Corky Carroll

Seal Beach scene in '60s was vibrant and talent-laden

Last week I began what will probably be a sort of "on again and off again" little series on local talent. What I am thinking is to pick a surf spot or a town in Orange County and a certain period of time and talk about the hot locals there at that time.

All through the years there has been a hotbed of fantastic surfing talent that goes virtually unheard of by all but those on hand in that area at that time. Some of these people have world-class talent but for some reason or another never make it past "local" status. Others are just part of the changing surf culture that has evolved over the years and that they were there, then, made a difference in the evolvement of the sport and culture.

Today I am thinking I will focus on the Seal Beach surf scene in the early to mid 1960's. There was a lot of heavy talent in that town in those days. The big names were Jack and Mike Haley, Robert August, Bill Fury, Denny and Sam Buehl, Willy and Danny Lenahan and Eddie Bonham.  

Jack Haley won the first West Coast Surfing Championship at the Huntington Beach pier in 1959. He was a totally notorious and colorful dude who was known as much for his "classic" deeds as his surfing ability. He was known to stow away on the cruise ships to Hawaii as well as having actually stolen a train in Mexico one time. 

Yeah, a train. As I remember the story he saw a train sitting there one day and it was running but nobody was in the locomotive. He jumped in, just to check it out he says, and pulled a lever or two and it started moving. So he just took off down the track and rode it quite a ways before figuring out how to stop it. 

These are the kinds of things he did often in those days. There are some party stories that I cannot write about here. In later life Jack became all "good and proper." He never liked having those old stories told. But this was his surf legend. 

His little brother, Mike Haley, won the West Coast Championships the next year and went on to become one of the great surfers in California as well as on the North Shore of Hawaii. Mike was sort of one of the "beautiful" people in the Laguna Beach era of love during the late 1960's when he and his wife Sherry owned a popular clothing boutique called "Leopard Spots."

Naturally Robert August became the most well-known name from that group. He was the star of Bruce Brown's eternal surf epic, "Endless Summer" and "Endless Summer 2." He also has been one of the longest lasting and most respected surfboard shapers and manufacturers in the world. Robert's smooth style was honed in the shorebreak in front of his parents' home at 13th Street. His dad, Blackie, was one of the old school greats. Robert is still surfing great and spends much of his time at his home in Costa Rica. 

The Buehl Brothers were both hot surfers and very colorful characters. Sam went off to India to hang out with monks and stuff like that. Denny was a very hot local goofy-foot who was known as, "the guppy." The guppy was good at living up to his nickname. I loved this guy, always had something cool going on and always stoked.

Danny Lenahan and Eddie Bonham were both young hot guys on the scene. They both won some stuff on the contest scene as juniors. I always thought that Danny was going to become a really big name in surfing because he had a great style and was very good very young. Somewhere along the line he veered off and didn't stick with the sport. But at that time those two dudes were among the best young talent in California. 

There were also these two guys who hung out together named Dave Browning and Gary Wassue. Sometimes they would come down and surf at Surfside near my house. I can still vividly remember Steve Rowe coming over and yelling, "Browning and Wassue are out and ripping the place apart!" He was right. 

Funny how these little bits of surf memory stick with you. I had a giant crush on Dave's little sister, Carrie. They had the first color television that I ever saw.