This legendary surf day happened sometime in Hermosa’s marine-layered past.
It was mid-December. Word had circulated through the surfing community, ‘big surf tomorrow.’
The next morning at dawn, it was on at 28th Street.
There was a chill in the deep blue, crystal clear air and a noise emitting from the ocean that local surfers had not heard in a long time. The waves were breaking about 300 yards out and had to be over 30 feet, with perfect shape.
A group of local legends had gathered and were going thru the usual pre-surf banter — wet suit or not, log or gun, and should they be worried about the Hermosa Beach meter maids.
The Meistrell brothers had shown up with some new style wetsuits for anyone who wanted to try them. Little Dewey Weber quickly squeezed into one and was first in the water. Dewey was followed by Greg Noll, Robert August and Pat O’Hara, who quickly got swallowed up in the whitest of whitewater.
Mike Stevenson and Hap Jacobs dove in with Sonny Vardeman, Don Takiyama, Bruce Hatch, Biff Collins and Bing Copeland on their heels. A young Mike Doyle and a few other ‘gremlins’ only watched from the shore as their icons struggled to get out.
Greg Noll got the first ride on a huge, perfectly lined up wave and rode it to the end. That inspired Mike Purpose to take the plunge. Pat Collins and his ‘Bro’ caught the next wave and both went ‘over the falls.’ Dewey hung 10 on a 25-foot face to everyone’s amazement as Mike Balzer and Mike Mcintire aimed their cameras. David Nuuhiwa did an amazing reverse-fin takeoff that astonished Corky Carroll and Eddie Talbot. John McTeague dipped in, tried to ‘walk the nose’ but got stuffed and wiped out.
Photographers Bob Hutas and John Post were discussing the size and shape of the huge waves and how they wanted to frame their shots. Joe Tudor, on a new ‘swallow tail’ board couldn’t deal with the giant surf. Leroy Grannis was struggling to get into his ‘farmer John’ wetsuit not wanting to be cold floating around in the water with his plastic encased camera.
Tiger Makin was goading Dru Harrison to get wet before the surf peaked. But Harrison and the other hung over members of the Bay Cities Surf Club had partied way too hard the night before celebrating something with the Dapper Dans and Windansea compadres.
It was now 9 a.m. and a large crowd had formed, Kevin Cody was there thinking about the week’s headline on his front page and doing interviews. ‘Unbelievable,’ ‘fantastic,’ ‘huge,’ ‘never before seen,’ ‘wild rides,’ incredible,’ ‘once in a lifetime’ and ‘classic’ were some of the comments on going down. Dave Gregerson showed up with a new, ‘gazillion millimeter’ lens, but after shooting the biggest wave of the day he realized that in the rush to get down here he hadn’t put film in the camera. Leroy Grannis floating in the impossible surf had his camera knocked away, never to be recovered. He clambered out of the water and while warming up talked wetsuits with the Meistrells. It was now 10 a.m. and the waves had dropped to 20 feet when Dennis Jarvis and Kip Jerger showed up. The youngsters still had sleep in their eyes but were soon wide awake, doing cutbacks and shooting tubes on their new style short boards.
By noon it was over. The surf was too mushy and the wind had picked up. Noll started drifting off, thinking about Hawaii while others shared stories of classic rides lost and fantastic rides taken. Soon to be legendary stories of that day were spewing forth as fast as they could be spoken. “I saw you go over on a 40 footer.” “My barrel ride was 35 feet high.”They had to be at least 50 feet.”
The waves got higher as the afternoon stories progressed (and more beer cans got popped). At one point a very young Bergie Benz covered in sand, showed up for some reason talking about “my surf, my beach” and dribbled out something about a future ‘Iron Man’ competition on at 28th Street, and then abruptly left.
When it was all over and everyone dispersed they discovered that not all folks up that early were interested in the once in the lifetime waves.
The Hermosa Beach meter maids had also been on their dawn patrol. Everyone got parking tickets. B