Doc’s House: Where a team of the South Bay’s best surfers did their chores and were on time to school

Doc tends to the hibachi for his young charges (left to right) Steve Martin, Mike Purpus, Mike Benavidez, Tracy Stumbo, and Chris Barela. Photo by Kevin Cody/Easy Reader

by Mike Purpus

[Editor’s note: To a generation of Hermosa Beach surfers, Doc’s house overlooking the beach at 15th Street was home to the South Bay’s best surfers, and home away from home to the world’s best surfers. Doc passed away this month, of natural causes at age 92.)

It was the summer of ’64 when I first met Doc Ackroyd. He was struggling to get out in two foot surf on a 10-foot balsa surfboard. The pasty skinned, freckle faced, slightly overweight 30 something man had no clue how to surf. His belly was hanging over the tail pushing the nose up into the air. The waves sent him back to shore with every stroke, I was only 14 years old. I managed to turn his board around and shove him into a few small white water waves. I introduced myself and Doc invited me back to his place for a soda.

Doc told me he was a doctor and had just moved out from Minnesota. He didn’t know a thing about surfing or have any friends yet. He lived one house behind the Hermosa Beach Strand on 18th Street. I surfed with Sparky Hudson, Mark Roberts and Don Craig who all lived on the same block. We were always looking for a new place to hang out after school. I had Doc over for dinner to meet my parents. My dad was the chief Physical Therapist for the Redondo beach Medical Clinic and hit it off with Doc right away.

Albert “Doc” Ackroyd, and Tom Purpus. Photo courtesy of Mike Purpus

Doc was stoked to have new friends and to be accepted into the South Bay culture. My parents had Doc over for dinner every Wednesday night and Doc would fill them in on what I was up to. My friends talked Doc into taking us on a surf trip down to San Onofre in San Clemente. Doc bought a new Ford Econoline Van for the trip. Doc was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and his ID got us on all the military bases. We talked Doc into sneaking us into a restricted area on the Point Loma Navy Base. It was a perfect Malibu shaped wave with nobody there. After we got out we were threatened with arrest. 

Doc didn’t take to surfing, but was a good snow skier. He took me and my little brother Tim to Mammoth, where I once ran over one of Doc’s patients. Doc ran The Northrop Medical Center and Northrop would send him on a European ski trip every couple of months. One time he returned with a broken right leg in a half body cast. My high school girlfriend, Karen Bibee, drove Doc everywhere for a month. Doc bought Karen a ticket to Australia for her graduation so she could watch me surf in The World Surfing Championships.

Doc built his own Heath Kit TV sets. He liked photography, and had the best equipment. We talked him into shooting us everytime we went in the water. He didn’t care if it was raining, foggy or windy. If we were in the water Doc was filming on the beach. In the mid ‘60s every Saturday there was a TV surfing show called Surf’s Up and Surfing World on Sundays. I was on the shows several times narrating Doc’s films of my friends and I. Hap Jacobs was thrilled to see his team members on TV.

Even though Doc did not surf the best surf club on the coast, Windansea, was thrilled that Doc was a member. We were the only surf club to have our own doctor. Windansea would go to Mexico and Hawaii every year to compete in surf club contest’s. Doc went with us taking care of the best surfers in the world.

One year I won two trips to Hawaii. I gave one ticket to my dad and one to Doc for Christmas. Doc rented a house on the beach at Pipeline and rented a car. He took us to Maui for a week before coming home.

In the late ‘60s Doc wound up in my El Camino Ceramic’s Class, along with my mother, Joanne. We drove our teacher, Jack Nelson, nuts. He finally had to split us up or fail us. Doc ran out and bought a potter’s wheel and a kiln so we could make our own pots at his house.

The Hot Lips surf team in Doc’s backyard (left to right) Chris Barela, Monica Lanz, Mike Purpus, Mike Benavidez, Dan Purpus, Liz Benavidez, and Terry Stevens. (Seated) Tracy Stumbo, and Steve Martin. Photo by Kevin Cody/Easy Reader

Eventually, Doc felt it was time for a change and bought a big three-bedroom, two-bath house at 36 15th Street in Hermosa Beach. He cut a giant window through the wall of the middle upstairs bedroom for a picture perfect view of the beach. As soon as Doc purchased the house Northrop sent him on a ski trip for a month to France and Austria. Doc asked me to move in and keep an eye on the big old house. I couldn’t wait.

The first night I took my new girlfriend, Camille Dick, to the “Exorcist” premier. I was terrified on the way home, and begged my new 16-year-old girlfriend to let me stay at her house. She said her dad would kill us both if I did. All the bedrooms at Doc’s house were at the top of a creaky staircase. I slept in my car parked in the driveway. Terry Stevens, the most enthusiastic 18 year old surfing grom in the South Bay woke me up and asked why I was sleeping in my car. I said I was too afraid to sleep in the house. Terry said “I will stay there with you”.

Terry moved in the next day and introduced me to his little protege, 15 year old Mike Benavidiz who introduced us to his little surfing buddy, 14 year old Chris Barela. When Doc came home he found all four of us had moved into his house. He called a meeting right away with all the parents. They were thrilled to have their kids living with a doctor. 

Doc set up his house rules. The number one rule was everyone goes to school everyday. Doc would drop us off on his way to work every morning. He would hang a towel in the big window when it was time to get out of the water. Everybody’s parents had to chip in once a week for groceries. Doc said that it was his house and not a fraternity party house. All the kids chipped in on house chores. They slept on the huge bean bag pillows Doc made down stairs in front of the TV. Doc and I had the two big bedrooms upstairs. The kids loved it because we were right on the beach and surfed all the time. A few months went by and two other protages, 14 year old Steve Martin, and 13 year old Tracy Stumbo got to stay overnight on weekends. We called them “The Turkeys.” The helped out with keeping the house clean and drying our wetsuits every morning in the laundry. Everyone got to be very good surfers. We called ourselves “The Hot Lips Surf Team.” If anyone got out of line Doc would make them watch his most recent bird slides from his Audubon Society. They had to recite all their proper names. Doc would do the LA Times crossword puzzle every morning and become furious when Terry beat him in a game of chess everyday before work. 

Doc’s house was the biggest surfing hang out in the South Bay. With Doc’s permission, all the tour pro surfers stopped by, including David Nuuhiwa, Clyde Aiiku, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, Larry Blair, Shaun Tomson, Larry Bertlemann, Rabbit Bartholomew, Paul Neilson, and Dane Kealoha. 

After Mike Benevediez and Chris Barela graduated high school Doc bought them a surf shop on Manhattan Avenue, in Manhattan Beach, by the Pier. It was called Fireline Surfboards. It lasted two years before they lost interest and wanted to travel the pro surfing tour. They both did well and eventually settled down and got married. Mike is the manager of Ercoles Bar in Manhattan and Chris is an award winning sculptor.

We all drove Doc nuts for almost 10 years. He patched us up and took care of us better than anyone else. ER


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