[This piece was originally published in the Encyclopedia of Surfing blog series, written by Matt Warshaw. Subscribe to EOS, the History of Surfing, and Above The Roar by clicking here.]
My fall into the chemical-scented poly-foam hole continues. I seemed to recall that, even in 1960, with Hobie Alter pushing hard for polyurethane, there was still a market for balsa. Pulled down my funky SURFER Vol. 1 Issue 1 reprint (which itself is ancient; the reprint is now 32 years old), and looked at all the surfboard ads, and yes, balsa was hanging in there—barely.
Then got sidetracked into the whole gestalt of those original few surf mag ads, and took a few notes, as follows:
– cover-to-cover page count in first issue of SURFER: 36
– total number of ads: 13
– surfboard ads: 10
– wetsuit ads: 3 (including Surf Shop, which is boards and wetsuits)
– surf movies: 1
– beachwear: 0
Santa Barbara Surf Shop is the first ad to appear in the magazine, and doesn't turn up until page 9. Only three ads (Ole Surfboards, La Jolla Divers Supply, Dive N' Surf) have photos, the rest are text-only, or text and an illustration—most of which were done by John Severson, who I believe threw in the artwork for free as a way to book the ad space.
Anyway, here's a little time capsule of all surfboard ads, present in the order in which they appear:
Santa Barbara Surf Shop became simply Yater Surfboards not too long after this ran.
Velzy's still into wood. Three detailed paragraphs on balsa, one quickie paragraph on foam. The "World's Largest Manufacturer" got kneecapped by the IRS just a few months after this ad ran. Also, I didn't know, or I'd forgotten, that Dale had a shop in San Diego at the time.
Strangest thing in all these ads is how surfwear simply doesn't exist. All about the boards.
This one must have put Severson into a little existential tailspin. The "Sweet" here is Dave Sweet's brother (I'm blanking on his first name), and the "Robertson" is none other than Cliff Robertson, the actor who played Kahuna in the original Gidget movie, which had just come out the year before. Robertson-Sweet boards, not to put too fine a point on it, were crap. Cheap discount numbers made for Gidget-inspired newbies who were swarming beaches at the beginning of the surf boom by the thousands. Dave Sweet, never a money guy, had been forced to sell half his interest in his latest surfboard blank mold to his brother, and this was the result. Severson knew these boards were lousy. On the other hand…full pager, and John didn't have to design the ad. Sold!
Quarter-pager for Fred Wardy, Severson designed from top to bottom.
The first issue of SURFER was put together mostly in late 1959. I thought Clark was the only person blowing foam commercially at this point, but no, Harold Walker was in the game, too. Walker Foam went on to become the only real challenger Clark ever had; by 1965, the company was shipping blanks to Weber, Jacobs, and other blue-chip boardmakers. Not sure when or why Walker fell, but like I was saying about Chuck Foss, everybody who got in the ring with Grubby Clark came out on a stretcher.
Jack O'Neill making the stronger and wittiest case for foam. Also: "Free Design Foam"? Another company I've never heard of. I think maybe that was Jack himself, moonlighting as a blank-maker. I thought O'Neill Wetsuits was a branded thing by this time, but evidently not. A Surf Shop ad in the winter 1961 issue of SURFER, the last issue of the year, has the soon-to-be-famous O'Neill Wetsuits logo, but no, the name itself isn't in play. Wetsuits are the fourth item listed for what's billed as the World's Most Complete Line of Quality Surfing Equipment, behind "custom boards, blanks, kits"—DIY board-making kits were a big deal back then.
Twenty-ounce cloth, folks. Wrap the rails, and we're up to 4o ounces. Your shin would disintegrate before your rail would so much as crack.
Gordon Duane was the bad boy of Huntington Beach boardmakers, at a time when that really meant something. This all-black number, for my money, is the magazine’s runaway best ad.
Hobie, full page, inside back cover. Clean and tight and professional and, logo aside, dull as dishwater. You could drop this into a 1960 issue of Life or Time and it have fit right in. Parents must have loved it.