In the mid 1960s, Chuck Hasley and Thor Svenson fought a titanic battle for the soul of Windansea Surf Club, and Svenson came out on top. That’s my take. Who knows, I could be way out on a limb. Impossible to know for sure, at any rate. Hasley’s been dead 10 years, and Svenson—who knows. Vanished. Nobody talks about Svenson.
Hasley formed the club in 1963. He was a surfer, a basketball coach, a good-timer. Easy smile. Friend to one and all. Glad to throw back a shot in the parking lot during the morning surf check. Hasley put the club together the same way he’d put together a party: invite all the best people, calculate the alcohol requirement and double it, keep out the riffraff. And the cool people did indeed come. Dora, Cabell, Edwards, van Artsdalen, Hynson, Kanaiaupuni, Frye, Godfrey, Doyle, Munoz, Hoffman, Purpus, Takayama—the Windansea Surf Club membership list goes from here to the sidewalk.
Windansea debuted at the 1963 Malibu Invitational. Hasley hired a bus for the trip north; it pulled out just after closing time at Maynard’s Bar in Pacific Beach, with a local band set up in back doing R&B covers, amps hooked into a generator. Butch van Artsdalen dumped a pitcher of beer onto the roof of a police car right off the bat and was arrested, so first stop was the holding tank to throw Butch’s bail. “From time to time,” Hasley later said, recalling the long rollicking nighttime drive up the coast, “you’d hear the bus driver yelling, ‘Hey, don’t do that!’ Guys were coming up from behind and putting their hands over his eyes. He wouldn’t stop the bus, so we had to hold Pat Curren—completely naked—out the window so he could piss. We didn’t get to Malibu until six that morning. The first three people to get off the bus passed out in the parking lot.”
Upshot? The bus driver turned around and burned rubber back to San Diego. The contest started. With the aid of coffee and benzedrine, Windansea sobered up and ran the field, putting five surfers in the six-man final. (Van Artsdalen, less sober than the rest, still managed to lose his trunks during the paddle relay.)
Thor Svenson, as shadowy as he was well-groomed—a talent agent who rarely surfed himself but very much enjoyed the company of surfers—was brought into Windansea as a PR-organization man. He became Windansea’s Brian Epstein. Got everyone to comb their hair. Told them to quit pissing out of bus windows. Fitted his boys out in smart dark-blue nylon team jackets with their names stitched on the chest. It was Svenson who arranged for Windansea club members to take blind children surfing, and Svenson who accepted a key to the city on the club’s behalf from the Mayor of Honolulu. He all but pulled the strings on van Artsdalen’s mouth when Black Butch, straight-faced, told a Surf Guide magazine reporter that the sport was “getting a bad name due to some rowdy members; people who show off by being destructive. Real surfers are polite, and give the sport a good name.”
In 1967, when Svenson headed up a venture to Sydney for an Australia vs. Windansea club contest, he did so with a Hollywood film crew in tow, a book deal in place, and a formal letter of introduction from California Governor Ronald Reagan. “I shall personally appreciate,” Reagan wrote, “any courtesies extended to these fine Californians and ambassadors of good will.”
Club founder Chuck Hasley was left behind. Still smiling. Still surfing. Getting into some new ventures. (The Feds nailed him for wholesale pot dealing in 1970; Hasley did four years on a 15-year sentence.)
So yeah, Svenson won. I guess.
On the other hand, Windansea got their asses handed to them in Sydney, in that club contest. The Aussies were already onto the short surfboard. The Windansea guys, like everybody else, were still riding tanks. The club never fully recovered.
And Svenson? He moved to Australia, became a teacher, and then…vanished, apparently. There are five or six additional layers of mystery, black humor and depravity to the Windansea story. Start digging, and I’m sure that eventually you’ll find Svenson.