Surfer magazine’s Chris Mauro talks with hip-cat surfer Allan Weisbecker
Most surfers have never heard of Allan Weisbecker. He’s not a surfing legend. Never been pro. Never appeared in any ads. But through classic stories from surfing’s colorful past we’ve all become aware of surfers like him. The image of swashbuckling pioneers risking life and limb for the perfect wave has almost become a stereotype, but never have they been captured with the romance and eloquent detail found in Weisbecker’s 2000 autobiographical novel Searching For Captain Zero.
Weisbecker’s evolution from Montauk hippy-surfer to shortboard revolutionist to big-time dope smuggler to screen-writer and back to hippy surfer had more than its share of dramatic peaks and valleys. Those adventures became the basis of Captain Zero, and today, the story is working its way towards the silver screen; among those spearheading the development process is acclaimed actor/producer Sean Penn. Yet there’s more to Weisbecker than just his adventurous episodes. At the heart of it all lies a surfing commitment that’s lasted 35 years, and his universal law: “Never betray the faith.” Translation: take care of your surfing and it will take care of you. But, as his cautionary tale attest, that’s easier said than done.
I met up with Allan at his new home, a hidden jungle outpost in Southern Costa Rica. There, amid waving palms, chirping locusts and singing toucans he’s cranking away on the screen adaptation of his book.–Chris Mauro
SURFER Magazine: Allan, How in the world did you get hooked into surfing, and the whole little secret society, while living in New York in the mid ’60s?
Allan Weisbecker: Well, the short answer is The Endless Summer. In ’65 I started surfing. In ’66 it came to the theatres in Manhattan and played every night for a whole year. We’re talking about Manhattan-ites going to see this movie about two guys looking fo the perfect wave. These people would never surf in their lives but they loved it. It grossed something like 30 million in 1966, which is equivalent to a 200-million dollar flick today. It was a phenomenon. People have largely forgotten that. It’s the most successful documentary film ever. For me, well, that’s when I realized there was more to this whole surfing thing than the tiny surf of Long Island*it was like suddenly the whole world was my oyster. I remember seeing it again and again. I immediately moved to Montauk from Westchester so I could surf regularly.
But Montauk was still a far cry from Malibu.
Well, it’s funny, I had a job as a garbage man in Westchester right after High School, so by 8 a.m., I was off work. Then I got a job life guarding in Montauk. It was a cool scene. I was kind of on the periphery then, but Long Island was much more the center of East Coast surfing than Florida at the time. It resembled the scene in Malibu, just a little behind. But remember we’re talking about New York here. Say what you want about it but the place produces some real characters. Florida would soon take over with the quality of surfers, but the characters? Nahh.
And so that sense of character led you to the North Shore of Oahu?
Well, I moved to Miami to go to college and quickly learned there was no surf there. So I told my parents they’d save lots of money by sending me to the University of Hawaii. The tuition was only $125 per semester. I was like, “You know how much money we’ll save Mahhm?”
On the comedy of it all
And when you arrived in 1967 it was just in time for both the shortboard revolution, not to mention the social one. That must’ve been s stimulating time for a kid from Long Island.
Yeah, I thought I was going to be quite the hot shot at first, then I saw what Jock [Sutherland] and those guys were doing and I knew I wasn’t at that level. At 20-years old, it was like, well, I’m a good surfer but I’ll never be great. I think people know right away how good they are. I was hard ired with a decent style though so I had that going for me.
Was there a status attached to the best surfers that appealed to you?
If you ask anyone who was there in 1969 I think they would say so. There was an elitism over and above the hippie subculture that came out of the accomplishments being made in the water. You had Hamilton, Hakman, Lopez, Barry K…you know the list. But it wasn’t like any of those guys were making money. It was just a respect among peers thing.