Ever wondered what the surf scene was like in the late 50’s? Local New York surfer Bob Baron recounts the first days of his surfing addiction back in 1959 in Long Island, New York. From illegal surfing to the impossible hunt for surfboards in NY, Baron describes his personal experiences growing up on the East Coast. Read as Baron story tells about the challenges and simplicity of learning how to surf over half a century ago.
As told by Robert S. Baron:
“We lived a few miles from Jones Beach [New York] and everyone I knew had been going to their since they were in diapers. Yet, things were getting boring. We would body surf… get out, shiver and go back in after a while. Then, body surf some more – without fins or belly boards, mind you. Then get out, shiver, drink beer and repeat cycle. So when a few of us heard about ‘surfing,’ we were intrigued. Finally, hopefully, possibly something new in town. Something NEW!
“The first time I tried to surf, I had never seen a real surfboard. None of us had, but I had seen a picture of a surfboard in Life Magazine. So my high school buddy, Richie Livingston, and I decided to build a surfboard, just like the surfboard in the picture. It was 1959 in Wantagh- Long Island, New York. Hobie had been making polyester resin glass boards for at least one year already in the Dana Point area. Certainly we could make one in Richie’s garage, we thought. Rich was good with tools. I had worked in a boatyard sanding fiberglass hulls. What could go wrong?
“The resulting monstrosity was sort of a loose epoxy based fiberglassed sock flopping around a piece of construction grade styrofoam, complete with two stringers made of marine plywood. The marine part of the plywood cost extra, I guess because it was approved for marine applications. The board was blue like the color of the ocean and for all I knew, that thing had been to boot camp. It certainly didn’t ride well. We waited until we had some waves in the late afternoon when the wind provided us with some lovely 3 foot wind chop. We went way out to the flats at field 9 at Jones Beach [beyond lifeguard supervision] and took turns. Finally, we realized that the only way to catch anything was to ride the shore break. We bellied our way onto the sand until the the damn contraption broke apart, the pieces of blank just sort of just shot out. We were just glad that neither of us were hurt or arrested because surfing wasn’t allowed at Jones Beach then. [It still isn’t except for one small area at West End. State cops ticketing surfers? What madness].
“A few weeks later, I had found a genuine surfboard at a New York sporting goods store called Davegas. The board had red racing stripes and a deck that didn’t flop around, it was displayed next to the water skis. I didn’t know what size it was, but that wasn’t a problem because it was the only board in the store and, anyway, all boards in our world were 9’6″.
“It cost a fortune at $120. Other surfers we met turned up their noses when they saw that my Davegas board had no label. “That’s a pop out,” they said, “a factory board.” I’m not really sure there were “factory boards” back then though. I mean the Hobie shop in Dana Point only opened in ’58. Where was this magic factory? I rather suspect it was a board made on some spec contract for that chain.
“We took this “popout” and learned to ride the lefts at Gilgo. Soon after that, we found the breaks at the Azores Hotel, Lincoln St., and Layfeyette St. in Long Beach. We discovered Long Beach only because I was working on the garbage trucks for the county during the summer, back when you could still get a summer job. We were crashing cans around at dawn out there in order to buzz off the citizens (yeah, of course, we did that on purpose), and I saw a car with a board on headed for the beach at Lincoln Street. I made the guys on the truck check it out the next day at 6 am. I still remember, Long Beach has these rock jetties extending out into the sea about every 200 yards. It was peeling left off this jetty at about chest high in dead calm with no one on it. The smell of the truck was still hanging over us like a cloud, but that wave that morning never looked so good.
“I called Richie after work and told him to buy his own board. My original factory red striped board was a revelation. It had only a slight rocker, no concave at the nose, a narrow profile, and of course, a glassed in skeg that was much narrower than the big blades on most custom boards from the West Coast. It was very fast paddling and let you in early. It turned effortlessly thanks to that slender skeg. With this magic tool I was surfing. I was catching waves, looking down the full 2 or 3 feet of the face, standing up and dropping in. It didn’t nose ride for a damn, but I’ve never worshipped at that particular shrine. I just wanted to catch, turn, climb, drop and smile. Later I learned to kick out when I finally saw someone else do it for the first time. But early on I would ride until I hit the sand at the age of 18 during the Fall on Long Island.”
To learn more about surfing in New York, check out the “History of NYC Surf,” here.