Hangin' 10 at 6000 Feet
photography: Eric Kiel
(page 1 of 2)
Step out the front door of Atkinsons’ Market in Giacobbi Square, look south and a little west, and you’ll see surfboards. It’s no mirage—even though Ketchum is situated a mile up a mountain, and a good seven hundred miles from the nearest coast.
Ketchum has no ocean vista, but surfboards are leaning against the outside walls of a retail establishment called Room+Board. On the door is a large decal: “Surf Diva.” Strike up a conversation with anyone inside, and they’ll tell you that Paul Robinson made those Double D surfboards right here in the Valley.
Yes, oddly enough, there is a surf culture at 6,000 feet. In addition to a shop in Ketchum’s business core that sells surfing paraphernalia and a guy in Hailey who makes custom surfboards, there was once a restaurant in town—The Beach—with decidedly surf-related décor. And many of the guys who are the stuff of early surfing legend now gather annually in Ketchum to celebrate their passion … far from their beloved oceans. In fact, a significant number of those surfers live here.
Just two months after the Hobie San Onofre Classic surfboard competition took place last spring at San Onofre Beach (a notable surf spot just inside the north border of
Camp Pendleton Marine Corp Base in California), the San Onofre Surf Club—whose origins date to the 1950s—held their annual get-together and picnic … at Sun Peak campground in Ketchum, Idaho. And that’s not as surprising as it may seem.
It was Ketchum resident Dick Metz, one of the event’s organizers, who opened the original surf shop in Honolulu, selling surfboards with the name Hobie—the first name of the man with whom he would be linked in business for the next four decades, Hobie Alter. Now semi-retired, Metz is founder of the Surfing Heritage Foundation, which is developing a museum to document and celebrate the rich history of the sport. Metz proudly proclaims it “The Smithsonian of Surfing.” The museum will be in southern California; but it could almost be in Ketchum, considering the Wood River Valley’s somewhat incongruous enclave of surfers, surfing legends, and innovators in the sport.
Another connection: Riders participating in the Hobie Classic compete on longboards—often vintage surfboards, nine to eleven feet in length. All surfers rode longboards until the shortboard revolution of the late 1960s and 70s retired most of them to garages throughout southern California and Hawaii. One of those boards, made of redwood and belonging to Bill Janss, a well-known former owner of the Sun Valley Company, made its way to Sun Valley, where it took up a moribund residence behind a shed. It later turned up on the wall of a restaurant called The Beach, at the corner of Sun Valley Road and Main Street in Ketchum. Restaurateur Dennis Wheeler, a former Manhattan Beach surfer, used that board, along with fourteen others, to decorate the walls.
The surfboard of choice at San Onofre last May, according to Longboard Magazine, was the Bing/David Nuuhiwa Noserider. (Bing is the name of the surfboard, David Nuuhiwa the rider.) The name Bing was synonymous with quality surfboards for decades, as the 1950s turned into the ‘60s, the ‘60s into the ‘70s.
And where does Bing Copeland, the designer of that board of choice, now live? Just north of Hailey, of course. Copeland’s friend and frequent companion, Nat Young, is a Ketchum resident and was named World Surfing Champion four times. Nat’s son, Beau Young, was swept up in the surfing scene early in life and captured the same title his dad held.
At the San Onofre Surf Club picnic in August, reminiscing was the order of the day. Two locals, Fritz Watson and John Droege, swapped stories of their pre-World War II days as Newport Beach lifeguards. John Stansberry, another Newporter, pointed out that he grew up on the beach—and has “the skin to prove it.”
Surfing arrived on the beaches of southern California around 1907, but remained more of a curiosity than an obsession for almost half a century. That was to change.
Following World War II, the beach towns witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of surfers, and a surf culture began to develop.
Ketchum resident and legendary triathlete Charlie French, an aerospace engineer living in Los Angeles at the time, caught the surfing bug in the 1950s. He was a frequent visitor to San Onofre Beach: “I’d sleep up in the hills on Saturday night and be at the Marine Corps gate at 7:00 when it opened on Sunday. Only 500 visitors were allowed, and they became the San Onofre Surf Club. Stickers were eventually issued to control the numbers, and I had a row of stickers on my car.” For French, those halcyon days of relative solitude came to a halt “with the first Gidget movie. Now everyone wanted to be a surfer.” >>>