Family dynamics can get complicated at times. Relationships of any kind, be they family or otherwise, require a certain amount of common ground. It doesn’t have to be super complicated, often times it’s the simple things that make the difference. When I was younger, I don’t think I appreciated the relationships in my life like I should have. Recently my dad came across some slides he took as a kid at Malibu, and it brought to mind how simple and yet how important it is to find common ground in the relationships we cherish. For us, the ocean has been one such source of this.
I started surfing in 1961, at the end of the balsawood board era. On my first visit to Malibu some guy tried to sell me a balsa board for $50. I later learned his name was Miki Dora, a surfer whom I’d soon gain much respect for his surfing abilities. For the next twelve years Malibu became my summer playground, with occasional trips north to Secos. There were many excellent surfers that rode Malibu: Lance Carson, Johnny Fain, and “Buzz” to name a few. However, without doubt Dora was the best, and he knew it.
In the winter months I would travel north to Santa Barbara to surf Rincon and Hammonds; I loved Hammonds. In those days the caretaker of the Hammonds Estate allowed us to spread our towels on a putting green that was just above the high tide line. Wherever we surfed, we would always have a fire on the beach to warm ourselves.
In the mid sixties four of my surfing buddies and I started a surf club; we called it North Bay Surf Club to emphasize our connection with the Malibu area. Our club grew to over 50 members with club jackets and patches for our trunks. We surfed competitively and did quite well.
This was every surfer’s dream: to be able to surf Malibu with just four other surfers
In 1967 I had a friend on the Bay Cities Surf Club team who was invited to surf in the Malibu Invitational. At the time this was every surfer’s dream: to be able to surf Malibu with just four other surfers. There was some swell that year and I went to support my friend Gary Ross; and to take a few pictures. My camera was a Kodak Instamatic. John Severson, founder of Surfer Magazine, was on hand documenting the action as well.
One year Australian Nat Young came to surf Malibu. He was riding a shorter “V-bottom” board and was laying it on the rail repeatedly. He helped usher in a wake-up call that board design was in a period of evolution, and Australians were at the forefront. After watching Nat, the next week I bought an 8’4” V-bottom from Dave Sweet Surf Shop. I put my 9’6” Dora Cat in the garage. With the smaller boards surfing took on a whole new look.
In 1973 I moved to Santa Maria to start a career and raise a family. For the most part my surfing days had come to a close. But in 1996 my son Daniel and I had a discussion that changed my life. Dan played baseball and basketball for his high school, but he was put off with the politics that are a part of high school sports. I told him how much I enjoyed surfing, and much to my delight he said he wanted to try it.
It so happened I was selling my Dora Cat to a collector in Laguna Beach. As part of the deal I got a 1975 7’4” G&S surfboard. It was a single fin and had lots of volume, perfect for Dan to give surfing a try. That board opened up a whole new world for Dan and me. Later that same year I borrowed a 35mm camera with a telephoto lens from my brother to take some photos of Dan surfing. I never gave that camera back to my brother. I shoot surfing about twice a week now. This may be hard to understand, but somehow I vicariously surf with each shot I take. I feel like I am back in the game again and I enjoy it immensely.
When I think back I really owe a lot to my dad, especially when it comes to surfing. I had a late start in surfing, though the ocean has played a significant role in my life from a young age. But I didn’t start surfing until my mid teens, when my dad suggested I give it a try after I told him I was done with organized sports. I’m not very competitive, so in high school when coaches and everyone else started taking things a bit too seriously for my taste, I decided I’d had enough.
That’s when I started surfing. Growing up I’d periodically overhear my dad recount stories from his surfing days and one of the overriding themes I took away from his stories was that Rincon and Malibu were amazing waves. So when I paddled out for my first time I wanted it to be at Rincon. I figured if that was the best wave around, then I should go there. My dad tried to gently enlighten me on surfing protocol, and suggested we try somewhere not so crowded.
For me to quit high school sports and start surfing was a bigger deal than you’d think it should have been
It’s kind of funny, but for me to quit high school sports and start surfing was a bigger deal than you’d think it should have been. Some of my friends, teammates, and coaches thought I was getting mixed up with a bad crowd. I remember making a conscious decision that I was going to surf regardless of what my peers thought. And so with a little encouragement from my dad, I did just that.
The first time I caught a wave and rode down the line it was a stormy and miserable day. Just when I was about to go in out of frustration, I caught the wave that cemented my love for the sea and for surfing. As most first rides go it was nothing too extraordinary, but in that instant I felt an overwhelming excitement and sense of accomplishment. I knew from then on I was a surfer.
Sometimes I find it strange that I ended up loving the ocean so much, it almost took my life when I was five. It happened while my family and I were enjoying a sunny day at Shell Beach. I was playing near the shore break when a surge of water caught me and began to sweep me out to sea. Thankfully my brother saw what happened and was able to hold onto me until my dad could rescue us from drowning. Perhaps the incident helped to foster the fascination with water that has been with me as long as I can recall. Perhaps the incident instilled in me the respect and awe I still feel toward the ocean. Perhaps I’m making too much of the incident altogether.
Now in my thirties, when I take account of the role my dad has played in my surfing life, I’m forever in debt to him. He passed along a great gift in the act of wave riding; and he helped instill in me a love and respect for nature that endures to this day.
Today my dad and I still enjoy surfing together, though he no longer surfs. But he says the next best thing to surfing is photographing it; he says it allows him to surf with each wave he captures through the lens. So we still regularly meet at the beach for a session, and still get breakfast afterwards to recount the day’s waves. The ocean is a special place; a common ground if you will, and I’m thankful it has played a role in our relationship.
By Craig Hamlin and Dan Hamlin
For more about Dan visit his site www.oceansandink.com