Watching Joel Tudor and his nine-year-old son Tosh surf Swami’s 20th Annual Return to the Reef Club Invitational, caused me to reflect on the past. Yes, it really has been nearly a quarter of a century since I first met Joel and directed him and Wingnut in a little surf video called On Safari to Stay.
It began as my stories always do, with me being broke and trying to figure out how to pay rent. It was then I approached my lifelong friend Steve Cleveland on the idea of doing a surf film about the longboard revival that was starting to hit its stride. The idea was that two young longboarders, played by Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, and Joel Tudor, whom I gave the nickname “Clash” to because of his purple and green surfboard and orange trunks, were off in search of the mythical ‘60s. I contacted Bruce Brown, who helped patch the movie together by giving us a few minutes of his priceless footage, Herbie Fletcher, who did the same, and ‘60s stars, Donald Takayama and Skip Frye, who agreed to play mentors to the new kids. Cleveland found the necessary cash, and we hired surf filmmaker Greg Weaver.
After borrowing a classic Volkswagen van from my friend Johnny and painting it up ‘60s style, we were off. With Joel, Steve and Wingnut in the vehicle we headed out to ride waves at San Onofre with Skip and Donald and a cast of other longboarder characters, anxious to appear in the film.
We were racing down the freeway at a whopping 50 miles per hour when I heard Joel shout from the back seat, words I never wanted to hear. “We’re on fire!” Turning onto Las Pulas Road, we removed the boards from the vehicle just in time to watch it burn all the way down to the tires.
Just then Donald (Takayama’s) nephew Michael showed up and offered us a ride to San-o. I hadn’t seen Michael since that day, and had nearly forgotten how he helped us. It wasn’t until reading his name on a heat sheet at the aforementioned Swami’s contest, that my memory was ignited.
San Onofre offered fun surf that day and after surfing, Donald, as he so often did, made food for everyone on hand, including the legendary Phil Edwards.
Before a sand lot football game quarterbacked by Bill Dice and another of Donald’s nephews, Guy Takayama left our cast sidelined; we called the game and hit the surf again.
From San Onofre we went to Malibu, Cardiff and Cabo, where we encountered another Volkswagen on fire, and filmed Joel and Wingnut warming their hands on the flames.
Since that film premiered in 1991 longboarding has exploded worldwide. Steve Cleveland has gone on to make numerous other surf films, Joel and Wingnut have become surf royalty. After surfing and shaping for over 60 years, Donald Takayama passed away recently, and was mourned by the entire surfing community. Skip Frye continues to surf daily and build some of the world’s most coveted surfboards. And I write about such things.
Many surfers from my youth are still surfing, and it does my heart good to see kids celebrating classic longboarding in much the same way we all did more than half a century ago. To that we owe the vision of ageless gremmies like Joel and Wingnut. Without their passion, traditional longboarding may have never caught fire. Ride on!