"THE ORIGINAL MAYOR OF MAIN STREET HUNTINGTON BEACH 1967"
By Thomas Takao
I parked in front of the old George’s Surf Shop to meet George Draper. But, I was a little early so I took a walk down Main Street to the Huntington Beach Pier to check out the surf. Walking along the southside of the pier, looking down the coast towards Newport Beach and stopping just pass the lifeguard tower to look at the waves. It was 3 to 5 feet, the swell was from the south and pushing through the pilings as the wind started to pick up.
I crossed over to the northside recalling days gone-by and those who use to surf there. Walking back I stood next to the guardrail where once a pub was located, having a beer or two and watching someone wiping out in front of someone else paddling out. It was gray and overcast and it looked like it was going to rain in a few hours.
Returning from my memory I watched the surfers for about ten minutes before making my way back across the Coast Highway towards George’s. As I got nearer I could see George sitting on the brick edging along the front windowsill of his shop.
“Hi George, long time no see” I said while shaking his hands. George mentions he just had breakfast with his long time high school friend Jack Murphy also known as “Murph the Surf “. Murph is famous for the Jewel robbery of the Star of India and a few other precious gems. The two go way back to the days when their fellow classmate Phil Edwards made them their Balsa surfboards for $50.00, a special time and a special place in George’s back pages.
We would go over to George’s house and continue on with his story. George traveled around during his early years with his father who was a YMCA Physical Director. George was born in Fort Levinworth, Kansas on October 3, 1935. From Kansas they moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi and from there they moved to Augusta, Georgia. In 1945 after the war they moved to Newport, Rhode Island. This is where George learned how to sail and said “it was Beautiful up there and then we moved to Bremerton, Washington, after Bremerton we moved to Carlsbad, California in 1952”.
George enrolled at Oceanside Carlsbad Union High School. Being a new kid in school George soon became friends with Murph the Surf, Phil Edwards and LJ Richards. He learned to surf at Terra Mar with a board that Phil Edwards had made. “The boards we were riding were around 10’6” to 11’ then, Phil was shaping them with a big drawknife. I don’t remember the other tools he was using, but I do remember that big draw knife” said George.
After High School George enlisted in the Army and served from 1955 to 1957. His father was now the USO Director in Oceanside, California. After returning from the Army George got a job with the State of California as a lifeguard. He was the first State lifeguard at Tamarack Street in Carlsbad. Being a lifeguard lasted for a couple of years.
Around 1958 a young Don Hansen moved from South Dakota with his family to North County San Diego and met George. George taught Don how to surf at Swami’s and took Don snow skiing and taught him skiing. Don would go on to make surfboards and start Hansen Surfboards, first in Del Mar then in Cardiff on the Coast Highway across from the Cardiff reef. Don was there for a couple of years before moving his shop to Encinitas just a ways from Swami’s. George remembers some of the people working for Don back then and mentions Jim Jenks. Jim would go on to start OP surfwear.
In 1962 George was a milkman in LA, after that George got a job with Grubby Clark of Clark Foam in 1963. George recalled “The factory was located in Laguna Beach Canyon Road I was the delivery driver and public relations guy. Santa Barbara to Brownfield was my area.”
From this point in our conversation I will be using TT for Thomas Takao and GD for George Draper.
TT: “When you were in Santa Barbara, did you go to Renny Yater shop.”
GD: “That was the furthest I would go. Yeah. I didn’t go to Haut, well, I might have gone once or twice. I think Haut would pick up his blanks at Renny’s place.”
TT: “So you made deliveries into the South Bay as well, like to Rick’s shop and then.”
GD: “Yeah Rick’s; Greg Noll, Bing Copeland, Rick Stoner, Phil Becker, Al Nelson, Bill Schrosbee, yeah Bill was working for Con, Con Surfboards”
TT: “Did you meet Dave Sweet.”
GD: “I, I met them yeah, I don’t remember them but I met them, been to their factories. Saw the pop out blanks and molds and everything. Yeah I saw those guys.”
TT: Still on a row I asked “Did you deliver blanks to Bob Bolen and Sonny Vardeman?”
GD: ”Yeah I took blanks to the Greek, and Vardeman, yeah. Chick Edmondson use to be out there. Another person who was working at Clark Foam at this time was Bruce Jones who would later start Bruce Jones Surfboard.”
On the subject of Clark Foam
TT: “Did you move to the new Clark Factory on Crown Valley.”
GD: “Yeah, I was there when they were building it and yeah I was over there when it got started. I worked for Clark for 4 years and at that time we were all in a party mode. So I lost my driver license and couldn’t drive for Clark anymore”
TT: “I recall Bill Bahne mentioning it was fun seeing you when you dropped off blanks at Challenger Surfboards in San Diego.”
Changing the subject George describes how he started working in Huntington Beach.
GD: “Meanwhile George Panton had been going up to Clark Foam and I got along well with George Panton. Panton mentions to me since I can’t drive anymore, I’m opening a shop in Huntington Beach, why don’t you come and manage it for me. So I did that, that’s when I started.”
TT: “Was George’s before Jack’s?”
GD: “No, no, Jack’s was there in the 50s, about 1957 or so. I think Jack was the first major store in Huntington Beach.”
TT: “Was Jack’s last name Murphy?”
GD: “No, it was Hoganson” TT “So Jack had his corner shop while the other shops like Greek and Infinity came later then?”
GD: “Well Greek was there a little later not too much, he was there in the late 50s. It was September 7, 1967, is when we opened, ah first sale, yeah, how well I remembered.”
TT: “All those young kids that was there, hanging around the shop when you first opened”
GD: “I don’t even know who they are when they come up to me. They’re all grown up now. That’s a long time, yeah” said George while looking up at the ceiling.
TT: “Did Chuck Dent move into Huntington Beach after Seal Beach?”
GD: “Yes, he was working for Jack Haley I think down there. Then he came to Huntington and was 35 years old when he died” as George finished mentioning Chuck I thought to myself of his legendary times on Main Street.
TT: “Did he passed away in the mid 80’s .“
GD: “No it must have been around 81 or 82. I was a pallbearer for him.” TT “He was a good salesman.” George nodding his head GD “He was a great promoter.”
TT: Getting back to George Surf Shop “It must have been good during the 70s selling the varies items and surfboards?”
GD: “Oh yeah, we would finance surfboards. We had a Dial Finance Company. We would go finance boards and people could come in and get well, those days, those beautiful surfboards for $130 apiece, you know, I’ll never forget that.”
TT: “What types of boards were you selling out of your shop?”
GD: “We had 14 board manufacturers back then, 14 of them. I mean we had G&S, we had Hansen’s, then we would have Bing, Con, Yater, I mean I could go on and on you know.”
TT: “You had all those boards and when the longboards started to phase out, you went out and got short boards didn’t you?”
GD: “Yeah the first short board was a Greg Noll Model called the Bug. I brought David Nuuhiiwa to Huntington Beach when he was 16 years old from Bing Surfboards. And introduced him to Downtown, I drove him from Hermosa and put him in the Clark truck and he came down to Huntington with me.”
TT: “So you met David at the Bing Shop, I mean the factory?”
GD: “ Yeah he and Donald were up there. You know Donald was up there too; shaping. David was such a tremendous surfer”
TT: “When he came down here to Huntington Beach, did he liked surfing the Pier?”
GD: “Yes he did. He made his home down here. He was the Guru here and Phil Edwards was the Guru in Oceanside. Those guys could walk on water. We would get out of the water and watch them surf, George stopped for a moment and then continued, "they were phenomenal”
TT: I remarked it sure seemed like it back then. So when you started surfing Huntington was George Farquat ah at the paper?”
GD “Oh yeah you mean George Farquhar. He would come by and we would go out together and surf. “
TT: I remember George Farquhar with his helmet on and surfing either side of the Pier. He wasn’t a big guy, around 5’4” but big in stature. He would carry his Carbonell surfboard on his head while returning to the Huntington Beach Independent News after a surf session.”
GD: “George Farquhar passed away some time back he was in his 70’s. George pauses for a moment and says, “Gosh dam a lot of people are gone!”
TT: When the short board era began you had a smoothie shop in the back of your shop and? Do you know who started that?”
GD: “It was Steve Pezman. He started the smoothie shop. He and Bill Lottard started that shop. They built the little shack back there and Duke Boyd happened to have a smoothie or two.
TT: There was a girl back there who? “
GD: “Jan Gaffny who is still making sandwiches today. That was the main thing to do. Everyone would get out of the water and go to the Heath Bar afterwards. Oh that was the melting pot. Yeah all and all when we had the big contest Jan was in there for 20 years in my store. Pezman had eased out and sold it to Jan earlier.”
TT: Things started changing and the boards were changing, did you have some Aipa Stings?
GD: “Yeah Ben Aipa would bring his boards in.”
TT: “What about Brewer?”
GD: “Dick Brewers he was about my age he would bring his board in, Oh yeah if you can hit the notes I can tell ya, you know. I mean I had so many boards in there from different manufacturers, but it was wonderful, yeah we were the supermarket of the surf industry.
TT: The other shop had one or two different makes while yours had variety of longboards, short boards and whatever color you wanted?”
GD: ”Kneeboards, skimboards, yeah it was fantastic.
TT: I remembered Sam Hawk and some of the other guys who were around during the summer months“
TT: Were the international guys around when the contests came through?
GD: “ Not not too much, but they would come here for lunch. It was the “in place”.
TT: During the contest scene, things were hectic in your shop?
GD: “Yeah, Mr. Nuuhiiwa, David dad would put on exhibitions on the floor, Karate and bring in all the mats and things.” TT: Mr Nuuhiiwa sure went through a lot of exciting moments in his life?
GD: “Yeah he sure did.”
TT: “Were there many other surf shops during the 70’s? “
GD: “Whew, back then in the early 70’s there must have been 21 surf shops, yeah 21 surf shops. You get anything you wanted in Huntington Beach, that was something.”
TT: Both side of Main Street was filled with surf shops?”
GD: Yeah. It seemed like it. My rent back then was $150.00 a month. TT: I remember a small Tee Shirt shop next to your shop back then is it still there?” GD “No that has been taken out.”
TT: “There was a staircase like thing. I think there was a second level on that room. Was there a guy there that….?
GD: Jose Neato a shoe repairman. Oh, Jose was the original guy I charged him $35 a month for rent.
TT: “DiD he sail?”
GD: “Happy Miles or something like that, was it that guy. He was a tall guy with curly hair”
TT: Yeah, that’s the guy, he was the one with the Tee Shirts and talked about sailing the Pacific. He mentioned being on a starboard tack for a couple of weeks kinda sailing, talking of "coming about" when did you start sailing in the 60s with ah…?”
GD: “I started sailing in the 40's, I had my own sailboat in 1945. I was 10 years old and it was a small Sabath like sailboat. That’s when we lived in Newport, Rhode Island. Our home was right next to the ocean, right there. My father had a beautiful sailboat also. So we would sail his boat too.”
TT: “That when you picked up the fundamentals?”
TT: Just for a moment I could picture George with his small sailboat tacking and jibing in the summer breeze. “When you live in Carlsbad did you go sailing”
GD: “I went sailing with Phil Edwards in his Catamaran.”
TT: “At Oceanside Harbor?”
GD: “No Harbor, it wasn’t built yet. Phil would keep his catamaran on the beach. We would push it into the water and go from there. I think it was about 22 ft. He was down where the Army Navy academy is, in Carlsbad. We would go sailing. That was during the early 60s.”
TT: Are you still sailing?
GD: “Yeah still sailing today. I sail on a beautiful Newport 41.”
TT: “You mention you had a boat? “
GD: “I had a boat made for me; it was a Catalina 32 footer. They started building it in 94 and got it in 95. I had it for a couple of years before selling it. Now days I take the camper out and go places.”
TT: “There sure been a lot of history through your shop.” George lets out a you can’t imagine the things that happen kinda of a sigh. As he mention that he was the original Mayor of Main Street. A title his friends understand and know him by. Going over some old photo of George’s, He is standing with a lady on the side of a boat.
TT: “is that Tuesday?”
GD: “No that some other girl. That was on Dick Dale’s boat we were on. That was 1985. Well he had that down by his home, the mansion in Newport Beach.
As I turned the page, George says 1985, wow look at that, my good friend Carson.
TT: “Richard Carson” reading the photo
GD: “Do You remember him.”
TT: It seemed long ago and names and faces are sometime hard to remember. So I kinda stayed silent and continued looking at his album of photos. There David and Sam, Sam Hawk, Ed Greener, and who’s that George?”
GD: “That’s Leroy Dennis.”
TT: Looking again through some of the other photos. “Hey that Bill Bahne and that’s Dale Dobson. There is another picture of Dick Dale.”
GD: "This a CD Dick gave to me. Cool."
TT: “Hey George did you remember this photo of the guy you have a head lock on?
GD: “Yeah that’s Mr. Downey. That’s Pat Downey, Mike Downey father. There’s Merrili, Chuy’s wife and then there’s Jerico Poppler. Hey here is a picture of my 69th birthday picture with Sandra and oh. There’s Dilberg and Sherrie his girlfriend. There is Carson, Me, Mike Downey, and that’s Bob Rhinhart a real character.”
George Draper retired in 1993 and a article was written of him by Joel Beers from the Independent In 1962, George Draper was a milkman in Los Angeles. Not bad if you’ve grown up around cows all your life. But for a Southern California surfer, it was torture.
“One night I just prayed I could get back into the surfing industry.” Draper recalled. The next year, Draper landed a job with a manufacturer of surfboard cores in San Diego. Since then, he’s spent every day around surfing, the past 27 as owner of George’s Surf Shop at 121 Main St.
But come Sept. 15, the 58-year-old Draper is retiring, although that isn’t a word he would choose. “It’s been a wonderful way of life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, but I do feel in my heart it is time to move on to a new adventure,” He said.
George’s Surf Shop has been a city landmark for 27 years. And Draper has been a part of it since the first day, although it’s not even named after him. Draper moved to Huntington Beach from Carlsbad in 1967, when he began managing a surf shop owned by George Panton. At the time, George’s Surf Shop was one only a handful of surf-oriented stores in Huntington Beach. The only remaining surf shop from that era is Jack’s.
Panton went bankrupt a few years later and sold the store to Draper- for $1000. Business boomed shortly after. “It was totally rock ‘n’ roll, it wasn’t uncommon to sell 13 boards a day,” Draper recalls. “ Today seven to 12 boards a week is good.”
Surfing has become more commercial over the years, Draper said, with clothes and image overshadowing the actual surfing. That’s why George’s and other surf shops now pay their bills via clothing and surfing related accessories rather than board sales.
Though he still regards Huntington Beach as Surf City, Draper said the city’s surf image is waning- most noticeably through downtown redevelopment. “ Redevelopment is overwhelming surfing. We’ve got different people coming in. It’s great for business but the area is losing something.”
Great for business indeed, Draper bought his building in 1976 for $40,000. It’s now worth $600,000 and he plans to hold onto the building, leasing it to a woman who will operate a clothing- only store, Leia’s Beach Store.
Draper is 58 in years only. He looks and talks like a man 20 years younger. He has a full head of hair and his bright blue eyes, shorts, sandals and soft spoken nature don’t make him appear any different from the younger surfer shown on pictures throughout his store and office.
“I’ve been around youth all my life,” he said. “I’ve never had to work with older people, and I think that environment has helped me stay young.” Draper hasn’t surfed in 10 years because of a knee injury, but he says he may wear a brace and go back in the water on his next birthday, Oct. 3. After that, he plans on packing up his Volkswagen Westfalia and visiting New England, fish in Utah, hike in Yosemite and travel to British Columbia.
The interview was done in the early 2000’s.