When Malibu was King

Why 1950s Malibu may have been the best time and place to be a surfer

Malibu, 1953. Photo: Dick Metz

Best time and place to be a surfer? Malibu, after the war, before Gidget. Dave Sweet would take your board order right there on the beach. Matt Kivlin, same thing. Joe Quigg, too, if you didn't mind waiting. Simmons was still around. Hell, Velzy had a woodworking shop just south of the pier. There were just a few hundred surfers in L.A. at the time, so demand wasn't high, but in a lo-fi, handmade, incredibly scaled-down fashion, Sweet and Velzy and the rest did for board design what Lockheed and Douglas did for aerospace. Round rails instead of square. Rocker instead of flat. Fiberglass and resin instead of lag bolts and spar varnish. The shortboard revolution was a bun fight in comparison. But why here? Why Malibu? Many reasons, industrial and cultural, originating from both within and without the sport, but come on now. Look at the photo. The above-named surfers, one and all, were obsessed, enraptured, inspired by this high-performance miracle of a wave.

Malibu, after the war, before Gidget. Take a moment. Rummage around a bit in surfing's history trunk. Think of the finest place, at its finest moment—dozing under a banyan tree at Queens in the '30s, or driving Kam Highway in the '50s, or rooming with Alby Falzon at Kuta Beach in the '70s, or sipping Bintangs on the Indies Trader foredeck in the '90s—and I will close my eyes and nod slowly in thankful agreement, then tell you that you're f–king high. Malibu, after the war, before Gidget, is where our best pin-dancing angels all live.