History Of Surfing: The One Percent Of Surf’s One Percent

Have a pisco sour and watch the surf world expandeth at Club Waikiki

Matt Warshaw’s newest History of Surfing chapter studies the movement of surf culture to Europe and South America throughout the ’50s, with France and Peru as the posh national epicenters of what would long stay a hobby for the social elite. Bankers. Political magnates. They all wanted a try at the beginner-friendly coastlines. They could also afford to do it in style. And the pinnacle of the luxury, shining on the Lima shoreline like a mirage, was Club Waikiki, a surfing club in Miraflores developed by Carlos Dogny, the son of a French army colonel and a Peruvian sugarcane heiress. A 1938 visit to the real Waikiki left such an impression on Dogny that he took a hollow surfboard given to him by The Duke and built a resort free from pedestrian burdens like, say, carrying your own board. Warshaw explains:

Within a year Dogny began building Club Waikiki, which evolved into grand split-level structure at the foot of the dusty brown Miraflores beachfront cliffs. This was an altogether different gathering place than the salt-encrusted hangouts favored by American and Australian surfers. Club Waikiki visitors were met by a bowing white-jacketed attendant, who waved them into a lobby with marble floors and huge glass trophy cases. Music was softly piped across the grounds, which included a pool, a squash court, and fully-staffed kitchen and dining room. Upon request, cabana boys earning $300 a year ran down to a storage locker and fetched out $600 imported surfboards, to which they would apply a fresh coat of wax and hand off at water’s edge to the waiting club members; extra tips were earned for retrieving lost boards before they bumped across the rocky beach. Queens and presidents were among the guests of honor at Club Waikiki’s black-tie events. Membership was by nomination only, and the initiation fee by the early sixties was $25,000. “They’d paddle out and catch a wave, just to show they still had the old animal prowess,” one visiting surfer said, describing the average club member. “Then a quick shower and lunch, followed by three or four cocktails on the terrace.”

Read the full chapter here!

We asked Warshaw more questions about the club’s start, its slide as a roost for the powerful, and what it’s like to go there.

Carlos Dogny’s portrait – fit for GQ Peru.

I took that picture myself! This huge life-sized oil painting of the Great Man hanging in the Club Waikiki dining room, looking down upon us all as we mowed through the ceviche and lomo saltado. Jesus, rich people. Dogny was some kind of dilettante bodybuilder, and Mike Doyle wrote about going over to Dogny’s house one night in the ‘60s, and the guy had all the photos of himself flexing, lifting weights, hanging out on the Club Waikiki deck with young girls draped over him. But what the hell, right? It’s his club. He founded it.

Carlos Dogny

What was it like to visit Club Waikiki personally?

When I went in 2005, it was really low-key, quiet, formal but not stifling. A country club, basically, except on the beach at the bottom of a huge dirt cliff. I remember it still had white slab-marble floors and these huge floor-to-ceiling trophy cases in the lobby. A beautiful blue pool, the same one you see in the clip. The pool was way more inviting than the surf out front, which is kind of San Onofre-meets-Cowell’s, but hazy and gray. The waves are good up and down the coast, but in front of Club Waikiki, not so much. What else can I tell you? The food was excellent, and never once did I have to reach for my wallet.

When did the Club begin to turn into a political swamp?

Right from the beginning, surfing in Peru was all the rage with the rich and beautiful. The industrialists, the polo players, the bankers, they were all over it from the moment Dogny called them down the beach. I mean, these were the most powerful people in all of Peru, and they took to surfing the way high school kids from San Fernando Valley did when Gidget came out. So that’s who you’re surfing with and hanging out with when you visited. When Peru hosted the 1965 World Surfing Championships, all the competitors turn up in blazers and evening gowns in a receiving line at the Presidential Palace to shake hands with the president himself.

You mention that Doyle and Young felt uncomfortable at Club Waikiki. But did they enjoy it any?

They all did. Doyle and Young included. Nat Young danced his ass off at Club Waikiki.

How did organizers pull off the Peru International Surfing Championships as the sport’s best-run event?

I think it was mostly just a thing where they had all the money they needed, and all the cooperation from local authorities. In Peru, the surfers were the local authorities. That, and the fact that it was a sports-minded country, and they took surfing seriously as a sport. Peru was an up-and-coming surf nation, an up-and-coming nation in general, and they were going to do everything possible to impress those at the top—in this case, surfers from Hawaii, California, and Australia. Everybody who went to Peru in the ‘50s and ‘60s had a great time. And that was before cocaine came into the picture.

For more, visit the History of Surfing website here.