Monday, December 23, 2012: Chris Wells put himself on the edge of another Avenues drainer. He’s locked in the dirty vortex, half sand, half water equaling a 100 percent critical tube, the escape just yards away. Fully committed Wells, pumps, all hell breaking over him, chases the closing gap…
The late 70s was the era of Chris Wells’ introduction to the surf lifestyle. A time with fewer man-made obstacles protruding west, the surf spots and sand bars were spread out instead of being concentrated like today.
“Before the El Segundo Jetty, the sand flowed differently,” Wells said. “Each street had its own surf scene.”
Wells’ line-up was at 1st Street in Manhattan, down the beach from the 30th Street crew of Chris Frohoff, Kelly Gibson, and Mitch Rodgers and the 4th Street standouts led by Mark Theodore “who was on the NSSA National team” and Steve Machin, “who went on to become a Pipeline standout and married Miss Hawaii.”
Street surfers like Derek and Mark Levy, Cameron and Chris Evans and Brian Volmer,” Wells said. “I’m grateful for growing up in that scene, with the old boys talking squawk from The Strand, and us groms getting gnarly and really pushing each other.”
With no babysitter, no Little League, Wells was raised by the swell. He remembers being at 1st Street from sunrise to sunset.
Wells described himself as a “Spicoli-type of dude” at Mira Costa High and points to a classic scene from “Fastimes at Ridgemont High” to describe his daily routine before class.
“Me and Chris Fishiti, a very energetic dude and a world Champ Jet Skier in the ’80s and ’90s, would dawn patrol it at the Manhattan Beach Pier.” he said.
After surfing Wells would race in his buddy’s VW bus, powered by heavy metal from the cassette player, to make first period and change out of his dripping wet wetsuit in Costa’s parking lot trying to beat the tardy bell.
“One of my greatest thrills was going to the big ball award ceremony in Balboa after getting second in Nationals,” Wells said.
Under coach “PT,” Wells made the trek to Hawaii for the first time to compete against the Hawaiian team and made the finals.
Wells visited Hawaii for eight consecutive winters, staying at legendary big wave surfer, Mark Foo’s Foo Zoo for three seasons.
“Mark Foo and Ken Bradshaw were the gnarliest guys and I learned a lot from them,” he said. “They showed me the line-up and the heavy drop in legit Waimea Bay. It was one of my greatest thrills ever in surfing and a highlight of my whole life,” he said.
“Pat was the first guy to really coach me,” Wells said. “He gave me a lot of pointers and I got some of my best results on his boards.”
During his first year as an amateur, he made the U.S. Amateur Championships finals twice, dominated the amateur ranks of the PSAA Bud Tour, and won the Croakie Cup, the most prestigious contest for his division.
After inking a deal with Town and Country, Wells embarked on the Pro division of the PSAA. He was in the trenches of surfer warfare, hand-to-hand, contest-to-contest combat, preparing to invade the WCT.
“It was a five day event at the PSAA in Santa Cruz and I didn’t do too hot,” Wells said.
Wells exited early, in the 5th round. Then he realized he could make the Bronzed Age Pro Am in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. The first rounds started the next morning. He jetted out of Santa Cruz “for the long haul” that night, arriving at daybreak. Wells won the event in a brutal man on man final.
“It was awesome. Sunny and clean and a big party crowd on the beach, pre-cartel Mexico fun,” Wells said. “I miss those days down there for sure.”
In addition to banging it out in the WQS, Wells collected quite a few stamps in his passport.
“Matt [Archibald], Sunny [Garcia] and I all rode for T&C at the time and went to the ASP Niijima Open on the island of Niijima Japan,” Wells said. “We had some unreal, free surf sessions outside of Tokyo and in Chiba Japan where we soloed epic surf.”
“I’m just stoked to have traveled, especially with whom I traveled with,” Wells said.
After the PSAA, life on the WQS didn’t really fall into place for Wells.
“I just wasn’t getting the results I needed,” Wells said, “I was bummed when T &C cutback and dropped all of the California guys.”
Wells was right back on the PSAA and other California contests, surfing up and down the coast. He scored his ultimate victory by placing first in the pro division at the Echo Pro held at 54th Street in Newport Beach.
“It was a stacked field — Newport attracts a lot of pro talent every year. There were some top pros in it including top ten WCT’er, Richie Collins,” Wells said. “My best win.”
Wells settled the contest urge and focused on his studies, earning an AA at El Camino. During this time he established a still ongoing relationship with shaper Wayne Okamoto of Oak Foils Surfboards.
“I rode for few different shapers from down south but had no relationships,” Wells said, “Wayne’s a perfectionist. He listens and gets what you want with no gap in between surfer and shaper.”
In his ’30s, the former “Spicoli” hit the corporate world, which he described as a “low point.”
“I was at a corporate job, eating garbage, and everybody was partying,” Wells said. “Last thing on my mind was surf.”
He began to ponder, “What am I doing?” When he hit 40, he got back on a real board, laid on some fresh wax on one of his Oakfoils and came “full circle.”
“I was back in it for no other reason but to ride waves,” Wells said. “I didn’t worry about contests, photos, or my image.
The “full circle” included getting involved in Camp Surf with Jimmy Miller, a good friend since Wells’ teens.
“At first I was anti surf camp because of so many people being thrown in the water without any regards,” he said. “But with teaching the proper etiquette and rules as the main lessons, sharing the stoke, and the goal of making each student a better waterman and women. Camp Surf is the way to go.”
With his past contest experience, Wells found a niche.
“I work with kids to make them better surfers,” he said. “In the competition realm, I teach how to get the maximum points on a wave and get the score.”
You can take the surfer out of the contest but you can’t take the contest out of the surfer, Wells is back taking apart the local South Bay Boardriders Contest Series.
“It felt good to win the inaugural South Bay Boardriders’ Contest Series open men’s division,” he said.
Despite his new mindset — enjoying surfing and not going for the “spread shot” — he is still a major subject for the local photographers, like Brad Jacobson of Civic Couch, an online surf magazine.
“If there is a barrel breaking in the South Bay odds are Wells is in it,” Jacobson said.
…the gap closes on Wells, just a few feet from the shore and inches from the sandy bottom. Too deep, too far, and too critical with no where to go. Wells takes the beating and emerges with a broken leg…Putting in the time, punching in the clock, Wells is sidelined for two months, a result of being the most dedicated surfer out there.. DZ
Photos by Brad Jacobson (Www.facebook.com/surfshots)