A blood feud that beats 'em all!
William Finnegan’s much-lauded Barbarian Days has, of course, taken the literary world by storm. President Barack Obama put it at the very top of his summer reading list, it won the Pulitzer Prize, every bestseller list many times over, etc. etc.
One of the greatest side benefits of all its success, though and in my opinion, is an increase in quality writing about surf. Bill made it ok to take it seriously! And there is a story in today’s New York Times that fascinates!
Richard M. Nixon, noted dickhead and asshole and paranoid creep, actually spied on Surfer magazine founder John Severson! Let’s read about it!
Southern California surf culture is rich with such tales from this period. Growing up in San Diego in the ’80s, I heard stories of Marines confiscating (and even destroying) the boards of surfers sneaking onto the beaches of Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base just south of the Nixon house. A famous Ron Stoner photograph from the ’60s shows a Marine M.P. wearing a sidearm, storming off the beach with a single-fin shortboard.
Severson soon found himself in hot water over a series of photographs he took of Nixon in La Casa Pacifica that he sold to Life magazine in 1969. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Life photos prompted Nixon to build a six-foot wall around his property. It wasn’t long before the Secret Service took a hard look at the Severson abode. Severson and his friends were convinced it had been bugged. “They knew everything that was going on at that house,” Steve Pezman, who ran Surfer magazine for two decades after Severson, recalls. ”Nixon knew what he had for dinner, how it came out and what he said to his wife in bed.”
At the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, Calif., I recently found a 1969 letter from Severson to Nixon, apologizing for the photos. “I’d like very much to speak with you for a few minutes,” Severson went on, “regarding the surfing, public beach and access problem that faces us in Southern California. Unfortunately, your summer home has intensified the problem, but I believe a solution can be reached without jeopardizing your security.”
In his memoir, Severson recalls that he was invited over to La Casa Pacifica to negotiate a truce with the White House counsel John Ehrlichman. “He was one tough cookie,” Severson said. “I tough-cookied him right back.”
The story is delicious, detailing Nixon’s hatred of the damned long-haired surfers surfing in front of his San Clemente home, rubbing his nose in their loose morals and looser morals. Read the rest here!
It makes me sad that surfing is no longer counter-culture in a way. That our industry’s own thin-skinned paranoia has rendered any external eye-twitching unnecessary.