Corky Carroll

City's look has changed, but not its soul

Part 5

In honor of the 100th year anniversary of Huntington Beach I have been doing a series on my own personal memories in that town. I haven't been around the whole century, it just feels like it. For me it's been over half of that though.

Last week I left off at the end of the 1960's. That was a real boom time for surfing and for Huntington Beach. That would have been the period for which "Surf City" was officially born. There were surf shops all over the place.

That last year of the original incarnation of the United States Surfing Championships was 1972. Things were changing fast during the early seventies. The Vietnam War was more on everyone's minds every day and surfing was on a national decline as far as popularity and also as an industry.

The bigger surfboard companies such as Hobie and Dewey Weber were losing ground to what were called "underground" brands. These were largely guys making boards in their garages or on a very small scale. It seemed the whole vibe at that time was "tune in and drop out." Guys were either going to Vietnam or doing everything in their power to not go to Vietnam.

The whole surf scene in California took a huge dive. The peak was probably 1968 or 69 and by 72 it was more or less over for the big competitions, making money as a surfer and for the surf industry as it had been.

It seemed like a good thing for many Huntington Beach locals who were glad to have the whole circus outta town. The focus of the surfing world left Surf City and beamed in on Hawaii and Australia.

This seemed like a good time for me to take a hike too. At the end of the contest year in 1972 I retired and moved to the mountains to ski and work on an attempt at a career in the music business. When I got back the whole scene had changed in town. New guys in the lineup.

The hot guy was Buddy Lamas. I played the Golden Bear a few times and surfed the pier a little bit. But mostly I hung out in the South County area during those years and went to work as advertising director for Surfer magazine.

In 1991 I moved back to Huntington Beach full time. It was a different place. Downtown was a mix of old-time and totally modern. Haight-Ashbury meets Nuevo Viejo. It was a much safer place to take the family, that was for sure.

I was teaching tennis, playing music in restaurants and got a job managing surf shops on Main Street. First at the old Windansea shop and then for Aaron Pai at Huntington Surf n Sport. These were the two complete opposites in approaches to surf shops.

The Windansea shop was totally loose business-wise. It was run more or less on a minute-by-minute basis. Not a smart way to do it but it had its moments. Surf 'n Sport was all business all the time. George "Mayor of Main Street" Lambert and I were given the jobs of managing their "Longboard" store. We had a lot of fun and ran it as we felt was the right way. I know between the two of us we sold a ton of surfboards.

That was an interesting time in town. The surfing industry was back in full strength and the competition circuit once again focused its main beams on Surf City. Every top surfer on the planet came through town at least once or twice a year. The local kids were hotter than ever.

The old trailer park gave way to a Hilton and a huge Hyatt Convention Center. Smelly old rat-infested Maxwells was torn down and a beautiful new Duke's was built in its place. I became the house band there. Loved that job too. I could stand behind my little tiki bar outside on the patio on summer evenings and see everybody in town walk by at one time or another.

At one time downtown Huntington Beach was sort of a "surf ghetto" -- lotsa drugs, hookers living in shabby apartments above the shops and extremely hard-core surf rats running rampant. Today it is a clean and beautiful city and yet still maintains as hard core a surfing population as it ever did in the past.

Some will say it's "lost its soul." But that is because they can't afford the rent. It's very soulful if you can afford the rent.

I absolutely love the place. I have loved it from the first time I rode a wave there. No matter where I am in the world my roots lead back to that peak on the south side of the pier. To coffee and pancakes with David Nuuhiwa at Poor Richards, working on paddleboards with Steve Walden, playing music at the Golden Bear and at Dukes, Huntington Beach High School, Lindborg Tennis Club, the Bread Crumb, Surf 'n Sport, the Sugar Shack and cold mornings starting up the surfing school with my partner Rick Walker so many years ago.

Times change and buildings go up and come down. Faces change. Some just get older. The surf vibe is alive and well in Huntington Beach.

Surf City lives