The Golden Age of Surfing

The other day I was reading some of my junk email - actually a mailing list I subscribe to, about surfing. And the link was to a booklet a guy wrote about
Surfing in the Golden Age of Malibu and Southern California surfing, and listed Ventura, Malibu, Dana Point – all places I lived in the 1950's and 1960's – and the surf spots I grew up at. See also the BBC, of all places.

I was born in 1949 and the family photos from around then look like this:

This is who I would see as I crawled around in the sand as a child.

Surfers in Dana Point in the 40's.

In the 1950's and early 60's, my family lived in Malibu, on a cliff overlooking Zuma beach. My brother and I, and a couple of other people, had legendary surf spots to ourselves. And when there were other surfers there, I could go out, paddle a hundred feet to the north or south of the other guys, and have waves all to myself. There were women surfing with me, and we were all free and delighted in the sunshine. And there was very little traffic on Pacific Coast Highway when we drove along the coast looking for good breaks.

When I was 6 or 7 years old, going out surfing, I would often see the guys and girls practicing this move at San Onofre.

This is my brother Rick, surfing Rincon, which is north of Malibu. One rideable wave after the other. We had many of these breaks to ourselves in the 50's and 60's. Most but not all of them are crowded now – there are out of the way spots, a few extra minutes of paddling, and you can be almost alone.

San Onofre, Trestles, Ventura, Malibu, Dana Point. These names are chanting a litany of great places, great times, wonderful spirit. All those spots are still there. A bit more crowded, but you can still get waves. Just go out at dawn.

The boards today are
much better. The wetsuits are phenomenally better. The surf camps are better, and a huge number of kids learn to surf and be at home in the water. On my way in to shore, I see these kids and they are having just as good a time learning about the ocean as I did when I was a child. There is better sunblock, therefore less sunburn. We only had Sea & Ski SPF 4 and our noses burned and then peeled a lot.

There are 18-to-22 year olds at many of today's spots who are better than almost anyone was in the 50's. The Golden Age is still happening, always happening. You just have to be alert to perceive it and follow the trail.

I am just as likely to see this now as I did in the 50's and 60's and 70's and 80's. Actually slightly more likely, because I have a better sense of the dolphin's timing. A peculiar sense of magic washes over the beach just before the dolphins arrive.

The dolphins do bodysurf. They usually ride the wave just under the surface.

I have been there where this guy is, several times when bodysurfing, just me and my fins, and a few times when board surfing or boogyboarding. It's a quiet awesome feeling. You can order a print of this shot from