On Safari to Burn

In 1989, longboarding had competed its loop from nearly dead art form of the ‘70s and ‘80s to a full-blown revival with ‘60s stars like David Nuuhiwa, Nat Yong, Dale Dobson, Herbie Fletcher, Donald Takayama and Skip Frye back dominating the lineup.
There was some new blood out there also, much of it following the lead of what I then termed the progressive movement, a brand of longboarding where turning was king and Huntington Beach’s Joey Hawkins and San Clemente’s Jeff Kramer led the pack on light, thin, highly rockered sticks that measured no more than the legally required limit of nine feet.
Classic longboarding seemed relegated to those 40 and older, with new arrivals like Wingnut and Joel Tudor high among those who understood the subtle and graceful style of the masters. Wingnut, who had entered the surf world at the relatively old age of 17, became a carbon copy of the past, leaving 14-year-old Tudor in a class alone with the ability to do flashy moves like helicopters, aerials and vertical off the tops on light tri fins, but preferring the cross stepping elegance brought about by a single-finned, heavily glassed old school cruiser. Tudor left a magic wake.
My longtime surf partner Steve Cleveland had been funded to do a little film and we hired a guy I knew, veteran surf film maker Greg Weaver to accomplish the task of following Joel and Wingnut as they sought to discover the soul of the magical ‘60s, following their heroes Frye and Takayama. The result was the first longboard film of the revival era, “On Safari to Stay.”
I had borrowed an old VW bus from my friend Johnny that we had Joel and Wingnut paint with watercolors, ‘60s style. With the van completed, we soon found ourselves chugging along Coast Highway on our way to San Onofre when I heard Joel’s pre-change voice squeak out, “We’re on fire.” Sure enough, the engine was aflame and by the time we pulled over there was no hope of stopping the thing from being sacrificed to the surf gods, leaving me the painful task of informing Johnny that there was nothing left of his beloved vehicle but a charred carcass. He took things well and I ended up splitting the damage with him.
Hard to believe that our little film premiered 22 years ago, that Joel is now himself a longboarding veteran and a well-established hall of fame legend while Wingnut is a middle-aged father of one who never back peddled away from the longboard movement but continues to cross step as an inspiration on his own Wingnut Model in the frigid waters of Santa Cruz, Calif.
Cleveland went on to do a series of his own surf films and establish Surf Craft Media. Weaver splits his time between his native Costa Mesa and the endless right known as Scorpion Bay. Frey and Takayama continue to build the best and most coveted boards in the industry. Dobson is back dominating North County waters, Fletcher continues to ride and film his grandkids, Nuuhiwa can be seen from time to time perched for long seconds on the tip, Kramer and Hawkins are lost in history’s dust and that old van is, no doubt, humming along somewhere, transporting a few surf stoked kids to good waves, while, hopefully keeping its cool.

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