S N I P E R ' S
T A L E
From watching bullets run through the Shau Valley sky to watching the surf roll in at China Beach, Vietnam.
Here is a letter from our favorite sharp shooter/skater/surfer Garth Wilson. Who put us in a time machine of OG O.C. culture from Cadillac wheels to the "Greek" with this doozy of a letter.
So here it is another summer of ideas and innovation always pushing the technological envelope towards great thrills bruised egos and broken bones. It’s 1963 and for a “grom” like myself it’s Zuma Beach, Manhattan Beach or the holy land; Malibu. My first board, a Dewey Weber 9’6” probably measured weight in British Stone units, and could have been cut into two short boards today. Anyway for a beginner it kept me safe and above water. Big and slow, there’s a picture in the dictionary of this board for “logs” of the sixties.
Then there was this concept of skate “boarding”. Knock the handles off your scooter, cause who needs a handle anyway? So the prehistoric origin of the skateboard begins; find an old skate shoe, cut off the wheels, nail them to the bottom of a 2x4 plank and you have transportation. Find a sidewalk things must evolve. Steel wheels suck but there is always a beginning and the “Chicago” wheel was born. Toss the 2x4 plank and suddenly the “skateboard” resembled a mini surfboard. My wood shop teacher was so taken aback by the designs he actually let us build our own boards. Short boards, long boards, laminates some were even glassed. Yeah, were still in the sixties.
There was a caveat to any great technology and with Chicago wheels being made of a composite material they were smooth, sounded great on concrete, but get a stone between your wheels and mother earth and you better check your lift to glide ratio because you are definitely going airborne. Oh yeah, stick in the bruising and broken bones here. Whatever dynamic you wish to use is your choice but if you got a rock between the wheel and the road and it locked right up. Suddenly the board stays and you are launched into infinity and terra firma.
Liberated from the valley life, my folks moved us to the O.C. promising me a view of the ocean, of course as long as I was standing on the roof of our two story apartment complex. Surfing Huntington was a trip, does anyone know of this place? A little hard work saving coin and I ran down to PCH north of Main street and got introduced to “The Greek”. My first “new” stick, and oh the weight reduction I thought, this is trick! My Dad was cool about getting me north of the pier on weekends as long as I worked with his schedule, meaning there was a lot of sunrise and cold mornings to deal with; you ever burn papers out of your wallet to stay warm?.....humbling. Surfing back then was great! All the surfing movies were being filmed up in L.A. and us country folk in the O.C. had a slice of heaven and no crowds. Still no short boards but hey we never complained about driving the family car either.
So it’s about 1966, we have wheels and the scoop on a body surfing beach called the “Wedge”. Take fins, this is an E-ticket ride to your demise! Actually, it turned out to be demented physical therapy after school starting in the spring through summer. Mix a storm, a north swell and that ominous peak waits for no one just there to toss your bones into the sand….what no water? Want safety forget it! Want less conflict, go get your board and go back to the pier, the “Wedge” was relentless and unforgiving…..still is!
As with any adventure of life there were the sobering realities of a fucked up world what with the war in Vietnam and my sense of duty, but hey maybe they surf over there too. My last day home I walked out to the end of the north jetty next to the Wedge and sat there for the longest time, just taking it in, taking it in more. The next day life changed and months later hey, we did surf the “Nam”! China Beach had boards sprouting up like so many sticks in a cake. Surfing was not the best but when you are in a war zone, no complaints besides “Charlie” is out there wondering what the hell we were doing; back to the jungle.
When you leave home and are lucky enough to return to the comfort of what once was change is inevitable…..thus the short board enters the scene. Being a kid who played football in High School, I was a tad stout for these boards, so I stuck with tradition and kept my bones on a long board, thanks mom I guess I’ll drive the family car.
Flash forward forty years later I found myself ordering up another long board, still here and a treat for my grandsons who want to experience the ride, a good start!
So here I am, haven’t left, still here and now I get enjoy watching my grandson surf and add in the occasional skateboard park, the torch is passed! Now I equip myself with a camera to collect his memories to share with his kids, grandkids and those generations who come and go with the tide.
Live well .
Credits: “Stone Believer” by the Iron Butterfly 1970
“Though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for I am the evilest motherfucker in the valley”
― Alex Garland