Handsome as hell shredder Tommy Zahn. | Photo: EOS

Long Read: “Tommy Zahn was the world’s greatest surfer because he ___________ Marilyn Monroe” – Gerry Lopez

Or how the world’s most enduring sex symbol almost inspired the modern shortboard… 

History bounces in weird ways.

Opportunities are missed, opportunities are made, people zig when they should zag, sometimes they end up in the mud, sometimes they make history.

Around Malibu, there are a lot of surfers riding a lot of different surfboards, but all of them (except the alaia flyahs) can trace their ancestry back to a time in the late 1940s when California surfers were flying straight and fast on 11-foot boards that weighed as much as 100 pounds – but they wanted something different.

That something different was inspired by a woman who was surfing around Malibu and if history had bounced a little differently, that woman could have been Marilyn Monroe.

Sweet Sixteen is my title for a found reel of late-40s surfing footage that was discovered in Malibu in 2004. Sweet Sixteen stands for the 16 minutes of 16 mm film shot by a Malibu/Latigo Shores resident named John Larronde, although surf historians who have seen the footage think it was shot by God, because whoever filmed those epic overviews of empty, perfect Malibu and Rincon and double overhead Ventura Overhead reeling both ways, not only knew how to handle a film camera, they also knew what surfers and spots and boards and jalopies and girls would make surf historians do backflips, sixty years later.

Sweet Sixteen has several shots of a tall, strong Nordic man tandeming from the top of First Point to the beach with a svelte, pretty woman in a bathing cap standing on his shoulders.

The man is Pete Peterson, and the woman…. Well it’s not Marilyn Monroe and that’s a shame, because it could have been.

And if things had worked out a little different back then – and certain guys had dated certain girls – Marilyn Monroe might have had a profound effect on surfboard design as the girl who inspired the short board.

Gerry Lopez once called Tommy Zahn, “the greatest surfer in the world… because he (word censored at request of Gez!) Marilyn Monroe.”

It’s true Zahn and Marilyn were in close contact. Zahn was a first-rate waterman who was movie-star handsome – the Laird Hamilton of the thirties and forties. He and Norma Jean Baker were hired at 20th Century Fox at the same time, and some say it was a love triangle between Zahn, Norma Jean and Darrilyn Zanuck – the daughter of studio head Darryl Zanuck – that got both Norma Jean and Zahn fired from the lot.

Regarding Norma Jean Baker, Tommy Zahn was quoted in the book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers,

“She was in prime condition. Tremendously fit. I used to take her surfing up at Malibu-tandem surfing: you know, two riders on the same surfboard. I’d take her later, in the dead of winter when it was cold, and it didn’t faze her in the least; she’d lay in the cold water, waiting for the waves. She was very good in the water, very robust, so healthy, a really fine attitude towards life. I was twenty-two when I met her and I guess she was twenty. Gosh, I really liked her.”

Craig Stecyk told a similar story in The Surfer’s Journal,

“A strikingly beautiful woman approaches Dave Rochlen on the beach and inquires as to the maker of his surfboard. He informs her that he builds his own and she responds that she would like to place an order. That evening, the lady shows up at Rochlen’s board building area (located in his girlfriend Honey Bear Warren’s garage) with her husband in tow. The man orders up one as well, and is a friendly sort. This fellow finds it interesting that Rochlen is crafting surfboards in the garage of the Governor of the State of California. Dave finds it noteworthy that the fellow is none other than matinee idol, Gary Cooper.”

Another tale is told of Tommy Zahn and Dave Rochlen surfing Malibu Point on August 16, 1947; a continuation of the Marilyn Monroe story,

“The point. Evening, full moon. Two surf dogs do a double date in a 1934 Ford Roadster, with boards in the back,” wrote Craig Stecyk. “The men: Tom Zahn and Dave Rochlen. The women: Darrylin Zanuck (daughter of ‘movie czar’ Richard Zanuck) and Norma Jean Baker. Tom and Darrylin have fixed ‘Rocky’ up with Norma Jean Baker, later to be better known as Marilyn Monroe.”

Apparently, Zahn and Norma Jean and Zanuck got that love triangle patched up, so it was Darrilyn Zanuck and not Norma Jean Baker/Marilyn Monroe who would prove to be the Eve of the modern shortboard.

In Sweet Sixteen, there is a shot of three people sitting on the beach, two men playing ukuleles and one girl between them, looking at the guy on the left. He’s Tommy Zahn, tan and fit and looking like a movie star. After that, there is a shot of a woman paddling into an inside wave at Malibu on a shorter board, getting clumsily to her feet and then riding with style down the beach.

Is that Darrilyn?

And is that the Darrilyn board?

During the summer of 1947, Tommy Zahn asked Joe Quigg to make a “novice girls’ board” for Darrilyn. It had to be short and light, easy for a girl to carry and it had to fit in the back of a Town and Country convertible.

Thinking about Darrilyn Zanuck many years later, Joe Quigg said to Malcolm Gault-Williams,

“She probably thinks of herself as the original Gidget. She was at Malibu, really the first girl to buy a surfboard and buy a convertible and stick the surfboard in the back and drive up to Malibu and drive up and down the coast and learn to surf. Of the Malibu girls she was the first Malibu girl to really do it.”

This was a special board for his best friend’s girl, so Quigg picked the best redwood and balsa from five different lumber yards and made a 10’ 2” redwood/balsa with 50/50 rails, curved rail rocker, a flat planning bottom and a fin.

The board was soon nominated “the loosest board on the West Coast” and you wonder how much Darrilyn actually got to ride it. As the story goes, after Zahn and Darrilyn broke up, Darrilyn pulled a commando raid on Zahn’s garage to get the board back.

In August of 1947, the Los Angeles surf crew took a surfari down to San Onofre. Dave Rochlen, Kivlin and Pete Peterson borrowed that “novice girls’ board” and proceeded to invent California hotdogging, right then and there.

The board was faster and more manoeuvrable than anything else in the water.

“It is immediately apparent that Rochlen is turning four times faster and making it into and out of what would previously have been inconceivable situations,” Craig Stecyk wrote. “Pete Peterson next borrows the board, and is instantly banking and turning in an obvious departure from his patented power trim, runaway style. Kivlin is intrigued and promptly decides to have one for his girl friend.”

The board is even lighter than the most advanced Simmons model – maybe because Simmons still thought heavier boards were better.

Quigg said the board had “the complete combination” and he called it The Easy Rider,

“I’d been building girls’ boards since early ’47,” Quigg told surf journalist Paul Holmes. “It helped the girls to leave the tails wide. I’d put what I called ‘easy-rider’ rocker in them. They were real easy to ride. A lot of girls learned how to surf on those boards in just a few months.”

The Darrilyn Board is considered the precursor of modern shortboards because it was at that point that the best surfers in California figured out that less was more, that they didn’t need 11-foot, 100-pound planks to make waves from the flagpoles to the pier.

That same year, Quigg, Kivlin and Zahn took their first trip to Hawaii. On the way over, Quigg sketched out a narrow board with a pintail, which Quigg thought might be good for speed on those bigger days at Malibu and Rincon.

From there, surfboards transformed fast from planks, and inevitably to plastics.

And if Tommy Zahn had changed his dating habits a little, the mother of all modern shortboards could have been one of the greatest of all American movie stars.


Art: Pauly Matt War-shore.

It is time for WSL CEO Erik Logan to lift the stone tablets engraved with professional surfing’s sacred rules and dash them on the ground!

Sex farm.

Maybe it is a product of growing lightly older, but professional surfing treating its contest structure and format as holy annoys more and more and most when Da Hui decides to push their scoring scale right up to 11.

Because why not?

Is 10 meaningful other than being whole and round? Oh don’t get me wrong, it is a fine number and I have nothing against it, personally, but should it cap the

10s are not entirely common but one or two, sometimes more, are generally given out per contest. Many multiples have been given out over the decades but some are certainly better than others, no?

Let’s examine.

Yes many are better than others and the judges should be able to reward accordingly. Eddie Rothman knows this and cranked Da Hui up to 11 setting a precedent that World Surf League CEO Erik Logan should follow. He should also dash the 30 minute heat with 2 surfers in the water, bracket, etc. on the rocks.

Give surfing free.

David Lee Scales and I discussed this, on today’s podcast, and I also defended Kelly Slater.

What a legendary day.

Listen here.


Mason Ho pictured winning the Shootout in 2015.

Open Thread: Comment Live on Day 2 of Da Hui Backdoor Shootout in Memory of the Duke!

It goes to 11!

Da Hui Backdoor Shootout, day 2, is currently in the water and it is a very fine event. The only professional surfing event, in fact, that allows surfers to go to 11.

Click here, open a new tab, watch with friends and comment below.


Lake Superior.

Great Lakes surfers inadvertently heal deep and profound divisions in America by being undeniably adorable: “So I don’t even know how tired I am right now because the waves are pumping, dude!”

A glorious balm.

Yesterday, January 6, found me somewhere over the Atlantic watching Guy Ritchie’s surprisingly enjoyable latest Wrath of Man, en route from Milan to San Diego via Munich, Chicago and Los Angeles. I was thinking a few thoughts, how good Snatch was, how neck pillows are a complete joke and anyone who has one a sucker etc. but not thinking about the events of January 6 exactly one year ago.

For on that date, a swarm of people in Washington D.C., and here’s where it gets fuzzy, either “stormed” the United States of America’s capital in order to spark an “insurrection” or merely “got a little too excited” after listening to a speech.

Division.

This country is bitterly divided with family members coming to blows over varying points of view.

It is sad but hope is rising over the frigid north where surfers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan etc. have grabbed the spotlight by being so undeniably charming that it is impossible to ignore.

This past week, a storm percolated over Lake Superior causing 15-foot waves to fire gloriously and national news was there to cover.

A sample:

So early Wednesday morning, after working a 12-hour overnight shift at a Twin Cities refinery, Tyler Ray hopped in his car at 6 a.m., drove three hours north to the shore of Lake Superior, pulled his surfboard out of his car, slipped on a thick wetsuit and hit the waves — on no sleep.

“So I don’t even know how tired I am right now,” he said during a break from the frigid water, warming up in his idling car. “Because the waves are pumping, dude!”

Ray was among dozens of surfers who congregated at a well-known surfing spot called Stoney Point, about 15 miles up the Lake Superior shore from Duluth.

They bobbed in the water clad in black wetsuits, waiting to catch waves that crested as high as 15 feet, curling gracefully before crashing to shore.

Serious surfers in Minnesota like Ray are also self-described amateur meteorologists. They have to be to know when to catch the best waves, which occur after big storms, when the wind blows hard out of the northeast, across 350 miles of open water over Lake Superior — what surfers call “fetch.”

“And when it lines up like this, this is what you look for,” Ray said. “We haven’t had a low pressure come across like this in quite a while. So you can see everyone’s here because we’re just fiending for waves!”

Even the most-hardened insurrectionist/burner would be moved by the pluck.

The piece goes on to describe how movie star handsome Ben Gravy also showed up and he, too, is impossibly charming and divisions healed.

But does the footage (watch here) tempt you to travel north for your own taste?

It should.


Warm-water wedges and Tiger and Bull sharks! Dreamy.

Once-in-a-lifetime “extreme marine heatwave” gifts Sydney surfers likely highest water temperatures on record for January!

Hotter than hell water and arrival of Tiger and Bull sharks.

An  extended period of north swell spinning off the back of a tropical cyclone has combined with an “extreme marine heatwave” to bring Sydney surfers a sweet little summer of dreamy lil wedges and warm as hell water. 

If y’live in Sydney, you’ll shuffle between steamer, vest, trunks over the course of a normal summer, upwellings caused by the prevailing north-easter sending water temperatures plummeting, sometimes as low as fourteen (57 F) while an extended run of southerlies will gitcha, briefly, in trunks. 

Right now, water is hovering around twenty-three degrees Celsius or 73 F in the ol’ language.

According to Prof Moniya Roughan, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales and an expert in marine heatwaves, there’s a 200 square km pool of ultra-warm water hitting Sydney and it’s warmer than anything since temperatures first started being record seventy years ago. 

“It appears now to be reaching those record levels and will likely be the hottest January on record. It’s an extreme marine heatwave,” Moniya told The Guardian, explaining the three factors pumping up the temps: global heating, a LA Nina weather system and atmospheric conditions. 

Of course, for every action there is a reaction. 

“Marine heatwaves are having severe consequences on ecosystems and they can kill habitats,” she said.

Bummer.

Also, the warm water is bringing in Tiger and Bull sharks.