a briefer description of Surfguide's brief life - plus images -
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
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.
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.
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.
the meantime, the relationship between surf mags was becoming fiercely
competitive - particularly between Surfer
and what was soon to be renamed, Surfguide.
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 Issue’ of 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.
‘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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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
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.”
was in San Diego selling advertising when Cleary learned from the magazine’s
lawyers that upsetting Mr Sauers any further would not be advisable.
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?”
who?” asked I.
about Severson,” answered Bill.
I agreed. “How about Prince John of Dinah Point?”
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.
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
SEVERSON DROPS IN
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
things never seemed better and I got on with my job.
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.
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.
it appeared that the lawsuit had forced the magazine out of business and I
felt that I was to blame.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Or that was the story I was told.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
still puzzles me and probably always will are the four major pieces to the
puzzle that remain missing to this day.
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
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?
why, did Bill variously, over the years, claim to have written, not only
‘Robin Hoad’, but all my other fables as well?*
lastly, but most importantly, how did the litigants just happen to sue Surfguide
for the exact amount of its maximum insurance cover?
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
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
All I can say is that we agree to disagree and this is my version.
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
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
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
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
a briefer description of Surfguide's brief life - plus and images -