Through the smoggy haze, Southern California in the late 60s must’ve seemed like a fast-transforming dystopia for Surfer Magazine founder John Severson. Despite having Trestles in his backyard, Severson had the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, living next door–allegedly bugging his home. A stone’s throw to the south of his house, the first reactor was fired up at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. To top off everything else, Severson had just witnessed Orange County’s reeling right-hander, Killer Dana, martyred for the Dana Point Harbor.
In the 10th (below) and 11th (above) parts of his 1970 film, “Pacific Vibrations,” Severson seems to be making a visual list of reasons to evacuate Southern California. Lines of oil pumps bob soullessly up and down. The psychedelic bird that effortlessly soars in the films intro has become a dead seagull flopping in the tide. Rather than running for the hills, Severson flies to the islands, not only in the film but eventually in real life too after selling Surfer Magazine in 1971.
After the montage of pollution, urban sprawl and several other allusions to the death of the Southern California surf dream, Severson cuts to Hawaii’s green fields, traffic-less roads and blue water. The scenes of surfers bodysurfing and bikini’d girls frolicking in the shorebreak are symbolic of a cleansing of the California grit and the birth of a new, more pure, surf life in Hawaii.
After all the scenery, both stark and paradisiacal, some waves are finally surfed. Jock Sutherland and a slew of other transition-era standouts carve-up Honolua Bay’s long, warm, and blue right-handed walls. Almost like a divinely reincarnated Killer Dana. But way, way better.