There were no VW busses in the parking lot, no Vietnam protests in D.C., and Bob Dylan was not going electric at the Newport Folk Festival. But on a patch of gravelly sand in San Clemente, a group of high school surfers looked cut and pasted from exactly that era. Their passion? Riding waves, shaping surfboards, strumming ukuleles, and living life at a pace that seems out of sorts with today’s accelerated, gadget-infested world.
I caught up with three of them on a recent Friday afternoon: Kyle Arnett, 15; Dewey Wilson, 16; Sully Grush, 15. The waves were dumpy; the sea twinkled in all its analog perfection. I asked some questions.
“Why and how did you find your way into riding vintage craft?”
“I used to do contests when I was in middle school,” said Sully, “but I got over it. We’re inspired by the sixties and seventies. I started riding single fins and longboards. The music we listen to from the sixties came over to surfing.”
“I grew up surfing San O,” explained Dewey. “I also want to set myself apart from the competitive part of surfing—I like the idea that we’re doing something different.”
“I used to ride thrusters, but we ended up going our own way,” said Kyle. “We’re not being forced to ride the same boards as everyone else. For us it’s all about fun. We also all play instruments. We jam together.”
“Who are your heroes?” I asked.
Sully was not trying to be funny when he asked, “What does that mean?”
They seemed incredibly at home in their little sandy nook, Lord of the Flies meets Big Wednesday. A few yards away a group of pretty girls played volleyball. The waves hissed and crackled. The boys got to talking among themselves.
“Dude, I finally finished that board.” “Is it sick?” “Yeah. The paint job got all warped and rusty. It has a ‘69’ on it.”
A squirrel appeared from the shrubs, darted around.
“Whoa, dude, there’s a squirrel.”
“That’s that same squirrel. We never named him!”
I asked them about their musical tastes. “I like everything besides modern-day stuff,” said Sully. “Me and my buddy Finn are getting into jazz from the twenties. We listen to classic vinyl, rock n roll.”
“I like the Grateful Dead,” said Kyle.
“I like the Grateful Dead and roots reggae,” said Dewey. “Also sixties stuff.”
We got onto the topic of living in San Clemente.
“It’s the best,” said Dewey. “We’re all super grateful to live here. I don’t know…if I had to live inland, like Mission Viejo, that would blow.”
Dewey pulled a tangerine from his bag and peeled it. Sully nibbled at a handful of trail mix.
I wondered what their version of a perfect day would look like.
“Today’s pretty perfect,” said Kyle.
I pointed out to the small surf. “It could be better,” I said.
“Yeah, but it could be worse. We just take whatever waves we can get.”
At that moment a seagull flew overhead, casting a perfect winged shadow over the three surfers.