Monday, August 20, 2012

"Not Much Of A Surf Story": Bev Morgan

Bev Morgan is the Forrest Gump of surfing; I'd bet that even readers with an affinity for surf history and culture have only seen his name pop up here and there in books, articles and stories.  But the funny thing about Bev is that, if you dig deep enough, he appears to be the nuts and bolts in many of the major developments in surfing throughout California and Hawaii from the late 40's through to the mid-60's.  He was that guy in the background, involved in what was going on but never standing front and centre.  If you google his name, you'll get a whole lot of stuff come up about the Dive Helmet business that he started in the mid-60's which is one of the world's leaders in dive helmet technology.  But a few images from his days in the midst of surfing will pop up...

How entrenched in early Californian surf culture you ask?  This guy has pedigree and a ridiculous number of the sort of incredible stories that you wouldn't have thought could all be attributed to a single man.  Growing up as a teenage friend of Greg Noll and the Manhatten Beach Pier guys, he rode boards shaped by Joe Quigg and Bob Simmons (who shaped him a 6' x 24" wide board in the early 50's which was absolutely unheard of and has since spawned the mini-simmons trend) and glassed surfboards for Dale Velzy and Hap Jacobs.  He was a helicopter rescue diver in the early 50's, jumping out of helicopters to rescue post-war fighter jet test pilots in Los Angeles Bay, opened one of the first wetsuit shops and got big into the fledgling diving scene.  His stories about the impact of domestic detergents replacing soap in American households and it's effect on breaking up sewage effluent and it's subsequent impact on marine life, particularly the molluscs and crustaceans that he dove for, provide a harrowing illustration of overpopulation's impact on the oceans. 

In 1957 Bev sold his share in Dive N' Surf and, along with a group of friends, bought a 61' wooden ketch and spent two years exploring the South Pacific.  On a mission to collect fish samples for Scripps oceanography institute from the Cococs Islands, they discovered that the reason why nobody had done it before was because of the ferocious and inquisitive sharks, so they dove as a team with shark billys to bash the teethy fish on the nose and scare them off whilst they collected samples.  On Easter Island they were formally requested by the island elders to "contribute to the gene pool", then retrieved artifacts from the  HMS Bounty on Pitcairn Island.  Upon his return he did a stint as a photographer at Surfer magazine then got into wetsuits and started the company that would eventually turn into Bodyglove.  He hung with Pat Curren in Hawaii surfing and spear fishing, trading half their catch for gas for their car.  He  smuggled lobster into the USA from mexico by plane with a load of friends and then took a freighter and two bulldozers down to try to bring back a mile long load of pearl shell to sell to the button business (the shells were delaminated and the whole scam failed).  When he finally settled back in LA he spent a significant amount of time bodysurfing the Newport Wedge with Mickey Munoz and Phil Edwards, where Joe Quigg and Carter Pyle developed swim fins by getting a dead frozen porpoise from Marineland, cutting off the tail and used the forms to make fins on tennis shoes.  Bev then developed his diving helmet business, using all of his experience in both diving and in advanced composites from the surf industry to make the first significant advances in diving helmets in 150 years.  He now lives in Santa Barbara and, when approached by The Surfer's Journal, claimed that he "didn't really have much of a surf story to tell"...  I would disagree Bev.

Bev Morgan's story is absolutely amazing.  The closest he's got to any sort of biography is an article in The Surfer's Journal where he tells the stories behind a load of photos from his extensive personal collection, called "More Than My Share".  You can buy it as a downloadable pdf from The Surfer's Journal here.

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