Surfer Joe Part 2: Music Was A Catalyst In The Pursuit Of His Own Relentless And Endless Summer
“And you may find yourself In another part of the world And you may find yourself Behind the wheel of a large automobile And you may find yourself in a beautiful house With a beautiful wife And you may ask yourself, well How did I get here?”
— “Once In A Lifetime” by The Talking Heads
And of course, you may find yourself surfing some of the best waves on the planet in an idyllic place. And your story may be one filled with wonder and fortune.
Right. Joe Abramo is one of those guys. His path from the small town of Marlboro, Mass., to Princeville, Kauai, Hawaii, was filled with bumps and setbacks, but also with the optimism that sprung forth from not only his quest to catch Earth’s H2O vibrations but also from a unique ingenuity.
Surfer Joe Abramo in recent days.
We started this tale in July with Part 1 of a series called “The Spirited, Six-Decade Adventures Of Surfer Joe.”That opening tale weaved together a bit of his coming of age years in the 1960s along with a chance meeting in the 1980s with his eventual comrade in the water, Mike “Bacci” Lorusso, and how the two of them found they had common Central Massachusetts roots.
The Good Vibrations Of Music Assist Joe In The Propulsion Toward His Future
“For the music is your special friend Dance on fire as it intends”
— “Until the End” by The Doors
Oh yes, never forget the power of music. Joe doesn’t and hasn’t.
“Well, believe it or not, it all started with the music on the radio,” he said about being attracted to what would become his chosen lifestyle. “Groups like the Beach Boys especially, but also including Jan and Dean, The Ventures, The Lively Ones, and Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. The music came on the radio, in the car, in the house. It permeated our lives just like good old rock and roll. The first couple of Beach Boy albums I got (Surfin’ Safari and Surfer Girl) also had images of surfing. Great pictures with a small enough window into that West Coast phenomenon. I would stare at those pictures trying to imagine the what, where, and how I could be part of it. It was like 1962 or 1963 that I got those albums for Christmas, and it seemed like I wore them out. Certain tracks still get to me — ‘Catch a Wave’, ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ and the future appropriateness of ‘Hawaii’.
“Being from New England, there was always a little car guy in us. So songs like ‘409’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Be True to Your School’ resonated. Don’t forget Jan and Dean’s ‘Deadman’s Curve’. But there was another subtle influence that premiered in the early ’60’s, the skateboard. Or ‘Sidewalk Surfing‘ as Jan and Dean put it. Well, we heard about it, so we had to try it. But this was Massachusetts in the ’60’s. We had no skateboards, so we had to make them. Crude attempts with my sister’s borrowed metal keyed roller skates would do. I nailed them to a scrounged 2×4 and voila, a skateboard. The wheels with no proper bearings wore out within a day or two. Before she knew they were missing, I was nailing the second skate of the pair up and promptly wore it out in a couple of hours. We used them on not-too steep hills mostly, and making roughly what we might call a turn today.”
Eventually, the early mass-produced skateboards came along, as well as another surf-style influencer, called The Snurfer, a precursor to the snowboard, that hit Joe’s fancy.
“In the cold latitudes in Massachusetts, all we needed was winter and some snow,” Surfer Joe — who friends call the Surfdog — said. “At Marlboro Country Club, there were subtle sloping hills where I could try to master this new-fangled device. But there was either never enough snow cover or balancing skills available to perfect it. All of this happened to me without ever riding a wave. We went to the beach all right, but it was with my parents before I got my driver’s license.”
All of this headstrong yearning for the ocean picked up even more momentum when Joe went to see the movie “The Endless Summer”. “I think I saw Bruce Brown, who made the film, on “The Tonight Show” in ’65 or ’66,” Joe said. “The interview was short and sweet, but they also featured clips from the movie.This was fantastic. We had all seen the beach blanket movies and the canned surfing contained in them.That was real enough, but somehow ‘The endless Summer’ had a lasting effect on me. It was not a major film studio release. It only played in artsy small theaters at the time. We found out it was playing in Boston at some film house I had never heard of. What an eye-opening experience. The Endless Summer is called the most influential surf movie ever. Well it certainly influenced me.”
The movie poster and wall poster for “The Endless Summer.”
During day trips to Lynn Beach with his parents driving, Joe recalled tossing a can into the ankle slappers and waiting for it to catch a wave back in. That may as well be called pure visualization now. The gears were clicking. He wanted to be a part of the surfing life already, without fully knowing it.
“Sometime thereafter and post fear of the water, I remember letting the knee-high waves at Hampton Beach (N.H.) push me in body surfing style, but nothing too great,” he said. “Then it happened. On one of these rollers, I looked off to the right as I scooted toward the beach and saw the inside of a 12-inch tube. That was it. I did that all afternoon. But then the most amazing thing happened.”
‘Surfer’ Magazine Shows Up On Marlboro Main St. And Into Joe’s Hands
At about age 15 or 16, Joe and his friend from down the street, Dale Bacauskas, wandered into Liggett’s Rexall drug store/soda fountain on Marlboro’s Main St. to have a Coke. Lo and behold, there on the rack was a ‘Surfer’ magazine. There are probably a majority of people in the world who would have been more thrilled to see Willy Wonka’s golden ticket inside a candy bar wrapper. But not Joe. For him, the magazine was another push toward his own particular promised land.
“A ‘Surfer’ magazine in all its glory,” he said. “We had never seen anything like it. Pictures and pictures of guys surfing waves all over he world. Needless to say, we bought the magazine and pored over and over it, analyzing what these guys were doing and how they must be accomplishing these incredible things. It was like seeing Jesus walking on the water. Miraculous. Dale and I vowed we were just going to have to try this somehow.” Joe continued the pursuit, sans Dale, because the ocean became more accessible once he got a license and a car.
“When I got to the shore, there were guys surfing by now,” the Surfdog added. “I was jealous, even though they were falling off the 1- to 2-foot waves in remarkable repeating fashion. It was 1965, and I had just graduated from high school. Surf music and skateboards were at the fore for me. After all, I did not live by the coast. It was some 60 miles to the nearest beach — Hampton, and further to the more exotic locales of Cape Cod and Rhode Island. Plus at the tender age of 18, I had to work five days a week, leaving only the weekends available to get to the beach.”
Author’s note: At about this time, Surfer Joe (my older brother) taught me how to ride a bike around the block of our street, Grace Circle. He showed me how to stand on the six-inch high sidewalk with the bike’s wheels on the street so I could get on it easier. When I finally got going, he would run in back and to the side of me just in case I fell. It felt like we were out there all day and I recall having so much fun learning how to do it. But, when we were in the house later, I felt a bitter disappointment. I was so excited to go back out the next day, but Joe said he would not be going with me. I could not understand why. He must have figured that his job was done. I knew how to ride it. But I was looking for more than the excitement of riding the bike. I was also looking forward to the bonding.
Three other stories illustrate our relationship at the time. 1. He made a plastic model of the Batmobile for me. I was utterly thrilled with that. “Batman”, the TV show, was released in 1966 and was all the rage. I absolutely loved it. Joe told me not to try make the glued-on wheels ‘go.’ But within a few days, I couldn’t help it and at least one of the wheels fell off.
The plastic Batmobile model looked a lot like this!!
2. One day, I stuck out my tongue at him to get his goat and he was determined to not let me get away with it. I thought I was going to win, but eventually did not. He brazenly brought out a piece of soap and showed it to me and said that if I did it again he would wash my mouth out with it. Of course, I thought I could quickly stick my tongue out at him again and get it back in. So I tried it and succeeded about five more times. The next time, he was ready, putting the soap in my mouth. I was stunned and left with that unpleasant taste. Even though he told me he was going to do it, I had convinced myself that the actuality of such a defeat could never happen.
3. On his nightstand, he had a pack of gum, probably Wrigley’s spearmint. I opened a piece and took a bite of it. A day later, he was surprised to see that someone grabbed the gum without asking, so he asked me if I was the one. Of course, I lied. And then he said the magic words that taught me that bald-faced lying is not a good idea, especially if you leave evidence behind: “Who else in this house would leave mice-sized teeth marks?” And one more author’s note for good measure: About two weeks ago, a friend (his name escapes me now) of Joe’s from the days of yore wrote to me on Facebook saying he read Part 1 of this tale and remembers going to see “The Endless Summer” with Joe, and so we had a little back-and-forth chat. I asked him to elaborate more about that movie-going experience for use in Part 2, and although he did not respond yet. I plan to pursue this lead for future chapters.
In Part I of this saga, Joe went into detail about getting a borrowed surfboard and then promising to pay Henry Josephson $10 for it.
“Now with surfboard in hand, I could attempt to ride the thing,” he said. “On the weekends, I would venture north to Hampton Beach and get in the frigid New Hampshire waters. All that summer of ’65, I tried to ride that thing. It usually was flat or stormy, so most weekends I was unsuccessful. I tried the different beaches of Seabrook and Rye that I knew might have surf. Finally toward the end of that summer of ’65, I caught and rode some waves at Rye Beach proper. Rode them all the way to the shallowest area near the shore until finally I snapped the fin off. Now I couldn’t wait to get home to try to fix it.”
Thirty years after learning to surf, Joe Abramo takes off on a sizable wave in 1995 at Kalihiwai on Kauai’s North Shore (above). The image was captured from a video taken by Joe’s brother Dave Abramo from an overlook. The author was also in the water surfing that day. Below, Joe navigates another Kalihiwai wave in 2003.
Beach Blanket Bingo Lifestyle Here I Come
Not long after riding his first real wave, the lifestyle of parties and girls were moments away.
“I met a couple of other surfers who lived in Rye,” Joe continued. “They invited me to a party that the Rye Beach Surf Club was throwing that Saturday night. It was held in a barn with about 20 local surfers in attendance, and there were girls there, too. I don’t think they were surfing, though. Female waveriders were few in numbers in the mid ’60’s. I had a great time and there was some drinking involved, but it felt good to know there were people that shared my own feelings toward this chosen pursuit. And I did manage to re-glass the fin back on to the board in my first of many fiberglass repair jobs.” And after Josephson sent somebody over to retrieve the board (for nonpayment), the Surfdog — Surfpup really — went out and bought a brand new Greg Noll 9’8, the experience of which was told at length in Part 1.
“I was really going to learn how to surf,” he continued. “More guys from my town got into it, too. We hung together and started hunting waves from Rhode Island, the Cape, New Hampshire and Maine — all considered far-flung travels for local bumpkins from Central Massachusetts.
“We were to soon learn the many curses of trying to be a surfer in New England — small or nonexistent waves, freezing cold water, short warm summer season, the red tide. There had to be a better way.”
The Surfdog going left at Newport, R.I., on Aug. 11, 1968.
The fix was to surf during the fall and winter, so Joe and his buddies bought wetsuits.
“Oh, I had a water skier’s wetsuit vest, even for summer, but the dang zipper ran right up the middle of your chest so it was a painful experience when going prone to paddle for a wave,” he said. “We found these skin diver suits that seemed to fit our needs so we dropped a bundle on them, complete with gloves and booties. No hood. We don’t need no stinking hoods. Wrong decision, that one. “We crunched down the beach over the snow and entered the icy H2O. Not a great adventure except to be able to say we did it. And we didn’t try it that often. The waves were real and much bigger, punishing new surf adventurers. Looking back now, it’s lucky we lived through it. This was before surf leashes and we were poor swimmers in those walrus suits. The two other cohorts of mine didn’t keep up with my desire to progress at these endeavors. Soon I was like the Lone Ranger, cruising through my hometown on Sunday afternoon after returning from a weekend surf safari with the board on top of the car and the crowd cheering the victorious gladiator along.” But there had to be something better than this weekend warrior business. He knew it was out there, but was not quite sure how to accomplish it. “When my first marriage (starting at age 19 in ’67) was failing , I decided to leave the general area of Massachusetts,” he said. “California was the logical choice to continue my quest for waves.” It wasn’t long before Joe Abramo’s hair — already John Lennon-style long by 1971 — grew out and turned from brown to a Southern California sun-drenched golden hue. More importantly, with persistence, he learned how to surf competently in his new locale of Huntington Beach.
That’s where, he likes to say, he earned his “surf baggies.” It was full-steam ahead toward real, big-boy surfing adventures — his own endless summer. California is where Part 3 will pick up when it hits the newsstands, so to speak. --------------------
PREVIOUSLY IN THiS SERIES: The Spirited, Six-Decade Adventures Of Surfer Joe --------------------