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Dirt, Scratches, Fingerprints, & Grain

Light / Dark

The first inkling I had that there was this surfing thing, and that it just might be really fun, was looking out my living room window on Law Street in Pacific Beach and seeing a woodie full of surfboards stalled in the intersection. All these scruffy-looking guys jumped out and were running around trying to get it push started, like the Keystone Kops interbred with the Katzenjammer Kids. In 1958, it seemed a world away from my bedroom where I sat listening to rock-and-roll on KCBQ and building model car kits I bought from the hobby store behind the frosty shop.

Then Surf Fever came to town and my axis tilted all the way over. John Severson’s film showed for two nights in the fall of 1960 at PB Junior High. There was galvanic surf action on the screen, 8 x 10 inch film stills for a buck each in the lobby, and a printed program called The Surfer!

A few months later, there I was with a secondhand Hobie under my arm that I bought for $65 from Percy Hussong, an uninformed eighth grader grafted into the heritage of PB surf culture with all its heroes, surf spots, and hijinks. And, it turns out, its surf photographers.

Being a surf town, Pacific Beach naturally became a surf-photographer town. Ron Church and Ocean Beach’s Lee Peterson were the top dogs, followed by the mysterious “Walter of La Jolla.” Then came the gremmie brigade: the Wilbur Boys (Kim and Kenny Brun, Tom Mellon, and myself) and Jim Alexander. Some of us saved up our paper-route money to buy the cheapest 35mm cameras we could find and a $40 Tamron 400mm telephoto lens, basically a laminated paper towel core with Coke-bottle lenses. Some of us talked our folks into letting us set up darkrooms in our garages.

A few clicks later, and it was 1968. I was sitting in John Severson’s office interviewing for Ron Dahlquist’s soon-to-be-vacated darkroom position at Surfer. Stoner was also on his way out, with his drug-and-shock-therapy-induced psychosis rendering him pretty much unfit to continue his prolific run as the number one surf photographer of the late longboard era. That put me in the enviable position of covering contests, taking ad photos, and following good surf up and down the coast, in addition to my production duties at the magazine. I was always more of a hobbyist photographer, so becoming a professional magazine photographer was a bit of a leap for a downhome PB kid, with the pressures, deadlines, and other craziness associated with working for a bi-monthly publication. By 1969, things were really cooking with the coalescence of the “high renaissance” editorial crew, which consisted of John Severson, Drew Kampion, Hyatt Moore, Art Brewer, and myself. It was big fun on the bayou.

Here’s a selection of some favorites shot during the early 60s, as foam boards replaced balsa, and then on into the early 70s and the triumph of the shortboard. Watch where you step, we’re in Dinosaurland now.

Tom Morey interview with Drew Kampion at Morey-Pope shop, Front Street, Ventura. Fall 1968.

Drew Kampion and I drove up and down the coast interviewing and photographing various surfboard manufacturers for an article on the shortboard phenomenon. Our first stop was the South Bay for meetings with Dave Sweet and Bing Copeland. Later, we made a trip south to visit with Don Hansen. Further south, at the Gordon & Smith factory, we popped in just as Larry, Floyd, and Midget Farrelly were chowing down lunch. Then it was north again to Ventura to get Tom Morey’s considered response. In the September issue of Surfer, Drew ran it all down in a heavily illustrated article with lots of quotes from the major builders called, “The Super Short, Uptight, V-Bottom, Tube Carving, Plastic Machines.”

Phil Ewards, Oceanside Invitational. February 13, 1965.

I’ve been drawn to smooth, functional surf styles almost from the beginning, watching local stars like Skip Frye, Gary Cooke, John Hayward, and Mike Hynson. By the time Phil Edwards and Miki Dora trimmed through my consciousness, it was a done deal.

Phil and Dora were our little Wilbur Street Gang’s big-time heroes. Kenny Brun wrote to Bud Browne and asked if he could buy some photos of Edwards. Instead, Bud sent him frame-grab negative duplicates of Phil at Maili. They were duly printed up and tacked to bedroom walls all the way from Law Street to north PB.

Margo Godfrey, Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz. October, 1969.

Margo Godfrey post-heat in the Lane’s parking lot, with Jack O’Neill standing to her right, at the Surfer magazine 4A Santa Cruz Invitational. She won that event handily, and also took home the other three AAAA titles that were held that year.

Mike Doyle, Central Baja. May 29, 1969.

Mike Doyle, balls-out bottom turn. This spot seemed promising so we hiked over the dunes, and Mike headed out alone to try. Somewhere along the way, he lost his trunks.

Dale Dobson, 3Ms, Baja California. August 9, 1969.

Dale Dobson, first place at the 3Ms AAAA contest in August of 1969. For Dobson, that year was just another walk in the park. A competitive animal, “Deedle” was still collecting paychecks as a pro longboarder in the 90s, well into his late forties. 

Bobby “CHALLENGER” Thomas. October 1968.

A classic San Diego character, Bobby Thomas started a surf club at PB Junior High in 1956, began shaping at G&S in the mid 60s, started the short-lived Bobby Thomas Surfboards, then bought Challenger Surfboards and overextended it with a large coast-to-coast dealer network. He crashed and burned a few times over the years, but made a comeback in the 90s with a legal name change to Bobby Challenger Thomas and a slew of surf club competition wins in the seniors age division.

Around ten years ago, I ran into him at the Sacred Craft expo at the San Diego Convention Center. He was pumped that a water shot of him at South Bird had recently been published as a two-page spread in the Ron Church book California to Hawaii 1960 to 1965. He kept thanking me over and over. I said, “Bobby, Ron Church took the photo, Tom Adler made the book, all I did was scan the negative.” Didn’t matter. He was so excited about it. And that was Bobby Thomas, stoked to the end, which came way too soon. He died in 2012, gone like a cool breeze.

Art Brewer, Capistrano Beach. Early 1970.

Art Brewer, part of the “new breed” at Surfer in the late 60s. Art started coming around the mag and picked up small assignments while he was still in high school, then began covering contests and making trips to the Islands on a regular basis. And, as Steve Earle sings, “You know the rest.” These shots were taken in our go-to portrait studio, the outside wall of the magazine offices on Camino Capistrano in Capo Beach. 

Don Hansen, Hansen Surfboards, Encinitas. Fall 1968.

Don Hansen, with quite a few longboards still in the racks, reflects on the shortboard revolution: “New things just for the sake of new things aren’t the answer.” 

John Hayward, Ziggy’s. April 23, 1966.

A true unsung hero of San Diego surf lore, John Hayward was a contemporary of Frye, Hynson, Cooke, Rieman, Butch, et al. The classic PB goofyfooter ripped Windansea, South Bird, The Point, Crystal Pier, Black’s, and beyond.

One time in 1966, Ken Kesey and his Prankster bus were supposed to be doing an Acid Test at the Unicorn/Mithras complex on La Jolla Boulevard. So John and I headed up there in his blue VW Bug. We got there either late or misinformed, and missed that particular shot at a backdoor bust into the eternals. At a John Cole’s Book Shop lecture, Hayward was locked in as Alan Watts droned on about the void while I fell asleep in my chair.

Hayward sightings are rare in recent years, but the obscure master apparently lives on.