Lifestyle: Tommy Bernstein has lead many lives and here is another epic tale to tell.
I started surfing when I was around 10 years old at Stinson Beach, just north of San Francisco in Marin County. Starting young, and swimming compatibly I’ve always felt comfortable in the ocean. A family friend who was in the building and also spent week-ends at Stinson Beach, business made me a thick, plywood, boat varnished, body board which was my first surf board. In 1947, my family moved to Southern California and we spent summer week-ends at Malibu, where I learned to “shoot the curl” on my plywood body board with the help of then new, Churchill swim fins. In 1948 we moved back to the bay area, Palo Alto, and then in High School, continued to body board at Santa Cruz. I was in College where I got my first real surf board, in Malibu lingo it was a Potato Chip, an early fiber glassed, balsa wood board that looked like a pointed potato chip. College was Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College, and co-ed) though a long way from Malibu, was close to many good Orange County surf spots where I really learned to surf. There were a number of students at CMC and adjacent Pomona College that also surfed, including Renny Yater, famous Santa Barbara surf board manufacturer and Gordon “Grubby “ Clarke who revolutionized the foam surfboard industry. Before being drafted into the Army, I spent two weeks surfing in Hawaii, mostly at Waikiki. I rented a small studio apt., for $5 a day, behind the International Market Place and every day walked to the beach by the bar where Don Ho was becoming famous sining “Tiny Bubbles”. Also got into the Outrigger Canoe Club as a guest member. The Army curtailed my surfing for two years, but when I was discharged, my family had moved back to Southern California, so it was back to Malibu for me where I some how became friendly with the “infamous” Miki Dora, the then king of Malibu. We surfed up and down the Southern California coast, and even attended a very famous Bull Fight in Tijuana that he had tickets for. In those days I drove and VW Beetle with a surf board rack on top and went over 100 thousand miles. Only changed the tires and a clutch. One of my most memorable surfing experiences happened on a stormy, winter day, with a big west swell running, Miki, another friend and I were headed to Rincon Point, just north of Ventura, when we came to another famous winter spot, that only breaks when the waves are really big, called the Ventura Overhead, and it was breaking 12 to 14ft. So we pulled off the 101, under the freeway overpass, crossed over some rail road tracks, down to the beach. Only Miki and I went out and had the place to ourselves until another car pulled in with three guys from South Bay, including board maker Dewey Weber. When we finally got out of the water, we built a fire in a big ash can to get warm by, when all of a sudden, two highway patrol cars pull in, each with four officers onboard. I thought we were going to get busted for the fire, but the officers got out of the cars and lined up along the train tracks and payed no attention to us. So I went over and asked, what’s up? They said a train carrying Russian Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev from Los Angles to San Francisco was coming up the tracks and they are on guard. So we lined up next the officers and watched the train pass. Didn’t see any sign of Khrushchev, but I always wondered what he wold have thought had he looked out a window and saw 8 police officers and six bedraggled surfers standing there.
To be continued…..