More Than My Share

Bev Morgan discusses the people, culture, and influence of surfing.

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When I was asked to do this article, I responded that I didn’t have much of a surf story to tell. I had drifted in and out of surfing and the surf business over the years and was not as dedicated as many have been. It was suggested that I might fill in the era between planks, chips, and foam—maybe so.

After a few taping sessions, I realized my story was not about me, but the people (surf characters and others) I’d met along the way and that the surfing lifestyle had been a tremendous early influence extending through my entire life. Even that mischievous youthful time spent with the Manhattan Beach Surf Club had shaped my thinking for the duration. In fact, some of the countercultural pranks, directions we steered, and decisions we made were more important to who I became than the pursuit of any material possessions or the normal status symbols of our generation. Not surprisingly, it turns out that I have adopted a somewhat different set of values.

I clearly remember one day sitting on my board at Manhattan Pier with Bing, Greg, Bob Hogan, Velzy, and Barney Briggs. We were on smooth, glassy water next to the pier, going for the six-footers—all of us getting into the perfect spot and hollering for joy. What a day! Between waves, Velzy pointed up the hill to the morning traffic and all the souls on their way to work. “Look at those suckers, chained to their routine,” he said. “They don’t know what we’ve got,” he went on. “They don’t know this even exists. Morgan, you and the rest of you, never forget this: Don’t just do what everyone says ya gotta do. You don’t have to! Live life the way you want. Figure out how to do it; don’t follow bumper-to-bumper to the work camps.” This became a guide for me, I think, and for the others out that day, too.

I’ve been going through my early pictures. I haven’t sat down and looked at them for years. Boy, does it bring back memories—of the characters, good and bad, rich and poor, mean and kind—that I have had the good fortune to journey along with. 

—B.M. Santa Barbara, August 2006

Bill Meistrell and Alayne, c. 1949

We were all wearing these cut-off Navy whites because the Simmons boards and everything else were so wide that when you’d do a kick-stroke to catch a wave it would hurt. I think that’s where the long baggies came from. Back then, the typical deal for bathing or going to the beach were real short-shorts. We wore these instead to protect our thighs. It was right after WWII, and the surplus stores were full of them for 25 cents. We’d run down, buy a dozen, cut them off—you’d lose them all the time—hang ’em up to dry, and somebody else would snag them. These are the boards of the day—Simmons spoons—and as you can see, the gals were wearing one-piece suits then, no bikinis. Of course, in those days, the form-fitting one-piece was shocking. That’s Billy Meistrell’s girlfriend, Alayne Ralstin, who I ended up marrying while Billy was off in Korea. They were engaged; he left her a car, the whole thing. Then I started messing around with her when he was gone. It ended up that I returned his car and ring, after I’d used it, of course! All of it. [Laughing] Over the years he’s thanked me profusely for marrying her. He’d actually get down on his knees.

Greg Noll with dog and friends

I think that was Greg’s dog, but I’m not sure. That’s Bing on the right. This was about 1949- ’50, just south of the Manhattan Beach Pier. We were all members of the Manhattan Beach Surf Club. What happened was I started surfing up in Santa Monica, just bodysurfing, and Tom Zahn was the lifeguard, and Pete Peterson. They took turns at the tower where I hung out. I got pretty good at bodysurfing and they recommended (I thought they were being kindly at the time) that I buy a surfboard. It turns out that my playing ukulele during the day underneath their tower was driving them crazy, and they would do anything to get rid of me. So I bought a big, hollow boxboard, 12-foot green Tom Blake, only with a pointed end so it was a paddleboard. If they cut the taper off to square it, it was called a “kook box.” The squared-off tail handled a lot better. You could move back and step on a corner if you were Velzy or one of the good guys, and it’d go that way. On a paddleboard, if you stepped back on the left corner, it’d go right because of the vee. I don’t remember fins on any of them, and then they put fins on the kook boxes—finally. But, anyway, I went to Malibu and went straight off a couple of times, and Leslie Williams ran me off. “You kook! You kook! Get outta’ here! Go back to State Beach.” So I went down to San Onofre. I figured I’m banished from Malibu, and I liked the beach and I loved the surfing deal. But I just couldn’t do it. I went down to San Onofre and the folks were a lot kinder down there. If you went straight off, it was okay. They’d still talk to you and they didn’t get mad at you. There was Burrhead and Hammerhead and Eddie McBride: a whole raft of people down there with a whole different culture. Laid back, have a beer, nobody’s uptight. If you missed a wave, you missed a wave. And they’d give me pointers to help me out.

Bev with ’49 Chevy

You could drive a car when you were 14 in those days. I had a car and a night job so I could surf all day and afford gasoline at 17 cents a gallon. I started with a ’39 Oldsmobile but stepped up into a ’49 Chevy, brand new, and, of course, I couldn’t leave it alone. Put in a McGurk engine and a Carson top, channeled it, relieved it, louvered it—all the right stuff. So, there I was, down at San Onofre with my East L.A. cruiser, chopped and channeled, and here comes this car down the dirt road there, obviously full of what I’d call “surfing rebels.” These guys were loud and obnoxious, and they all had these strange Simmons boards, and they were very good surfers—as opposed to kook boxes and planks—the typical San Onofre deal. These guys got out and started ripping. I was out talking to them and they tell me, “You’ve got the wrong board. Why don’t ya come up to Manhattan Beach? Got a car?”

“Yeah, I got a car.”

“What do you do for a living?” 

“Got a night job.”

Okay, I had a car, a driver’s license, and could afford gasoline. I was their buddy. They were 11 and 12 years old and couldn’t drive yet. They made me a deal. They’d teach me to surf if I’d cart them around. I said I’d look into it. I pulled up to Manhattan Pier a couple of days later, and they were all there. The first thing Greg Noll does, he sells me a surfboard, an eight-foot Quigg spoon. I thought it was a Simmons board for years, but Joe finally let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he had made the “Sylvester the Cat” board [which Bev later sold to another young beginner named Phil Edwards]. It had Simmons lines, but obviously Joe was a very skilled guy when it came to shaping, and Simmons got very good at it too, but probably learned a lot of his shaping skills from Joe, from the looks of things. Anyway, Greg sold me this board. Every one of the boards at that time had a cartoon character on the front up near the nose. With my new board I fit right in, and from that point forward I surfed two years without missing a day. I was just hungry for surf, and they were hungry for waves too. So we’d drive the coast—from Santa Cruz to Tijuana Sloughs—trying to find it, living out of the car. We’d be surfing Malibu, load it up, and go to Sunset Cliffs for the next morning. And load back up if that wasn’t right and head to wherever it was breaking. That was the summer of ’51, of course, winter the boys had to go to school. It was Bob Hogan, Greg Noll, Bing Copeland and myself that were doing that, just enjoying the heck out of the whole thing. Everybody got pretty good at the surfing thing and we entered a few paddling contests and did okay on those. So that’s how I got involved with those guys.

Alayne with Simmons slot board

This was when I first started going to Manhattan Beach.

Bev on 8-foot Simmons slot, Manhattan Pier, c. 1951

On Simmons: I wasn’t around when he was making the sandwich boards with Quigg and Kivlin, and I think that was his most productive time. I’d say he made maybe 40 of the foam-filled plywood boards. When I got to know him during my State Beach period, early on, Kivlin took me in there [Simmons’ garage shop], and I gave him a 20-dollar deposit, and I was 13th on the list. I went back a couple months later, and I was 25th on the list, and I asked what the fucking deal was, and he takes 20 dollars out of his wallet, threw it down on the floor, and said, “Take your fuckin’ money and get outta’ here. You’re off the list.” And I said, “Okay, I will.” And that’s when I got my pointy-tailed paddleboard, which wasn’t nearly as good as the Simmons, but I wasn’t going to wait forever to a get a Simmons. That provided me with even more emphasis to get with the Manhattan Beach guys. Greg sold me that surfboard for 25 dollars. I was hanging out down there and getting better, and Simmons would come around to see who was good. People wanted to make boards for the good guys. He ended up making me this 9’6″ slot board—just like the 8′ slot board that I’m riding in the picture. It got stolen off the top of my car, never to be seen again. It was probably cut down into another board. This was the typical Manhattan Beach day. You’ve got a current pulling out beneath the pier and that digs a hole in the sand, so it’s always easy to get out at the pier and then, depending on the swell direction, one side or the other will have a tapered wave into the pier. This was a crowded day. Usually, Hogan and Greg and I had it all to ourselves.

Manhattan Beach surf crew, circa ’51

They were all on Simmons at the time, and I thought I was too (the Sylvester Model) because of the way it was shaped, but it was a Quigg. It was spooned with parallel rails. 

Around this time, Velzy had just returned from the war, and his board was a sandwich Simmons with the plywood decks and balsa wood rails. He had a pair of black feet painted on the very front of his board instead of a cartoon or more normal artwork. I remember being out with him one day, and I asked him if he thought he could put his feet on the footprints. He said, “Naw, you’ll pearl.” But he tried it, and he came back out and he was all excited. “I put my feet right up there at the nose and something held me up.” So he did it again and got one foot over the nose. “Hey, I hung five toes over.” That was the beginning of that whole deal. I think Bruce Brown borrowed those feet for the logo for his first film, Barefoot Adventure. Later, Duke Boyd picked them up for Hang Ten. 

Velzy would come down, have a cigarette, go out, surf two waves, come in, smoke another cigarette with a cup of coffee, go out, ride two more waves, come in, go have a cigarette—I mean, he was classic. He didn’t surf all day like the rest of us; he’d just come down to make a presence. Boy, we all thought he was hot stuff, and he was good. He was as good as you got in those days. 

The most graceful was Kivlin, and you can’t be “graceful” on a surfboard, even today, without having a lot of skill. Of course, Kivlin had a repetitive wave at Malibu, and he’d get back real deep into that wave and trim out of it—cock his knees and just go—and, boy, it was beautiful to see. Joe Quigg was equally good at it. That was the mode of the day. Right in that period, guys started stalling by breaking trim to get deeper in the curl. Then Leslie Williams started turning back to let the wave catch up. This was the start of today’s style of surfing. It was all Malibu [inspired] stuff, and then, of course, it started to migrate. See, at Manhattan Beach, the waves would pop up, you’d do what you could, then it was gone. You didn’t have time to trim, to work the wave like they did at Malibu. I’d say that Kivlin and Quigg were at the top of the class there. Simmons was riding Malibu, and he was all out for speed. He didn’t care how far out on the shoulder he’d chase you. If he was behind you, he’d get down low on the wave and just out- glide you, and he could pass you every time because, at least initially, he was riding those heavy 11’6″ solid redwood boards. He’d drop down and get under you—he was doing it to Joe all the time—and then come up and force them out of the wave. And cackle? God, he would cackle. In a high-pitched voice, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, gotcha!” You could hear him from the beach.

Bev, Malibu, c. 1950

San Onofre, c. 1953

There were a lot of good guys there, the Cole brothers, Leslie, of course. But as far as what defined the state-of-the-art, it was as simple as catching the wave at the right time and at the right spot. Fins were barely three inches deep at most, and not very many were in use. Then Simmons, who soon went light and into balsa, started experimenting with two fins, glassed-on close to the rails with a concave between them. The fiberglassing on of fins was a big deal. It allowed everyone to use deeper fins. And he tried the slots. Then Joe and Kivlin, in ’47, which was before my time, went to the Islands and picked up on the hot curls. When they came back, their boards had changed. You’ve got to understand, in 1950 I had a Quigg board that worked just like a Simmons. That board was made before he went to the Islands. When he came back he started making narrower tails. I remember seeing one that was curved in to a point. I don’t remember if Simmons made that or Quigg [it is said that Joe made a series of five experimental pintails soon after coming back from his first Hawaii trip]. The tail was pinched off. Everybody got interested in that. It was probably Quigg, because if that was a Simmons, he didn’t make anymore because he went back to the wide tail. After he got back, he made me a 6′ board with a 16″-wide tail on it, 24″ wide. And, you heard about the guys at San Onofre scoffing at the new chip boards from Malibu? Well, this was a “chip” in the truest sense of the word. This thing was like standing on a banana. There was no slowin’ down or shifting your weight back on it. See, we were walking back and forth on the longer boards. At the time, Simmons was running me around, shoving me in everybody’s face as the latest and greatest hot guy riding his board, which was a 9’6″ slot board. I was pretty good on it for what we were doing in those days. You know, like I’d hardly ever paddle for a wave. You could do that with a wide tail, just turn and lean into it, and you were in, and then instantly on your feet. And the shifting of weight into the wave and popping up would put you right into a high-angle trim. Nobody had seen much of that. That was hot stuff then; it doesn’t mean anything now, but by the time we were on our feet we were on an angle. We were all trying tricky deals. Some stayed in fashion, some didn’t. But the guys who could amaze the kids on the beach or the other surfers, they were considered the hot guys. You could amaze them with trim, or form; you could amaze them just by going through a wall of soup. You know, just drop down and come up on the other side. That was a big deal. The one thing nobody was used to was weight shift because you spread your legs as far as comfortable on a plank—I don’t care how much weight you put on either foot—you’re not going to change your trim at all. Okay?

Well, the same on the Simmons boards. On the 10’6″s, you didn’t change trim by shifting weight. You had to move your body back and forth on the thing, which Velzy was really good at. It was like the board was a balance beam and he was a gymnast. So, anyway, after I got to know Simmons and he made me this six-footer, we experimented with all kinds of things. He made a board so thin that you’d swear that it was made out of plywood. He pearled it into the wave at Manhattan Beach one day, and it got him in the side of the neck. We had to swim out and get him. He couldn’t breathe right for a couple of hours. He got away from the thin boards after that. But for a while he was into everything being wide and thin. On the six-footer with the 16″ tail—no slot, this was just before the slot—actually, had I known what you can see now in today’s surfing: You could shift your weight from the front to the back, but on the six-footer, when I’d shift to my back foot, the thing would just leap up; there’d only be an inch or two in the water, and it would skitter out from under you. It would only go faster, it wouldn’t go slower. I’d step back to slow down, well, I could turn it just instantly, but it would pop out of the wave because of that wide tail (one fin on that board). So we gave up and put a hole in the deck and made it a raft to go diving on, stick your faceplate in the hole. That was it on the thing.

Had I an inkling of what was going on and gone for a narrower tail, we would’ve had a six-foot board that without walking on, you could instantly change direction with body shift—throw the upper part of your body and the board would follow it. We just missed it. That was interesting to me because even Simmons was, in those days, willing to try all these things, whereas Quigg and Kivlin were methodical. They’d make a board and they’d go out and surf it. Then they’d critique each other on the beach, and then they’d sell the board and go make a little change in the next one. They did more to bring along the shapes in an intelligent, thought-out way. I’d even call it engineering. Then Velzy got into it, and he tried the wildest things you could come up with, mainly to promote sales (laughing). His deal was, if you could convince a customer that it was good for him so he walks away happy, what’s the harm? So he would build the most horrendous asymmetrical pig board, and the buyer would leave happy for six months, then come back and want something better. Well, it all worked. [Laughing]

Now, Hobie was getting started in the business about that time, but he got into it in a more conservative way. His boards were balsa wood/fiberglass, and the shapes were a combination of everything he could find that made sense to him. The thing with Hobie was he was methodical and continuous. Pete Peterson built the first balsa wood/fiberglass-covered board. He and Zahn used to shape boards down on Santa Monica Pier, but they wouldn’t experiment. They would cut down planks and make hot curl boards out of them, things like that. But they were very reluctant to put fins on them, whereas Quigg and Kivlin were really pushing the envelope. Now, Hobie was more successful than any of those guys. He paid his taxes and kept building on what he had. Same with the shapes; he was conservative but made changes as they came along and was the best businessman of the group. Of course, when he got bigger, he got shapers who could do the other things.

When Velzy first started making boards, he and I went over to a war surplus, bought a life raft, hacked it up and made a couple of boards, and I glassed them for him. I’d been working with Simmons on glassing, and we were buying our stuff down at Thalco in Los Angeles, so I knew the routine on all that. I glassed for about six months for Velzy when he first started in a little shop on Pier Avenue. But the thing I saw was that surfboards were evolving from a hobby with a couple of guys—like Simmons and Quigg—building these things into a little industry. I noticed that everybody, starting with Simmons and Quigg and Kivlin, who got into the surfboard business either knew those guys or stood there and watched them make boards. So the technology was passed on from those three. Pretty soon, Velzy was making boards, and then Bing and Greg were making boards. Everybody who worked with Velzy or Joe or Simmons or Kivlin learned the whole deal from them, and it broadcast out from there. They were the start of the surfboard industry. Even Hobie, down in Laguna, was influenced by Walter Hoffman, who in turn learned from Simmons. That small group of Quigg, Simmons, and Kivlin, and later Velzy, was at the hub of what became a worldwide surfboard industry. I suspect that at some point Walter took Hobie up to see Simmons build a board. Once you see it done that takes the mystery out of it. That’s what made me realize much later, when I was in the dive helmet business, that I needed to keep my process a secret. How many guys are in the dive helmet business now? Zilch. I didn’t let anybody in the shop. I also determined that I’d get enough money for my product to make a good, healthy profit, which none of the surfboard guys did, and that’s still dragging it down. A surfboard should sell for a couple of grand if you put the right margins in, and justly so. I sell the diving helmets now for $7,000 each, which I couldn’t do if everybody knew how to build them.

Dale Velzy, Hap Jacobs, Bill Meistrell, & Bev, moments after selling Dive N’ Surf

Eventually, when Velzy got somebody that could glass better than me, I went off and did other things. That’s when I got into diving, about ’52, and started Dive N’ Surf. What happened was, Hap Jacobs was a carpenter up at UCLA, and I was hanging out with Hap. He came home one day and had just quit his job because they had him working in the refrigeration box where they hung cadavers. He worked all day with these dead people staring at him and couldn’t take it anymore. We decided that he ought to go into the surfboard business and, since I’d been Velzy’s glasser and knew about glassing, that I ought to be his glasser. At the same time I was diving and I’d read about this new thing called a wetsuit down at Scripps. So, I said great, this’ll be fine, we’ll rent a little shop, you shape boards, I glass them, and over in the corner I’ll build wetsuits. It worked out pretty good except the fiberglass got in the wetsuits. [Laughter] All our wetsuit customers were itching and scratching. They were diving customers mainly. I had made a neoprene surf vest for Buzzy Trent around ’53, but he went to Hawaii right after that so it didn’t get much use. After a while, it became obvious that Hap and I would separate.

I’m glassing for Hap and not liking it because I’m making a lot more money over in the wetsuit corner. The wetsuit business started out just like the surfboard business. You build a wetsuit for cheap and hope you make ten bucks a suit, but I got pretty good at it and was building 10 to 15 suits a day. I couldn’t glass 10 to 15 boards a day, and I was making about the same for each task. I told Hap I didn’t want to glass anymore and that I didn’t think it was a good deal to have the shops together because of the itch. You know, it was funny at first, but it was a pain. He didn’t want to move so he was dragging his feet. We went over to General Veneer. The shipment had just come in; they’d always let us know, and we went down there and bought it all. Jacobs’ dad had a couple of bucks, and he helped finance us. Velzy heard about it and went ballistic, but we had all the wood. I went to Velzy and told him, you know, Hap’s really turned into a hell of a shaper and a good businessman, and he’s got all the wood. Why don’t you go in partners with him? Velzy thought that was a pretty good idea, aside from being held up on the wood, and I went to Hap and told him he needed help. He was so far behind, and besides, we’d bought too much balsa. We were going to end up eating it and owing money. He thought it was a pretty good idea, too. I’ve got a picture of our meeting with Velzy and Jacobs and Bill Meistrell, who was going to buy out Hap’s side of our partnership, so we could make Dive N’ Surf out of that. That was what Hap and I had called our dive suit and surfboard business. I’ve got a picture of us standing out in front of the shop, closing the deal. We all had brought our trucks to the meeting, and we took Hap’s half over to Velzy’s shop up in Venice. A couple years later, Dewey ended up screwing Dale out of that shop; that made me uptight, and I had liked Dewey. So, off go Velzy and Jacobs, and I wished them well.

Bev butchering black sea bass, c. 1950

Bev and Bill with bugs

The Meistrell brothers came in on Dive N’ Surf, and that’s the era where the photos of us going crazy on the lobster and abalones and fish come in. We had freezers full. Our backyards had four or five freezers with antennas sticking out; you couldn’t get the lids to close they were so full. There was everything in the ocean. We were still surfing a little, but we were diving our brains out. Those were banner years. It was easy to get food, and we were having a great time.

Haggerty’s, c. 1963

In 1951, I was lifeguarding for L.A. County. They had these little mosquito helicopters, wiry looking things with a bubble on the front, that they used for a rescue service they ran to recover test pilots for North American Aviation. They were building the F80s and F86 Saber Jets for the Korean War, and they were afraid they might lose somebody in the channel during test flights. So, two of us would get into this little helicopter, the pilot and myself. I was the guy with the fins. I’d jump out of the thing, get the pilot in the basket, and the basket would go up underneath the chopper. It had big floats on it and could land on the water. We’d practice it. As a consequence, we worked out three or four days a week at first, and then down to a couple of days a week. We were in the air a lot, flying from island to island. We kept fuel on the islands just in case—the idea being we’d pick up a pilot, take him to an island, fuel up, and make it home.

At that time, the main sewer outfalls around Los Angeles were the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo and another at White’s Point (near the San Pedro side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula). The sludge from those plants would come out of the pipe and just sit out there. Some of the commercial divers that I knew had done inspections and said that everything was contained within a mile of the outfalls. It didn’t go anywhere. The sludge killed everything in sight, but there wasn’t anything out there but sand anyway. Then, in the early ’50s they came up with detergents. Up until then there was soap; it sounds strange to talk about it now, but soap and detergent are two different critters. Detergent is far better at emulsifying grease, which makes it better to clean with. But environmentally, it was a disaster. What it did was to emulsify the sewage of the entire Los Angeles basin, which allowed all that crap to free float and the currents to distribute it wherever they went. The Hyperion effluent went into suspension and right to Haggerty’s. I was surfing and diving there at the time, and I watched the abalone and the lobster and everything else just go to hell in a matter of a year. The same happened with the White Point sludge—it went to Catalina. From up in the helicopter you could see where it was going and wherever it went became dead area. The same thing happened in Laguna. There used to be some beautiful big pinks and all sorts of everything there. Fish and Game said, “Okay, we’re getting thin on the abalone so we’ll make it off limits for two years, let it grow back.” About that time they put their sewer pipe out there, and we went back in six months to look at it and all there was were shells on the bottom. It had killed everything. Two years went by and they opened it again. For what? There was nothing there. Now, there’s no abalone anywhere except San Miguel Island, which is outside of the current. Anywhere you go, no abalone. It’s not the otter or the commercial diver. It’s plain old shit and all the other chemicals that go with it. It’s a sad deal, but that’s a part of the price. I know better than to try and preach to L.A. to stop using the bathroom. It’s impossible now. The animals are all out of the barn and the door’s still open.

Boards on deck, Cocos Island

After I sold Dive N’ Surf in 1957 and got out of the business, some friends of mine and I bought a big sailboat and sailed to the South Pacific for two years. It was all for the adventure. We got together and pooled our money. One of the guys, Lowell, who had more money than any of the rest, bought the boat. It was a 61′ ketch, a wooden boat. They were all wooden boats in those days, before fiber- glass. We overhauled the boat in Long Beach. The crew was Ron Church, Plazi Miller, Ramsey Parks, Jack Russell, Bruce Meyers, and me. Some of the guys fell out during the trip. Jack wrote Oceans Eleven before we left. Sinatra and the Rat Pack ended up making the movie after we got back. Plazi was just a surfer kid. He was the only one who had been to the South Seas, and, of course, he was glorifying how wonderful it was. Lots of fun, women, everyone kind of wild and loose, like we were. We were mostly in our twenties. The money guy who bought the boat was maybe 35. We had a bunch of dive gear and a compressor and movie gear (the idea was to make a film but we weren’t good enough to do much with it), and we went down the Mexican coast stopping every once in a while to dive, then down to Costa Rica, Cocos Island, and the Galapagos. Before we left, we went down to Acres of Books in Long Beach and collected all the books we could find on each island we were going to go to and put them into the boat’s library. On the way to the next place, it took so many days passage, everybody would read up on what was going to be there.

For Cocos Island, the reading material started out saying that when they dropped anchor it felt like they were dragging chain, but when they looked down the sharks were chewing on the chain. There were so many sharks they couldn’t even believe it, and they almost didn’t make it rowing ashore because the sharks ate the end of the oars. So here we were; we were supposed to collect fish for Scripps at Cocos, which had never been collected before. Now we figured out why it had never been collected. [laughing] We hadn’t believed it. We went, “Naw. No way!” So we dropped the hook into the beautiful clear water of this bay and, sure enough, crunch, crunch, crunch. It sounded like we were dragging over the coral, and we look over at all these little white-tipped sharks, six-footers or so, chewing on the anchor chain, and freely losing teeth.

How are we going to dive this place? We figured out a way. We’d get three of us at a time, jump in the water, two guys back to back with shark billys, and one guy collecting on the bottom. Shark billys were made of ironwood, which would sink instead of floating. If you got it knocked out of your hand, it would just fall next to you and you could pick it back up. We’d bash the sharks in the nose, and they’d leave us alone. We’d had sharks chase us all down through Mexico, so we were pretty comfortable. I had a shark come in at Tres Marias and bite the end of my spear gun, which sheared the rubbers, and I shot my gun into its nose and scared it away. We learned from that to start poking them in the nose. It worked pretty well. The little guys, the reef sharks, are like a pack of dogs. But at Cocos Island one day we had the three-man team going and the guy in the middle, Lowell, froze up just staring off into the blue. The other fella and myself are looking at him and then each other, and there were two great big sharks coming right at us, then they split. One went one way, the other went the other way, and we saw why. There was a huge shark coming right behind them. He slowly swam toward Lowell and the shark opened his mouth. He was going to eat him; there was no doubt about it. We didn’t have time to get back to the boat, so Ramsey and I swam forward a little bit and poked the big guy in the nose. He didn’t like that at all. He shut his mouth, turned around, and swam off into the blue. But we knew he was just circling. We grabbed Lowell, and, somehow, it was a miraculous thing, he was still frozen when we threw him into the boat over the gunnel, tank and all, and jumped in after him. Then, the three sharks came back and started chewing on the bottom of this 14′ skiff. We very nervously got the motor started because the big guy’s mouth was almost fitting around the entire bottom of the boat. It was a really big shark. Back on the mother boat, we decided we weren’t going to press our luck. We pulled the hook and sailed for the Galapagos.

There were a few more shark encounters there but nothing like Cocos. Hands down, we knew what the results would have been if we hadn’t made all the right moves. Sharks are like dogs. They know when you’re afraid. They smell it or something. I don’t know.

Father Sebastian’s Easter Island flock

Father Sebastian’s Easter Island flock

From there, we went through the Galapagos, saw the big tortoise and all the stuff, and then went on to Easter Island. At the time, we were only the second post-war private yacht to land there. Everybody, including the priest who ran the church, told us that the population of Easter Island was suffering from genetic inbreeding. Due to their isolation and the small and static nature of their population, they didn’t have enough fresh genes to keep the population healthy. The people were beginning to exhibit noticeably adverse effects. Thus, they formally requested that we help them remedy that problem by contributing to their gene pool. They had 40 or 50 gals picked out for us to mate with. There were just five of us, but we were all healthy, strapping young lads. They asked if we would mind using a portion of our short stay doing that. Honest to god, we did think about it for a short while, and finally agreed that it was our moral duty. I must admit, we worked hard at it, and our effort was well received. I remember getting drunk on wine at the governor’s house and ending up in the maid’s quarters. After weeks of my hard bunk, her wonderful feather bed and warm body was an inspiration to perform my service. We arrived on a Saturday, and this was Saturday night. Sunday morning was a big religious deal, and the whole island went to church. At first light, I looked down to the foot of the bed, and it was a veritable grandstand down there. There were chairs and a bunch of people sitting watching us. I asked her, “¿Quien es?” She answered, “Ahh, mi papa, mi mama, mi hermanos y hermanas.” Her whole family! I asked them to leave, and with great reluctance the entire family got up and left. I explained that I had promised the father I’d go shoot pictures of the church that morning. She said, no problem. The camera was down on the boat, and I went for it. The island is like Scotland in that they clear the rocks that cover the land everywhere and use them to build walls along the roads and fields. It was about a mile to the boat, and there was a five-foot rock wall the whole way on both sides. When I looked out of the door there was not a soul in sight, but as I walked along the road people rose up from behind the wall and began clapping. The whole island was gathered there applauding me the entire way to the boat. I was embarrassed to say the least, because it was our first morning on the island and I hadn’t thought I had begun our assignment yet. Obviously, what I had thought was a big score was something the whole village was behind. I picked up the camera gear and went to church, which was pretty awkward. The women were on one side, the men on the other, and they’re all whispering to each other. I was to later learn that seducing the governor’s maid was a gaffe that had enraged the governor. She was not on our hit list. From that point on, we attempted to keep our task reasonably discreet.

While we were there, we noticed this little break right in front of town. Ramsey and I got our boards out and we surfed. That turned into an even bigger deal. It is believed the inhabitants migrated there from somewhere in the Marquesas. Part of their oral history from deep in their origins described men who walked on water. It hadn’t made much sense to them until they saw us. They already rode waves there, prone on reed mats, but nobody stood up. Our upright surfing somehow put us in a different category. I don’t know how to explain it, but we were revered.

Approaching Pitcairn

From Easter Island, we went to Pitcairn Island and dove on the bones of the H.M.S. Bounty and recovered some artifacts—anchor chain and stuff like that—with the blessing of the local islanders. They had the same DNA problem there, too, only it was a little more obvious than it had been on Easter Island.

From Pitcairn, we went over to Mongareva. Later on, the French came in and did their atomic testing there. Pearl shell was the big deal there. It wasn’t the pearls; pearls are a by-product of the pearl shell that was used for buttons. Nowadays most of them are plastic. Anyway, a German ship got a whole slug of pearl shell out of there. They claimed they got it over on Minerva Reef, but we went there and there was no shell oysters growing on Minerva Reef; it was out in the middle of nowhere with a break, but no land. We anchored over it, very clean water. It was obvious that the Germans had poached the shell over on Mongareva. It was an eight- to nine-day sail from there to Tahiti. We had several guns on the boat, and we discovered that all the guns were gone. It turned out that Lowell was slowly going nuts. He had collected all the guns and began muttering to himself—a very odd fellow. Finally, we found an old rusted shotgun and some shells for it up in the bow, so we loaded that baby up and arrested Lowell. We were really concerned that he was going to shoot us, and he was acting like it. So, we fed him, took care of him, and kept him in his cabin for the rest of the sail to Tahiti. When we got to Tahiti, he cried mutiny. Do you realize how many boats come into Tahiti with the captain claiming the crew mutinied? The French just went, “Oh? Okay. So, the crew mutinied. Where are they now?” They’re all out in the country chasing girls! And the French go, “Yeah? Well, that’s the way it usually is.” Then he tried running us down with his rental car. The French finally deported him. In the meantime, the rest of us just laid around Tahiti. After about six months I was going nuts. A man would get tired of heaven, I think. I finally just jumped on an airplane—no airport in those days, it was a seaplane service called Tasmanian Empire Airline. They were flying “Short Empires,” double-decker seaplanes. Very nice. You went below to have cocktails and dine with linens and everything. We flew all day, landed in lagoons and went to the grand hotel for the evening. We finally made our way over to Fiji after a few days and then to Hawaii and home again.

In hard-hat gear, Alaska, 1965

When I came back from the South Seas, I went into abalone and commercial diving, and then, just to keep the thread going, in the middle of the abalone diving I noticed—this is ’62—that I was looking around at surfers that would not wear a wetsuit. A few wore tops with beaver tails hanging down in the back, and they were put down endlessly as being “pussies.” It didn’t make sense to me. The turning point was driving by Rincon and counting over 150 surfers out, and my diving buddy, Ramsey, saw one, maybe two wetsuits out there; all the rest were these naked animals enduring the cold. 

“Tough guys,” I said.

“Tough? They’re stupid.”

“I bet you I can cover every one of those guys with black suits.”

He says, “No way, you’ll never do it. Psychologically they’re against it.”

Later, Muñoz said it all in one of my ads: “It’s better to be warm than cold.” I figured that if every wetsuit had a surfboard maker’s decal on it they would sell—in large quantities. I got Hobie and Bing and Con, everybody I could get my hands on, to get behind this thing. I made a rubber decal of each of the logos and started to make what I called “short johns.” Hobie and Muñoz helped with the design. They had thigh-length legs and were sleeveless so they didn’t restrict paddling. They cost $10 to make, and I sold them for $15. The board makers sold them for $25. Still, I was having a hard time until I won over the first five or six shops. I offered to pay their rent if they didn’t make their rent off the suits. They all went for that, but I didn’t have to pay any rent. They all made money right away. Pretty soon I had 1,000 orders, then it turned into 1,500, and then 2,500 orders on my desk. My partners, Ramsey and Plazi, wouldn’t make them. They said it was sissy stuff. They were not sewing surf suits. I said, “Guys, six months, you’re retired for life. Think about it.” And they wouldn’t do it. I loaded everything in the back of my truck, sewing machine, rubber, and glue, and I went to Billy and Bob Meistrell and said, “Pay me what these materials are worth, $1,800, and you’re in the surf-suit business.” They were making dive suits. They gave me the money and took over the sewing machine, the rubber, the orders, the pattern, the decals, and the accounts I had set up. A couple of months later they called me and said, “You wouldn’t believe this. We’re making $5,000 a day each. That meant they were churning 2,000 suits a day. That eventually turned into Body Glove.

I drove my unloaded pickup from that deal directly down to see [Surfer magazine founder] John Severson and tell him I wanted a job.

He said, “What?” He was kind of taken back by it. Finally, he said, “Okay, you want to sit at a desk all day?”

“Naw, I don’t, but I want to work,” and so I did. And that’s where I got to renew my acquaintance with surfers, because I’d been into the diving thing. I was dealing with a different group of surfers this time around. Now, I’ve got to tell you, Phil Edwards can be different to deal with. I mean, he’s got a unique personality, but you know what? He and Joe Quigg are so similar you can’t even believe it. Both hate being taken advantage of. Both hate anyone doing anything that’s promotional on their time. They don’t want anything to do with that. They just live their lives and hole up.

Reportage photography from Bev’s stint at Surfer, 1962. Phil at Lowers

When I took these shots of him, everybody was into the telephoto lenses. I decided to get into the water and get closer to the action. The Wedge was the first place where I got right in there. I’d shoot pictures until I went over the falls, and you learned how to avoid the surfboards. I wanted to do a session with Phil, shooting from the water at different angles. He said he was game for it. At times he could be a little hard to work with, but he was real cooperative and getting some good waves, riding right at me, then banking off. Did you notice he didn’t have a wetsuit on? It was colder than hell. I sure had one on. All the time, I’m going, “Phil, you’ve got to put on a wetsuit.” And he tells me, “Shut up, I’m happy.” It turned out to be a good session. One of the shots became a cover on Surfer.

Phil and I got along fine. I think he may have felt that I was not as crass commercial as a lot of people in the industry, which is probably true. Severson got me selling ads and, you know, I didn’t want to be an ad salesman. I felt like a huckster. John talked me into it by telling me, “You’re doing them a service.” [Laughing]

Barry Kanaiaupni, Lowers

Lance at Malibu

I just really like this picture for some reason. I was going for in-the-water angles before they were norm for the stills guys. (Bud had been at it for a while by then.)

Curren gluing my 12-foot balsa gun in front of the Moana Surfrider

In 1957, I went to Hawaii with a 10’6″ Bing, and after catching a few good sets I realized that it wasn’t going to be the board for me—too hard to catch waves. Everybody was into 12-foot guns. Everybody was saying you’ve got to go see Pat, get him to make you a board. That turned into a story, you know, getting Pat Curren to make you a board. Well, I found him. They told me, don’t give him all the money at once; give him a little bit at a time. So I did that, and he got the balsa wood organized. We found 12′ wood at one of the lumberyards in Honolulu. One day he told me he was going to glue up the blank. (Tom) Carlin was there, too. We met him in front of the Moana Hotel. I thought we were going to go somewhere else to shape the board, but it was going to happen right there on a little patch of lawn in front of the hotel. A lot of the beach boys were hanging out. They wanted to see Pat make a board. He mixed up a hot batch to glue up the blank with, but he had forgotten a brush. He says, too late now, and he used his hands to smear the resin on the sides of the planks. Carlin was on one end; I was on the other. I was getting that sticky resin all over my camera, but I got some pictures of gluing up the blank and propping it up against the Moana Hotel. When it dried, he shaped it. That board ended up being almost magical. I paddled out at Sunset when it was absolutely flat. I mean, stone-cold flat. But I waxed it up, got the lineups from everybody that had ridden out there and paddled out to the right spot and a ten-foot wave came right to me. I was on the exact spot thinking, “This is a good omen.”

Pat, Jeanine, Bev with day’s catch, North Shore, 1959

I originally met Pat down at WindanSea—Pat and Al [Nelson] and Jeanine, who he was running around with at the time. They hadn’t quite got married. Pat was interested in diving, and we started doing quite a bit of it together. Buzzy Trent was diving with us too. Buzzy was a funny guy. For some reason the sharks liked to come around Buzzy. Maybe it was the way he did it [laughing]. You know, maybe he tortured the fish, I don’t know. Somehow, there were always sharks around when we were diving with him. So each of us took a coconut and 50 foot of line, and we put our stringer on the coconut. When we’d spear a fish, we’d pull on the coconut, put the fish on the stringer, and then go on spearing. If we felt the coconut being pulled on, we let it go and swam for the beach, ’cause it was a shark going for your fish.

Illustration for “The Ultimate Journey” Surfer, c. Vol. 3

I think Severson wrote the words [credited to one Bruce Bonney], but I did the dark-room trick of putting the little surfer on the big wave. I went through wave after wave after wave until I found the right one [Waimea shorebreak], then flopped it to make it a right. It already looked like it had the wake of a board on the face, and when I put the surfer into it, either John or I said that it was worth a story. For Surfer magazine, in that day, the third year of publishing, it was a real shaky deal to run any fiction, and John didn’t want the readers to get pissed off at a real person.

During that time at Surfer, what an interesting group of people—and they still are. And all the things that went on, and John was such a talented individual, very skilled in everything he did, as well as being a good athlete. Hey, he was a hell of a surfer. Anyway, I lasted about a year, but I was into the diving thing, which was just coming into its own.

Simmons school projects: “Freehand drawing,” 1933, Belmont High School, graded C-

After Bob died at WindanSea, Johnny Elwell stayed tight with Simmons’ family, and they called him up one day and told him they had a trunk of his stuff they were going to throw out, so he went up and got it all. He was good enough to pass some of his things on to me. You know, I was truckin’ Simmons around a lot when he got back from the Islands. Simmons and I were pretty close pals. We’d go surfing. To give you an example, on January 10, 1953, he was in the alley behind my house beating on my garage and yelling, “The surf’s coming up so high. You got to get your ass down here. Screw the broads.” I said, “But she’s pregnant.” And he goes, “Women have given birth before without having a guy around. The surf is epic.” And I go, “Naw, I’m not gonna go.” And he goes, “Tijuana Sloughs will be great.” I told him, “If it is as big as you say, you won’t be able to get out at the Sloughs.” And he says, “I’ll get out.” And I go, “Naw, if it’s really, really big—” and it was, I could hear it—“Rincon. For sure, Rincon is going to be the spot.” And he goes, “You’re just a candy-ass, you chicken shit,” driving off down the road. The next day we heard he never got out at the Sloughs. He never got out at the Cove. He didn’t get out anywhere. See, he had that gimp arm and the surf was real big. I went up to Rincon with Larry Felker and Sabu Winewrinkle. We did just fine there. It was a huge day [Ricky Grigg, who was also there, recalls the surf as being well over 15 feet] unlike any surf I’ve seen around here for size. [Dave] Rochlen came up to me on the beach—now you’ve got to understand, the last time I saw any of the Malibu guys was when I went there on my paddleboard and went straight off and they kicked me out—oh, I guess I’d been up there a couple of times with our Manhattan group. We called ourselves the wrecking crew: Bing and Greg and everyone. (Greg, by the way, on that big day, paddled around the Redondo Breakwater to the lineup and got one wave. It was so far out nobody saw the wave. No pictures—no nothing—and a bit unlike Greg.) So, Rochlen lines me up on the beach and says, “Morgan, if you get out, you get points.” It turned out that the movie actor that played Charlie Chan had bought a house at Rincon and cleared the rocks to make a boat channel into his house so he could bring a skiff in and tie it up on the beach for the summers. The current would flow sideways, and when it hit that channel, it would turn out. Simmons told me about it. So if you started about 100 yards north of the channel, and threw your board in the water when you saw a lull coming, the current would sweep you right into the channel about the time you were well off the beach. You’d go like hell across the break and make it out around the incoming lines. I did that. In fact, all of the guys from my car did it and made it out without getting our hair wet. When we all got out, we turned toward the beach and started giving Rochlen a bad time shouting, “Hey, Dave, come on, it’s easy.” We ended up getting some great waves, doing as good as anybody that day.

Desperados—armed and dangerous,

loading plane in Baja,

pearl shell reef, 1957, San Francisquito, Baja del Sur

The deal was, we were smuggling lobster into the States. See that mound of shells there? Pearl shell has a very interesting history. They make buttons out of it. The focus of our group’s operation was flying down into Baja, getting a lot of lobster, and flying them to Las Vegas. Nevada had no laws about lobster, and the federal government had no law against lobster of any kind. They couldn’t care less. You could take California’s spiny lobster; you could take Gulf lobster, any kind you want, into Nevada across U.S. borders without breaking the law. We had aircraft fuel in five-gallon cans. The airplane was full of it. After we’d fly down and back, all the profits from the lobsters had to go back into the gas tank. On one of the trips we landed on a dry lake bed. In Mexico, they didn’t like you to take their lobsters, so we were pretty careful down there. But one of the things we found was a stack of pearl shell about a mile long, 40-foot deep and 40-foot wide. Pearl shell was selling for something like $1.70 a pound. So we were going back with a freighter and a couple of bulldozers to load up that shell and get it out of there before they knew what was going on, but it turned out the shell was worthless. It had been sitting too long and had delaminated. Nowadays plastic has come along, but it was a hell of an adventure.

Pattie Williams with the turtle from the Buzzy Trent caper

This is back in 1959. The whole deal began when Buzzy claimed there was actually a turtle in Kaiser Lagoon. He was trying to sucker me in. So, to turn the tables, we actually caught one and put it down there, you know, turned upside-down under a rock, all trussed up so it couldn’t escape. The whole thing was a classic. Finally, at the last minute, Buzzy came clean and told me he’d been putting me on. But when I said, no way, there was a turtle there, I sucked him in and he bet me on it! This was before TV was popular. Everything was radio, and there was this announcer, Gordon Frey, who said on his radio show, “That spark-plug Buzzy Trent has agreed to walk on his hands and knees through downtown Waikiki if there’s a turtle found in Kaiser Lagoon.” They found the turtle and we expected him to pay off. Instead, he was so mad that he showed up at my house with the Blah-lahs, and they were gonna kick my ass. I was on a boat to the mainland the next day; we were out of there!

Rick Stoner & Bing Copeland in front of Lowell Thompson’s ketch

Papeete Quay

Bing, Greg, Bob Hogan, and myself were a two-year team. We’d surf, and I drove them all around up and down the coast, and we all got pretty good at it. Bing was just your average guy with a golf bag. Now, the golf bag is an interesting story. Somehow, Bing had this money tree and the fruit from the tree got wadded up and thrown in the golf bag. Any time we were low on gas or needed money for food or anything else, we’d drive up to his house, go out in his garage, and reach in his golf bag, pull out a couple twenties and off we’d go. He never did tell me where the money came from. So that’s a mystery about Bing. He was a really good guy and a good surfer. If you’ve run across him in the last few years, he was just like that when he was a kid—never a smart ass, always well behaved compared to Greg. The first time I went to Tahiti, we backed our boat into the quay at Papeete. The crowds and cabs and everything are swarming around—this is 50 years ago now— you throw a line into someone and they tie it off. Well, the guy who caught the line I threw turned out to be Bing! After years of not seeing each other, Bing and Rick were down there when I got there. That was neat. They showed us around town for a day or two. About the third day, we’re all sitting in this sidewalk café right on the waterfront, and Ramsey, my diving buddy, took some money up to pay the bill, and Bing looks in Ramsey’s wallet at a picture of a girl. When he comes back Bing asks, “Who’s that?” Ramsey says, “That’s my sister.” Bing takes it from him and looks at it closely, then looks up and says, “I’m going to marry her.” And he did. (Bing denies the story, but it happened.) When Bing got back from the trip, he specifically went down to meet Ramsey’s mother, and then married (Conlee) his sister. They’ve been married ever since. How did that happen? They’d never even met before. We were just amazed. We got back, and they’re married!

Buzzy Trent with elephant gun,

Diff with snapped stick,

Mead Hall, 1959

Trent and Bud Browne and myself rented a house together. You know, we just went over there and rented a house. I was amazed that anyone would rent to us. It was two doors down from Mead Hall on Kam Highway. Those Mead Hall guys started shaping boards in their house. They were glassing in one room, shaping in the other, and they built this throne in the glassing room. It wasn’t exactly a throne, it was the two saw horses they put the boards on and the resin on the floor got deeper and deeper in that room. Pretty soon there was this enormous edifice of resin accumulated from marching around and around the racks pouring resin and it dripping on the floor. It got so we didn’t want to be around when the landlord showed up. It was going to be the end of the world.

Sunset Beach overview, 1959

I remember Buzzy took us up to a lookout. I suspect the waves look the same, but the area might be a little different now.

Pat, summer Makaha, checking a puka

One of us would swim in and poke the red fish, and the other diver would wait outside to spear them. We dove for food and gasoline. We used to eat half the fish and give it to friends, and the other half always went to the Japanese gas station owner out on the North Shore. They’d trade red fish for gasoline. We’d go in here with a tub full and negotiate, and then fill ’em up.

Pat Curren’s feet

This was typical of their condition. They were working feet.

Inspecting the day’s catch, Kahuku, 1959

In Hawaii we dove year-round whenever it would go flat. We dove for sustenance. We were hungry, and those fish tasted great. One of the real impressive things, when you dive Makaha, after you see the bottom around the lineup spot in the summer, is you don’t want to go near it when you are surfing there in the winter. There’s big pukas and caves and blowholes—all underwater. You normally don’t see the blowhole, but the entrance is the size of this room and it goes back, back, back, like those holes you see Pat in. There’ll be an opening way back there where the water compresses and blows out the top. Well, if you get taken back in there, you can’t get back out until the surge subsides. If you’re breath-hold diving, that can be a problem. Only one time have I felt an overhead while surfing. You know, scratching around getting tossed on a wipe-out, swimming up and hitting something and going, “Oh, oh.” Each place is different. You can look at the waves and tell what’s on the bottom. Sunset has row upon roll of smooth-topped reefs with teeth pointed out, then a big underhand with pukas where it’s blown out. If it sucked you down in there, it’d be tough goin’. Sunset, Makaha—all your major breaks have that sort of thing. For the surfers of that time, diving those places was part of what they did. Until you dive a place where you surf, you don’t know what’s on the bottom, and it’s a scary thing. Once you know what’s there, it’s not scary anymore but something to be careful with.

Pat with fish skiff

The little dive skiff we built at Makaha was our solution to the shark problem. We built it to throw the fish in. I was smoking cigars at the time, and when we finished the skiff, we passed the cigar around. Pat was…did you ever see a smiling dog? They go around all grumpy, but now and then they break out in a big grin? Well, Curren does that. When he’s extremely pleased, he gets that look like…a smiling dog. That’s what he’s doing here. He couldn’t believe we’d actually built this boat, and we went out in it and it worked.

Ramsey Park with my Simmons slot

In front of Submarine Engineering, on 30TH St., in Newport Beach, circa 1962-’63. Curren had his surfboard shop in one door—I was building farmer john wetsuits out of the other.

1930s-’70s diver (“I take personal responsibility for wiping out three forms of sea life in Santa Monica Bay”), surfer, scammer, raconteur Frank Donahue

Though the Matson Liner was the normal mode of travel to the Islands in those days, after the first time, I flew World Overseas Airways. Frank Donahue owned a piece of the airline and had an in with the stewardesses and everything. He was management there. He’d have me go out on the airfield at Burbank with a broom and coveralls—he’d supply them, you know, with the company logos on them and everything—and I’d go out and start sweeping the airplane and jump in the head at the right time, and when we were in the air, the stew would give me the all-clear, and then I’d have a 12-hour ride to Hawaii. In those days, the aircraft were double-deckers with Plexiglas front ends and a piano bar downstairs. I came back with the 12′ Curren, and it was the same drill, only I had to get a cart and roll the board out to the plane and hand it up to one of the cargo handlers, then I’d board, take my coveralls off in the head, and once in the air, come out and sit down. That was Frank!

1963, Mickey Muñoz posing for Bev’s wetsuit company

The catchy headline read, “Mickey Muñoz knows it’s better to be warm than cold.” Mickey was always full of go-juice, about everything—from his days at Malibu to now. He’s never given a damn about making money. That was always impressive to me. He never said, “I don’t want to make money,” but once you knew him, you knew it wasn’t important. He is a hard worker, not for the money, but for the end product—whether it was a surfboard, a sailboat, or the next trip.

Carter Pyle, Phil Edwards, Mickey Muñoz check Wedge, 1963

We (Muñoz, Byron Kough, Carter Pyle, Joe Quigg, and myself) were around Newport then and hitting the Wedge regularly. Joe and Carter would go down there for lunch every day and experiment. They didn’t like big days; they liked waves about this big. They’d get into the section bouncing off the jetty and go as fast as I’ve ever seen anybody go, bodysurfing. They were into delicate trim line versus huge, balls-out drops. They’d do things like ride the whole wave under- water. You’d see this bulge on the surface going along where their head was. It wasn’t one wave after another…every fourth or fifth wave they’d hit it right. They got a dead frozen porpoise from Marineland, sawed off the tail in sections, and used the forms to make fins on tennis shoes. Then they’d try little goggles and hoods. They tried all these different things.

Muñoz, Wedge, water view

Mickey, Bobby Patterson check Wedge

I had a board with a hole in it to stash a camera—go out, take the camera out, and shoot it—get behind them and stuff. I wanted to work my way up, wave-wise, to taking off at the Wedge and shoot pictures on my way over the falls.

Bud Browne frames of Bev attempting the Wedge on his Pat Curren 12′ gun

Bud was banging on my door at 7:00 in the morning. He wanted to film me taking off at the Wedge. (He probably figured that’s the only part of the ride he’d get before I crashed and burned.) I wondered why? It was just an up-and-down deal, you know? He already had my board in the car, and I wasn’t even awake. So he hustled me down to the Wedge. I looked at it and thought that on that long board I could probably get into the wave and he could take my picture and then it would be all over. That’s exactly what happened. After two or three waves, the nose broke off. The whole deal was to get a wave and then get into position to kick away from the board. By Hollywood scale, that was a $5,000 stunt, and the board is probably worth at least triple that now.

Hobie test riding the Landsurfer, 1962

Hobie called and told us this guy was going to come and show us this new thing he called a Landsurfer. Hobie was a good surfer and great at tandem. Tandem is tough. Only a few guys were into that. You had to be a cut above just being a surfer.

Gordon Clark in his Laguna Niguel realm

Harold Walker with mixing bucket

Walker shop exterior

By 1963, Harold had moved into the old Velzy shop on Coast Highway in North San Clemente. Harold was kind of a quiet guy. His interest wasn’t in marketing; it was in the foam and the technology. Grubby came along and the foam part—the formulations and that sort of thing—he was working with Hobie on seemed to come kind of easy to him. So he concentrated on market strategy. For instance, he would get his customers to tout his foam by paying them 25-percent of their ad cost to put his logo in their ads rather than run his own ads. In hindsight, that formula paid off, whereas Harold did conventional advertising.

Kirby Morgan hard hat on storage rack in Bev’s personal Santa Barbara office, 2006 (the business is headquartered in Santa Maria)

After my stint at Surfer in 1962, I hooked up with some guys I knew in Santa Barbara. We built the first civilian diving bell and started doing some really interesting things for the petroleum industry, and I got into manufacturing diving helmets. There hadn’t been an advance in diving helmets for 150 years. We changed them entirely, using everything I learned in the surfboard industry—fiberglass. Now Kirby, my partner, was a metal man, which they didn’t have too much of in the surfboard industry. He supplied the metal end of it, and I supplied the fiberglass end of it. We came up with composite helmets using different polyesters and other types of resins, epoxies, and different fibers, combined with the metal  and my knowledge of breathing systems, which came about from Dive N’ Surf and all that background. We put a company together with a good, fair profit and kept the information to ourselves. I doubt that we’ve let an employee get out from under our thumb for over 30 years. You keep the same employees for 30 years, not much information gets out. So, that has worked out beautifully.

There’s just a few ways to bullshit in surfing. “You should have been here an hour ago, it was ten-foot!” But that’s livable bullshit. You can’t claim you’re going over to Hawaii and ride Waimea and then just go do it. Unless you can, you’re crazy if you try. There’s a limit to how much you can bullshit in surfing. After a while, everybody knows where you fit. Really, no matter how much you talk, you can’t get away with continuous bullshit. You can transfer that over into other things in your day-to-day living. If you bullshit too much, you’ll get called on it. In the end, you have to be able to look in the mirror and say, “I can ride this wave or I can’t. Right now, today, I can’t!” [Laughing] But I’ve had more than my share.

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