by Corky Carroll
I recently read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, well actually I listened to it as an audio book. Very cool, he narrates it himself and is excellent at telling the story. I am a big fan of his music and was looking forward to this, plus we have a little connection thru a dude who goes by the nickname “Tinker.” Tinkers real name is Carl West. In the early 1960’s he worked for Wardy Surfboards in Laguna Beach as a glasser (the dude who does the fiberglassing). A very respected glasser at that. He lived in Dana Point in a little pink house with John Seversons little brother Joey. They had a goat that lived in the yard too. Why? I have no idea, they just did. Tinker was a thin dude with long hair, a big mustache and goatee. More of a “beatnik” kinda vibe, just pre-hippy. I lived up the street at the time in a little apartment and spent some time hanging out at Tinkers house with my girlfriend at that time, Janet Ambuehl. Janets dad was the principal of the elementary school in San Juan Capistrano and her mom was a teacher. They didn’t think a surfer was a good fit for their daughter, probably right. They later named the school after her dad. Anyway, we both liked to hang out at Tinkers place, it was kinda bohemian.
Two things I remember that stand out in my semi functional memory bank. One was that he had this big old panel truck and he liked to go up in the hills behind Dana Point and “jungle cruise.” This meant screaming around in the bushes, up and down hills, and all over the place at alarming speeds. Most of the time not having any idea of what was in front of him. I made the mistake of going with him one time and I am still traumatized from it. The other was that Tinker was a musician. He played acoustic guitar with metal finger picks and with a harmonica on a rack, like early Bob Dylan. Joey had a guitar too and wasn’t around much, so I would grab it and try to play along. That actually gave me a lot of inspiration to get more serious about playing music.
Tinker moved to San Diego and took over Challenger Surfboards. Then he moved to New Jersey and opened Challenger Eastern Surfboards. Fast forward to about 1967 or 68 when I am traveling up the East Coast promoting my new “Mini Model” shortboard design from HOBIE. I was with a great East Coast surfer named Freddy Grosskreutz in his blue VW bug with our boards strapped to the roof. We were driving along when I saw the Challenger Eastern surf shop and decided to stop and see if my old pal Tinker was around. Luckily he was and we had a great time catching up. He mentioned that he was helping out a bunch of local kids who had a band and they practiced in the back of his shop. He told us they were really good. We decided to stick around and set up dinner at his house that night where we would show a little promo movie that Spyder Wills had made for Hobie called “The Curl Line.” It was to promote the Mini Model. While there, Tinker introduced me to this kid named Bruce who was the singer in the band he was working with. Evidently this kid surfed a little bit and had ridden one of my boards at one time.
Fast forward years and years later and I find out that this kid was Bruce Springsteen and Tinker had turned out to be his first manager. Wow, small freaking world I am thinking. So, fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I am kicked back in my hammock overlooking the surf at my getaway casa on Mainland, Mexico. I am listening to the Springsteen autobiography and he goes all through his years working with Tinker and classic adventures they had together, including going surfing. How cool I thought, I know that guy. Anyway, thought I would bring you that little tid-bit of O.C. surf, and rock n roll, history and suggest you check out the book for yourself. If you are a fan, like I am, you will dig it.
by Corky Carroll
I just got my copy of SAN ONOFRE, Memories of a Legendary Surfing Beach, by David F. Matuszak. I was in shock. This is far more that what I had expected. The author had been in touch with me via email and was using a few of my columns as source material. He told me he would send me a book when it was done in the event that I couldn’t make the release party and pick one up personally. I couldn’t make that, and he mailed it to me. Must have cost him a fortune, this thing is HUGE. Like the size of what the phone book used to look like during the days of full on big phone books, maybe even bigger. With my aging and damaged back I can barely pick it up and carry it around the room. I wanted to bring it to my getaway casa in Mexico to put on the coffee table and had to pay excess baggage because it weighed so much. It’s really a BIG book.
That said, this is really a beautiful work and worthy of the amazing heritage that is San Onofre, the legendary surfing beach. “Sano” is far more than your average surf spot, it is a huge part of California surfing history. Maybe more so than any other one surfing beach. Malibu would be in the discussion, there is a ton of history there. But San Onofre is just more in so many ways. It was a private surf club for decades, and you had to be a member, or be with a member, in order to get in and surf there. It is on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base and you had to pass through the gate guard to drive in, and then had have a key to the gate to the beach. San Onofre bore families that continued thru generation after generation. They had all kinds of events, an annual surfing contest and along with the great surfing it was also a very social place. Everybody knew each other. There are some San Onofre families that are like five generations deep by now, dating back to old great great (I am not even sure how many “greats” to tag on to this) grandma and grandpa who surfed and barbequed and played music down there in the 1930’s. The place is just wallowing in surfing history. George “Peanuts” Larson riding a wave from Lower Trestle all the way through “Church” that was so big (some say 40 feet) that guys had to stand on a boxcar parked on the railroad tracks just to see it. Phil Edwards and Mickey Dora shredding the place in the 1950’s. Leslie “Birdman” Williams, Pete Peterson, Hobie, James Arness, Kit Horn, Eddie McBride, Benny Merrill, Barney Wilks, Hammerhead, Burrhead (some other “heads” I can’t remember), Mike Doyle, Mickey Munoz, Dick Metz, Dale Velzy, the Paskowitz family, the Turner family, the Hopps family, Jim Irwin, Hev’s McClellend, the Calhoun girls, the Harrison family, the Fly, the Flea, all the other creatures and so many more important names that it would take a years worth of space for me to mention. Almost anybody who was anybody in the surfing world had some sort of connection or history with San Onofre.
This book does an amazing job at documentation of a ton of that heritage and history. I mean, the thing goes as far as to mention classic surf mobiles people drove, and there were some great ones. Honestly, I can’t even begin to describe all of the great information and photos in this wonderful book, it is just the most complete and lovingly done dedication that you can ever imagine. I STRONGLY recommend it to everybody who has even spent any at all surfing there or who just loves to know about surfing history and culture. It is not less than a must have book. I have mine proudly displayed on the coffee table in front of my TV. I figure if I work at it I might finish reading it sometime before I croak, at least I hope so. The forwards by Jim Irwin and Paul Strauch hooked me in, I finished my first complete “browse,” and am now ready to read the whole thing. Funny, when I just wrote that last thing the word “whole” stuck out like a neon light. THAT is how big this book is. Most women and small children will not be able to pick it up.
You can order one by sending a check or money order of $59.95 plus $10 shipping to Pacific Sunset Publishing, 30320 Live Oak Canyon Rd. Redlands, Ca. 92373-0668. California residents need to add $5.25 sales tax. Great buy.
by Corky Carroll
Today I thought it would be fun to talk a little bit about one of the really great surfers of the past half a century, the one and only Mike Purpus. Mike was one of the top competitors of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, you could find him in almost any final in any contest. He was one of those guys you really did not want to see show up in your heat. He was really good and really competitive and he knew the ins and outs of how to compete in surfing. I think he was a finalist at the United States Championship something like seven times as well as just about every other event on the West Coast.
My first memories of Mike were at competitions when we were both little kids in the “Junior Men’s” division. He and Dru Harrison were the hot up and comers from the South Bay. Mike reminded me a little bit of the legendary Dewey Weber. He was sort of short and stocky and had the bushy bushy blonde hairdo, he looked exactly like what you would think a surf “gremmie” should look like. He also could turn a surfboard extremely well. In later years many felt that he had “the best cutback in the business.” I would not argue that point either. I remember one day I was paddling out at Lower Trestles, near San Clemente, and saw him lay one out so perfectly and so radically that I was blown away. And he did it with great style. The guy really could surf.
We kind of came up at the same time, I might have been a year or so ahead of him as I think I am a year or so older than him. We are both geezers. He was definitely one of the main competition. As we were not from the same area we never hung out together, would mostly only see each other at events or somewhere like on the North Shore. I always liked the dude, even though we were always against each other in the events. He is a really good guy, to this day. There were some of those dudes who were great surfers, but I could not say the same about their character as with Mike. What I really appreciated about him was that he did things his own way regardless of what everybody else was doing, and he had my favorite personality trait. A great sense of humor. I have always said that if you are not afraid to embarrass yourself in front of zillions of people then you have a special gift. Mike surfed to his own drummer. SURFER magazine once did a feature where they asked a bunch of top surfers what they wanted out of life. Everybody was all wrapped up in the “soul brother” thing of that period and the answers were all like, “live in peace and harmony,” “find my inner soul and become one with nature,” “world peace,”stuff like that. It was the thing to say. Mike, on the other hand, confessed, “I wanna Rolls Royce Silver Cloud full of naked women.” Hey, ya know what? I think I am going with his answer. Let the soul bros eat granola, show me the money. I love it. Another of his famous quotes was, “I found out a long time ago that all the soul in the world can’t buy me breakfast.” Truth is, Mike’s surfing was, and is, as soulful as anybody and way more than most. You look at Gerry Lopez deep at Pipeline and think, “that dude is the sultan of soul.” True. But check out a full speed Mike Purpus cutback at Sunset Beach and tell me that isn’t a work of art.
Mike is one of the few guys from my era of pro surfing that is still surfing every day. I follow him on Facebook. I always see photos of him in some sucked out beach break gnarly barrel someplace in the South Bay. He can still do it, it’s obvious. The best part is that he retains the stoke, it’s written all over his face. It makes me happy to see this stuff, I love guys who carry such a good vibe around with them. I respect Mike Purpus for that, his great surfing, his non-flinching charging on his own terms and that fact that through all of that he is a truly good person. I am looking forward to the next time I get to surf with him, I hope it’s soon.
by Corky Carroll
Today I thought I would talk about a condition that seems to happen to just about every long-time surfer as he reaches a round and mature age, or in other words, gets old. I am going to call it “Surfers Back.” Hey, they got “Surfers Ear,” so it’s time to call it what it is and Surfers Back is the perfect name. Surfing and paddling a surfboard are hard on your back and after a lifetime of doing it pretty much every surfer will tell you that sooner or later it will start to give you problems. Many will find that it becomes harder and harder to pop up from a prone position to standing. Some just stop surfing. Others switch to different equipment such as stand up paddleboards, knee boards or boogie boards.
I am gonna use me as an example. I have surfed almost constantly for well over 60 years. The first time I hurt my back was when I was about 18 and I got rammed into the bottom sitting down at Pipeline. Doctor told me to just take it easy for a few weeks and it would be ok, they knew far less back then. So I did and it got better. Now and then it would ache a little bit after long surf days or when I was skiing a lot and in later years when I was teaching tennis and putting in long days on hard courts. But it was not causing me to not do anything. Then in 1997 I got impacted on a very big wave while surfing on the island of Kauai and it caused what the doctor diagnosed as a “swollen” disc. Treatment was for pain and the plan was to let it heal on its own. I also popped both of my hernias at the same time which required surgery. I was laid up for nine months and gained 45 lbs. After that my back was never quite the same, I could still do everything, but I had to be really careful not to lift anything heavy or twist wrong. Every few years I would do something dumb and would be out of the water a few weeks or so. Then about 4 years ago I tweaked it and it didn’t come back so well. This caused me to switch from standard boards to the SUP. I can’t go from laying down to standing up without getting on my knees first. The SUP allows me to get up from my knees and then I am standing so don’t have to deal with getting up all the time.
As time has gone on the pain has increased and finally this past summer it got difficult to surf, or even walk much. So, I went to see a back doctor that a friend recommended. This guy told me I needed a surgery that would more than likely end my surfing. Naturally I passed on that. It appears I have severe stenosis along with a couple of swollen discs, some spurs and something else I can’t spell. Everybody told me to get a second opinion. I knew of Doctor Warren Kramer in Newport Beach, but I wasn’t sure he did backs, I just knew that he was respected as one of the best in sports medicine. I called his office and found out that his brother, Sten, is the family back dude. I went in to get the second opinion, thankfully. Turns out he thinks I can be treated with meds and not surgery, a much better plan. It’s only been a few weeks but already I am moving better and in less pain. Finally optimistic that I will be able to keep surfing, standing up and walking, at least to some degree. Better than a wheel chair.
Getting to the point of this story, more than likely your back is gonna give you problems as you age if you surf all the time. Don’t just give in to it. See a good back doctor. Naturally I am recommending Dr. Sten Kramer and Kramer Orthopedics, he certainly changed my direction and quality of life. You can find ways to keep surfing if you really want to. I want to and so should you. Don’t BACK down.