The history of Malibu, California, is a rich one going on into present day. This chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS collection -- originally written around in the late 1990s -- covers its earliest history, from the time of European contact on to the mid-1950s; a time many consider to be its “Golden Age.”
A small note: concerning some of the events during Malibu’s Golden Age. Depending on who was telling the story, when they told it and who they told it to -- details varied. I’ve kept all of the ones I know in, even though sometimes the stories conflict with one another... The gist of the stories remain.
"You have it all. There's nothing better around; you did a lot of homework. It's great stuff; makes it seem like it was yesterday and not 43 years ago."
-- Tubesteak's comments on this chapter, April 1999
Malibu crew, 1959 - Photographer unknown.
Malibu Riders 1926-41
Malibu’s War Riders
Simmons’ Testing Site
Brave New World
The Existential Outlaw
“Opai“ & “Tubesteak”
Malibu Surf Culture
Tubesteak Tutors Kemp
Gidget, the Girl Midget
Summer’s End 1956
Originally home to the members of the Chumash and Gabrielino tribes, Malibu had been inhabited for approximately 7,000 years prior to European contact. The word “Malibu” is a corruption of the Chumash word Humaliwu, the name of the Chumash village located at the mouth of Malibu Canyon, near Malibu Point.1
The Chumash lived along the coast from Malibu to San Luis Obispo up the coast to the north. They also lived in the interior valleys of Santa Ynez, Cuyama, Santa Clara and Simi. The names of their most important villages are still on maps and part of the local culture: Saticoy, Somis, Sinil, Tapo, Sespe, Calleguas, Camulos, Piru, Mugu, Zuma, Cuyama, Cachuma, Ojai, and Matilija were all once Chumash villages.
There are no drawings in existence of the Chumash Indians in their native state. Fortunately, however, the Spanish diarists thought the Chumash superior to any other California tribes and happily wrote many vivid descriptions of them.
Juan Paez of the Cabrillo Expedition, wrote on October 10, 1542 after observing the Chumash:
“They were dressed in skins and wore their hair very long and tied up with long strings inter-woven with the hair, there being attached to the strings many gewgaws of flint, bone, and wood.”2
Father Pedro Font, diarist of the second expedition of Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, noted in 1776 the absence of clothing:
“The dress of the men is total nakedness. For adornment they are in the habit of wearing around the waist a string or other gewgaw which covers nothing. Some of them have the cartilage of the nose pierced, and all have the ears perforated with two large holes in which they wear little canes like two horns as thick as the little finger, in which they are accustomed to carry powder made of their wild tobacco. These Indians are well formed and of good TD although not very corpulent on account of their sweating, I judge. The women are fairly good looking.”3
The Chumash villages on the channel coast were usually built on high ground where a creek ran into the ocean. Thus, they had fresh water and a quick launching spot for their canoes. Friar Crespi with the Portola expedition in 1769 describes his first look at a village:
“We arrived at the shore where we saw a regular town, the most populous and best laid out of all we had seen on the journey up to the present time. It is situated on a tongue or point of land running out of the same beach.”4
This very well could be a description of Humaliwo, the Chumash village once located by the Malibu Lagoon.
“The houses are well constructed, round like an oven, spacious and fairly comfortable ; light enters through a hole in the roof.
“Their beds are on frames and they cover themselves with skins and shawls. In the middle of the floor they make a fire for cooking seeds, fish, and other foods -- for they eat everything boiled or roasted.”5
The finest technological achievement of the Chumash was the tomol, somewhat of a planked canoe with high sides. It was unique in the new world. Father Font in 1775 described the tomol:
“They are very carefully made of several planks which they work with no other tools but their shells and flints. They join them at the seams by sewing them with very strong thread which they have and fit the joints with pitch. Some of the launches are decorated with little shells and all are painted red with hematite.”6
The Chumash were excellent craftsmen and artists, and the goods and tools which they made were always well-fashioned. Particularly attractive were the bowls and carvings of killer whales and other forms of sea life and effigies made from steatite. Sometimes the bowls were inlaid with colorful abalone shells and were skillfully made. The steatite quarries nearest to Malibu were on Santa Catalina Island. The Island Chumash traded with the Coastal Chumash supplying the latter with chunks of steatite.
Other implements were made of sandstone, a material available everywhere. Stone grinding bowls up to six or seven quart capacity and a variety of mortars and pestles were common.
Baskets were the main household utensils and were indispensable in the gathering of seeds, bulbs, and roots. Water was stored and carried in basketry bottles ingeniously waterproofed on the inside with asphaltum. The baskets made by the Chumash were outstanding in workmanship and design. They were prized highly by the Spaniards and collected as curios to be sent home to relatives.
Asphaltum -- tar from natural crude oil seepages -- was indispensable to the Chumash. They used it in every phase of their life. With it they caulked their canoes, sealed the water baskets, attached the shell inlay to the bowls, and fastened arrow and spear points to shafts. Asphaltum was used to plug the holes in abalone shells which then could be used as dishes.
Fish hooks were made of abalone shell. The major use for the shell, however, was for decoration. It was lavishly inlaid on stone, bone, and wood. The surface to be decorated received a coating of asphalt onto which was pressed the shell inlay. Giant Pismo clams were used for beads and money.
Bone was used by the Chumash for many of their artifacts. It was extensively used in the making of necklaces, especially as long tubular beads. Flutes and whistles were made of bone, usually of deer tibia. Whalebone was used for many things: wedges to split wooden planks, bars to pry loose abalone, and sweat sticks to remove perspiration.
The Chumash made excellent string and rope from a variety of raw materials. Yucca fiber, which made a coarse but very strong cord, was plentiful and widely used. For a more pliable string, Indian hemp, nettle, or milkweed were employed. Flint, chert, and obsidian were used by the Chumash to make very fine projectile points, drills, scrapers, choppers, and knives. The countless thousands of tiny drilled shell beads that have been found, show the efficiency of the drills.7
The Chumash were one of the most advanced Indian groups in California and compare favorably with non-literate peoples anywhere in the world. With a village located “where the mountains meet the sea and the surf sounds loudly” at beautiful Humaliwu, we can only imagine what a paradise they had.
Did they surf? What people living along ocean beaches did not at least bodysurf? Did they use the tomols to ride waves? Possibly.
Following the area’s takeover by the Spanish in 1805, 13,316 acres of shoreline and adjacent mountain land were granted by the Spanish government to Jose Tapia, a former soldier. The land was included as part of what became Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit.8
Frederick and May Rindge purchased the ranchland in 1887, following the American takeover from the Spanish.9 The Rindge family soon began an intense struggle with the new state of California to seclude Malibu by preventing construction of the intended public highway to run along the coast – what is now known as Highway 1, or the Coast Highway.10
“The story of Malibu is very interesting,” noted world champion surfer Nat Young, in his 1983 History of Surfing. “Rancho Malibu had been handed down to Rhoda May Ringe [sic] in 1905 when her husband Frederick died. She built her own railroad from the pier in Malibu to the northern end of her ranch at the Ventura County line. In 1926 Rhoda May Ringe was forced to give up.”11 Before she did so, she had gone as far as hiring armed guards to keep out trespassers and dynamiting highway construction attempts. She eventually exhausted her financial resources in court battles, which she lost. The state opened the highway through Malibu in 1929. First known as the Roosevelt Highway, it is now what we all know as “Highway 1,” or the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).12
“She had fought a battle with the authorities,” continued Young, writing of Rhoda May Rindge, “for 17 years,” to preserve her 26 miles of coastal land, “had been ridiculed by the press for standing in the way of progress, and had gone four times to the California Supreme Court.” In the process, “She completely exhausted her considerable fortune.”13
What became known as the “Malibu Colony“ began when May Rindge began leasing her shoreline property to writers and entertainers. The exclusive community is now inhabited by movie stars, musicians and other celebrities.14 “It’s interesting to consider,” pondered Young, “that had [she] gone along with government access to her land she would probably have been able to keep her ranch and thus all the coastal land from Topanga to the Ventura County line.”15
It was at the end of Rhoda May Rindge‘s battle with the State of California, in September 1926, that Tom Blake and Sam Reid made their foray into Malibu to become the first surfers ever to ride the spot.16
Malibu Riders 1926-41
Tom Blake started building surfboards in Santa Monica in the mid-1920s. One of the first people to own a Blake surfboard was Sam Reid.17 It was Reid and Blake who were the first ones to ride Malibu Point on September 1926.18
Sam Reid vividly recalled the day:
“Visualize, if you can, a beautiful September day in California. On this day, the first wave was ridden at what was then Malibu Ranch, stretching from Las Flores Canyon to Oxnard, and owned by Samuel K. Rhindge [sic]. The coast hiway was then a two lane road, dirt most of the way. Tom Blake had stopped by the Santa Monica Swimming Club to pick me up. In those days, cowboys with guns and rifles still rode the Malibu Ranch, and the gate at Las Flores Canyon had a ‘Forbidden -- No Trespassing’ sign on it. We took our 10’ redwoods out of the Essex rumble seat and paddled the mile to a beautiful white crescent-shaped beach that didn’t have a foot print on it. No buildings and, of course, no pier! There was no audience but the seagulls.”19
Tom Blake recalled that, “the Malibu Ranch had recently opened-up. Sam and I drove up there. The road was black topped. I had previously noted surf there. The day we arrived, the waves were about 3’ high. The area was deserted except for seagulls and pelicans and the Rhindge house. To be the first to ride it, I caught a 3-foot wave. We played around in it for an hour or so. Real exclusive riding.”20
The boards ridden that day were of varnished solid California redwood. A rockerless plank, Reid’s board dimensions were 10’ 1” x 22”. The nose was later laminated with post World War II fiberglass and is on display at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.21
By the following year, additional surfers were joining in what Malibu had to offer. “In 1927,” confirmed Charles “Chuck A Luck” Ehlers, “Dilly Perrine and Spud Moorman head about surfing at Malibu. We three rode in a rumble seat car with 3 boards sticking out. We met Tom Blake and Cliff Tucker from Redondo while in Malibu riding perfect, long right slides on glassy water with very sharp peaks. We left early, for it was a narrow road and a long way to home.”22
Thereafter -- and documented in Doc Ball‘s Early California Surfriders printed in 1946 -- surfers periodically surfed Malibu, even during the era when San Onofre had become Mainland surfing’s center.
Malibu’s War Riders
World War II turned surfing upside down. Following the war, the personnel on the breaks significantly changed. More importantly, wartime technology caused a shift of the center from San O – between Los Angeles and San Diego -- to Malibu, just slightly north of LA.
Those surfing Malibu before, during and after World War II included Gard Chapin, Bob Simmons, Bud Morrisey, Dave Sykes, Pete Peterson, Dale Velzy, Don Grannis, Dave Rochlen, Joe Quigg, Joe Schecter and kids like Matt Kivlin, Kit Horn, Buzzy Trent, and Peter and Corny Cole.
Chapin, Morrisey and Sykes formed an early shaping triumvirate at the ‘Bu. Bud Morrisey was a down-the-line shaper who was considered by many to be the first to walk the board at Malibu. Dave Sykes lived in Topanga and “delighted in perfect planing surfaces,” documented Leonard Lueras, “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.”23
Gard Chapin was a gifted surfer/shaper who turned and cut in an era when almost everyone else just trimmed. His verbal abuse tended to alienate most people, though. Things started to get interesting when Bob Simmons, a relatively unknown surfer, teamed up with the well respected but not greatly liked Chapin. Simmons bought his first surfboard from Chapin and eventually went to work in the Chapin wood shop. There, Simmons learned how to build boards.24
Kit Horn was a youngster at Malibu during the early days of World War II. He remembered the first time Simmons showed up. He swam a huge board out, with his left arm on the board. Simmons was 8-to-10 years older than the kids at Malibu. Most everyone his own age was either in the military or in production during the daytime.25
By 1944, Simmons was already making a name for himself as a wave rider, despite a physical handicap related to one of his arms. Joe Quigg, on leave in the summer of 1944, recalled years later:
“I was in the Navy during the war,” retold Quigg, “and I came home to Santa Monica on leave that year. Right after I got home, I drove up to Malibu to surf, and though the waves were good that day, there were only three guys out. One was a guy with a withered arm named Bob Simmons, and the other two were kids named Buzzy Trent and Matt Kivlin.”26
Matt Kivlin had just been introduced to surfing by the husband of his mom’s sister. Preston “Pete” Peterson introduced the 14 year-old from Santa Monica to the wonders of Malibu on or around July 2, 1944.27 Peterson was the greatest all-round surfer of the 1930s. He was still a standout in the 1940s and continued to excel on into the 1960s. A memorable moment surfing Malibu was captured by C.R. Stecyk in a fanciful retelling of a moment on or around September 6, 1944:
“A ruler edged rolling seven foot south caresses the empty point. Pete Peterson gazes longingly at the surf through the barbed wire enclosure which surrounds the Malibu Point Coast Guard facility. This government base is guarded 24 hours a day and impenetrable. Peterson resolves to go elsewhere and turns to leave when he spies a lone surfer eagerly running up the point. Dale Velzy, the patriot, has somehow convinced the base commander to honor his merchant seaman’s papers as an access pass to the surf. Pete is incensed... after all, at least when Don Grannis surfed there he was stationed there... but this was an outrage. Peterson waves at Velzy and leaves laughing, admiring the Hawk‘s superior artistry. Following his go-out, Dale manages to enjoy a sumptuous repast of roast beef and ice tea, courtesy of the base mess hall. Not bad in an era of severe rationing.”28
Simmons’ Testing Site
After World War II ended, many of the technological developments used to help win the war came out on the open market. “Most important to Simmons and the surfboard,” wrote Bob Simmons biographer John Elwell, “was a publication by one of the finest US naval architects, Lindsey Lord, a PHD from MIT who did an intensive study on planing hulls. Most of the work was done in Hawaii, with the initial phases using simple shapes looking like bodyboards. Surfboards were used also. Simmons had somehow acquired a copy. Lord’s study was remarkable. The Navy had sought an ideal width and length shape for quick lift, maneuverability and speed. Lord maintained the study was solid information and a new, not previously known, naval science.
“Simmons must have been delighted. The book was full of graphs, complex equations and recommended a new material to strengthen lightweight planing hulls; fiberglass and resin. The form developed was simple parallelism, with an ideal length-width ratio number called aspect ratio, used in wing design…
“One of the problems, Lord relates, concerned the ideal shape. It was not attractive, but could be. He mentions that pointed sterns produce the most drag, extreme lightness is dangerous, and planing hulls are complex. He warned that a few weird things work, but don’t be fooled… everything modified to get something else… is a compromise. All things were considered and applied for the ultimate goal of superlative speed; such as the nature of water, skimming on it, Newton’s Laws, Bernoulli’s Law of Lift, resistance, load, attack angles, rudder designs and center of gravity. The book was the mother lode for Simmons. Many surfers saw it in Simmons’ possession, but couldn’t understand it, much less apply it to surfboards. Simmons told me he went to a boat show and a salesman for fiberglass showed him the material and described its application and use. He located an outlet and purchased the material downtown. He was quite matter of fact about it. The materials were being marketed all over the country.”29
At this point, both a decisive technological advance took place and things got ugly. A little while after getting his hands on Lord’s planing hulls study, both Simmons and Chapin were modifying their planks with nose applications of fiberglass. Out in the surf, they were overtaking and passing everyone else, “proclaiming planning hull design,” Elwell wrote. “Those who got in the way and did not heed their abusive warnings were rammed. Chapin evidently got away with it. Simmons was dunked and beaten up in Malibu, punched down at San Onofre and stoned on the trail to Palos Verdes Cove. He returned in the evening with an axe” and drove it into some paddleboards that were lying around; ostensibly belonging to the stoners. “Vandalism to the boards on his car by Palos Verdes surfers occurred in retaliation.”30 It’s interesting to note that Mickey Dora, who became well-known for shoving people out of his way later on at Malibu, may have learned his attitude from his step father Gard and Bob Simmons.
Surfers who were open to Simmons’ first significant contribution to surfing -- the scarfed nose -- acknowledged that the nose lift helped keep boards from pearling. “As you can see by the photographs of that era,” notes Nat Young, “many surfers were reluctant to give up their old San Onofre-type boards.” Those who saw the wisdom in Simmons’ modifications would have him “scarf another piece on the nose and fair it in to create nose lift.”31
“If anybody was ever to get the credit of being the ‘Father of the Modern Surfboard,” Rennie Yater told me, “I would say it would have to be Simmons. He changed board design in a shorter period of time than anybody has before or since. When his boards started showing up at San Onofre, they couldn’t believe it. Such a traditional place. Everything had to look the same, ride the same, pose the same... Simmons’ boards weren’t welcome at San Onofre. See, his influence was more at Malibu. He could care less about the San Onofre area. He always went up and tested his stuff at Malibu or Palos Verdes Cove...
“To go back a little farther, Simmons worked for Gard Chapin. He had a garage door business, as I remember. So, Simmons had access to a lot of different materials. They used plywood a lot for garage doors. Simmons finally came up with this -- probably the first production line other than Pacific Systems -- the first production line surfboard that had a foam [expanded polystyrene] core, balsawood rails, and plywood deck. He came up with that idea probably because of all the influence he had from plywood... mahogany veneers on the outside to get them even lighter. He did incredible things for the time he did ‘em in, compared to today. He’s also fortunate to come out of the Second World War. Fiberglass was a revolutionary product to come out of the war. See, here comes this material on the open market. So, he now had access to that.”32
In addition to Simmons’ untimely death in 1954, Simmons had a falling out with Quigg and Kivlin over their development of what would become known as “The Malibu Board.” As a result, he suddenly closed up his Santa Monica shop and moved down to Imperial Beach in 1950.
His move down south marked the beginning of the end of the “Simmons Era.”33 Rennie Yater recalled, “Simmons went on down to live in Imperial Beach. People kind of forgot about him after he left the Malibu testing grounds. Surfboard evolution went on, but surfboards weren’t as radical. They were pretty conservative; with natural rocker, the way balsa wood came; with about an inch of deck rocker, with very little heavy rocker in the bottom of the board. That went on for a long time, into the Velzy era and Hobie era; didn’t change much at all ‘till foam came around. Then, you weren’t restricted by the dimensions of balsa wood. Even the balsa wood boards didn’t have much rocker, except for the ones in Hawaii, where they started to put kick in the nose because of the big waves.”34
“Simmons was like a missionary who traveled the coast promoting his ideas,” recalled Joe Quigg. “He was a catalyst for all of us. I loved Bob Simmons and deeply wish he was here, I miss talking to him. Matt and I both built boards with Simmons and occasionally he’d get upset over how we did things or the personal boards we’d build. My concepts deviated from Bob’s so much that there was a time when he quit speaking to me. If we did anything, we helped evolve a board that worked all around. The Malibu boards weren’t San Onofre boards nor were they planks or hot curls. One thing is certain, after we pulled in the tails, got the weight down and the fins right, no one ever built monolithic planks again.”35
Brave New World
“The wartime use of technology… sowed seeds for great change in post-war America,” wrote Solberg and Morris in A People’s Heritage. New technologies “also profoundly changed post-war America. Such innovative developments as radar, prefabricated housing, atomic power, frozen foods, diesel power, and the catalytic cracking of crude oil were crucial to military success and contributed to an abundant life in years of peace.”36 Fiberglass and resin could be added to this list.
“The brave new world dangling before them promised the world’s highest living standard,” continued Solberg and Morris, “and they pursued it with a vengeance. America was now in the midst of what has been called ‘galloping capitalism‘; in just a few years, the U.S. was producing half of the world’s goods… After years of austerity caused by the depression and the war, Americans eagerly revived their spending spree of the 1920s…
“Nowhere was the surge of spending more evident than in the American love affair with the automobile… [amongst other effects, both positive and negative was that] more than one-fourth of Los Angeles‘ 463 square miles came to be occupied by asphalt: streets, freeways, bridges, ramps, overpasses, gas stations, garages, and parking lots.” 37
The American Dream finally seemed to be within the grasp of ordinary citizens. “After World War II the home became child-centered,” Solberg and Morris went on. “The age of first-married was plummeting, and family size was on the rise. One sociological study reported in the late 1940s that 55,000 married men reached 137,000 sexual climaxes weekly, resulting in an impregnated wife every seven seconds… In 1954 McCall’s coined the word ‘togetherness’ to describe the new commitment to a close family life centered around children… America was becoming the Land of the Young.” 38
“The high priest of this new child-centered suburban society,” continued Solberg and Morris, “was the renowned pediatrician Benjamin Spock, whose book Baby and Child Care, first published in 1945, revolutionized the philosophy of rearing children. Insecure as they faced the uncertainties of a rapidly-changing world, young parents nervously thumbed through Dr. Spock’s handbook for advice on everything from breast-feeding to childhood diseases. In his chapter on ‘permissiveness,’ Spock counseled: ‘Doctors who use to conscientiously warn young parents against spoiling are now encouraging them to meet their baby’s needs, not only for food, but for comfort and loving.’ No longer would strict rules and nursing schedules be prescribed for infants; kids should not be told what to do. Guilt-ridden parents who had experienced the deprivation of the depression and the war were determined that their offspring should have opportunities denied them during their childhood. Consequently, a permissive spirit dominated the white, middle-class home during the post-war years. Pampered youth became a powerful bloc of consumers, spending billions of dollars for faddish fashions, dominating 43 percent of phonograph record sales, and 53 percent of movie admissions. Earlier values like thrift were casually discarded as American teenagers spent one-third of a billion dollars annually on toiletries. This permissiveness was also reflected in the schools… This cult of the young spawned a generation of Americans… [that] came to be called the ‘silent generation.’ Whereas generations of the thirties and forties had held to sturdy social values from their youth, their self-confidence or ‘inner-directedness’ gave way after World War II to an anxious generation no longer sure of itself. Memories of the Depression, and fear of Communism and the atomic bomb (‘better dead than red‘) contributed to this mood. Safety and security seemed to be the new norms. In his book The Lonely Crowd sociologist David Riesman now spoke of ‘other-directedness,’ whereby the driving need was to avoid ‘rocking the boat,’ and instead, to conform to the group. Eager for the approval of others, young people were as sedate and conservative in their values as their parents. One observer wrote that the ‘dedication of bourgeois America to personal security’ had produced ‘a generation with strongly middle-aged values.’” 39
The Existential Outlaw
In among the conformists and the rest of the Silent Generation, surfers didn’t quite fit in. Although traditional Hawaiian surfing had been thoroughly integrated in that society prior to European contact, the surf culture that came over from Hawaii after surfing’s revival at the beginning of the century was outside mainstream America. Mainland surfing in the 1920s and ‘30s attracted rogues, rascals and rebels. This trend continued through the 1940s and on into the 1950s, even though the nature of American society had significantly changed from the Depression to the affluent conformity of the 1950s. By the mid-1950s, surfers were still often called “surf bums“ and categorized with the other non-conformists of the era.
“During the 1950s,” agreed Carin Crawford, in “Waves of Transformation,” a 1993 paper on Southern California’s surf culture in the post-World War II period, “the economic forces unleashed by post-World War II development produced an affluent, disenchanted youth population which included beatniks, surfers, and rebels without a cause.” 40
Historian James Gilbert, in A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s, introduced the concept of the “existential outlaw“ – which surfers could be classified as -- emerging in the 1950s.
Bob Simmons was one of surfing’s foremost “existenial outlaws” of the post-World War II period.
“Simmons was an anomaly in a society generally characterized by ‘organization men’ who were motivated by the promises of affluence and professional development,” Crawford continued.
“Simmons’ love for surfing always made him an unreliable participant in the cold war’s notion of responsibility to professionalism and domestic security. Simmons would quit work when the surf came up and live in his car, travelling to various breaks between Malibu and Baja California. Bob Simmons’ passion can be seen as an avenue of escape from the stifling ‘conformity‘ of the 1950s.”41
With real insight, author John Grissim wrote that, “surfers of this era possessed... a maverick spirit, combined with a commitment to having fun,” which, “pervaded the surfing community. ‘Surfer’ suggested a natural bohemianism, an outlaw subculture that was daring, adventurous, sexy, and, if not exactly illegal, at least on occasion illicit. As important, these early veterans were tough, solid, and tested -- tested by waves as much as war.”42
The best cinematic portrayals of the existential outlaw, of course, were in the works of James Dean and Marlon Brando. Dean personified this image in Rebel Without A Cause (1955). Two years before, in The Wild One (1953), Brando depicted youthful rebellion in the image of outlaw packs of motorcycle hoods modeled after the Hell’s Angels. “The emergence of the figure of the ‘existential outlaw’ in Hollywood films,” continued Crawford, “takes place against a background of popular writing and argument about the nature and degree of ‘conformity‘ within the dominant social structure of that period.” 43
“Opai“ & “Tubesteak”
“Two of the most best known surfing places in the Cold War era,” continued Crawford in her study, “were the beaches at Malibu and San Onofre. Interviews with representative members of these surfing enclaves provide a picture of how Southern California surf culture came to be located within the discourse about conformity, work and leisure that was taking place during the 1950s. Tom Wert and Terry Tracey, better known locally by their nomes de surf, ‘Opai‘ and ‘Tubesteak,’ describe themselves as a type of outlaw, or ‘rebels without a cause’ who built shacks on the beach, avoided military conscription, and spent more time surfing than pursuing career goals. In society’s view they were ‘surf bums.’” 44
“Opai,” Crawford wrote, “recalled that in the 1930s, before the Cold War, surfers were not considered counter cultural icons. Early surfers were known as ‘watermen,’ or people who had a multi-dimensional relationship with the ocean: swimming, diving, fishing, boating, and beachcombing. ‘Watermen’ lived by the ocean and had an intimate knowledge of tides, currents, and weather patterns because their livelihoods usually depended upon it. Before the era of wetsuits and the surfboard industry, Opai’s generation surfed in cutoff Levi’s and handcrafted their own surfboards. It was during the post World War II period that surfers came to symbolize a ‘laid-back’ style of life that contrasted with the affluence, anxiety, and consumer contentment of the early Cold War era. Opai states: ‘Surfers evolved into a countercultural James Dean sort of thing, a sign that you were different.’ According to Opai, this identity lasted till the late 1950s, when, he felt, commercialization started to obscure surfing’s subversive meaning.” 45
As for Terry “Tubesteak“ Tracey, he later held other nicknames like “Kahuna“ and “Pit Commander.” Interviewed in 1993 by Matt Warshaw for his 1998 book Above The Roar: 50 Surfer Interviews, Tubesteak told how he got his nickname: “One summer I was really broke, so I got a job across the street, right next to the Malibu Inn, at a place called Tube’s Steak and Lobster House. And people would say to me, ‘Hey, you still at Tube’s Steak?’ Then it just went to Tubesteak. But people have always been confused about what it meant. A lot of people think that Tubesteak meant… ah, some kind of cylindrical piece of meat.”46
“Tubesteak,” Crawford wrote, “whose hero and mentor Opai represented the ‘older’ generation of surfers at San Onofre, rode his first waves there in 1950 when he was 15 years old. Tubesteak recalled “seeing these old Sourdoughs out of the army on the beach surfing and playing ukelele.” The romance of San Onofre’s scene captured Tubesteak’s imagination. Later, he went to Malibu, along with surfing partners Mickey ‘Da Cat’ Dora, Mickey Munoz, and Kemp Aaberg and attempted to recreate at Malibu the atmosphere they admired on the beach at San Onofre.” 47
Yet, this may not be entirely correct. When interviewed in 1993, at the age of 59, Tubesteak sounded a bit contemptuous of the San Onofre lifestyle and its surfers. He certainly held much pride over the Malibu lifestyle over the traditional San Onofre. Warshaw asked him:
“Did the Malibu guys spend any time with, say, the San Onofre guys?”
“No,” Tubesteak replied. “That Sano thing – it’s archaic now and it was archaic then. That group hasn’t changed. Just sitting around with their ukuleles and the Hawaiian music. Nah. Malibu was the place.” 48
“Before Tubesteak became dedicated to a surfing life-style on the beach at Malibu,” Crawford wrote, “he attempted to follow the more conventional path of working as an underwriter for Home Insurance Co. Tubesteak (19 at the time), described how he and Mickey Dora clashed with ‘all these Spring Street executives, the Wilshire Blvd., Pacific Stock Exchange types.’ After a couple of miserable days on the job, both young men were fired from Home Insurance Co.” 49
“It was after this adventure in social conformity,” Crawford continued, “that Tubesteak became a full time surfer. Broke and unemployed, the night after he was fired from his job, Tubesteak decided to sleep on the beach at Malibu. The next day he hiked up Malibu creek with his surfboard, collected palm fronds, and floated them down stream using the surfboard as a barge. With help from friends, he built a beach shack, and fashioned a way of life at Malibu that was radically different from the image of life centered in the Gold Medallion home.” 50
Tubesteak was asked about his living at First Point. How long?
“For thee or four months a year, in summer,” Tracey answered. “Actually, there were two shacks. The first one got burned down; the cops tore the second one apart in 1957. In the winter I lived in Santa Monica canyon, at a place called the Sip ‘n Surf.” 51
“Tubesteak,” Crawford wrote, “commenting generally about surfers’ attempts at social conformity, suggests that ‘surfers tried to do what people wanted them to do, but they didn’t fit in.’ ‘We didn’t care about money; it didn’t cost money to live on [the] beach.’ Tubesteak and others spent summers living on the beach, but during the winter months when the weather was too cold, they got jobs like the ‘jerks with expensive suits.’” 52
“Tubesteak recalled that during the 1940s [after World War II] and 1950s,” continued Crawford, “surfers did everything possible to stay out of the draft. However, their resistance was not for ideological reasons, ‘they just wanted to go surfing.’ In the summer of 1956, Tubesteak recalled ‘the Feds were after me,’ so he had to fly to Arizona for a military physical exam. Because of the calcium deposits which formed on his feet and kneecaps from prolonged kneeling on a surfboard, Tubesteak was unable to wear shoes. He was declared ineligible for the draft, and went back to the beach in Malibu. Tubesteak’s story sparked Opai‘s recollection that ‘a lot of surfers actively cultivated surf bumps’ and many successfully evaded the draft ‘with all kinds of subterfuges.’ However, Opai remembers there was no political coherence to their resistance to the draft, the surfers just wanted to stay on the beach.” 53
Malibu Surf Culture
By the end of the 1950s, the surf culture that developed at Malibu became popularized in Gidget, the 1957 book and, then, the 1959 movie. Yet, by the time Frederick Kohner started writing about some of it, the lifestyle at Malibu was already well established. In the minds of many who were there, the real glory days for Malibu was during the mid-1950s, before its popularization at the end of the decade.
“A new breed of American beach boys developed,” is the way Nat Young put it, “a sort of later equivalent of the Hawaiian beach boys who had become professional surfers in the years before World War II. The new breed spent their time lifeguarding, surfing and just having fun; music, parties, waves, boards, girlfriends. They began wearing brightly colored baggie trunks and, in winter, wetsuits developed from Navy frogmen’s outfits. There was little smog in those days, huge kelp beds just off the Californian coast kept the waves glassy much of the time, and surfers found they could surf all year round. It wasn’t long before surfing had developed from sport to culture to -- cult.”54
The epicenter of American surf culture had clearly shifted from San Onofre to Malibu.
Tubesteak Tutors Kemp
“A goofy foot struggles to learn to surf at Malibu by attempting to ride the entire wave from outside to inside in an awkward, backslide stink bug squat,” wrote Craig Stecyk of a notable day in Malibu history, on or around May 21, 1956. “Watching this painful exercise is more than Tubesteak can tolerate, so he invites the earnest lad into his own private barb wire fenced beach domain and offers a few words of advice, ‘Look kid, when you ride a wave that’s a perfect right slide, I think your life would be a lot easier if you turned and faced the wave.’ Enough said, the youngster immediately made the switch. Following this reorientation, Kemp Aaberg becomes one of the consummate point stylists and is forever after welcomed to join the other elite inside the fence.”55
Gidget, the Girl Midget
June 27, 1956 was a day destined to change Malibu history forever. This day, a girl who wanted to surf, made her way into the Malibu domain where she was acknowledged almost immediately.56
“Probably it was the Gidget movies, books and magazines,” suggested Young, “that did as much as anything to bring surfing to the masses. Malibu had become a prestige area, and many sons and daughters of the wealthy people who lived along the coast became involved in surfing... and the ‘surfers’ who went with it. At the time these included Dewey Weber, Mickey Munoz, Kemp Aaberg, Bob Cooper, Mike Doyle, Jim Fisher, Micky Dora, Johnny Fain, Tom Morey, Robert Patterson and ‘Tubesteak.’” 57
“I remember the first time Gidget came down the stairs at Malibu,” wrote Mike Doyle. “She was only about five feet tall, weighed less than a hundred pounds, and was carrying a borrowed surfboard that was so big, one end of it was dragging in the sand. She really caught our eye because there weren’t a lot of girl surfers then. Tubesteak said, ‘Gee, here comes a girl.’
“Somebody else said, ‘God, she looks like a midget to me.’
“‘Yeah, a girl midget – a gidget.’
“Somebody else started giving her a hard time, saying ‘Whatta ya think you’re doing? Don’t you know girls can’t surf?’
“Gidget (whose real name was Kathy Kohner) stopped halfway down the stairs, practically in tears. Tubesteak, who had a soft heart and needed a girlfriend, went over and said, ‘Hey, it’s okay if you surf. Come on down.’”58
So, Tubesteak was the guy who first named Gidget. “According to Tubesteak himself,” wrote Young, “about the last week in June 1956 he, Mickey Munoz and Micky Dora were standing on the incline above Malibu, checking out the waves, when a young surfer in a baby-blue ski parka pulled a new Velzy/Jacobs board from the rear of a Buick convertible and headed off down the path.
“‘Hey,’ shouted Dora, hassling the new arrival. ‘Go back to the valley, you kook!’ shouted Munoz. The stranger got such a shock she stumbled and the board tumbled to the rocks below. Tubesteak told the others to shut up and went to help and discovered the new arrival was a girl. A very short girl!
“‘For Chrissake,’ mumbled Tubesteak, ‘it’s a midget, a girl midget, a goddamn gidget!’
“The girl was not amused. ‘I’m not a gidget,’ she yelled. ‘My name is Kathryn -- and you can keep your filthy hands off me, you creep.’
“Tubesteak laughed. ‘Hey Gidget, see you around.’“59
“Gidget never did become a very good surfer,” Doyle noted, “but she learned to take our roasting in good humor, and eventually she was accepted into the crowd because all of us could appreciate somebody who tried as hard as she did. Like me and a few others in that Malibu crowd, Gidget was the kind of person who didn’t really fit in back in her own neighborhood, but instead of feeling sorry for herself, she bought an old Buick convertible and a surfboard, and found her way to the beach. I really admired her for that.
“I thought Gidget was cute: She had dark hair, fair skin, and nice legs. One day I told Gidget that the board she had was way too big for her, that she would have an easier time learning to surf if she used a smaller board. She asked me what kind of board she needed, and I said, ‘Why don’t you let me find one for you.’ After looking around, I found a board that was just right for her. I got her a deal on it, too: fifteen dollars. Gidget and I became friends after that. I’d take her to the movies or just for a walk along the beach. But there were other guys taking her out during the same time, so we never had anything very serious going.” 60
“That,” wrote Young of Tubesteak‘s reception of Gidget into the Malibu fold, “was a statement which was to mean more than Tubesteak thought. Kathryn’s father was a writer, and he wrote a book about his daughter’s summer adventure which became a bestseller. Columbia made the first of its Gidget movies, glamorizing the West Coast surfing life, and suddenly [after 1959] everyone seemed to be going surfing. It was the ‘in’ thing to do. [But} By the summer of 1956 the surfing craze was in [a more natural, eveolutionary stage of] high gear. Surfers had built the two famous grass shacks at Malibu which appear in the Gidget films, one in the pit and another out on the point. The offshore santana winds blew regularly all that summer and there was a consistent glassy swell. It was a time when Dora could be seen flying across the face of a five-foot wall, executing a perfect ‘el spontaneo‘ while the crowd on the beach went wild. Munoz might be next up with an immaculate Quasimodo, followed by Cooper with an ‘el telephono‘ from point to the pit. And then came the first annual luau.”61
Gidget and the Malibu crew, 1959 - Photographer unknown.
Summer’s End 1956
“It was the end of summer,” wrote Nat Young, “first Monday in September, and everyone who surfed in California seemed to have heard about the party. All the regulars came, plus Mike Diffenderfer, L.J. Richards, Ole, Jack Haley, Hap Jacobs, Allan Gomes, Chick Edmondson, Hobie, Hynson, Rusty Miller (later to settle down at Byron Bay on Australia’s east coast), Tim Dorsey and Robert August. The air was filled with good vibes and loud music. A bonfire was lit, and out of one of the Malibu grass shacks came the legendary ‘surfer girls’: the gorgeous Linda Benson, luscious Juicy Lucy, ravishing Ramona from Pomona, and then Sally from the Valley, Marion the Librarian and finally, to the most applause, Shirley from Temple city, Gidget and Mandos Mary. Tubesteak put a torch to the grass shacks. The first annual luau was drawing to a close and so was an era in American surfing.”62
1 California Coastal Resource Guide, published by The California Coastal Commission and the State of California, ©1987, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, p. 282
2 Paez, Juan, Cabrillo Expedition, October 10, 1542.
3 Father Pedro Font, second expedition of Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, 1776.
4 Friar Crespi, Portola expedition, 1769.
5 Friar Crespi, Portola expedition, 1769.
6 Father Pedro Font, second expedition of Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, 1775.
7 May, Frederick C., Malibu Lagoon Museum Book, date unknown.
8 California Coastal Resource Guide, published by The California Coastal Commission and the State of California, ©1987, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, p. 282
9 California Coastal Resource Guide, 1987, p. 282
10 Young, 1983, p. 49.
11 Young, 1983, p. 49.
12 California Coastal Resource Guide, p. 282.
13 Young, 1983, p. 49.
14 California Coastal Resource Guide, p. 282.
15 Young, 1983, p. 49.
16 See Gault-Williams, “Tom Blake.” Much of this section duplicated from the same section in Blake.
17 See photograph of Sam Reid and Tom Blake, on the sand at the Santa Monica Swimming Club, 1925. The Santa Monica Heritage Museum Archives, courtesy of Mitchell Lachman.
18 See Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “The Redwood Era,” Volume 1 of LEGENDARY SURFERS for additional details on the first Malibu surf session and the contributions of Sam Reid.
19 Santa Monica Heritage Museum, “Cowabunga!” exhibit, February 1994. See also Young, 1983, p. 49. He has them (incorrectly) walking “a couple of miles from the end of the coast road” and the boards at 10’ x 18”.
20 Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, courtesy Leslie Smid, Santa Cruz.
21 Santa Monica Heritage Museum exhibit, “Cowabunga!” February 1994.
22 Ehlers, Charles (“Chuck A Luck”). “Log Jam 1922,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 2, Summer 1992, p.44. See article for some classic photos.
23 Grissim, John. Pure Stoke, ©1982, Harper and Row, New York, p. 20. Dave Rochlen quoted.
24 Grissim, John. Pure Stoke, ©1982, Harper and Row, New York, p. 20. Dave Rochlen quoted.
25 Elwell, 1994, p. 36.
26 Lueras, 1984, p. 111. Joe Quigg.
27 Stecyk, “Humaliwu,” 1992, p. 36.
28 Surfer, Volume 33, Number 12. Researched by C.R. Stecyk, p. 40.
29 Elwell, 1994, p. 39. See also Gault-Williams, “Bob Simmons & Modern Surfboard Evolution.”
30 Elwell, 1994, p. 39.
31 Young, 1983, p. 61. Young has the “scarfed nose lift” as Simmons’ “most significant contribution.”
32 Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Rennie Yater, March 24, 1994. This section duplicated in Gault-Williams, “Rennie Yater.”
33 Lueras, 1984, p. 114.
34 Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with Rennie Yater, March 24, 1994. This section duplicated in Gault-Williams, “Rennie Yater.”
35 Stecyk, Craig. “Perpetual Musings,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1996. Joe Quigg, circa 1995.
36 Solberg and Morris. A People’s Heritage, ©1984, p. 180.
37 Solberg and Morris. A People’s Heritage, ©1984, pp. 180-182.
38 Solberg and Morris. A People’s Heritage, ©1984, pp. 182-184.
39 Solberg and Morris. A People’s Heritage, ©1984, p. 184.
40 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: firstname.lastname@example.org.
41 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: email@example.com.
42 Grissim, 1982, p. 23.
43 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: firstname.lastname@example.org.
44 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: email@example.com.
45 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: firstname.lastname@example.org. Opai quoted.
46 Warshaw, Matt. “Tubesteak: Above The Roar,” interview done in 1993, excerpt from Above The Roar, printed in Surfer, Volume 39, Number 1, January 1998, p. 58.
47 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: email@example.com. Tubesteak quoted.
48 Warshaw, Matt. “Tubesteak: Above The Roar,” interview done in 1993, excerpt from Above The Roar, printed in Surfer, Volume 39, Number 1, January 1998, p. 58.
49 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tubesteak quoted.
50 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: email@example.com. Tubesteak quoted.
51 Warshaw, Matt. “Tubesteak: Above The Roar,” interview done in 1993, excerpt from Above The Roar, printed in Surfer, Volume 39, Number 1, January 1998, p. 58.
52 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tubesteak quoted.
53 Crawford, Carin. “Waves of Transformation,” 1993, Internet version at http://facs.scripps.edu/surf/waves.html. Email address of author: email@example.com. Tubesteak quoted. Tubesteak Tracey and Opai quoted.
54 Young, Nat. The History of Surfing, ©1983, 1987 by Nat Young, Palm Beach Press, 40 Ocean Road, Palm Beach, NSW 2108, Australia, p. 82.
55 The Surfer’s Jounrnal, Volume 1, Number 3. Short snippets of surf history by C.R. Stecyk, p. 54.
56 The Surfer’s Jounrnal, Volume 1, Number 3, C.R. Stecyk, p. 42.
57 Young, 1983, p. 82. Terry “Tubesteak“ Tracey’s recollection. See also C.R. Stecyk‘s version in The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 42. He pin-points the event as June 27, 1956, but has Gidget‘s board as “an oversized beater balsa board.”
58 Doyle, Mike. Morning Glass, ©1993, pp. 35-36.
59 Young, 1983, p. 82. Terry “Tubesteak“ Tracey’s recollection. As Young got this information second-hand, it’s probably the least accurate of the recollections of the event entered here. See also C.R. Stecyk‘s version in The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 42. Stecyk’s recollections are closer to Doyle’s.
60 Doyle, Mike. Morning Glass, ©1993, p. 36.
61 Young, 1983, p. 83.
62 Young, 1983, p. 83.
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