One thing about being a surfer who lived in Huntington Beach in the early 1960s was that new swells often began subtly showing themselves in the pier pilings late in the day, well before they showed elsewhere. If you were in the know, you could read and extrapolate from what was happening there to what would happen later along the rest of the coast. Acting on that tattletale often put you onto good waves at many unattended breaks.
One afternoon, the pier was telling us Rincon was going to be good, so we planned to leave first thing the next morning. Two carloads of us arrived at low-tide incoming, about 9 a.m. Got it we did—surfed until early afternoon, then loaded up to drive home, hoping to beat the LA traffic.
Chuck Lennin was at the wheel of his ’55 Plymouth wagon and I was driving my mom’s old ’49 Studebaker Commander—three of us to each car, boards staggered on the roof in a single stack secured with one loop of rope around the front, another around the back. As surfers know, it’s the front rope that keeps the boards on the car and the back rope that keeps them straight. As it turned out, both ropes were barely long enough to make one wrap around the boards. We were just able to tie them off.
Chuck pulled away first and I followed. As we drove south on Highway 101, everyone in our car began woofing whatever food we’d brought. Bill Wetzel, riding shotgun, finished stuffing the last chocolate donut into his mouth and began cackling as he balled up the bakery bag. Without warning, he cut a warbling wet fart, pulled his trunks down, wiped his butt with the balled-up bag, and delicately held it out his window—for which we were immediately grateful. He then told me to pull up alongside Chuck at the next light, which I did. Chuck was driving with his left arm folded on the open windowsill. As we came up on him, Wetzel casually arched the balled-up bag over Chuck’s arm, just past his face, and into the wagon. We knew that the bag stank, something that was confirmed when all three people in Chuck’s car began frantically screaming: “Oh, shit! Get that out of here!” Unfortunately for them, no one was willing to touch it. Finally, the guy riding shotgun found a popsicle stick on the floor mat and flicked it out his own window.
The light changed and both cars drove on. As another red light brought us to a stop in downtown Ventura, Chuck pulled up next to us, swung his car door open, jumped out, proceeded to shake a full jar of mustard onto our windshield, then jumped back into his car. I turned on the wipers and squirted water, but that turned it into a thick yellow smear. I got out and cleaned the mess up with my towel while they, acting as if nothing had happened, drove off.
This was war.
When we both hit another light together in South Ventura, Wetzel got out, ran around to the front of Chuck’s car, reached into the grill, felt for the latch, and popped the hood while Chuck shouted, “No fair! No fair!” Then, after a fast survey of the engine, Wetzel jerked one end of the coil wire out of the distributor cap and left it hanging with the hood open, walked casually back to our woody, and got in. At least he left the wire. By now, fully aware of where this had gone, everyone in both cars was laughing nervously, wondering what would come next.
A few minutes down the road, Chuck caught up to us and we warily glanced over to see if we could prevent further retaliation. Uh-oh! Stoplight ahead. As we both rolled up to the signal, Chuck opened his door, stepped out, and with a pocketknife quickly sliced through the barely-long-enough front rope that held our boards to the car. The war was won.
Chuck drove off, flipping us the bird. We ended up walking half a mile until we lifted a rope out of an open garage door and ran for it.
[Feature image by Leo Hetzel]