When History Called, This Dude Answered


They came in Mercedes-Benzes, big Suburbans and cherried-out vans with surfboard racks. Definitely a SoCal crowd. Just ask the dude valet-parking the cars at the Chart House, an upscale restaurant overlooking Dana Point Harbor where they were congregating this evening.

The attraction wasn't the food, the booze or the harbor view. It was a 53-year-old former Californian whose name, Drew Kampion, would hardly raise eyebrows or draw much attention from those outside surfing's mainstream.

But there he was at the microphone. Hawaiian shirt. Balding pate. Quick wit and generous smile. Kampion had stopped by Orange County to pitch his new book, "Stoked: A History of Surfing Culture" (General Publishing Group, 216 pages, $29.95).

"This is really some turnout tonight," said Mark Cousineau, who as chapter president for Surfrider Foundation in San Clemente, called the December meeting in recognition of Kampion, one of surfing's premier historians, a guy who was there when it happened.

Already, nearly 10,000 copies have been sold, Kampion said. The book has been so successful that the publishing house is considering a second printing, said Lori Rick, from General Publishing.

From his vantage point as an editor, Kampion chronicled some of the sport's best and weirdest times while at Surfer magazine (1968-72) and then at Surfing (1973-82). Both magazines still publish in Orange County. Kampion now lives in Washington and is editorial director for Wind Tracks, a windsurfing magazine.

Kampion has been a fan ever since he began surfing in California in the '60s. As he wrote in "Stoked," it was Bruce Brown's famous surf film that kick-started the love affair with the ocean.

"I stood in line with the throngs on a perfect spring afternoon outside the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium beneath the marquee that read, 'The Endless Summer.' And, when Terrence led Mike Hynson and Robert August over the dunes to Cape St. Francis, and I beheld the most perfect waves I'd ever seen, I could taste them, and, I admit it, I lusted in my heart of hearts for a go at 'Bruce's beauties.' I was insatiably stoked."

Nice phrasing for a surfer. But then, Kampion always was the "best encoder" of the surfing lifestyle for a mass audience, says friend Steve Pezman, publisher of Surfer's Journal magazine.

Only this group at the Chart House wasn't a Barnes & Noble crowd. It was a mix of hard-core surfers and men and women who personify the sport's aloha spirit. Many wouldn't be caught dead attending such a pedestrian scene as a book signing, or quaffing hot lattes at the coffee bars on Robertson Boulevard in West L.A.

Of the crowd, Cousineau said it was large, but then Kampion's presence guaranteed the turnout, he added.

Those in the crowd included Steve Hawk, Surfer magazine editor; Peter Townend, former world champion; and Tom Morey, surfer and inventor of the Boogie board.

These were also regulars, who, on any given morning, could be found checking out the waves from South Bay to Trestles. No wannabes. No nose rings. They came to see Kampion, spend a few bucks on his book, swap stories and enjoy the stoke.

As for the Mercedes, it belonged to filmmaker Greg MacGillivray. But he isn't a ringer. MacGillivray of Laguna Beach, who has been surfing since the '60s, made a ton of surf films before working with the larger 70mm film format. Kampion wrote the narration for the classic MacGillivray-Freeman surf film, "Five Summer Stories."

"Drew is one of my dearest and oldest friends," MacGillivray said. "I was the godfather to his oldest son, and we've traveled around the world together . . . . I wouldn't have missed this event for anything."

Kampion has mined this audience before and knew to bring the three required props: A slide projector, screen and plenty of bitchin' surfin' slides.

"Here's a picture of Rolf Aurness," Kampion said, as a skinny kid popped up on the screen. "It's Rolf in Australia in 1970 after winning the world championship. He took up piano playing and lived up in Hollister Ranch for a while. Of course, his father is actor James Arness and I think Rolf lives in Pacific Palisades now and is getting back into surfing again."

Switching from the historical, Kampion also showed his pictures of big Waimea Bay in Hawaii, where monstrous, 20-foot waves thundered onshore. Inevitably, the audience oohed and ahhed.

"You know, Drew's pictures were really moving," said Lisa Eilertson of San Clemente. "He said, 'I'm not a photographer. I'm a journalist.' But it was a pretty cool slide show. He had all the shots you would think a journalist would take, including interviewing Michael Ho where he snapped a picture of him as a little boy. That was really interesting."

During an interview, Kampion talked about the history of surf culture and surfing's most outrageous personalities, including many from Southern California.

Though many will argue that Orange County's Hobie Alter helped start the surfing craze for the masses, Kampion points to the city of Malibu as the epicenter.

"Malibu was the start of modern surfing in Southern California," Kampion said, "when critical mass in terms of the culture, what we call 'surf culture,' crystallized around Malibu. Through a combination of balsa boards, the introduction of early foam boards, then Gidget and the movies and the music, Malibu was the core location of the surf culture."

As for the surf industry, it began in the South Bay with a little help from a guy named John Severson, who created Surfer magazine in 1960.

"The industry started in the South Bay and Orange County," Kampion said. "The pop surf culture creator was John Severson. His magazine created a rallying point for surf culture, advertising, organizing everyone in a certain way. Without the magazine, it would have remained different pockets of surfdom. He created pop surf culture."

Kampion says that although Hawaii is the soul of surfing, Southern California represents its heart.

Of personalities, who was the most outrageous?

"Mickey Dora certainly stands out," Kampion said of the man from Malibu regarded in the '60s as surfing's iconoclastic soul. "Especially in terms of Southern California and Malibu and connecting Hollywood to the coast and creating the modern image of the surfer.

"He was probably a key guy. Opinionated. Brilliant. And a terrific surfer who felt very bitter about the surfing appeal he helped create at his break which then got overpopulated with what he called 'Valley cowboys.' "

Dora is believed to still be riding waves somewhere in South Africa.

As for Orange County's surfing hierarchy, Kampion quickly reeled off the names of Dale Velzy, Mickey Munoz and Phil Edwards, legends living in San Clemente.

"Velzy? Dale was a shaper and a surfboard designer. He coined the term 'gremmie,' " Kampion said. "And, he was the first guy who saw the potential market in surfing. He saw the people at the beach and helped with the introduction of fiberglass and foam boards. With equipment that was shorter, lighter, he figured he could get the kids hooked on surfing.

"While at Manhattan [Beach] where Dale started, he was first to put his logo on his boards. He had a shop and by 1960 was considered the world's largest surfboard manufacturer."

Velzy still makes wood paddleboards and classic surfboards that he sells in Japan.

Kampion recalled that it was Munoz, a former San Clemente lifeguard who was among "the first group of guys to surf Waimea Bay in 1957. . . . There were only three guys out and Mickey was one of them," Kampion said.

Edwards, who earned a granite square on the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, had a style of riding a wave that helped shape how a generation would surf.

"He probably got out of surfing when he couldn't be the best," Kampion said of the reclusive Edwards. "He eventually got into making catamarans with Hobie [Alter] and helped design the Hobie 33, the ULDB--ultralight displacement boat--and makes race boats with stripped-down high-performance hulls."

Many people believe that the mid-'60s--with surf music pounded out by guitarist Dick Dale, the Beach Boys, and Jan and Dean, and the surf flicks--represented surfing's zenith. But Kampion disagrees.

"Certainly that was the big boom and it stands out in our memories," he said. "In fact, surfing is as big as it's ever been right now. And that's more in relationship to the mass audience that is amplified by the success of skateboarding and snowboarding, which is huge and taking over the slopes."

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