Inside Look: Miami Surf Archive Project
By Tom Austin
Both Haulover and South Pointe once had piers that cleaned up waves and made for better breaks on good days. Bill Whiddon, the 57-year-old creative director of the Miami Herald Media Co. and The Miami Herald, used to shoot the First Street pier on South Beach. “On a good day, if you felt like hot stuff, you might be able to loop around two or three pilings without wiping out,” he recalls. He still keeps a board in his car in case choice surf comes up. His first board, in fifth grade, came from Surfboards Miami; 10 years or so ago, he found one of their boards at a garage sale and re-created the Surfboards Miami brand, selling a hundred or so since.
This being Miami, a sometimes-dark underbelly was always close to the surface, even within the surf community. In 1964, Jack Murphy, a local surfer/beach boy known as Murph the Surf, headed north and stole the 563-carat Star of India sapphire from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He and his cohorts instantly became a national pop sensation. A few years later, Murphy was involved in the killing of two women—reportedly over stolen securities—and went to jail until 1986. He is now an evangelical Christian and ministers to prisoners.
|Carrying the torch: Miami surfers (FROM LEFT) Mark Gamez, Christian De La Iglesia, Ron Keindl, Annie Tworoger and David Begley|
Back in the gritty ’70s, South Pointe had surf shops, housing projects, the seedy Miami Beach Kennel Club and atmosphere to burn. At the old amphitheater on lower Ocean Drive, WQAM’s Rick Shaw and Roby Yonge, himself a surfer and known as The Big Kahuna, would host concerts, the action spilling over into the dog track. Surfers would hang out on the seawall along the same area, or cluster around Jack’s pizza and hot dog cart in the covered parking lot of the Miami Beach Kennel Club. Long before sky cams and the Internet era, locals would call in and get terse surf reports from Jack’s on the phone. Across Ocean Drive was a low-slung building, now Taverna Opa of South Beach, that housed a succession of pizza shops and eventually Rollo’s, a surferfriendly fast-food joint with a jaunty sign proclaiming MIAMI SNOWBALLS. The photos on the Miami Surf Archive Project site include gang fights at the dog track and teenage wasteland kids up to no good in the 1970s, encompassing my old crowd from Coral Gables High School, a social set that included surfers, drag-racers and a handy friend who once tried to install a bong in his car’s air-conditioning system. According to an entirely respectable surfer at the Miami Surf Archive Project party, my best friend in high school had wound up going to jail for more than a decade, and there were the usual slew of overdoses and violent, squalid ends. But then, as someone on hand ruefully observed, “Surfers do a lot of bad things, too.”
Then and Now
These days, South Pointe is all glitz, money and towering condos. At 36, Christian De La Iglesia, co-owner of First Surf Shop with Mark Gamez, is a relative young blood who is pioneering the neighborhood for surfers all over again. “When I was a young grom [surfspeak for ‘kid’],” he says, “South Beach was a way cooler scene, but we still get all kinds of customers. Surf shops have a certain romance.”
Photographs by Ben Shaul; STYLING BY ANNA CHU FOR ARTISTSBYTIMOTHYPRIANO.COM; HAIR AND MAKEUP BY SAGE AND NATASHA CARLO FOR ARTISTSBYTIMOTHYPRIANO.COM. SELECT CLOTHING, QUIKSILVER. SELECT CLOTHING, GAP; PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF WHITMAN FAMILY COLLECTION/HISTORYMIAMI; MIAMI SURF ARCHIVE PROJECT (BLACK AND WHITE SURFING PHOTOS); PETER FERRER