It’s spring, and as the patches of dirt expand under the warm sun, my skis are now stashed away in the garage somewhere. By the end of summer, they will be buried under my golf clubs, a broken outboard motor, a mountain bike with a flat back tire and other odds and ends that keep me searching for freedom all summer long.
Today, tens of thousands of skiers flock to what they consider surfing beaches. But unlike the side of a mountain, there is only enough room on a wave for a very limited number of surfers.
It used to be that our surfboards were 11-feet long and weighed 100 pounds and were very hard to learn how to ride. It was great though, because a crowded day at Malibu might be the second or third carload of surfers arriving. Today, if the surf is more than a foot high, it is host to hundreds and hundreds of men, women, boys and girls paddling to catch freedom on each and every wave.
Before, during and after World War II, I had the rare opportunity of being the only person surfing at Malibu on 12 different days. Sometimes, when the small hole in the fence would be wired shut, I would have to park and launch my board 3000 yards south of the pier at the old pottery factory and paddle from there.
That Malibu beach initially became famous in the 1950s because of a meeting I had one winter in Idaho. While I was teaching skiing in Sun Valley in 1948, I had a small family from the Pacific Palisades in my beginning class, Frederick (Fritz) Kohner, a screenwriter, his wife and his daughter Kathy. Several times during lunches we talked a lot about surfing and what a great complement it was to skiing.
We became friends, and when spring came I had dinner with the family a couple of times. We talked further about surfing and about Malibu in particular.
This led to Frederic, his wife and daughter to visit Malibu. Since Kathy was so young and small, the regulars around Malibu started called her midget, which led to them nicknaming her Girl-Midget, which eventually became Gidget. The rest is history, because her father Frederick decided to write a screenplay about his daughter and her involvement with the Malibu regulars.
Fortunately Fritz’ brother was also his agent and before long I got a call from Fritz asking me if I would be interested in being a guide for the screen company. My job was to locate a Southern California beach that looked a lot like Malibu, but was a lot more private. I accepted the position, since I had experience with every surfing spot from Rincon in the north to Sunset Cliffs in the south. I was to be paid the unheard of (by me) amount of $35 a day, or twice what I was earning as a carpenter at $2.25 an hour at the time. It took about 10 days of scouting and nothing suited them for what they had in mind: bonfires, pinch and giggle games, riding big waves and things such as that. It was hard to explain to the movie people that you could not just cue the waves and expect them to come roaring onto the beach.
While I was busy pounding nails and waiting for the film to start, a long-time lifeguard friend of mine took over the job and I was out of work as a second unit scout or whatever they called it. Gidget went on to be the first major theatrical surfing film and the waves began to get crowded at all of the beaches from that moment forward.
Today, to find uncrowded surfing conditions you have to fly to the South Pacific and then hire a boat or plane to take you to an isolated reef somewhere. On the good reefs, some entrepreneurial surfer will have bought some beachfront property and built a surf camp that might just replicate Malibu.
Fortunately for the rest of us, Hoyle Schweitzer invented the windsurfer and now you can ride waves taller than the mast (16 feet) and be the only person on the wave for a mile or more! You can sail miles out into the waters off of the North Shore of Maui and windsurf on the same wave for what seems like an hour and a half.
I was really lucky to have started riding a 100-pound surfboard when very few other people in the world were doing it. Today, with light boards and warm wet suits, anywhere there are waves crashing on the beach, even the cold Pacific coast off Washington State or British Columbia, has the potential to be what I experienced simply by parking my car on the Pacific Coast Highway at Malibu, sneaking through the small hole in the fence and having Malibu beach all to myself.
So, now that the snow is almost melted what are you going to do until it comes back?
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