My son Levon and I just returned from a great surfing/camping trip in Tofino sleeping in the Van Halen on the beach and enjoying March sunshine -and even better Levon missed a couple of days of school to pursue Surf Bum 101 – a fully accredited course here.
In any case it put me in mind of this piece I wrote for SBC Surf Magazine.
Park my van on the Pacific shore
we got the wax and we got our boards…
With the ventures sweet sound
Get down it’s always an adventure
I’M gonna surfin’ in Tofino
I’M gonna surfin’ in Tofino
I’M gonna surfin’ in Tofino
And I’M never coming back
The Planet Smashers, Surfin in Tofino
By Grant Shilling SBC Surf Magazine
Road trips are a surfing ritual. For many of us who don’t live near the waves getting ‘there’ and getting together just doubles the pleasure. In the late 70s and 80s ‘Surf Stomps’ held at Long Beach Airport and at Jordan River were a type of social for the small but stoked group of north and south coast Vancouver Island surfers who got together to party, surf, play music and watch future surf film classics including Free Ride and A Winter’s Tale.
Surf auteurs like Bruce Brown, John Severson and Bob Evans–who brought us his memorable Midget Goes Hawaiian–were getting their chops and looking for venues to play their films in a pre-digital world. A group of BC bush apes and cold-water warriors were eager to watch them.
In November of ’76 Dave ‘Hump’ Hadden rented the classic California surf movie Free Ride from Bill Delaney, the producer of the film. “There were all these ads in surfer magazines about the movie coming out in January ‘77. So I phoned him. And I said ‘Hey we’re a bunch of Canadian Surfers up here and there is no venue where we’ll be able to see your movie and I could show it to our little group.’ Well he thought that was pretty cool.” Delaney rented it to Hadden for a nominal sum of money.
Free Ride had its world premiere in a barn lacking power near Jordan River.
A gas power generator was rented and a film projector borrowed. “I made a bit of a mistake with the generator. I only got a 3,000 watt generator and the hall had all kinds of 200-watt light bulbs in it. It doesn’t take many 200-watt light bulbs to use up 3,000 watts. So we had to unscrew all the bulbs in the whole hall. Except the one by the door and the one by the ladies washroom.”
All the local surfers from the South Coast were there, and some came down from Tofino and Ucluelet. Musician, carpenter and master shaper Wayne Vliet played some music and sang as did surfer /musician Kent Fiddy who more recently played the Pacific Rim Whale Festival .
Filmed by Dan Merkel, Free Ride features stunning slow motion sequences of Shaun Tomson surfing at Off-The-Wall and Backdoor, and a wacked soundtrack mix of Joan Armatrading, Pablo Cruise, and Billy Preston. Free Ride-according to those who watched it- marked Tomson as the most advanced surfer of the period overtaking the Hawaiian surfers on Oahu’s North Shore. Surf audiences were now curious about worldwide waves and those who rode them.
Getting the film to run at JR was its own adventure.
To avoid paying an expensive duty on the film Hadden brought the film up as a surf -rescue training film.
Power was another concern.
“We had enough power to run the projector and keep a couple of lights on,” recalls Hadden. “Of course the generator ran out of gas half way through the movie so I had to run out there and pour some more gas in her and get her flashed up again.”
Who knows showing the flick that featured the South African Tomson may have been a portent of the late ‘70s influx of a half dozen South African surfers to JR. Maxie Wetteland a South African surf pioneer came to JR after reading a pamphlet on BC Ferries that said there was surfing to be had in the company town logged down to dirt with a perfect mechanical speed wave beside it. Wetteland would later work carpentry with Jim Sadler in Tofino – while building surfboards and developing snowboards.
For a number of years from about ’75 till the early eighties, Doug Palfrey,Ted Goodspeed and Jeff Reves would get together rent a surf movie, such as Five Summer Stories and A Winter’s Tale, and put on a dance. Reves rememebers it as an attempt to consolidate what then was a very small surf community “where everybody knew everybody.” The first couple of Surf Stomps were at the hall in the airport in Tofino and in later years at the Legion hall in Tofino. “There’d be a dance afterwards and there were some good times had by all,” says Reves.
Harold Sadler remembers his father Jim bringing his churchgoing family to the Long Beach Airport hangar for the Stomps. “He’d bring these very religious, very conservative cousins of ours from the prairies to these get-togethers,” chuckled Harold recently. “I wonder what they were thinking.”
One night John Milius’ Big Wednesday was playing to a packed house at the Airport. Jim glided through the mountain of smoke and rock with a big smile for everyone and yelped with the crew while watching Gerry Lopez riding a bomb at Pipeline on the big screen set up for the occasion.
Fast forward to today in Tofino where you can no longer make a fire or drive your car on the beach and have to pay to park your surf chariot – and you may have to fight for your right to party.
Fortunately the good old Royal Canadian legion No.65 in Tofino has served as the party palace for Surf Jam parties beginning in 1999 as it did for the Stomps before it. Also, Tofino’s Community Theatre has hosted premieres of Jeremy Koreski’s Shrink and Numb as well as 49 Degrees by Susanne Tabata that features Aaron Jackson’s (maker of the fine 5MM) outstanding footage of the late great Jesse Oke ripping.
Today you can make you own surf film with just a cam and a laptop. One lonely panel van parked by the beach- curled up with your favourite neoprene marine could be a screening room for your own special stomp.