I figured he'd gone down with some guys to check it out. An hour or so went by and I started to get a little concerned. So I started asking everybody. And one of the guys had seen him dive under a wave as three or four guys went across the face. And we figured he maybe got hit by a fin. With the surf that big, what are you doing to do but wait and look? And he never did show up. We figured he got hit by a board, but when they found the body a couple of days later, he'd been banging around the reefs for a couple of days, and they couldn't tell what had happened. And that was the end of that."30
According to Greg Noll, it wasn't that big a day, certainly not beyond Simmons' skills. "The irony of it is that it was only a six-or-eight-foot day," wrote Noll. "That's the way it always goes. For the most part, it's not the big waves that get a guy. It's always some quirky thing."31
Bob Simmons' body was found three days later, at the foot of Bonair Street at the north end of Windansea. "Ironically," wrote Leonard Lueras, "that spot is now the favored hangout of La Jolla area surfers and the site of Windansea's famed Polynesian thatch hut and 'surfer's parking lot.'"32
The “two Mickeys” and Donovan were not the only ones now joining the Hoffmans, Buzzy Trent et al. Even though he was still in high school, Greg Noll joined the list.
"Greg was always pretty much a daredevilish guy," recalled Sonny Vardeman. "During our senior year , Greg, Steve Voorhees and a couple of other guys took part of the year off and went to Hawaii to high school. This was a big move in those days for a seventeen-year-old guy... From that point on, Greg was stuck on surfing and on Hawaii."33
"I was a goody two-shoes in high school," Beverly Noll recalled of her early years as Greg Noll's sidekick, beginning on the mainland. "I didn't stay out after ten. I was a good little girl. A cheerleader involved in all sorts of school activities. Greg was involved in absolutely nothing but surfing.
"Greg was pretty much a man of the world at age fifteen. He and Bing Copeland used to come to football games. Here I am, cheering for the home team, and I'd see Greg and Bing, arriving late in the game. They'd situp in the bleachers. Greg always wore this awful Salvation Army trenchcoat. He liked it because he could stow a gallon of wine under it. Here he is to take me home and I am mortified, but I would go....
"Greg always has done just as he pleases. I don't think it was a matter of his parents giving up on him... As a young man, Greg lived and breathed surfing. There was nothing else as important to him. He made it very clear to me that if I could fit into that scheme and go along with him, that was fine. If not, I would be history. I never even considered not doing what Greg wanted to do. I was in awe of him and would have followed him off the edge of the world.
"We went together through high school. When Greg went away to school in the Islands, I'd date a little, but it was more like pals dating pals. All of my friends and Greg's friends grew up together. We were together on the beach all the time. I always hung out around the guys -- Sonny, Bones, Steve Voorhees. We were the 17th Street Group, and Greg was from the Manhattan Beach Pier Group. The guys stole each other's waves, we had water-balloon and rotten-egg fights, all the things kids do. When Greg and I got together, it was a natural thing for us to still do everything with all these guys. I was often the only woman along."34
Greg Noll, Steve Voorhees, Mike Stange, Billy Meng and "the Hermosa guys" went to the North Shore "in the fall of '54," Noll recalled. "We'd all heard about older guys like Buzzy Trent, Flippy and Walter Hoffman living in quonset huts at Makaha. I couldn't wait to go. I was seventeen, six or seven years younger than these guys and still in high school. To live and go to school in Hawaii, I'd need a guardian. I found one in Billy Meng, a surfer about seven years older. Somehow I bullshitted my folks into believing that Billy Meng was a fine, upstanding individual and that he was going to be my guardian while I finished high school in the Islands...
"Steve Voorhees, Mike Stange, Billy Meng and a couple of other guys we knew also went with me that winter. We found a big quonset hut to live in at Makaha. I had bought an old truck to drive back and forth between Makaha and school. Whenever the surf was up, Meng wrote me any kind of excuse I needed to stay home and surf.”35
"Those early years at Makaha are among the highlights of my life," wrote Greg Noll. "Our quonset hut looked right out at the point. Our daily routine revolved around surfing, diving and fishing. If the surf was flat, we'd fish or dive. If there were waves, we'd surf. School came second... or third. I probably averaged a few days a week, just enough to get by.
"During the week, there were only a handful of guys who surfed Makaha, mostly those of us who lived there in quonset huts. George Downing would come out on weekends... To me, George Downing is an incredible individual who has made an enormous contribution to the sport. He's still out there. His kids are out there... He promotes surfing as a way of life. When I was growing up, George Downing was my idol.
"Georgie was known as the Teacher. He loved seeing others get involved in surfing and was always willing to help you out., give you tips to improve your performance...
"Wally Froiseth was another great old surfer who started back in the redwood-balsa era. George learned a lot from him. Wally was sort of Georgie's mentor when Georgie became among the first of the new breed of surfers to use lightweight boards. Georgie took advantage of the balsawood board and was the first to really conquer Makaha. In my opinion, George Downing was the first of the modern big-wave riders."36
"Greg and I really got to know each other in the fall of '54," recalled Mike Stange, "when we were in the Islands for the first time. Billy Meng and I and a few other guys had spent the summer there. Greg came over around the end of August. About six of us went in together and rented an old army quonset hut out near the point at Makaha.
"1954 was the beginning of a lifetime of experience for me. I'd spent my last couple years in high school dreaming about Makaha and its big waves. The North Shore was like the back side of the moon in those days. Full of mysterious and frightening tales. Makaha was the place of rideable big waves. Bobby Grubb, another of my high school buddies who was a Manhattan Beach Pier surfer, and I had stoked ourselves to a high pitch that last year of high school. Too high for me, to the detriment of schoolwork and all else. I went down the tubes in more ways than on waves, with dropped classes, failing grades and finally, expulsion from school several months before graduation.
"My poor parents didn't understand what was happening to me. My older brother, who had gone through El Segundo High before me, was a great athlete and student who went on to U.C.L.A., played on several championship water polo teams and competed in the 1954 Olympics at Helsinki. And here I was, a dropout.
"But Makaha did come up to twenty feet that year, so I finally got my wish. In fact, in '56, Makaha again broke at twenty feet and again I got my wish. Greg was in Australia with the lifeguard paddling team when it happened.
"I met Billy Meng through Bobby Grubb while we were in high school. Bill would show up in his canary-yellow Model T pickup outside school on Thursday and we'd all head to Rincon for four or five days. These trips to Rincon developed in us a love for the place that would bring me, Meng and Greg all together again in 1955 to live near there for a time.
"Billy Meng was from San Pedro. He was like a character right out of a John Steinbeck novel, real slow and easygoing, talked like a down-home boy. Bill was a good influence on us younger guys. He loved people and people loved him. He was a basic, honest guy who loved to have a good time. In the fifties, surfing was a far-out, good-time-on-the-fringes sport. People who lived ten miles inland didn't know what a surfboard was. I don't think most people today realize how fast surfing developed between 1950 and 1960.
"Every summer, we'd all work as lifeguards on the Mainland to earn money to go back to Hawaii for the winter surf. In '54, I lived in the Islands for six months on six hundred dollars I had saved during the summer. We ate a lot of oatmeal. Greg and I were actually a lot better off than a lot of the guys who went over there. Some of them didn't have any money."37
"The nearest high school was Waipahu High," Greg Noll reminisced. "There were two haoles in the whole school, myself and a girl. The rest were Hawaiians. Lots of bad-ass characters from Nanakuli, a real tough neighborhood... I finally made friends with Bongo Alapai, a giant, three-hundred-pound Hawaiian. We had wood shop together. That was one class I excelled in, but Bongo wasn't worth shit at wood. He couldn't make a thing. So I built him a doorstop to turn in for his project. He got an A, and from that time on I was his haole boy. Nobody could mess with me after that.
"Little by little, I made friends with other Hawaiians and got along really well. Since then my heart has always belonged with the Hawaiians. To this day, when I go to the Islands, to the home of my good friend Henry Preece or Buffalo Keaulana, they introduce me to their friends as 'Dis my good friend Greg Noll. He went Waipahu High.' It gives me instant local credibility.
"I had real bad sores, or kakios, on my feet from stepping on coral. The coral sand gets in your sores and gets infected. I still have the scars. At school, you had to have a permit from the nurse to wear go-aheads, or thongs, or else you had to wear shoes. Well, the nurse was an old haole gal and she liked me. I told her I just couldn't wear shoes. I've got these awful sores... She gave me a permanent pass to wear thongs.
"In every class the teacher would ask me for a pass. If I didn't have it on me I'd go to the nurse and get another one. Pretty soon the teachers stopped asking me. As it turned out, I was the only guy who never wore shoes to school. That was my claim to fame at Waipahu High.
"No Hawaiian I know likes to wear shoes, so this really pissed them off. Guys from Waipahu High still remember. Years later, whenever they see me they say, 'You fockin' haole, how come I hadda wear shoes an' I never see you wear 'em even one time?'38"
The North Shore of O‘ahu had been considered off-limits, since 1943, when Woody Brown and Dickie Cross got caught outside at Sunset and tried swimming in at Waimea. Dickie Cross died in an effort described by Woody as an effort to bodysurf in during 30 foot wave conditions. Woody, himself, barely made it in by diving under the sets of waves and letting them push him into shore.39
In the early 1950s, the North Shore was only just beginning to again be tapped. Mike Stange told of one of the early sessions their crew made on the North Shore, that reminded him a lot of the stories he had heard about Woody's and Dickie's fatal surf:
"During that first trip to the North Shore, the same thing nearly happened to us that happened to Woody Brown, Dickie Cross... The surf came up. From nice six-to-eight-foot waves, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. We were out at the place near Sutherland's house that we called Noll's Reef and Greg saw this mountain moving across the point and said, 'We gotta get back to Sunset.'
"Greg and Fisher and I actually went back to Sunset Beach. Here we were, just kids, and we paddled out at Sunset as it was coming up. Fisher was ahead of us and caught a wave first. Greg and I were together. We pulled off the rip and a wave came up that was the biggest thing I had ever seen. I saw Greg rise to the top of the wave -- he looked like a tiny doll -- just before it broke on us. I pushed my board toward the rip and dove under.
"We finally struggled in to shore. The waves were still coming up and my board was still caught in the rip. Greg talked me into borrowing Fisher's board and paddling out in the rip. We started feeling scared, remembering the story about Dickie Cross. George Downing and some of the other guys had warned us to be careful on the North Shore. Now, here we were, in the thick of it.
"Even the channel looked like it was going to break on us. The waves seemed to be leaping up in size. Greg suddenly says, 'Let's catch some of these bigger sets that are breaking straight across! Go!'
"So he catches one of those waves and I'm suddenly left out there alone. I was scared to death. I finally caught some inside shorebreaker -- even it was about ten feet high -- just to get in.
"Afterwards, we stood on top of the truck, watching the waves break on the horizon. When we had left Makaha that morning, the waves were just lapping on shore. Now, that afternoon, we were getting our first look at close-out sets on the North Shore. The sun was going down, the spray from the waves hung like clouds on the horizon. The next morning, the entire North Shore was closed out. We went back to Makaha and it was big there, too.
"My first exposure to big waves left an everlasting impression. As the waves grew in size and started breaking farther out, the ocean looked like it was tipping up on the horizon. I'll never forget it. I probably wouldn't have gone out if it hadn't been for Greg. He always encouraged me to go beyond what I thought were my capabilities."40
"At the time," admitted Greg Noll, "I never thought about the consequences of what we were doing. My deal was 'If it feels good, do it.'
"In life, you only get one shot at a friend like Mike Stange... During the years that Mike was surfing with me, he was a tremendous companion. When you're headed out to an unknown place, it's a lot more fun to have someone you trust and care for beside you. During the days we surfed together, Mike often was viewed by others as my sidekick, and he likes to tell how he let me figure the lineups. Well, this may be so, but Mike was my reassurance. I benefited equally from the friendship. We became a team during those early days. There wasn't much we didn't do together...
"One day, Mike and I just jumped in the truck and headed to the North Shore. That day is still as clear in my mind as it was then. Steve Voorhees and Jim Fisher were with us. We drove through the pineapple fields to the big taboo land. It was a beautiful day. We drove across the Haleiwa Bridge, looking for Sunset Beach. We didn't know exactly where it was; we just hoped to run into it. The surf looked good, about six or eight feet. A very small day for the North Shore, as we now realize.
"We drove by all the big places that were not yet named or even known. That seven-mile stretch along the North Shore has become God's gift to surfers. I remember driving past so many beautiful breaks. Every so often, one of us would yell, "Look at that!" We had our pick of wherever we wanted to go out.
"There was one place I wanted to stop and try out. It was in front of Jock Sutherland's mom's house, just the other side of Laniakea. Jock was just a toddler then... That day, everybody got pissed off because they wanted to find Sunset and I wanted to try this spot. It was my truck we were driving, but I grudgingly went on.
"We finally agreed to stop at one place where the surf looked good. A really pretty spot. Nobody told us it was Sunset Beach. A sign nearby said PAU MALU. The name Sunset Beach came later, from a little market down the street called Sunset Market.
"We went out and had a good time, got stomped on a bit. We were not at all experienced in big waves. Even six- and eight-footers were a challenge. We finally got back in the truck and headed to that spot I had originally wanted to try... The other guys thought it looked shitty. They wanted to head back to Makaha. I went out anyway and caught three or four waves before the other guys finally came out. It was a lot better once you got out there and started surfing. In fact, that day, the waves were better than the ones we had ridden at Sunset. For about five years after that, the guys called this place Noll's Reef.
"We became good friends with Mrs. Sutherland. She would invite us in for lunch now and then. This was more than a bunch of teenagers on their own from the Mainland could ask for."41
"My first season in the Islands was a real learning experience," confirmed Noll. "I still had a lot of surfing to do to get to the point where I felt comfortable in big waves. I think any Mainland surfer's first exposure to the North Shore produces some ominous feelings. Surfing big waves is not something you tackle easily.
"After that first time, we made four or five trips over to the North Shore that year. Hardly anyone lived there -- for sure, no one we knew. In those days, when surfers went to the Islands, they stayed at Makaha. The North Shore was a remote outpost.
"It's hard for surfers today to imagine what it was like, back in the fifties. When we drove to the North Shore, usually the only other surfers we'd see were the ones we took with us in the truck... Today, you drive down that seven-mile stretch and see cars bumper-to-bumper at every one of those surf spots -- Haleiwa, Waimea, Pupukea, Pipeline, Sunset."42
An influential north shore Hawaiian surfer of the time and one who would become close friends with the visiting Noll was Henry "Hanalei" Preece. Preece surfed Makaha and the North Shore. He had moved to Hale‘iwa, on the North Shore, after becoming "romantically involved" with a woman in Nanakuli, where he had been born. The woman's two brothers were violently against their union, so Preece had decided to put two mountain ranges between himself and them. In the early 1950's, Hale‘iwa was amongst the most remote of O‘ahu rural communities.43
Noll and company had been surfing Sunset Beach for a while when, one day, they went over to Hale`iwa and saw Henry out in the water, surfing like he had been each day for quite some time. That’s when Greg Noll began his friendship with Hanalei.
In those early 1950s days, Henry Preece lived in a Quonset hut right on the beach.44 Stocked sardines were a staple. After surf sessions, Noll and Preece would regularly eat a stew consisting of sardines, sea water, and assorted vegetables. Both prefer to fondly remember the taste of this being like "a steak dinner."45 Noll remembers when they first met.
"Henry probably doesn't even remember this but I think I was fifteen years old, we had been surfing Makaha; the sun went down, we shoulda got the hell outta there, but we didn't and we started drinking beer. And some guy was gonna tear me a new asshole. Henry came to my aid and saved my bacon. That's the first time I remember Henry Preece. The next time, probably a year went by, and the whole winter prior to that, we'd been coming to the North Shore, myself and two or three other guys. Nobody was living over here. We never saw another soul surfing. It was wide open territory. It was surfing paradise. We were living in Makaha in a Quonset hut. And we come across the bridge. And it was late in the afteroon -- we were on our way home. The sun was kind of backlit there, and I seen some guy silhouetted against the sun at Hale‘iwa sitting on his board. We'd never turned in that direction before, so we went across the bridge... and there was Halalei, sitting outside, going: 'Hey! C'mon, you guys! Keep me company!'
"'When I first met Greg,' Preece said, 'we were still riding planks!'
"'Yeah,' Noll agreed. 'I made the mistake of making both him and Buff [Buffalo Keaulana] boards, because for the next 30 years, every time they wanted a new board, I had to make them a board for free!'
"'And whenever he took too long,' Preece added, 'we'd call up and reverse the charge.'"46
Preece tried shaping, unsuccessfully, explaining, that he and the other locals on the north shore "never knew nobody, Ah? So, the boards all came out Bully-shaped, and we had a helluva time riding 'em, but that's all we rode. We were trying to figure out what Duke Kahanamoku had... And then when we met Rabbit (Kekai), He started getting together some boards. We never knew Rabbit was stealing the boards. He stole the boards and gave 'em to us. Until we met Greg, he gave us some good boards. (Smirks at Noll,) In those days, we never called it 'stealing.'
"'Borrowed!'" corrected Noll, adding, "'They still know how to borrow boards pretty good!"47 Greg Noll went on to talk about the early boards Henry and others would ride.
"... when they were young guys, they would borrow redwood from the train trestles. And most of the redwood was six foot long. And at the train stations, they had longer wood -- nine-ten foot wood. They'd borrow that wood, glue it up; and then for the template shapes on the old-style Hot Curl boards, they'd use a Hawaiian sling and just bend it. You look today; the Hot Curl boards are, to me, one of the most beautiful boards as far as the lines are concerned. And I actually tried taking one of these 1/4 inch steel shafts off a Hawaiian sling and bending it. And you can see exactly how those templates came into being. Everything in surfboards is a hand-me-down; it goes from one generation to another; and there are still some influences of those old-style Hot Curl boards around today in some of those boards you're seeing... I've got some Hawaiian slings and I dive; and when he [Henry] told me that, I went home -- and I'm kinda curious on things like that -- and I took those things out and bent them. And it just fell right into place with some templates that I had taken off some old boards. People say sometimes the Hawaiians don't get things right. But the simplest method of going about something is the most effective. And, in that respect, I think they did a great job."48
A Hawaiian “’sling's just a diving spear. They just took things -- they'd find the center line on the board (becoming slightly impatient) -- You've got your length of your board, you get a straight line down the board, come back midway, measure the width on the board you want, and, and you intersect that spear by just bending it with those lines and that's how they derived the original Hot Curl templates.'
"'You mark it point to point,' clarified Preece, 'and when you bend it, you get a perfect bending outlining it with a pencil.'"49
Preece told of some of the fun times he had with Noll. "One day, Buff and Greg tell me, 'We make cake for you..' I think, 'Nice!' I eat it, pass out. Woke up, had no clothes on. Find out later it was pakalolo (marijuana) cake.
"Another time, we all meet at bar, get ripped. Greg pass me plate of puu puus. I pick up one, about silver-dollar size. I start rolling it around in my mouth. 'What dis?' I ask Greg. 'Aku eye,' he say. Nice guy.
"I eat almost anything, so Greg always bringing me food. I was on chili pepper kick for a while, so Greg bring me some peppers from Mexico. So hot, make me dance around for half an hour! Then I try to catch Greg, but he too fast. I got serious mad. Not talk to Greg for three days.
"I love dis guy, but I like choke his neck once in a while. After thirty years plus, what else can I do? I run out of stories. I get sick of lookin' at him, but I miss dis guy a lot when he not here."50
Henry "Hanalei" Preece became best known for his "signature move," first documented in Bud Browne's first surf movies. This style of riding on a wave was where Preece would plant himself forward on the deck, while twisting his torso backwards to face the breaking wave.
"I made it up on my own because I surfed so much at Hale‘iwa," explained Preece. "And I got to learn it in da kine four-to-five-foot waves. And then, one day, this guy, Bud Browne, came down and he was gonna take some pictures and he said, 'Oh! Henry! Can you do that?' And the wave was about ten-plus. Maybe the biggest set came up to about fifteen, eh? I got bus' up quite a bit, but many time I made it, and after a while, it just came natural."51
Noll continued: "He'd get right in the tube, and he'd turn around and he'd blow the wave a kiss! The shitty part was that, if you were paddling out and Henry didn't see you coming, he'd turn around backwards and start having a love affair with his wave... That was his trademark for years."52
More than his trademark stance, Henry Preece has been known to his friends for his low key, unassuming nature. "Buff and Henry and I have hung around for a long time," admitted Greg Noll.
"A lot of years. Buff and I have managed to get quite a bit of recognition for one thing or another. Buff certainly deserves every bit that he gets. I probably just bullshit my way into half of mine. But Henry has been always laid back, kick back. He's not a chest-thumper. His comment when we did this book a few years ago [Da Bull], I said, 'Hey, Henry! Why don't you talk to this gal? Spend a little time talking to her. We're gonna make you famous.' And his comment was: 'Eh, bradah. Mo bettah you get famous. I'm going drink beer.' And that's been his attitude all these years in terms of any kind of recognition."53
"It was terrible," recalled Mike Stange. "The mosquitos drove us right into the water. They wouldn't leave us alone.
"We got as far as Waialua. We had walked clear around Kaena Point with the bugs eating us and couldn't find any place to bed down. Finally this local guy took pity on us and took us to a good beach where he said we could sleep for the night.
"As it turns out, there was a giant barrier of kiawe bushes on the beach, making a perfect windbreak. It was dark out there and we didn't have a flashlight. We rolled up in our blankets and before we knew it, sand crabs started crawling up our legs.
"We'd jerk awake and roll around, trying to swat these crabs off our legs, then roll into the kiawe branches, right into the thorns. Then the mosquitos started working on us again. Meng is a pretty even-tempered guy, but by the middle of the night he'd had enough. He was cursing, dancing around, trying to slap mosquitos, swat crabs and sidestep thorns. "Let's get the hell out of her!" he said. "I can't take it anymore."
"Nothing ever upset Meng, so I got alarmed when he freaked out over the mosquitos. I knew we had to get back to Makaha before he cracked.
"I guess you could say that we lived a much different lifestyle and experienced a side of Hawaii that most tourists never see."54
Surfing contests had resumed in California and Hawaii after the close of World War II. In form and content, they were not much different than the contests held before the war. Essentially, they were paddling races -- some of them quite grueling. The first Makaha International Surfing Championships marked a turn toward competitive surfing being the focus of contests, rather than the traditional paddling race.
The first Makaha International Surfing Championships were held in the Winter of 1954, during a period that, in ancient times, would have been part of the Makahiki festivities.55
Peru and Australia were represented. Contestants included: George Downing, Wally Froiseth, Buffalo Keaulana, Joe Quigg, Walter Hoffman, Rabbit Kekai, a very young Donald Takayama, Tom Zahn, Ed "Blackout" Waley, Bobby Patterson, Kimo Hollinger, Butch Van Artsdalen, Squirrely Corvallo, Warren Harlo, Robin Grigg, Mud Warner, Jodie Hamisaki, Mosel Angel, and woman surfing pioneer Mariane Midkiff.56
George Downing won first place in the 1954 contest. Rabbit Kekai won top slot in 1955, Conrad Cunha in 1956, Jama in '57, Peter Cole in '58 and Wally Froiseth in 1959.
According to Bud Brown, past women champs included not only Ethel Kukea, Marge Calhoun, Linda Benson and Vicky Heldridge, but Vicky’s mom Betty Heldridge, too. 57
Tandem riders, according to Bud, also included Lorrin Harrison and Hawaiian partner, Bobby Crusen, as well as Walter Hoffman, Glen Davis and Rabbit Kekai.58
Tandem finalists at the 1954 Makaha contest, according to Walt Hoffman, were: Tom Zahn, Pete Peterson, himself, Joni Jones (first place), George Downing, Black-out Whaley and Rabbit Kekai.59
"Ed Black-out Whaley worked as a beach boy,” Walt Hoffman recalled. “A great tandem surfer, he was a good lookin' guy -- a real hustler -- he had more girl friends than any of the beach boys."60
"... Hot curl boards are solid redwood planks with no fins," is how Greg Noll put it. "The tail comes down in a V shape, the bottom is rounded and there is no scoop in them at all... They are the hardest boards to ride, but they developed and forced a style on surfers that is one of the most beautiful things in the world to watch... These boards went sideways as much as they went forward. You rode with one foot right behind the other. Put your weight on the back to sink that V tail, and the board would go forward. Move your weight forward a little to bring the board up, and you'd side-slip on the wave. So rather than carving turns, [the Kaeo brothers] would keep the board going straight, and when they wanted to slow down, they would just drop the board sideways down the face of a wave, then put their weight on the back of the board and the inside edge to go forward again. The style was very fluid, a thing of beauty to watch. It's become a lost art.
"... On the weekends another eight or ten guys would show up. Mostly Hawaiians. That was when we started going to the North Shore. When we started getting a crowd of twelve or fifteen guys in the water at Makaha, we thought it was really plugged."61
Rabbit Kekai said he stopped riding Hot Curl, skeg-less surfboards, "When they started shifting to balsa, late '40s and early '50s. The early '50s is when the boards started to go into balsa, everybody had balsa... Quigg shaped me couple boards, and I like his boards. His boards are more for trimming, like big Publics. You can really hotdog with them, good cutbacks and get down and wait for that thing to build and slam it from the bottom."62
Rabbit was asked about Richard Kau, from around the time Rabbit transitioned to balsa. Richard Kau was "One of my pupils," Rabbit answered. All those kids, straight A's. Richard Kau, Squirrley, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Donald Takayama, Harold Iggy; they'd all come down to me and I'd give 'em tips." Richard Kau's style was as a straight-line rider, with body english and style, "just like the Duke, that used to be our style. Like when you'd get a wall everybody used to arch. We used to leave our hands in an arch like this (Rabbit's right arm goes up with his hand palm-up over his head). Sometimes when you'd get a wave that would smash you, you'd just put your hand up high like that and just keep on going through it. You notice nowadays, when you get into a good curl and you get up on the nose, when you see that thing ready to snap, you start leaning back and push with your weight on the front foot and drive. That's where a lot of the arches from our time have come back into use. The design of the boards and the way we rode them have come back, too! Looking at our style, like what Phil Edwards said, he watched and he couldn't believe what we were doing. Like I used to get down in the curl and just carve it. I used to slap the lip on finless boards."63
Asked how he kept the tail from sliding out or around, Rabbit answered, "We had that V back there, like a boat bottom, and that thing hangs up. Stepping back on that V and using that as a fin, you can really pull it around. You can do everything with those boards. Similar with putting on a fin. That's the way we'd control the board. And like you said, spinning around, in our days what we'd call that is slide-ass, because there's no fin back there and you'd get way up front, trimming, and then the damn thing'd come right around. We'd do side slips like that and still stay on the darned wave and keep going. Phil was so amazed when we did slide slips on purpose. But sometimes you're trimmin' so darn fast and you slide-ass, you get a wipeout. Sometimes getting it flat like that you have no control. In the hot curl surfing, I was doing things like the modern guys do on their boards. But it's mostly the carving, coming down and snapping up, with those redwood planks you never did see that... we used to do lot of bottom turns because you've got no skeg and that thing takes you to the bottom."64
Such was the state of surfing in 1954, during a time when the United States was testing hydrogen bombs by blasting them over the pristine Bikini Atolls. As concerns over radioactive fallout and disposal of radioactive waste began to grow in Europe, Dr. Jonas E. Salk came up with an anti-polio serum and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to Linus Pauling for the study of molecular forces. The one for literature went to Ernest Hemingway.65
1 Stecyk and Pezman, 1994, pp. 67-68. Rabbit Kekai.
2 Patterson, O.B. Surf-Riding, Its Thrills and Techniques, ©1960. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Japan; 60-10364, p. 107. Lima, Peru contest was in 1955 or ’56, I believe.
3 Edwards, 1967, p. 60.
4 Edwards, 1967, p. 60.
5 Park, Sarah. Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 7, 1954. Buzzy Trent quoted. See Lueras, p. 117.
6 Surfer, October 1993. "Bob Simmons Story No. 2, Told by Bev Morgan to Dewey Schurman," p. 63.
7 Noll, 1989.
8 Grun, 1991, p. 537.
9 Grun, 1991, p. 536.
10 Grun, 1991, p. 536.
11 Stecyk, C.R. The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, 1992, p. 60.
12 Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview of Wally Froiseth, April 4, 1996.
13 Patterson, O.B. Surf-Riding, Its Thrills and Techniques, ©1960. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Japan; 60-10364, p. 107. Lima, Peru contest was in 1955 or ’56, I believe.
14 Edwards, 1967, p. 59.
15 Edwards, 1967, p. 60.
16 Doyle, Mike. Morning Glass, 1993, p. 17.
17 Doyle, 1993, p. 17.
18 Park, Sarah. Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 7, 1954. See Lueras, pp. 116-117.
19 Park, Sarah. Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 7, 1954. Buzzy Trent quoted. See Lueras, p. 117.
20 Browne, Bud. Surfing The 50's, ©1994. Peter Cole's recollection.
21 Hoffman, Walter, p. 89. See photograph. See also Bud Browne's Surfing The '50s, ©1994.
22 Hoffman, p. 83. See photo on page 82.
23 Stecyk, C.R. The Surfer's Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, pp. 50-51. See classic photo of Donovan, Dora and Munoz deplaning in Honolulu, Fall 1954. Collection of Toni Donovan.
24 Young, 1983, p. 77.
25 Young, 1983, p. 77 & 79.
26 Elwell, John. “The Enigma of Simmons,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 1994, p. 42. Caption to photograph written by Elwell. This section on Simmons is repeated from the Simmons chapter.
27 Gault-Williams, interview with Rennie Yater, 3/94.
28 Noll, 1989, pp. 95-96.
29 Source unknown.
30 Surfer, October 1993. "Bob Simmons Story No. 2, Told by Bev Morgan to Dewey Schurman," p. 63.
31 Noll, 1989, pp. 95-96.
32 Lueras, 1982, p. 114.
33 Noll, 1989, pp. 33-34. Sonny Vardeman.
34 Noll, 1989, pp. 36-40. Beverly Noll's recollections.
35 Noll, 1989. Billy Meng’s name for many years has been incorrectly spelled as “Ming,” Steve Pezman noted to me in a telephone conversation in 1997.
36 Noll, 1989, pp. 43-44.
37 Noll, 1989, pp. 44-45. Mike Stange quoted.
38 Noll, 1989, pp. 39-41.
39 Gault-Williams, Malcolm. "Woody Brown: Pilot, Sailor, Surfer," 1996.
40 Noll, 1989, pp. 50-51. Mike Stange quoted.
41 Noll, pp. 45-50.
42 Noll, p. ?
43 Brody, Bill. "Henry & Greg," Longboard, Volume 2, number 4, Decemeber/January 1994-95, p. 77.
44 See Noll, Greg. Search of Surf [film], where Preece's Quonset hut briefly appears.
45 Brody, 1994-95, p. 77.
46 Brody, 1994-95, p. 78. Noll & Preece.
47 Brody, 1994-95, p. 78. Preece & Noll.
48 Brody, 1994-95, p. 78. Greg Noll.
49 Brody, 1994-95, p. 78. Noll and Preece.
50 Noll, 1989, pp. 56-57. Henry Preece quoted.
51 Brody, 1994-95, p. 79. Henry Preece.
52 Brody, 1994-95, p. 79. Greg Noll.
53 Brody, 1994-95, p. 79. Greg Noll.
54 Noll, 1989, p. 46. Mike Stange quoted.
56 Browne, Bud, ©1994.
57 Browne, Bud, ©1994.
58 Browne, Bud, ©1994.
59 Hoffman, Walter, p. 97. See photo same page.
60 Hoffman, Walter, p. 95. See photo of Ed on same page. Jama misspelled “Jarma.”
61 Noll, 1989, pp. 44-45.
62 Stecyk and Pezman, "Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story," p. 69.
63 Stecyk and Pezman, "Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story," p. 69.
64 Stecyk and Pezman, "Rabbit Kekai -- Talking Story," 1994, p. 69. Rabbit Kekai.
65 Grun, 1991, p. 536-537.