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Being a surfer in the early 1960s did not simply mean riding waves. It was a complete way of life. Courtesy photo
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: When surfers ruled

In my lifetime there have been several youth movements: the beatniks, the hippies, the punks. By the time punk rock hit, I had lost my appetite for the fads that had swept me off my feet as a youth. But there was a time when I was caught up in a movement that owned every part of me, and has continued to steer my life.

Being a surfer in the early 1960s did not simply mean riding waves. It was a complete way of life. Just as with every teen movement today, we had our own way of talking, walking, dressing and socializing. All of this was hung together by the activity of surfing.

As early as the 1940s surfers hung out with the poets and artists who drifted toward the ocean, down Sunset Strip and onto the shores of Santa Monica.

There, they found a similar tribe of bohemians who had turned their backs on politics, careers, and money in favor of the simple pleasures afforded by living in the moment. They were surfers and they were proud of their nonviolent anti-establishment ways.

By the time I began surfing 1n 1962, words like “stoked,” “gremmie,” “hodaddy,” and “bitchin” peppered our language.

My theory is that teen talk continues to evolve in this way to confuse parents, teachers and other authorities as to what in the world is being said.

Much to the disappointment of our World War II-era parents, we abandoned military style haircuts and donned military clothing, including combat boots and army jackets. Some surfers for reasons I have never understood took rebellion to the extreme by wearing swastikas. Saint Christopher medals, which were worn by many others, were far more acceptable.

The surf uniform soon changed: Converse tennis shoes, and then blue deck shoes, which would one day become a trademark of the Van’s corporation. Cuffed white Levis and Madras plaid button-down shirts were in.

When that went out of style, Ivy League came into fashion, but surf knots and wingtips don’t mix, and this too soon faded.

The era of Goodwill surf fashion finally ended for good when the best surfers were paid by corporations to wear their brands.

From then until now, the surf uniform comes from companies with surfing roots, or those who pretend like they have them.

To my knowledge, surfing remains the only sport in the world to have its own music. Led by Dick Dale and His Deltones, and The Ventures, rock instrumental music simulated wave riding while bands with surf lyrics could make for good listening but were often considered hodaddy in nature.   

I don’t remember ever painting them on a wall, but the words “surfers rule,” became something of a battle cry for us. Surfers Rule!

I still love saying it although it is no longer the case. As soon as we thought we owned the world, in came flower children and, later, punks.

Both of these subcultures have moved youth forward (some would say backward) with their own philosophy, music and apparel. But we as surfers had all that and more when we ruled the world.

The Beach Boys caught on and wrote a song called “Surfers Rule.” For many, such commercialization was the end of our reign. Surfing could then be bought in department stores.

But for surfers of all eras, it doesn’t matter what you wear or listen to, each time you catch a wave you rule that moment like an unrivaled monarch.

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