Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Juniors Take Makaha

Paraffin Chronicles.
This is the second installment of excerpts from Paraffin Chronicles in honor of the Wind an Sea Surf Club’s 50th Anniversary in 2013. It was December of 1964 and the Wind an Sea Surf Club was about to make its “international debut” at the Makaha Championships.

The Juniors Take Makaha

The highlight of that year was going to Makaha to surf in the world's most prestigious surfing contest. Makaha, of course, is the world famous big-wave surfing spot on the west shore of Oahu in Hawaii. Thor Svenson organized a raffle and we all sold tickets to earn our way there. It was kind of hard for those of us up the coast to sell tickets for a raffle in San Diego. I think I only sold two, so my parents chipped in, as did Dr. Nuuhiwa. In the end, both David and I got to go. Oh what a trip that was.

Photo by Tom Keck
It started at old Lindbergh Field in San Diego (Now San Diego International Airport). My parents dropped me off in the care of our chaperones, the Senior division. Butch, Hasley, Root Swan were all there. Not all the juniors got to go, but most of us made it. Peter, David, Dickie Moon, Huey McIntosh, Ricky Ryan, Rullo, Close, Strada. We took off about midnight headed for Honolulu on a chartered Saturn Airlines propjet.

Jet, my ass! It was what they called a rubber-band airplane. Fourteen hours of drowning propellers and tight accommodations. Can you imagine? All of us kids having pillow fights and food fights up front, while all the seniors sipped cocktails and flirted with the stewardesses in the back. It was a scene. Nobody got any sleep.

I remember being glued to the window all the next morning trying to catch a glimpse of the islands. Sometime the next day, we landed in Honolulu. Aloha. Yeah, the Hawaiian girls were all there in hula skirts, putting leis around our necks and giving us kisses. You should have seen Butch lay a huge kiss on this one hula girl.

They piled all of us juniors on a school bus and headed out to the west side. That was about a two-hour ride in itself. Still, with the adrenaline pumping, we were feeling no pain. In fact, even though we were staying in Wainae, we talked the bus driver into driving us straight out to Makaha, just to check it out.

When the bus pulled up in front of the surf spot, we all ganged to the windows. The surf was just like I'd remembered in the surf movies. About six-foot, beautiful aqua green waves, with a huge backwash. It was crowded. Really crowded. We watched a couple of waves and then saw this one guy really ripping, super style, radical cutbacks. Petey Johnson immediately identified the rider as Phil Edwards. We were impressed. Actually, later we learned that Phil hadn't even made it over yet. The rider was a young Australian nobody had ever heard of, Nat Young.

Later that afternoon, we arrived at the Wainai Church Camp and got word that getting to and from Makaha was going to be a problem. There would be a bus once a day. Other than that we were to hitchhike out there two or three at a time. Thor gave us small tokens of a little wooden foot, with the big toe sticking up. Hawaiian good luck charm for hitchhiking. Can you believe it?

That first afternoon there was no way any of us could get to Makaha, so we went exploring. Sure enough, we found surf. Pokai Bay was some type of military installation that had a nice beach. It had a little reef break outside. Kind of mushy with not much shape, but we attacked. The waves were thicker than mainland waves and they moved to the beach with more speed. We all had a little trouble judging the waves at first. It wasn't good surf, but there was something about the place, the warm water, the color in the afternoon that was way different, and very exciting. It sort of set the tone for what was to come.

Dave Rullo got the wave of the day. A clean four-footer on the outside. He ripped it up pretty good and the next thing you know, we were calling him the King of Pokai. After we all surfed, we gathered on the beach. I remember everyone kind of checking each other out. Most of the guys had new boards, made just for the trip. Many were already sponsored by board makers.

I wasn't. I was riding my second Jet board, which I'd had for about six months. It was nine-two and a little beat up. Actually, Quigg had done a little remodel job on the nose. He cut about two feet off the front and shaped a new, more pointed tip. It had some additional belly to it as well as some more kick in the front. I was stoked when he did it, but that afternoon, looking at all the new boards, I felt like I was wearing hand-me-downs. There was some comments, but I shrugged them off. Tough crowd.

There was an odd feeling that afternoon. Here we were a bunch of guys from all up and down the coast who hardly new each other, thrust into a situation 3,000 miles from home. Youngsters from different tribes, come together. Mark Hammond and Erik Murphy from Santa Barbara. Denny Tompkins from the South Bay, Jeff George from Malibu and David and I from Orange County. Most were from San Diego: Dickie Moon, Dave Rullo, and Larry Strada from the Shores. Francis Thompson, Curt Slater and Steve Jenner from Pacific Beach. Brad Owens and Hank Warner also from PB. Hugh McIntosh and Ricky Ryan from Ocean Beach.

We stayed at the Wainai Church Camp sleeping five or six to a room. It didn't take long to form alliances and give each other nick names. Soon we were banding about, playing pranks on each other's rooms.

Dinner with the Duke
On the first night, they bused us all to Waikiki to eat dinner at Duke Kamanamoku's famous restaurant in the International Market Place. Man, was that fine. Duke was there and the Martin Denny Band was playing "Quiet Night." The food was Luau style and really good. That night, they passed out our team gear: Wind-an-Sea T-shirts, red trunks with club patches and a whole bunch of other stuff, like the little wooden foot I mentioned. It was a grab bag full of goodies.

Thor Svenson gave the juniors a talk about conduct and how we were representatives of surfing. I didn't know what to think about Thor then. He was a small guy, probably in his 40s. He had dyed blond hair and wore a crew cut. Obviously not a surfer, but some how drawn to the surf culture. He was very good at what he did, and that was to organize and direct.

He orchestrated us. Told us what to do, how to act. He was the one who gave us the schedules, planned field trips to "Town" and the North Shore. He was strict and he had a way of talking to you that was very serious when you screwed up. He was a good guy though, and worked well with what had to be an outrageous band of wild kids.

The tone was set that first night at Duke Kamanamoku's. We were going to be a well-oiled surfing machine and we were going to show the world that surfers were good citizens. That, according to Thor.

The next few days we split our time between Pokai Bay and Makaha. The days at Makaha were great. The surf was usually about head high to slightly overhead. We watched as Buffalo, the legendary Hawaiian surfer, and his family of friends just ripped the place. I've never seen one guy have one spot so wired as Buffalo at Makaha. It was like he and the wave were of the same energy. He just flowed with the wave and knew exactly when to do things. Unbelievable.

We saw a lot of great surfing. Nat Young, Barry Kanaiapuni, Fred Hemmings were all in the outer limits, and guess what? They were all surfing in the Junior Division! Yep, Makaha Juniors were 18 and under. Maybe 17 and under, but whatever, all three of them were in the Juniors.

That kind of dampened our spirits a little. Even David was out-classed by these guys at Makaha. So we set our sites on having fun, and that we did. Learning how to turn around the back wash, and just enjoying the great speed of the Hawaiian waves. It was like the board became alive under your feet. Turning, nose riding, everything was easier.

Then the day came. Contest day. We arrived at Makaha early in the morning, the waves were the biggest we'd seen all week. A solid 10 foot. Point Surf as they called it. A whole new ball game. We watched in awe as Fred Hemmings rode a huge wave all the way from the outside point through the infamous Makaha bowl.

I never even knew what a "bowl" was, but I found out quickly that it was a place in the wave caused by a shallow spot in the reef. A bowl typically jacks up higher and throws out further than the rest of the wave. At Makaha, you had to rush through it before it broke, or straighten out in the soup. Nothing on the mainland had prepared us for a 10-foot Makaha bowl looming like a giant claw at the end of the wave.

Somehow we mustered up the courage to go out in our heats. I should say I mustered up the courage. Many of the San Diego guys were ready for it. I'd never been in waves this big. My big surf experience was limited to one day at Sea Side Reef in Cardiff that was about eight feet. Still, in the spirit of the day, I went out when my heat was called.

The next installment of Paraffin Chronicles  looks at how the Juniors did in the big surf and how important the famous Hawaiian watermen can be when the waves are big. And they got big, and then they got bigger...

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an awesome day, especially the ride of the day. Thanks for posting this story.