Birdwell Blog

Notes from a Malibu Swell
Dazzling Blue #106

—You pull into the Malibu parking lot and from out of an exiting car comes a hand passing you a parking pass. That’s become the unspoken code at Malibu. We surfers don’t pay for parking. It’s our rail against the City. It’s civilized in the way that sleeping on the beach and fishing for your supper is civilized.

 

 

—Malibu’s all about the wave, but the wave brings with it this hubbub of fun (and occasional rage). The parking lot is full of vans and pickups with boards poking out the back and wafts of the green stuff, creating a certain Bombay Beach Biennale-meets-Gidget vibe. From one dirty-white Econoline I’m pretty sure I heard the murmurs and moans of what might be called Afternoon Delight, or in this case, Between Surfs Delight. No one seemed to notice. It seemed as natural as a Joel Tudor nose ride.

 

 

—I did not see Joel Tudor, but I did watch a 20ish girl climb all sunburned and sleepy-headed out of the rear gate of a beater pickup. She hopped on a skateboard and did a casual turn and rode with effortless style. She wore a white bikini, no shoes. Her skin was mahogany brown. She skated up to the pearly gates (aka Malibu wall) to check the waves. Just then a head-high set pulsed through. The whole thing was so cinematic, so straight out of Central Casting that you could almost hear a director yelling, “Cut! Beautiful! Couldn’t have been better!” I’d seen this scene in beach party films, “Big Wednesday,” “Lords of Dogtown,” etc. I had a chicken-egg moment—did we surfers do this first, and Hollywood adapt it, or are we falling into prescribed patterns, becoming clichés?

 

 

—Trace Marshall highline cross-stepped. Andy Lyon chucked a sweeping cutback. Chad Marshall trotted to the nose, spun around, hung heels. Kassia Meador tucked low in almost parallel stance and let the lip fall on her back. Andrew Jacobson carved a backhand hook to frontside rebound. Christian Fletcher floated a long section with what might have been a cigarette dangling from his lip. There’s a real musical thing that happens across First Point. And while the aforementioned moves happened on separate waves, with unrecognizable figures sharing the shoulder, it is entirely plausible that they could have happened on the same wave. Because six surfers to a wave at Malibu is the new normal. But then judging by the old surf films, it’s always been the new normal.

 

—Christian Fletcher? Yes. A welcomed presence at Malibu. Later in the day he emerged from a van with a bike. Behind him ambled Newport Beach hell-ripper Andrew Doheny, also with bike. They’d surfed three times. They were headed to Escobar’s (the restaurant—I know, it sounds like code for something else). The swells pulse through First Point, but also the neighboring bars and dining establishments. In fact I might have had more fun in the parking lot than in the lineup—the giggle with Malibu Carl, the gut laughs with JP and Timmy, the way a swell brings us all together.

I remember something screenwriter/director John Milius told me many years ago. We were working on a sequel to “Big Wednesday” that never got made. In what was part true to real life/part true to the fictional Malibu we were developing, he said, “You can distinguish yourself in the course of a swell. On that beach you can be a god. But as soon as you cross PCH no one knows who the hell you are.”

 

 

—A seven-wave set pulsed through First Point and on the seventh wave, maybe the biggest of the entire swell, a rider spilled forward as if pushed by some ghost hand, and then another rider, and another, and another. Further down the line, a surfer shoved by the ghost hand fell into the surfer in front of him, and down four surfers fell like bowling pins. A friend of mine shot it on his iPhone and in the replay you see a gauzy, ectoplasmic figure dance across the wave. The ectoplasm has great style, aggressively shoves dropper-inners. After the bowling pins moment the ectoplasm appears to look back at the fallen surfers and raise an ectoplasmic middle finger.

“He’s at it again,” said my friend.

“Who?” I asked.

“Dora.”

 

 

—The best wave I caught during the swell was not a wave but a series of beers with ’76 world champ Peter “PT” Townend, the Bros Marshall, and a gaggle of other First Point regulars. We were seated in the bar at Duke’s. Less than 20 feet from us, frothy blue waves crashed on the rocks. At one point, Denny Aeberg, cowriter of “Big Wednesday,” sat down with us. Then, cameo of all cameos, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, aka the real Gidget. On the wall behind us hung a four-shot sequence of Miki Dora streaking across First Point. On the adjacent wall, Duke rode in near parallel stance at Waikiki, the iconic Diamond Head in the background. There was probably some message here, some wink from the miracle that we should have stopped to acknowledge. But we just kept drinking beer.

 

 

Photos by Sean Wolflick. Check out more of Sean's work HERE.

Gidget photo by Jamie Brisick.

← Older Post Newer Post →