Corky Carroll

A gnarly start to a love/hate relationship with Surf City

Wow. Did you know that the city of Huntington Beach is turning 100 years old? It is. Seems like just the other day it was just a greasy little baby town and look at it now. All grown up and clean and shiny, sparkling in the sun like a jewel of the southern coast.

Surf City. Speaking of which, I am still trying to find out the secret of where the two girls for every boy part of town is. Not that I am looking for a back-up chick or anything, but just for the knowledge. Inquiring minds wanna know these things.

I have had an up close and personal relationship with Huntington Beach for more than 50 years. Some people think I have been around the whole 100 but that is just a nasty rumor. My family moved to the little beachside colony of Surfside, just north of Huntington Beach, back in the early 1950's.

My first memory of Huntington Beach was of the Pavalon Roller Skating Rink that was adjacent to the pier exactly where Duke's restaurant is now. There was an arcade downstairs and the roller rink upstairs. In later years, when I was in high school, they would have "surfer stomps" in the roller rink on Friday or Saturday nights. Those were dances. They would have all the hot surf music bands.

There was also a salt-water plunge on the north side of the pier. The plunge, for those of you not of that era, was a big indoor swimming pool. I would later play a little bit of water polo in that pool and get to know a few of the really great swimmers and water polo guys from this area like Monty Nitzkowski and Ray Bray. Ray's little brother, Bobby, was in my grade at Huntington Beach High.

My first surfing experience at the pier came in the late 50's. I had built a rack for my Schwinn 3 speed bike to pull my board -- one of those two-by-four things with wheels from my old red radio flyer wagon. I had first tested it out with a surf safari to Seal Beach. That being successful I decided one morning to ride all the way from my house to the Huntington Beach Pier.

I told my mom that I was going to Seal Beach and she was cool with that. She would have killed me if she knew I went all the way to Huntington Beach. Actually I was almost killed many times on the way down and back. In those days the area now known as Bolsa Chica State Park was a wide open stretch of beach where people would camp out and live in tents and all sorts of cardboard and aluminum siding makeshift houses.

It was called "Tin Can Beach," and it was full of old rusty tin cans from people camping out there. At night it was really pretty driving by there and seeing all the beach fires. You could park your car right there on Pacific Coast Highway. That was the dangerous part for a little skinny preteen surf gremlin on a bike pulling a balsawood surfboard. There was little or no room between the cars parked all along the side of the highway and the cars zooming south down the coast.

To say that was not a safe thing to do would be a monster understatement. I can still feel the blasts of wind almost blowing me over and the horn blasts from truckers and bus drivers doing their best not to flatten me. That was just the beginning of the period when I did a lot of really stupid things. I am thinking that sooner or later that period will come to a close.

That day the surf was about five to six feet at the pier. When I paddled out into the lineup on the south side I was more than a little bit scared. There was a small crowd of guys out and they looked like they were all pretty good surfers. Most of them were "shooting the pier" on the bigger sets. THAT looked really hairy to me. The pilings were all covered with barnacles and mussels and starfish and other nasty and hideous-looking things.

One my first few waves I chickened out and pulled out before I got to close to the pier. One of the better surfers out that day was Chuck Linnen. He saw me pull back and knew that I was too scared to go near the pier. He very nicely talked to me and told me how to come into the pier just to the inside of a row of pilings and that would give me enough room to make it out the other side before having to thread my way through the next row.

Sort of unwillingly I did it on my next wave. I was stoked. That was the beginning of a long love/hate relationship between me and that surf spot, which would eventually include five overall United States Surfing Championships.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week. Same BatPaper, same BatPage.