With so many dazzling computer games and new, exciting sports being invented each year, I often wonder what it is about surfing that continues to attract youth. When I was young, that was simple, sports meant teams and teams meant wearing uniforms, and running around a field, or, worse, over a wooden floor. For me, surfing was the only major alternative.I first became aware that surfing existed at the movies in 1959 in the form of the movie, Gidget. We couldn’t see that the actors were not riding waves (Mickey Munoz actually doubled as Gidget) and it was simply, to quote Sandra Dee, who played the lead, “the ultimate.” When I tried to explain surfing to my dad, he revealed that he had surfed in the 1940s and that it was far too dangerous for a kid to try. What dad didn’t realize was that boards were no longer 100-pound logs. I didn’t know that either; I was eleven years old at the time and was deeply in love with a girl of fifteen (Sandra Dee) and a sport as old as humankind.
Of course dating Sandra Dee was out of the question, especially since she was engaged to my singing idol, Bobby Darin. And surfing for an inland kid like me seemed equally remote. Not so to the guy I attended the theater with that day. While Robert Vermont was my age, he seemed to know all about surfing, and how to build a board. Following Robert’s advice, we went to my garage, pulled the tracks from my toy train set, cut the plywood base in two, painted the pieces yellow and we had surfboards.
I got in trouble for a while, but that weekend we ended up at the beach, where we soon realized that our boards didn’t float. Because of that, Robert and I began short careers as skim boarders, a sport that ended abruptly when I injured my hip on hard sand.
It would be two or three more years before I would find my most enduring natural high, surfing, and several decades before I met the original “girl midget” AKA Gidget, Kathy Konher.
Kathy, who grew up in Pacific Palisades near Santa Monica, surfed Malibu in the late 1950s and made friends with legendary Malibu surfers like Miki Dora, Matt Kivlin, and Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy, the man who gave her the most famous nickname in the world. Many of you may know the story of how Kathy’s father, Fredrick Konher translated the stories of his daughter’s summer adventures into the surfing world’s all-time bestseller.
I see Gidget once or twice a year and she tells me stories of ‘50s Malibu in exchange for my stories of how she changed the direction of my life. It’s a good thing she wasn’t around when I got spanked for willfully destroying my train set. Then again, maybe that was Sandra Dee’s fault. I would have destroyed a full sized train for her.