Duck Duck Book

65 – surfing san onofre
05.31.2010, 7:05 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume, 1936-1942 / photographs by Don James.
San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 1998.
[MCL call number: 797.32 J27s 1998 ; three copies, no holds]

If you were to visit Los Angeles before the Second World War, you probably wouldn’t recognize the place.  It was teensy, for one thing, compared to the vast sprawl of asphalt and low-rises you’d see if you went there now.  And if you went to the beach, that would be different too.

First you’d have to get to the beach — not always easy, since the freeways hadn’t been built yet and the city was so small that everything surely seemed further away.  Once you were wherever the road took you, you’d still have to get to the beach, maybe down a couple of miles of sketchy trail.  If you were there to surf, you’d have to hump your board on your back, your homemade 10′ or 12′ long redwood board weighing about 90 pounds.  If there was a lifeguard, he was probably a volunteer.  Almost no one had a radio, unless it was in their car.  Everyone smoked.  Sunscreen hadn’t been invented and people thought a sunburn was a sign of health.

Don James’s pictures are a little window into this world, a series of glow-y 4″ x 5″ snapshots of surfers, sunbathers, and hangers-about amid the sunshine, sparkling water, and ramshackle coastline architecture.   The collection is romantic, for sure, but it shows enough hunger and grit to come off as reasonably honest; and it’s definitely revealing of a place, time, and way of life you might like to visit, but which no longer exists.


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