History of Surfing Blog


March 28, 2017

In early 1954, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin sent 26-year-old Korean-American reporter Sarah Park to do a human interest piece on a group California surfers who were wintering in a weather-beaten house in Makaha. Park was tough. She was just back from a year in-country covering the Korean War, where she did time in the trenches, came under fire, and earned bravery honors from the Seventh Infantry. Park was empathetic as well. In Honolulu, she did first-person semi-undercover articles; she worked one night as a taxi dancer at a seedy Honolulu club, and pretended to be a blind woman on a Hotel Street corner.

Park’s surfing article, “Band of Californians Here to Ride 20-Foot Makaha Surf,” ran on January 7, 1954, on Page Four. The lead story that day was a recent polio outbreak. Other front-page stories: more atomic bomb testing, renewed talks about giving the vote to 18-year-olds, a local circuit court set to study “girlie magazines.” Eisenhower was trolling the Commies again—”Ike Says Strip American Reds of Citizenship.” Closer to home, a warning that retail coffee had jacked to a dollar a pound, and “there may be a jump in the 10-cent price of a cup of coffee in restaurants.”

The debut Makaha International Championships were set to run in two weeks, and that event likely prompted Parks article. But the contest wasn’t really the point. It was more the idea of an offbeat, slightly renegade bunch of California boys coming to Hawaii and posting up in the solitary West Side badlands—just to ride big waves. Park was the right reporter for the job; she used to come into the Star-Bulletin offices after a morning surf in Waikiki. I’m reading between the lines—Park’s article is brief and fairly restrained—but I get the sense that she thought Buzzy Trent, Flippy Hoffman, and the rest of the gang were having a grand Hawaiian adventure.

Here is Park’s article, reproduced in full.

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If you asked the average Islander to point out Makaha, you’d probably run into a lot of inaccurate pointing. You are supposed to say Makaha, Waianae, Oahu to help people get themselves on the right side of the Island. But a small band of Californians have found Makaha without any trouble. They are content to go without the usual luxuries of modern day living, just so they can surf there.

Three Californians arrived about 10 days ago to join a hardy band of some 15 ascetics living in a shack about two blocks from the surf. The new arrivals have taken a cottage across the street—for $10 a month each—and have scattered swim fins, spears, and surfboards around their new house—without kitchen—the kitchen being a Coleman stove.

Makaha, which annually offers great surf that on a “good Makaha day” tower about 20 feet, is where the International Surfing Championships will be held on two Sundays, January 17 and 24. Australia has notified championship officials it cannot send representatives to this first meet. Peru has not replied as yet.

When you walk into the older of the two establishments that house the Makaha surfers from California, you have to be careful where you walk or sit. Spears are fine for getting fish or turtle dinner—but it is awkward to sit on them.

Overhead, surfboards hang by rope so they can be let down with ease, while swim fins hang on chairs scattered in-between seven beds, bunks and cots. A long bench and table serve for meals, card and checker games. In a Hawaiian interior motif, a lauhala mat covers part of the floor.

According to Buzzy Trent, one of the occupants of the shack, there’s no problem to the men living together. “We have a garden, we spear our fish—yesterday Junior Knox got us a 65-pound turtle—and we have salads [and] stews. It’s a community thing.

“We are over here strictly to surf,” he says, and “corny as it may sound, the surf over here is terrific. It’s the best.”

Now living in Buzzy’s house are Phillip Hoffman and Mr. Knox, deep-sea divers; Ted Crane, an art student; and Jim Fisher. The shack also serves as a surfboard rack for ten other California surfers.

These men, as the most recent arrivals, are here only for the Winter, to surf at Makaha. During the rest of the year, many of them, like Chuck McClelland, are Santa Monica lifeguards.

Chuck, Charley Reimers of Santa Monica, and Chuck Parker of Culver City, arrived 10 days ago and are living together.

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I’m guessing there was more to the article, but the editing style back then was to shorten article as required by simply cutting from the bottom up.

Park died in 1957, in a small plane crash near Laie, on her way to cover a tsunami. She was by then regarded as Hawaii’s most popular reporter. South Korean President Syngman Rhee sent personal regrets. Posthumously, Park was awarded the Medal of Freedom.

  • Nick Carroll

    Sounds as if Sarah Park had the great gift of the journalist: boundless curiosity. What a shame she died so young.