Purp’s first surf at Malibu in 31 years happened to be during the biggest he seen it in 55 years of surfing.
By Mike Purpus
With the biggest south swell predicted in decades, the Tuesday night prior Annie Dodge and I were trying to figure out where to surf the following morning. Annie said she just got a call from Roddy Williams and Bobby Warchola saying Malibu would be really fun and everyone was going to be up there. I’ve won five major surf contests at Malibu. The long right handers suit my surfing style. But, I hate it. It’s a perfect wave with way too many surfers, kooks and weirdo’s in the line-up making it almost impossible to get a good ride. I have been out there at 3 AM with 50 other surfers running me over. The swell was going to hit Malibu straight on making it the biggest spot on the coast. You can’t argue with Annie, so I said fine.
Annie picked me up at 5 AM. While driving up PCH I noticed white water where I have never seen it before. There is a small break in between the houses just past Topanga. If you see small waves, Malibu is over 6’ and I saw 6’ shore break. I said “Oh no. It’s going to be big.” Annie just smiled and assured me it will be fun. I told Annie I didn’t know where we were going to park. I hadn’t surfed Malibu since the 1982 Lance Carson Contest. The cars were double parked on both sides of PCH from 3rd point to the pier. Nobody cared if they got a parking ticket or not. The parking lots that usually cost $10 for the day were charging $25 and they were all full at 6 AM.
The sun came over the hill turning the eight foot offshore lines gold. The tide was on the way up pushing the sets up to 10’ racing from 3rd point to the pier. I hadn’t seen anything like it since Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa in 1977. It looked just like it, only harder to get out. Sarlo still had the high school varsity wrestler body while he laid out his surfboard quiver trying to figure out what board to ride. He settled on his Sunset Beach gun. He looked like a high school senior while I looked like one of his retired teachers. My neighbor Joe Vangelisti ran past me seeing dead red and couldn’t wait to get out there. Artie Castro gave me a big hug and we posed for a few photos. I’m still nervous. There were over a hundred intermediate to good short boarders out at first light with 200 spectators on the beach asking everyone if they were going out. It was the biggest and the best I have seen Malibu in 55 years of surfing.
“You looked worried. We can go someplace else,” Annie said.
I told her that she could go someplace else but I couldn’t. What would I tell all the people that already saw me? The waves were too perfect and too big . Don’t get me wrong, if it were the mid 70’s and I was 25 again I would be all over every set wave with Sarlo chasing me. I’m not 25 years old anymore. I am 65 and want to see 66. I walked up to group of locals that knew me and asked where to paddle out. They said the same spot as always by 2nd point.
Annie and I scampered across the sharp rocks while a set carried the group of surfers in front of us down stream. I told her to wait for the last wave of the set to break then jump in and paddle as fast as you can. Annie stayed right next to me while rolling ten 6’ white waters in a row as we neared the pier. I couldn’t believe a 10’ left peeled off the end of the pier crashing down on both of us. We both surfaced at the same time. Annie’s eyes were like big blood shot saucers.
She looked at me and said “Bye, bye Felicia. I’m out of here.”
She turned her board around and rode the next white water in. Three surfboards with broken leashes with two broken in half, almost hit Annie on the way to the beach.
As I continued to paddle out, Sarlo got a ride all the way in and then stroked right past me looking like a happy puppy. I should have followed him back out instead of walking back to the point. My feet were bleeding from the current dragging me across the rocks waiting for this giant set to end. It never did. I decided to wait for Roddy Williams to come down so I could follow him out. I finally made it out hugging the barnacle ridden pilings of the Malibu Pier. It only took about ten scary minutes.
The first thing I noticed out in the line-up was how much water was moving around the channel. I looked down at the Sunset Beach-esqe barrels with paddling surfers appearing like red ants storming the hill. There were no longboarders out there. I was the only one. Most of the waves only had one surfer on them with people backing off down the line. Everybody was nice in a spooky way. It was like if they got in trouble they might need help or they were just trying to calm themselves down.
All the surfers were very congenial to me acting like they were glad to see me out there, even on a longboard. I was trying to figure out a plan when Laird Hamilton paddles out on a stand up. I heard he got out on the other side of the pier. I knew all eyes would be on him when the first set showed so I stroked into it behind him. We both dropped down the big face with me yelling in his ear that I would tell his father, my old Windansea Surf Club buddy Billy Hamilton, if he cut me out. Laird gave me plenty of room for the first 50 yards then left me under an avalanche of white water and took off. Somehow I made it back outside.
I decided to hang back like I do on big days and catch the first wave of the set. All the other surfers would let the first two waves go by because the next three were so much bigger. I was sitting way out back in front of the 2nd point lifeguard tower with Sarlo about five feet inside of me. All of the sudden a huge set sent everyone scampering to climb over it. I paddled over the first one and turned around to stroke down the face of the second. I couldn’t get down it. It was too thick with too much water pulling me back. I missed it and didn’t want to turn around to see what’s next.
All of a sudden I wasn’t at Malibu. It was a big day at Makaha and I was stuck trying to paddle through the bowl. It’s one of my favorite nightmares I’ve been having since it happened to me in the winter of ‘64. There was no going around it. I had to paddle straight through the cresting lip with a bottomless pit behind me. I thought I made it through when the massive lip started pulling me down the face backwards over the falls. I was flushed all the way to the bottom feeling the rocks below. I was under a long way and couldn’t dog paddle my way to the surface. I couldn’t even see the surface. All I could do was grab my leash with my 9’6” board tombstoning on the surface trying to pull myself up like climbing a cliff. I could finally see the sky about 2’ away when the next wave came crashing down forcing me back to the bottom. I was on the bottom for two waves contemplating my funeral as darkness began to take over. I don’t know how I came up but I was throwing up with a bad headache and no air left in me. The next wave was perfect and I was in the right spot but I couldn’t paddle. I had no strength. My first instinct was to paddle in and sneak back to the car. All I could say was “What kind of Hell did Annie get me into.”
I was psyched out and didn’t know what to do as I paddled way outside trying to calm myself down. I was hyperventilating like crazy. I told myself to calm down. That was the worst that could happen to me. I was still alive. I paddled back over to Sarlo. I sat about ten yards further out. I wanted to get one more wave and get out. The tide was still pushing in and the sets kept getting bigger. Sarlo and I spotted a huge set out the back that was swinging wide with the biggest part of the waves heading straight for us. Allen paddled over the first one but whipped around to catch the second. I looked back to see if he made it past the first section. He did. I was the only surfer far enough outside to catch the next one so I stroked down the face as hard as I could.
Before I stood up I could hear the screams from all the surfers bailing out below me and the ones I just missed scratching over the shoulder. It happened in slow motion as my board shattered over the offshore chops racing down the face at island speed. I had to pull up in the first bowl to make it to a bigger bowl breaking out past the end of the pier like the connection at Makaha. I made both sections hanging as high as I could without my fin sliding out. The second bowl pumped the size of the wave up to a 12’ face. The speed of the wave was awesome. I could see the end of the pier as I just missed Sarlo paddling back out. Alan was screaming in disbelief that I was out there and on one of the biggest waves. The wave seemed to drop as I neared the pier with news crews from CBS, NBC, and ABC all screaming at me to shoot the pier. I looked toward the beach to see Annie running down screaming “Don’t shoot the pier” with her arms waving high in the air.
I was not going to shoot the pier with all the broken pieces pylons and walk boards floating in the middle. Plus, there were several pieces of houses from down the way floating in there as well. I straightened out right next to the pylons but I was still riding an eight feet shore break with no place to go in except through two feet of water. The nasty wall came down like a ton of bricks shooting me up the sand like a tiddly wink.
As the wall reseeded I scampered down the beach to Annie and said “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Ten minutes later we were headed South on PCH. I told Annie that I was scared and almost drowned. Annie said, “What are you whining about? You rode perfect Malibu and caught one of the biggest waves of the day. It’s my day off and I can’t ride a wave.”
I said, “Get on the freeway, I know a place that’s four foot and fun.” DZ