The development of human culture continues to indicate theneed for leadership. Accepted or not, the leader?s role isconsistent–the front position, everyone else is behind. Those notleading are following, or disagreeing with the leader to the extentthat they can maintain their distance enough to justify their notfollowing.
Leadership is often based upon age or experience, strength orinfluence, and many times is simply the result of circumstances andconditions where an individual or group attains leadership. There isalso the circumstance of clarity, of one voice rising above the othersamidst the din of disagreement. One voice bringing purpose andproviding leadership.
Last month I attended Bill Cleary’s memorial service. Clearyhad been one of my early leaders. He was a force in my life, and forseveral years, his voice was the one bringing clarity, information,and influence into my world. As a twelve year old arriving atTopanga Beach, California, Cleary, ten years my senior, was the bigbrother I didn?t have.
A powerful surfer, he had been a high school football star,and when my family and I moved in next door, he was a UCLAliterature student constantly luring beautiful women to his beach-based bachelor pad. He had already served in the U.S. Marines, achoice reached after high school mainly to piss off his mother, andhis various roles became the model for much of my adolescence. AsI said at his memorial, “He was my god.”
He was, however, never much of a skater. In fact, I clearlyremember him refusing to get on a skateboard. Yet, in the history ofskateboarding, he has his place and needs to be considered andremembered as a powerful contributor to future generations ofskaters. Indeed, in the skateboarding world of the early 60s, he wasa leader. His voice was the strongest.
No magazines, no companies, no T-shirts, no products, andnot too many visionaries–40 years ago there was much thatskateboarding didn?t include, but Cleary has to be considered anearly visionary.
John Severson had come along with his idea to publish surfphotos to complement his work as a filmmaker. He and Bud Browne,Bruce Brown, Walt Phillips, Grant Rohloff, and others were takingtheir crude 16mm films to high school gymnasiums and Californiaand Florida beach-town theaters to showcase surfing. Seversonrightly figured a photo album might sell. Surfer magazine’s tendrilsreached all the way to Topanga Beach, where competition forSeverson?s project took the form of Surf Guide magazine.
In 1962 Cleary was named editor of Larry Stevenson’s SurfGuide, which in its early publication was nothing more than ahandmade ‘zine. Cleary’s editorial direction wandered early on andincluded stylized fictional stories intent upon bringing literature-based characters and themes to surfing. But his voice was definitelyirreverent, and while Severson seemed to base Surfer’s style uponHugh Hefner’s Playboy–yet another emerging men’smagazine–Corny Cole’s art direction at Surf Guide included hand-drawn illustrations, hand-lettered type, and a funky clip-and-pasteapproach to each issue. Severson seemed to be celebrating surfingfor surfing’s sake, whereas Cleary’s voice was more a, “Yes, this isgood and fine and interesting, but only for us, so don’t even think ofparticipating. And if you have big plans to capitalize on this, thenit’s better (you go) someplace else.”
Inevitably contradictions developed. Surf Guide succeeded, inpart, because of its irreverence. Additionally, another Stevensonproject’s success began to create complications. By early 1963 SurfGuide included full-page ads for Makaha Skateboards. The ad’s textread, “Internationally known surfer Mike Hynson says ‘The Makahasurfskate board is the best-performing skateboard I’ve everridden.'” Boards could be mail-ordered for $10.95 (includingpostage), and features included “professional roller-bearing wheels”and “fine-grain natural-finish ash wood.” As publisher of Surf Guideand owner of Makaha Skateboards, Stevenson found himselfsurrounded by developing successes.
Skateboarding would never be the same. High-performanceproduction boards were officially in the marketplace and includedtestimonials from surfers like Hynson and Mike Doyle. Surf Guidecontinued to develop and expand as Cleary?s approach departedfrom that of Surfer. His feature stories focused on Buzzy Trent andMickey Dora, surfers he considered important contributors not tothe business or commercialization of surfing, but to the soul andcharacterization of surfing. Cleary’s early anti-positioning wasactually good for business. The magazine continued to thrive, andMakaha’s sales began to overwhelm Stevenson’s new location at2601 Colorado in Santa Monica.
In fact, Cleary’s approach was so attractive that John VanHammersveld arrived from Surfer’s art department to help in SurfGuide’s transition from ‘zine to a “real” publication. VanHammersveld’s early assistant was yet another art student, JimGanzer. The magazine was thriving, Makaha sales increased daily,and Cleary did what any successful editor would do–he took off. Hisirreverence wasn’t just an editorial position, he had to live it, too.His own creativity would dissolve behind the desk, and he hit theroad.
His travels to Europe, specifically the Biarritz area andCanary Islands, pioneered migrations for generations of futuresurfers. In fact, it was Cleary’s trips that resulted in the developmentof yet another project–the European Surfing Holiday, a charteredflight of 100-plus surfers who flew to Paris in 1964. It was Cleary’sidea that I take twelve clay-wheeled Makaha skateboards on thattrek and pass out boards when I had the chance to skate–he feltskateboards would have a place in Europe, too. I think I can actuallyremember his voice saying, “Yeah, just give ’em away. Give ’em tokids who seem interested. Let’s give ’em skateboarding.”
When I skated, according to my journal, on July 5, 1964, atthe Gare du Nord train station after our arrival from Charles deGalle airport, I attracted quite a crowd. My journal reads, “Iskateboarded for a few minutes and everyone stopped to watch,there were too many people.” Later that afternoon I took the subwayto the Eiffel Tower where again there were “too many people”watching the spontaneous demo.
Cleary’s voice was heard throughout the years. Seversoneventually lured him to Surfer, and Surf Guide went away. But travel,exploration, and discovery led him around the world. Beautifulchildren, beautiful wives, and beautiful places–his was a life leadingtoward the next adventure — the next horizon. Ultimately, he was aphilosopher, and his thoughts and approaches to skateboarding,surfing, and life are as right on today as they were 40 years ago.Because as strong as his singular voice was, he always recognizedthe strength and power of the group. He surrounded himself withforces, with energetic and fascinating people who then createdsomething new and more compelling.
Our culture, our emerging and developing history,skateboarding’s history, includes this early pioneer, this early voice.At Cleary’s sunset service, we ventured out in a boat with his ashes.Maybe we weren’t sure what to do. As we develop our culture andour traditions, maybe this is what happens. We reach out and touchthe unknown and do it our way because there is no predeterminedway. So those of us gathered at his memorial were a case in point. Itwas our voice, one voice rising, created from many voices, stronger,longer-lasting, and representing something stronger than simply onelone voice. A new voice. Together.
Jim Fitzpatrick is executive director of the InternationalAssociation Of Skateboard Companies. Reach IASC via the Web at:skateboardiasc.org. Or call: (805) 683-5676.