and the Rise of California Surfing: Continued
Kemp's exploits were detailed further when his younger brother Denny
co-wrote 1978's "Big Wednesday" with John Milius . "Big
Wednesday", another Hollywood effort to glorify Malibu's
"Golden Era" has become a cult classic. According to a 2004
Surfline.com reader poll, "Big Wednesday" is considered the
most accurate portrayal of surfers Hollywood has ever made. William Katt
plays the "straight-up" character in the movie's triage - a
flamenco playing surfer / lifeguard who voluntarily enlists in the
military during the Viet Nam War - a character clearly based on Denny's
older brother Kemp.
INTERVIEW Part 2:
"I thought Malibu was like that all the
time, that's how naive I was. I thought gee! well this is great, look at
the fun those guys are having."
What was the biggest surf
you ever saw at Malibu?
one of the biggest swells I ever saw was when I was just learning to
surf and really didn't have the ability to surf it. '56 ... the summer of
'56. I was more of an onlooker and looking at good, big, clean, huge 10'
walls...stacked up like corduroy on the horizon coming off that point.
And the guys that were ripping it were Matt Kevlin, Mickey Dora and
Dewey Weber was just ripping it to pieces and he was doing these round
house beautiful turns. And I really didn't know what surfing was all
about then ... I could body surf, I could work a skimboard and I was just
learning to come along with surfing. I thought Malibu was like that all
the time, that's how naive I was. I thought gee! well this is great,
look at the fun those guys are having. There was a guy named Richard
Jaeckle who was a contemporary of Peter Lawford. The movie star guys
were riding. I'm not kidding, surf stories are surf stories but I swear
off the point these big walls would just rise up, ruler edged wall on em
and I would see guys streaking off the point on these long, sharp railed
wood boards and pulling out at the pier. And I remember going out and
sitting on the inside by pier and kind of like a little washing machine going, "where was that little 2 footer?"
... seeing watching
Dewey Weber just coming around on these beautiful turns and really,
really looking good. A lot of energy in it.
Bruce Brown's son made a
movie called "Endless Summer Revisited". It contains a sequence
of you and Dewey Weber at Velzyland. You and Dewey are supposedly having
a contest and he (Bruce Brown) goes. "Wait a minute, Dewey Weber is
not competing fairly, he's surfing in slow motion" because Bruce
slowed the film down showing (Dewey Weber) making this beautiful turn
and then runs up to the nose"
was an excerpt from his movie "Slippery When Wet" done in 1958,
and I don't know how they edited it but that was a balsa period, the
foam board hadn't been seen.
That's balsa? Wow, really
... cause his (Weber's) style on that wave is classic, I mean, you
can't do much better than that.
You know Dewey was a champion wrestler. During that time, this was 1958,
we were all living on the North Shore while Bruce was making his first
movie and Dewey lived next door and when things would get boring in the
Islands, he would come over an visit our house and put people in head
locks and crunch ribs ... like he would grab you like with some wrestling
thing and then you'd hear a few ribs snap and you'd go, "Dewey!
you asshole get out of here!" He was like wound up like a top. He
was so strong and energetic, I think he was hyperactive. The thing I see
with him a lot, is that he would come off of that charge to the nose and
walk back fast and as he walked back, he'd whip a cutback ... just incredible. Then coming around in the soup again and charging, his
elbows pumping, charges up into the curl, and stomps his way up to the
nose like an angry young man like, "God dang it - rip
-rip-rip" That's where ripping started. He was good though. I used
to surf in the South Bay on 22nd St. and I'd see Dewey out there and
say, "What are you doing Dewey?" and he says,
"TRAINING!" ...."Training for what?" He would just
be like pumping it all the time.
"... he (Dewey Weber) would come off of
that, charge to the nose and walk back fast and as he walked back, he'd
whip a cutback ... just incredible. Then coming around in the soup again
and charging, his elbows pumping, charges up into the curl, and stomps
his way up to the nose like an angry young man like, "God dang it -
rip -rip-rip" That's where ripping started. "
I heard about some incident
where somebody drowned at Malibu in the fifties ... hit the pier
- a black guy.
Oh that's an old story. Just in big surf that some guy hit the pier and
drowned but that was before my time That was in '52 or something like
that. You don't shoot the Malibu Pier. The answer here is ... do not shoot
the Malibu Pier as you do the Huntington Beach Pier.
Have waves ever broken
past the end of the Pier?
I don't think so...unless the tide was so damn low...no I don't think
so. In fact on a 10' day if you got the ride all the way to about the
middle of the pier...and you pull out. And 10' days are very, very rare.
When it comes up, its probably 5,6,7'. 8' is really, really big. The 10'
stuff is like.....epic. Like, "I can remember when...." I've
seen 10' waves there though.
I saw the summer of '68
and there was all this erosion all the way down to the wall.
Seen it ... love it ... that's when coins were sticking out. I would run
along that wall. There was a berm that was built up by the water coming
into the cove and carving out the sand that had built up over the
summer. And what is wonderful about that is that it would expose all of
these coins that had been lost in the sand and they would just all be
sticking like strata, they were layers and layers, you could just reach
up and go, "fifty cents!" and it was all the public, the
general public over many, many years had lost all these coins in the
sand out of whatever. And there were actually some old coins there that
were from the early 1900's.
So what was the origin
of that wall?
That wall to do with that nice Spanish style Ringe Estate, it was part
of the Rancho and has been unchanged, unmodified. It just kind of sits
there like an old road. Its right by the old road. The old road is right
there behind it. It was fenced off for years, it had barbed wire.
I heard that it was
private. That nobody could go there. They had guards going up the beach
with rifles and then Sam Reid supposedly was the first guy to surf it.
Tom Blake and Sam Reid in the '20's.
"When it comes up, its probably 5,6,7'.
8' is really, really big. The 10' stuff is like.....epic. Like, "I
can remember when...." I've seen 10' waves there though."
I wanted to talk about
"Big Wednesday". I know your brother's not here. But one of
the characters in it is a lifeguard and obviously must be modeled on
Well... what they did was come up with an idea for a script and Milius
while he was going to school out in Northridge, studying cinematography
or film studies, hung around Malibu in the early sixties and he became
stimulated to make a movie and they synthesized a script that probably
could have been a lot more interesting and since my brother Denny worked
on it and Milius worked on it, they reached out to people that they knew
and created characters out of real people that they knew and they did
what they call "faction" a synthesis of fact and fiction. So
these characters have nothing to do with really accurate reality and
I was wondering if you
inspired that character?
Oh yes, William Katt's character of the guy who joined the military and
be a straight laced guy and surfed after my particular behavior. But I
never had any input of like, "Hey, why don't you take this guy and
do that.." I never had anything to do with it myself. But my
younger brother was more of an observer and he said, "well let's
make this guy like Lance Carson, lets make this guy Ray Koontz, lets
make this guy like Kemp...me you know. And they put together a story and
God...people were so hurtin to see surf stuff I guess it went well.
It's a cult classic.
I think it came out about '78 and what can you say. "Things do what
they're gonna do." I think its just admirable to get something out
there out of the garage and out to the public you know what I mean? I
could sit and shoot my mouth off as an authority 'til the cows come home
and it doesn't mean diddle-d-squat because about as far as what I did
was ... I used to write surf articles once a month for the Santa Barbara
News Press. That's about what I came up with. You can always say things
could have been better, different or if it wasn't like that ... you know
what I mean?
"We used to drive right go over a bump across
the lawn and park right at the break. The Hammond Estate. And I
met the young guy - Hammonds. He would come down, cause he knew my
girlfriend at the time...We'd be parked right there surfing and he'd
come down and say hello."
You were part of that
crew that surfed "The Ranch" ... the Hollister Ranch Surfing
Before that. When you would drive up there and just drive in....none of
it was paved. And just ride along the dirt road until you saw the break
you liked. And get out. I think I went up there in the real early
sixties. Because I used to live right here. Of course surfing led me to
come up to college up here. Because, God the University by the sea? So
Severson used to come up to our house here, we lived on Butterfly Lane
by the Biltmore ... big two story house. I remember Severson taking us up
there and shooting film. You know, open up a barbed wire gate, close it
and keep on driving. No problem until more people created more
complications and started chasing the cattle around. And then they
started saying, "Hey, we're gonna have to NOT let you guys
in." And by not letting any surfers in then a surf club of sorts
... people that were screened to go in there started. And I left by
then, I was gone. You know where the problem arises, one or two guys,
the same thing at Hammonds. We used to drive right go over a bump across
the lawn and park right at the break. The Hammond Estate. And I
met the young guy - Hammonds. He would come down, cause he knew my
girlfriend at the time ... We'd be parked right there surfing and he'd
come down and say hello. He didn't surf at all. Me and this gal, Sally
Bromfield, my girlfriend at the time, so they could talk. He'd have on a
blue blazer and an ascot. And he'd say that "The waves were
positively wonderful today... smashing waves!" My younger
brother Denny and I were surfing out there a couple of days ago ... and as
we were sitting there waiting for waves, we were making jokes about
these cottages and I said, "Which one are you staying in?" And
he'd go, "The one right there, it's closest to the beach...."
Here are these multi-million dollar, slate roofed cottages that you
couldn't touch if you had to and someone is dialed into them. Boy, the
grip of materialism is right there ... The naive thing about kids is you
think, that's the way it is, its gonna be like that forever and you can
never even think of getting one because its off the scale and someone
owns it and they must be some rich businessman that's somewhere. That's
the attitude, that's naive, because at that time back at City College
when you guys were enrolling, you could drive right up onto the Mesa
there, and any of those tract homes up there were all under $100K. They
were like $40K, $65K.
When I moved to Santa
Cruz in '75, you could buy those little cottages for $40K.
"It used to be fun to rent places because
it was a token payment for a temporary residence. Now it's like, can I
scrape it together from month to month just to survive. It is
When "Big Wednesday" was being made, I lived out in Goleta, I
had just started working for United Parcel, that's how I kept myself out
of hot water. The houses that I bought were $70K ... could you do that
now? Jesus Christ, I can't even believe it. I got a house on the Mesa
now that I thought I paid a fortune for, and the $300K at the time ...
now its doubled. What is going to happen to all the young kids today
that do not have a parents money to facilitate their life? In the old
days, you could live in the back of your car til you got tired of it and
then go pay cheap rent somewhere because you were paying cheap rent and
then if you got sick of that you could work in a supermarket stocking
shelves until you got enough capital to buy a house. Now you'll spend
all your gol danged money at Taco Bell just to survive. I don't know how
the kids are doing it. I predict, I hate to say it, there are going to
be so many homeless or marginal people that are unable to make their
rents. It used to be fun to rent places because it was a token payment
for a temporary residence. Now it's like, can I scrape it together month
from month just to survive. It is scary. But these early days that we're
talking about, I think, I was very naive as to the landscape. And I had
no comprehension, I thought real estate, Jesus don't get locked in
that's worse than marriage ... A mortgage? Mortgage and marriage go
together like a horse and carriage.
I was 19, I got married,
bought a house, had my own business and kids by the time I was 21.
You were the example to
all of us; "Can it be done?"
The nice thing was
surfing with my kid at Rincon when I was in my 30's and doing "Go
behinds" on 8' waves!!