The Coast News Group
Denny Aaberg with his newly released hardcover deluxe anniversary edition of the story that started it all. Seated at left is former World Surfing Champion Peter Townend, who doubled as Jack in the film “Big Wednesday.” Photo by Chris Ahrens

‘Big Wednesday,’ the wave that keeps breaking

The original “Big Wednesday” surf movie by Surfer Magazine founder John Severson was documentary in nature and chronicled a building swell on Oahu’s North Shore.

The 1978 Denny Aaberg/John Milius version of “Big Wednesday” is their account of the ’60s surf boom, focusing on the center of the surfing world and Aaberg’s and Milius’ home break, Malibu.

Although fiction, BW2 is more realistic than BW1.

Unofficially, the feature film is by far the best and most authentic in the beach party genre. Okay, with titles like “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” in the running, there isn’t really much competition.

But even without rotten fruit to compare it to, “Big Wednesday” is forever fresh and sweet. The reasons for this are twofold: Milius is a surfer and one of Hollywood’s top writers (check out the narrative for “Apocalypse Now” if you don’t believe me), and Aaberg is a triple threat as a storyteller, musician and surfer.

Denny’s older brother, Kemp, was the first in the family to gain notoriety as a surfer. Like Denny, Kemp is a brilliant musician (choosing flamenco guitar as his sound-making vehicle of choice).

He was also among the top surfers of his era, and his image is indelibly imprinted on my brain, forever frozen in time, doing that deep arch of his on the subscription envelope for Surfer Magazine.

I first heard about Aaberg the younger in 1970, not through the magazines this time, but through my new, at the time, friend Margo Godfrey. Margo, as many of you know, went on to become the most dominant female surfer of her, and maybe any, era.

She was initially from La Jolla but had moved to Santa Barbara for a few years. I assume that’s where she saw young Denny perform on one of the area’s fabulous point breaks.

In the early ’70s, surfing was amid the baby and bathwater revolution movement termed “the Shortboard Revolution.” Longboards might as well have been outlawed for as many of them as were being ridden at that time. And points like Malibu, which had once been the primary focus of the surfing world, had become backseat drivers for waves that packed a harder punch and were, therefore, more conducive to shortboarding’s shorter arcs and quicker maneuvers.

I don’t know what exactly happened, but the Aaberg name was rarely featured in print at that time.

By 1978, the surfing world had wised up and longboards were back on the menu along with a story about them and the surfers who once ruled on them.

In the early ’70s, Denny wrote a story called “No Pants Mance,” a tale thinly disguising everyone’s surf hero from the mid-’60s, Lance Carson. I first read Denny’s story in an Australian tabloid called Tracks in 1973. I think it showed up a few years later in Surfer Magazine.

Anyway, Denny’s friend John Milius read the piece and decided to commit to a feature film.

The film starred Jan-Michael Vincent, Gary Busey and Billy Katt with Ian Cairns, Peter Townend, Jay Riddle and Billy Hamilton doubling for the actors, and Denny Aaberg, who played a character called “The Candyman” and did his own stunts.

Denny also wrote and performed a brilliant little tune for the movie, “Crumple Car,” performed in memory of a rusting hulk of an automobile whose final resting place was in some forgotten shore break.

“Big Wednesday” accomplishes what a good surf movie and a surf book should: It forces you to get up before dawn and paddle out.

A deluxe anniversary edition of the book “Big Wednesday” by Denny Aaberg is available at