It was the summer of 1965 when I bought my first surfboard. I was 15 and the big surfing craze had not hit yet. The purchase was the logical progression for a teen who grew up at the beach and tired of the inflated canvas rafts that we constantly patched with bicycle tire patch kits. My board was a 9’8” log that compared to today, weighed a ton. I bought it from an Ocean City surf shop that sold, well….surfboards. A far cry from the surf shops today that must sell everything from beachwear, footwear, eye wear, watches, sunscreen and other items in order to be a viable business. I bought my wax for the board at a hardware store and in a pinch was forced to lift a couple Shabbat candles from the house. There were no surf schools no surf videos. You learned by watching other surfers and then applied the trial and error approach. Too far back on the board and you didn’t catch the wave, too far forward and you “pearled” or slid down off the nose of the board when it dove under the water. A cautionary eye periodically searched the horizon for the inevitable “clean up set” when a series of larger waves would rise up beyond the surf line and leave unsuspecting surfers struggling in the white water. There were no leashes so failing to hold onto the board was usually followed by a swim. Hopefully the board didn’t wash all the way into the shore. Soft surfboards were not invented yet and I doubt any of the purists would have been seen dead riding one although it sure would have saved me some hard knocks.
In June of 1966 a movie came out that changed the surfing scene forever. The actors didn’t have any lines but the film was wryly narrated by Bruce Brown, a young competitive surfer and documentary filmmaker. The movie was The Endless Summer and it became the catalyst for a surf movement that continues today. It portrayed a couple surfers traveling around the world in search of the perfect wave and the trip resonated with young surfers and would be surfers everywhere. My two surfing friends and I were caught up in it as well. Our surfboards were loaded into the convertible Olds Starfire with their noses wedged under the back of the front seats and the boards sticking up in the air, an iconic scene of the 60’s. We drove that way up to Atlantic City, down through Ventnor, Margate, Longport and even ventured as far as Ocean City. We knew we weren’t world travelling surfers and we knew this was the best we could do. I didn’t go home for days. Our accommodation was the basement of my friend’s house in Ventnor. It was dark and dank with a curious smell. Today it would probably be a prime candidate for a mold remediation team. If I could duplicate the rather complex aroma of a combination of coconut, salt water and mildew I might have a chance on Shark Tank.
I believe that once you are a surfer, you are always a surfer. Even while sitting on the beach or riding my bike on the boardwalk, I am checking out the surf and carving imaginary turns on the face of a wave. An early morning or early evening drive through local shore towns will reveal working class surfers pulling boards out of their roofing, landscaping, contracting trucks, etc to grab a few waves in an effort to maintain some balance in their lives. It has been a few years since I was on my board and I keep thinking I am just a day away from dragging it out of the garage and going for a paddle.