Summer of ‘69
God the air smelled good that day!
It was the summer of 1969. The potato buds were beginning to flower and the world was painted in full bloom greens and vivid sky blues.
I had a newly minted learner’s permit and was piloting my Mom’s Mustang down Lumber Lane toward the ocean in Bridgehampton. It was a straight six automatic, nothing sexy, but that didn’t matter. At that moment it was as good as any Ferrari. WLNG was softly playing “Surfer Girl”. I was taking myself surfing at Cameron, for the first time, and all was right with the world.
I smiled as I passed one of the first houses put down in the vast fields which linked the ocean to the bays. What an idiot, I thought, sticking your house in a farm field. Over the coming years it became clear who the idiot was and who the visionaries would be proven to be. Today I’m happy that my children have any fields left to gaze upon.
I carefully unloaded my ten foot, fifty pound pride and joy. It was a bright orange Malibu Custom surfboard. I’d bought it on the radio program “Swap and Shop” for fifty bucks.
All boards of that era were big, but the Malibu was big and crude. I eventually sold it to a surf shop as a piece of history for five hundred dollars, but that’s a different story which wouldn’t occur for decades.
The Mecox Bay cut was open and the waves had decent size with shape. Being one of the new kids I respectfully took my place on the edge of the lineup. There I sat with everyone else on our long cumbersome shapes of foam and fiberglass. Eventually everyone began noticing two surfers making their way out. One was Jimmy Spooner the other Jack Bell, both hot local surfers.
It was not the surfers that captivated us; it was what they were paddling. Their boards were half the size and weight of anything in the water. I later learned the boards were called Skis and had been shaped by a dude named Dewey Weber from California. All I knew at the time was that surfing was about to radically change. The maneuverability and speed of these new wave riding vehicles was extraordinary. Jimmy and Jack carved circles around us. I remember likening the new boards to Flexible Flyer snow sleighs. They seemed that compact.
The freedom these new boards provided was a joy to behold. The waves became the canvas and Jimmy and Jack drew the pictures. The lines were so smooth, so artistic. The graceful bottom turns and arching cut backs became forceful expositions of self expression. The art of surfing was redefined for me.
That day signaled for me the beginning of the short board revolution. Never before or since has any era had such accelerated design innovation. It was as if decades of the status quo were gone over night. Boards got shorter and more wildly shaped. They grew two fins then three then four. Nothing was sacred.
It was also the beginning of a period in which the very fabric of our society
was being changed. Surfboard design was but a small example of the creativity and free thinking. The revolution had already begun a few years earlier, but in 1969 was in full force. It would affect almost every aspect of our lives. From how we dressed, to what we listened to, to what we believed in. It was a time of free expression and exploration.
I often think back to that day. It became a symbol of the wonderful era I grew up in. Everything was being challenged. Everything was up for review. From music to civil rights to sexuality and yes even surfboard technology. No generation has ever gone through as many explosive changes in such a short period. I embraced it all. Hell I went through puberty during the Summer of Love, confusing but all good!
I felt we were moving to a better more enlightened place as a human race. We were becoming a kinder more understanding society. All you need is Love became the mantra. Yes we had Vietnam and Kent State and the Chicago Convention. Yes we had already lost Martin and two Kennedys and would soon loss Janis and Jimmy and Morrisson. They were all part of incredible strains and stresses we were causing and experiencing. Change is never easy.
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