Surf club forms to mentor kids ways of watermen/waterwomen
by Kevin Cody
The idea for a South Bay surf club hit Mike Balzer two years ago. His son Shane was 9 and his daughter Malia was 6. They weren’t enthusiastic about dad teaching them to surf because they wanted to play with their friends and their friends didn’t surf.
“When I learned to surf in the ‘60s every street had its crew. I surfed between 22nd Street and 25th Street in Hermosa, down the street from my house. The older guys – Phil Becker, Mike Fair, Johnny Croteau, Clem Camau – looked out for us. We learned about the ocean through them,” Balzer said.
But in the late 1960s, surf clubs, such as the 17th Street Seals, disappeared, and with them the informal mentoring program for young kids. The Bay Cities Surf Club, founded in 1963, held its last Hermosa Beach Aloha Days contest in 2004. Mira Costa grad Matt Warshaw, in his Encyclopedia of Surfing, attributes the decline of surf clubs to the influence of the counter culture and its disdain for bylaws and competition.
As an action sports photographer, Balzer was occasionally assigned to gather groups of local surfers for photos. The shoots would invariably turn into reunion celebrations.
“We’d have so much fun together, everyone would say, ‘Let’s do this again.’ But typically, the only time we’d do it would be for a paddleout for someone who had died,” Balzer said.
The paddleout for former Mira Costa High schoolmate Andy Lehman two summers ago reinforced Balzer’s interest in finding a way to get local surf families together on more regular and more positive occasions.
Balzer mentioned the club idea to two other former Mira Costa schoolmates Tom Horton and Derek Levy during a lunch at El Gringo. All three had reservations because surfing is such an individualistic sport.
But their skepticism gave way six months ago when Horton, his wife Darci and kids Cole and Shayna hosted an exploratory surf club meeting at their Hermosa Beach home. Over 50 South Bay surfers showed up, many of them parents with kids in tow.
Last Friday, at Sangria restaurant on Pier Plaza, the South Bay Board Riders hosted the club’s first formal gathering. Nearly 300 people showed, one-third of them kids.
“It was like a wedding party,” Balzer said. Guests included three generations of the Meistrell Body Glove family; former pros Mike Purpus, Ted Robinson and Chris Frohoff; Spyder Surf owner Dickie O’Reilly; surfboard shapers Tyler Hatzikian, Donald Kadowaki, Pat Reardon and Dennis Jarvis, and many of the area’s top young surfers, including South Bay Board Riders board member Kelly Zaun.
The evening honored former pro surfer Mike Purpus, Body Glove co-founder Bob Meistrell, and pioneer surf photographer Leroy Grannis (who was unable to attend). Purpus and Meistrell reminded guests that they are not only two of the greatest watermen to come out of the South Bay, but also two of the greatest storytellers.
Purpus is 62 and recently had both hips replaced. He said he still surfs every day “so you guys can’t make butt of me.” Purpus is one of the few surfers to have made the transition from competitive long boarder to competitive short boarder. Balzer’s photo exhibits of the honorees showed recent photos of Purpus at Topaz Street, walking the nose on his long board, and doing a fair imitation of his signature roundhouse cutback on a short board.
Meistrell, not to be outdone, told of SCUBA diving to 100 feet off Redondo last year, on his 82nd birthday. For his 83rd, he plans to dive to 4,000 feet, he said, piloting a submarine.
Having determined there is support for a local surf club, Balzer, Horton, Levy, O’Reilly, Zaun, and fellow board members Kim Komick, George Loren, Matt Walls, Tim Ritter and Kevin Campbell are meeting this week to plan how the club will fulfill its mission statement of “introducing families, youth and our community to all aspects of ocean activities, and being guardians of our local shoreline…”
“We’re thinking the adult members can mentor the kids who want to be pro surfers, shapers, lifeguards or surf photographers. And we want to hold surf contests and beach days where our kids can meet other local kids who surf,” Balzer said. Other ideas, he said, include surf camping trips, beach cleanups, and surf, paddling and SUP lessons.
Balzer said he also foresees the club becoming a unified voice for the surf community.
For more information about the South Bay Board Riders Club visit www.facebook.com/SBBoardriders. ER