By Kevin Cody
Surfboard shaper Hap Jacobs walked up to Sparky Hudson at the barbecue thrown in Sparky’s honor last month said, “Out of all the people I expected to make it past 60 you would be last on my list.”
The barbecue was at the Hermosa Beach walk street home where Sparky grew up and where his sister Robyn now lives. She had invited all of our old ‘60s crew, including Lance Carson, Henry Ford, John Teague, and photographers Steve Wilking and Bruce Herman,
Sparky and I laughed at Hap’s comment even though we knew he was serious.
He and I had talked Hap into making us new surfboards for the ’64 Santa Monica Mid Winter Surfing Championships. Then, we almost missed our first heat because we were still drunk from partying the night before.
Hap was furious. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you guys,” he said.
Sparky told Hap not to worry. We both threw up in our first heats but still managed to advance.
Sparky went on to win the men’s division and I won the junior men’s division.
“See, I told you not to worry,” Sparky told the stunned Hap.
During that era, we didn’t have $100,000 surf contests and million dollar sponsorship deals, but we did have the most colorful characters in the history of surfing. And Sparky was one of them, in addition to winning a lot of contests, and being featured in just about every Surfer magazine.
He was such a wild party animal that the Hermosa police finally told him leave town or go to jail.
The friendly advice followed the night he borrowed his girlfriend’s dad’s new Cadillac and drove it into my girlfriend Karen Bibee’s parents’ home on Gould Avenue.
I was on an East Coast promotion trip for Jacobs Surfboards when I got woken up by a frantic phone call from Karen Bibee. “Sparky just drove a car through the den of our house,” she said. “He asked me if we have any beers in the ice box. He’s drinking a beer right now on the lawn.”
I could hear Karen’s mother Daisy screaming in the background.
Sparky told me later that it was just Irish luck. He didn’t even know where Karen lived.
Sparky took his show on the road to Maui where he wound up in jail after holding up a liquor store and crashing his getaway car into a fire hydrant in the parking lot.
A condition of his release was that he attend AA, which he did, once. Then it was back to jail for pouring a pint of brandy in the AA coffee maker. But the AA meeting evidently did him some good because this time when he left jail he was clean and sober. He married his lively wife Linda, had a beautiful daughter Lana and has been sober for over 20 years.
Sparky is the first one to help drug addicted or alcoholicSouthBaysurfers get into a program when they visitHawaii. Among those he has helped are Hermosa Beach Surfing Walk of Fame members Dru Harrison and Tiger Makin, as well asSouthBaysurfing notables Steve Dabney, Mark Macmillan and Steve Schlickenmeyer.
At the barbecue, the first guy I ran into was Don Craig, another Hermosa Surfing Walk of fame member and owner of Old Guy’s Rule.
In the early ‘60s Sparky, Don and I were like the cast on “Leave it to Beaver.”
I was the Beaver, the smallest, freckled skin, blond kid at Mira Costa High School. Don was the sensible one like the Beaver’s older brother Wally. Sparky, who had more freckles than me but dark hair was Eddie Haskell. He was always getting us into trouble.
The reason my hair was blond was because Sparky would take his mothers dog grooming clippers and shave my head every June so the sun would bleach out my hair after my sunburned scalp stopped bleeding.
My first week at Costa I learned two things. If you screwed around in class you were going to get a swat from your homeroom teacher with the paddle you made in wood shop. And if you hung out with Sparky you were going to get lots of swats. Sparky had a knack for getting the teacher to believe a prank he pulled was your fault. He passed every class, barely, because teachers couldn’t handle him for another semester.
We remained best friends all through the “Wonder Years,” surfing for the Bay Cities Surf Club and the Jacobs Surf Team and giving poor Hap one grey hair after another.
Sparky would always show up at my home around 7 p.m. overflowing with compliments for my parents until they invited him to stay for dinner. One night Sparky was complaining at our dinner table because his Irish mother was always making cabbage. When my mom asked Sparky if his mother had an Irish brogue, Sparky said, “I don’t know if she has a brogue but she has a shillelagh and it really hurts when she hits me with it.”
When Lance Carson arrived at the barbecue he called out to Hap, “Hey Hap, it’s me, ‘Pants’ Carson.”
Malibu Lance was Sparky’s rival for our era’s most colorful character. He and Mickey Dora were the Kelly Slater and Andy Irons of the 60s.
Sparky, Don and I went to all the surf movies wearing ourLevis, Pendeltons and Huarache sandals. Lance was our idol.
Sparky and I were fortunate enough to be present the night Lance went from surf star to surf legend.
Hermosa Beach was “American Graffiti” and the Foster’s Freeze onHermosa Avenue was where all the surfers congregated every Friday and Saturday night. That night we all went to a surf movie starring Lance at the Pier Avenue Junior High School Auditorium. After the movie, Lance arrived at the Foster Freeze in a friend’s woody. Then, with encouragement from his screaming fans, Lance stood up naked on the hood of his friend’s woody waving a bottle of tequila. When one of his adoring fans slid a glaze donut on his center stringer the fans went really wild. The police next door at Winchell’s Donuts were afraid the fans would riot. They grabbed Lance, threw him in the back of the woody and told the driver to go back toMalibuor spend the weekend in jail.
Lance waved good-bye out the back window yelling “Has anyone seen my donut.” Malibu Lance has been No Pants Lance ever since. And like Sparky, he’s been clean and sober for years. He’s back to making shaping his classic pin tails in El Segundo.
Another colorful SouthBaysurfer from the 60s who was at the barbecue was photographer Steve Wilkings. In the ‘70s he gained fame with Surfer magazine for his close-up water shots.
He earned his B.F.A. from the Art Center College of Design before moving to Hawaii. I found myself sitting right next to him, at a table with Tommy Griffiths and Kiki Folley.
Steve and I hadn’t spoken since ’74 when I did my Playgirl layout at North Shore’s Velzyland with Dan Merkel, who was Steve’s rival at Surfing.
Dan Merkel and I lived together in front of Velzyland and we were starving. We heard there was a new magazine coming out called Playgirl and that Steve was shootingMalibu surfer Angie Reno for the first issue.
Playgirl put Angie up at The Kuilima, now the Turtle Bay Hilton. Angie kept telling the magazine the waves weren’t good enough so he could keep living the high life on Playgirl’s expense account.
One evening while having dinner with my New Zealand friends Steve and Glyniss King on board a beautiful yacht that they were house sitting, Dan came up with an idea. He suggested that we take the yacht’s 16’ Hobie Cat out for a spin while he shots naked photos of us from his surf mat for Playgirl. I had never sailed and we quickly ran over Dan and capsized, losing our trunks. After that, the hotel catamarans loaded withWaikiki tourists saw a lot more than a sunset. We had to sail all the way through Ala Moana Harbor naked.
Dan Merkel sent the photos to Norbert, Playgirl’s editor. The day he got the photo’s Norbert flew over to see us. He told us not to say anything to Steve or Angie because he didn’t want to give them an excuse to delay their shoot any longer. Then he gave Dan a $1,000 check and 50 rolls of Kodachrome. He gave me a check for $500 and said we would get more after we sent in the photos.
Dan and I spent the next three days driving around to picturesque, tourists spots, where I dropped my drawers in front of countless, stunned tourists.
Steve and Angie had heard rumors about Dan and me, but didn’t think there was anything to them until I paddled out naked at Velzland with Dan following on his surf mat. It was the only rideable spot on the North Shore and Steve and Angie were already out.
This led to the famous naked surf out at Velzyland.
Normally, Haoles aren’t allowed to surf Velzyland after 10 a.m. The Hawaiian surfers are big and love to fight. It was 1 in the afternoon when I paddled into the center of a wolf pack of 30 locals.
Angie screams at me, “I can’t believe your trying to steal my job.” I told Angie I was still mad at him for stealing my penicillin the year before and trading it for hashish. I had a bad staph infection. Steve and Dan were also screaming at one another from their surf mats because Steve was convinced Dan and I were trying to poach on his Playgirl deal. The Hawaiian left us alone. I’m sure they though we were dangerously crazy.
Playgirl ran Steve and Angie’s layout in their premier issue. Two months later, in September ’74, Dan’s fold out of yours truly appeared. The photos continued to appear in special issue Playgirls through the ‘80s.
At Rusty’s barbecue Steve said he was ready to forgive me and even encouraged me to finish my book. He said that he has plenty photos to go with my story. Steve now works for The Surfing Heritage Foundation in San Clemente,California.
Henry Ford showed up at the barbecue with his old posse, including Mark Turner, John DeGroot and Bruce Herman. Henry was theSouthBay’s surfing Fonzie. He was known for creating havoc at the Poop Deck and Pier 52 in Hermosa and Redondo’s Flying Jib. Henry is now working with Kathy “Gadget” Kohner on a line of Gidget clothing and surfing accessories.
Sparky may have been the wildest of us all and we respected him for his great surfing. But since those days, all of us at the barbecue have grown to respect him even more, especially those of us he helped make it to 60.