Surf Cars: Lovable, Trashable
Surf rides were cooler when they were jalopies
Surf cars stopped being cool when they stopped being funny. Back when Elvis was King, the woody was the funniest thing this side of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Surfers got woodies on the cheap because the oak panels on the back and sides were termite-chewed to the point of causing suburban social embarrassment. Seventy-five bucks, maybe less, and you had yourself a decent whip. Drop the back seat off at the dump, throw in a bedroll, a stack of Mexican blankets, bag of oranges, a case of baked beans, and you’re good for the week. Beach fire burning low? Pry a slat or two off the door and make the flames jump. Your buddy’s passed out and his little sister’s breathing sweet beer-fumed nothings onto your neck and asking to go for a little walk? Smile like Hefner and say you know just the place. Threw a rod on PCH and your on-the-spot repair cost-benefit analysis ain’t looking so good? Pull over. Walk away. That’s why you didn’t register the fucker in the first place.
Nothing about those early surf woodies wasn’t funny. To the sport’s credit. Anyone trying to pinpoint the exact moment when surfing began its long, slow, ongoing separation from the realm of cool could do worse than ID the guy who decided it would be a good idea to restore his woody instead of push it gently over the nearest cliff.
My dad loved cars. The day I was born he drove to the local dealership and traded his Austin-Healey for a spanking-new bright red Porsche 356. Swapped that for a Jag, then an Aston Martin, then another Porsche. Had fingerless leather driving gloves tucked into the glovebox, next to a tiny bottle of touch-up paint. He’s 85 now, and still goes to car museums. That little twist of DNA did not get passed on to me, though. I have loved cars, too, in my own fashion, but only the ones that were classically surfy. Over the course of about five years, in my 20s, I had, in a row, a white ’62 Cadillac, a Plymouth Valiant, and a Dodge Dart, all three of which held multiple boards in the trunk, and all three of which I drove swiftly and mercilessly into the ground. Sold the Dart to a friend for $250, who drove it to Cabo, ferried it across to the mainland, and sold it to a Puerto Vallarta local who converted it into a taxi. If I’m going to be completely truthful, I didn’t think the thing was going to make it past Ensenada.
My dad never begrudged my surf life, or my shoddy treatment of every car I’ve owned, up until present day, and I love him for that. I also love him for playing Woody Guthrie’s “Car Song” for me when I was a kid, at my request, over and over. That’s the tune you hear in the clip above. Those two kids who go flying off the hood of Greg Noll’s car and slam into the dirt, at 0:35? Will I ever be so old that this isn’t super funny? God I hope not.