In the early ’80s, the MTV Moonman might as well have planted his neon-strobing flag right between 54th and 56th streets in Newport Beach, because what transpired on that short stretch of hot Southern California sand was a world apart from surfing's status quo. A contingent of ambitious local youths, determined to carve out their own place in the surfyverse, brought the ostentatious ethos of punk's new wave to their local beachbreak. Technicolored wetsuits, boardshorts and surfcraft took over the lineup. The kids' progressive lines on the sandbar-powered waves drew just as much attention, if not more, as their loud fashion. And with lenses fixed on them, they proceeded to rip apart the punchy venue for surf paparazzi to document. Ground control to Echo Beach.
Disillusioned by an era of California surfing in the late ’70s that was dominated by white boards and black wetsuits, surfer Danny Kwock decided to throw some color on the scene. "I just wanted to be different, creative and have fun with it," Kwock told SURFER. "And my dear friends Preston Murray, Jeff Parker, John Gothard and more all followed suit." Kwock made sure the media would take notice by calling photographers to let them know when surf sessions were going down, one of which was the talented and versatile Mike Moir.
Moir's eye for surf action both on the beach and in the water, combined with his ability to capture candid lifestyle moments, made his Echo Beach photos standout among the firing squad. His work landed magazine covers and also colored the features within. "It's along this 100-yard playing field," David Epperson wrote in SURFER in 1980, "that a good part of the future of California surfing will be shaped, and these guys are stoked to be leading the movement." It was through Moir's visual documentation of this fun-loving, day-glowing surfing microcosm that Epperson's prophecy was fulfilled. And as seen by Moir's work in this gallery, and some of these surfers’ accomplishments in the surf industry, the noise from Echo Beach continues to influence not just California surfing, but the world over, even 40 years later.
“I was already an older guy when I started to shoot Echo Beach,” Moir told SURFER. “I was in my 30s and those guys were teenagers. I looked at these kids in the late ’70s coming up and they made me feel young.” (Left to right) Preston Murray, Jeff Parker and Danny Kwock
"Back then, we didn't really shoot with motordrives or winders," Moir said. "So for me, it was always kind of a peak moment thing. I would look at the wave and if it didn't have much of a lip then I would shoot a drawn out bottom turn." Danny Kwock drops in with hot pink rails and a boardshort print suitable for a jockey at the Kentucky Derby.
Murray, Parker and Kwock eye a firing lineup on New Year's Day, 1980. Surfboard design at Echo Beach was getting just as radical as the fashion. Parker (center in the blue wetsuit) is holding a "Jet Board." Local shaper Lance Collins installed PVC piping through the board. The openings on the deck would cause air to flow through a plate on the board's bottom to create lift. "That board was fast, loose and one of the best I ever had," Jeff Parker said. "The technology looked ridiculous but it worked."
“A number of the maneuvers, as big and impressive looking as they were, were not makes,” Moir said about the progressive ethos of Echo Beach at the time. “So people would call ‘Bogus’ on that. But, in their own way they kind of provided an example or aspiration of what could be done one day down the road. Now people are pulling off heavy maneuvers in every WSL competition. This is John Gothard doing a very early air at 54th, unsure if he pulled it.”
“Back in the day people would complain that they didn't get as much coverage as the Echo Beach guys.” Moir said. “It seemed like all of a sudden the Echo Beach guys were getting magazine covers. I think it came down to the quality of the photos: they had dazzling color that was in your face.” Murray obliterates the lip on a Lance Collins board splashed with his signature zebra stripe spray.
“I was such a stoked teenager rocking these designs at the time, this punk new wave crazy look,” Kwock (above) said. “I got a lot of flack by the older surf community that I was lame, but I didn't care! We wanted our message to echo around the surf world from Newport, 54th Street to be exact. Our crew also dubbed it Studio 54 after the famous club in NYC back then in the Andy Warhol days. Which was also nicknamed by Surfer Magazine as ‘The Hottest 100 Yards.’ We sometimes called it Kodak Sandbar because of all the photographers and, yes, I also loved the jam by Martha and the Muffins named ‘Echo Beach.'”
Murray boosts an air on a fat-bottomed single, a shape that was inspired by Australian pro Cheyne Horan’s “Lazor Zap.”
"Moir swam like a walrus," Parker (above) said. "He would go out in the middle of the winter with no wetsuit. He'd encourage you to get as close as you could to him and put it on rail. At times you would think, 'Oh my god, I'm gonna hit him.' But I never did. He was fearless. Working with him was great."
(From left to right) Dennis Langdale, Kwock, Geoff Madsen and Murray rock out during an impromptu air guitar session. “Murray was concerned that Danny would get too carried away and ding the boards,” Moir said.
“For some of these guys the cameras have the same effect as the bugler sending the troops off to war,” Epperson wrote about the scene at Echo Beach in his 1980 Surfer Magazine article, “The Hottest 100 Yards,” in which this photo was published. “They charge into the water with the spirit of a militant conquerer, only one goal in mind, to do battle with their fellow surfers and capture a spot in the magazines. They get wrapped so tight they are actually yelling down the line, ‘Hey, don’t take off; they’re photographing me!'” Craig Brazda is in the tube and Alan Lopez lines up a turn.
This photo of Parker underwent a psychedelic bedazzling via airbrush and was published in Surfer Magazine in 1981. The photo was captioned by Parker’s opinion of the contemporary state of surfing: “Surfing has to change in the decade ahead,” Parker wrote. “Everyone involved in the ‘new era’ wants it to change. It is time surfers start to recognize the validity of new maneuvers so we can progress. There are still a lot of people around involved in the older era who end up as contest judges, and that holds back the progression. Any sport has its innovators, and they are the ones who stand out. Olga Korbut came on doing wild things no one understood and the next year she was copied by everyone. It’s the innovators who will be recognized in the eighties.”
Quiksilver’s Echo Beach contest during the summer of ’81 drew pros, ams, photogs, girls and fans from all over Southern California. This was taken right before the final, which South Bay’s Chris Frohoff (red with back to camera) won.
(Left to right) Murray, Horan, Kwock and J Riddle at Quiksilver’s Echo Beach Pro/Am. “The waves were really fun for the event, good 3- to 4-foot high performance small waves,” Moir said. Kwock and Riddle took the win.
A portrait of the Quiksilver team taken from the roof of their beach apartment.
The Echo Beach crew was often criticized by the competitive branch of surfing for having no contest chops yet still scoring pages in the magazines. Phil Edwards’ incredibly played-out sound bite, “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun,” applies.
“Moir definitely took a huge risk taking my calls to take pics of me and my homies,” Kwock, slotted in the tube above, said. “Mike made it happen for us by spending his talent, time and film on us, which was expensive even back then. I'm grateful to him to this day for believing in a surf-punk teenager that was a high school dropout like me.” Moir wasn’t the only one who believed in Kwock, Quiksilver did too. Kwock went from stealing shorts out of the back of Quiksilver’s warehouse to having a successful career as an executive at the brand.
“Cheyne Horan (left) had a heavy influence on the Echo Beach guys,” Moir said. “Murray is riding prone and Parker is the deepest. This is just a fun shot of everyone clowning around and not taking themselves too seriously.”
Parker, with an impeccably color-coordinated wetsuit and boardspray, leans into a frothy one.
“The music of the time, the boards that were being shaped, the challenge to keep upping the quality of photographs all contributed to the attention Echo Beach was given,” Moir said. “I wasn't the only one shooting. There'd be a half dozen photographers competing with themselves and maybe the other shooters to get the best shots. It was kind of a friendly rivalry although some of the guys got a little over the top about it. A King of the Mountain type deal.” Moir’s willingness to put himself in front of the action to create images, like the one of Gothard getting barreled above, make them stand the test of time.