Matt Micuda was 12 in 1973 when he surfed for the first time. It was on a board that had come from a friend of the family — a Barry Kanaiaupuni model from Rick Surfboards that was made in 1968.
“I loved it immediately,” he said. “Even when I started surfing on shortboards and eventually went pro, I always had a bunch of longboards around. We always met up when the surf got small on the old boards. That was the time when we’d hang with our friends, get the gossip, talk about girls and enjoy the ocean.”
Micuda, a sign fabricator from Santa Cruz, California, still surfs on the old boards and claims that it’s his way of staying in touch with his love of the sport.
Staying in touch with the feelings that surfing evokes is important, because the surfing world has changed. Competitive surfing has become bigger and more exclusive, and boards and gear have become more expensive and more high tech. Prices of modern competitive boards today range from US$800 to US$1,200.
Luckily for Micuda, a surfing subculture that has been around for years is beginning to grow. Soul surfers, more concerned with the individuality of the sport, and less with the commercial aspects, are picking up the old boards in an effort to retain the original spirit of surfing.
And they gather for events like the Big Stick Logjam, one of the longest running longboard surf contests in the world, which was held April 26 and April 27. This year the contest attracted more than 100 competitors.
Retro contests and simple club get-togethers have become about pageantry — places to see beautiful mint examples of classic boards. Movies like Gidget and The Endless Summer and songs from the Beach Boys and Dick Dale like Surfin’ USA, Misirlou and Night Rider — created a culture that went far beyond surfing, but ultimately created much of the popularity that still exists.
And there is something about watching a longboarder make a good, easy turn that conjures the same nostalgic elegance as watching a classic hot rod like a chrome-encrusted T-bucket.
That retro culture is why many surfers who collect and ride the old boards stress the importance of the sport’s history to younger surfers.
“In my era, competitive surfing was nonexistent,” said Tom Pezman, executive director of the Surfing Heritage Foundation, which is in San Clemente, California. “It was club-based, and it was about the pure enjoyment of it. That’s what a lot of us are trying to pass along.”
Micuda said that in the last three to five years the collectibility of a lot of the old boards increased, and values skyrocketed. Some mint condition longboards now sell for US$4,000 and up. This has brought a lot of attention to the early days of surfing, but it has also created a collectors’ frenzy that he doesn’t like.
“I get upset sometimes because many of the collectors never get out in the water with the boards,” he said. “I hate that because that’s not what surfing is about. There’s no soul in it.”
And soul is what the retro scene is all about. But that soul can be even more finely sliced, divided into camps, like longboarders, shortboarders and kneeboarders.
Scott Hulet, editor of The Surfer’s Journal, said all of these subtribes long for a return to the days when surfing was not a high-profile media sport. “It’s a reaction to the bigness of surfing,” Hulet said. “And it’s a group that isn’t concerned with the high level of surfing athleticism. It’s much more about the feelings that surfing evokes — like freedom.” Hulet maintains that the retro scene is growing, that it has become more influential and is attracting a younger audience.