The History of Huntington Beach Surf Clubs
Originally Written by Bruce Gabrielson in 1991 Ten Year President
Huntington Beach Surfing Association
As happens in modern times, surf clubs evolve from a group of surfers who travel and surf together and eventually form close bonds with each other. Younger surfers needed rides and older surfers had cars, plus there was an interest back then in incouraging beginners and trying to get new surfers into the sport. Friendships were easy to form and once formed, became strong influences in a surfers life. We didn't have wetsuits and fires were allowed on the beach, so after spending time in cold water you really had the chance to get to know those you surfed with. Also, there weren't large numbers of surfers in the water back then and it didn't take long to figure out who was a local at any particular beach you visited. Surf clubs grew from local groups who surfed together at primarily one spot on a regular basis.
The first club in the region was Long Beach Surf Club, formed in the 30s primarily by surfers from Long Beach, Seal Beach, and Huntington. Long Beach surfing started to taper off after the breakwater was built with many of the surfing populace and much influence started shifting farther south.
In 1938 the City of Long Beach hosted the first National Surfing and Paddleboard Championships, inviting surf clubs from California and Hawaii. Long Beach Surfing Club was formed at that time and took part in this event. Preston Peterson and Mary Ann Hawkins of the Del Mar Surfing Club won in the national paddleboard division, but lack of heavy surf postponed the surfing competition until December.
In 1939, Long Beach again hosted the National Surfing and Paddleboard Championships. The Hermosa Beach men nosed out the defending trophy holders of Manhattan Beach by 10 points. Venice Surfing Club was third and Long Beach Surf Club, fourth. Gene Smith, representing the Hawaiian Surfing Club competed alone against the teams and finished fifth. Individual surfing honors went to Long Beach Surfing Club members John Olsen who finished first, Alvin Bixler, second, and Bob Reinhardt, fourth. Gene Smith of Hawaii came in third. At the start of WW II, these early clubs mostly faded into obscurity.
The first club in Huntington Beach was called Ko-Koi. It was founded in Hawaii in the early 1940s by Rocky Freeman and George Stemple, both of whom made boards and moved to Orange County in the 1940s. They kept their boards under the pier. Newer members included Harlo LeBard, Frank Serelli, Bud Higgins and Geordie Duane. Vince Morehouse, a lifeguard, got a place to keep boards locked up and with Bob Bradley, Dean Ashbrook, Bob "Hammer Head" Gronisch, Dick Metz, Joe Reddick, Dean "Man Mountain" Applegate, and Chuck Linnen, they became known as the "Boys of 55."
Gronisch was a lifeguard on 72nd Street in Longbeach and shaped boards at his home in the late 40s. He made an 11’ balsa gun for Ashbrook and took the board to Huntington Beach to have it hristened. Dick Metz announced the christening. Ashbrook took the board out and immediately hit the pier suffering numerous cuts.
By 1958 interest in surfing was again on the rise and one of the original members of the 1938 Long Beach club endeavored to renew the clubs vitality. Bob Reinhardt worked with local surfers to grow a younger membership for the club. Several surfers were asked to compete for the club, among those was Robert August.
By 1963 there was such a proliferation of Surfing Clubs amd competition intersst that the United States Surfing Association was divided into districts. District 5’s boundaries extended from the southern border of Palos Verdes Estates down to the northern border of Oceanside. There were 23 registered clubs in District 5. The District directors were Robert Moore, Mickey Munoz, Kit Horn, Hobie Alter and Tim Dorsey.
Along with the Long Beach Surf Club, there were eight clubs with Long Beach addresses: Holo Kai, Makaui, North Long Beach Surfers, Poseidons, Southland Girls, West Shore Surfers and Wipeouts. Other local clubs which were around in the early 60s included B-5’s of Rossmoor-Los Alamitos, Bohemian Surfing Assoc., Seal Beach Surf Club, Goat Hill Surfers of Newport Beach, San Onofre Surfing Club, Salt Creek Surfing Society of Dana Point, Buena Park Surf Club, Beachcombers of Orange-Santa Ana, Furr-Burr Surf Club of Sunset Beach, Haggerty’s and Palos Verdes Surfing Clubs from Palos Verdes, Seal Beach River Rats, Shorebreak Surfing Club and West Coast Surf Club of San Pedro, Southern Shores of Anaheim, and Tritons. Out of the area was Haggerty's Surf Club and Wind and Sea.
In the 1960's, there was sufficient interest in Huntington Beach that four clubs evolved in the local area. The lifeguard sponsored Huntington Beach Surf Club, primarily for pier oriented surfers, South Sea Surf Club, a group of Huntington Cliffs surfers, a small loosely organized club called Warner Street Surf Club at the foot of Warner Street, and the Huntington Beach Surfing Association, a group of accomplished surfers that surfed around Huntington. The long board picture shows a group of South Sea surfers at the cliffs in the fall of 1964 (I'm on the right in the pictures).
Clubs that emerged in other areas included Newport Beach Surfing Association, Laguna Beach Surfing Association, San Clemente Surf Club, Point South Surf Club, Bay Cities Surf Club (and Hermosa Beach Surfing Association in the late 60's), Malibu Surf Club, Wind and Sea Surf Club, and Menehune Ka Kai of Northridge also existed in other parts of Southern California. The figure shows an award Bruce Gabrielson won in a meet between South Sea Surf Club and Point South held at the HB Cliffs dated December 7, 1966.
While some clubs basically were made up of people who all surfed in one area and had no officers or meetings, several of the clubs were well organized with dues and regular meetings. The clubs with dues or sponsors usually also had jackets, T-shirts, patches, board and window decals, and other similar identifiers. However, major changes took place beginning around 1966, both in surfing and in individual thinking, which severely effected the established surfing organizations.
Another problem for clubs was the mental attitude of the country during those years, which also effected the surfing community. This was the time of anti-establishment movements, anti-war demonstrations, and do your own thing. College age surfers didn't want to be involved, or went away in the services, leaving few to take over and coordinate the existing clubs. These conditions created a situation within the surfing community where only the strongest clubs could survive.
It's difficult to trace the exact origins of some early Huntington Beach surf clubs. Huntington Beach Surfing Association was initially formed by a small group of high school surfers in 1960 that met under the pier on weekends and wore brown T-shirts. It only lasted a couple of years and then folded up. Max Klepfer and several area surfers re-formed the club around 1964. The meetings were held at Max Klepfer's Surfboards Surfside shop and sometimes at Kanvas by Katins. The first members included Robbie Koogan and Lee Walsh from Huntington Beach, Steve Cleet, Bob Montgomery, Donnie and Howard Kurt, and Randy Godfrey from Paramount, Chuck McElvin from Fullerton, Mike Bean and Jim Galagher from Compton and Bob Holden from Los Alamitos. Others that became members soon after included the Hawk brothers, Eddie Rothman, Robby Busie, Sonny (Weird Harold) Owens, Leroy Dennis, Pete Kobzev, Bob Leonardo, Bruce Gabrielson, Jim Angley, Barry Church, and Sam Dusatko. Max was the first president. Nancy Katin of Kanvis by Katin embroidered jackets and supplied trunks for club members at a discount. In the picture at left Max is on the left and Bruce Gabrielson, the person who followed MAx as HBSAs only other president.
The Huntington Beach Surf Club, sponsored by the Huntington Beach Life Guards, was established in July of 1963. It had approximately 70+ members initially joining the club. The first elected officers were: Fred Eck, President; Jess Foss, Sergeant At Arms; Jon Overmyer, Vice-President and Randy Hankins, Secretary-Treasurer. The city of H.B. was concerned about certain negative social trends and initiated the idea of a city sponsored surfing club. The idea was to "preserve the sport of surfing and build athletes instead of bums." The Huntington Beach News carried an article about the clubs formation on August 8, 1963.
In the same edition, in the "Street Scene" section of the paper is reads: "The back cover of the July 'Surfing Guide' magazine featuring the entire back page with a style plate picture taken at the Huntington Beach pier of male models. Don Shusta, Richard Scott, Steve Harrington and Jess Foss...Inside photos of pier surfers in action included...Rich Chew, John Peck, Roy Crump, Jim Richards, Denny Buell, et al." Most of these surfers, too, were part of the club.
As time progressed some officers moved onto school, etc. and changes were made in the club. Jess Foss became vice president...later president. Jim McKay moved into a leadership position...as did Mike Patrick.
Warner Street Surf Club was formed about 1963 or 1964, primarily for those who surfed Bolsa Chica and Surfside. The club didn't have many members but did draw a few of the big names from the Pier on a regular basis.
South Sea Surf Club (left) was formed in the spring of 1965 by a group of surfers that met each week and during the summer months about midway between Golden West Street and Bolsa Chica along the cliff area. Not all the members lived in Huntington Beach, with several living in Westminster. The club was only ablut 25 strong, but it was very organized with regular meetings and organized meets. Some of the early members included Bruce Gabrielson, Steve Booth, and Dave Guiltner. A few of the early members also belonged to other local clubs.
About 1966 Bruce Gabrielson joined HBSA to participate in an unofficial contest and a keg party between Newport Beach Surfing Association and HBSA. The party got a little wild and basically we wrote the place off. A story got into the paper about the club being made up of bad guys, and at that time it was invited to never have a contest again at the Pier. Nothing lasts forever except the surf in Surf City. HBSA didn't fold but its members did start keeping a low profile.
Besides bad press, another impact on clubs during the late 1960s had to do with board evolution. With the coming of shorter boards, a great many of the older, more organized individuals who kept the surf clubs together simply refused to transition. Also, young hot-shot surfers could not identify with most of these older surfers, and thus refused to get involved with many existing clubs.
The Re-Formation of HBSA
By 1967 in Huntington Beach, HBSC was toning down with most of the older surfers going away to college or, like Jim Angeley, being drafted, and only a few of the early members still sticking together. South Sea was down to about twelve members, and Warner Street, except for Raul Duarte and maybe Robert August, was pretty well gone. With interest in clubs falling, a handful of area surfers decided to see if something could be done to save the club structure.
Since Bruce Gabrielson was a member of HBSA and also president of South Sea, he contacted nearly every member of all the clubs still active and got them to attend a formal HBSA meeting at Max's place. The purpose was to locate all past members left and still interested in clubs, and then decide what to do about the remaining organizations.
There was a lot of discussion and an overall general concern that something had to be done if local clubs were to survive. From this meeting, one club, Huntington Beach Surfing Association emerged as the one primary club for all Huntington Beach. All surfers, the older surfers who had made the short board transition, young hot-shots, and long boarders, both past and current members were welcome at meetings. In the end, Bruce ended up as president of the new reorganized association of local clubs. Following the meeting he was given all existing HBSA records in a cardboard box from the secretaries, much of which still exists. Bruce’s one major responsibility as the newly elected president was the task of building HBSA back into a major local force.
Nearly every top surfer in the region joined or returned to the club by mid-summer. David Nuuhiwa, one of the top surfers in the world at that time, and also a HBSA member, led the list to super stars. Regular meetings and contests were held, new members were voted into the club, social activities were hosted, and the club competed as a group in most major events throughout the late 60's until about 1976.
Not only were most of the local surfers members of the club, but a large number of outsiders also supported or joined the club. Surprisingly, at least six South Bay surfers were very active, seldom missing a club championship or other club event. Rusty Johnston, Dana Kimbrow, Tim Wirick, Bernie Keech, and Jack Sahakian were actual club members.
Tim Wirick, A Friend, Myself, Lonnie Buhn, and John Van Ornum
During a Break in One of the Two HB vs Menehune Ka Kai Challenge Competitions
(this one at Hollywood by the Sea in 1972)
Mike Purpus (left), while never becoming an official member, entered five of the six club championships held by HBSA. After reviewing heat sheets for these events, it turns out only four members besides Mike entered this many club championship events.
Another funny story about Mike should be told. Mike was/is a great surfer and also a fun person. Knowing we had a habit of announcing club standings on a regular basis at our championships, one year Mike entered a club called Charley and the Horny Cougars. Every time we announced his club the spectators and surfers on the beach roared their approval.
The real heyday of surf clubs came around 1970 or 71. Most every recognized surfer in not only Huntington Beach but throughout Southern California was a member of one club or another. Some of the clubs around by then included Brooks St Surf Club, 17th St Ducks, Offshore (Oceanside), Suncraft, and the Californian. San Fernando Valley Surf Club was big about 1972.
HBSA was the dominant club in Southern California during this era. At one time it had won 35 straight club events, taking on virtually anyone who wanted to compete, either in open contests or one-on-one, and at their home site or any other location. The picture on the right shows me running one such club contest on the south side of the Pier. The attached newspaper article is typical of HBSA dominance in the club challenge events of the time.
Organized contests also recognized the importance of surf clubs during this era, with most WSA contests offering both surf club and manufacturer's surf team awards. Even international surf contests got into the club events. A small HBSA group went to the International Surf Festival at Makaha around 1972, with two members, Jeff Smith and myself reaching quarter final rounds and one member, Laroy Dennis, reaching the semi- finals. The club finished third overall with this effort.
The club also took several "surfing safaris" to Mexico and other great locations. Among the trips were Santa Cruz (the party at Pat O'Neal's place), Santa Barbara (remember the girl's dorm), Hollywood by the Sea (can't mention that one), Malibu (George Segetti and company), K39 (remember the locals), and 3Ms. San Miguel held an annual club contest which, until HBSA showed up, was almost always won by Encinada Surf Club. The HBSA/ESC competition created so much friction, that a challenge match, one on one, was held at 3-M Beach about 1972 or 73. A number of club members who were also members of Huntington Beach High School's first varsity surf team went on this trip, and those who were there will never forget it, especially our fireworks display and "bombardment" of the other surfers (remember the perfect tent shot) plus the other activities that went on in town. We also got to enjoy a wind-up tent that didn't during that trip.
Part of the Crew at 3Ms
HBSA dominated the meet, much to the consternation of the locals who managed to get all US surfers barred from surfing at the Cannery shortly thereafter. Bruce also personally got into a lot of hot water from Huntington Beach High School officials as a result of this trip.
Left During the 3M Contest
One year the members decided we needed club shirts, jackets and decals for our boards. After several designs were evaluated, Robert "Sniffer" Milfield, a local member and artist, designed and hand cut a silk screen for the club. Featuring the pier at sunset, the design embodied the real sense of pride the membership had in our club. The screen still exists and has been donated to the International Surfing Museum in Huntington. Many members used this screen over the years.
Another screen featuring the letters HBSA in script was also cut by Robert, and has recently been used by this author on shirts for some of the old time members.
A HBSA club flag (see below) was also designed and put up on the beach whenever a club or open competition was held and the team was competing. It was about 3 feet by 4 feet, with a white background and green lettering. The banner disappeared during a contest, some say taken by a rival club, about 1972 or 73.
Another club activity was presentation of the semi- annual Harris Kawata Memorial Award to the Outstanding HBSA Surfer. Harris Kawata was an active and popular surfer in the club who was killed in an automobile accident.
This award, won by several of the top surfers in the area, was presented to the club surfer who during the previous six months had the most contest points gained through club and open competitions. The club championships was a mandatory event for members going for the award. Winning the award twice in succession retired the trophy. The trophy was retired after the last club championship about 1975 by myself. Randy Weeden and I had tied for first at the club championship, but I had more overall points.
HBSA's annual Club Championships, open to all surfers, drew many of surfing's top names. The first club championship was held just to see if we could hold one in 1969. The first real organized official club championship was held the next year in 1970. The last big contest was held in 1975. A semi-final heat in 1971 contained David Nuuhiwa, Laroy Dennis, Leigh Martin, and Mike Wilson. The other semi-final heat featured Mike Purpus, Tim Wirick, John Van Ornum, and Randy Lewis, all top-notch competitors. Randy Lewis won the contest.
In the junior division finals at that contest, Neils Osborne, David Van Druff, Lonnie Buhn, and Tim Whelan had a real shoot-out. The Open Women event featured Linda Bennish, Jan Gafney, Judi Monroe, and Mary Setterholm. These represented many of the top surfers anywhere in the U.S. back then. I have included an article about this event with this narration.
HBSA was also a major political force shaping the destiny of big surfing events of the day, including the US Surfboard Championships held at Huntington Beach Pier. In 1970, a serious controversy regarding eligibility and local entry into the US Championships took place. Despite the high rankings of a number of locals, a regional quota was established, and only three resident Huntington Beach surfers, including myself, David Nuuhiwa, and Randy Lewis were invited to participate in mens events. Chris Catell was in the Air Force rather then being listed as a Huntington Beach resident, so was also invited. There may have been one or two others, but I only had a newspaper article and my own memory, not an official program, to research this subject.
Outraged by this lack of regard for local talent, and reflecting views by those left out from other regions, the club, 55 members strong by then, held a meeting during the contest attended by nearly every top surfer in the world. Two letters were written at the meeting, one to Hoppy Swarts, Regional WSA Competition Director, and one to the City of Huntington Beach. Many in the surfing world consider this action Surfing's "Declaration of Independence".
As a result of the meeting and protest, the United States Surfing Association modified its rules to allow the top 2 place winners in each division from a local Huntington Beach contest to receive bids into the championships, plus modified other quota participation rules. The annual Huntington Beach Residents Contest, first held August 21, 1971, was the direct result of this action. Since I was responsible for the contest's creation, I was charged with running the event, which subsequently grew into a very popular local contest.
Towards the mid to late-1970's, many surf clubs had left the scene. Several factors contributed to their demise. As boards and equipment grew more expensive, manufacturer surf teams and board sponsorship became more important then club activities to surfers. As such, competitors were too involved with their sponsor to compete for other teams. Another factor was the rise of organized college and high school competition teams. A surfer only has so much organizational time he can devote to the sport.
A third factor was costs, both for awards and for contest insurance. Dues simply could not cover expenses. Insurance for a club event was very expensive, and the City of Huntington Beach, like other municipal organizations, was simply unwilling to issue a beach permit unless insurance was available. Insurance for a club contest ran around $150 per day minimum. Without the contest as a primary source of revenue for operation and awards, clubs simply could not afford compete with other more sponsored activities.
The last big contest held by HBSA drew 126 entries and was held was during the spring of 1975. It was held at the foot of Golden West Street, and was judged by Chuck Linnen and Jerico Poppler, both HBSA members. Surfing was difficult with many heats being delayed because of the super calm inconsistent beach break surf. I won masters division, Mike Purpus won the open event, David Van Druff won juniors, and tiny Rusty Johnston won the boys event.
Since so few surfers were still present, and since the weather was hot and accommodating with almost no wind, the club decided to hold one long super heat with each of the division winners competing against each other. With small beach break surf, riding a long wave or maneuvering much was very difficult. Rusty Johnston, who couldn't have weighed more then 65 lbs, was perfect for the head (his head) high waves. He dazzled everyone watching with countless maneuvers and tricks, easily winning both the heat, and the Harris Kawata Memorial Trophy in the process. Mike, who lived about one block from Rusty in Hermosa, wasn't happy about the results, particularly since he had to be around Rusty on a regular basis.
Around the spring of 1976, HBSA tried to organize one last club championships. Only 46 surfers entered the meet, held at the foot of 23rd Street. The surf was about 4 feet, rough and inconsistent, causing long heat delays and poor scores. By afternoon the wind was bad and the surf had come up only slightly, making conditions extremely difficult. Winners of each age group included Randy Weeden in Open, Bruce Gabrielson in Masters, and Jeff Smith in juniors. Randy and Bruce subsequently surfed to a dead even score in the overall after about 30 minutes in the water. Everyone wanted to go home so we flipped a coin and Bruce won.
The last social event widely attended by HBSA was in the spring of 1976 when Bruce married Kim Way, daughter of Huntington's Beach Director, Jim Way. Most of the young and old HBSA crew attended either the wedding at the 10th Street Church, or the reception afterwards. I was still president of the club, close to eleven years worth, and had notified everyone that I could no longer serve in that capacity. Although Bruce was still a member and able to attend most events, particularly as a contest judge, this event was pretty much the end of his HBSA organizational participation.
The club held a few meetings after Bruce retired as president a few months later and voted in new officers, but was nearly defunct regarding large active participation. Only a few club activities were held by then, mostly in conjunction with other events. The club officially folded in early 1979 with several members continuing to compete as the Hole in the Wall Gang.
There have been four HBSA reunions since the club folded, each held at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. While mostly focused on HBSA members, many members from the other local clubs of the era regularly attend. The first of these reunions was held October 14, 2000. Not only did a large number of locals attend, but a number of members who live in other parts of the world also attended. One of the best things that happened was that each member was given a chance to tell the memories and stories, and these were all recorded for posterity. Below are two pictures from the first reunion.
The 40th gathering was at the International Surfing Museum. The original HBSA T-shirt was re-released there. Several of the original founders showed up for the event. The picture below is a group at the event.
The 50th anniversary reunion was held at the El Ranchito Mexican restaurant in September 2016. Sal Avila owns the restaurant and it was also the 50th anniversary of the restaurant chain, originally in Huntington Beach. The next set of pictures are from the gathering.
The Huntington Beach Longboard Crew
The Huntington Beach Long Board Crew emerged in November of 1984 to offer a venue for those locals who liked club involvement.
Charter members of the HBLC included Mike Minchinton, Wally Walczyk, Gary Sahagen, Jacob Sahagen, Joe Yeno, Nick Lopez, Dan Casey, Frank Cochran, John English, Lee Nesmith, Chris Campen and Bob Asperin. In 2000, the club incorporated as a non-profit organization holding monthly meetings and team competitions as a member of the Coalition of Surf Clubs (CSC). The HBLC meets each month at Mario’s in Five Points Shopping Center, runs regular contests and holds fund raisers for the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum and many other charitable organizations.
The re-emergence of club surfing corresponds the to organization of the Coalition of Surf Clubs, an international organization that represents the interests of surfing clubs throughout California and the world. In addition to offering a competitive venue for club surfing, this organization acts as a united voice to address issues related to coastal water quality, beach access, development, and legislative policy. The Coalition currently represents over 20,000 surfers of all ages. The HBLC is a member of CSC.