Malibu was our playground. On the half-mile stretch of sand between First and Third Point, we encountered rakish surfers, scraggly bums, nervous Vietnam vets, and leather-clad punks. Out in the sparkling waves, West Val stoners, East Val preppies, Hollywood vampires, Santa Monica blue bloods, Venice gypsies, Topanga hippies, Colony gazillionaires, and beer-swilling Wall Knuckleheads all converged, creating a magical soup that educated us in ways no school ever could.
We’d catch rides from parents, aunts, distant cousins, friends of friends’ older sisters—anyone with a driver’s license headed west. Full of butterflies and ambition, we’d pull our boards from the car, sling our backpacks over our shoulders, and cross the pearly gates entrance to First Point. The hot sand under our feet was instant liberation.
The lineup was one of the most crowded and heated in the world. One morning Angie Reno dropped in on Cliff, a 6’4”, 220 lbs. Herculean regular foot. They exchanged words, dunked each other’s heads under water, then took it to the beach. Angie threw a few scrappy punches. Cliff wrestled him to the ground. Angie squirmed free, ran over to his longboard, punched the fin out, and went after Cliff, using the fin as a kind of hatchet. For a second we thought we were about to watch a scalping of the Last of the Mohicans variety, but Cliff knocked the fin out of Angie’s hand, and laid into him. The smack of fist pounding wet, blubbery torso sounded the way smashing watermelons do. The following day Angie showed up at the wall with a crazed look on his face. In his pocket he clutched a gun. Before he could get to Cliff the lifeguard intercepted. Angie was taken away in handcuffs. We did not share this story with Mom and Dad.
Our crew consisted of my brother Steven, Cousin Pete, John Fiedler, a few Agoura High surf pals, and a dozen or so fellow teenagers we met along the way. We set up camp on a berm overlooking the inside section of Third Point, dubbed the “Kiddie Bowl.” Amid the hundreds of surfers in the water we engaged in our own little unspoken competition. The hierarchy was constantly shifting. A single excellent ride during a sizeable south swell could make you king for a week. Likewise, a cowardly hesitation could render you the laughingstock.
Between surfs we “terrorized.” Lunches were sabotaged; boards were set adrift in “Polio Pond,” the fetid creek that drained into Third Point. Locals were scrutinized and nicknames were assigned. “Fruit Loop” rode a pink and yellow twin fin and wore striped Dolfin shorts. He strutted up the beach with cigarette dangling from lip, bleached blond hair in a great bird’s nest of a pompadour. He surfed with an incredibly low center of gravity, almost sitting, and spun a dizzying number of 360s. Once we counted seven on one wave.
“Coke” was sunburned, barrel-chested, wetsuit-less even on cold days. He surfed, as Cousin Pete put it, “like he hasn’t taken a shit in three weeks.” Entering the water one bright summer morning, he nodded to thirteen-year-old John Fiedler.
“What’s that?” asked John.
“Wanna buy some coke?”
Towheaded, bowl-legged “Cock ‘n’ Balls” trotted across the sand to Third Point, yellow single fin underarm. At water’s edge he took off his boardshorts and draped them around his neck like a cape. He surfed for hours in the nude. Was it a celebration of surfing’s freedom and pure expression? Or was it was genius crowd control? No one dared drop in on him.