Mike Beschen surfed a lot in high school. He paddled out in trunks, under skies of mixed shades of orange, the breeze slipping offshore at just the right speed. His buddy Dan would photograph the lineup. He and Dan moved to Newport Beach in 1969. Mike was fertile there and had two sons. You've definitely heard of them. Mike's oldest, Shane, had a decent pro career, including a world tour win at G-Land in 1996 and scoring three perfect 10s in a heat at Kirra. He's a San Clemente, CA, stalwart, often remembered as the rougher edge of his rivalry with Kelly Slater. The younger, Gavin, won a few events himself, and is a known face on the North Shore.
Despite the kind of association with the Pacific Ocean that Shane's and Gavin's old man have, the guy in all the pictures grew up in New Jersey.
Last Friday, "Singlefins, Boardwalks, and Story Talks: A Night of NJ Surf History," featured four current and former lensmen -- Dick 'Mez' Meseroll, Dan Mittelman, Ray Hallgreen, and Rich McMullin -- showcasing their photography in Tuckerton, NJ.
Check the ESPN Gallery of the event here » .
"What a great honor to be included with the other photographers," Rich McMullin extolled.
The natives of Jersey presented shots from Sandy Hook up north to the southern tip of the Jersey Shore at Cape May, from distant trips with clear water, barrels, shallow reef, to gritty Jersey breaks -- and girls. Girls are and always were a staple of environment shots.
"As a photographer, you always find girls, whether it's summer or winter," joked Dan Mittelman.
Mittelman was eager to narrate tales about Greg Noll's Atlantic sessions, while stills on screen showed the burley legend sharing party waves with Mike Beschen near Atlantic City. Dan remembers Corky Carroll visiting from California, trying to push shortboard technology on a crew of longboarders.
"It would be great," he told me in between fielding compliments, "to let people see the fun and enthusiasm we had. Now guys are maybe a little bit more serious."
After landing a photo gig in Newport in 1968, Dan ultimately told the magazine to piss off, and went surfing with his friends; he hasn't taken photos since. That's the kind of fun you had with Mike Beschen.
Over 500 folks gathered Friday to rehash surfing's earlier eras, but also to support the New Jersey Surfing Museum, which occupies a small building at the end of a pier behind the Tuckerton Seaport. The seaport functions as a working maritime village, spread over 40 acres of mostly undisturbed forest and wetlands, reviving the culture and customs of work and play on Barnegat Bay. And the museum's take on Jersey's surfing past is part of a larger celebration of the seaport's tenth anniversary.
Inside the time capsule lives a limited, yet impressive, medley of storied boards, like Noll's 1966 "East Coast Duke Kahanamoku Knoll Rider," with thick black rails and a faded yellow deck, hanging horizontally. Hanging from the ceiling is the first board that Richard Lisiewski ever made in the 1930s from an article written by Tom Blake in Popular Mechanics. There's Hobie's Gary Propper longboard from the same year -- the first model designed exclusively for an East Coaster. Where else would you preserve a board ridden by an East Coast surfing champ, who eventually discovered the comic book and concept for "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?"
On my way out, resting on top of a glass exhibit case, I paged through probably the most curious item: Clark Foam's price list from April 1979. The tab on a 6'10" blank fetched $21. Can't even get those on Ebay now.
The Garden State's surfing history runs surprisingly deep. Locals Franky Walsh, Matt Keenan, Sam Hammer, Rob Kelly, Andrew Gesler, and Brian Farias, who runs the shop his father started 40 years ago, were on hand, showing gratitude to those who paved the way.
"I've got a lot of respect for the older guys. They were taking shots not a lot of people could get. It was an art," Farias said. "And every surfer loves to be photographed."
Given its moderate miles of coastline, New Jersey is dense with surf-culture with no shortage of pride. Hallgreen and Mez showed off Jersey hellmen making steep singlefin drops on the coldest of winter days, well before the stretchy 5-mil comfort they enjoy today.
"Seeing the way the waves were ridden back then and the equipment the surfers had to make due with makes you realize how good we have it these days, as well as how wonderfully uncrowded it was back in the day," McMullin declared.
Friday's shindig reemphasized the connections to the sport and its traditions. In a state with a reputation that's almost unrecoverable thanks to meatheads and MTV, sharing beers over a plate of crab cakes and other Jersey-fresh fish and veggies (no tacos or shave ice here) and talking surfing is one step towards reclaiming some of it.
"We surf waves all over the place," stressed Farias, "but getting a good session on a day here in New Jersey is worth a million sessions in Hawaii."
The Singlefins, Boardwalks, & Storytalks art show, featuring prints from these and other Garden State lensmen will hang at the Tuckerton Seaport through mid-August.Jeff Dinunzio has spent fifteen years riding boards, but is afflicted with a particularly distracting addiction to surfing. When's he's not pushing paper for travel magazines, he can be found writing about whatever will pay him enough to go search for waves.