Something I had been looking forward to for many years took place October 14th, 2000, in Huntington Beach. That was the day the old surf club got together for the first time in nearly 30 years. When John Mitchell agreed to spearhead an attempted reunion of the Huntington Beach Surfing Association, I thought to myself "why not at least try". Nearly every other successful organization tries for a reunion at some point, so why should one of surfing history's greatest not give it a try as well?
Many of the old crew have left for far places, some have passed on, and some have disappeared into the woodwork of anonymity. Like any similar activity, getting the word out after so many years would be the most difficult task. Since I didn't live close, I knew it would take someone that lived local with good organizing skills to pull off an event such as this. To John's credit, he was committed and really put a lot of himself into the effort. He obtained major support from Natalie Kotsch, founder of the Huntington Beach international Surfing Museum, and Bob Frederickson, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the museum to formalize the location.
I hadn't been to Huntington this time in almost four years so really had some catching up to do. My vacation leave had run out for the year, so my trip would have to be a quick weekend excursion. My wife Kim and I left early Friday morning on a six hour flight to LA. We arrived around 10:30 am, early enough that I might get in a few waves if the wind was light. However, after delays with luggage, getting a rental car and driving down to Huntington, the wind had started to blow. Although there was a small swell, it looked too rough and it was a little late in the day for me to get any quality surf in. I also needed to spend some quality time with my parents having been away for so long.
Next morning I met John and Steve Holt early for a South Side surf. Steve let me use and old Takayama nose rider he owned. It reminded me of the boards Donald used to surf on in heats against me years back. There was a contest going on (when isn't there one) so we needed to stay outside the contest area. Sure we did. I noticed Steve is as aggressive as ever, catching nearly every rideable wave from just inside the contest area clear to the beach. I saw him switch stance on a good left and suddenly the lifeguards were on the PA for him to move out of the area or get out. I don't think Steve can hear too well. Actually, I don't think many surfers hear too well. Must be water in their ears.
Quite a few of the old crew were in the water. I saw Ricky Kuhn and several others, and decided it was just like the old days (except that they didn't look the same). I caught one long wave inside and as I was paddling out, saw John catch the wave of the day. He probably should have paddled in after that as the rest of the morning just got worse.
We all came in around 10:30 am to help set up tables, chairs, awnings and other things for the reunion. As I walked up the beach I noticed another small contest going on, this one between Estancia HS and Costa Mesa HS. Having been involved in starting the high school surfing programs years ago, I'm happy to see that they are still alive and well in Southern California.
When I arrived at the museum parking lot on 5th Street, I was surprised to see several others from the old club helping. I couldn't recognize many as it had been a number of years since I last saw them, but a few looked close to the same. The picture shows members David Hilts, Steve Holt, and Mike Bowers hanging up banners. Guy (Grundy) Spagnoli (below) looked closest to how he's always looked. Must be the Italian influence. Guy was not only a good surfer, but an excellent speed skateborder years back. He traveled with his wife Barbara from Utah for the reunion. Like my wife, she is an avid photographer and continually got each of us to pose for pictures throughout the day. We will have plenty of pictures for everyone.
As we continued to set up, still more of the old crew dropped in. Des Whelan arrived Des is still as laid back as ever. He lives in a small town in Washington now and seldom gets to Huntington anymore. Both Des and his brother Tim were avid members of HBSA years back.
John Mitchell, as the committee chairman, opened the festivities. John mentioned that it was great seeing so many of those early day surfers in one place again and also thanked both the museum and the sponsors for their participation. Afterwards, I also thanked everyone for being there and let everyone know I would be mailing out pictures and videos once they were ready.
We had laid out two posters on a table for everyone to sign, plus Guy had brought a Longboard Restaurant T-shirt he wanted us to sign. John Mitchell also interviewed each of the HBSA members who attended the reunion on video. The interviews will be added to the HBSA History video I prepared and donated to the museum. I interviewed John and also showed the preliminary video to a few of those setting up. The volume wasn't good on the tape I had but it will be cleaned up in the final video.
The video was prepared from old pictures and Super-8 films of club members (including Des Whelan) and I took in the 60s and 70s. In the video I narrate some of our club's history, including some of our trips, parties, and how we selected our club logo based on a Robert Milfield design. Some of the footage is of HBSA contests, including a short group shot with a young Michael Kakuuchi in the background. I had to physically point out to Mike (left) which one in the group was him as he didn't recognize himself at first. Several others confirmed that yes it was a picture of him with long hair. Some top 60s surfing groups, including Dick Dale, Jan & Dean Company, and Jim Facey Productions (The Surfaris, and The Ventures) allowed their music to be in the video. Hopefully the museum will have the video available when other HBSA members drop in during the years to come.
John Mitchell Interviewing Me
The International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach has long been the place for the 60s and 70s locals to call their own. It is here that many of the early surf memorabilia is kept, and is the logical organization to sponsor surf heritage related activities. We can thank them for being available to help us host this event.
Besides music studio donations and the International Surfing Museum donating their location, quite a few sponsors donated food, raffle and door prize things for the event. Those donating included "Duke's of Huntington Beach", "Longboards" Restaurant, and "Sugar Shack". Duke's is a very nice Restaurant next to the pier. They had graciously donated five $50 dinner coupons, a real treat for anyone who wants to watch the sunset as they eat in the evenings. I was very disappointed to hear that the City of Huntington Beach didn't want to take an active role in this reunion. Huntington owes a lot to it's surfing heritage, and this is really the first time many of the original surfers have gotten together in a heritage type celebration. The city seemed to put one road-block after another in our way throughout our planning stages.
Some members, like Bob Ballou, showed up early because of later commitments and some showed up late because of work and other things. Others, like Greg Escalante (talking to Chuck at right) showed up later but in time to get in all the activities. Chuck Linnen showed up around 1 PM, almost dancing into the parking lot. He recently had a new hip replacement, and says he feels so good he'll soon be "out in the water surfing again." I've known Chuck most of my life and hadn't seen him in almost ten years. He and I started Long Beach State's Surf Team in the 1960s. We had some serious catching up to do. The picture (above left) shows John Mitchell, Chuck and myself soon after he arrived.
Chuck's interview was likely the best of all. We had everyone being interviewed sit in the back of the lot with the mural and plants as the backdrop. A microphone and speaker was arranged so everyone in the crowd could hear what was being said by whoever was on the "hot seat". Chuck made sure to mention his experiences with different people in the audience during his often-exciting narration. At one point he got up on his chair and showed us how he rode a big Hawaiian wave with Greg Noll, Blackie August and company years ago.
As for the activities, we mostly sat around listening, catching up, talking and reminiscing. Every time someone new showed up, we took pictures, put them on the interview hot seat and then sat around to enjoy their story. As I told them later on, this was their party, so they were the ones who should enjoy doing whatever they wanted. I had a chance to visit with Craig Hoshide for awhile. I had forgotten that Craig is the new USSF Vice President. I've been working with USSF again lately to get surfing into the Olympics.
Another strong USSF supporter and old member who attended was Mike Bowers. Mike was one of the early day surf team members in the local high school surfing league I founded. I surfed with Mike at the pier around 5 or 6 years ago. Like myself, he was involved in running contests on the West Coast for several years. It was good to see he is still active, and that he had time to visit with his old friends.
During her interview, Anne Beesley gave us all her perspective on the surfing museum and it's plans for the future. I have known Anne since she started the museum years ago and it's always a real pleasure to see her. Following her interview, I officially presented the museum with the HBSA history video CD.
Several members of the Huntington Beach Longboard Crew, including club president Gary Sahagen, came by to visit for a few minutes. I understand the the reunion was mentioned at their last meeting. The club holds its meetings at Mario's, a great Mexican resturant only a couple of blocks from my parents home on Garfield Ave. It was a pleasure for me to meet them and note that they have a strong surf club going again in Huntington.
Two members were driving old surf vehicles, one a restored woodie that looked very nice. I plan to get back to the club and join. They assured me that lots of the old HBSA members belong and that they have an associate membership spot for me even though I live 3000 miles away. I can't make the meetings but will be there in spirit.
Bob "the Greek" Bolen showed up a little later after some members had left, so he really got the hazing. I remember Bob when he was young and his shop was new. I hadn't seen him in about 6 or 7 years but he still looks in great shape, just a little gray around the ears.
The last interviewee to show up was one of HBSA's more interesting personalities in the surfing world, Rick Fignetti. Rick was on the first surfing teams I coached at Huntington Beach High School and has been active in organized surfing and the surfboard industry for many years. He is probably the only HBSA member that I always visit when I get to Huntington. I almost always stop at his shop, Rockin Figs, during my trips out west.
As the tables and things were being broken down a little later, Greek took Chuck Linnen and I over to his real estate office to look at the old surfing pictures and boards he has along his walls. I think his office is really a Greek Surfboard Shop in disguise. I couldn't believe how may good pictures of the old crew he has there. I used to enjoy surfing on a Greek Eliminator and was happy to see Greek still builds them. I also got a Greek T-shirt, something I haven't worn in about 35 years. I wore it home to Baltimore on the plane the next morning.
David Nuuhiwa was the last to show up, too late to be interviewed, but certainly not to late to visit. Face (Bruce James pictured on right with Steve Holt) had called him on his cell phone to make sure he came right over when he got off work. Not to be outdone, David started the party up all over again at the Longboard Restaurant. The owner had been gracious enough to donate lunch coupons for us, so with lunch and pitchers, who needed dinner? David still looks good and it was a pleasure to see him again. I last saw him in 1993, but plan to contact him more often now that I know how. That was one of the great things about this get together, we now all know how to contact each other again.
A few of us lasted into the late evening at the club overlooking the restaurant. By then my brother Carl had showed up, plus a few other real late party goers had dropped by. Chuck Linnen was still drinking 7-up, and Face (Bruce James) was running out of money, but the rest of up were having a ball. Finally it was just David and I, and my wife of course waiting for me. If we had Face and Charley Ray still there, it would have been just like the old days. David couldn't go home by then but he had a room down the street to go to. I said my good-bys to David and promised to get back soon.
I was up early the next morning on an airplane headed home. What a wonderful experience for me to remember always! I actually enjoyed this reunion more that any other reunion I can recall. Guess I should start thinking about another one of these things someday. The next reunion will likely be bigger and better, with even more memories for everyone.
Attention - The HBSA 30-year Reunion CD was updated with pictures from the reunion itself. The video contains a narrative of the Huntington Beach Surfing Association during the 60s and 70s, with both still and surfing video clips of various members. This video is available for a small donation to the International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach. Former HBSA members should contact Bruce Gabrielson directly.