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Celebrating Otherness

By Jamie Brisick

To be a surfer is to be a traveler. This idea lodged into my head when I first saw The Endless Summer in 7th grade. And it was reinforced a few years later when I fell under the spell of the Naughton-Peterson adventures in Surfer magazine.

The ’70s was a big decade for surf travel. It came out of necessity. Surfing exploded in the ’60s via Gidget, The Beach Boys, the beach party movies, et al. Cherished breaks got crowded. Longtime surfers got angry. Some turned territorial, adopting a “Locals Only” ethos. Others, like Naughton-Peterson, set off to explore the world.

The story goes as follows: In 1973, Orange County kids Kevin Naughton and Craig Peterson traveled to Central America. Wanderlust was piqued. So began a decade and a half of fairly constant globetrotting in which they’d mail handwritten text and color slides to Surfer, documenting their adventures in places like Senegal, Liberia, Morocco, France, Spain, Ireland, Mexico, Barbados, and Fiji. They pioneered dozens of now well-known breaks. In their stories they captured the exoticness, the travails, the boredom, the heat and mosquitos, and the marvel of riding epic, empty waves.

The Naughton-Peterson dispatches were in the lineage of the logs and journals kept by great explorers like Columbus, Magellan, Cook, Marco Polo. They were also a sort of blogging long before there were blogs. Their exploratory spirit would become part of the surfing zeitgeist. In surf mag ads of the late ’70s/early ’80s, you’d see Rory Russell riding a camel through the Moroccan desert, or Randall Kim standing alongside a “Koala Crossing” sign in Australia. These images burned deep into my imagination. They romanticized otherness — the idea that what’s outside your familiar/comfort zone was important. I feel lucky to have been exposed to this ideology at such a young and impressionable age. It was the antithesis of nativism, racism, xenophobia.

Here’s an account of their arrival at La Libertad in El Salvador in 1985, after an intense eight-hour bus ride. . .

"The place reeked of stale booze and soaked armpits. Our talk revolved around finding a place to stay, how to get ahold of more money, where the waves were, and could we stomach another drink. Within a couple of hours, both our tongues felt numbed from the local tonic. Kevin scanned the bar. It was certainly no place for two scholars to talk serious business. Five mean-looking studs hung around a torn, faded, green-lit pool table. People in the back room were engaged in some sort of game that involved money. Right next to us a woman in a blonde wig was hustling a young drunk. Kevin did a double-take on Craig, who was slumped in his chair and swiping fingerfuls of a chocolate bar that had melted in his shirt pocket. Places like this attract a very special breed, and Craig was clearly one of them. Flies buzzed, chairs creaked, bottles clinked, talk clocked away the time: the harmony of a Latin cantina."

Words from Surfer via The Encyclopedia of Surfing. Photos by Craig Peterson via Search for the Perfect Wave.

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