by Corky Carroll
I get asked a ton of questions about what was surfing like back when I was growing up in the thick of it during the 1960’s. This was the “Golden Era” for surfing in California. Let me give a little background how that came to be.
Leading up to the late 1950’s surfing was mostly known to be going on in Hawaii and in California. I am sure it was happening other places too, Australia for sure, but those were the two main hotbeds of surfing. When boards went from wood to foam it opened the door for anybody and everybody to surf. Right at that time, 1959, the movie “Gidget” came out and surfing boomed as a result. Especially here in California.
During that period surfboard shops opened all over the place, surfing movies were being shown all the time, surf clubs were forming in every town, surfing magazines were starting up, “surf music” hit the airways and Hollywood was pumping out one “beach” movie after another. And, along with all that, surf contests started happening all the time. There was one every weekend.
So, here was the big focusing factor on how California surfing became the leader in the surf world. It was because all the attention was on based on it. The contests here got tons of publicity. The guys that made the surf movies were from here and they featured local surfers. The surf magazines were based here and promoted local talent. It was no wonder that California surfers were the most famous. The bulk of the big competitions where here, and mostly won by surfers from here. They got the most media coverage. If you were a competitive surfer this was the place to be. If you wanted to be a pro surfer this was the place to be. If you wanted to be in the surf industry this was the place to be.
Now, if you want my personal opinion, this did not really mean that the best surfing was going on here. If you read the magazines you might think that. In my eyes the best surfing was being done in Hawaii, and probably there were better surfers over there that didn’t get the limelight or have the opportunities that being on the West Coast offered. Hawaii might have been the heart of the surfing world, but California was center stage.
Through the entire 1960’s and up until late 1972 California was a competitive powerhouse. The other two main forces were Hawaii and Australia. These were the undisputed “powers that be.” So, what happened?
In the couple of years leading up to the World Championship in San Diego in October of 1972 there was a slow growing “discontent” going on in the competitive ranks on the West Coast. The top surfers were not happy with the way the events were being run. Plus, the available money to be made was shrinking. The same discontent was flowing through not only the competitive part but also through the surf culture, as well as the overall culture as well.
Viet Nam was a huge factor in this. There was a lot of “dropping out” going on. A lot of rebelling. More boards were being made in garages than in the big surfboard factories. It was all “underground” this and “soul brother” that. The crowds were bigger than ever, but the glitter was gone. More grit than glamor.
The World Championship was the big bomb that blew up California surfing, as far as being the leading surf power. They held the last day in 6 inch to 1 foot surf at Ocean Beach while not that far away a big south swell was hitting beaches better facing the direction. All the previous days it had been run up the coast in Oceanside where the surf was much better. My own memory of that was coming out of the water after my semifinal heat, having not caught one wave, due to the fact that there weren’t any, and saying to myself, “if THIS is what it’s come to, I’m done.” This was a week after my 25th birthday.
It seemed the same thought went through a lot of minds that day as the majority of the top competitive surfers from California all “retired” from contests that day.
For the most part California competitive surfing, as well as the surf industry in general, went dark for a number of years after that. The World Tour started in 1976 and it was all Hawaii and Australia. Most from that era still refuse to admit that pro surfing did exist before that, but it did. As time went on Brazil grew into a monster force.
Today more people are surfing than ever. Everywhere. Surfing is alive and well… almost too much so. We have great surfers here, always have. But it’s Brazil, Hawaii and Australia that are at the top of world surfing. Right now anyway.
I am sure a lot of you could care less about this, but for those who do, that was my take on how it happened.