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Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume: 1936-1942 Hardcover – June 1, 1998
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|Hardcover, June 1, 1998||
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As for the West Coast, it would appear that Californians are too absorbed in turning out Baywatch episodes to establish much of a beach-tome tradition, at least this year. The lone example washing up on these shores is a book of photographs by the late celebrity dentist (and one-time Cary Grant stunt double) Don James called Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume: sepia snapshots of innocent, gorgeous hedonism.
"It was a balmy Sunday and the news about the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor was coming in over the radio. We were paying $60 a month for rent, which was split three ways, and life was good. Suddenly everything had changed. We all knew we were going off to war." For the half-decade preceding World War II, photographer Don James and his cronies lived in the balmy Eden of the southern California coastline, surfing from San Onofre north to Point Dume. "Surfing is life all the rest is details," someone once philosophized. In Don James's six-year diary of life in paradise, surfing is indeed life, but the beauty is in the details. James's sun-drenched remembrance of a paradise lost introduces us to a cast of golden children that Bruce Weber might well envy, and leaves us with at least one mystery: What ever became of Jack Power? According to Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume, "One day he walked down the beach and was never seen nor heard of again." Where did Jack Power go? Into the sunset, no doubt. Where the details hide.
James' photographs are a unique peek at the genesis of alternative sports, a genre that lacks a Babe Ruth or Jim Thorpe to provide historical perspective. There is no extreme equivalent of this summer's home run derby.
Waveriders like Jack Power didn't know they were rocking the cradle of cool and could not conceive that someday their laid-back beach culture was the beginning of a billion-dollar business that markets the edgy modern sports of skateboarding, snowboarding, wakeboarding and more. Or that their maverick sport of surfing would be taken up by 4 million people and reach the zenith of establishment acceptance: inclusion in the 2000 Olympic Games.
What began on those waves 60 years ago was turbocharged in the 1960s by the boom in surf music and movies. It is reflected today in the baggy back-to-school clothes of sixth graders, the electric guitars on your car radio and the growing realization that sports are something we do, instead of just watch.
In his introduction to James' recently reissued book, Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume, 1936-1942, C.R. Stecyk wrote: "...Surfing was still purely about the experience the burn in your shoulders from carrying your 90-pound plank two miles down the perilous cliffside trail to the cove; the sensation of skimming down the face of a chilly breaking wave at sunrise, the gentle offshore Santa Ana wind delivering the scent of distant orange groves."
In James' viewfinder are young men and women, their heads tossed back in laughter, a broken-down Model T overloaded with heavy surfboards and spare tires. Love of the game was more than a locker room sound bite, it was the way they lived.
Surfing was born centuries ago in the South Pacific islands, but took root in the untamed Southern California coast. It was adopted by gypsy drifters like Powers and movie stars such as Errol Flynn, Johnny Weissmuller and Gary Cooper. Jackie Coogan, a child star who rediscovered fame as Uncle Fester in the Addams Family television series, turned his youthful earnings into a Malibu surf pad that he shared with then-unknown starlet Betty Grable.
Those halcyon days ended with when World War II released the serpent into the garden. The military fortified defensive positions on the beaches, giant weapons factories took root in the Los Angeles suburbs and the surfers trad
About the Author
Don James was a world-renowned and much-loved surf photographer cum dentist who passed away in 1996. Just last summer he was lauded in the New Yorker, which called him "the premier photographer of surfing." Culled from scrapbooks stored in garages for decades, this collection captures James's most intimate work -- his portrait of the early days in paradise.
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Top customer reviews
The subjects of the photos display a remarkable athletic naturalism, unlike the steroid artificiality of today. They surf, drink beer, and lay on the sand, ride the waves, enjoying life to the fullest-- splendidly isolated from the darkening events of the world.
Beautifully photographed in black and white with some color, it brings back a time before Southern California was choked by overdevelopment and young people could enjoy the sun, water and natural beauty of this state without fear of skin cancer, water pollution and violence.
I recently got the wonderful "Riding the Rails," about teens during the depression who hopped freights to go Huck Finning. My father did this and wound up hanging out at "The Big Rock," which wasn't in San Onofre, but in Malibu. But conditions were similar: then, you really could camp out on the beach.
Like an idiot, I let my Dad pass on before asking him the details of those years. Now, the best I can do are secondary sources. But these help me reconstruct a picture of that world of his that ended with World War II.
Around the world, there is a stereotype of Southern California, which is immediately dashed upon visiting Hollywood Boulevard. However, the stereotype isn't so much lie as anachronism.
There really was a world that matched the current anachronism that is still the image of Southern California. Get this book, and you'll understand what I mean.
As others have said, this book is amazing. The photographs are simply timeless and beautiful. I can't quite describe the vibe that it captures or conveys, but I found myself somewhat saddened by the book. The pictures kind of struck a whole "Dead Poet's Socitey," "Carpe Diem" mood with me. At the same time, they conveyed the beauty of a time in California (or for that matter, the U.S.) that is forever lost and will never be recaptured. A time of innocence and naivete, before everything became so tainted, jaded, and overcrowded.
I don't know, maybe that's just a crock. At any rate, as a surfer of 20 years, this book really touched me. I think it will touch any fellow surfer, or for that matter, ocean lover.
Definitely pick this one up before it goes out of print (as these things so swiftly seem to do).
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