-As told by Rick Devoe
When I was sixteen, Tom Curren was my favorite surfer in the world-my full-on idol. I went down to the Op Pro early on the morning of the final day, August 31, 1986. I was hoping for an autograph, or at least a high five from Tom. At the time, Tom Curren was the biggest star in surfing, so getting anywhere close to him was nearly impossible. I remember watching Tom surf his heats, and I was so stoked to see him surfing right in front of us. As the day went on, Tom lost out of the event, and the crowd was going a little bit nuts. You could tell there was some weird feeling in the air, like everyone was too drunk or just about to start going wild at any time. During the final (Glenn Winton versus Occy), my friend and I were walking around behind the scaffolding when we heard a bunch of yelling and then fighting. It was at that moment the Huntington Beach riot started-right in front to us.
We were young, so we were shitting our pants watching all these drunken dudes throwing rocks and running around like animals. We kind of backed up toward the scaffolding, hoping we wouldn’t get dragging into what looked like a huge mosh pit on the beach. Everyone on the beach was going crazy. We were in shock and didn’t know what to do. About twenty yards away from us a cop car got flipped over and then, Bam! -the thing caught on fire. We looked for somewhere to run. We turned around to see the competitors’ area with no security in sight. My friend and I kind of looked at each other, and I don’t know if it was the riot or what, but we got caught up in the whole vibe and just ran into this little area where all the pros’ were hanging out. At this point it was totally empty and all the security guards were nowhere to be seen. My friend yelled at me, “Dude, grab something.” I looked for something to pillage. Remember, I’m sixteen and had never seen anything like this. I looked around and saw a wet, red contest jersey hanging on a railing about three stories up from the sand where I was standing. The competitors had a little area up on top of the scaffolding where they could sit and watch the contest. It was like I was possessed, and when you’re a kid, all you can think of is getting souvenirs. I started climbing up the inside of the scaffolding toward the jersey. I was about two stories up when I looked down and realized how high the jersey actually was. I kept climbing and finally reached it. It was still dripping wet. I looked over the railing and saw a bunch of pros boards sitting there. Tom Curren’s was right in front of me. I sat there and stared at the board-Tom Curren’s board was two feet away from me! Just as I was falling in love with the board, I heard a gruff yell from the other side of the scaffold. “Hey!” A huge security guard spotted me holding the jersey. He started running over to where I was, so I frantically climbing down. Halfway down I noticed my friend getting chased under me. I panicked and let go. I fell about a story and a half to the sand and ate it when I hit. I was right in front of my friend, so we ran out from under the scaffolding together.
When we ran out, we were smack dab in the middle of the riotagain. By this time, the cops were charging after everybody swinging their batons. All hell had had broken loose. We started running toward an area by the pier that looked safe. As we started running, I heard footprints literally pounding behind me in the sand. Before I could turn around, I heard a loud thump and my friend’s voice yelping. I spun around to see my friend on the ground. A cop had just nailed him on the leg with his baton. The cop was standing over him in a rage. I stood there for a second and made eye contact with my friend. “Run, Rick!” he shouted. (It reminded me of a scene from one of those Vietnam movies where the guy’s buddy is wounded and he yells, “Go on without me!”)
Then, as the cop looks up and yelled at me, “Hey, stop!” I just turned around, put my head down, and sttarted running like I’ve never run. I ran up to the street and kept running ’til I was about five blocks inland from the beach. I hadn’t realized that I was still holding the dripping wet jersey. When I looked down and saw the jersey, I immediately forgot about the whole episode and laughed because I had the best souvenir ever!
That night, after meeting back up with my friend, we got a ride back down to a campsite we had rented at San Onofre. He had a big bruise on his leg, but he was able to escape the cop by crawling under the pier and up the beach. The next day we watched the riot on the news. They showed the burning cars and the guys throwing bottles and all that, but they also showed highlights of the heats earlier in the day, before the riot started. Tom Curren was surfing against Michael Ho, I think. He was wearing a red jersey-it had to be the very same jersey I climbed up the scaffolding and snagged. I was dying. My friend was pissed that he didn’t grab it first.
Now, two decades later, I still have the jersey-it’s framed and hung up in my hallway. Every time I look at it, I trip out and laugh at the story of me and my friend in the middle of the Huntington Beach riot.
Check out transworldsurf.com for a photo of the jersey and the punk who pillaged it.