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Dawn Patrol:

We dressed hardcore back in the day

August 13, 2009|By John Burton

The other day I made the mistake of trying to meet my sister for lunch on Balboa Island.

I got to the bridge five minutes too late and was no match for the legions of SUVs, all carrying Junior Lifeguards, storming across in both directions with a singleness of purpose that would have made Rommel’s Panzer commanders envious. As I sat at the stoplight and watched the groups of beach bound Jr. Guards who were walking, skating, or bicycling I noticed how much gear they were packing. Sweatshirt, T-shirt, red board shorts, hat, footwear, sunglasses, fins, sun block, cell phone, and who knows what in the backpacks that dwarfed some of them. A towel no doubt and plenty of bottled water. I thought, “Wow, that’s a lot of stuff for a few hours at the beach”, and I made a mental checklist of how my friends and I would have been outfitted at the same age, circa 1965.

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Let’s see, trunks, a swim fin — maybe both (Voit Duck Feet) if we knew the waves were big. Hmmm … what else? Oh yeah, maybe a dollar bill or some quarters in the wax pocket. I called my buddy Rat Jr., who grew up on the other side of town in CdM, and he said he’d sometimes add a towel to the trunks and fins — so I wasn’t off-base with my inventory.

So what was the difference between now and then? Were we tougher, cooler, more hardcore? Maybe, but the reality is we just didn’t have the options. Backpacks, apart from those used for hiking or mountaineering, weren’t around. That meant carrying as little as possible. People thought sun exposure was healthy and there were no sun screen products. UV rays were something you heard about in science class and we thought sun bleached hair looked good, so we weren’t worried about covering up. You could get the opaque white zinc oxide from the drug store, but it made you look weird and came in a big metal tube that wasn’t practical to carry. Accessories were scanty in design and availability — goofy boating hats in the style of “The Skipper” and “Gilligan”, and ugly sunglasses were made for adults. There weren’t any good sandals, just the cheap flip-flops you can still get, so most of us went barefoot. Even trunks were limited in style and brand — plain white was always popular. Yeah, all the cool designer gear, Hurley, Billabong, Volcom, Quicksilver, et al, were years away.

As the island assault subsided and my little reminiscence ended, I realized my car was carrying every bit of gear the kids had, plus some.

So what was my point? I came away with two things. I felt fortunate to have experienced the purer, “pre-gear” era of surfing, yet I didn’t mind having those days behind me. I like the abundance of choices we have now. I also thought about the amazing explosion of the surfing industry that now includes people from all over the world — not just surfers or beachgoers, growing from nothing to billions of dollars a year — and I was there to see it happen.


JOHN BURTON’S surf column appears Fridays. He may be reached by e-mail at hot_dogger@mac.com.

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