For a briefer description of Surfguide's brief life -  plus images -
please click:
The Rise and Fall of Surfguide Magazine - RIP

Death of a surf mag

In he winter of 1965, an innovative and seemingly successful surfing magazine abruptly closed its doors amidst a storm of speculation.

While news of the magazine’s sudden demise may not have come as a complete surprise to a certain handful of industry insiders, it was totally unexpected by everyone else. After all, it had been an incredibly popular magazine with a worldwide circulation that rivaled, if not exceeded that of its nearest competitor, Surfer.

So what caused a successful surfing magazine to fold right at a time when everything seemed to be going its way. What ... or who was responsible? Was it the million dollar lawsuit?  



In many ways the exponential growth of surfing in the ‘60’s was a mixed blessing. On one hand, it created the need for a dynamic new industry that could supply the increasing demand for surf related products and services. Jobs were created, technologies improved, surfing equipment became more accessible, more affordable and, for some, fortunes were made.

On the other, the very lifestyle that had attracted all these new surfers was being threatened. What had once the exclusive playground of a relatively small number of robust aficionados was suddenly developing into a marketing commodity to be exploited. By the early-60's surfing beaches were becoming crowded. Attitudes, values and behavior became distorted. Ultimately, the well rounded water skills and respect for ‘Mother Ocean’ that exemplified the traditional ‘waterman’ were being lost to a generation that focused entirely on board surfing, performance and style.  

When the first surfing magazine came out in 1960, surf films were surfing’s only form of mass communication and entertainment. Both mediums were primarily visual, but unlike films, the new magazine was far more accessible.  

Published by photographer and film-maker John Severson and his wife, Louise, the magazine was appropriately called Surfer. And as surfing grew in popularity and Surfer’s sales increased, new magazines made their entrance.

It was in this climate of change and growth, that a Los Angeles City Lifeguard named Larry Stevenson came up with an idea. One summer while sitting in his tower he realized that there was a similarity between surfing, skateboarding and skiing. That connection led to the design of a skateboard that looked like a surfboard and the first commercially produced skateboard - the "Makaha - Surf & Ski Skateboard. "

Initially, Larry and his wife Helen assembled the skateboards at home in their garage. As Makaha sales increased, Larry started looking for a way he could promote his product as well as the emerging ‘sport’ of skateboarding and the competition team he was thinking of forming.

As the story goes, Larry was at the printers picking up some posters for a Bud Browne surf film he was promoting when he met Bill Cleary, co-author of the classic 1963 book, ‘Surfing Guide to Southern California’. They started talking and Surf Guide magazine was born.

Bill had an unusual background. He’d been brought up in the wealthy LA community of San Marino and spent as much time as possible hunting, fishing and working on cars. He learned to surf around Orange County beaches between shifts working at Knott’s Berry Farm during summer vacations. He also had excellent grades. But instead of going straight to university from high school he joined the US Marines. 

Stationed at Camp Pendelton, he had all those wonderfully uncrowded surfing spots along Pendelton’s coastline more or less to himself. After the Marines, he continued surfing in the Newport area before enrolling at UCLA and living on Topanga Beach in Malibu.

After graduating with a degree in English, Bill and his friend, George Van Noy took off to Europe, introducing surfing to France and the Canary Islands in the process. Before he left, Bill was planning a career in medicine. By the time he returned, he’d decided to be a writer.

Bill’s decision to join Larry in the publishing venture was much more than a career move, however. He’d started surfing “when men were men and boards were boards.” He was concerned about the direction surfing was heading. As editor of a surfing magazine, he felt he’d be in a better position to influence that direction as well as document and help retain surfing’s most threatened traditions.

Just as it was John Severson’s talent and drive that established and steered Surfer during that magazine’s formative years, it was Bill Cleary who shaped and molded Surf Guide.

Up until Surf Guide, words didn’t just take a back-seat to images in surfing magazines, what few words there were had little meaning or importance - let alone substance. Surf Guide’s greatest legacy turned out to be the intellectual integrity and style Bill introduced to surfing journalism and publishing - taking it from the realms of mediocrity and establishing it as an art form and a profession which others have been able to perpetuate.

As an excellent photographer in his own right, Bill already had a good sense of composition and design. As a writer, he knew how to communicate. He sought out the best photographers, designers and writers he could find in order to established a dynamic relationship between all the creative elements that went into a magazine - words, images and overall design. Surfing magazines were no longer bastions of the trite and amateurish. A new age had emerged and it was Bill’s vision that had led the way.


When I joined Surf Guide in 1963, there were already several California based magazines on the racks beside Surfer, including Walt Phillips’ Surfing Illustrated, Dick Graham’s International Surfing and Peterson’s Surfing.

My original role at the magazine was to manage the Makaha Skateboard Exhibition Team and accompany the members at their various appearances at department stores, schools and on television. That job was soon expanded to include public relations for both the team and the magazine. Within a few months the skateboard team had a new manager (Jim Ganzer) and I was selling advertising, designing ads and writing a series of satirical parodies called Feigel Fables.

To everyone’s surprise, the first fable struck a chord with a number of the magazine’s more eccentric readers and they banged their tin cups across the bars of their padded cells until FF’s became a regular feature.

In the meantime, the relationship between surf mags was becoming fiercely competitive - particularly between Surfer and what was soon to be renamed, Surfguide. 

Not only had Cleary headhunted Surfing Illustrated’s and Surfer’s brilliant art director, John Van Hamersveld (who designed the famous Endless Summer poster), but an incredibly talented and enthusiastic young photographer by the name of Ron Stoner.

Surfguide’s audited circulation figures had been approaching Surfer’s for some time. The ‘Malibu Issueof November 1964 put the magazines on an equal footing. The so-called ‘Santa Monica Syndicate’ (Surfguide) and the ‘Dana Point Mafia’ (Surfer) were running neck-and-neck.

In addition to Bill Cleary and John Van Hamersveld, Surfguide enjoyed the talents of many of surfing’s most creative individuals during its brief, but dynamic history. To quote longtime surfer, Sarah Dixon, it was very likely the “combination of this eclectic group that gave Surfguide its unique flare and validity.”

Kemp ‘The Arch’ Aaberg (contributing editor) - ironically, it was Severson’s photo of Kemp’s classic arch at Rincon that was the basis for Surfer Magazine’s logo; big wave rider, journalist and ProGrip windsurfing honcho, Bob Beadle (advertising consultant & contributing editor); Women’s World Surfing Champion, Candy Calhoun (contributing editor); matriarch of surfing’s Calhoun family and one of the first Californians to surf Oahu’s North Shore, Marge Calhoun (contributing editor); champion surfer, musician, and surfing journalist, Corky Carroll (contributor); legendary big wave surfer, Peter Cole (advertising consultant & contributing editor); California & Australia surfing great, Bob Cooper (contributor); gifted cartoonist, Butch Cornelius (illustrator); the ‘Dean’ of surfing writers, Peter Dixon (contributing editor); artist and international surfing legend, Mike Doyle (advertising consultant & contributing editor); master-of-mustache, Tom Frobisher (art assistant); designer and Jimmy-Z creator, Jim Ganzer (art assistant); Channel Islands surfing pioneer, David Grimshaw (contributing editor - Channel Islands); French surfing pioneer, Joaquin Moraiz (contributing editor - France); the first Afro-American to work on a surfing magazine, Donald O. Dowd (art director); a high-powered yet introspective young surfer named John Peck (contributing editor) award winning Australian photographer, Peter Rae (contributing editor - Australia); multi-talented nephew of Jams and Surfline Hawaii's founder of the same name, Dave Rochlen (the original ‘Commander Makaha’); another very talented cartoonist, Mike Salisbury (illustrator); legendary waterman and the first surfer to ride Pipeline, Buzzy Trent (contributing editor); writer, director, producer and one of the first two men to surf the Canary Islands, George Van Noy (contributing editor); East Coast surfing legend, O.T. Wood (contributing editor - New York); and board maker extraordinaire, Reynolds Yater (contributor).

And the list of staff photographers and contributors reads like a Who’s Who of surfing photography: Dick Gustafson, Ron Dahlquist, Ron Church, Val Valentine, Tom Jewell, Tom Keck, Lee Peterson, Roy Porello, Ron Stoner and the ‘Grandfathers’ of surfing photography, Don James and Leroy Grannis. 


The ‘Malibu Issue’ sold out. Our mailbags were full of subscription orders. People were buying the magazine on the West Coast, East Coast, Gulf Coast and in between. Surfguide was also selling in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Peru, the UK and Europe. Advertisers suddenly began competing for space and even some of Surfer’s stalwarts finally decided to advertise with Surfguide for the first time. Just as suddenly, our charismatic advertising director, Don Pritchard left the magazine and I was appointed as his replacement. Overnight I had a new title, a company car, a hefty increase in income, an expense account and an ulcer.

Within weeks, over a boozy lunch at a posh North Hollywood restaurant, the publisher of one of our competitors attempted to talk me into defecting to his magazine by offering twice the money I was making at Surfguide. At the same time, John Severson and Severson’s right-hand man, Bev Morgan, were trying to lure Bill Cleary to Surfer. It was all go.

In the October 1964 issue, Bill had written a tongue-in-cheek review of the laughable Hollywood ‘surfing’ film, ‘Ride the Wild Surf’, starring Tab Hunter and Fabian (to give it some credit it co-starred two genuine surfers, Peter Brown and Jim Mitchum).

The article also lampooned a surfboard maker named Phil Sauers, who had provided all the boards for the film. An example: “The movie version Phil (Sauers) weighs 285 lbs and stomps around the set like Godzilla with the gout, while real life Phil is a 150 lb. midget who can’t even act.”

Truth aside, Phil of Phil Surfboards (“Surfboards of the Stars”) took exception and consulted his lawyers. We soon heard rumors, but we didn’t take them - or him - very seriously.

By the time we were told that we’d badly underestimated an ego scorned, I’d written another fable for the December issue and we were close to our final deadline. Little did we know that a much more damaging legal threat was to follow.

Like all of the fables, this new one was based on a well known children’s story or legend - in this case, the legend of Robin Hood. The fables always took place on “the Island of Nerd where everyone surfs” and made fun of the world of surfing. My version was titled The Saga of Robin Hoad and the villains of the piece were none other than the dastardly, “Prince Phillip the Sour” and his henchman, “the ruthless blaggard, Baron Vincent Von Moron-house, Vice Regent General of His Majesty’s Lifeguard Service ... who couldn’t swim a stroke.”

I was in San Diego selling advertising when Cleary learned from the magazine’s lawyers that upsetting Mr Sauers any further would not be advisable.

I’d just returned to my motel in La Jolla after an overly indulgent expense account dinner when Bill phoned to tell me that I’d have to take out any reference to ‘Prince Phillip’. As I fumbled for another name, Bill suggested, “how about a Prince John the ... something?”

“John who?” asked I.

“How about Severson,” answered Bill.

“Ok,” I agreed. “How about Prince John of Dinah Point?”

“Doesn’t really do it,” answered Bill. “Let’s call him Prince John the Stingy”

When I asked why “the Stingy?” Bill explained that Severson was rumored to have something of a tendency to be ‘tightwad’ and that it was a bit of a joke within surfing circles. So ‘Prince John the Stingy’ it became.

It was only after I’d returned from my sales trip that Bill gleefully told me he’d taken the liberty of adding some extra bits about Prince John’s “pet tarantula” and the final line: “Prince John the Stingy was last seen leaping from Dinah Point with his surfboard, clutching his box of gold. And rumor has it that he met his just reward: he was swallowed up by The Angry Sea.” Which happened to be the title of one of Severson’s best known surf films.



Surfguide’s publisher had taken out a libel and defamation policy with Fireman’s Fund Insurance for the princely sum of one million dollars. Strangely, we were sued for precisely that amount by John Severson and the City of Huntington Beach. I can’t remember the breakdown, but let’s say the publisher, Larry Stevenson, was sued for around $500,000, the editor, Bill Cleary, for around $300,000 and yours truly for the rest. In 1965 that was serious money. It still is.

The first I heard of the lawsuit was when I received a phone call at Surfguide from Vince Moorehouse, chief of the Huntington Beach lifeguard service (portrayed in the fable as ‘Baron Vincent Von Moron-house’). Vince and I had met a few times over the years, but we were not more than casual acquaintances. That’s why it was particularly generous of him to phone and say what he did.

Assuming that I already knew about it, he started off by apologizing for the lawsuit and explained that he didn’t have anything to do with the city council’s involvement. According to Vince, Severson’s lawyers had talked Huntington Beach into joining in on the suit because the fable had gravely “insulted” their most senior lifeguard by suggesting that he couldn’t “swim a stroke.” By insulting Vince - so the reasoning went - the fable had also insulted the City of Huntington Beach and, more importantly, the council. And that simply couldn’t be tolerated.

Vince ended by telling me that he always enjoyed reading Feigel Fables and that he thought the Saga of Robin Hoad was extremely funny, especially the part about him being “demoted to Junior Lifesaving Instructor” only to be “fired because he couldn’t swim a stroke.” He couldn’t believe that anyone could take offense and was embarrassed that he’d been forced to become involved in something he referred to as “petty and vindictive.”

Quite a number of people agreed with Vince’s assessment and more than a few suggested that the real purpose behind the suit was to force Surfer’s number one competitor out of business.

Although Vince’s news was a shock, I waited for Bill to return from a short vacation with his wife, Mary, before discussing it with anyone else. To my surprise, Bill not only knew about the suit, but dismissed it as being unimportant and told me not to worry. He also asked me to not mention that he’d written the bits about Severson to anyone else until we saw how things went with the lawsuit, and I agreed.

This turned out to be quite an unpleasant undertaking as I came in for some heavy flack from a couple of Severson’s friends on my rounds to met with advertisers. On a visit to Hobie’s shop in Dana Point I got my worst going over from the one and only, Mickey Muñoz, of Quasimoto fame. Mickey was managing the shop and ripped into me the minute I walked in for maligning someone he very much respected. I tried to explain that it was all in fun, but he was so upset that the only way I could have calmed him down was to tell him what had really happened - that Bill, not I, had written those references to Severson. Since that was something I’d agreed not to do, I simply left.

Otherwise, things never seemed better and I got on with my job.

We’d all heard the rumor that Surfer’s advertisers had been warned not to advertise with Surfguide or they risked being shut out of Surfer. Whether that rumor was true or not, my signing up Dewey Weber to a double page, full color advertisement on the inside back cover of Surfguide was a major coup. With regular advertisers like Foss Foam, Con, Challenger, Jacobs, Roberts, Velzy, Hansen, Daytona Beach Surf Shop and the Greek - plus new advertisers like Gordon & Smith, Hasley & Hynson, Yater, Gordie and  Bing coming on board - our ‘street cred’ was firmly established. Add corporate advertisers such as Catalina swimwear and Laguna sportswear and Surfguide’s future looked assured.

Still basking in the warmth of these successes I was totally unprepared for what happened next. 

Summoned by Larry Stevenson to his office I found that Bill Cleary and the company’s recently appointed money man were already seated, leaving me no option but to stand. According to ‘the Suit’, the lawsuit had seriously damaged the magazine’s “viability” and the only hope the company had of reaching some sort of compromise with the litigants was to “mollify” them. Standing there alone, too stunned to speak or defend myself, I was informed that my services were no longer required. The fable had made me a liability. I was fired.


Ironically, though I’d worked for Surfguide magazine for much of its brief, but influential life, I was one of the last to learn of its closure. Since my dismissal I’d been avoiding contact with my former colleagues and with Bill Cleary, who I felt had let me down.

Now, it appeared that the lawsuit had forced the magazine out of business and I felt that I was to blame.

At first I virtually cut myself off from the ‘world of surfing’ and cocooned my guilt in a heavy haze of booze, late night smoking sessions, parties and psychedelic adventures. It took months for me to recover my equilibrium and, even then, it was a precarious balance to maintain.

A door back into the industry was opened by the late Con Colburn who gave me the job of managing Con Surfboards' Woodland Hills shop. A few months later, Dick Graham of Surfing International magazine gave me the opportunity to write again.

But rather than being satisfied with their generosity, I walked away from both jobs and started covering Hollywood’s emerging ‘folk-rock, psychedelic’ music scene for a variety of magazines. And what a scene it was. Parties, nightclubs, back stage passes, slow, smoky rides around Hollywood in stretch limos with tinted windows - all while ingesting untold milligrams of a clear blue liquid from Sandoz laboratories in Switzerland. It only took a few months before I merrily skipped my way off the end of Rainbow Bridge into the dark abyss below.

By the time I crawled my way back up into the light, everything had changed, and I once again found myself working with Larry Stevenson and Bill Cleary in yet another venture.

While Larry had continued manufacturing Makaha Skateboards after Surfguide’s closure, Bill had gone on to become Surfer magazine’s associate editor. Then the bottom had fallen out of the skateboard market and Bill was looking for new challenges. Having gained some valuable insights into the emerging ‘youth market’ during the promotion of Makaha skateboards, Larry came up with the idea of starting a market research consultancy that specialized in that market. ‘The Young American Research Institute’ and its monthly newsletter to ‘Fortune’s 500’, The Young American Report, were soon up and running.

For the next year or so, Bill, Larry and I never discussed Surfguide’s demise. While a few tidbits of information would surface from time to time, it was clearly not a subject any of us was particularly comfortable talking about. And the years passed.

In a funny way, the lawsuit was instrumental in keeping Larry, Bill and me in touch. Once I’d been fired, Surfguide taken out of the picture and Bill safely working for Severson, the lawsuit had not been pursued. Nor had it been withdrawn and, under the terms of Surfguide’s insurance policy, each of us had to keep the insurance company informed of our ‘whereabouts’ until the ten year ‘statute of limitation’ ran out. Or that was the story I was told.

When I moved to Maui, Hawaii in the late-sixties, Bill and I kept in touch via the occasional letter. In 1970, when I returned to the mainland, Bill and his wife Mary and I resumed what had always been a close friendship. Then Bill, Mary and their young son, Omar moved to Ireland where Bill had been working on a film. When my first wife and I went on our protracted honeymoon, we spent several weeks with the Clearys in their farmhouse on the coast near Bantry Bay.

The Clearys returned to Malibu just before my marriage broke up. Shortly after that Bill and Mary separated and Bill suggested throwing a couple of boards on his VW camper and exploring the coasts Central America. It was a long, eventful drive down through the center of Mexico and, amongst many conversations between Malibu-Costa Rica-Malibu, we eventually broached the subject of Surfguide. Almost ten years after the event and pieces of the puzzle were finally starting to fall in place.



Personally, Surfguide was a rich and rewarding experience and I’ve always felt both privileged and lucky to have been at that place during that period of time. But years later, after thinking that it was my fable which had been responsible for Surfguide’s closure, I heard other versions of events which have led me to my own conclusions.

As Surfguide’s circulation figures and advertising revenues increased, a decision was made to launch a new publication called, Waterski & Small Craft. The rationale was based on the assumption that ‘wake surfing’ behind a speed boat would be the next ‘craze’ to sweep the world and the new magazine would be poised to take off with it.

Despite paid endorsements from top surfers and champion waterskiers, wake surfing didn’t catch on until years later when boards became smaller, lighter and purpose built. The magazine made a quiet exit after just two issues. It was a mistake that cost the company dearly.

At the same time, the Makaha skateboard side of the business was booming, but required a substantial injection of capital in order to overcome production problems, meet the growing demand and maintain Makaha’s competitive edge.

Apparently, a condition for this new investment called for Larry Stevenson to relinquish his overall control of R.L. Stevenson & Associates and leave the major money decisions to representatives of the new investors.

With the losses incurred by the failure of Waterski & Small Craft combined with the possibility of crippling legal fees should the million dollar case against Surfguide be brought to court, it must have made a great deal of sense to assuage Huntington Beach’s outrage by firing me, then satisfy Severson by closing down the magazine, leaving Bill free to work for Surfer.

As stated earlier, once the plug was pulled on Surfguide, the lawsuit was only put on hold, not withdrawn - perhaps as insurance that Surfer’s closest rival would not be resurrected within the ten year period during which the suit could be reactivated. Surfguide was truly dead.

These days, Surfguide magazine is still selling worldwide, but only at surfing memorabilia sales and online through dealers and auctions. Thanks to my sister, Guinna Kenney, who saved all of the issues I’d thrown away, I still have some tangible reminders of those days.

What still puzzles me and probably always will are the four major pieces to the puzzle that remain missing to this day.

One, if John Severson was so upset by the references to ‘Prince John the Stingy’ in The Saga of Robin Hoad, then why did he appoint the person who made them as his associate editor?

Two, how could R.L. Stevenson & Associates’ new masters be so sure that firing me and shutting down Surfguide magazine would protect the company from further legal action and expenses regarding the lawsuit? Were these conditions of an undisclosed out-of-court settlement?

Three, why, did Bill variously, over the years, claim to have written, not only ‘Robin Hoad’, but all my other fables as well?*

And, lastly, but most importantly, how did the litigants just happen to sue Surfguide for the exact amount of its maximum insurance cover?

Besides myself, There are only four, possibly five, people who could have told the story of Surfguide’s short, spectacular life and I’ve discussed the matter with three of the key players over the years. Former editor, Bill Cleary, former art director, John Van Hamersveld and former publisher and skateboard impresario Larry Stevenson. I have also read John Severson's point of view in an email he sent to me in 2005.

But memory is a fickle muse and it shouldn’t surprise you that my recollection of the events leading up to the death of Surfguide forty years ago differed in certain respects from those of Bill, Larry and both Johns. 

Then again, their recollections differ from each other’s as well. All I can say is that we agree to disagree and this is my version.


*When I first asked Bill about this, he said he’d claimed have written all of ‘Robin Hoad’ to protect me from Severson. As far as the additional claim of having written all my other fables was concerned, he explained that it was a matter of making his authorship of ‘Robin Hoad’ more plausible, and I’d accepted that reasoning.


Twenty-six years later, while reading Bill’s convoluted and yet unpublished 23,004 word disquisition titled, ‘The Short Happy Life of SurfGuide & Nine Lives of Da Cat’, I was surprised to find that he was still claiming to have written not just part of The Saga of Robin Hoad, but the entire thing.


Once more, we discussed the reasons, and, once more, Bill maintained that he was doing it to protect me, because Severson didn’t know I’d written “any” of it and might decide to sue me yet again all these years later.


When I reminded Bill that all the specific references in the fable which Severson apparently found so offensive had been written by him and not me, he said he would amend his next draft of ‘The Short Happy Life of SurfGuide ...’ to reflect the true version of events. To my knowledge that amendment was not made before Bill’s death on July 4th, 2002.


What I never discussed with Bill, and only thought of asking after his death, was why he didn’t admit to having written the bits about Severson on the day I was fired. I was far too upset to speak at that meeting and went away thinking that it was my line about Vince Moorehouse and the need to mollify Huntington Beach City Council that caused my dismissal. It was only years later that I learned of the other factors that were involved and the question didn't occur to me until I started writing this account of what had happened.  


Somehow, I don't think I'll ever know the answer ...

Death of a surf mag © Robert R. Feigel 2004 - All rights reserved

For a briefer description of Surfguide's brief life - plus and images -
please click this link:
The Rise and Fall of Surfguide Magazine - RIP