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!!!!”