Remembering Gromhood

I started surfing at the age of 13 in 1977. My Hemlock Avenue neighbor Harry Hildebrand hooked me up with Radical Roy who sold me a 6’11 no-name winger-rounded pin single fin for thirteen dollars. Harry sold me a beavertail wetsuit for four dollars.

Seventeen dollars was a lot of money back then.

After I bought my board, I would ride my bike down to the beach and spend the day off of Elm Street. There I met Donny Dominguez who seemed to know more about surfing than I did and was the proud owner of an electric purple Richard Jolie pintail.

Everyday at the beach was an adventure.

When school started I stared surfing with Jim Dodds, Marty Stone, Bobby Maupin, Chris Patterson, Tim Hannan, Greg Parman, Larry Crauswell, Tim Sweeney, John Arnold, and Dan Mehlos as well as with Donny.

My first trip to real Baja with my dad and Tim Hannan back in the epic X-mas break of 1978.

Greg, who was in the ninth grade, was a real surfer. He had an effortless style, could pull of laybacks at the snap of a finger, and was one of San Diego County’s best groms. He had a Christmas color winger swallow single-fin (a Sunset?).

Greg was cool and we were all trying to be cool. But the minute we hit the water, none of that mattered. All we wanted to do was surf. Every day. All day.

I still do.

Later in high school I met the real surfers-Tim Decker, Barry Palmatier, Lindy Dalmas, Bill Johnson, Mark Ganderton, and Randy Garvin–who all ripped and seemed to know everything about surfing. They manned the surfer bench that freshman were not allowed to sit at.

If we were lucky they found a place in their surfmobiles for us on surf trips to Baja and the Cliffs. It seemed like sometimes half of the IB surfer population could be found at Baja Malibu or the K-38’s parking lot.

Back in the late 70s, there was no surf forecast. No one had a clue when waves were coming. We just showed up at the beach everyday and hoped for the best.

Of course my first years of surfing were epic El Nino surf years. In 77-78 the surf pumped non-stop. So did 79-80 when the giant surf destroyed the Imperial Beach Pier. The Sloughs broke way outside.

On my first outing there with the grom squad we got pushed south of the rivermouth, but somehow scratched back to the outside.

Out in the IB lineup I met the guys who defined IB surfing—Mark and Glen Gould, Kelly Kraus, Dave Parra, Radical Roy, Randy Coutts, Aaron Chang, Mark Stone, Jim Sullivan, the Carroll brothers, Jim and Bobby Barber, Richard Abrams, Pat McClosky, Coco, Bobby Spitzer, the Smith brothers, and Richard Cacnindin among other. Dempsey Holder was always around the beach. Dave Craig, Mike Richardson and Jay Novak were the shapers of choice for IB surfers (back when IB surfers only rode boards shaped by local shapers). Aaron Chang was just starting his career as a surf photographer (I remember his first slideshow at the IB library where his mom was a librarian).

Occassionally a surf movie–Going Surfing, Five Summer Stories—would play at the Palm Theater and the entire South Bay surfing population would turn out.

It was awesome.

Jim Knox was our first high school surf coach and took us to Baja on surf trips. His brother Jeff had just finished grad school at UCLA and moved back to IB. I met Jeff and his wife Mercedes on my second surf to Baja back in 1979 with my dad and Jim Dodds.

Back then no one had any money. All we had was stoke.

Today everything has changed. But the most important things haven’t.

We are still lucky that we get to surf and share the stoke with lifelong friends and all the groms who are just like we were.

Perpetually stoked.


  1. wow talk about memories i was a groom in the 70s reading that was cool i read it too my 5 year old son who stood up for the first time over the week end i hope to get back out west on day too hold the rope on a ripping south swell along the pier and get coverd up all the way too the hotel but for now ill slapp this east coast slop around and give my kid the stoak psif dave is still shapeing i would like know and has any one heard from skip smith

    • I just saw this–sorry I didn’t respond earlier, I’m not good at checking comments. Great to hear from you and stoked to hear about your son surfing-doesn’t get any better than that!!! And wow–Skip Smith–I used to surf with that guy all the time when I was a grom–Mex trips etc. Didn’t he move back to Florida or something. He was a good surfer.

  2. Mike Betancourt aka stem was out in the water back in the 70’s too with all those people lol

  3. daniel allevato says:

    OMG! I absolutely loved this read! I was surfing IB back in the late 70’s. I totally remember the Smith Brothers! Mike was the youngest of them and I went to Hilltop high with him. They all were awesome surfers! Plus, I remember all the older guys who surfer and ripped it up! Ha older dudes who were in there mid 20’s. We even surfed after heavy rain storms even when they said to stay out of the water due to contamination. The waves were like perfect A frame peaks! How could we NOT surf! I am so thankful for those memories! I still surf to this day now living 300 yards from the Sand in Del Mar. The wave is nothing like IB’s perfect A frame barrels but it can get fun. Thanks again for taking me back! Daniel Allevato

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