Jimmy Buffett’s Surfboard Collection and Ben Marcus’ New Book in a Honolulu Celebration on August 24
by Chris Dixon
One day back in June of 2008, I received a phone call from a guy named Jimmy Buffett. I’d been working occasional projects for Jimmy since back in 1999 when he hired me to travel with him for a year and write and film an online diary about the experience. Yeah, 1999 was a pretty damn good year of my life.
So anyway, Jimmy tells me that for his 60th birthday, he decided to purchase one of two Reynolds Yater-shaped surfboards used during the filming of John Milius’ epic Apocalypse Now. And by that, I mean the actual “Yater Spoon” that Robert Duval orders his guys to surf at “Charlie’s Point” during live combat. The board that spawned the immortal exclamation, “Charlie Don’t Surf!”
Jimmy had bought the Yater board from James O’Mahoney, a true Santa Barbara legend who had (and still has) a tiny, and absolutely remarkable surfing museum tucked in just off the Santa Barbara Pier on Helena Street. A wiry fit, sixty-something genius with an impish laugh and an encyclopedic mind, Mahoney was the son of former screen Tarzan and stuntman Jock Mahoney and a stepbrother of actress Sally “Gidget” Field. He’d learned to surf as a kid in Long Beach, California and then spent years of his early life traveling to exotic locales with his dad. He was also one of Southern California’s first hardcore skateboarders and the last time I checked, he was still at it.
James O’Mahoney and Jimmy Buffett. Photo: Chris Dixon
James O’s youthful travels begat a collection of all manner of ephemera from across the globe – the ring that Captain Cook wore when he first discovered the Hawaiian Islands, vintage Kamaka Ukuleles and Fender guitars, paraphernalia from South Seas headhunters, and a continuously evolving collection of irreplaceable surfboards that included Jimmy’s new Apocalypse stick and even boards built by seminal Hawaiian (by way of the Great Lakes) waterman Tom Blake and Hobie icon Phil Edwards. When Jimmy really started diving into Mahoney’s collection, it was like falling down a rabbit hole. Jimmy was astonished when we even found connections to his own early Tahitian-mariner ancestors amongst Mahoney’s goods. So impressed was Buffett, that he decided to buy a big part of Mahoney’s collection and place it in a museum that would be attached to Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber, a restaurant his Margaritaville partners were building at the Holiday Inn Waikiki. I had the great honor of helping catalogue and write the history for the collection at the Beachcomber’s Honolulu Surfing Museum.
A couple of years ago, a former editor I once worked with at Surfer magazine named Ben Marcus started work on a book called “365 Surfboards,” and Jimmy was gracious enough to allow Ben to tell the story of a couple dozen of his boards. On August 24, Ben will take the stage at the Beachcomber to present “Show Face,” a slideshow about his newly released book. He’ll also show a film called Trunk It, made in 2005 for the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center. The film shows a montage of Hawaiian surfing and beach scenes from 1906 to 1947. “I’ve been involved in a lot of history projects,” Marcus said. “But this is one of my favorites.”
An image from the film Trunk it. Photo Courtesy, Ben Marcus, The Bishop Museum.
The party was initially announced to be an official Aloha Oe to the Beachcomber – but it was just announced that instead, it will only close for a week and reopen around September 7 under new, local management. So if you’re on Oahu, do yourself a favor and join Ben and surf historians like Mark Fragale, for a night of Pupus, MaiTais and story talking. I sure wish I could be there.
Say Aloha Oe to Jimmy’s at the Beachcomber/Honolulu Surfing Museum With a Night of Surf History – August 24. 5:00 to 10:00
Holiday Inn Resort Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel
2300 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu
Validated parking (if it’s validation you seek)
Below are a few more boards in Buffett’s Collection:
Click the image to enlarge.
The “8’6″ Yater Spoon”
It’s hardly surprising that Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic Vietnam War movie “Apocalypse Now” contains a reference to surfing, since the original script was written by John Milius of “Big Wednesday” fame. The Hollywood writer and director became enthralled with surfing as a gremmie on the beach at Malibu in the early ’60s.
Milius nailed the surfing soul of 9th Cavalry/Airborne’s swaggering Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in the memorable “Apocalypse Now” scene where he and Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) are discussing the best way to get Willards patrol boat onto the Nung River. One of the 9th Cavalry soldiers, a surfer known as “Mike from San Diego”, informs Kilgore – clad in a “Yater” surfing tee shirt – that theres a fantastic pointbreak at a potential drop off point for the PT boat. But the village in front of the surf spot is a Viet Cong stronghold. Kilgore vows to take out the village so he and his men can ride some waves. “It`s pretty hairy in there,” Mike says. “Its Charlie’s Point.”
“Charlie don’t surf!” Kilgore famously scoffs, as he calls for his Yater Spoon model surfboard. And then he orders all hell to rain down from a fleet of Huey helicopters while ordering a pair of his men to paddle out. “God,” sighs Kilgore, sniffing the air as if it were a salty breeze off the sea, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
One minor problem: neither of the two boards that appear in the movie are in fact Yater Spoons, but rather nondescript stock longboards that Yater believes were bought off the rack at his Santa Barbara Surf Shop sometime around 1970 and dressed up with artwork by the moviemakers.
Yater had no idea that either he or is boards would even be mentioned in the film. When it first came out: “A bunch of guys said, you’ve gotta see this movie. When I did I was kind of blown away.”
The Balsa and Fiberglass Malibu Chip
By the end of the 1940s, Southern California surfboard builders were engaged in a quest for better equipment—boards that would be easy to paddle and catch waves on, and be more maneuverable. They were eginning to understand how changes in outlines, bottom contours, rocker and rails could dramatically alter a board’s performance. As fiberglass and balsa wood became commercially available, surfboard builders quickly adopted them as the new standard in materials. Balsa was easier to shape than redwood and once wrapped in fiberglass, much lighter at 30 – 35 pounds.Santa Monica-based Joe Quigg turned out a series of such boards in the late ’40s that were intended for the small but growing group of female surfers at nearby Malibu. “It helped the girls to leave the tails wide,” recalls Quigg. “I’d put what I called easy-rider rocker in them. They were real easy to ride. A lot of girls learned how to surf on those boards in just a few months.”But it was not just the women who appreciated the lighter, better performing boards. Many of the men borrowed them and found that they too enjoyed the way they rode, opening a new chapter in surfing style known as “hot-dogging,” characterized by snappy turns, “walking the board” and noserides that were impossible on the clunky planks and hollow boards of earlier years.
In July 1950 a group of Malibu surfers traveled south to San Diego’s Windansea for a Fourth of July weekend surfing contest—and they took their new “Malibu” boards with them. Recalls Quigg: “This local guy, Art Cunningham, sees our boards, which had rocker, and were curvy, and were yellowish, and he says, ‘Wow, look at those potato chips.’”
Known thereafter as Malibu Chips, the balsa and fiberglass boards were a milestone in board design and a turning point in the evolution of surfing performance.
Phil Edwards Honolulu
During the late ’50s and early ’60s Californian Phil Edwards was widely regarded as the best surfer in the world. With his carving turns, swooping drop-knee cutbacks and unique embellishments of body english, Edwards made surfing into art—a dance on a liquid stage. Amazingly, Edwards never won any big contests, in fact he largely shunned such events, but his reputation was made through word of mouth from first hand observers and his featuring in several surf movies that showed him in action on the West Coast and in Hawaii. In one of those films, Bruce Brown’s “Surfing Hollow Days” Edwards is shown successfully riding an eight-foot wave at the Banzai Pipeline, which earned him credit as the first surfer to conquer that notorious North Shore Oahu break. The accolade that has since been disputed, but Edwards was certainly the first person to be captured surfing Pipeline on film. The following year, 1963, he won the inaugural Surfer Magazine Readers Poll and in 1966 he was the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story. He was, without question, surfing’s first major star.
In addition to being a great surfer, Edwards was also a skilled craftsman and surfboard shaper. In the early ’60s he was the premier team rider for Hobie Surfboards, which launched a “Phil Edwards Model” in 1963. In 1966, Edwards moved to Hawaii and for a two-year period made a relatively small number of surfboards under the label “Phil Edwards Honolulu.” This pintail board, which bears the serial number C-38, is one of the now rare survivors of that brief production run. The board is of foam and fiberglass and features a redwood center stringer along with offset reverse t-band stringers of foam and redwood. The rakish, cutaway fin suggests the board dates to 1967 when fins began being cut down in area.