Hanging with Tinker
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.
A long time ago I heard Corky tell a story about driving down Laguna Beach Canyon, a buddy with a donut and the word "cowabunga". I think you'll remember that... I want to share that bit of "history" with my son, but can not find it anywhere. Is it available anywhere?
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