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Newport Beach

Volume 5, Issue 25  |  March 27, 2020


The day Pipeline came to Newport

By DUNCAN FORGEY

Organized surfing in Newport Beach dates to the 1928 Surf Board Championship at the entrance to the harbor. It was the same day as the Star Class International Championship sailboat race. There were hundreds of people in our small town watching the events. Fifteen surfing contestants from all parts of the coast participated with surfing pioneer Tom Blake winning the trophy.

From that point forward, most Newport Beach surfers fell into a category of great watermen more interested in the artistic, fun and challenging aspects of surfing than the glories of competition. Hundreds of great surfers evolved, most unknown outside historians of surfing. Waves in Newport Beach range from soft foamy two-footers at Blackie’s to 20-foot mutants at the Wedge. Newport breaks deal with inconsistent swells, island blockage and on-shore winds.

The best wave in town is rare but very impressive. Surfers throughout the country have become aware of a south swell that rolls into Newport Beach with the beauty and ferocity of Oahu’s north shore.

The day Pipeline Herb Torrens

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Herb Torrens

Newport’s Herb Torrens hits the waves in Oahu, 1964

Pacific hurricanes gather in the warm waters off of Mexico during summer months. They then travel north and west. As their energy grows, large waves are formed which travel in bands all the way to the southland.

Newport’s Pipeline waves are born from just such a Mexican Chubasco.  The difference is that Pipeline swells must travel a special corridor and end up just south of Newport Pier. Some surfers like to say this energy has a “little east” in it. From this direction, the swells miss the many islands, points and other blocks along the way.

They usually arrive just as the high schools start their new academic year. This creates a phenomenon where hardened surfers ditch school and race down to the pier to “check it out.” Vice Principal “Bring ‘em back” Jack King went on high alert on these special days and could be seen smoking cigarettes in his old Buick near the pier.

On one such September day in 1966, waves came crashing ashore with the power of a freight train. Waves from 16th Street to the pier jacked up and rolled over in a shape unique only to Newport’s Point.

The day Pipeline NB Surfing Association

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Courtesy of NBSA

Newport Beach Surfing Association, circa 1960s

As youngsters, we used to venture out in these “big waves” to body surf or use rafts. This was where we learned the strength and dynamics of big waves.  By September 1966, these same children were now adolescents and ready for it.  For the first time for many of Newport’s tribe, they got to show off their skills with surfboards in world-class waves. Ron Dalquist wrote about it in “Pipeline comes to Newport” in Surfer Magazine.

Newport surfers of that era were a zany and oftentimes reckless group of adolescent boys. By 1966, they had either graduated or were about to graduate from high school. Locals had the beach to themselves, with the exception of a few well-known out-of-area surfers. The waves were a solid eight feet with closeouts up to 14 feet. The peak energy missed San Diego beaches, with the bullseye on Newport.

Early morning surfers Bruce Reed and Peter Sellas got the swell to themselves along with two others. As the morning went on, standouts David Nuuihiwa, Mike McClellan, John Van Ornum, Lenny Foster, George Weaver, Ralph Meyer, Junior Beck, Ilima Kalama and Mike Marshall created a pack in the water. Old pros like Dick Brewer, Jock Sutherland, Payton Reed and belly boarder Dick Wonderocke were the most experienced ones out.

Our parents’ generation could not understand how important this day was to their kids. These youngsters thought surfing, especially under these conditions,  was a perfect way to show their civic pride. Many in the World War II generation thought it was lunacy.

Newport’s surf culture was well established in its youth. There were rules, a boot camp and many local heroes. Rules, like do not take off in front of others, were rudely enforced. Older boys used harsh words and physical attacks to make sure lesser surfers did not get in their way.

The two Petes, Nickertz and Antista, were bouncers for what was called the fire ring number one. Because of their aggressive surf styles and toughness, they earned the names “Knife” and “Beezba.” Nicknames like Greek, Uno, Animal and others were monikers that replaced common names and helped identify boys with unusual demeanors. These surfers became larger than life influences on younger boys, showing them how to dominate in and out of the water.

Our surfers had a strict caste system based upon the set of fire rings near Newport Pier. Throughout the year, sessions ended at the appropriate fire ring.  Without wetsuits, leashes or towels, surfers gathered around a warm fire stoked by stolen wood from fences, homes and nearby construction sites. Fire ring number one was Mecca for all 1960s surfers. Chased out of fire ring number one by one of the Petes, Greg Brown or John Lindsay, less talented or younger boys had to settle for fire ring number two or regrettably number three. “Third Ringers” were the “groms” of that period and Newport’s next generation of talented surfers.

Girls were not any part of this mix, in as much as Gidget, the Beach Boys and Hollywood had no effect on this crowd. It was a boy’s club without the pomp and circumstance of a fraternity. There was no formal initiation but once a young talent proved himself or aged appropriately, he would be allowed at fire ring number one. Every youngster in town strived hard to be recognized by the best and most dominant surfers in town: the Haworth brothers, Chris Marseilles, George Anderson, Mike McClellan and Mike Marshall, to mention just a few.

That special day in September 1966...the shape, speed and strength of the waves were intimidating. Because of the perfect angle, all of the storm’s energy ran straight to Newport’s submarine canyon and then hit the fast-rising sand.  This created a wave cut like crystal with the power of a sledgehammer. Once in the water, this band of brothers felt an adrenalin rush and experienced thrills that were the best it gets.

Newport was electric with excitement, as spectators jammed the beaches to watch local surfers. Some ripped while others wiped out. Those that ventured out with the wrong equipment for the conditions, succumbed quickly to the sea.

These young mainlanders got to feel what it was like to surf critical waves.  Many of them set goals to surf Hawaii’s north shores that day, feeling they were ready for the major league of surfing. This swell was monumental to the young pack because it came at the exact time so many of the kids were coming of age.

The day Pipeline Ed Farwell

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Courtesy of Ed Farwell

Local Edward “Eddie” Farwell surfing Newport Point

Newporter Edward “Eddie” Farwell was one of those benefactors. He grew up on 6th Street and learned about surfing with his cousin, Chuck. Using a homemade skim board and body surfing the strong peninsula point shore break, he learned the needed respect for big waves. His first surfboard was a 1960 Velzy Jacobs balsa wood board. Due to his goofy-foot style, he and his buddy Bob Eaton surfed the south side because it broke left. Farwell represented the Newport Beach Surfing Association along with Herb Torrens in the year they beat Haggerty’s Surf Team. He spent time with Windansea Surf Club resulting in an invitation on the world tour and a role in the film The Plastic Fantastic Machine,  a 1969 documentary film following a group of California surfers as they journey to an Australian surfing competition that was narrated by Jay North.

But it was “Newport Point” that wet Farwell’s young whistle resulting in a lifetime of adventures at Oahu’s Pipeline, Rocky Point, Laniakea, the Himalayas and trips to Bali and Java.

Torrens was another young gun of that era. At age 11, he was a “Third Ringer” with little hope he would ever make it to the first fire ring. But he became one of the best of the period, and over time, rose in the ranks also surfing for Windansea Surf Club.

Torrens says it best in his memoir, Paraffin Chronicles:

“Respect is a part of the culture that comes with the territory. It’s as much a part of the surfing as it was part of the caveman culture. Territory, respect, pecking order, all of which are only established by action...You learn faster in a culture that doesn’t accept mediocrity and that’s what it was like in Newport, and I am sure in other towns up and down the coast.”

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Duncan Forgey, a lifelong resident of Newport Beach, now makes his home in Hawaii. He is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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