Mike Hynson was the second-most polarizing 1960s surfer, behind Mickey Dora. Those who would kneel before Hynson and kiss the ring on his well-manicured hand were roughly equal in number to those who would’ve liked to see his privileged little ass get kicked from Windansea to Big Rock and back. Hynson’s mid-decade peak in popularity was a few years before my time, but given a choice I would’ve sat in the bleachers and watched the ass-kicking. Dude was too good-looking, too rakish, too entitled for his or anybody else’s good. A living smirk. It’s no strain on the imagination to think of Hynson, had fate aimed him just a half-degree to the right, lazily tormenting pledges at a house on Frat Row.
Yet there is much about Hynson to admire. In fact, never mind everything I just said. Angels sing whenever I watch Hynson in full trim at Cape St. Francis. He was also a gifted, innovative board designer and an immaculate craftsman. And the style sense! Off the charts. Hynson was the best-dressed surfer of the 1960s, hands down. Ray-Ban beach-casual perfection during the Endless Summer years; paisley-and-fur pimp-stoner flights of fancy by the end of the decade. His challengers never made it higher than the tops of Hynson’s calfskin-suede ankle boots.
Hynson turns 72 on June 28, and at this point it’s impossible to not admire his Keith Richards-like durability. Given the periods of homelessness, the prison time, and the copious drug use, Hynson made it to his senior years looking like a million bucks. Nice and trim. Fantastic head of head of hair. Sharp blue eyes peering out from that antique-leather face.
There is something to be said, too, for the way Hynson has modulated his way of being in the world, yet retained some essential part of his being. Consider, for example, Hynson’s long and mostly-fraught relationship with Bruce Brown. Hynson originally loved the star status that Brown, through The Endless Summer, conferred upon him. Then Hynson went rogue (“The whole ego trip from The Endless Summer was pushed off a cliff as soon as I dropped acid”), and eventually he sued Brown for a share of the profits. The case, rightly so, went nowhere. But Hynson had, and still has, reason to be at odds with the filmmaker. Brown is often credited as the one who discovered “the perfect wave” at Cape St. Francis, when in fact it was Hynson. In general, Hynson’s version of events during The Endless Summer shoot is considerably different from the G-rated version presented in the film. Hynson was on the run from the draft board, for starters. He was also speeding on Benzedrine, and getting laid in every port of call. Endless Summer was billed as a documentary, and made millions. Bruce Brown was lauded as the barefoot tousle-haired family-friendly surf-world auteur. Hynson, meanwhile, on his way to obscurity and worse, was calling bullshit on the whole thing—but nobody was listening. He fumed over this for decades. Finally, after realizing Bruce had won, Hynson did the right thing and let it go.
More or less. Reading his 2009 autobiography, Transcendental Memories of a Surf Rebel, I laughed out loud as Hynson recalled his first visit to India, in 1967. “Bombay didn’t disappoint. Every street corner was filled with holy people meditating, and each god had a different origin. Cows and lambs, cats and dogs, you name it, India has a god for it. I walked away with the knowledge that God comes in many forms and not one of them looks like Bruce Brown.”
That stylish little poison arrow comes complete with slicked-back hair and Ray-Bans.