Corky's Time Machine
by Corky Carroll
I get asked often to talk about certain people, events or periods in my surfing life that have stood out to me as meaningful. With that in mind I thought that today I will do a little visit back to the summer of 1963 when I went to Hawaii for the first time and spent a couple of months surfing Ala Moana, on Oahu’s south shore. This was a very meaningful time for me as it changed my approach to surfing and had a lot to do with teaching me how to keep my mouth shut when it did not need to be yapping like it normally did.
Ala Moana is a great surf break, screaming fast left hander with a big bowl section at the end when it’s bigger. I love that spot. Here is a paragraph from my new book, “Not Done Yet.”
“It was on my first day out there that I met two of my all-time surfing idols, even to this day. George Downing and Paul Strauch. The waves were big, bigger than I was used to anyway. And they had the Hawaiian power and speed which was much more powerful and faster than California waves. I had taken off on a big set wave and was screaming down the line going as fast as I could go. All of a sudden I was deep in a very dark tunnel and the wave was roaring over my head like a freight train. I panicked and jumped off, in the process I think I let out a very girlish like scream. George and Paul had been paddling out and saw, and heard, the whole thing. When I came up they were both rolling off their boards laughing. Geeze, how freaking embarrassing was that. Two of the biggest surf stars on the planet having witnessed THAT. Argh! But, to my amazement, when I finished swimming all the way in to get my board, and had paddled back out to the lineup, both of them were super friendly and offered kindish words of encouragement. It was a humbling afternoon to say the least. “
That summer I got to witness first-hand the surfing of some of the greatest riders in the world, ones that I had only seen in the surf movies up to that point. One of them that really impressed me was Conrad Canha. He was known for being able to keep standing through the heaviest sections and whitewaters. He was a kinda bow legged and thick dude and was in his mid-thirties and slightly balding. But it was his “tube riding” that stood out to me. This guy was getting deeper in that bowl section than anybody that I saw for many years surfing there. In a 1967 interview in SURFING magazine Conrad said, “There is a bowl section there, and if your timing is right, you can get locked in. I mean, completely locked in. People can’t see you from shore. When I’m making a ride like that, there is a feeling there that I’m all alone, just me and the wave, and nobody around me. All you can see is just a little hole in front of you. It’s fantastic!” He was kind of a prequel to Gerry Lopez.
Then there was a whole crew of guys who were amazing that you never heard of. Buzzy Knubell and Ivan Vanetta stand out in my memory banks as two of the best young surfers I had ever seen, not sure what became of them but at that time they were A list Ala Moana flyers. Jackie Gonzales too. “Gonzie,” also was a musician and I still remember he had a cool song called “Temple of Colors” that he showed me many years later on the North Shore.
Sometimes Freddy Hemmings would come out, he was close to the same age as me and was already riding big waves out at Makaha. Jeff Hakman too. So many great surfers that it made me realize that I wasn’t as good as I had thought I was before going there. I needed to be quiet and try to stay under the radar, they did not take to loud mouthed California “haoles” who thought they were hot. One day when I was first there a good local guy named Roland Toku aimed a spear at me, this more than less made the point very clear.
So, that summer was a lesson in surfing more powerful waves and going fast which definitely changed my style and approach to surfing. I came home and won the United States Championship in the Junior Mens division shortly after. It also gave me a big dose of learning how to shut up. Of course I still had a big mouth, no mistake about that, just not as big.
Corky on East Coast Legend Balsa Bill Yerkes
by Corky Carroll
This is the story of my pal “Balsa Bill” Yerkes. Bill is as laid back a hard-core surfer as you are gonna find anywhere and has seen all sides of the surfing industry with over 50 years in the business. He is currently 72 years old. Here is how he got there.
Originally born in Mount Holly, New Jersey. He would learn to surf at Malibu when his parents made a brief move to California in 1960, at which time he fell in love with the sport and the lifestyle that went along with it. He went back to the East Coast and became one of the better surfers there at that time, riding boards made by the great Charlie Bunger. Bill also had a knack for photography and started making surf films of East Coast surfing and surfers. He made “How the East was Won” in 1967 and “A Way of Life” in 1968. Many years later he would put together another one, “Summer of ’67.” In 1968 Bill received a degree in film from Ithaca College in New York.
In the seventies Bill relocated to central Florida and became the licensee for SUNDEK, a company known for its bright colored shirts and surfwear. Within a short amount of time he built it into one of the biggest and most sought after brands in the world.
This is where I enter the story. I had met Bill back in the 60’s at some of the surfing events on the East Coast and we had become friends. When I was running the Advertising Department at SURFER magazine from 1976 to 1986 we worked together on the advertising campaign for SUNDEK, and became closer friends. This led to me leaving SURFER and working with Bill for a few years doing “CORKY” clothing and surfboards under the SUNDEK umbrella. We had an office in Capistrano Beach.
I love Bill, he is like a stoked surf gremlin and he is my age. As he downsized with the shrinking of the surf industry at the end of the 1980’s he kept a line of great surf trunks alive under his own name and made screened t shirts for a number of companies in Florida.
He eventually opened a great little surf shop, “Balsa Bills,” in Satellite Beach, Florida where he makes and sells custom made Balsawood Surfboards. He is a master balsawood surfboard craftsman. He is also a great musician, plays the heck of the ukulele, piano and guitar. He worked with the Beach Boys putting together the great coffee table book, “Surfboards, Stratocasters and Striped Shirts.”
If you go into his shop he will most likely be kicked back playing some vintage Hawaiian song on his Uke. He also sells ukes and will be happy to teach you how to play one if you have the time. He goes surfing on his personally crafted wood boards out behind his shop regularly and also makes it to Waikiki every year to hang and surf with the heaviest of the local beach boy crew. Bills vibe and attitude is all positive and all about surf history and respect. He is an astute surf historian, especially on East Coast surfing. A close pal with Murph the Surf, Dick Catri, Gary Propper and the Slater family. Bill gave Kelly Slater his first sponsorship and Kelly’s mom a job working for SUNDEK. I met Kelly for the first time when I was the MC for the “Sundek Classic” surfing event in Florida. He was maybe 10 at the time and winning the “boys” division of the contest. I clearly remember saying on the microphone, “this kid is going to be World Champion one day.” I was right, he did it eleven times.
Balsa Bill Yerkes is a “real surfer,” to the bones. Never won a major championship but has none the less has been a major player and huge influence on the surfing world over the past 50 years. And I am proud to say is my close friend. Not sure why it has taken me th
Lot's of Surf options in the OC
by Corky Carroll
This morning I was sitting here thinking about how Orange County has so many great surf spots to choose from. No matter what time of year it is there is always somewhere to go to catch the swell as we have places that are good on just about any direction of swell. As I was pondering this it also came to me how each of our different areas seems to have its very own personality, or “vibe” as you might want to call it in the hipper vernacular. North county and south county are like the north and south pole, with the other spots like a sandwich in the middle.
Let’s start at the far north end and work our way down. The Seal Beach, Surfside and Sunset Beach area is a little world all onto itself. The surf spots there tend to be frequented by locals and those coming down from nearby Long Beach. As the freeway takes most people going south right past those spots, with the promise of maybe better waves farther along most don’t choose that exit and keep going. You get a definite hard-core small-town surfing vibe there. Locals are fine with you not stopping and happy in their own cocoon. It blows out there earlier than anywhere else too.
Then the greater Huntington Beach world surf center. Make no mistake, this is one of the world’s foremost surfing areas and the vibe tends to be an unusual blend of global and the hardest of core locals you can imagine. The main spot is, of course, the Huntington Beach Pier. Some of the best surfing on the planet takes place each and every day on both sides of that thing. Unknown kids that are groundbreakers are abundant. It’s also one of the hardest places to get a wave you can find. Very aggressive out there. Inked and pierced meanies with red glowing eyes and forked tongues slashing lips like Wearing blenders. I swear I have seen dudes out there with actual horns on their heads, chicks too. It’s a world class stage.
Then you get to Newport Beach, another “off the freeway” and even “off the highway” spot. A ton of great surfers there and a very tight knit surf community. Not hostile, yet “locals” none the less. Surf is fickle, can be great or can be junk. Most that surf there live there or just like that salty beach town feeling. Again, most pass by five miles inland on the 405.
Laguna Beach is in its own totally different world. It is a beach town yes, but not in the traditional sense. It’s more of an art town, combined with great musicians, interesting characters and has surfing and surfers tossed into the mix to add color and spice to the stew. Lots of rocky coves and a few intersecting surf spots, not easy to ride and mostly only by those who are dedicated to riding them on a daily basis. I love Laguna Beach, not for the surfing as much as it just has its own culture.
Then you have the Dana Point area. Not sure how to describe this. It was once the focal point of the surfing world back in the glory days of Hobie, SURFER magazine, Clark Foam and Bruce Brown Films. Very good surf spots that ranged from Salt Creek, Killer Dana (the cove) and Doheny State Park. A lot has changed since then with the addition of the Harbor and all the hotels etc. When it was just Pacific Coast Highway as the main up and down the coast route this was a popular area to stop and surf. Lot’s of great and colorful surfing people lived there. Now it’s kind of one more “off the freeway” area that seems to still get surfed but there is not the hard-core surfing vibe that you would feel farther north, or farther south. A lot of “boat” people there.
Then lastly we come to what I like to generalize as “south county.” San Clemente to San Onofre Surf Beach. Some of the best surf in the world, and certainly on the West Coast, gets ridden along these beaches. San Clemente itself is a lot like Newport Beach in the fact that mostly only those who live there surf it’s beaches. Very beach town. But at the south end you have the great reefs at the “Trestles” and San Onofre spots. The points at “Trestles” will feature the best surfers and best surfing all the time. It’s a showcase for that. Very aggressive, yet with the fact that there are people from all over out there, going for it, there isn’t as much of a “local” vibe as a “top talent” vibe. The good guys rule, period.
And San Onofre is still the good old family surf beach even after all of these years of State Parkage change and all of that. It still has the same vibe as back when I first started hanging out there in the late 1950’s, even many of the same people. A lot of those people were already old back then. Family beach, don’t take offense if everybody rides the same wave. Lots of history there.
And there you have my off the top of my head vibe trip thru O.C. surf areas. I only touched on the main areas, there are other pockets of action
Corky's Annual Tips
by Corky Carroll
Yes kiddies, this is my annual tips column on how to survive going to the beach this summer. This has absolutely nothing to do with Covid 19, by the way. As always, this is aimed at newbies and other non-beach-oriented people who might be a tad clueless when it comes to the hazards to your health from what would seem to be a fun day at the beach. For those of you who have read these in years past, and yes I pretty much say the exact same things every year, I suggest you stick with me and read this one too, just as a refresher in case you forgot any of this helpful information.
First off, and probably most importantly, that big ol' summer sun is not in any way your friend. Yeah, you are looking to put on a nice glorious golden tan and look all cool and weathered in your summer outfits. That’s all good and fine, but you need to do this without getting sunburned, and that is the issue that most people either overlook or are not aware of. Sunblock is your friend, your very very good friend. You will still get plenty tan no matter how much you use, and you should use plenty of it. Put it on at least twenty minutes before you go into the sun and reapply it fairly often. Yeah, it says it lasts all day and is water resistant and all that, but it lies. You need to keep using it, especially if you go into the water. I know that there are some of you with the opinion that you can hang out for a little while, getting “color,” before you apply any protection. This is a really bad opinion because you will burn. I cannot impress on you how important this is. Todays sunburn is skin cancer twenty years from now, trust me on that because I know all about it. Besides that, sunburn hurts. Wear a hat too.
The next thing that is super important at the beach is having a good pair of polarized sunglasses. All those pretty sparkles on the ocean are a zillion tiny mirrors reflecting sunlight directly into your eyes, and yes kids….your eyes can get burned too. And they do. The sand is also highly reflective, just like snow. Sunburned eyes can lead to growths that your eyes form to protect themselves, I know all about that too. I have had the surgery to remove them and I can tell you right now that it is no fun at all. Well, unless you think having somebody cutting on your eyes while you are awake is fun. I, for one, am not into that kind of thing.
In short, the sun that you seek can really ruin your day if you do not know how to protect yourself from its little not so hidden hazards. Another one of these is that as the day progresses the sand gets hotter and hotter. People head down by the water and get a nice spot all set up for the day when it’s still cool. But then later in the afternoon when they pick up their gear and attempt to walk back to the car, or whatever, that stretch of beach between you and it has turned red hot. The famous “burning sands,” called that because they are actually just that, freaking BURNING sands. If you don’t have something to put on your feet you are in for a world of hurt. First you will start to hop, then run, then run as fast as you can while screaming as your feet blister right under you. This, once again, is no fun. And the total idea of going to the beach is to have fun. Getting burned is a bad thing.
Another very bad thing is dehydration. You need to take along water or some sort of electrolyte beverage. Cokes, coffee, beer and everything like that are all dehydrators. If you get dehydrated you will feel exactly the same as if you have food poisoning or what people call “the revenge.” The thing is more times than not when people think they have something like that it is actually dehydration. It is dangerous too as it can cause you to have a stroke, something you really do not want to have happen to you.
So, the quick version is protect yourself from the sun and drink a lot of water. Use sunblock, wear a hat and sunglasses and take along something to wear on your feet for when the sand gets hot.
Reprint from the BMS Archives
by Corky Carroll
Today I thought it would be fun to talk about one of the really great surfers of the past half-century, the one and only Mike Purpus. Mike was one of the top competitors of the 1960s and into the 1970s. 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 he had “the best cutback in the business.” I would not argue that point. 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. He was definitely one of my main competitors. 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 other 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’s 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 unflinching charging on his own terms, and the 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.
Chris Marseilles Rides On
by Corky Carroll
Today is one of those days that I dread, telling about a great surfer and friend who just passed away. On May 10 we lost the legendary Chris “the Gremmie” Marseilles after an eighteen-month battle with cancer, he was 74. This is a guy who most of you have not really heard of, he was not a famous professional surfer or known much at all by the general public. But if you were at all tuned into surfing in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s you will know that he was one of the best surfers ever to come out of Orange County and was highly regarded as a world class talent. In the era when myself, David Nuuhiwa, Mark Martinson and Danny Lenahan were the top up and coming young surfers on the West Coast it was a fact that Chris Marseilles was better than the rest of us.
I first started hearing his name when I was just starting to get a little bit known as a kid with some potential. I would hang around the fire rings at Seal Beach and Huntington Beach pier and listen to the stories the older guys would tell about this that and the other thing. Surf heros and chicks were always the main topics. They would tell about a kid they called “the Gremmie,” who was blowing people away at “Lower Trestles.” He was known for great noseriding skills, they said he could “hang ten” all day long. I distinctly remember hanging out in the CROW surfboards shop behind Kanvas by Katin one afternoon listening to the Crow rave on about having seen this kid the day before and telling me that I was good, but not nearly as good as the Gremmie. I was naturally boiling over with jealousy.
But then I met Chris one day at a school event in Huntington Beach, we were both still in elementary school at the time. He went to Huntington and I went to J.H. McGaugh in Seal Beach. We hit it off right off the bat. He was really a cool dude and had a huge smile and was fun to be around. Not long after that I met up with him at Huntington Beach pier and got to surf together for the first time, super fun experience where we were both just going for it and hooting each other on. I could see how good he was and the whole kid jealousy thing totally vanished. I liked him and was stoked that he was so good. Soon after that he moved to Newport Beach, where his reputation grew.
The day that I truly realized just how great he really was came one afternoon at Lower Trestles. I had gotten a ride down there with one of the Long Beach guys, Roy Crump or might have been Steve Pezman. The surf was really good and I was paddling out all amped up and ready to rock. Just as I was getting almost to the lineup I saw Chris Marseilles take off on a big perfect, maybe six to eight-foot, peak. He paddled into the wave fading to the left and stayed laying down all the way almost to the bottom of the wave. Then he smoothly slid to his feet and cranked a huge bottom turn to the right and quickly walked all the way up to the nose as he was climbing the face of the wave. He hung all ten toes over the nose and just perched there with this sly grin on his face and the most perfect style I had ever seen. In my head I just went, “WOW.” I implanted that scene into my little brain right then and there because I knew that I wanted to do THAT.
I think I heard him tell that it was Denny Buell that game him the nickname “Gremmie,” and it stuck. Chris was small framed and not all that tall, and with his quickness and sly grin he was just the perfect, well, gremmie. It was him.
When he was sixteen he took off for Hawaii. There were tales of him at Sunset Beach riding huge days alone of with only a handful of others out. And then later he spent a lot of time on the Island of Kauai, where two of his four sons still live to this day. The last half of his life was spent back in Newport Beach with his 30 plus year love Susan Hoyle. His son Beau has been a pal of mine on Facebook for a number of years and tells great stories of growing up and surfing with his dad. He was a member of the Blackies Surf Club and a part of the beach where he normally surfed has been dubbed “Marseilles” for years.
Everybody loved Chris, a guy known as “a small man with a huge heart.” And even though most of the world would not have heard of him, those of us who did are all saddened by his leaving us, but very glad that we knew him and knew of him. Chris Marseilles was one of the best surfers to ever paddle out.
Ride on Gremmie.
Corky Tries the North Shore
by Corky Carroll
In order to avoid having to talk about the virus, as I am not an expert nor do I have any valid opinion on that subject, I have started a little series on “Surf Safaris” that I have taken over the years, starting with the early ones. Today I am going to talk about my first trip to the infamous “North Shore,” on the island of Oahu.
The first time I had gone to Hawaii was actually the summer before this, the year was 1963 and I was a 15-year-old loud mouthed up and comer. A couple of months surfing at Ala Moana, on the “South Shore,” went a long way towards shutting me up and teaching me some respect. I was pretty good, but not nearly as good as I had thought I was when I got there. By December I was ready to just keep my mouth shut and go and see what it was like to ride the big stuff on the North Shore and if I had the guts to do it or not.
I was lucky to get to go over with a crew of great surfers and proven big wave riders. Mike Doyle, Mickey Munoz, Joey Cabell and Chuck Linnen. We all met up at Mike’s moms house, about a half a mile from Los Angeles International Airport late one winter afternoon and got ready for our flight to Honolulu. In those days you just checked your board in as baggage, no board bags or any protection. Most of the time they came out with dings and broken off fins, but that was just the way it was. I took one board with me, a 10-foot speed board Phil Edwards had made me. I was lucky to only have some scratches on it when it got there. I had an 11-foot big wave board already there at the Hobie shop waiting for me. It was red and made it into a famous big wave photo of a bunch of guys taking off at Waimea Bay and a big red board going up the face with a foot sticking out of the water just behind it. It was my foot. I was paddling out and jumped off going up the face before I got sucked over the falls by this big monster wave.
I hung with Mike Doyle on that trip and was glad I did. Mike was without a doubt one of the best big wave riders of all time, and he was pretty good at looking out after me. We wound up staying with a huge crew from the mainland that had rented an old Quonset hut out by a place called “Velzyland.” There were 15 guys, 2 girls and a dog.
On our first day there we caught Sunset Beach about fifteen feet. I was scared but managed to catch a good-sized wave right off the bat. A really good California surfer named Kemp Aaberg was in front of me and I just watched where he was going and followed as closely as I could. We both made the wave and I was totally wide eyed and blown away. Kemp smiled at me and said, “So, you like this big stuff huh?” After that the fear factor turned down a notch and I was able to get a bunch of rides.
The very next day the swell jumped up in size and Waimea Bay was going off. This was the premier big wave spot on the planet at that time. I had survived the first day at Sunset Beach so when Mike grabbed his board to paddle out I grabbed mine too. He looked at me and said, “Are you sure?” I didn’t answer, I just went. And no, I was not sure at all. This turned out to be a whole nother deal all together. I was in shock as to just how big those waves were when you actually got out there in the middle of all that power. They were not only tall, but as thick as a shopping mall and moving really fast. The sheer energy and sound made me feel very insignificant. When I was sitting in the lineup debating about if I was going to try to take one or not I saw the great big wave surfer George Downing looking at me. He asked me if I was afraid. I wanted to say no, that I was fine and this was totally cool. But a tiny “yes” is what came out. He smiled and said, “Good, then you will be o.k.” This made me feel better. I got three rides that day and was lucky to not have fallen off on any of them. I remember on the first one when I stood up at the top of this monster wall of water. I was thinking, “Twenty feet? Hell no, this thing is more like three hundred feet…. I’m gonna diiiiiiieeeeee.”
The highlight of that first trip to the North Shore was getting to surf the “Pipeline” for the first time. This is the spot that I really fell in love with. Being right foot forward, “Goofy-foot”, this was perfect for me. A big powerful left. I loved that spot and had some of my best surfing days there. The last time I rode it was on my 50th birthday. It was so crowded by then that I couldn’t get a wave without at least two guys dropping in on me. But back during that first winter for me there would only be a few people out there at a time and it was just surf dog heaven for me. I was lucky to spend a lot of time in Hawaii over the years and got a ton of super good surf. But that first winter always stood out as a special, and totally eye opening, experience for me.
Corky's First Surf Trip
by Corky Carroll
I got a lot of positive response from last weeks story about a surf adventure (“surf safari” in surf lingo) I took in the late 1960’s, so this week I thought I would continue in a little series on memorable surf treks I have made through the years. The best place to start is with the first one. This took place way back in the year 1958 when I was a ten-year-old gremmie just learning to surf in front of our home in Surfside, Ca., a tiny beach colony on the north end of Orange County.
On our beach there were about ten surfers in the late 1950’s. Among them were the DeChevroux brothers, Mike, Marc and Morgan. Both Mike and Marc were close to me in age and got boards at the same time as I did, Morgan was much younger and wasn’t surfing yet. We spent a lot of time surfing together before and after school, on weekends and all summer. Their mother, Ruth, was a rabid Bullfight fanatic. She loved going to Mexico for the Bullfights on Sundays. She had a big ol’ Buick station wagon. The first surf movie I ever saw is when Ruth loaded up all of us surf kids and took us to a little art theater in Hollywood to see “Surf Safari,” a surfing film by John Severson. Not long after that she got the idea to take us on our own surf safari. Loaded up Marc, Mike and me in her old Buick wagon and we set off to surf the historic surf spots in southern Orange County. In those days this was a trip down Highway 101. We were stoked to the max.
Our first spot was Dana Point, the legendary “Killer Dana.” There was a big south swell running that day and it was going off. The rocky point and beach made Ruth nervous, we were all pretty young. So we left there and went to the HOBIE surf shop to get advice on where we should surf. The guy there, I am thinking it was Jim Gilloon, said, “Windansea for experts, San Onofre for intermediates and Doheny for beginners.” So, Doheny it was.
The waves were really good. And it was my first experience at surfing over a rocky bottom. Scared me at first too. We had a great session; the highlight memory was seeing the great Lorin Harrison ride a big set wave in an outrigger canoe. After we were done we loaded up to head home. But Ruth surprised us and said we should go check out San Onofre, it was not that much farther away and we should know what it looked like for future safaris.
Pulling up to the guard gate at Camp Pendleton Marine Base we were told that San Onofre Surf Club members were the only ones allowed on the base to surf. The beach was on Marine property. This is when I found a whole new world of respect for Ruth DeChevroux. As we were leaving she saw a little spot where there was a hole in the fence and a dirt road on the other side. Shockingly she said, “Well, that might lead to the surf. Let’s give it a shot.” So she drives El Buicko through the hole in the fence and sets out down the dirt road to see if we can find our way to San Onofre Surf Club. And we do. But there is a gate with a chain and a lock. Not being one to give up easily, she got out and checked the lock. Voila! It had been left open. We were in. To our total glee she pulled up and parked right in the middle of all the camper trucks and surf mobiles parked at the main break, like we were supposed to be there or something. Nobody seemed to notice. The surf was big and breaking really far out. At first we were just gonna watch for a while, but then I got the urge and decided to paddle out. Guys on giant boards where taking off on what seemed like the horizon. I got a couple of really long and exciting rides. I was riding my first board, the 8’7” balsawood pintail made for me by Dick Barrymore, and it was suited to these waves perfectly. But then I fell off and it was a very long swim to the beach. After that I was done, satisfied for sure, but done.
We headed home a crew of worn out and extremely stoked surf kids. Our first surf safari had been an over the top success. Just the beginning. Get my latest book, Not Done Yet, for more great surf stories.
Stuck on meeting Doc Ball and Tom Blake
by Corky Carroll
Doing my very best to stay off any kind of controversy with the current social situation, I thought today I would tell you the story of a very cool encounter I had many years ago with the legendary Tom Blake. For those of you who don’t know who that is let me catch you up. This dude gets a huge amount of credit for the development of surfboard design back in the days of the big heavy redwood beasts that weighed in more than an elephant and were longer than some trains. He is said to have been the first to attach a fin to the bottom, that alone is monumental. His influence on the surfing culture went deep, his casual style being adopted and still in effect today in surfing wardrobe choices. Tom was born in 1902 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a fact that any Great Lake surfer will never let you forget. By the time I came along he was up there in years and not involved in day to day surfing anymore. I knew of him, of course, but really thought I would never meet the dude in person. Then one day that changed.
In the mid thru late 1960’s I liked to take an annual trip far up into the Pacific Northwest. There is a certain point break up there that I was very fond of. My normal program was to drive one direction along the coast, maybe grabbing a wave or two along the way if a swell was working. Then the other way I would take the much faster inland route on the freeway. I am thinking it was the fall of 1968 when my first wife Cheryl and I were heading up Highway 101 in Northern California and pulled into Garberville. I had no idea that this was the home of “murder mountain” at that time, but I did know that my old pal Doc Ball was the town dentist. Doc Ball put out the very first surf photo book in the 1940’s called “California Surfriders.” He was a high energy old surf gremmie, having been born in 1907 himself. No spring chicken, but younger than Blake.
We decided to make what was meant to be a quick stop to say hi. When I walked into the dentist office the girl behind the desk just smiled and told me to go right back. So I did, thinking that Doc wasn’t busy. But he had a guy in the chair and was drilling away on his teeth. He looked up and saw me and pulled back with a big smile. I told him I could wait until he was done with his patient, thinking I was intruding on some poor dudes’ appointment. Doc just swung the chair around and says, “Hey, you know Tom Blake don’t ya?” I was in shock. Tom, mouth full of dental stuff, lights up and sort of mouths something that sounded like, “Hey, good to see ya.”
The result of this was that we wound up spending the night. Doc had all the local surfers over and he showed a ton of his old movies from before I was born. I got to talk to Tom over dinner and it was very cool. He reminded me a lot of Phil Edwards, same kind of mannerisms and the way he talked. Great experience. He would have been 67, Doc 62 and me 20.
We hung out until after lunch the next day and then headed back up the highway on our surf safari. I could leave it at that, but there is a bit more to this little stop off that is kind of funny. Somewhere between Garberville and Eureka there is a “drive thru tree.” You have to turn off the highway and go down a little dirt road to get to it. So we thought it would be fun to check it out, and we did. When we got to it I was sort of amazed that it really didn’t look all that big of a tunnel in the tree. My wife said she didn’t think our van would fit through it. This being the brand new HOBIE SURF TEAM van that was on loan to me. Being me, at that time, I naturally said that it must be big enough otherwise they wouldn’t have it. So, I drove right in. I should say about halfway in. That is where we came to a screeching metal gouging mirror breaking off stop. Oops. O.K., this was not good. I went to back out but it was a dirt road and the tires just spun. If the rear doors were locked you could not open them from inside. Yes kids, we were stuck in the drive thru tree. Nobody around, about 3 in the afternoon. Close to dark a car finally came and starting honking at us. I was in the back window yelling for help, “WE ARE STUCK.” A lot of honking and yelling later they finally figured it out and went for a tow truck to pull is out.
Just some of the little things that can happen when on a surf safari. Meet a legend and get stuck in a tree.
Remembering the Good Old Days
by Corky Carroll
With all the news almost exclusively being centered around COVID 19 these days I thought I would, instead of adding just more fuel to the fire, take a long journey back in surf time to talk about the early days of surf clubs here in Southern California. I was going to get into the debate about trying to go surfing during this time of beach closures and people getting arrested and fined for surfing, but my honest opinion is just flat out DON’T DO IT. No debate. So, with that issue dealt with, let’s go back to the late 1950’s, well before most of you were born.
As many of you know I grew up in Surfside Colony, on the Northern edge of Orange County and just to the south of Seal Beach. There were only a handful of surfers who lived in Surfside at that time and we all pretty much hung out and surfed together on a daily basis. Seal Beach, on the other hand, had a whole slew of surfers. Of course it did, it was a much bigger town. Seal Beach had a surf club, the “Seal Beach Surfers.” The membership included a number of big name, or soon to be big name, riders. This would include Robert August, Mike Haley, Jack Haley, Denny Buell, Bill Fury, Richard Chew, Pete Kobzev and the list goes on. One day after surfing somebody, I think it was either Ron Rowe or Jerry Motes, came up with the idea that we should have our own club. We could be the “Surfside Surfers.” So the plan was hatched to order some club sweatshirts from a place up in Belmont Shores.
They were white with black “Old English” lettering on the backs and our names on the front. We never had a club meeting or anything like that, but we had those sweatshirts and we thought we were pretty darn cool wearing them. The members were Jerry Motes, Ron and Steve Rowe, Mike and Marc DeCheveroux, Greg Wojack, John Murphy, Larry Conroy, Joe Johnson and me. This would have been summer of 1958; I would have been 10.
There were other surf clubs already going such as the Palos Verdes Surf Club and, of course, the legendary San Onofre Surf Club. San Onofre had the huge benefit of having a private surf beach exclusive to members only which was located on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, just south of San Clemente. There was a membership limit and a long waiting list to get in. I remember putting my name on the list about three years before I would be old enough to get my driver’s license just so I might come up for membership by the time I would have a car to put the window decal on, giving me entry to the San Onofre Surf Beach.
During the early 1960’s, when with the help of “Gidget,” and a whole river of cheap Hollywood beach movies, surfing exploded and all of a sudden everybody surfed. Surf Clubs sprung up all up and down the coast. Competitions between the clubs were very popular. The most prestigious of them all was the “Malibu Invitational.” Held at Malibu’s acclaimed Surfrider Beach this was THE contest that you wanted to be in. No matter if you liked to surf in contests or not. Because being in this one gave you at least one 20-minute heat in the water at Malibu with only five other surfers. This was like surf gold. If you won the heat you would go on and get another one. The final was 30 minutes. People would join a club just to get on the team for this event. For that matter one of the most famous surf clubs of all time, the Windansea Surf Club from San Diego, was formed for no other reason than to field a team for the Malibu Invitational. They rented a bus with a band and kegs of beer for the drive from Windansea in La Jolla to Malibu the morning of the contest. And they won. This looked like the club to belong to right about then.
As the shortboard revolution came along, and then the 70’s when California surfing more than less went into the shadows, the glory years of surf clubs sort of died out. Some kept going and are still going today, but the real limelight years for surf clubs in this part of the world would have been the 60’s. Thinking back on the day when we loaded up in Steve Rowes old Ford woody to pick up our sweatshirts I can’t help but think of what came out of all of our mouths at the same time. “Surfside Surfers Rule!!!!”