Jamie Budge is a California filmmaker who created The Living Curl. Virtually ignored because of its small 8mm frame size when it first released, the film has become a surprise hit to a new generation of surfing fans – 45 years later. Dora, Fain, Weber, Martinson, Peck, and Carson were amongst the film’s many stars.
What was it like growing up in Southern California?
Life at that time had a Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn feel to it. Boys were expected to be boys. I’d take off in the morning with a friend or two and not come back till dark. Go hiking. Climb down the cliffs to the beach. Jump in the ocean. We made soap-box skate scooters, flew kites, climbed trees. Climbed on the school roof. Got into the classrooms. We didn’t take anything – it was just for the free spirited mischief of it all. Rode bikes. And later on: go carts and motor bikes. Totally unsupervised. It felt free. I miss that.
When did you get your first surfboard?
It was sort of prophetic really. I didn’t go, to go surfing. I went down to try a paddle board because I wanted to put a sail on it like the one I had seen in Popular Science or Mechanix Illustrated. On the way in I caught a wave and stood up. My friend was yelling “Great Left!” “Shoot the Curl!” The next day I got my first surfboard. It was my 16th birthday. 1960.
What was the feeling you had when you you first stood on a surfboard?
Up until that wave on the paddleboard, all my surfing experience had been on inflatable mats. I’d paddle with the swell until it pitched me over the falls and ride straight off in the white water on my knees until I hit the beach. At that time, a wave to me was something that was mostly whitewater. So that “shooting the curl” thing had me a little baffled.
But I remember shooting it at Malibu and looking down at all the rocks under the water and thinking, “This is like flying! I’m flying over the surface of the water and all the rocks and other obstacles are far beneath me.” Sort of like an analogy for life, I guess. I was stoked. Because after that, all I can remember about my life is that I went surfing,
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
When it came to surfing – it was Miki. Because by the time I got there, he was already, “Mr. Malibu”. A bigger than life figure. There he was, right there on the beach. Where you could walk up and talk to him. But I never played the Miki “game”… double speak, tongue-in-cheek, innuendo. I just never knew him like everybody else did. I just admired his surfing.
Dave Sweet was like a father figure. Everybody called him “Uncle Dave.” He was doing his own thing and got a ton of crap from the “established” surfing community for making “pop outs.” Later, it was verified that it was Dave (not Hobie) that was the originator of the commercial foam surfboard. Now, everything from surfboards to boogie boards, kite boards, windsurfing to wake boards are “pop outs”. Dave had that quality of independent innovation that I admired. Like I said in “The Living Curl” narration, I always liked him ‘cause he was a rebel who didn’t do what everybody else did.
And anybody who made surf films: Grant Rolhoff, John Severson, Bruce Brown.
What gave you the idea to film California surfing?
It seems like everything that everybody did in the ‘60’s… didn’t come from an idea. There was no, “Aha! What a great idea I have.” We just did it. Sort of like one of those beach movies of the time, where a party would just break out. At some point, the camera came out and we were filming. I remember shooting 8mm films of my friends and them shooting me so we could see how we looked surfing. If I wanted to see how we looked compared to Miki Dora or Johnny Fain, then I would shoot films of Miki Dora and Johnny Fain. And anybody else we aspired to surf like.
What challenges did you encounter when filming?
Well, the obviously biggest challenge was that I was filming in 8mm. Unheard of for surfing at the time; only used for home movies of the family. So I did a lot of concocting to get 16mm telephoto lens to fit on my 8mm camera. Screwed a gun sight to the side of the camera to “target in” (with cross hairs) on what I was shooting because there was no thru-the-lens viewfinder for my 8mm camera.
Showing it in “auditoriums” was an even bigger challenge. There just wasn’t enough light coming thru those tiny frames to make it all the way to the screen with the projectors available at the time. So I mounted a huge blower on the side of my 8mm projector to cool the oversized 16mm bulb I installed. And I could still only show it in Women’s Clubs and VFW Halls to a hundred or so people at a time.
So, “The Living Curl” has always been sort of the runt of the litter. I mean, who’d go see a surf movie at a Woman’s Club, when all the great films were showing at the Santa Monica Civic?
But I had sort of a cult following. John Milius (who later produced the Hollywood surf classic, “Big Wednesday”), was a fan of “The Living Curl.” He said I was the first kid on the block to really be in the motion picture business. And Craig Stecyk (before he was Miki Dora’s groupie and biographer), was my groupie. He’d come into Dave Sweet’s surf shop where I worked in the showroom, and hang and talk surf. His mom would call me to see if I could steer Craig in the right direction. I guess I did a good job.
What was surfing like back in the sixties?
I guess that’s the whole point of “The Living Curl”. And it’s re-release. It’s surfing in the sixties and how it really was. Like a typical road trip up and down PCH. How it looked, how we surfed, the music that was “surf” music to us – before there was surf music.
What’s uncanny, is that it feels like surfing in the sixties. It took me months to edit it on the computer, and to put all the parts together digitally. That whole process was like a time tunnel for me. The surfers I played with, the music we listened to, all right there in front of me on the computer. It sort of gave me the creeps… to be so caught up in 45 years ago. But at the same time, it made me realize how different, and the same, everything is from today.
Crowds I guess are the big difference. Malibu was always ridiculously crowded. But hey, (in the ‘60’s) let’s drive an hour up the highway where we can get every wave all to ourselves. Not any more. If you want waves to yourself, you have to take planes and boats to a different country or continent.
Like it says in the film, “In the early sixties, surfing was all brand new.” Southern California was like one big Mardi Gras or Brazilian Carnival-type beach party. The attitude was, “Hey, come join the fun!” There was aliveness and discovery in the air. Every new maneuver or surfboard design was fresh off somebody’s imagination and being put to the test.
And there was an innocence. If you came up with something really off the wall (a 7ft “thumb” board, for instance) it wasn’t really a target of ridicule (most of the time). Because it was all so new, nobody knew what would work or what wouldn’t. Or what place a new board or weird looking maneuver would find in the history of it all. There was an openness to it all. If you were walking anywhere with a surfboard, cars would stop and ask you if you wanted a ride. Join the party.
By the late sixties, early seventies, there was a mood shift to it all. Surfing was turning into a hard core sub-culture of drugs, localism and tire slashings. A harder feel that matched the political and economic mood of the times. Like in the film Big Wednesday. There was a pre-occupation with war in Vietnam, hard financial times and all around social disorientation.
Now that it is re-released, what has been the reaction to a younger generation?
When my partner in this project (surf and skate historian) Scott Starr first approached me about turning “The Living Curl” into a DVD, I thought nobody’s going to want to see this old slop. It was only 8mm (I used to have to talk the audience into not leaving once they saw the projector), it was only 16 frames per second, which would look like ridiculously sped up when turned to video. It would be a lot of work. And outrageously expensive. I’d done some research over the decades, and it would always cost too much and not look very good.
But Scott did a good job of catalyzing me to resurrect it. When I saw it on the monitors during the transfer, I was amazed at how good it looked. Technology had done the impossible. And later on, on the full size theater screen at La Paloma, I was dazzled almost beyond belief. My little “home” movie gleaming out on the full size silver screen, looking as good as “Endless Summer” or “Gone with the Wind.” Where was this technology in the sixties when I needed it?
So it’s better the second time around. I was totally surprised. I thought I’d show it once or twice as a good goof for old surfers. But when everybody applauded their way through the re-release “Première” at Duke’s Malibu and then lined up for autographed copies of the DVD afterwards. It was like shock and awe for me.
And then the emails and phone calls just started coming in. And just kept coming. It was everything I always wanted for it – 45 years later.
Most of the shops that have been buying the DVD’s, have been the younger generation of surfers. It amazes me when they actually gasp at the (sometimes standard) maneuvers we did on longboards back then. In the ‘60’s, the longboard was the only game in town. And the surfers of the day put everything they had into those planks we rode. Some shops consider it an instruction video for longboard surfing.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
It seems like surfing never changed anything in my life. It just seems like I’ve always surfed. It was the norm. It’s not what meaning surfing holds for me, it’s just how little meaning life seems to hold without surfing or similar exaggerated experiences of life (adrenaline junkie?) that I get (got) from surfing and other pursuits.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
If I get in the “zone” from whatever I’m doing: surfing, filming, skating, skiing, boarding, dancing, whatever – and then I’m done doing it and I realize I’ve been having sort of an “out of body” experience in the process – becoming one with what I was doing. Sounds corny, but that’s IT! Hours have just evaporated. The exhilaration of doing whatever and the feeling of having done it – is the most happiness I’ve ever had on this plane of existence.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Miki Dora, Lance Carson, Jim Foley… just kidding! But they are the ones who shaped the path of surfing for me. Today… Kelly Slater? Tony Hawk? I dunno. Something about most of the surfers today – they all look the same to me. Surfers like skaters, skaters like surfers. Same maneuvers, same styles. X Games. Maybe that’s just me, observing contemporary surfing from the outside.
It used to be if you were driving up PCH by Malibu and Miki Dora was taking of at 3rd point, you could tell from hundreds of yards away that it was Miki. Sort of like when I saw Mick Jagger take the stage at the Rose Bowl from a hundred yards away. I just knew the instant he hit the stage: That was him. No doubt. His style. His body language. In the ‘60’s, in the day of “The Living Curl”, surfers were known up and down the coast by their individual styles and body language.
I don’t know if that exists quite the same today. Surfers are performing almost levitating type maneuvers on waves today. Defying gravity and common sense. Incredible to see. But the forms their bodies take in the process is almost irrelevant. You don’t notice it in all the mayhem they are making of the wave.
Maybe that’s part of the appeal of “The Living Curl”: the styles the surfers of the ‘60’s had. Everything that the surfers of today do, is a spin-off from the generation before. In the ‘60’s, there was not really anything before it to spin off of. So it all had more unique, individualistic looks to it.
I saw some footage of Kelly at Jeffery’s and Tom Curren (I seem to remember) at Sand Spit. It was Magic. They had the style and grace of the ‘60’s with the unbelievable maneuvers of today. Best of both worlds. But I don’t see it that often – the maneuvers with the grace and finesse. Agile, yes. But not the style. Arms and elbows and knees sticking out in all directions. We would have considered that out of bounds.
What is in your current quiver? What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
I made a 7 foot “thumb” board in the very early ‘60’s (after seeing Jim Foley at Steamer Lane in Bruce Brown’s “Barefoot Adventure.” My surf buddies of the time put it in a burning trash can. So I went back to a standard longboard to “fit in.” Probably the last time I did anything anywhere to fit in.
So I’ve always bounced back and forth between the long and short of it. But I’ve always tried to retain my old school roots: whip turns, drop knee cutbacks, nose rides, side slips. But with the looseness to shred up and down in the curl similar to contemporary short boards (which I’ve never ridden. They always seemed too much work to paddle out to the line-up, duck diving and all that.) My favorite boards are a 7’5” and an 8’6”. Both shaped by Robbie Dick with sort of a ‘60’s Penetrator or Performer shape. I’d ride the 7’5” if I could. But I get run over by too many longboarders and SUP’s that are already in the wave by the time I can drop in. So I’ve settled for the 8’6.” I can almost be as loose as riding the 7’5” and still get into longboard waves early enough to take possession.
I was born and bred in right point break waves. And not always perfect. And I like it that way. More variety to keep me on my toes. I like Topanga as well as Malibu, Stables as well as Rincon. Swamis as much as Trestles. For the flat spots, sections, bowls, and time to set up as the next section approaches. Moderately steep as opposed to draining hollow (except for the bowls). Mixed up, longboard stuff.
What’s next for Jamie Budge?
Sometimes I think I’m through doing everything I’ve ever wanted to do. All I did from 16 to 24 was everything surf. I felt I was old at surfing by 24. By the late sixties, it all seemed to be turning to tire-slashing locals and hard drugs. I kept surfing, but dropped out of the scene. Now, between my WindSkate toys and my photo career, I’ve hit all the targets I wanted.
Usually, some unexpected tangent grabs me and I’m off and running in a new direction. Like with WindSkate. Or even “The Living Curl.” I never expected to be doing that. All over again.
I’ve got a second film: “The Californians.” The most advanced longboard surfing ever (in 1967) that was almost obsolete (with the short board transition) by the time it came out. Then I picked it up “Four Years After” with many of the same longboard surfers after they had made the transition to shortboards: David on a Fish. Dewey on a Strato. Corky on his shorter signature model. Mini guns. Cutting edge, transitional short board riding. Up and comers like Jay Riddle and Clyde Beatty Jr. It will be a comparison of longboard — shortboard surfing. I want to put that all together for digital release.
I’m enjoying my newfound niche as historian of California surfing in the ‘60’s. I was never that social with it back in the ‘60’s. I was too busy trying to do all of everything all at once that I didn’t have time to enjoy any of it.
Now it’s all for fun.
More information about Jamie Budge and The Living Curl can be found here.