by Corky Carroll
When I was a little kid, growing up and learning to surf, I lived in Surfside Colony, a small private beach community just south of Seal Beach and bordering Sunset Beach. Back then the houses were small wooden, you have almost have to call them “shacks.” But honestly they were probably one small step above that. My parents bought our house, B-21, for $2100. It was the early 1950’s. Later we got a bigger one, B-44, for $4400.
One of my best pals back then was a kid that lived up the street from us, closer to the jetty. He was a year or so older than me, his name was Steve Rowe. He had an older brother, Ron, and a sister my age named Tina. Both Ron and Steve surfed. Ron was actually very good, while Steve and I were learning. We spent a lot of time together riding whatever stray watery peak that we could find up and down our little stretch of beach. My first trip to “Rincon,” near Santa Barbara was with the brothers in Ron’s Red “Woody.”
Steve recently passed away, having spent his entire life living in Surfside. He was a really good guy and excellent surfer. So, today I want to tell you a few good memories I have from our surfing childhood together.
The first time I ever had my name in SURFER magazine was in the “Photos from the Readers” section. It was a shot I took with my mom’s old “box” camera of Steve that I had taken from the Huntington Beach Pier. We are thrilled to have our names in print, to a couple of “pre-teens” this was a cool deal.
When Steve was about 15, he got his own Ford “Woody” Wagon. He could only drive it inside of Surfside because he was too young to get his driver’s license. So, he would come pick me up and we would toss our boards in the back and drive down to surf at the “Water Tower.” This was all of about 200 yards from my house, 400 yards from his. But to us we were “on Safari to stay.” Sometimes we would do a lap or two up and down the street just to be “cool.”
At one point Steve got a bad ear infection. In order to surf he had to wear ear plugs and a white girls bathing cap to keep his ears dry. Poor dude, got endless grief from other surfers in the water. Guys would whistle at him and call out, “Hey baby, lookin’ good over there all topless and stuff.” For him this was a nightmare. Finally, he wrote “EAR INFECTION” in big letters across the bathing cap. That did little to nothing in stopping the comments.
Then there was the infamous “pet frog” incident. This was when he was pretty young. He had got a pet frog. How he got it I am not sure, but he had it and loved it like it was a dog or something. It had a name, which I have forgotten, but it could have been “Larry.” For telling the story reasons I am going to go ahead and call him that.
Steve kept Larry in a box on a shelf above his bed. But, more nights than not, Larry liked to jump out of the box and get in bed with Steve. Maybe it was warmer or something. The downside to this was that many times Steve would roll over and almost squish the snoozing frog. Soooo, in moment of cleverness for a little kid, Steve figured out how to tie a thread round Larry and the other end attached to a rock inside the box. This way the leaping Larry couldn’t jump out of the box and into the bed.
In theory this was a good plan. But Steve didn’t calculate the length of the thread quite right and left just enough that Larry could still make it out of the box. But not long enough to make it to the bed. Next morning poor Steve opened his eyes and dangling right in front of them was Larry, who had hung himself.
Steve went into tear-filled shock and was virtually inconsolable. But the thread had been tied around Larrys body, not his neck (do frogs have necks?). Larry was still alive. After Steve’s mom and got him down, and it was clear there was no harm done, all was ok again. But the frog jokes lasted for years. Probably until the bathing cap thing happened.
Steve went on to marry Ella Hendershot. A cute girl whose family owned a house almost across the street from us. After a brief stint as a lifeguard, working for Chief Timmy Dorsey in Seal Beach, Steve became the custodian of Surfside. Together, Steve and Ella lived in the house at A-40 from then on, along with spending time on the Big Island of Hawaii where they got into growing coffee. Steve still surfing when it would get good, a great wife, couple of good kids and all in all an excellent and well lived life. Steve Rowe, “Mr. Surfside.” Happy to have called him my pal.