Tag Archives: Peter Townend

GREAT Back Stories about the Movie ‘Big Wednesday’

All week, I’ve been blogging about the importance of knowing and sharing back stories to help readers or audiences see the full context of the work – or present a different, deeper perspective.big wed-poster

On Friday night, got to witness the great benefit of this first-hand. My long-time friend, 1976 world surfing champion Peter Townend, gave about 100 people at Bird’s Surf Shed in San Diego a wonderful trip down memory lane, telling some fantastic behind-the-scenes story about the classic Hollywood surf movie, “Big Wednesday,” on the 35th anniversary year of its theatrical showing.


Besides being forever emblazoned in surf history as the sport’s first professional world champion, PT is also one of the sport’s greatest and most important ambassadors. He reminds me directly of another friend, Bill Rodgers, who dominated the world marathon scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s (winning the Boston and New York marathons four times each), but continues to do everything possible to educate the masses and advance running globally. In my opinion, based on 35 years of watching these two and having worked with both of them, PT and Billy are the two greatest ambassadors of their sports/lifestyles. And they both religiously continue to hit the water and roads, respectively.

So, everyone from old-timers to young kids turned out at Bird’s, and watched the movie. What a back story treat we received! While I won’t share all of PT’s stories, since he has other plans for them, I will share a couple of great tales from the “Big Wednesday” set that made most of us shake our heads.

The movie starred Jan Michael Vincent, Gary Busey and William Katt. All went on to enjoy strong careers in film, TV, or both. Since they were friends, Vincent wanted PT to be his surfing double for the wave-riding scenes. PT, then the reigning world champion from Coolongatta, Australia, was stoked to take a leave from the then-fledgling pro tour – “I made $1,000 a week on the movie, for a year; while I got free surf trunks for being on tour,” he quipped – and take the money and exposure Hollywood had to offer. It changed his life; he’s called California home since.

However, when director John Milius walked in the room and saw PT sitting next to Katt, he decided otherwise. For good reason. “We looked like brothers back then,” PT said of he and Katt. Billy Hamilton, the father of mega-big wave superstar Laird Hamilton, and Malibu great Jay Riddle shared duties as Vincent’s double, while great Australian surfer Ian Cairns handled Busey’s water scenes. Katt and Vincent “were actually pretty competent surfers,” PT recalled, “but Busey didn’t surf at all.”

big wed-sunsetNow for the fun stuff – and the reason why we love back stories. During the epic final act, the “Great Swell,” they shot at Sunset Beach, Hawaii for two months, holding out for … well, a great swell. They got it – thunderous 10-12 foot waves with some faces topping 18 feet. If you’ve been to Sunset Beach, you know that on 10-12 foot surf, the waves break as much as a half-mile from shore, and enough water moves to flood a small town … on each set. It’s a heavy scene, and no one wants to deal with a wipeout, especially when you take off deep, at the center of the wave.

But, Hollywood and movie fans love wipeouts. For starters, PT recalled, Australian pro Bruce Raymond was paid $200 per day – a month’s rent on the North Shore in 1977 – to “eat shit,” he said to loud laughter. He paddled out on boards partially sawed through. Every time he dropped in and set up his bottom turn, Raymond felt the board snap in half beneath him. So, while Raymond was tumbling in the world’s gnarliest washing machine, dealing with hold-downs that could last up to a minute, the board was washing to shore. An interesting way to earn money …

PT had his turns, too. His surfing scenes are among the greatest in the movie, with his beautiful soul arches and sharp, smooth maneuvers a generation of wave-riders can picture just by closing their eyes. However, during the heavy Sunset days, Milius instructed him to speed down the line of the set waves – and pitch himself over the nose of the board. Eight times. I can feel every reader who’s surfed Sunset right now, cringing when they read this. Great water photographers Dan Merkel and George Greenough captured the resulting thrashing sustained by PT and another well-known surfer of the time, Jackie Dunn.

big wed-bear“Big Wednesday” depicted a story of three Malibu locals, one a local surf legend, and their wiser, older surfboard shaper friend, Bear (played by Sam Melville). Here comes some more back story, and Hollywood magic: “Malibu” was actually reconstructed at The Ranch, a famous and well-protected stretch of beach between Santa Barbara and Point Conception, while surf scenes were filmed in El Salvador (then basically unsurfed), The Ranch and Sunset Beach. Milius also reversed the footage of Banzai Pipeline.

I’ll leave the rest to PT to bring out later. What fun it was, though, to watch the movie, and then have PT pop in with behind-the-scenes stories over the soundtrack. “Big Wednesday” is a true classic, and the fact younger surfers love it just as much as those of us reliving our younger years through it speaks to what PT described as “the real message: that surfers are community, and that just about every surf spot has groups of friends, as well as a ‘Bear’ who shows them some of the ropes.”

What a way to spend a Friday night – and to close a week of blogging on back story.

Now, for those of you in California, paddle out … surf is up big-time this weekend! Have yourselves a Big Weekend.


Filed under Author Platform, Creativity, Featured Websites, Film, History, Interviews, Online Media, Promotion, Writing

Talking Story & Bidding Aloha to Every Surfer’s Great Friend, Donald Takayama


The surfing ohana gathered en masse Saturday at Junior Seau Pier Amphitheater in Oceanside to exchange warm greetings, crack jokes, catch up, and share a tribal rite from the beach bonfire days, and before — talking story. They came to celebrate a man who touched them and countless others deeply: Donald Takayama.

More than 1,000 turned up on a blustery morning to honor Takayama, who died October 22 of complications following heart surgery. He would have turned 69 on Friday (Nov. 16). Some of the greatest characters of surfing’s past 60 years turned up from as far away as Australia to say goodbye to one of the greatest surfers (1966 and 1967 U.S. Surfing Championships runner-up) and board shapers. That’s just the surface description of Takayama, a 5-foot-3 giant of a man whose infectious personality, endless charm, constant generosity, sharp humor, deep caring and horizon-to-horizon smile beamed down in one perfect picture stretching across the amphitheater stage. The fact there were also ceremonies in Hawaii, Japan and Europe speaks to the love the surfing world had for him.

A wonderful collection of stories, laughter, tears, memories and treasured moments filled the morning. Emcee Hunter Joslin, a friend of mine since he announced the Stubbies Surf Pros that I promoted in the 1980s, was brilliant. Hunter and Donald were best buddies , and to my mind, kindred spirits from opposite coasts: both wise, often hilarious men who lived to surf and practiced perfection and strong business sense when it came to Donald’s Hawaiian Pro Designs boards, and Hunter’s IndoBoard balance trainer. With esteemed speakers behind him, and the riveting opening prayer just complete — “The Lord’s Prayer,” recited in Hawaiian by Dave Hansen — Hunter opened with a beautiful gesture: he asked everyone to turn to the person next to him or her, and tell a story of his or her first introduction to Donald. Instantly, 1,000 stories were shared. Donald always did like talking story.

I turned to 1976 world champion Peter Townend, one of surfing’s greatest ambassadors, who’d also met Donald in the early 1980s. When I finished sharing how I met Donald (below), I told PT, “You, a couple of others and Donald schooled me on surfing lore 30 years ago. You took me through pro surfing and the Australians, and he taught me about the pre-shortboard and longboard era.”

It was a perfect moment to say thank you to two of my greatest mentors.

The speakers were outstanding — and, like I said, esteemed. Two of Donald and Diane Takayama’s daughters, Alana and Leilani, along with nephews Guy and Michael, spoke of their father’s and uncle’s endless compassion, devotion — and, when needed, toughness. One of his oldest friends, the renowned Paul Strauch, spoke of surfing together in Waikiki in the early 1950s, before the 11-year-old Takayama, already a fine board shaper, saved his money and flew to the U.S. to work for the late legend Dale Velzy (whose 2005 passing affected Donald deeply). Another iconic surfer, Linda Benson (multiple U.S. champion and the girl actually surfing in the Gidget movies), spoke with teary eyes about a 53-year friendship built on unconditional love. Part of the time, she looked up and spoke to the spirit she felt in the sky, knowing she and Donald would paddle out again, in another place. The great surfer-shaper Skip Frye added his stories, as did three current members of the Hawaiian Pro Designs Team.

Next up were two of Donald’s greatest ambassadors, the best Gen X longboarders in the world — three-time women’s world champion Cori Schumacher, and the remarkable eight-time U.S. Open champion Joel Tudor, who PT calls “the greatest longboarder of the modern era, without a doubt.” Cori’s fondest memory of Donald was not of him helping a champion, but of him making the typical 6 a.m. call and getting her to surf again during a troubled eight-year period of her life. Tudor returned to the scene of his first world tour win, the 1990 Life’s A Beach Surf Klassik — when he was 14 — and told a riveting tale about the “The University of Young and Takayama,” and how Donald and Nat Young molded a kid with ridiculous talent into a superstar. Now 36, Tudor continuously fought back tears while sharing an adolescence spent with any surfer’s Hall of Fame — Young, Takayama, David Nuuhiwa, Wayne Lynch … if you’re over 40, you get the picture.

Finally, the king took the podium. Nat Young, an Australian sports icon on the level of Michael Jordan, the world’s first shortboard champion and the greatest all-around surfer post-1950 (with a deserving nod to Kelly Slater), flew overnight from Australia and arrived as the ceremony began. He and Joslin regaled the audience in the origins of the “drop knee sake maneuver,” which had to do with they, Diane and Donald, Japan, a restaurant, nine bottles of fine sake, a video recorder and a karaoke machine. (If you knew Donald, you’re laughing right now, because you can imagine how it turned out.) Young, now 65, then looked down at the work of art to his right, a perfect Takayama-shaped wooden longboard, and said, “For my 60th, he sent me this board’s double. I have never surfed on it, nor will I ever surf on it. It is a Young family treasure.”

After that, a couple hundred people changed into wetsuits for the ceremonial paddle-out, while hundreds of others filled up the south railing of Oceanside Pier and shared in the final, flower-filled sendoff.

I’ll say what countless others are saying right now: Donald Takayama was a huge influence in my life. He was also one of those friends who made the world feel like a better place, just knowing he was in it. I first met him during the early 1980s, when I was editor of Breakout magazine and surf columnist for the old Blade-Tribune. I interviewed Donald during his shaping hours in his Cleveland St. Hawaiian Pro Designs factory. Which meant I showed up at midnight, and left at about 3 a.m.

Two things struck me, besides Donald’s crazy-like-a-fox aloha spirit personality: his love for what he did, and his commitment to every board he shaped. At the time, he combined longboard shaping with making surfboards for his hot-shot team, headed by 1984 Pipeline Masters champion Joey Buran, fellow Top-16 world tour pro David Barr, and fine national-level pro Anthony Mata, among others. (Standing with Anthony, my former Little League teammate, on the pier during the paddle out brought back those memories.) I realized I wasn’t just watching a man shape boards, but an artist practicing his craft — as Cori Schumacher put it, “a Gepetto in his studio.” As one who yearns to find the right words, and craft them to a fine polish, I absorbed Donald in action, whether surfing, shaping, or sending a hundred surfers into fits of laughter while making killer BBQ at Oceanside Longboard Club contests or his backyard with his Surfer’s Choice Teriyaki Sauce.

When I threw my flower into the ocean, I turned to see David Nuuhiwa, now 64, shaking hands with fans. Now, he and Nat Young carry the torch of a generation. Today, that torch burns a little less lightly.

Aloha, Donald. And many mahalos.

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A Creative Extravaganza: Living the Writing Life

This past week’s writing and creative activities have certainly felt in the spirit of the season —  a series of outstanding Christmas stocking stuffers. All of them remind me of why it is so wonderful to be a writer, an editor, and blessed with a lifestyle in which we get to meet and work with some of the most fascinating people in the world.

Without further adieu …

Workshop and Conference Teaching Schedule Announced in January

Next month, we’ll announce most of the 2011 Word Journeys conference and workshop teaching schedule. We’re going to expand from 2010, with confirmed appearances at February’s Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego, March’s Tucson Festival of Books, and a May workshop at New York’s Open Center preceding the Book Expo America convention. We’re also planning workshop series in North San Diego County, Tucson and more. Stay tuned!

Memories with PT

The other day, I met with old friend Peter Townend, professional surfing’s first world champion and co-star of the epic surf films Free Ride and Big Wednesday. He had just come from lunch with Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton and others involved with the Legends project that features a group of great sports champions. We sat down to talk about a series of books on which we’ll be working together, including Memories in Pink, a memoir presented in a much different format than usual. During our meeting, PT pulled out a notebook of old typewritten manuscripts dating back to 1974. (While winning the world title in 1976, when pro surfing had no money, he made his living as a surf journalist, working for Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney Daily Mirror and United Press International, among others.) In the notebook was the manuscript of an article on Surf City USA, Huntington Beach, that I assigned him 30 years ago while I was the original editor of Breakout Magazine. In a moment of shared history, he handed me the manuscript and I looked down at my handwritten edit marks … that was cool. Much more coming from PT through the company I co-own, Millennium Media Masters, as we move into 2011 and beyond.

A Poetry Read Worth Remembering

I’ve become thoroughly convinced that San Diego County is one of the most underrated parts of the country when it comes to poetry. San Francisco and New York get the ink, but every time I turn up for a reading in San Diego County, something or someone else blows me away. Which is good, because if you blow me away, you’re likely to get published in the literary journal I edit, The Hummingbird Review.

The other night, I attended the Magee Park Poets reading in Carlsbad — the third of three fantastic readings in the past six weeks. The others were our Hummingbird Review Poetry Revue and a group reading by students of Solana Beach master poetry teacher Harry Griswold. Poets read their works that were selected for the annual Magee Poets Anthology, and many were quite outstanding.

One poet, however, took my breath away: D.N. Sutton. She’s been in this blog before, three years ago. Now she’s 90, and this elegant Southern belle walked up to the stage and brought the house down with her meticulously read poem, “Question Mark (at age 90).” It’s about going into the twilight, but not before living her life to the fullest. You’ll see it in the next issue of The Hummingbird Review, which releases in mid-February.

Fascinating Interview with A Longtime Friend

Last week, I took my sister and brother-in-law to see Wild Child, the Doors tribute band, at the Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood. This was special because, despite my four-decade love affair with the Doors, I’d never been to the Whisky, where they broke on through in 1966. And Wild Child is easily the best tribute band. The show was fabulous — 2 1/2 hours during which they played side one of my favorite Doors album, Morrison Hotel. A few days later, my lifelong friend and former cross-country and track teammate at Carlsbad (CA) High School, the screenwriter, director, teacher and artist Randall Jahnson, was profiled in Examiner.com. It’s been almost 20 years since the movie Randall principally wrote, The Doors, was released. He’s done many more things since then — and his newest projects are awesome, as you’ll read in the interview — but just goes to show how long our books, films and other works can remain relevant if we work on our material until it can be improved no more. Check out this interview.

The Dandy Warhols Concert

Normally, I don’t mix music and writing. Well, yes I do — all the time. What a special treat to see one of my favorite bands, The Dandy Warhols, in top form the other night. It was one of the finest concerts I’ve ever seen. The Dandy Warhols have produced some of the most original music of the past 20 years — but for some strange reason, they are much more popular in Europe, Canada and Australia, even though they come from Portland, Ore. Maybe it’s because they weren’t on American Idol! Whenever rock critics and pundits give you five or six genre labels, well, you’re both multi-faceted and truly original. It was a treat to hear them play songs spanning all 17 years of their history, to hear their often poetic lyrics, and to see the truly artistic interplay between singer-guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor, guitarist Peter Holmstrom, drummer Brent de Boer and keyboardist-bassist Zia McCabe. It’s like watching rock music paint an intricate design. While at the concert, I ran into an old friend, Ken Leighton, who used to manage the early 1980s band that should have made it to the big time out of North San Diego County — Incognito. Ken had them in prime position, but the band self-destructed.

Check Out Millennium Media Masters

We’ve spent the past three months building the foundation for a true 21st century Knowledge Economy media and publishing powerhouse. Now, as 2011 arrives, we’ll be fully rolling out the combination of more than 100 years of writing, editing, publishing, marketing, photographic, graphic design and online media experience — Millennium Media Masters.

We’ve assembled an incredible team to serve authors, publishers, agents, entrepreneurs, business executives, content providers and online media aspirants with the highest quality work available in the market — in all genres. Besides myself, our core team consists of business partner John Josepho, who has 30 years of media, photography, marketing and business consulting experience; director of operations Lisa Maine, with 20 years of graphic design and writing background; web designer Laura Brown, one of the true up-and-coming forces in the yoga and health markets; web designer and social media expert Brian Wilkes, whose 40 years of experience covers all aspects of print, broadcast and online media; and our “young guns,” the graphic design and production team of Chitra Sudhakaran, Jamie Dawick and Anna Preston.

See what we’re up to by visiting our website.




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