School year ’66-’67. My freshman year of high school. The Beatles were at the top of the charts with the Stones in close pursuit. Surfing was in full tilt boogie with David as King. The David. As in Bing David Nuuhiwa Noserider David. The bumble-bee striped t-shirts were out. Solid color pocket t’s were in. Levi’s, Clark’s desert boots and those funky western style jackets with the fuzzy faux fur inside lining was what the surfer crowd was wearing. Accessories consisted of a Sheffield Diver’s Watch (unless Mommy and Daddy were rich and got you a Zodiac Sea Dweller for Christmas.)
I had inherited a 9’2” O’Neill Surf Shop from Brother Cy when he decided to get a ten foot Olsen. Buddy Jim Flowers had scored a used 9’2” Yater from Valley Joe at California Surfer in Campbell. Surfing was definitely IN as witnessed by Valley Joe’s pumpkin-colored 911 parked out front of his shop. The San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically the South Bay, was a quasi-happening of surf culture, albeit in the shadow of the hippie scene in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury. We South Bay’ers were just over the hill from Santa Cruz. Every moment we could talk Mom into driving us over the hill or, on those rare occasions, coerce Brother Cy to driving me and my buddies to Santa Cruz in his ’56 Ford wagon, we were in Valhalla!
Insides was our spot. Insides Pleasure Point to be more exact. Flowers had a beavertail that he cut the sleeves off at the bicep because that’s what we did. I might hasten to add we weren’t on the Honor Roll in school. I wore an O’Neill’s t-shirt that complimented my O’Neill Surf Shop board in the hopes that a t-shirt would fend off 53 degree water. Remember that point about the Honor Roll?
In study hall, we would inch our way towards the seniors who surfed. We would eaves drop in on their conversations about the waves they caught, the moves they performed, and the spots they surfed. Most of them surfed The Hook, a down the line screamer point break where you took your life in your hands trying to scale down the vertical 30 foot cliff to get to the break. We all dreamed that one day we, too, would earn our stripes and be able to surf The Hook. Unfortunately when the seniors spied us they would shoo us away with threats of being stuffed into trash cans or worse, being smashed to smithereens in slaughter ball during PE.
On occasion we would score a Surfer Magazine when the local 7/11 got them and we would immerse ourselves into each page imagining that we were riding that wave at Rincon or Swami’s or (hushed silence)…Waimea Bay.
But the boards were what we drooled over in the mags. Since the summer before freshman year I fantasized about nabbing a Greg Noll Da Cat. The ads with Mickey Dora had captured my imagination not realizing that the kooks Mickey was referring to as not having the expertise to ride a Da Cat was targeted specifically at me! Regardless, that board became my Holy Grail.
But then something happened during that freshman year of ‘66/’67. Con came out with The Ugly. A marketing coup of sorts within the surf industry: reverse psychology. They called the board The Ugly but it incorporated a number of highly advanced design attributes to make it a versatile functional board – wide 20” nose, a bump that thinned the nose that also had some kick to it, and parallel rails but wide in hips to compensate for the wide nose all to enhance noseriding, and a shark fin to complement it all. And I wanted one. Desperately!
My Mom was not really pleased that I was into surfing; something to do with surfers being undesirables, hoodlums. And then there was brother Cy getting his teeth knocked out by his board at Rivermouth two years prior. Regardless, I campaigned for a Con Ugly as a Christmas present. I promised to do the dishes for the rest of my life. I’d keep my room clean. Heck, I’d clean the entire neighborhood! I would get straight A’s in school. I lied through my teeth.
Mom realized this and said, with feeling, “NO!”
“But Mom, I’ll never ask for another thing ever again!” I pleaded.
“Want me to bring your Father in on this conversation?” said Mom with piercing eyes.
I was sunk.
Christmas came and went. No Con Ugly came into my possession. Some guy called Nat from Australia was in all the mags and boards were being reduced in length with an emphasis on total involvement in the curl instead of noseriding. Music started getting spacey and the longhairs were smoking funny cigarettes. The Beatles were singing about Strawberry Fields Forever and all the while I longed for a Con Ugly.
My O’Neill Surf Shop did OK. Nothing bad to say about it. But it was six years old which is retirement age for surfboards. I’d sit in the line-up at Insides popping kelp balls dreaming of having an Ugly and how I would position all ten of my toes over the tip of that blunt-nosed monster. Bob Purvey won the second noseriding contest Tom Morey held at C-Street riding an Ugly. I imagined me doing that, propped on the nose, Cro-Magnon style, arms dangling down, sliding down the line as the crowd went berserk, girls ripping off their tops running towards me. Did I mention the family therapist said I had a vivid imagination?
So freshman year came and went. Boards got radically short. So much so you didn’t know if it would float you. Music got radical, too. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, White Rabbit, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Light My Fire. All with subliminal drug inferences. All with psychedelic overtones. The Summer of Love cascaded on Golden Gate Park and everybody was in San Francisco, including George Harrison with his heart shaped sunglasses. I heard LSD Guru Timothy Leary was quoted saying surfing and getting tubed was a liberated State of Mind.
But I was a surfer, not a hippie. And being a “Valley Surfer” I was in the minority on my home turf in the foothills of Los Gatos. Many of the rah-rah crowd held me in disdain saying surfing was as “out” as poodle skirts and crew cut hairstyles. But I ignored them. I knew what the glide meant. I knew what “stoke” was. I marched to my own drummer. David, Mickey and Nat were my Saviors and Surfer Magazine was my Bible.
Before I knew it high school was over. Some of my friends went to college, some went to war. All of us went a little crazy. Vietnam. Nixon. Long-ass gas lines with odd and even days to fill up at the treasonous price of 58 cents a gallon!
As the years moved forward boards got even shorter. My buddies had gravitated to six foot Hauts. I traded in my O’Neill Surf Shop and snagged a 6’10” Gordon & Smith swallowtail. Hawaii became my Mecca, Gerry Lopez my Allah. Soulful tube riding in the eye of the maelstrom of a huge Pipeline cylinder on a LightningBolt was the ultimate in surfing. And by some strange miracle I graduated from college.
But that meant getting a job. I mean a real job – a job that you would do for the rest of your life kinda job. Marriage. Mortgage. Kids. Retirement programs. Fuck, I was becoming my father!
I went to work as a copywriter for a San Francisco ad agency, got married, bought a house, and started collecting old longboards as a means to keep my sanity in the pressure cooker world of the ad business.
Towards the end of the 1970s something happened. It happened in the form of a movie…a surfing movie…a Hollywood surfing movie which typically meant bring your barf bag. But this one was different. It was written and directed by surfers. This epic was titled Big Wednesday. Written by Denny Aaberg and John Milius it chronicled three friends leaving the innocence of high school then entering adulthood. But more than anything they were longboarders. And this movie ushered in a resurgence of longboarding.
And resurgence it certainly was. The Malibu Surfing Association and the Santa Cruz Longboard Union held a dual at San Miguel. Oceanside Longboard Surfing Association started a longboard club contest quickly followed up by The Santa Cruz Longboard Union. Longboard clubs started sprouting up faster than weeds after a rain!
Somewhere along the way I started writing surf stories for Surfer Magazine and instigated the Surf-O-Rama, a longboard contest where you had to ride a board made prior to 1970. The Surf-O-Rama became an instant success raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity and seeing pristine classic boards being ridden as they were meant to be.
With all of these classic boards coming out of the woodwork I got a hankering for my high school dream again – a Con Ugly. Miraculously with all the Surf-O-Rama contests, nary a Con Ugly appeared. I put my high school dream on the back burner once again.
Fast forward a couple of decades. I’m talking with good buddy Don Granata and we’re discussing boards we’d like to have. As Don mentions how much he’d like to have my 9’2” big wave LightningBolt he also mentions his brother, Mike, would absolutely LOVE my Bing Pipeliner. I hem and haw. The LightningBolt I got from Shipley in ’78 from the Bolt shop in Hawaii. The Pipeliner was featured in one of my favorite stories in Surfer. Don calls Mike and asks what he has to trade. Mike says he’d do a two board trade for the Pipeliner. How about an Olsen (like brother Cy’s ten footer) and…Don is holding his phone ever closer to his ear trying to hear. There’s something mumbled that I can’t quite make out. Don is talking into the phone and says, “I’ll ask him.” Don turns to me and inquires, “You ever ride an Ugly?”
All of a sudden it was 1967! Flower Power, Sunshine Superman, John Lennon’s Rolls Royce in psychedelic colors. And, yes, the Con Ugly is hitting full stride.
“Hey Jim…JIM!!! You there?” Don’s in my face with eyes as big as baseballs.
“Uh, yeah. Just kinda flashbacked for a second. You said your brother has a Con Ugly?” I stammered.
“Yeah. A Con Ugly and an Olsen. Both in really, really good condition. I’m having him send me pics of them now.”
A group of our surfing brethren were standing around and poo-poo’d the idea of me trading the Bing Pipeliner for an Ugly. They derided the trade as a no-win for me and a steal for Mike. I’m contemplating this scenario. I snagged the Pipeliner in 1978 for $65 and, as mentioned, that whole fandango of how I got it is fully documented in Surfer Magazine (Bolo Punch and the Pipeliner, Vol 27 No 1). Michel Junod made me an exact replica of that board with the last blank that came out of Clark Foam. So I have a “Pipeliner” so to speak that I can ride. I mean, really, do I have to have the Bing Pipeliner? I have a Bing Donald Takayama Model and a Bing David Nuuhiwa Noserider. But here I could get my high school dream of a Con Ugly as well as scoring an Olsen like brother Cy rode when I got his O’Neill.
Don pushed his cell phone in my face so I could look at pics of the Ugly. Wow. Never saw something so ugly look so beautiful. I was hooked.
“It’s a deal,” I told Don reassuringly.
And that’s what collecting surfboards are all about…whatever makes you happy. Forget about what your friends think; they don’t know your history, what got you your jollies in your youth. Mike and I talked to each other and worked out a time and date to make the swap.
The date came and the swap was made. Mike was happy as a pig in slop. I was in Valhalla with my high school fantasy. I called brother Cy to let him know I scored an Olsen to which he chastised me for five minutes before he started to laugh congratulating me for getting boards that made us both pleased. He then said, “Well, you got what you deserved – an Ugly for an Ugly!” We laughed then hung up as I fell back into total elation.
The next morning I hooked up with Don at our favorite surf break, Don on his rare Hobie Noserider and me on the Con Ugly. We rode for an hour, waves all to ourselves, with our surf brethren on the overlook cheering us on, wave after wave. The Ugly rode like a dream, like a fantasy, like all I had hoped it would be. Was the Ugly a better board than the Pipeliner? That’s in the eyes of the beholder. I was on Cloud Nine riding a board that brought me back to a time of innocence from my past.
Yes, I was stoked. I pulled out my yearbooks from high school, pulled out some old surf mags from the same time period, went through the surf t-shirt collection and pulled out a Con Surfboards t-shirt that I bought from Con himself on one of my sojourns to Southern California decades ago. That inner fire that glows within that stokes the embers of your imagination letting you realize that surfing, however you do it, is all that matters to maintain sanity. You don’t have to ride huge waves. You don’t have to be on the cover of the surf mags. You don’t need to have a surfboard model named after yourself. All you need is a board and a wave to push that board. And if during that glide you scream out in ecstasy you’ve achieved your goal. And, if the stars are in alignment, Ugly can be beautiful.