Surf history shattered: Florida gardener surfed Mavericks nearly a decade before Jeff Clark!

“Adventuring can be for the ordinary person with ordinary qualities..."

“But you were thinking, ‘We should do that?’” I ask Peter Brotsch, a handsome, silver-hair’d 73-year-old gardener from Sanford some thirty miles north of Orlando. “You were thinking, ‘We should paddle out there?’”

He pauses and I can hear his mental gears turning over. Can feel the warm humidity of Central Florida. See the Spanish Moss dangling from Southern live oaks.

“Yeah.” He drawls after some time. “We were thinking there’s a wave, a monster of a wave, but we need to surf it.”

“Mavericks is still a monster…” I laugh.

“We called the whole setup Maverick…” he gently corrects. “Just Maverick, named after Alex’s roommate’s dog.”

And California’s big-wave gem, its discovery and conquering, has an iconic story as grand as the first climbing of Mt. Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first step on the moon by Neil Armstrong. We all know it by heart. That surfers had ridden the inside corner at Pillar Point, just outside of Half Moon Bay as early as 1961. We know that Jeff Clark, a fifteen-year-old local paddled out to the main peak in 1975, the first to do so, and rode it alone for fifteen years, teaching himself to surf regular instead of goofy to better conquer the towering rights. We know that it was brought to public light in a 1992 Surfer magazine story titled Cold Sweat.

We know because it has been committed to paper and never disputed but, like pre-literate cultures, surfing’s history is mostly told person-to-person, mouth-to-ear as surfers are, in large part, still pre-literate ourselves.

The magazines were only ever read by a few. The histories by fewer and so while Jeff Clark’s bravery should still be applauded, his claim to being first might be one step too far and let us return to Central Florida and Peter Brotsch who left Ohio the day President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas.

“How wild is that?” he says through a low whistle. “We packed up and moved from Ohio to California on November 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was shot, to San Mateo, and I was sixteen-years old.”

“Did you know about surfing before then?” I ask. “Had you always wanted to be a surfer?”

“Oh hell no.” He responds. “The girls walking around San Mateo High School are what made me want to be a surfer. All the gorgeous ones, the prom queens and beauty queens were dating surfers and that was it. That’s what I wanted to be right then and there so I went out to Santa Cruz and figured it out.”

Peter picked the aquatic dance up relatively quickly, starting at Cowell’s, moving on to Pleasure Point before landing at the famed Steamer Lane where he caught his first biggish wave.

“How was it?” query.

“Oh my god, it was like…” He searches for words. “If I had to do a standing broad jump off my board I probably could have jumped twenty-feet. It was just… you can’t describe it. You really and truly can’t. There are no words to describe the feeling of taking off on a wave that is over your head.”

That first adrenaline shot sent him in his friends on a quest for more, for bigger, for less crowded, for adventure and soon they were surfing Princeton there in Half Moon Bay. An open ocean beachbreak with a rock jetty that can handle some size.

Peter at Princeton Jetty.
Peter at Princeton Jetty.

Peter continues, “One day in 1968 we were coming over the hill on our way to Princeton and there was a car in front of us that had boards on it and we didn’t know who it was because we had never seen the car before and, you know, and it was a pretty close knit fraternity. So when we got down there, they didn’t stop at Princeton. They kept going. We watched them and thought, ‘Maybe they’re going up to Pacifica or somewhere up there…’ but no, they turned off and we could see ‘em because the road into Pillar Point goes off the Coast Highway then wraps around the point so we could see the car. You can’t see the waves and you can’t see all the water and the rocks out there but we could see their car and we wondered, ‘Where the hell they’re going?’ So we went out after ‘em. You know, just to follow ‘em. And that’s the first time we saw it.”

It is a cold, rocky, formidable place, even on the most inviting days, and I was instantly curious if Peter and his friends paddled out after them. He laughs, “No, no, no, no. We did NOT paddle out there and I’ll tell you something. We stood there and we watched them maybe three or four times after that too and they had a hell of a time catching a wave because the things were so thick and…”

“…They were on the inside corner, right?” I interject, needing to know the exact facts here. The exact order, times, places.

“Yes.” Peter responds. “They were on the inside those occasions we watched them.”

“But were you looking at the main peak and thinking, ‘Let’s surf there?’”

“Yeah.” He drawls after some time. “We were thinking there’s a wave, a monster of a wave, but we need to surf it. We all felt we needed to watch for a while. We needed to see, you know, is there a consistency to the break? Is there a consistency to the size of the wave? What’s the whole story because, see, I’ll give you a little background, Chas. When you surf up and down the west coast. One day you may see a spot like Tunitas Creek or Pescadero or one of those places and the break is beautiful. Ok? Three days later there’s no break. So we were always very cautious about going out right away unless we knew the place, and of course, we didn’t know that place.”

I deeply understand not wanting to rush headlong into the monstrous, growling, freezing Pacific, having grown up in its icy claw, but need to get the timeline sorted so ask, “You watched it, what.. four or five times and then…”

“Actually we watched it that whole winter of 1967.” Peter clarifies. “We didn’t go out that winter. We did not go out that winter and then in the fall of 1968, the swell started building, I guess, a little bit early, and we could tell it was building because the inside waves were bigger; you know, at Princeton we were experiencing instead of four to five foot waves, we were experiencing six to eight foot waves, and the peak was getting up to toward ten feet so we thought, ‘Well, you know, the swell is starting to build a little bit so let’s go out and see what Pillar Point looks like.’ So we went out and, you know, it wasn’t that big. Probably fifteen, sixteen… yeah fifteen sixteen feet. So we all agreed. We all agreed, all of us that we all agree, number one, and then number two, we all go out together. Then, when one of us felt the urge we just took off, and it was Sopjes who took off first, you know, he was a gutsy guy. He was 6’2” – 6’4” probably 240 lbs. Ended up playing football, got a college scholarship, so he was a big kid and he took off first…”

“But do you remember your first wave?” I inquire, caring about Sopjes, which I hear as “Sausage” but caring more about Peter and feeling the distinct crumbling of legendary Jeff Clark’s Mavericks ballad. The saga of one brave man alone in the mist.

This time Peter doesn’t pause. “Oh yeah. I remember like it was yesterday.”

I insist he describes it even though he just finished saying a there are no words to describe the feeling of taking off on a wave that is over your head but he kindly acquiesces.

“Yeah I mean, it’s just a… it’s just a wave? Actually, I took off a little bit late because it seemed like it was easier to catch it taking off a little bit late so as soon as I got up, man, I was going right. Hard right. And I got out in front of the break and it was just a smooth ride, man. I loved it. So then after that it was just nothing. It was a piece of cake. But then as the swell started to build, toward the middle of the winter, we just… we didn’t go out anymore.”

I need to know if he and his crew were the first to ever surf that main peak.

“We knew that we weren’t. We knew we weren’t the first people.”

I parry, “So you know that somebody else surfed it before you.”

“I knew those guys we watched surfed it before us too even though they never told us about it, and we never watched them.”

“But you really surfed the main peak?” I ask, again, needing confirmation.

“Oh, absolutely. A bunch of times.” Peter responds and his voice is filled with confidence.

Now I wonder, “So you were the second? Or fifth? Or… how many people had surfed it before you?”

“There’s no way to know.” He answers. “I mean, there is no history. How did we know? How did those guys know? How did Jeff Clark know? Did he have somebody watching it all this time? There is just no way to know.”

Peter first found out of Clark’s claim only four or five years ago when he visited his wife’s sister l in Palo Alto.

“So, one year we went out there…” he tells me “…and one day her husband says, ’I want to go up to Mavericks.’ I said, ‘Where’s Mavericks?’ And he said, ‘In Half Moon Bay.’ And I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me. Where the hell is Mavericks?’ And so we went and once we got there, I told him, ‘I’ve been here before. I’ve surfed this place before… I mean, I didn’t surf them that big, but I surfed this place before years ago.’ And that’s how I found out that Clark said he was the first one to surf it.”

Surf history, largely pre-literate, but I need to pass this fantastical adventure, this complete narrative altering, through surfing’s most celebrated and only surf historian, famed author of both the Encyclopedia of Surfing and the History of Surfing Matt Warshaw.

“Question…” I text while walking shirtless down a swampy road. “Is it undisputed that Jeff Clark was the first ever Maverick’s surfer? I mean, Maverick?”

“Tiny dispute from some guy whose name I forget, but I think safe to say, yes, undisputed.” He responds immediately.

“What if I told you a 73-year-old gardener in Sanford, Florida surfed it six or seven years before Jeff and others surfed it before him?”

“The peak?” Warshaw wanted to know and then doubted it. “Hard to imagine doing it on longboards, pre-leash.”

But Peter Brotsch doesn’t even wince when I later pass along Warshaw’s dubious eyebrow lift.

“Maybe hard to imagine, but it was done. All we had were longboards. The other thing that is not being taken into consideration is that the swell only gets real big in the middle of winter. Or at least that’s the way it was in our days there. We rode the peak many times at 15 feet before those massive winter swells. Guys that surf now really don’t understand how things were back then, but they can all believe what they want. I lived it.”

Sir Edmund Hillary, first conqueror of Mt. Everest once said, “Adventuring can be for the ordinary person with ordinary qualities, such as I regard myself.”

Such as a handsome, silver-hair’d 73-year old gardener from Sanford some thirty miles north of Orlando who has a tale to tell as robust as any.

Such as any surfer who tucks a board under her or his arm and heads out the door into the great wide open where certainty be damned.

Peter Brotsch, today. Photo by Meredith Wilcke.
Peter Brotsch, today. Photo by Meredith Wilcke.

'Advanced' is a subjective epithet, anyway. To a desert dweller in the Gobi, yes, advanced; to super kid in San Clemente, maybe no.

Meanwhile, chaos, in Bristol, England: “VALS on mini-mals ruined my £40 surf at The Wave!”

"And getting stuck in the take-off area with their massive boards, then ten waves going unridden because people were in the way…"

Amid the beautifully honed press releases of recent pool reveals comes the reality of cold sauerkraut delivered to the average surfer.

Yesterday, a BeachGrit reader from London sent a message that reads,

“Surfed The Wave in Bristol last week. Wasn’t a cheap exercise. Sixty pounds in petrol from London, two x one-hour surf sessions at forty pounds a pop. I signed up for the ‘advanced’ session hoping that my twenty years of surfing experience would be enough for a tricky take-off in a pool. Turns out that everyone that also signed up for surf sessions so far at The Wave has done the same. Which results in VALs on mini-mals eating shit on the take-offs then getting stuck in the take-off area by their massive boards, then ten waves going unridden because people were in the way.

“When I arrived for my session, the Wave was on the ‘Malibu 3’ setting to help the VALs have a chance of getting lots of waves. This is the third setting in terms of power and height (out of fifteen potential settings) the machine can pump out.

“It has a fat, mellow take-off right next to the wall. Thirty percent of surfers in my sessions didn’t make the take-off . Then the wave has enough room for a turn back to the pocket to get over the fat section. A lot of people with normal shortboards struggle to link the wave and get through this fat section.

‘It walls up at waist height all at once and quickly peels down the line til the wave goes ankle high. Being a bigger boy it was tricky to do a turn around the lip and stay with the small wave, although you could easily pump through that section and do a cutback in the flat water at the end,

“The Wave pumps out exactly twenty waves in five minutes with up to fifteen people in the water. So if you’re at the front of the line you can get two waves. Most people paddle slowly so if you want two waves a set you can get it. You are definitely going to get twelve waves but you can get twenty-four if you wanted.

“Basically, it has mega potential although it’s annoying they are dialling it back so all levels can surf it. They need to break up the sessions, according to ability, more.”

Melbourne: Australia’s first wavepool to open Jan 2020; $3500 VIP season passes!

And a new wave setting, The Beast, very difficult, but ever so thrilling…

You want to surf in Australia’s first surf tank, in the world’s biggest version of the Wavegarden Cove built on almost five acres of land a couple of clicks from Melbourne airport?

All the details, at least the ones that matter, how much it’s going to cost, what’s on the wave menu etc, have just been released.

First, a one-hour session is going to cost seventy-nine dollars, and that’s if you’re quick hitting the bookings when they open a little closer to opening day. ‘Cause it’s going to book out fast. Try getting into Waco even two years after it was built. It ain’t easy.

Luke Hynd on what looks a mysto Indo grinder.

If you want to be one of the first in the pool in December and ride it every week and you’re a season pass kinda person, there’s Foundation Memberships for $A3500 or 2400 American dollars. This includes the pre-opening surf, four sessions a month and a few other bits and pieces. Sounds like a ton of cash, and it is, a little hot for your old pal DR, but four sessions a month will eat up $3600 over the course of a year.

A gold-pass will cost $A3100 and you get the four surfs a month but not the pre-opening sesh and a few minor perks like a “test pilot” tee, a wristband and a tour of the joint.

The wave menu is looking pretty dialled, a few readers calling in to talk up The Beast, described by the company’s media guy Rupert Partridge as “an intense, slabbing, sidewinding barrel that also offers sections for turns and airs.”

Mitch Crews, the former WCT surfer, smudges his lipstick inside a green apple tube.

A wave a very well-known surfer, and patron of BeachGrit, couldn’t get to his feet when it was being test in the Basque Country a year or so ago.

A little later this morning, Julian Wilson, Sally Fitzgibbons and missing-in-action double world champ Tyler Wright will light up the tank. 

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The first waves have been ridden at @urbnsurf #Melbourne, and we’re stoked to announce that we’ll be opening to the public in January 2020. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been dialling up our wave menu with @wavegarden_official, with 18 wave types being put through their paces – including The Beast, an intense, slabbing, sidewinding barrel that also offers sections for turns and airs. In early November we welcomed some of Australia’s best surfers, and icons of Victorian surfing, to catch (more than) a few with us in Tullamarine. We’re excited to share with you the first vision of those sessions, and there’s much more to come. Our inaugural Foundation Memberships are now on sale via – so if you want to surf Australia’s first surf park next month, and help us set the culture at URBNSURF Melbourne, jump on and grab one before they’re gone. Better get the quiver ready, because it’s almost time to #surfmore

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More soon etc

Breaking: World Surf League announces surfing competition reality show featuring Kelly Slater, Dana White and maybe you!

Dreams come true!

I’m on a big story right now, a serious one. A story that will forever change the way you think about surf history so don’t have time to really get in the weeds on the just announced World Surf League network program Ultimate Surfer.

Didn’t Kelly Slater have a video game named Ultimate Surfer?

Where you could surf in space?

Here’s the press release:

EXCLUSIVE: ABC has greenlighted surfing competition reality series Ultimate Surfer, headlined by 11-time World Surf League champion Kelly Slater. The eight-episode series, from prolific unscripted producer Craig Piligian’s Lionsgate-owned Pilgrim Media Group and WSL Studios, will feature top up-and-coming surfers. They will train and live together as they battle it out at WSL’s state-of-the-art Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California, which employs by Kelly Slater’s man-made wave technology. (You can watch a video about the facility below)

Slater will serve as on-air talent and special correspondent for the show, executive produced by Pilgrim CEO and President Piligian, WSL Studios President of Content and Media Erik Logan, and UFC President Dana White. It is slated to begin production in 2020.

In Ultimate Surfer, men and women will compete in individual and team challenges focused on specific surfing disciplines. Weekly eliminations will leave two men and two women as finalists who will vie for the male and female titles of the Ultimate Surfer and the opportunity to compete on the WSL World Tour.

And are you excited?

You can be in the show. Sign up here!

And as always, more as the story develops.

Watch: “A man is not finished when he’s defeated… he’s finished when he quits!”

The Empire Strikes Back.

For the second time in one year I’ve run headlong into the World Surf League’s Wall of Positive Noise and been sent sprawling, reeling, arms, legs, head akimbo. Waking up minutes later on my back, or maybe hours, in a foggy daze. Skull aching. Am I concussed? Probably. Badly hurt? Maybe. Depressed?


The first was when I cajoled the World Surf League’s President of Content, Media, Studios and Newberry Medals Erik “ELo” Logan into a podcast. “Ha!” I thought. “I will push him around the conference room and surfers, real surfers, will rejoice.”

But it was Mr. Logan that pushed me around the conference room, rendering me mute with a constant stream of upbeat business-speak and bright-eye’d affirmations. He deeply and profoundly shamed me in front of the entire surf-reading public and I carried that pain in my heart until it was time for a new plan of action.

When I discovered that professional surfers are not free, that they are gagged by the insidious Article 189 that prohibits them from disparaging either the WSL or the sport of surfing. “The bastards!” I thought. “Now is my time to rise again. My time to be the Harriet Tubman of professional surfers. Their Gandhi. To free them from happy shackles and lead them into the more comfortable Grouchy Place.

I immediately began organizing a protest for this Friday the 15th outside the World Surf League’s Santa Monica headquarters that would include cotton candy, a mariachi band, angry signs, yellow beanies and chants while furiously reaching out to President Logan via Instagram and cake.

Demanding that he tear down that wall. That he give professional surfers their God given rights.

He never reached back, not even letting me know if he tried the cake I slaved over. Forward I pressed, anyhow, only slightly disheartened, until yesterday when I learned that zero employees will be in the Santa Monica headquarters this Friday the 15th.

They will all be in Hawai’i including President Logan himself.

It almost broke me right in half and I am beginning to think that President Logan has true military skill very similar to the famous Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson who could quickly determine weak points in his defenses and close gaps with lightening speed.

President Stone-Positive-Wall Logan.

The most brilliant tactician I have ever faced.

Still, I had to send a message, or at least find out if professional surfers are ok, and went after the collaborator Chris Cotê, hoping that he had not boarded his Hawai’i-bound flight yet.

He had not but swerved and dodged, answering all my questions without answering any of them. A classic public relations move elevated to art by Cotë’s quick collaborative tongue.

Things are bleak this morning but when times are extra tough I find solace in the wisdom of Richard M. Nixon who once said, “Defeat doesn’t finish a man, quit does. A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He’s finished when he quits.”

Like Nixon, I refuse to quit.